Monday, 30 September 2013

Level Up Board in Action!

You may have seen the pictures of my classroom and noticed some Super Mario characters gracing one of my bulletin boards.  The inspiration for this came from the Bump It Up boards I'd heard about at a PD session last year and a quote from the Flip Your Classroom book about leveling up.  Now that we've been in school for about a month, the Level Up board is getting a lot more use.

Leveling up our answers to a scientific question.

I make sure that the students are part of updating the board too.  The first thing they leveled-up was a procedure I'd written in their note packages and read in my best Cletus Spuckler voice:

First I'm gonna plant some tomato seeds.  Then I'm gonna give them different amounts of water.  Then I'm gonna measure which one's the tallest.

I asked them what level they thought I'd give for that procedure - they were a little surprised when I said I wouldn't waste my time marking it!  Then we went through in groups with clear instructions how to level up those procedures.  They alternated writing for Levels 1, 2, 3, 4 and their homework was to write a level 4+ on their own.  I chose the best examples of each level and put it up on the board for the students to refer to while they were working on their borax bouncy balls scientific inquiry unit.

No surprise that you'd expect more writing for a Level 4!

Another leveling up activity we tried was on how to write a response to a question.  I find many students come to me with a hard time answering a question.  Details like using keywords from the question in the answer, reading the entire question and explaining with support are often lacking.  I am loving this Level Up board, and I think it is being really helpful - but we will see on their next quiz!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Changing Times & TpT for High School

I wouldn't say that I teach like I was taught.
I certainly didn't have bad teachers!  In fact, many of them are now my co-workers.  However, times have changed dramatically since I was in high school, and I only started Grade 9 in 2000. 

We were expected to memorize equations and copy notes from the overhead projector.  Now I wonder when was the last time I used an overhead projector.

There are differing philosophies on how to teach high school students, but mine come from my experience, mostly in University.  I was on the Math department's council for all my years there.  Their big issues, especially with the curriculum change, were that students were coming in from high school unprepared for University.  Unprepared?  But we spent so much time memorizing formulae and note taking strategies (I still use N.B. in my own notes because of it).  How could we be unprepared?

That wasn't what the University was looking for.  They wanted us to have the knowledge, not of the formula but how to use it and where it comes from.  They wanted us to have listening skills more than note-taking skills.  Mathematics and the Sciences are so much more than knowledge and facts.  It's the thinking, the inquiry, the communication and the application skills that are so much more important.  Those are the skills needed to complete research and to have a successful career.

So instead of assuming what universities are looking for, copying skills (leave that to Xerox) and memorizing formulae (isn't that what reference packages are for?) inquire as to what they truly need students to be ready for.  In all of my courses throughout university: Physics, Math, Stats, Education, Astronomy, Psychology, Operations Research, Computer Science and Latin, I think I had one course that I actually had to memorize facts (Architecture, and I dropped it because I didn't agree that I should be tested on memorizing 250+ slides of doors, windows and fabrics per test).  In all of these courses I rarely had to copy notes (except for examples) because they were provided.  This allowed us to learn so much more!  

So now I teach with that in mind, I will never ask my students to memorize the Periodic Table (this really happens in some places!) but they will know how to use it.  They won't have to memorize the 100+ Physics formulae, but they will understand them and be able to derive some too.  And they will be spoiled by their loving teacher, because their notes will not require them to copy page after page from an overhead.  Why do I give them so much?  So that I can give them even more - opportunities to participate in academic discussion, engaged minds with experiments that shatter their preconceptions and a community of cooperative scientists.

I'm really glad to see this evolution of teaching among my co-workers.  I am so honored when they say that I, their former student, am now inspiring them to be better educators.

This is what I was thinking when I wrote a little blurb for the TpT blog post on why TpT is right for High School Teachers.  It's time us 9-12 teachers get on board.  Save some time in planning and put that towards offering our students a better education.  Check out what other high school teachers are saying.

Not sure where to start with finding resources?  Check out the new High School Science Pinterest boardTpT free resources for 9-12 and my High School resources on TpT.

Monday, 16 September 2013

10 Learning Goal Tips + FREEBIE

Here are some tips for using learning goals in your classroom:

1. Have the students write them down.  It sets the tone and makes them responsible for their learning, but mostly it makes them open their binder before class starts. ;)

2. Date the goal.  That way all goals can be tracked and they'll know if they are missing a day.

3. Model the process.  Use a learning goal page for yourself and show the kids how they should go about writing and reflecting.

4. Give options for how to accomplish the goal if they didn't in class.  Some kids will say "I don't know what to do" if you don't give them tips like going online or asking a friend for help.

5. Get them to use a tracker often.  During class it should be accessible as well as during homework time.  This way if they have any questions and you're not around they won't forget the question.

6. Write down the goal from their perspective. Them copying "I will be able to..." is much more powerful than you writing "You will learn how...".

7. Choose language that they will understand...

8. ...but is still is technical and relates to the course.  If they don't know "equation" from "expression" then this is another avenue for them to differentiate the two.  Hehe... "differentiate" in a sentence about math :)

9.  Sometimes, let them make the goals.  On some days, give the students their note or lesson first and have them come up with what their goal should be.  With your guidance, have them come up with a goal that is specific and measurable.  You may have to help them with verbs like describe, explain, identify... but that's where a Bloom's Taxonomy resource like this one will help out:

10.  Finally, and most importantly. Photocopy the learning goal trackers onto bright, colorful paper.  I can't stress this enough!  If you know me personally, you know how much I value color in students' binders.  If you want them to use it, never lose it and refer to it often then you'd better offer it on some colorful paper.  I use bright green for Biology, bright blue for Astronomy, bright yellow for Electricity and bright pink for Chemistry in Grade 9 Science.  In addition to the learning goal page, other really important documents (newsletters, test outlines, project rubrics, etc.) are copied in the same color for that unit.

If you're ready to start using a learning goal tracker, start with my editable version at my TpT store.  It's free! 
Just let me know if you like it in the ratings and comments section ;)

P.S. Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a free bingo game!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Learning Goal Tracker Pages

I am all about the learning goals!

I post them.
The kids copy them.
We discuss them.
We reflect upon them.
And when the kids ask what's on the test they know to look at them.

Last year I started using a log for the students to track their learning goals, the notes and activities associated with them.  Before class begins they know to copy down the date, learning goal and note/activity.  

We reflect on their progress to the goal before, during and after class begins with quick-checks (thumbs-up, thumbs-down), partner-checks (explain to your partner...), exit cards and tweet sheets just to name a few.  

If the kids are still struggling they've got options they can check to make sure they are able to accomplish each goal (ask a classmate, check online, go to Science Help, ask Mrs. B, etc).  

Finally, there is a place to write down any questions you still have.  Sometimes, if the kids have a great handle on the concepts I let them draw a big smiley face in this area to show that they've got it!

If you see the benefits to this then you'll want to get your students using a learning goal tracker.  it's never too late to start with these!  I've posted an editable copy at my TpT store for FREE!  Just let me know if you like it in the ratings and comments section.  I love the love you leave me :)

P.S. Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a free bingo game!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Bingo! Not just for large groups anymore!

You don't just have to play Bingo as a class to use the Bingo cards.  Here are a couple ideas of how you can use the Bingo game cards to reinforce concepts.

Give the bingo cards out in advance and let the students have time to find all of the answers.  
Why it's great?
-It allows more time for processing
-Allows everyone to be involved
-Shows you they understand
-Gives them incentive to play
-Applicable to so many bingo games (sounds, animals, coins, etc.)

Give the students a card and the game pieces and have them sort and match
Why it's great?
-Gives a different tactile approach
-Students can play by themselves (great if the buses are cancelled!)
-Little learners can work on matching shapes and identifying small differences
-Applicable to so many bingo games
-Can use this method with centers

Don't get me wrong, it's still so much fun to yell out "Bingo!" and win a prize, but you don't have to keep those bingo cards tucked away until it's time to play!

Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a free Bingo game to use in your classes!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

We're Off To A Great Start!

Out first week of school just wrapped up and my classes are off to a great start!  It helps that I've got Grade 9s that are new to the school and Grade 12s that know me from being their teacher before or through Science Help.  I think I had to only learn 3 new names in the Grade 12 class!  

I also start the school year off as a permanent teacher!  I'm so excited and so very grateful!  I received lots of high-fives from other staff members on the first day and even the Superintendent came to my class to congratulate me!  So many exclamation marks!!!

Here are a few things that stood out to me this week to make it such a success!
1. Classroom decor!  
In Catia's blog post where I was her guest of honor, I described my dream classroom.  This is the classroom I described!  I got it for at least this semester (hopefully forever).  I teach periods 1-3 in here and it's empty during period 4.  I can get so much done in here.  
 The door to the classroom.  This week it's Principal Skinner explaining the benefits of Science.  I plan on switching up the character/quote each week of the school year.

Simpsons characters and quotes can be found throughout the room.  I also really like the job the Silhouette Cameo machine did cutting out the Biology, Chemistry and Physics titles.  I randomly found in my paper supply papers that look like plants, ball and stick molecules and the particle zoo.  That's lucky!

 This is the room from the back corner.  Behind the Biology mural is a closet I affectionately call Narnia.

 Another view from the same corner.  There is lots of Biology in here.  I don't want to get rid of it, I want to increase the amounts of Chemistry and Physics.

 I'm still thinking of what to put on those pink areas but for now they cover up a lot of tape marks.

 The view from the front of the room.  Notice the two fans?  I'm up to three now!

My Level Up! board that I will start using this coming week, as well as the homework board.  The Silhouette cut out the vinyl, Dr. Frink, the Level Up! letters and the Mario characters.  I can't believe how much time that machine saved me this summer!

2. Getting to know you activities
The new Grade 9 students are so very shy the first few days.  One activity that I really like to do and it was very successful is really easy to do:
-Give the students a couple sticky notes of pieces of paper.
-Ask them to quietly write down 2 questions for their group members that they want to know the answers to.
-Have the students number themselves based on an attribute (longest hair, tallest, etc).
-Each student goes through and answers all of the questions in the minute of time they're given.
-The next person thanks the previous person.  Repeat until everyone has answered the question.
-The Twist: each group can choose one (or two) questions to ask the teacher!  This part was super fun!  My students sure did learn a lot about me.  They chose very good question.  Try it this week and let me know how it goes in the comments :)

3. Switching up the parent letter home
I always send letters home to the parents with the SIS and the classroom rules and info.  This year the students filled out a similar form like they've done before in my classes.  Questions about how they get to school, who they live with, check boxes for preferences and some follow-up short answer questions.  My favorite: What is your favorite dinosaur and why?  I can tell a lot about them based on their dinosaur ;)

New this year: asking the parents to fill out a form as well.  Just one page, but what a change!  They fill out contact info and then they have some space to tell me about their child, check boxes and a signature.
I was so enthralled by what the parents were writing me!  I learned so much about these Grade 9s that I just met and quite a bit about the Grade 12s (most of which I had already taught).  Maybe our students are too humble, but I am glad parents like to boast!

I spent a few hours reading these parent forms throughout the week.  I laughed so much!  It's incredible what you learn from such a simple question. 

I was so impressed with this student and parent information form I'm offering it as a freebie in my TpT store.  Go out and download it, and you can edit it to match your style and class.  I've bolded the areas you definitely should change, but feel free to alter it as you like or just use it as inspiration.  Should you happen to like it, leave me some love in the comments ;)

I hope you had a great first week as well, and if not, hang in there!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Meme Generator Fun

I didn't think I'd be posting the day before school starts.  I'm feeling pretty good about how things are going, so I was playing around on MemeGenerator.  I've seen a few teachers on Pinterest with some memes.  It is SO easy - just pick your meme, type and save the picture.   Hopefully my students think these are funny:

And if they don't think they're funny:

I should get bonus points for two Sean Bean memes :)
If you start tomorrow like I do have a great first day!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Make Your Classroom Cuter! A Quick Way to Perk Up Your Bulletin Boards!

As I mentioned before, as soon as I found out about getting a room to myself for my 3 classes I started decorating right away.  The first stop is the Dollarama store to get wrapping paper to cover the bland corkboards.  I knew I wanted one that looks like the night sky to display student work.  I tried covering the dark blue wrapping paper with blue cellophane but it didn't quite look right.  So I needed a different way to add interest.  The previous teacher in this room left lots of push pins so I was going to use those instead of staples to display student work (in hopes that this would also get me to change up the board more often).
I'm having lots of fun decorating and am really excited to show you my room (even though it is still in progress!)

Here is a quick way to make your class cuter:  affix shapes onto your push pins!  

All I used was star shapes cut out from cardstock on my Silhouette Cameo, Recollections permanent glue tape and pushpins.  Just roll the permanent glue tape onto the center of the back of the shape. Press the pushpin firmly for a few seconds.  Insert the pushpin into the corkboard; you don't have to wait.  I wasn't sure if the paper would hold, but they've been up now for a few days with no signs of coming loose.  Cuter than basic pushpins and also gives a nice three dimensional touch to the bulletin board.  Just be careful when you pull them out!

How can you adapt this for your classroom theme?  
-There is lots of cute clip-art on the Silhouette Studio store.  Whichever theme you are going with this year I'm sure there is something for you.  And if not, check out my post on Cutting any shape with the Silhouette Cameo.
-Use pre-cut shapes from educational stores or the teacher supply section of Staples.
-Type out encouraging words or phrases like "Wow!" or "Great work!".
-If you are going with a superhero theme type out fun words like "POW" onto colorful paper.
-Type out student names or print out pictures and match the work you're displaying to the pushpin.
-Add glitter!  If you're brave have your students add the glitter (but you will do the work with the pushpin, of course!)

Do you have any other ideas?  Let me know in the comments below.

Good luck!

  PS. Thanks Zip for the Space background :) 
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