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Five Reasons To Use Physical Notebooks In Your Digital Classroom

Notebook about Graphs

When I think back to what I remember learning about most in school, I think about faults in 6th grade and genetics in high school. Those two topics had something in common – both teachers drew everything and actually taught in class. I wasn’t overwhelmed by how many words I had to read or feeling like I had to rush because the teacher was going to move on to the next slide too quickly. 

When I realized this, I quickly implemented interactive notebooks in my middle school classes. My students draw, write, listen, and use color when they learn something new.  Of course we do other things but when it comes down to what I want them to put in their notebooks, we draw. 

And then school shut down.

Chart showing eye color and dominance of the trait

Then COVID hit and my classes went completely virtual. Suddenly I felt swamped and overwhelmed by so many digital notebook options. I love tech, and constantly implement it in my classroom, but I chose to continue using my interactive notebooks as normal – drawing and writing. It was totally possible and effective with my laptop and a doc cam. 

These are five reasons you should definitely use physical interactive notebooks in your digital classroom!

1. They take no prep time! 

I made so many Powerpoints my first few years of teaching, spending at least an hour (if not more) on the most perfect slides. Then I’d spend all day teaching that same Powerpoint. When I use an interactive notebook to draw and write, I spend almost zero prep time because I teach live with students. 

2. Students are more likely to follow along (and understand). 

When you create notebooks with students, you’re writing and drawing with them. You emphasize what is important by how you lay out your notebook. Adding small drawings or diagrams creates another layer of understanding when they reference their notes. Which students will really draw pictures you add to a Powerpoint?? I don’t think so. 

3. Students are so tactile. 

A physical notebook gives students something they can touch! While digital options are awesome and only getting better, a paper interactive notebook is something they can pick up, open, and flip through. Since it’s not on a screen (that they’re probably sharing with 5 other tabs), they can access it easier.

4. Drawing and writing help students process and learn information differently. 

Did you know drawing actually makes you remember something better? The way your brain processes information through the movement increases memory! 

5. It works! 

A couple years ago, my previous years 7th graders went on their 8th grade trip to California. One of the chaperones came back and said he was so impressed – the kids answered all the instructors questions and even offered up more information about tides. When he asked the students where they learned so much, they responded, “Miss H’s class last year.” WHAT?! Isn’t it every teacher’s dream to hear that? Why do I think they remembered? Because we drew it in our interactive notebooks! As we talked about it, we drew it. They actively participated! 

Notes comparing independent and dependent variables using plants and different amounts of salt water.

I’m a huge fan of interactive notebooks. When we went digital, I panicked for a minute. I wasn’t sure what to do. But then I realized all these amazing reasons why paper notebooks are so great!  Not an artist? No problem. Just give it a shot. I always tell my students, “This is not an art project.” Your student will take your lead and try their best too. 

One more thing. Don’t think I’m over here ragging on digital interactive notebooks. I love them! They are great tools and definitely have a place in the digital classroom. I just don’t want you to forget a super awesome low tech tool you have at your fingertips. 

Digital Learning, Middle School, Notebooks, Uncategorized

Three Ways to Use Gmail Templates

iPad Screen showing Gmail

I am not a fan of writing emails. It takes so much time, and even copying and pasting is tough because I usually have to copy and paste the email. Then I lose my message. What if I told you there was a shortcut to sending emails with a few clicks? Introducing Gmail templates!

Google allows you to save email templates so at the click of a couple buttons, you can fill in an entire email and send it off! 

Scroll down to watch how to set them up! 

1. Checking on student work

Let me show you the three ways I use them most! When students are virtual, I can’t always tell they’re working by looking at them on the virtual meet screen (most likely because their camera is off). But if I can see their progress on Formative, EdPuzzle, or I open their Google Doc and they haven’t completed work, I’ll send them a generic email from my template bank saying: 

Hi, 

We’ve been working on our assignment on Formative for almost the whole class period so far and I don’t see that you’ve made any progress. 

Do you need help? 

Sometimes I send it to the kids, sometimes I send it to parents. Either way, it gives me a tool to document work and hold kids accountable. 

2. A generic response

I use a missing work form to keep track of digital late work. When kids send me emails saying they’ve turned in late work, I send them the following email using about two clicks: 

Hey there, 

If you’ve turned in a late assignment, please be sure to fill out a missing work form on the classwork page of the website! That way, I have a record and know go back to look at it. If you only email me, your missing assignment will get lost in other emails. 

Here’s the link: (link to form here)

I love it! It saves me so much time in typing out the exact same email! 

3. Periodic communication

When conferences came around, I created a Gmail template to send to parents of students who I needed a conference with. All I had to do was copy and paste the email, click a few buttons, and change the students name and I had a clear, almost personalized email to parents inviting them to conferences. This is something I also do for students who are missing projects, are failing, or anything else where I need to email more than two parents or students for something. 

Gmail templates are the easiest tool I wish I’d known about for years! Watch the video below to learn how to make them!

Digital Learning, Middle School, Professionalism, Uncategorized

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

Create Interactive Content for your Digital Classroom with Genially

Genially templates on computer screen

Every year, I teach my students the difference between observations and inferences using a “soil sample” from another planet I happened to visit over summer break. I started to wonder how the heck I was going to pull that off in a digital classroom. Taking such a tactile experience and making it digital is not the same.

That’s when I found Genially!

Genially is a super cool, interactive content creation tool used by teachers to create digital content for their lessons and activities. I knew Genially’s interactive image feature was exactly what I needed as soon as I saw it. Before I go further, let me show you! 

As you can see, I uploaded a photo of my soil sample and added interactive icons on top of each part of the soil I wanted to highlight. Could I have posted just a photo of the soil? Absolutely. But I used this simple tool to engage students in creating observations and inferences about a planet that happened to be Earth! 

Do you sell on TPT? Keep reading – there’s something in here for you!

How could you use an interactive image in your classroom? 

The box I chose to add one simple image to can be so much more complex. I can add so much interactivity to one image. Look below at the options you can select from:  

Genially types of interactivity are tooltip, window, go to page, and link.

I used the window option. Don’t let my simplicity of one small photo fool you – look at all the features in the window menu bar! Font size, color, and type. Videos, photos, HTML code – if you want to add it to that box, there’s a way. 

Genially Window interactive menu bar in Genially Window interactive

In a social studies classroom, create an interactive map of historical battlefields. Inside of a window, add images, descriptions, and links to websites with more information. Or, use that interactive icon to send students straight to a clip from Youtube. 

I used this image to create a simple tour of Google Classroom for parents who visit my class website. How many parents would love to see what you’ve got going on in that password protected Classroom? I’ll tell you – a lot! 

Students can use Genially too

 If students are working on an ELA project descriptive writing assignment, ask them to find an image and create a Genially interactive image using icons to describe their image according to a rubric. They can even invite other students to collaborate on their assignment via email. This is not your standard assignment in a digital classroom!

Genially animation options

Add some animation

Did you notice how those little icons on my images moved and the font kind of pulses? I added some simple animation to my image to make certain elements stand out. You can animate how elements enter and exit, which direction they come from, and what they do when they stay on your page. 

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m constantly looking to find ways to make what I’m teaching online engaging for students. I love Genially’s interactive image feature because it gives control and exploration back to students! 

Step it up! 

Now that you’ve successfully created an interactive image, use your tools to create a little more! Genially has a ton of free templates including games, presentations, and escape rooms to use if you’re stuck or maybe, designing things is not your strong suit. 

Add an audio clip or change the timing of certain elements. Check out this snippet of the variables lesson I made using one of the guide templates. Really pay attention to the animation features. 

It’s as easy as… 

  1. Signing up for a totally free Genially account
  2. Get inspired by their super awesome plug-and-play templates
  3. Make unlimited creations! 

I’m serious – Genially is something you should add to your digital classroom toolbox. Here’s an extra cool bonus – if you sell on TPT, you can add your creations to your store! 

Don’t wait, sign up for Genially today! 

Computer screen with Genially game templates
Digital Learning, Middle School, Projects, Uncategorized

Seven Tips You Need To Manage A Chatty Class In Middle School

Any middle school teacher who has been in the classroom for more than a minute can tell they’ve had a chatty class. It’s inevitable.

There are two ways to handle this.

I used to yell and get frustrated. Sometimes, I would even ignore it and let it happen. Finally, I learned to manage it.

Managing a chatty classroom is a skill that any middle school teacher must learn. These seven tips will help cut the talking and use valuable class time to teach!

When you decide how to implement and communicate structure, will help you cut down on the amount of unnecessary conversation going on in your classroom.

Being a teacher myself, I have found several ways to manage that chatty class. My students are not well behaved angels all the time. But I found strategies and tools that help me keep the talking to a minimum.

I want to share those with you!

Simply drop your email and name to access seven easy tips to manage your chatty classroom!

Want to read more about teaching middle school? Read about the Ten Things No One Told You About Teaching Middle School!

This shows iPad with a free PDF with these tips for middle school teachers.

For more ideas to teach middle school students, check out my Pinterest account!

Uncategorized

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