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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Best Ways to Have a Great Start to your School Year

 Summer is quickly coming to an end, and school will be starting soon. Are you feeling ready to start school again? I know I am not ready; I am going to miss the relaxing time of summer! But today I am going to share with you several different ways that you can have a great start to your school year. So let’s not waste any more time and get started with the meat of our topic today! 

    One of the most important things we have to think about at the start of the school year are the procedures of the classroom. Before school starts, I like to sit in my decorated classroom and think about all the different procedures that might come up, and I make a list of every single one I can think of. I have a student-led classroom, so on the first day of school, I have my students sit down in a circle on our carpet, I ask them to think of the different procedures that might come up in our classroom, and we all start to make a list together. But I am always thinking of the list I created, and will plant seeds to procedures that I want to make sure we cover at the start of the year. The students will think of how a procedure needs to look and be done, then we’ll do lots of practice with that procedure. We’ll talk about the correct way the procedure should look, and the wrong way the procedure might look. The most important thing to do with procedures is practice, practice, practice! Also, be sure to stop at any time throughout your year and create a new procedure if something new comes up. Then be sure to practice that new procedure until it becomes second nature to your students. 


    At the start of the school year, I love to do lots of team building and STEM activities. These help the students get to know each other, and also lets you learn a lot about your students. You will quickly learn who your leaders are, and which students are going to sit back and not help very much. I love using these types of activities throughout the year, not just at the start of the year!


    Saving Fred and Gumdrop Building are a couple of my favorite activities at the start of the year. They are simple to prepare, but the students always love them! I usually spread out the different activities throughout the first week of school so the students always have fun things to look forward to, and it also helps them to continue to get to know each other. 

    The first few days of school I also like to have my students do some different All About Me activities. These are great ways for myself and all of my students to get to know each other. After the students have had time to complete the All About Me activities, I usually have everyone share their projects with the class. I never force anyone to do it, but I do always encourage students to share because it really helps everyone to learn more about each other. 

    Another great activity to have your students do is a writing sample. I love to have my students write about the goals they have for the school year. It’s fun to include a whimsical craft to go with the writing that students are working on, and it also makes a great display for the classroom at the start of the school year. This is also a great activity that can be done through a word processing program. Just find a way to have your students write in the first few days of school. This is also a great assessment to see where your students are with their writing. This writing sample can then be used to see the growth of your students throughout the school year. 


    From the very first day of the school year, I like to start doing class meetings. This is a great time for my students to share about themselves, and also share how they are feeling at different times of the year. At the start of the year, I like to have my students do a lot of “get to know you” type activities in our meetings. The beginning of the year is the time that I teach all the procedures of the meeting. As the year goes on, we are able to use our class meetings as a time to discuss things that are happening in the classroom. We can discuss good things that are happening, and we are also able to use the time to discuss challenges that are happening in the classroom. 

    The final thing that I use to make our school year great is teaching my students about our assignment slides. I use these slides at different times in our day. We have a slide for every subject that we complete in our day. I like to include the directions, as well as the materials that the students will need for the assignment. Using assignment slides keeps you from having to give directions over and over again. You are able to just refer back to the slide with all the directions. This gives the ownership back to your students and puts the responsibility back on them. This has been a wonderful addition to our daily routines, and it really helps keep me sane because I no longer have to constantly stop what I am doing and give directions again! 

    Back to school is a time that we really need to focus on building our relationships with our students. It is also a time to teach our students about our classroom rules and procedures. The start of the school year is also a great time to focus on seeing where your students are in the different subjects we teach. Today we talked about several different ways to start our year off strong. What ideas are you going to try when you return to school?

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Best Ways to give your students the power in their learning

It is looking more and more like we will be using distance learning this next year in California. What
is your state or district leaning towards? Are you nervous about going back into the classroom? Today
I am going to talk to you about giving your students the power to guide their learning this year. I have
used this system for a few years in my classroom, but it also seamlessly went into distance learning.
I am going to share with you exactly how you can implement this idea into your physical or virtual

   Twice a week my students have a designated time called POP time. This stands for Proof of
Proficiency. My students use their data to drive what standards they need to continue to work on.
While students are working on their POP’s, I am also working with small groups that need to focus
on specific skills. I did this whole process in the classroom, but it can also be done during distance
learning. The students can work on this independently. This can even be used instead of the math
curriculum during distance learning. Ok, so let's jump right into the meat of the topic! 

   The first thing to think about is how are you going to have your students look at their data. I use
a data folder. It includes every standard for the subject in that grade level. When the students get an
assignment back for each standard that is an 80% or higher, they put a checkmark on the standard.
When the student gets two POP’s, they bring their folder to me and I check off that they have mastered
the standard. At the start of POP time each day, the students open their data folder and choose a
standard that does not have two checks yet. This is all done with student choice. The thing I love about
student choice is that it creates buy-in with the students. They love getting to choose and having a
say in what they are going to work on. 

   Now that the students have chosen the standard that they are going to work on, they go to the class
POP chart in their Google Classroom. This is a document with links that I share with the class. I embed
the links right into the picture of the video or the activity.  The document has three to four columns. The
first column is just the standard written out. The next column has a video re-teaching the standard for
the students. Sometimes I use a video that is already created, like Khan Academy, or if I am not able
to find what I want, I will create a video of the content myself using a screencast program. The students
are able to watch the video as many times as they need. I love that they can go back and refresh their
minds when they get stuck. The third column has an activity for the students to practice, and if I use
a fourth column, I embed a Google Forms quiz for the students to take. I don’t always use the last
column because sometimes it is best if I assign the quiz when they are ready. It also lets me monitor
how long they were practicing the skill, as well as how they were doing on the practice. 

    After the students have watched the video and feel like they are understanding the standard they are working on, they start to practice the standard. I do this in a few different ways. Sometimes I find a game that does a great job of explaining the content, sometimes I use practice that is already created, like from Khan Academy or Zearn, and sometimes I create the content myself. There are even times that a standard is challenging for the students and I will include two or three different activities to make sure the students have had plenty of practice with the standard. There are many times that the students will stop what they are doing and rewatch a video to make sure they are doing the standard correctly.

   The final section of the POP chart is the quiz. The students can choose when they want to take the
quiz for the standard they are working on. When they feel they have practiced and know how to do the
standard, they can click on the quiz on their own or the teacher can assign it to them in Google
Classroom. I love that Google Classroom lets you assign things to small groups of students. I have
three different versions of the quiz based on the level of the students. Level A is for my high students,
level B is for the average students, and level C is for the low students. I can always assign different
quizzes based on if students need to take the quiz a second or third time. The order of the questions
in forms can also be changed around so the students are not just memorizing the questions. If I see
that a student is starting to really understand the standard they are working on, I can move them up
to different quizzes. 

       Now that the students have taken the quiz, they can immediately see their score. This is one thing
that I love about Google Forms. The creator can include the answers so the students can get instant
feedback on how they did. Once they click on “View Score,” they can see what their score was. Also
if the teacher is using a Google Gradebook, the score feeds right into the grade book. There is no
having to input grades after the assignments have been completed. So this saves tons of time for the
teacher also! 

   If the students got any of the questions wrong, they can immediately see what they got wrong. They
can also use that information to check their work and see if it was a simple mistake, or if it was
something they didn’t understand. If they got a three or four on the quiz, they have passed the standard
and can move onto a new standard. If they did not pass, they can go back and do more practice and
then take the quiz again. This is where giving a different quiz comes into play. 

   Using POP charts is a great way for students to practice and master their standards. I love seeing
the students take ownership of their learning. Is this something that you are going to try in your
classroom? Is there anything that you are not sure how to do to implement into your classroom? How
can I continue to help you? Thank you for stopping in, and have a great day!


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