Browsing Tag

Middle School

Five Direct Instruction Strategies to Spice Up Your Science Lessons

direct instruction strategy using interactive notebook and doc cam

Up until recently (I’m in my 30’s), I kept a few of my middle and high school notebooks that I really loved. Why did I feel the need to hold onto some and not others? I realized, I liked learning from those teachers. They weren’t boring. As I reminisced and looked at specific pages, I could remember what was going on in class that day or what the teacher said. 

Here’s the thing about my notebooks. Most of the time, my notes came from direct instruction. It makes perfect sense looking at it as a teacher now. Each notebook I kept was from a teacher who used direct instruction strategies that kept me engaged and continuing to learn. 

NGSS & The Resistance of Direct Instruction

The rise of NGSS has emphasized inquiry and student exploration in science classes. I’m not against it. Inquiry and investigative skills are critical. 

In this push for inquiry-based learning, it seems as though direct instruction is almost demonized. Teachers are discouraged from using direct instruction strategies and encouraged to let students draw their own conclusions. 

In my professional opinion, there is a need for both. 

Sometimes, kids just don’t get it. I’ve sat with so many groups of kids who are totally picking up the information and can make connections with inquiry. 

I’ve also sat with kids who look at me with blank stares, or pretend to get it when I can see on their face that they’re just trying to make me go away. 

Most of the time, I talk to kids who get about 90% of what they needed out of inquiry, and they just need a little more information to clear the rest up. 

Using solid, direct instruction teaching strategies is the best way to get all your students on the same page, and accommodate those who don’t have strong inquiry skills, yet.

The Reason Direct Instruction Is Important in Science Class

Don’t be boring. These direct instruction teaching strategies are pulled from my personal vault, and hopefully will keep you from reading directly off a Powerpoint and keep kids hands from aching while they panic-write. Yes… panic-writing is a thing. 

Remember, there is a purpose for including direct instruction in your classroom. Direct instruction is an accommodation! Just like you include group work, inquiry, discussion, and reading into your lessons, listening is just as important. 

Direct instruction in science class gives every kid a basic foundation of knowledge to work from. Every year, I have a student who legitimately tries to convince me the Earth is flat. After some pointed direct instruction they can construct a basic argument with correct information, even if they don’t believe it. 

Here are five direct instructions strategies you can use to increase engagement

1. Investigate first, not only

NGSS discourages direct instruction and pushes inquiry based learning, a little disproportionately in my opinion. By following up an investigation with a little bit of direct instruction, you’ll be sure every student is on the same page as far as what they should have gleaned from the investigation. 

When I do this, students engage with me and ask why their data is a certain way or they try to talk out and question what happened in their group. These conversations are learning experiences. 

We want kids to build their investigative skills. We also want them to walk away with the knowledge they were supposed to have after that investigation. Direct instruction helps. 1.

2. Make your prep less time intensive

We all know Google is forever, so kids have information at their fingertips. Don’t spend hours making the perfect Powerpoint for note taking. It’s likely that your students will get overwhelmed, ask you to go back, and have a hand cramp halfway through. 

If you do decide to use Powerpoints, I’d suggest guided or fill-in-the-blank notes to go along with it. Not only does this help accommodate students, but everyone can focus on what you’re saying instead of making sure they scribble down what’s on the slide. 

3. Incorporate drawing

I remember sitting in 6th grade science with neon gel pens, drawing fault lines that my science teacher was drawing on the board. When I was fed up making Powerpoints and watching my students fight for their life to copy every word, I remembered this simple strategy. Drawing.

I figured I had nothing to lose, opened up my notebook under a doc cam and started drawing, talking, and teaching my students. The engagement was incredible! 

I used this strategy when I taught tides to my 7th graders.

We drew pictures and wrote less words.

In 8th grade, many of those students went on a science trip to San Diego. The 8th grade chaperone came back and told me that he and the instructor were impressed at how well the kids understood and could explain how tides worked. All we did was draw! 

Edutopia has an amazing article I share with parents every year called The Science of Drawing and Memory. The gist is that if students are drawing, regardless of artistic ability, more areas of the brain are engaged and students remember more.  

4. Frontload quick topics

Another one of my direct instruction strategies is frontloading. While some topics are amazing to investigate straight away, others need a little bit of background information.

For example, when I begin my Earth, Moon, Sun Systems unit, I always frontload rotation and revolution with quick direct science instruction. It’s foundational to what students will learn in the coming weeks, but there’s no need to investigate. 

On the other hand, I spend more time frontloading vocabulary with my heredity unit. Heredity vocabulary is hard, so I teach them the words in context to each other before we really dive into heredity. It helps so much! 

Frontloading is a very simple direct instruction teaching strategy, but so effective in keeping kids from being confused when it’s used right

5. Know what you’re talking about! 

Of all the direct instruction strategies I’ve talked about so far, I think this is the most important for engaging students. 

Actually learn what you’re talking about! So often, it’s tempting to buy a powerpoint off of TPT and present it.

But by spending a little bit of time learning about your topic, you can have authentic conversations with kids. Those conversations and answers to their questions are what they remember and make learning more than scribbling down some information. 

This comes with time, and generally comes topic by topic as you teach more. If you don’t feel comfortable with one content area, that’s okay! I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about Newton’s laws as I am about eclipses, and that’s okay! 

BONUS: Keep students organized

I started this post by telling you that until recently, I still had notebooks from middle school. I’m sure the reason I kept these notebooks was because they were more than a collection of scribbles. 

They were meticulous. I was proud of them. They were neat. Each one was organized differently. 

Helping your students organize their notebook as you’re teaching is incredibly helpful to how they feel when they open it. You want them to be proud. 

Whether or not you have them cut and glue in note pages, draw, or a combination, find a way to keep them organized. 

Inquiry-based learning is great. But it needs to be paired with purposeful and solid direct instruction. By utilizing these five direct instruction strategies, say goodbye to students scribbling something just to get it down and hello to a reengaged class who doesn’t hate notes.

Best Teaching Practice, Middle School, Science Pedagogy

Save a life: Where is your AED on campus?

Show middle school students where they AED on campus is so that they know in case of an emergency.

I’d be willing to bet that you haven’t had to look a student in the eyes, hand them your keys, and say, “go get the AED.” One of my best teacher friends had to a few years back. For a student who collapsed from a cardiac emergency and was supposed to show up to my class in two class periods.

I can guarantee you don’t want to waste time telling them what an AED is if you find yourself in that situation. They don’t know. They’re in middle school. They’re likely going to get nervous and try to ask questions, but there’s not time for that.

Turns out, the student had an unknown condition that caused them to go into cardiac arrest. The quick thinking of the teachers and the very quick arrival of first responders who used an AED on site saved this student’s life.

Teachers don’t think they’ll need their campus AED

Before this incident, I didn’t realize that we had an AED on campus. I sat in CPR classes, required for coaches only, every two years where they were used. I never thought I’d need to know actually about them.

Showing middle school students where the campus AED is may be your most important classroom procedure.

This blog post has been in swirling my head, needing to be written since this incident. Teachers don’t think it will happen on their campus. But after Damar Hamlin collapsed on the football field on national TV, I had a stirring to write it again. 

Because you never know when and who it could happen to. And I didn’t realize it was even a possibility until it happened to one of my students on my campus. 

I’m not going to go into the details about this event because it’s not my full story to tell, and I’m still very good friends with the teachers who were involved. 

I’m going to be frank though. An AED can save someone’s life. Where are the AEDs on your campus? Do you know? 

Changes to the First Week of School

After this incident, I made a big change to my first week of school every year since. We go find the AEDs. 

Admin always asks that you do a few things that first week of school. It might be fire drill practice, an intro lesson to campus rules, or maybe passing out paperwork and logistical tasks for starting the school year.

These tasks take time, but never a whole class period. 

Get out and show students where the campus AED is

One of these days is the best to take a tour and find your AED on campus.  

I like using the fire drill practice day because we’re already going to be out of the classroom. We just make a few more stops.

Here’s the tricky thing about cardiac arrest. It’s an electrical problem with the signals in the heart, unlike a heart attack which is a blockage in the arteries. 

This means it can happen to anyone. 

When I decide to tour campus and show kids where AEDs are, I share the story about my student. When it happens to someone you know, it hits differently. Kids get silent. They realize it is real. 

Share a story to make a connection

You can share this story. Or this story about a 16 year old at tennis practice. The story of Damar Hamlin or Christian Ericksen. Middle school students connect with stories.

After I share the story, we watch this video of how an AED works. It’s simple and short. 

Then we go on a campus tour. 

AEDs are usually in the front office and the gym. Check with your campus nurse to be sure. If there is one in the gym, check with the PE teacher to see if you can sneak into a corner of the gym for just a minute each class period one day. 

Before you leave the classroom, remember – you have middle school students! Be VERY clear with your expectations. 

Be clear on your expectations before leaving your classroom

Tell them in no uncertain terms that they are to walk, not run. They may not put their hands or feet on each other.  They may talk quietly outside. Yelling is unacceptable. 

When we get to a door leading inside, usually the office, I make them all stop and reiterate expectations. The office is where people answer phones and have meetings. They should not talk unless it’s necessary. And I explain that If I have to call them out for being too loud – at my discretion – I will call home (and I follow through!). 

When students know where the AED on campus is, it can save precious moments in a medical emergency.

Depending on where your classroom will depend on where you stop first. If the PE teacher asks you not to come in, you can probably look through a window and point the AED out. 

If you can get cooperation from the nurse, they might open the wall case up and let the siren sound. Always tell kids the alarm is to draw attention to an emergency. Do not waste time explaining why they are running in the office. Once they grab the AED, adults will follow. 

Physically walking students to the AEDs on campus and showing them what it looks like may save seconds or minutes in an emergency. In an emergency, those moments matter. 

Prepared students and teachers know where the AED on campus is

I was watching the Bills game when Damar Hamlin collapsed. After watching what seems to be thousands of hours of football in the last two years with my husband, the Bills are my team of choice. 

As news updates rolled in, one article caught my eye. The NFL has what they call a “60-minute meeting” with all the medical personnel and officials one hour before kickoff at every game to prepare specifically for cardiac emergencies. 

How many football games have you watched without a cardiac emergency? I’ve watched almost three years worth! 

Yet little did I know that before every game, this group of people met in case there was one. They wanted to be prepared. 

By showing your students where the AEDs are on campus, you’re conducting your own “60-minute meeting.” Chances are your students won’t need to know. But in case they do, it could save a life. 

Middle School, Professionalism

The Epic Test Review Game You Didn’t Know You Needed


Test review can be torturous. Students hate it and we hate it, but it’s something we feel like we have to do. And engaging students in the process can be like pulling teeth. Games like Grudgeball work fine, there’s only so much higher level thinking we can get from them in that setting. They don’t really want to review any more than we do. But what if you could spend that precious time having your students create a test review game that is engaging and makes them think?

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How do you explain a classroom without using the words teacher, student, desks, learn, or school?  It’s a little tricky, right?  You have to really understand what a classroom is to explain it well without using those words. Truly understanding something is different than simply reciting it. Our goal is always to engage students in what they are learning and drive them to think more critically.

I don’t want students to repeat what I said or what they read. I want them to engage with the content and walk away with their own, true understanding. This is what led me to create this epic test review game! Click here to grab an editable copy of the game template!

Tell Me More About This Magical Test Review Game

My desire for students to think critically and truly remember content from all year inspired me to have students create their own test review game called Forbidden Lingo. This is almost identical in concept to Taboo. I needed a way to review what we learned all year long with my students so they did well on our end of the year benchmark. This game project was just the solution.


Students make their own Forbidden Lingo playing cards using terms they’ve used for the unit of study (maybe a single unit, maybe the whole year). Each card has a vocab word at the top. Then, they have to select five Forbidden words players are not allowed to say while they’re playing the game. 

Year after year, this game has been my go-to for test review! I usually set aside four days for students to work on this project in class before they take their test. With a little modification, it can also be used for any grade level or content area.

Playing Is Easy

Two teams sit in a circle with every other player being on the opposite team. When a player grabs a card from the deck, they see a main word at the top they’re supposed to get their team to guess using verbal clues. There are also five words they are not allowed to say. Each player tries to get  their team to guess as many words as possible in a one minute time frame.  The team with the most points at the end of the round wins.

Preparing for the Project

About a week in advance, tell kids they need to bring in how many notecards you’re going to use. This will depend on how many . They don’t need their notecards on the first day, so this gives some wiggle room for kids that forget them… because they will.

I also offer the opportunity to buy notecards from me for one cent. Check with your admin and email parents before you do this! I usually them the opportunity to buy half as many notecards as they actually need and cut them in half. This helps students take some ownership in the project, and I am not going out and buying notecards for all 200 of my students. 


If asking students to pay a small amount for their cards isn’t allowed, see if you have a supply closet or if your PTO will buy them. They’re not super expensive. If I end up buying them with my own money, it’s rarely more than three of four dollars.

I actually use the money I get from them to go buy more notecards for the next year. The money does NOT make its way to my Starbucks fund :).

We’re Playing a Game in Class Today!

Ask your students: How do you explain a classroom without saying words teacher, student, desks, learn, or school? The strategy is a lead-in to how Forbidden Lingo is played. I listen to their answers and talk about how they had to think outside of the box to come up with an acceptable clue. 

Then, I put a real Taboo Game card under the doc cam and model how I might describe that word while avoiding the taboo words. 

Finally, I pick up the deck and give clues so they cannot see the word I’m trying to get them to guess. This whole process helps model how they are able to give clues when they play. 

Break the class up into groups of six or eight. Give each group a small deck of Taboo cards to play with. Give them 8-10 minutes (about one minute per person) to play before bringing them back to their desks. You can give the winning teams candy, but I give them bragging rights!

Four Parts To Making An Engaging Test Review Game

Vocab Words

A vocab word is the main word students will put a the top of their Forbidden Lingo card. This is also the word they’ll try to get their peers to guess. Present students with a list of words they must include as vocab words. It’s nice to give them a list of optional words they can choose from, too.

Click the image to grab your editable test review game template for Forbidden Lingo!

Forbidden Words

Forbidden words refer to the five words they’re not allowed to say while they’re explaining that card. I let them use their notebooks and textbooks. I usually print some of the articles we used during a specific topic to use as well. Make students plan their words on a template and check in to make sure they’re on the right track. 

Students will want to use words like pizza if they’re talking about the Earth’s Crust. I don’t let them. You’ll read about why in the next section.


The idea of the game Forbidden Lingo is to avoid using those Forbidden words to explain their vocab word. But this is an academic project. I require my students to use the five Forbidden words they chose for their vocabulary word to write sentences explaining their vocabulary word

For example, say the vocab word is classroom and they forbidden words are teacher, students, desks, learn, and school. The sentence your students should write could say:

A classroom has a lot of desks where students sit and learn from a teacher at school.

This. Totally. Throws. Them. Off. (at least in middle school). They don’t understand how they’re supposed to use the words after you told them not to. Try your best to explain, model, explain again, model again, not lose your mind and keep going. Eventually I made an anchor chart with an example of this and hung it up. This seemed to help a lot.

Deck Logo

All card games have logos. I ask them to make a deck logo on all the cards like they would find on a normal deck of cards – uniform and colored. Remind (coughwarncough) them they have to make 20 to 30 cards, so their logo shouldn’t be exceptionally detailed.

Students Play Each Others Test Review Games

As students finish up working on their Forbidden Lingo, they form groups and play. They should be able to combine decks because they should all have their own logo and it’s easy to sort cards out once it’s time to turn them in. 


THIS IS THE BEST PART! They’ve made all the cards. Each card has the Forbidden words they’re not allowed to say during the game. They had to justify those words by using them to explain their vocab word. Since each student’s card is different, they have to think of their feet! Now, they have to use new words and make new connections to get their team to guess the vocab word.

This is the easiest, best test review game ever. The kids think deeply. They make connections. They have to synthesize information very quickly. It’s all hidden in a game they’re really excited to make and play with friends!

Forbidden Lingo is one of mine and my student’s favorite projects every year! Click here to grab an editable copy that will work great for any topic!

Middle School, Projects

Five Easy Tips to Teaching Heredity in Middle School


Teaching heredity in middle school is so much fun because kids have so many cool questions about how it works! And you get to give them answers! 

“How come I have blue eyes and both of my parents have brown eyes?” 

“How come all siblings don’t look the same if they have the same parents?” 

“Is it true that cancer is genetic?”

“If freckles are genetic, are a moles?” 

Kids are so engaged and interested in heredity once you start talking about it, so you have to really be prepared because the ins and outs of teaching heredity are pretty tricky! 

So, here are five tips to teaching heredity to help you be 100% ready and for students to be successful tackling this tricky topic! 

1. Prepare


I’m guessing since you’re reading this, you’ve looked at your standards and know you need to teach heredity. That’s the first step! Spend a little bit of time really looking into those standards and figure out what major benchmarks students need to walk away knowing. 

Emphasize your time on teaching and practicing vocabulary, Punnett squares, and a culminating project where students can see traits being passed from parents to offspring.

The most important aspect to teaching genetics and heredity is for you to learn the content. There are so many new and content specific words students never hear anywhere else. Genetics and heredity is very abstract (we see the outcome, not the process), and some students will have a hard time getting it.  

If you are unsure about the content, you won’t teach it to kids well. Then they get confused and frustrated. And you get frustrated. So spend some time to learn, or refresh, what you have to teach. Do some research and reading. Watch some Youtube videos. Write some notes to be sure it makes sense. And make sure you know the vocabulary!

Want your complete heredity unit laid out for you? Download the free Middle School Science Teacher’s Guide to Heredity so that you will save time planning and stop stressing over your heredity unit!

2. Speak Their Language


Please don’t try and learn the latest middle school lingo. That is not what I mean!

First, as you get a handle on heredity content knowledge for yourself, try to think of ways to explain it better to your middle school students. When I was in 6th grade (pre-technology), my science teacher Mr. Zecher would draw pictures in different colors on the board as he taught and we drew the same pictures in our notebooks.

I still remember the different types of fault lines, and I kept my science notebooks for years! If you can plan for one or more of your lessons on heredity to include drawing pictures, awesome! 

Next, try to use everyday language or examples wherever you can while teaching heredity. My students could not figure out dominant and recessive alleles, so we talked about wrestlers going against each other from the same and different weight classes. Which wrestler is stronger? Which one would win in each match? How does that relate to dominant and recessive alleles? In this particular heredity lesson, my 8th graders finally got it! 

Read this blog post explaining how I compare density to suitcases! It illustrates this point perfectly!

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of making simple connections while teaching heredity.

Want a step-by-step roadmap to help you plan your heredity unit so you can save time stressing over what to teach and how to teach it? Download your FREE Middle School Teachers’ Guide to Heredity right now!

3. Simplify Teaching Heredity


You do not have to teach every life science standard before you start teaching heredity. Simply put, students need to know these few things, and only these few things, before they can fully understand heredity: 

First… each sperm and egg cell has 23 chromosomes and when they fuse to create an embryo, they create 46 chromosomes, or 23 pairs – one from mom and one from dad, and

Second… genes, or alleles, are located on the DNA inside of each cell. 

Consider spending a little bit of time reviewing or skimming the Cell Theory or how DNA is structured, but don’t go too deep. There is no need to spend weeks teaching every cell-related topic. 

Keeping it simple in preparation for teaching genetics and heredity will free up your middle school student’s brains to think about it more clearly without all the noise of every other lesson they’ve heard about DNA in the last month. Of course, this wouldn’t apply unless you’re expected to teach cells and DNA before your hereditary unit based on state standards.

4. Emphasize Vocabulary


How the heck do you get a 12 year old to remember what phenotype is shown by a homozygous recessive allele pair?! 

I actually have an answer for you. Teach vocabulary. 

In my opinion, there is a lot of emphasis put on investigation in science. While that’s actually a very good thing, there is a time and place for direct instruction and this is one of them. 

Asking middle school students to learn these hard words requires teachers to teach vocabulary strategies. Front-load vocabulary by introducing it through stations, teach prefix and suffix strategies, or asking kids to draw pictures. 

Whatever vocabulary strategy you decide to use, include some direct instruction. Say the words and have kids repeat them. A “homozygous recessive allele” pair includes three new words that all need to be in the same sentence, but also sound like gibberish. Practice how these words relate to each other. 

Finally, spend a few days on practice through games, worksheets, or activities. 

5. Build On Previous Lessons


Many students have noticed family resemblance. Maybe they have the same eye color as a parent or they look very similar to a sibling. That’s the easy part of planning a middle school genetics lesson. That’s what students observe. Use it as a launching point for your heredity unit. 

Fortunately, that’s not where we stop teaching heredity! Teachers begin the process of explaining how kids look like the rest of their family. It’s tricky because student’s can’t observe the process, just the outcome. 

The key is to give students the proper support as they learn more and more. 

First, start with vocabulary because that’s necessary for Punnett squares. Use simple, straight forward Punnett squares at first. 

Punnett Square Story Problems Are A Perfect Example

Then, add more complex concepts once you know they’re doing it correctly. Think of this like using simple addition before giving kids story problems. Your simple addition would be a Punnett square with given alleles all set for them to complete. The story problems require students to think and understand.

For example, you could say, parent one has blue eyes and parent two has heterozygous alleles and has brown eyes. Create this cross. 

The story problem is more complicated and shows the student’s knowledge of vocabulary and Punnett squares. Students need to know both to level up to the critical thinking required for a story problem

There are a lot of things to consider while planning for your heredity unit. You want students to be successful. By preparing, speaking their language, simplifying it, emphasizing vocab, and scaffolding every step, you’ll set your students up for a win!

Don’t forget to download your free Middle School Science Teacher’s Guide to Heredity filled with easy strategies, clear information, and the step-by-step order you should teach your heredity unit in! Download the guide here so you can stop Googling, curl up on the couch, and watch your favorite show without stressing!

Life Science, Middle School

What’s The Difference Between Revolution and Rotation in the Earth, Moon, and Sun Systems?

teach the difference between earth's rotation and revolution

I love teaching Earth, Moon, and Sun systems. I think it’s so cool how three celestial objects can create so many things. Sunsets, moon phases, seasons, eclipses, days, and nights. It’s caused only by Earth’s revolution and rotation. There’s something magical about it to me. But what’s the difference between revolution and rotation?

One year, as my 7th graders and I were talking about moon phases, one asked how sunsets are made. I knew how. But I didn’t really know how. Yes, I knew that the earth spinning and changing from day to night created sunsets, but I couldn’t articulate it. 

I didn’t know, so I researched

So I researched “what’s the difference between revolution and rotation in the Earth, Moon, and Sun systems?” Come to find out, I knew how sunsets are made, but I didn’t have the proper word for it. Rotation.

I also realized I had been skipping over this very foundational topic of Earth’s rotation and revolution when I taught about the Earth, Moon, and Sun systems. So, in all of my teaching about moon phases and seasons, I never really explained how these systems worked.

Teach your students the difference between revolution and rotation with this awesome interactive notebook template! Click here to find it!

The real difference between revolution and rotation

Let’s first start with the basic definitions and difference between revolution and rotation in regards to the Earth.

Rotation: The Earth is sitting in space, titled on a 23.5° axis. One rotation is a single spin on that axis in 24 hours. Earth’s rotation helps us differentiate between day and night. Think of how a globe moves. Two points on the top and bottom hold the globe in place and when you spin the globe, it stays in place and spins on those two points. 

Revolution: The Earth is orbiting our sun. A full revolution is one trip around the sun, taking one year. If we start a timer on June 12th, it would take 365 days for the Earth to complete a full revolution, ending on June 12th the following year. 

There is a big difference between revolution and rotation. One creates sunsets and tides, and the other is responsible for our calendar. 

Don’t skip teaching the foundational stuff

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I’m a huge proponent of scaffolding science concepts (and I’m probably guilty of oversimplifying) so that students can really understand what they’re learning. I assume with the emphasis put on reading and math in elementary school, student’s science exposure is pretty limited. 

And here I was. Skipping the very foundational stuff. 

Here’s the thing. Students get these words confused. They both start with R, they’re both pretty specific to how planets move, and they cause completely different phenomena in nature. 

In addition to our Earth rotating and revolving, planets and moons do the same thing. Our moon phases and eclipses are created by the moon revolving around the Earth. The high and low tides are caused by both the revolution of the moon and the rotation of the Earth. 

Get them familiar with rotation and revolution early

Students should fully understand these words before they determine what is caused by each phenomena. This interactive notebook is the best way to give your students a hands on opportunity to see and remember the difference between revolution and rotation.

Your students will see the words rotation and revolution in their reading and on websites as they learn. Addressing the difference up front is such an easy way to scaffold their learning and keep them from becoming confused later on. I find it best to teach Earth’s rotation and revolution at the beginning of the unit. You’ll be able to refer to each word, rather than spending multiple chunks of multiple class periods trying to undo confusion. 

Do yourself a teaching favor. Before you teach moon phases, tides, and seasons, spend a day talking about the difference between revolution and rotation. Your student’s will thank you. 

Moon phases are caused by the moon's revolution around the earth.
Earth Science, Space Science

To the teacher feeling unsupported & struggling with bad student behavior


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Stop sending students to the office. 

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

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

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

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

2. Set expectations all day everyday.

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

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

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

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

3. Follow Through and Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s keep going with the phone example.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Students want to make a good choice.

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

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

4. Always have a plan.

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

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

5. Loop parents in

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

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Little problems like talking too much or going to the bathroom for seven minutes every class period turn into big problems later. If you’ve tried to work it out with the student by chatting with them or having natural classroom consequences and you’re still not seeing a change, it’s time to call or email parents. Get them involved. Almost every single parent I’ve talked to (and trust me, it’s a lot) have been supportive and helpful. At least they try their best to be, and that’s really all you can ask.

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

BONUS: Start a countdown and take a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

Classroom Management, Middle School

Six Of The Most Common Questions About Google Classroom

iPhone with Google Classroom sections on screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classroom Management, Digital Learning

Three 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: 


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

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

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.)

Now you get mad… 

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.


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.


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.

Be Professional Anyway

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