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Middle School

Foolproof Your First Day of School

This is how I usually look on the first day of school – because I have a plan!

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?!

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

PART 1 – ABOUT YOU AND EXPECTATIONS

I sometimes hear teachers say that we need to be engaging. “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). You are 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.)

SEATING CHART

Before those kids walk in, have a seating chart ready. Let them sit where they want for a minute. Introduce yourself briefly and then switch their seats. Immediately. You are the boss.

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.

EXPECTATIONS

This is the list I print every year.

This is where most of you tune out and say that this doesn’t belong on the first day. We should be engaging! 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. I have a typed out list of things I tell students on every first day of school. This is limited to what they need to know in general. I introduce specific procedures and expectations as we use them. My list includes:

  • 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.
  • 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)!

PART 2 – GRAPHING

Yes. I said it. Graphing.

Some 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 actually use grouping cards (click here to read about them and here to just buy them – I live and breathe these!). Students visit a group with their same number, color, and letter (for a total of three different groups) 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.

Here’s the assessment piece: 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.

Classroom Management, Middle School

The Perfect Chemical Change Lab for Middle School Students

Have you ever accidentally dropped bleach on a shirt? It’s ruined. Completely and totally. What I never realized was a chemical change is created between the dye in the shirt and the bleach.

I was overwhelmed the first time I taught middle school chemistry. The supplies I thought I needed seemed so complicated. In reality, chemical changes occur all around us. Teaching this became a matter of utilizing simple examples students encounter every day.

Lab Objectives

Teaching students how to identify a chemical change does not have to be hard. In fact, you can use this Chemical Change Lab to demonstrate a simple chemical change with a few items you can find in your science classroom (or kitchen)! 

I love using labs that have multiple objectives. More objectives means more diverse student learning. This Chemical Change Lab meets the following objectives: 

  • Lab safety procedures
  • Measuring liquids using the metric system
  • Identifying a chemical change
  • Using evidence from the lab to write a clear conclusion

(TIP: If you use notebooks, you can copy the answer pages at 80% and students can glue them into their notebooks.)

Completing the Lab

The lab itself is very easy. Students add vinegar, bleach, and hydrogen peroxide to three different test tubes filled with colored water and determine which one shows a chemical change. 

Give students a chance to write a hypothesis and explain their reasoning before the lab starts. I ask them to write this alone to encourage independent thinking. However, collaborating with peers to write a hypothesis is a great option too.

Be sure to tell them they’re not supposed to be right. That’s why we’re testing it!

This lab includes so many simple steps. All the students will have a chance to measure, pour, or swirl… they are so engaged! The test tube with bleach poured into it will show a chemical change. The water turns a lighter color than the water in the other test tubes. 

(If you need a simple way to group students for labs, check out my Grouping Cards on TPT. Read about how I use them here!)

After the lab, students write a conclusion explaining whether their hypothesis was correct or incorrect using evidence from the lab.

While this task may be simple, students get the opportunity to think critically and write about it. It’s also an easy check for me to see who needs some additional support!

Why It’s Perfect

The simplicity of this lab is perfect. The explanation, execution, and clean up time easily fits into the 45 minute class period.The materials are easy to find, the steps are simple, and students are amazed to see how the bleach makes the color of the water lighter!

Get your copy of the Chemical Change Lab here!

For more middle school science content, check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

Chemistry, Hands On, Labs, Middle School

Navigating Conflict on Your Campus

Picture this with me. You’re at the park on a field trip and you see a student on top of the 25-foot-tall, blue, shade tarp above the playground, and he’s jumping on it like a trampoline! The headline flashing through your head reads, “Student breaks all bones on playground while teacher is nowhere to be found!” Not to mention, this is the kid you JUST told sternly, for the second time, they couldn’t be on top of the playground equipment.

You’re walking him over to sit out and he’s arguing that, “he wasn’t on top of the playground equipment!” (As if it even occurred to you that you’d have to tell him to stay off of the shade structure.)

During this conversation, a teacher on your team comes over and forcefully tells you that you are being mean to a poor kid and abusing your power. Kids should be kids and have less rules. In front of the student. You are a professional and explain that you will discuss this when you get back to campus and are not in the presence of children. You walk away and he’s now raising his voice so students nearby start paying attention.

TRUE STORY.

I worked with this teacher for five years, and we never really saw eye to eye on student management. I thrive on structure, and he is go with the flow. Until this point, it was just a difference we recognized and respected. This confrontation completely caught me off guard, and I was absolutely livid.

There’s a huge misconception that teachers work alone. Sure, we work alone in our classrooms with our students, but we don’t actually work alone. We work with our administration, the office staff, our SPED team, paraprofessionals, and even the teachers on our team or our campus. Inevitably, disagreements happen.

It’s tempting to go back into your classroom, close the door, and hope the disagreement blows over. But that’s not how we handle it. Because we are adults. And we are professionals! (I’m hearing you all cheer for me and my motivational speech right there!)

So, what should you do when you land yourself in the middle of conflict?

First, decide if this it a pet peeve or a true conflict? I will be the first to tell you that I have things that bother me about my coworkers. Little pet peeves that annoy me. On the other hand, conflict is usually brought on by a disagreement between two people. The distinction is important to realize because the approach is somewhat different.

Pet Peeves

If it’s a big deal, and it directly affects your job, mention something to them. Even try mentioning it in passing. One student started showing up to my first hour everyday, loudly announcing that another teacher sent him to give me something. He came in with the most random things – tape dispensers, books, puzzles, candy….

When I asked this teacher why the student kept showing up in my room, she explained the situation to me. I just said, “I get it, but you can’t send him to my room. He’s a daily distraction and it’s hard to reign my class back in. I’m so sorry.” I wasn’t rude and didn’t make a big deal out of it, but the student did stop showing up.

If it’s not a big deal or doesn’t directly affect your job, you might want to consider letting it go. A teacher might complain to about how bad their class is, but won’t take direction from administration or practical steps to resolve it… there’s not a whole lot you can do. Tell them what you think when they ask. Be brief without being rude. When you walk away, you don’t have to deal with their classroom.

Find someone to talk to. Find someone safe to vent to who won’t go blabbing your frustrations or secrets to everyone else. It doesn’t solve the problem, but I feel better safely getting it off my chest by talking to someone who understands.

We can’t fix everyone and everything. If you can just talk it through with someone, do it. If you can bring it up casually, do that too. But, I’ve found that a lot of my little pet peeves with coworkers can be solved by going back into my classroom. However, pet peeves can quickly turn into conflicts.

Conflict

1. First (and biggest) – Is it your boss telling you to do something you don’t want to? Excuse an assignment? Morning duty? Go to an IEP the Friday before fall break at 4 PM (It happened to me!)? Have a sit down meeting with them and a parent? Do it. This is not a hill you want to die on. If your boss is telling you to do something (reasonable), they have a reason. You might see their reason as wrong, self-serving, or self-promoting, but they’re the boss (and eventually, you’re going to have to ask them for a letter of recommendation).  

2. Is it your fault? Ouch. No one likes to be wrong, but we all are at some point. It might be your fault. My biggest advice – apologize. Approach the issue with humility. Being “right” is not worth creating lasting tension.

3. Who else is involved or needs to be? And who does NOT need to be? In my story about the student park, my administrator needed to know. They may have parents call or students say something. If my team wasn’t there watching, I’d probably tell them. We work as a team and when something is wrong, it throws us off. Does every teacher on campus need to know? Absolutely not. Tell the people that need to be involved in solving the problem and that’s it. Otherwise it’s nothing but gossip.

4. How will you take steps to resolve it?  I highly recommend having a vulnerable (and unfortunately, uncomfortable) conversation seeking a resolution instead of pushing it aside. It’s likely that emotions will run high. I always have to sit on what I am thinking for a few days to let it all process out in my head before I can approach the person.

You may need to write it out before you can talk. You may need a third party there to listen and help come to a solution. Your administrator may be able to help you determine what the best steps are. It’s possible that after talking to your admin, they can handle it for you.  

5. If the conflict is not resolved, can you put your feelings aside and remain a professional? This is so hard. Feelings might be hurt and lines might be crossed in your conflict. I implore you – be a professional. You may disagree. You may hate the way that person refused to engage in any resolution. The ultimate resolution to your conflict may be leaving the site and finding a new job.

Until then, know you are strong and capable. When you must engage with this person, be brief. Create boundaries as necessary. You are a professional and while the resolution you attempted didn’t turn out your way, you have an audience – your administration, your fellow teachers, your students.

I will be completely honest and tell you that after that teacher yelled at me in front of students, I tried to work it out several days later when I could think with a clear head. Instead of getting into a debate about managing students (like I said, we never agreed on this to begin with), I focused on the fact that brought this up in front of the student because it undermined my authority.

He held his ground that he was right. The conflict did not get resolved, and I still work with him. I set this boundary in place: I will not engage in a conversation with him unless it concerns something professional.

Conflict is hard and uncomfortable. When it comes to working with people, conflict is inevitable. It’s my hope that these questions help you think through how to navigate conflict on your campus. There is something freeing about being able to work together, navigate a problem, and come out the other side a stronger teammate, teacher, and person than you were before.

(Please note – this post is simply about disagreements between your coworkers. If you are dealing with consistent unresolved conflict or harassment, please look into your district’s protocol.)

Middle School, Professionalism

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.  

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?!

Enter 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: 

  1. Their number. Students are grouped by the numbers on their card. 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. Students are grouped by the color on their card. 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. Students are grouped by the letter on their card. I feel like you get it by now.

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 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! 

After 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.

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

Teaching Observations and Inference in Science

I love middle school. But they think so quickly that they don’t necessarily think about what they are thinking! In science specifically, they have to know the difference between an observation and an inference. Their observations lead to their inferences and generally serve as evidence for their inferences.

To introduce this idea, I give them that “angry teacher” stance and eyes and ask them how I am feeling. Without fail, they tell me that I’m mad, angry, upset, that they want to run away and hide (HAHA!!)… and a few will say my arms are crossed or I’m not smiling, but usually not without some prompting asking them how they know I’m angry.

They can tell you clearly that I’m upset, but I need them to break it down and use their observations as evidence for their inferences.  Read More »

Hands On, Middle School, Notebooks

10 Things Your College Education Forgot To Tell You About Teaching Middle School

If you’ve spent any time around teenagers, you know… they’re so weird! Whether or not you’re wanting to teach middle school or you’ve already signed your contract, you are ready to go because this is what you went to school for. WRONG! You’re about to become the sole adult in a room of preteens who do not play by anyone’s rules other than their own. True, your college classes prepared you to be a teacher. I quickly found out there were valuable things they left out about being a middle school teacher. Here’s my list of things to know:

1. They smell BAD. There’s not even a way to sugar coat it. Middle school kids smell like a combination of body odor, sweat, feet, dirt, Hot Takis, Skittles, and Axe. Sometimes it’s necessary to find some way to bring it up. I usually stick to addressing it passively by joking with the whole class and telling them deodorant is important because they all stink… because you can do that in middle school. Often times you will have to smile and suffer through it because it’s (hopefully) just a phase, and chances are that kid’s self-esteem is more fragile than an eggshell. Read More »

Middle School