Classroom Strategies, Technology

Handfuls of Thanks!

Gratitude is a wonderful practice. I try to end my day by thinking of 3 things I am grateful for from that day. Some people like to write this down–I have used the monthly calendar pages in my Passion Planner to record my thankful thoughts. Most of the time, it’s something I think or say out loud, but don’t actually write down.

Thanksgiving is coming up and I am excited to practice gratitude with my students. Each year, we take time to be thankful by creating paper hand turkeys. Yes, we do arts and crafts for fun in middle school too!

This year is a little different since we are currently 100% remote and we do not have the whole week for Thanksgiving off. We’re trying to play fun and light activities that build community, rather than heavily focus on content.

Also, it goes without saying that this year has been very stressful. However, we all can count at least 5 things to be thankful for.

First, let’s try it:

Join me in a quick Blog Community Hand Turkey collection!

My students and I will be taking Wednesday to make digital hand turkeys! I made templates in Jamboard (view | make a copy) and Google Slides (view | make a copy). Both will work great for classes of any age, either synchronously or asynchronously.

 

Analog option: project the first slide for instructions and have students trace their hand and do it on paper.

Enjoy this fun gratitude activity! I am using it around Thanksgiving time, but it can easily be used or adapted for any point in the school year.

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Collaborative Drawings in Jamboard

Jamboard is the exciting new edtech tool craze, have you tried it yet? It’s like a cross between Google Slides and Padlet. It’s a great place to have students brainstorm, collaborate, and create. The Jamboard (product) is an interactive whiteboard and Jamboard (app) is a free digital whiteboard app.

Getting Started with Jamboard

To access Jamboard, head to your Google Drive > New > More > Google Jamboard. If you don’t see it, check with your school/district educational technology department–they may have to make it available for you.

The Google Teacher Center has some great getting started tips and lesson ideas. My friends Ro and Mo (The Tech Fairies!) shared 10 Google Jamboard Activities.

I’m going to share an awesome activity that has been a huge hit in teacher professional development and with my students: collaborative drawings in Jamboard!

A collaborative sketch of a house created in Jamboard. There is a house with an apple tree on each side.
Collaborative house drawing created by one 7th grade science class

How it Works:

This fun collaborative challenge is perfect for fully online or blended classes. The premise is simple: collaborate to draw a house.

This activity is very simple to set up:

  1. Make a copy of this Jamboard (view it here)
  2. Meet your learners and have a quick conversation about digital citizenship. We reminded students to be kind and to please please please avoid the clear frame button.
  3. Post the Jamboard to your students:
    1. Change the sharing settings to “anyone with the link can edit”
    2. Or, post the Jamboard as an assignment on Google Classroom as “students can edit”
  4. Sit back and watch the fun! (about 10 minutes is perfect)
  5. Download final image: 3 dots in the top right > Save frame as image

Protip: After you’re done, change the sharing settings back to view only to prevent any unwanted edits.

Have Fun!

The best part about teaching 100% online is that students had to rely on digital collaboration skills–some students added comments in our Google Meet chat while others added in sticky notes or writing directly on the Jamboard.

A drawing of a house with an apple tree, a person saying hi from the window
Collaborative house drawing from a recent professional development for teachers in Montreal, Canada

Enjoy this super fun activity! I’d love to hear how it goes!

 

Classroom Strategies

Creating a Welcome Virtual Classroom Environment

This blog post was originally published on KidsDiscover on September 9, 2020

Back to school looked and felt a little different this year. The usual hustle and bustle of a new school year was replaced by worry over how to best create a welcoming and productive classroom for my students–100% online

Even with the big changes in our classroom format and the uncertainty over when we will return to the classroom, there are many things about teaching that remain the same. Most importantly, my focus in the first few weeks of school is how to create a welcoming environment for my students. 

Our current online schedule includes six 90 minute block class periods (three classes per day). Teachers are expected to meet synchronously with students for 30-45 minutes, then provide 30-45 minutes of asynchronous classwork. During the asynchronous time, teachers can support students and answer questions. 

Like every other year, I had the first day of school jitters. However, unlike all other years, I couldn’t pop into a friend’s classroom for a little excited pep talk. My colleagues and I texted throughout the morning to share our successes and encouragement. My students were also nervous–first day of middle school and they showed up to school all online! 

We started our class by going over our video chat norms. I don’t usually start the first day of school with rules; in this case, it was important to ease anxiety for students on what will be expected of them when we are online together. Most importantly, I want my students to know that, while their participation is required, they do not have to turn on their camera or microphone during class. 

Our community expectations

Building Routines: 

Much of the first few weeks of school starts with building and practicing classroom routines. Teaching online is no different. In my classroom, I have established routines for how class will begin and how students will use the online space for interactions. We begin each synchronous class with a warm-up and a review of our norms. As we have launched into more content in science class, I have used tools like Peardeck and Padlet to give each student a voice and an opportunity to share their learning. 

Activities for Creating a Welcoming Environment: 

As with every other year, it is essential to create a welcoming classroom environment. In the first two weeks of school, I spent time getting to know my students, their interests, and making sure they are represented in our classroom community. 

The first activity we did was a Flipgrid Name Intro. Students recorded a 30 second introduction to the rest of the class, including their name and a little bit about them. Not only is this essential for getting to know students, but also it is important for me to learn how to pronounce each name as the student says it. Unlike other years where I get plenty of name practice, this year this has been my only opportunity to match a name to a face (cameras, during synchronous class sessions, are optional). 

The second activity we did was a Getting to Know You Survey. I have iterated on this survey over the years; thanks to Ace Schwarz (Teaching Outside the Binary), I added in better-worded questions asking about students’ names and pronouns. I use the survey data to find ways to structure our class that value my students and engage them in authentic learning experiences throughout the year. 

Third, I had my students complete a quilt square for our Classroom Quilt. Instead of an artifact hanging on a classroom wall, I turned this into a banner for our Google Classroom. The final product turned out amazing! My students and I love opening up each class and seeing each member of our classroom community represented in the header! 

I am looking forward to this school year and whatever adventures will bring! I am grateful to work with amazing students who are flexible and willing to try new things! 

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Create a Community Quilt Google Classroom Banner

Back to school is an exciting time! Back to school during a pandemic where we are teaching 100% online is exciting, but in a completely different way!

As we head back to school, I am trying to find as many ways to connect with my students and build community in the online space. We have already done our Getting to Know You Survey and our Video Chat Digital Citizenship lesson. I will continue to do some fun class team building games during our synchronous class meetings too.

Creating a Community Quilt

My friend Megan Rowen does an amazing getting-to-know-you activity with her students every year called the Community Quilt. Each student makes a square that represents their interests, hobbies, personality, family, and friends (see our examples here). She hangs up each square on the all–it’s an amazing collage of the students in each class. She leaves it up all year as a reminder that each person makes up a unique and important part of the whole.

As we were planning for this year, Megan mentioned she wanted to continue to do that assignment, but she wasn’t sure how to continue it for the online space. That’s where my nerd brain went to work and suggested we turn the quilt into a Google Classroom banner image. In the past, I’ve taken a class photo and uploaded that as our header image–this is a fun alternative where all students are represented! Megan agreed and I set to work making the templates and instructions.

Sample classroom quilt (With only 3 students’ work. It’s much prettier with a whole class represented.)

Here’s how it works: (watch this video)

  1. Post the Community Quilt assignment on Google Classroom so each student gets their own copy.
  2. After all quilt squares are turned in, open each assignment to slide 2, then File > Download > JPG or PNG.
  3. Open the Google Classroom banner template and upload all the quilt square images to the Google Draw. Arrange the squares within the banner and customize the welcome text.
  4. Download the completed quilt: File > Download > JPG.
  5. In Google Classroom, open the class period to the Stream. On the bottom right corner of the banner image, click “Upload Photo” and select your classroom quilt!

Not using Google Classroom? Consider having students post their quilt square to Padlet!

In our online space, any little thing we can do to make our classroom feel like a shared community space is important!

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Getting to Know You Survey with Google Forms

I always start my school year with a student survey. In my first few years of teaching, this was a paper survey. Later, this turned into a Google Form. A couple years ago, I blogged about my getting to know you survey. (Here’s the original post.) I am constantly iterating on my class resources and activities, including this one.

Since starting to use this Google Forms survey a couple years ago, I have improved some of the questions, particularly asking students about their pronouns and name. Huge shoutout to Ace Schwarz for their phenomenal website and blog, Teaching Outside the Binary! (And thank you Ben Kovaks for sending me their way!) Based Ace’s resources, I modified the way I have asked some of my questions, specifically asking who I can use names and pronouns around.

Here is my updated getting to know you survey! I also added/changed some questions to better reflect our current remote school situation. Just for fun, fill out this one so I can get to know you!

Name question on the updated getting to know you survey!

I add names and pronouns to my printed (yeah yeah, I know, but sometimes paper is way more efficient) attendance rosters. It’s important to start using names and pronouns right away, and online is no exception. Our kids are counting on us to be their allies.

My students need to know I see them in every way possible. We will also be doing class introductions on Flipgrid; not only is this a fun beginning of the year activity, but also it is a chance for me to learn how my students pronounce their names.

What questions do you ask your students at the beginning of the school year?

 

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Final Course Evaluation with Google Forms

One thing I really love about my classroom is that feedback is a two-way street. I try to collect formal and informal feedback from my students as often as I give them feedback. Informal feedback may be an exit ticket question or walking around and chatting with students as they are working.

At the end of each semester, I ask students for formal feedback in our course evaluation survey (make a copy of this template). Students fill this out during the final week of the semester, and I read the feedback after grades have been submitted.

Some of the questions I ask are about what they like about our class, what they wish we did more of, and how they feel as learners in our class. One of my favorite sections is where students rate their feelings toward our class. This tells me so much about the class culture of our classroom. If they’re not feeling valued and supported, then all the rest of the academics are pointless.

Rating questions on our course evaluation.

Asking students for feedback

My students know that I value their feedback and that our goal is for everyone to grow and learn together (we use Mastery Based Grading in our class!). They see it in the actions I take in class: I will ask them for feedback, then talk through changes I’ve made based on what I’ve seen work and not work.

We’re still working on making feedback specific, actionable, and kind–they have improved greatly from the beginning to the end of the year. Although, I still do get responses like “nothing” and “idk” a little more often than I’d like. We’re not perfect and we’re learning.

Evaluating multiple teachers

Since I am working with two student teachers this semester, we duplicated the Feedback on your teacher questions and separated each set into their own section on the Form. Each of us modified and added questions for areas we’d like feedback. On the class period question, we turned on the setting “Go to section based on response” (3 dots in the bottom right of the question). Need help? Here is a template already set up for 2 teachers!

How to evaluate multiple teachers based on the class period they teach. 

The feedback process is important for my growth as a teacher. I am grateful my students are willing to help me improve!

What types of feedback questions do you ask your students?

 

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Showcase Student Work on Your Digital Fridge

I miss my kids. A lot. One thing I miss a ton is their creativity.

Whenever we have a less-structured minute in class, such as when some students finish an assignment early, many students choose to draw. They love the Sketchbook iPad app. Over the course of the year, I’ve seen many students improve their drawing skills. And, if allowing them to draw in class means they’re more likely to bring their iPad charged to school every day, then I’m all for it!

The best thing ever is when students gift me one of their drawings to hang up in my room! Their art immediately goes up on the wall or on a cabinet. If it’s a digital drawing, then I’ll email (with a pretty please) one of two staff members who have access to the color printer and ask them to print out the drawing.

A while back, I saw someone post a picture of an area in their classroom that they called the classroom “fridge.” (I can’t remember who you are! If someone finds the source, please send them or the post my way so I can give credit!) I love this idea, and it’s been on my list of things to do for over a year. Now I will have to wait until we can physically go back to schools–I already have the perfect place picked out.

On our weekly check-in Form, some of my students have mentioned cool art projects they are working on. I wanted to provide a digital outlet for my students to share their artwork with our class. So, I created a Digital Fridge using Padlet! The linked example is filled with contributions from teacher friends–feel free to contribute something!

Digital Fridge: Teacher Edition

In my Digital Fridge, I required all posts to be approved (Settings > Require Approval). This allows me to make sure a student does not misuse our Padlet. Plus, submitting a post for approval means students know I am looking at their artwork and hanging it up by clicking approve. So far, I have approved every post that contains an attached picture (I had a couple where the student must have started, then forgotten to upload anything), including one of a stick figure. One incredibly quiet student has posted multiple drawings; it’s incredible to see them so willing to share online!

If you want to use this idea, simply click the “remake” button on the top right corner. Then, share the link with your students through your online platform (Google Classroom, class website, email, or other LMS). Don’t have a Padlet account yet? Use this referral link and we both get a free extra Padlet!

What cool submissions have you received on your Digital Fridge? Share in the comments below!

 

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Digital Citizenship for Class Video Chats

With the shift to online learning, students and teachers are learning an entirely new skillset. Classroom norms and expectations are changing.

On a recent video chat with some of my students, one student asked “do we have to get dressed for school?” Much to their enjoyment, I explained the beauty of the Video Chat Mullet: business on the top, party on the bottom. And, if they do not want us to see their kitty cat jammy bottoms, they can always turn off their video!

Even though we were laughing and joking, I also wanted my students to know that there are real expectations for when we interact for school, both synchronously and asynchronously. At the beginning of the year in science, we spend a lot of time building community and practicing teamwork through activities like Saving Sam and our paper airplane lab. We also begin to reflect on the teamwork process.

The transition to online learning has forced me to consider how I will set expectations and norms together. I wanted to keep the expectations simple, concise, and clear. Finally, I settled on these community expectations:

Additionally, I created a mini Digital Citizenship for Distance Learning lesson using one of my favorite tools: Pear Deck! This lesson briefly defines digital citizenship (according to Common Sense Media), introduces the norms, and asks students to digitally “sign” that they agree to our community video chat norms. You can view this self-paced lesson on Pear Deck (or make a copy of the Slides and customize it for yourself). I also created a short quiz (make a copy) for the end of the lesson.

My students are completing this lesson asynchronously; I am posting the link to the student paced Pear Deck on Google Classroom. We will have optional weekly video chats for each class period; and, I will offer additional drop-in office hours (really, called “Ollie Hours” because my dog, Ollie, is my co-teacher) in the afternoons.

How are you teaching and modeling digital citizenship for your students during video chats?

 

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Stay-at-Home Mad Libs!

My goal for my blog over the next few weeks is to share out as many resources that will keep education light, fun, and easy on everyone involved. Mad Libs is one of my favorite classroom activities. It’s a goofy review activity that sneaks in parts of speech skill-building too.

Therefore, I’ve created some super fun Stay-at-Home Mad LibsBefore you continue reading, stop and play the Mad Libs 🙂

These will surely be informative and give you a good laugh! Shoutout to the CDC for the content (no spoilers on the info, link is provided with your Mad Libs).

How to set this up for your students:

  1. Make a copy of the Stay-at-Home Mad Libs Form to use with your students
  2. Create your Sheet and install the Formule add-on.
  3. Open Formule (watch this video for Formule help) copy and paste this text into Formule at the “build/preview templates” section.
  4. Test out your form!
  5. Send it out to your students using a link shortener, Google Classroom, or other messaging platform.

If you want to customize this activity with your students, here are the complete Mad Libs instructions. For additional Google Forms help, start here.

These Mad Libs can be played asynchronously or synchronously. It’s a perfect lighthearted just-for-fun activity or a good review of part of speech. If your students are already using Flipgrid, have them record themselves reading their Mad Libs to each other!

Let me know how it goes in the comments!

And, if anyone translates this into another language, please send it my way and I’ll link it in the post!

Classroom Strategies, GSuite

School Closure Check-in with Google Forms

School closure is stressful! This first week at home, I switch between worrying about my students and all of the what-if’s, and relaxing and enjoying time at home. My brain can’t figure out if I’m working or on break. I’ve been doing a little bit of both.

One thing I miss is feeling connected to my students. I’m following district guidelines and not assigning work; however, I have created some optional science home exploring resources for my students, if they want something fun and academic to work on. But, it’s just not the same!

By far my most popular blog post is Daily Check-in With Google Forms (October 2017). This post is consistently reshared; multiple people have told me how using this check-in routine has been a big classroom boost. When I was running a workshop in New York (I’m in California) in March 2018, a participant was customizing my daily check-in Form template at the beginning of my session. When I asked them where they got it, they said they learned about it in their last session. How cool is that? A presenter across the country found my blog and shared this resource! I tell you this because I strongly believe in the free sharing of educational resources that make our classrooms better.

There are so many different ways that teachers are checking-in with their students. Some are using district messaging platforms, Google Classroom, Flipgrid, or live Zoom video chats. There’s no right or wrong way to connect with your students (please first check with your district’s guidelines)–it’s important that they know we care through all this uncertainty.

School Closure Check-in

I created a school closure check-in (make a copy), loosely based off my daily check-in Form. I posted it on Google Classroom for my students to fill out. Even if students choose not to fill it out, they will still get the Google Classroom notification on their iPad, and they will know I’m thinking about them. I chose Forms because it is a familiar platform and routine for my students.

Additionally, my friend Ashley Prevo created her own quarantine check- in Form (make a copy). She regularly uses the daily check-in Form in her class, too. Ashley says, “I am currently teaching three sections of PE as well as ASB at the middle school level. I wish there were a better way to say this, but we are living in unprecedented times and, maybe now more than ever, our students need to be reminded that we care.” I love the questions Ashley asks her students, especially “name one thing you have done for yourself this week” and “name one thing you have done for someone else this week.”

Family Check-in

I know this time is stressful for families too! I created a family check-in Form (make a copy) to check in with my students’ families too. I sent out this Form through our gradebook’s messaging tool. In my message to families, I also included information about free student meals during the closure and over spring break. A couple parents thanked me for checking in and asked for regular updates with regards to district decisions.

There are so many great ideas out there. Remember, you know what your students need the most!

How are you checking in with your students? If you have a resource or idea, please share it in the comments!