Tag Archives: middle school

Anchor Activities for Free Time

5 Sep

I survived the first day of school unscathed! I still have three more of my classes tomorrow but it feels good to have the first day under my belt. I honestly can’t remember being more excited and enthusiastic about beginning the year. I guess it’s because for the first time, this isn’t the first year at a new school for me. This is my sixth year of teaching and every single year but this I’ve had to change schools or districts. It was the most underwhelming beginning of the year I’ve ever had- and it was fabulous.

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Calm before the storm

Our kids are receiving 1:1 I-pads TONIGHT and I’ve been busy googling and pinteresting away at all the amazing things I will be able to do. It’s a lot to think about and I know I will start small, but it sure is exciting.

I have really been trying to reflect and make this year great by thinking about mistakes I made last year and how I can change that. I know that the first days of school are really important in setting a precedent and communicating expectations to students. I feel like I have always struggled a bit with classroom management a bit. I constantly think about how I can change and get better at it. Over the last school year I really noticed that having a well run classroom isn’t about being super strict or enforcing consequences or following a stringent rule plan like I read about my first year of teaching in Harry Wong’s book. It’s more about the atmosphere you create in the classroom. I think because this is the smallest school I’ve ever worked at…it’s really easy to gauge the atmosphere and overall ‘aura’ of the class and if the students are actually even listening to you, engaged and on the same page. I think this year instead of focusing so much on giving detentions and following a strict rule plan I will focus on creating a classroom atmosphere where the students feel motivated to do well because a) they like and respect me and b) they really are engaged in what they are doing so they don’t have time to act out. I think the I-pads will be a great launching pad (no pun intended) for this.

Last school year I was really frustrated about the amount of free time kids were given and them wasting it. My kids have a lot of study halls and fluff classes and it’s difficult to motivate them to do anything when there is no grade attached to it. When they claim to be “done” with their homework they have free time and start to act out. I started getting annoyed with this so I created this Anchor Activities requirement in my classroom. A quick Google search for anchor activities will explain what they are- basically activities that students have to complete when they are “done” with the day’s work to prevent idle down time. They are also great for differentiation when you have some kids who finish first and are just sitting around. This will work well in my inclusion classes where I have a range of abilities. I made up 8-10 activities like making flash cards, spelling lists, creative writing prompts, class journals, free rice and Brain Pop. Each activity is worth a certain number of points and students have to get 50 points a marking period.

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Required is their AR (independent reading) quiz and they have to read at least one book per marking period.

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I’m explaining the program to students next class. I really want it to go well and help fill up time of students who finish activities early and are just sitting around wasting time. Maybe it will even encourage them to try harder and put more effort into things instead of just rushing to get it done.

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Whole Class journals students can write in and respond to others in

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I’m really looking forward to this year and trying to enjoy every minute of this exciting back to school time!!! I’ve really never felt this not busy to be actually excited and looking forward to the year! It’s a great feeling.

Classroom Organization Ideas

27 Aug

Almost time for back to school…..dun dun dun. Yup. Summer went by in a flash. It was expected to though. I am in denial about going back kind of happy to get back to work. There’s only so much HGTV & Food Network one can watch and Pinterest-ing one can do without feeling like a lazy, good-for-nothing pile of crap. Plus, you know, the whole getting paid thing is nice too. Contrary to what most people think teachers do not get paid in the summer!! It’s nice to have summer off but by the end of summer I NEED to start working again. It’s kind of like if you asked your boss for two unpaid months off. It’d be awesome, but eventually the bills need to get paid.

That being said, today I visited my classroom to set some stuff. Last year I had tons of ideas on the blog about catering your classroom to the common core. This year, the incoming 8th graders are supposed to be notoriously disorganized, so I’ve set up my room to support them to be successful. I designed one side of my wall with a chalkboard I’ll update every week that includes the essential question (what the students will be learning), an “I Can…” statement (what they will be able to do at the end of the lesson), HW that is due, and HW for that night. This way, no student will can ever say he didn’t know what was due when, etc. I have a feeling it might be hard to keep up with a little, and there’s no saying it won’t change from day to day. But I feel like the students NEED to know what they are supposed to be learning every day, and have a measurable “I Can” statement.

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Now if I could only find my chalk…..

I also added some more goofy posters with quotes to make it look like I’m a cool teacher.

LOL

HA HA get it?

punctuation

Punctuation!!!

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My favorite book of all time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Surprisingly, To Kill a Mockingbird is on the 8th grade common core list!!! I’m not doing it this year but I can’t wait to do it in the future. I just hope 8th graders can deal with all the language….another blog post for another day.

7 more days!!!!

What organizational details are you adding to your classroom this year?

Omnivore’s Dilemma: Food education

30 May

Once again I am merging the two concepts upon which this blog was designed- my love of food and my teaching career. I already posted awhile back about incorporating my love of food into my classroom. To end the year, my students are completing a research project centered around an amazing book I just finished, which was life changing to say the least.

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In his book, Pollan strives to uncover secrets of industrial, processed, industrial organic, and sustainable meals. It really goes to the heart of how what you eat affects not only you, but the environment, the economy, the government, and society as a whole. As bloggers, we may put a lot of thought into what we eat. But have you REALLY thought of the political, social, environmental and economical implications of eating your morning cereal? Who grew, processed, packaged and shipped that product? Did it take more energy to make it than you can actually get from it? The answers will surprise you, and most likely make you NOT want to eat a lot of the things you currently eat. I know I’ve changed my eating habits immensely since reading this book.

So I was reading this book and come to find out…..it’s on the common core for 8th grade! Who would have thought?!?! My initial reaction was excitement. Then it turned immediately to panic. They want 8th graders to read this?!?!? One of the chapters was labeled “corn sex” !!! There were words I couldn’t pronounce. I was freaking out. Then I discovered this:

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The young adult version! Essentially the same book only at a lower, much easier to understand reading level (I was struggling to follow the adult version myself!). And no sex, even of the corn nature.

I picked out about 5 chapters for students to read to get an overall picture in order to answer this question:

essential question

Students did various activities examining food labels, watching videos provided by Nourish, and studied industrial faming VS local farming.

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It just really surprised me how little my students knew about the secrets behind the food they eat. That soda is mostly 100% HFCS. That they put ammonia in meat to kill bacteria. The environmental implications of drinking hot chocolate that was shipped from Switzerland.

There’s so much to talk about when it comes to this topic (I already covered eating local). At some times I was feeling weird about teaching students this, thinking they were going to go home and rant to their parents about how they need to start eating grass-fed beef. But if you really think about it, if we don’t teach our kids about this damaging, corrupt, and disgusting thing that is the food industry, when will the ignorance end?

SO when we were done studying the topic, students picked their own individual topics to research further. Choices included:

*Organic vs conventional food

*Food poisoning

*grass fed vs industrial meat

*processed food

*fast food secrets (a popular one)

*hunting for food

*Hidden ingredients

Students will do research (we’re wrapping up day 3 of research) and then complete a presentation (no paper- aren’t I nice?) using the Ipad app Haiku Deck. This presentation software is really easy to use, student friendly, and eye catching! It’s similar to power point but much more simple. Perfect for our shortened time frame.

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Can’t wait to post some examples!

You should really get your hands on the adult (or young adult!) version of the book. It changed the way I look at food forever. I obviously ate pretty healthy before this book, but some of the things you think to believe are “healthy” have some compromising implications you’d be surprised about. Check it out!!!

Have you read the book? Do you think we should teach our kids to care about where our food comes from?

AIS Reading Progress Charts

6 Apr

I’ve been on vacation this week, so it’s kind of a bummer to start thinking about school again, but I’ve had this post in mind since I wrote about my AIS writing charts. We’ll be getting ready for the New York State ELA exams upon return to school (fun fun) so I’ve developed a new strategy in AIS reading to help students practice non- fiction reading skills.

On the chart along the bottom are the numbers 1-8, which correspond to 8 non fiction reading skills of the common core.

I gave students a cheat sheet with  matching sentence starters for each common core reading skill.

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Students have all picked out a self chosen non-fiction book. As they read, they comment on the book using the sentence starters. They write the comments (we call them sticky note comments) in their notebook in a ‘double entry diary’ format.  Every time a student performs that skill, they mark off on the numbered chart. My goal is for them to have check marks across the board before moving to fiction.

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I also keep a running record (a la Nancy Atwell) of each student and what book he or she is reading, as well as the progress made in the book to make sure they’re actually doing something during silent reading time.

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Some days, I’ll work with a small group of students from my class on a particular skill, doing guided reading. AIS can be a pain in the butt, but I believe the system I’ve developed has been working well, and I plan on doing it next year too.

Stargirl and Lit Circle Projects

4 Mar

I recently blogged about the literature circles I was doing in my classroom. Students were grouped in ability level and read three different books: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. We recently ended the unit and I wanted to share some of the amazing book projects they put together.

I gave students a choice for projects including making a fake Facebook, doing journal entries as one of the characters, a book cover, a collage, scrapbook, power point or Prezi presentation…and many more. There was even a choice to do an essay and one student picked that!

Here are some of the good ones:

A student’s Prezi– Prezi is a great tool for presentations if you haven’t already seen it.  It’s more interactive than power point and allows you to zoom in, show relationships between ideas, and embed pictures and video. Take a look at the Prezi my student did on symbolism in Fahrenheit 451.

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A student’s  book cover Stargirl.

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Awesome collage!!

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The inside

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Stargirl scrapbook

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Awesome job!!

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Facebook project

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More scrapbooks

End of book projects for the book Stargirl

Students did a great job! I love projects like these to assess their understanding of a book rather than giving a pencil and paper test.

Tips for holding literature circles in the classroom

23 Jan

Today we kicked off literature circles in my classroom. Students are divided based on (sort-of) ability level into groups. The three books we are reading revolve around individuality, conformity and fitting in.

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The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Well, Fahrenheit 451 is a stretch…..it’s about a future society where no one is allowed free or individual thought, TV takes over the world and firemen burn books instead of put out fires. I wanted something challenging for some of my more advanced students…and it sort of fit the bill with ‘going against the grain’ and ‘individuality’ since the main character tries to break free of this oppressive society. Think Hunger Games. Anyways, here are a few things I’m using to help the literature circles run smoothly. Nothing groundbreaking in my opinion but class went well today!

Students assigning roles

This obviously isn’t a new idea. Each person picks a particular role including connector, discussion director, literary luminary and travel tracer. The roles will switch periodically. My co-teacher made this cool chart so students can keep track of which job is theirs.

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Students establish rules

Today, I had each group make two columns in their notebook- one for behaviors that might make the circles run smoothly, and one for anticipated problems. The students came up with this list.

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Ew my white board is gross

Then, I had them make a list of 5 rules the group had to adhere to. Most came up with rules like being prepared, staying on task and participating in conversation. Some students wanted to make up funny consequences for not doing the reading- like singing a song to the class or wearing a funny hat. They are harsher than I am!

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Distribute a reading calendar or schedule

I gave them a calendar with

1) The activities for that day’s class.

2)The homework due that day.

3) The homework due for NEXT class.

 

I hope that things go smoothly, I am quite nervous about having three different books going on at one time and keeping up with everything. Hopefully students will take responsibility and get the work done so I can just sit back and watch them learn!

Vocabulary Groups: Update!

16 Jan

Awhile ago I posted about the vocabulary word groups that I was doing in my classroom. That was when I first started the strategy. Now we’re about four ‘word groups’ in and I thought I’d give an update. I think so far this strategy is more successful than any other vocabulary strategy I’ve used.

I’m not going to say every single kid knows every single word inside out and upside down, but I am actually seeing them retain some of the words through repetition. Right now, we are doing the ‘important’ words.

wimportant

 

I haven’t left the other word groups (sad, happy and different) behind because the kids really need the repetition of the words in order to retain them. I have thrown the other words on quizzes, done review activities, and recently, the kids made Frayer diagrams using one word of choice.

I made word walls with them and posted the three word groups all over the classroom.

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Words that mean different

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Words that mean sad. Kids like to pick fun at me and my cat, Frank. I didn’t think this particular drawing was very nice.

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I would be very somber if Frank died! How rude!!

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Happy/Good words

Hopefully these word walls will help further reinforce the words as they will be looking at them every day. Just don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of wall space for all of our word groups….. 

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