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Make distance-time graphs come alive by engaging students through storytelling

distance-time graph example of dogs running

“Come on! Let’s go! Just because I see you doesn’t mean you can slow down!” I call to the panting student trying to charm me with their reason they’re late to class. But I know why. I was watching Charlie chat it up in the courtyard with friends during passing period. Suddenly he looks at his phone, realizes he’s late, bolts to class, and slows down as soon as he knows I see him. 

The joke is on him though. I’m using him as an example* in today’s bell ringer. 

I stand at the door during passing period and watch all the late kids rush to class.

Now imagine the surprise on his face when he finally gets his stuff out and looks at the screen, only to see a graph with the sentence that begins with, “Charlie’s teacher watches him talk to friends during passing period…” 

Charlie makes eye contact, smiles, and says, “BRUH!” And you just smirk back. 

That’s not the beginning of the story

Before I continue, let’s flash back and look at how this story really started.  

I looked at the clock. It was 3:30 on a Wednesday. I decided to sit at my desk and psyched myself up to look at the physical science unit I was getting ready to teach. Fun fact – physical science is not my favorite. I saw distance-time graphs and cringed. Could not even tell you what that meant.

I Googled. And Youtubed. And TPT searched. I scribbled all of my notes down and tried to organize them.  

I wish I could tell you that I had a magical breakthrough moment and taught distance-time graphs so well. The truth is, I struggled to teach them for a couple years before I figured out how to make sure my students really got it. I had to refine what I was teaching year after year. 

Realizing I could use a student’s hypothetical route to class as a connection point was one of my best ideas. Every student can picture walking from one class to another, making it the perfect distance-time graph example!

Graphs are Data Pictures

A graph shows data in a picture so that our brains see what that data is telling us. We process that picture much more quickly than a list of numbers. A distance time-graph is a picture of the relationship between the distance an object travels and the time it takes to cover that distance. It offers insight into the object’s motion. 

If you’ve gotten to this point and are thinking that your student’s graphing skills are sub-par, let me urge you to not try and teach students graphing skills while teaching them how to create distance-time graphs. I use this resource to give students a solid graphing foundation in just a few days. Then revisit distance-time graphs. 

Give students some basic distance-time graph knowledge

Students are most likely bought into distance-time graphs or motion graphs when they realize it applies to their life. To move from connection to understanding, explain the following few elements briefly: 

Reference Point

The reference point is the starting location you’re comparing the object’s motion to. 

Distance and Time

Motion is measured by how far an object travels in a given amount of time. This calculates into the formula for speed. Distance/time = speed. Time (minutes, seconds, hours, days, ect) is placed on the x-axis and distance (meters, feet, kilometers, miles) is placed on the y-axis.

walking-the-dog-motion-graph-example

Slopes Indicate Motion

Distance and time coordinates are graphs, creating slopes. An upward slope indicates movement away from the reference point. A flat line means that time is passing, but the object is not in motion. A downward slope indicates movement back toward the reference point. 

A steeper slope indicates faster motion, whether upward or downward. A shallow downward slope means the object is moving toward the reference point slower than a steep downward slope would indicate.  

Using Distance-Time Graph Story Match to Teach

Do you remember a story a teacher told you? Of course you do, because stories activate the emotional parts of our brain that feel, not just process information. We want to keep listening! 

Once students understand the elements of a distance-time graph, they can extend that understanding into the analysis, evaluation, and creation levels of thinking. Use the power of stories to your advantage.

In this teaching distance-time graphs resource, the teacher helps students match simple lines on a graph to the motion of a person walking their dog. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very simple story. Emphasis on the very. The distance-time graph story illustrates all of the elements of a distance time graph with a realistic description of what that motion looks like. 

Why does the student turn around? 

distance-time-graph-of-student-turning-in-homework

Simple illustrates the concept, but it’s fun to get a little more detailed. The next graph incorporates distance, time, and speed of a student getting up from their desk and turning in homework. But suddenly, they return to their desk? Why. And then they stop. What’s happening? Do you want to know? This story incorporates the exact data for the distance-time graph story examples, solidifying the concept for kids. 

Let them practice with a distance-time graph story match activity. In this activity, students match the motion description to either the teacher walking out to playground duty or the student walking to class. Since they’d both walk at similar speeds, students really need to think, analyze the graph, and assign the correct motion description to the line it is describing on the graph.

Distance-Time Graphs In Real Life

Mack sits with his ears perked and his tail wagging as fast as it can possibly wag. He’s panting. He’s focused on a ball about 30 yards ahead. He looks up briefly in anticipation at his owner, trying not to take his eyes off the prize for too long. “Retrieve!” The command is given and Mack launches forward.

How much more engaging is that story than some random set of numbers on a data table? A lot more! Use this story as an attention grabber. What might Mack do next? Run back to have it thrown again? Catch a scent and stop to sniff?

A distance-time graph can be made of any object in motion, given the right units for distance and time are used. Graph a whale migration. Make a motion graph of skiers going up the lift and down the run. Create a distance-time graph of a baseball going through the different parts of a play. Include the pitch, the hit, and who it’s thrown to. 

If you’re looking for simple, real life examples, this distance-time graph worksheet bundle includes scaffolded opportunities for students to practice story matching and even make their own story with a given distance-time data set.

Your students will make simple distance-time graphs of an object moving at a constant speed, resulting in a straight line. But distance-time graphs can get pretty complicated and are used in real life. For example, they can help city planners make informed decisions based on the speed and traffic patterns during rush hour.

Do you have the right tools?

My husband is a contractor, and it would be silly if he went to work with just a saw, a hammer, a screwdriver, and some nails and screws. He could probably get the job done, but it would be long and difficult. 

You need the right tools. Stories are your tools. Using stories to teach-distance time graphs is the key to unlocking your student’s understanding. Start with a story they can relate to. Keep using stories while they practice. I promise. The right tool makes a difference. 

*As a note, using a student as an example on your bell ringer or daily task has to be done with some finesse. Be sure the student can handle the attention they may get from the class and possibly students from other classes. Consider asking the student beforehand if you can use their name for a bell ringer. Maybe even run it by their parent. I’ve personally never had a problem, but I don’t want to steer you wrong when it comes to the fragility of the middle school ego. 

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Three Easy Science Station Ideas To Elevate Your Middle School Classroom

science station ideas for students working together

Flashback to my early years as a teacher. Science station ideas were not even a thought in my mind as I was sitting on my bed, editing a PowerPoint about tectonic plates and plate boundaries at 11:45 PM. 

The next day, not only was I OVER talking by 5th hour, I found so many mistakes in my presentation. I wanted to cry. Have you been there? 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that kids just need to know some things, and direct instruction does have its place in the classroom. But, students also need to explore, talk, and investigate more often than we need to “teach” them. 

I began teaching with science stations in the classroom somewhat by accident. Now, I include science stations regularly. On purpose.

Science Stations For Middle School Are Not The Same As Group Work

To be clear, just because students are in a group or working together does not mean that they’re participating in stations. I’ve decided that the following are my personal science stations for middle school requirements: 

  1. Students are placed in small groups and given a start location.
  2. A small task is given to the group with a time constraint to complete it. 
  3. Students get up and move to the next station. 

Instead of spending too much time the night before making groups, I like to use these student grouping cards. They make putting students into groups so easy, and it only takes about a minute!

Three Easy Science Station Ideas

Science stations for middle school can be so much more versatile than placing a few task cards on tables. When done correctly, they can add so much life to your classroom. These are my top three favorite science station ideas.

Learning at Science Stations

The goal behind this science station idea is that students walk away learning something new. 

Incorporating learning as one of my student group activities every once and a while helps add some variety to how students are learning. 

Sometimes students need to know vocabulary and each station will have just a couple words with pictures and definitions. Other times, I’ll break up a reading passage and put a section at each station with guided notes or questions they have to answer. 

Rotate Students Through Content

Students rotate to different stations where there is a small section of something they’re supposed to learn. After they’ve completed every station, they’ll have all the information they’re supposed to. 

One example of this is this moon phases stations activity. Before students engage in an investigation about moon phases, they visit four different stations where they will read about different moon phase topics. They have to complete a fill-in-the-blank guide that will stay in their notebook. It’s just enough info to clarify what they’ll do in the investigation.

I highly suggest that you follow up with whole class direct instruction after learning stations so that students all glean the information you want them to, not just what you hope they got. 

The good news is that you don’t have to spend as much time on that direct instruction. You simply want to reinforce the content.

Practice and Review Stations

Practice and review are what I think of first when I’m trying to come up with science station ideas. 

These stations include task cards, review questions, and practice problems. Middle school students have already been taught what they need to know in order to complete these science stations successfully. Now they work to master that content. 

Brush up on content students should already know

I always begin my school year with a graphing review mini-unit. I’ve found that even eighth graders mostly need some refreshers on simple bar and line graphs. 

After I teach what all graphs need and the difference between bar and line graphs, I let them practice at graphing review stations. Each station has two different graphs they need to create. Some graphs are made individually, and others they create as a group.


But they work together, talk, and come to a consensus before they make that graph. By the end of the stations activity, they know how to make a perfect graph! 

Silly Story review activities are also one of my favorites for review stations!

Explore and Inquiry Stations

Coming up with science station ideas for exploration and inquiry can be a little bit tricky, but some of the best learning happens at these science stations.

Students learn something new at each station through investigation. Their task is outlined, but they come up with the answers. 

One idea to incorporate inquiry stations is with the bird beak lab. Instead of giving a different utensil to each person in the group, place the same utensil at one station and rotate students through the stations. 

After they’ve tried the beaks at every station, they can draw conclusions as to what kind of food a bird with that beak would most likely eat. 

Another great science station idea is this food web interdependence graphing activity. First, students create a food web based on information they get at learning stations. Then, they work at stations to make graphs based on one population of that food web changing. The inquiry stations serve to get them really thinking about how the animals in a food web are connected.

Students have to think critically

Each graph has questions prompting them to critically think about the results of that change. The students work through the content to find the answer themselves. 

As with learning science stations, I’d recommend you follow up with some quick direct instruction or review of the correct answers. You will definitely have some kids who don’t draw the correct conclusions. This time gives them a chance to see what the correct answers are and where they may have gone wrong.

Just try some of these science station ideas! 

Using different types of science stations in the classroom can bring some life into a lesson could very well be a “sit down and work” assignment. My challenge to you is to try one of these stations in the next few weeks in your classroom. See what happens. What if the kid who always goes to sleep will actually turn in something? What if you don’t have to talk literally all day and still get the same results. 

I think it’s worth it. 

As always, be sure to set expectations for how students should act at and move to stations. 

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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

Five strategies for writing killer evidence to support a claim in science

write-evidence-in-science

If I told you the Pixar movie Cars is all about learning how to be selfless, could you give me evidence from the movie to prove it? Of course you could! Can your middle school students? Probably. Cars is a story that’s entertaining and easy to follow. But let me tell you what… trying to get middle school students to use data evidence to support their claim in science is a whole different beast. 

The truth is, a lot of students struggle to find and use evidence in science correctly. So, how do we fix it? 

The struggle with CER

I hated teaching CER strategies in science for a long time. No matter how many times I said, “use evidence to support your claim,” very few kids gave me quality evidence. Oftentimes, my students had the correct ideas without articulating them with correct evidence. 

what-is-a-claim-in-science

I was looking for hard evidence, numbers, comparisons and instead getting evidence that sounded more like this: 

The penny with water only dropped on it held the most water. 

It wasn’t specific enough. I could tell my 7th and 8th graders were really trying. Hard. But it just wasn’t enough. 

If this sounds like you, and your students, this evidence writing lesson will help you so much!

I used commercials to get kids used to the idea of being specific and paying attention to details. If you haven’t heard of using commercials to teach CER, Beakers and Ink gives some very fun examples! 

It worked! Kids loved it, and it did hit the point home that they needed to have evidence to support their claim. But when I asked for evidence in a scientific context, it didn’t translate well.

All evidence is not created equal

Evidence is unassumingly tricky for science teachers. Maybe it’s just me who thinks that, but I doubt it. In my opinion, there are a few reasons for this. Students are expected to support their claim with evidence in science and ELA. The difference is in the technicality of the evidence we’re asking students to find and use. 

I’ve walked into more ELA classes than I can count where the teacher was explicitly teaching how to find and use specific types of evidence to support a claim.

If students are supporting their claim based on character traits, the teacher spends a lot of time teaching what examples of character traits are, where to find them in a story, and how to use them to support their claim.

If students are reading nonfiction to find evidence to support a claim in their writing, they learn strategies to do so. 

data-table-in-science
Struggling to get your students to write good evidence to support their claim in science? Grab the perfect lesson here!

Evidence in Science is different

Using evidence to support a claim in science is so different because teachers give examples of what evidence should look and sound like. Rarely do we explicitly teach kids how to draw quality evidence from data. The kind of evidence we want in science uses math skills. Our students don’t explicitly learn that.  

I think this is why my students did so well with commercials. They knew how to find evidence in an ELA context – the commercials. I still use commercials for a good claim, evidence, reasoning example. But, I’ve learned that it’s an engagement tool and science teachers need to follow up with some explicit instruction for science evidence. 

The six key to writing evidence

So, I’ve convinced you that students need a little more help from us in terms of writing evidence. It’s time to teach your middle school science students how to really draw information from data! 

I’ve come up with six different types of evidence that students can pull from a data table to support their claim in science. My goal is always to get students to use hard numbers in their evidence. Think of the following as claim, evidence, reasoning sentence starters… but these ones are just for the evidence portion. 

Use measuring words.

Obviously this isn’t a sentence starter and isn’t an official strategy. Asking students to use measuring words helps them write evidence better. Making sure students include words like faster, farther, more, or increase helps them form correct evidence.

1. Compare the average.

Students can (and should) find the average of all their trials at the end of their investigation and then compare. An example of this would be: 

On average, the 16 pound bowling ball knocked down four more pins than the 10 pound bowling ball. 

2. Compare the trials.

By looking at the whole trials instead of the individual numbers, they can see how many total trials had outcomes that went one way or another. An example of this would be: 

Three out of four trials showed strawberries grown in direct sunlight produced more strawberries than those grown in shade. 

3. Find the “at least”.

The goal for this example is to show the difference between results in the trials. It’s a little tricky because you want to also compare trials, but here’s an example. 

In five out of six trials, students who drew their vocabulary words remembered at least 16% more words on a quiz than students who did not draw them. 

4. Look at individual trials.

claim-evidence-reasoning-sentence-starter-for-claim-in-science

Here, students look at the result from one trial to use as evidence to support their claim in science. Be careful, sometimes students will use this to make their point instead of supporting the true outcome. 

Trial three showed mice who ate sugar traveled through the maze 15 seconds faster than the mice who didn’t eat sugar. 

5. Tell the total.

As students are looking at their data table, have them look at the average totals and simply use those totals as evidence. Of course, we’d like to see students write more, but this is a great starting point. Here is an example: 

The penny held an average of 21.5 drops of soapy water and 37.2 drops of regular water. 

Don’t these five tips sound awesome? Save yourself some time and and grab this zero prep lesson to help your students master writing evidence to support a claim in science!

Use evidence to support a claim in science

I often think we forget students need to grapple with content more than once. Maybe forget isn’t the right word, but we think because we told our students, showed them an example, or know they learned it somewhere else, they got it. Even if we do tell them over and over, there’s a good chance they still won’t remember it.

So instead we tell them to “use evidence to support their claim” without giving them quality tools to do it successfully. 

My charge to you is this. Spend just a little bit of time teaching your students evidence skills so they can successfully use that evidence to support their claim in science. 

Reading & Writing in Science, Scientific Inquiry, Uncategorized

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.

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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. 

When I use notebooks with students in my classroom, I like using the Crayola Super Tip Markers. I leave a bunch in a bin on my counter and kids are allowed to grab 3-4 while taking notes. Plus I use them. They don’t bleed and you don’t have to battle with kids at the pencil sharpener! Obviously this doesn’t work if students are digital, but there’s no reason you can’t use notebooks in an actual classroom!

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 a chatty class.

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.

Here are SEVEN tips to help you get your sanity back!

1. GET THEIR ATTENTION AND SHOW THEM WHAT YOU EXPECT.

This may sound simple, but tell them how you’ll get their attention. I raise my hand and say, “I need your help.” Will you use a doorbell? Will you use a countdown? Tell them. Then, and this is the magic key, show them what to do! What does giving you their attention look like and sound like? I expect kids to turn, face me, stop talking, and put one hand up also. I tell them and we practice. Over and over and over. 

Gently correct students who do not follow the procedure. If a certain student is resistant to following the procedure, talk with them to reset expectations. If that doesn’t work, call home.

2.  MAKE A SEATING CHART

First, if you can put your students in rows, do it! When they’re not facing each other, they’re less likely to talk. That doesn’t mean they won’t, but it’s more inconvenient. Then put those guys in a seating chart. Tell them where to sit. You can fix this tomorrow. This is your classroom and you set the boundaries. Seating charts are a necessary tool in my classroom to manage unnecessary chatting.

There is a little bit of strategy to this. Try placing your biggest talkers in the front where you can keep an eye on them, and then try putting them in the back so they’re not tempted to turn around and talk to other people. There will not be one right answer, but keep switching it up.

3.  BUILD TALKING INTO THE ROUTINE

No matter how hard you try, they will talk. Your students are social and would much rather be talking to a friend than listening to you. So build it in! Stations and movement are one of my favorite ways to do this.

Use Stations For Regular Tasks

Can you break down a worksheet into four stations and have students answer three questions at each station? What about having them fill in different sections of notes at a different station? I’ve put students in concentric circles where they work on a task with the person across from them. They move one seat over every couple minutes to work with a new person.

Listening is important too

This is not to say that they should never listen. There is always a time and place for listening. If my students have to do a lot of listening or working independently in one day, I try my best to build in an activity where they have the freedom to talk in the next day or two. They know they’ll get a chance to talk soon, even if they don’t get to today.

4.  COMPETE!

Reward students for doing the right thing! You can pit classes against each other by giving them tally points for following classroom procedures (that includes quieting down when you ask for their attention). At the end of the week, tally the points and reward that class. Maybe it’s 10 minutes of free time that next Monday. It could be candy… whatever it is, make sure your students want to win it. If you’re struggling with one class in particular, you can do a teacher vs. student version of this as well.

Josie from Maniacs in the Middle uses this idea in what she calls Jolly Rancher Wars!

5. BE CONSISTENT AND FOLLOW THROUGH.

There are going to be kids who talk without being distracting. Allowing them to continue sets a bad precedent for your expectations moving forward. When someone is talking inappropriately, tell them what the expectation is for that moment and redirect them. If you give them a second warning, tell them the consequences.

Being consistent might sound like this

This sounds a lot like, “I’ve already asked you to stop talking. So the next time I ask you to stop, you’ll have to move seats. If we have to chat after that, I will call home after school. You can choose to stop now, or continue. It’s up to you.” When you address this consistently and follow through on what you say, it can be helpful to manage talking overall.

6. CONTACT THEIR PARENTS!

Leading from the last point… actually contact their parents! Parents are on your side and generally want to help. Additionally, following through will tell students you really mean what you say. I want them to know school and home are not separate, and they’re held accountable for what they do in my classroom. If you want to read up on tips for talking to parents (and get some free parent communication email templates), you can read my blog post here!

7. ASK YOUR ADMIN TO OBSERVE

I know this sounds scary. You might not believe me, but your “chatty class” may be one or two really chatty students. Admin can help identify where the problem is and how to handle it. Another set of eyes in your classroom will help you see what you’ve been blind to. Don’t dismiss their expertise! Invite them in!

BONUS.  GIVE YOUR STUDENTS SOME GRACE!

If we’re being completely honest, our students literally would rather be doing anything else than sitting in our classroom. The last time I went to PD, I think I talked through the whole thing (I extend my sincerest apologies to the presenter). I did not want to be there, and what I did find interesting, I wanted to talk about! You will never have a perfect classroom. Manage what you can and embrace what you can’t. You’re still a good teacher.

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