Back to school is always an exciting time! I love preparing my classroom for my new students, thinking about how to best meet their needs, and anticipating the fun we’re going to have. I loosely plan out what skills I want to hit, but I don’t lesson plan until I actually meet my kids!
In my first year of teaching, I had the (mis)guidance of the teacher I was taking over for. They instructed me to talk about the syllabus on the first day of school, teach lab safety on the second day, then jump right into content on the third day. Even though I planned out fun first-two-weeks activities in my credential/masters program and talked extensively about building relationships, I assumed this strong-willed teacher knew what was best. So, I did what they told me.
Boy, was I wrong. While I did end up getting to know my students eventually, the class cohesiveness wasn’t there from the start and behavior was sometimes a struggle.
The one thing I did do well was a getting to know you survey (on paper). I used that information to learn about my students’ backgrounds, and incorporate their interests into some of our examples from class.
Fast forward to the present: My biggest strength and emphasis as a teacher are building relationships, and making sure each and every student feels welcome in our class. It’s not always easy, and there are plenty of ups, downs, and mistakes–and also many moments of joy!
This is the perfect first assignment on the Google Classroom set-up day. Students join the class, then immediately complete their first assignment.
The questions range from simple, such as birthday and interests, to more thought-provoking, such as “when I get mad, I …” I like having a mix, and seeing how my students choose to answer. For example, when I ask “What is something you are really good at?” not only am I asking for their strengths, but also I am checking for self confidence; when a student writes “nothing,” then I know I will need to intentionally search for areas of strength to share with them.
A hidden teacher agenda item in this activity: I can see who is able to focus on an independent and silent task for 10 minutes, and who needs constant refocusing.
After my students fill out the survey in class, I go through the response spreadsheet and highlight interesting and concerning responses. I make a note to follow up with students, bring up their interests in conversation, and share commonalities.
The getting to know you survey is one of the best parts of my first few weeks of school!
What types of questions do you ask in your getting to know you survey? Please share your favorites in the comments below!
Each May, our science department hosts Science Night. It has been a lot of fun to involve our school, local high schools, and community in science! Many students bring their families, and participate in labs and activities together. Additionally, we invite local museums and science organizations to set up interactive displays. I love science night!
Since most of the work we do is digital, there isn’t a ton of student work to physically display. Instead, we display interactive labs. To show off student work, I have them each create a slide in a collaborative deck to showcase their work. Then, this is projected as a slideshow all night.
This is a perfect way to have students reflect on their learning or on a particular assignment. Each student claims a slide, adds in a piece of work they are proud of, and reflects on it.
Here is a template you can try with your class! Duplicate the portfolio slide x # of kids in your class.
A few tips for getting started:
This is a perfect time to talk about digital citizenship, especially not intentionally editing someone else’s slide. No matter the age level, everyone needs this reminder.
Encourage students to get all the content on their slide first, before decorating. Otherwise, a student may spend 2 hours finding the perfect font for their name.
Do a virtual gallery walk! Play some music, and have students scroll through the slides. When the music stops, they add in a comment (try using TAG feedback!) where they stopped.
If you have a school or class open house or display night, play these reflection slides in the background. On Slides: File > Publish to the web > pick your settings, including “restart slideshow after the last slide” > publish > paste the link in the address bar.
Try using this same idea for an introduction slide deck for all your students! Replace the work section with a selfie, and answer a few basic questions, such as what are your hobbies?
Out of the classroom? I’ve seen schools/districts with a tv in the front office. Have each teacher create a spotlight slide to sprinkle between announcements and important information.
PS. When you iterate on this and make it better, I’d love to see your example! Add it in the comments below, or share it with me and I’ll link it in this post.
Google MyMaps is one of my favorite Googley gems! And, it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. It’s easy to use, can be accessed from any mobile device, and it’s versatile for a variety of academic and fun uses.
If you’re brand new to MyMaps, here’s a quick intro video.
Start with a purpose:
What are you hoping to share? What do you want your students to get out of this experience?
My purpose here is to show off how awesome MyMaps are, and how collaborative maps can add authentic student engagement into your classroom.
Before we dive into classroom ideas, let’s play! I invite you to add your name & a favorite place to this map. There’s also a layer to add in your university. Use the description to share a bit about why you love this place. Remember to customize your pin!
MyMaps in the Classroom:
MyMaps pair really nicely with HyperDocs and the 5E lesson model, and can fit in at any point in a lesson sequence.
I’m lucky my friend Austin Houp shared out a collaborative MyMap with me last year, all about natural disasters. It was perfect timing, as my students were working on natural disasters projects in science! My students, along with students from all over the world, added in projects on different natural disasters. They loved clicking through the pins and seeing the information, pictures, and links to external projects created other students! And, knowing they were sharing with the world, they took extra care in their work.
Additionally, my AVID students have plotted their college projects on a MyMap, making it easy to share resources with peers, other classes, and potentially other AVID classes at other schools.
Since my oldest students at my current school are juniors (class of 2019), I’ve made a MyMap to track where they head off to college in a year. It’ll be awesome to keep adding to this map throughout the years. They want to keep in contact with me because my class food rule is “no eating or drinking (other than water) until you have a college degree!” — and, I promise if they come back after they’ve graduated, I’ll buy them lunch and we’ll eat together in my room.
The more advanced tools on MyMaps, such as drawing lines and polygons, is perfect for practicing perimeter and area, calculating distances, or reinforcing measurements.
MyMaps for Fun:
MyMaps is great for personal use, especially planning trips, marking places I’ve been, and sharing favorite spots. I use a MyMap to track which states I’ve been to in the US–I still have a long way to go (16/50 as of May 2018), but it’s fun to change the pin color and switch it to the “Where I’ve Been” layer.
In summer of 2018, my friend Nick will be visiting San Diego for a few days, and we have a MyMap of San Diego places to visit.
My Next Steps:
Next year, one of my goals is to connect with at least one other classroom to collaborate on a map project! Anyone want to join me? Specifically middle school science or any level of AVID.
What are your favorite ways to use MyMaps for fun and in your classroom? Leave a comment below, I’d love more ideas!
I have a little bit of jealousy for my elementary school teacher friends, mainly for two things: their beautiful and updated bulletin boards, and learning centers. I’ve given up on my bulletin boards (going to put some kids in charge soon) and I’m always trying to figure out how to use the learning center model in middle school science. So, I use stations!
I first started using stations in my classroom during my first year of teaching. I learned it from one of my very old-fashioned colleagues (imagine 3-inch 3-ring binders for each topic, with sheet protectors filled with zillions of worksheets), and fell in love with changing up the routine, getting kids up and moving, and providing some variety.
Over the past six years, I have run stations in a variety of formats: 8 stations x 5-8 minutes, 4 stations x 12-15 minutes, 30 stations x 1-2 minutes, etc. The overall theme is that it usually takes about an hour. I typically use my lab counters so all students are standing around the perimeter of the classroom, and I can see their backs as they work. Occasionally, I’ll need an extra station space, so I’ll use a table group or outside. Students work in pairs or groups of 4.
Lately, I’ve been running 4 x 12-15 minute stations. I’ll have 2 of each set up, with 2 separate rotations–groups 1-4 rotate on one half of the room, and groups 5-8 rotate on the other half. On average, I use stations every couple weeks.
I create all my stations handouts on Google Slides (File > Page Setup > Custom > 11 x 8.5), print, then put in sheet protectors. I notice my students focus more quickly with paper instructions.
For the timer, I project the Google timer: search for “15 minute timer” (or desired length) and it’ll start right away.
Stations can fill multiple purposes, such as introducing new content, practicing skills, or reviewing old content. When practicing skills or reviewing, I usually use more and shorter stations, with one task or question per station. Sometimes these are problems to solve, other times it is charts or diagrams to interpret.
When introducing content, students will do some work in their interactive notebook and some work on their iPads. For notes, I use Pear Deck on student paced mode or I create a short screencast; students are able to work at their own pace, pause, and rewind as needed. There is always an output activity to go with the input (notes). For the tech-heavy stations, I enjoy using games, simulations, or videos.
Example stations: 4 stations x 15 minutes
Station 1 – Notes (in interactive notebook)
Station 2 – Left-side page, draw & label a diagram (in interactive notebook)
Station 3 – Quizizz game (on iPad)
Station 4 – Phet simulation with 2-3 questions on Google Forms (on iPad)
While students are working in stations, I am free to call over individual students for quick conferences. When I walk around the classroom to check in on students and groups, I can answer questions or go deeper into content.
We have taken stations entirely outdoors as a scavenger hunt! Add a school map with coordinates, and directions to get to the next station on the bottom of the instructions, and you’re all set.
And, true teacher confession, if my students are working well and don’t have many questions, I can often work on some grading.
It is essential to work together to create expectations when working in stations. Some of ours include: read the directions first, don’t wander away to another group, stay on task, and turn and look at Ms. V when the timer goes off.
Students who are prone to distraction sometimes struggle with staying focused. However, the tradeoff is that they are able to move around, and lessons are broken down into manageable chunks.
The Next Steps
I’d like to try having students create their own stations. Since I have 8 table groups, each group would create 1 x 5 minute station.
There are tons of ways to use stations in all grade levels. I’d love to hear how you all do it!
Growing up one of my favorite games to play was Mad Libs, I would play with my friends during recess, or with my family on car trips. I still have a giant stack of half-used Mad Libs books in my classroom waiting for some more love. I can’t remember a time I laughed harder than when playing Mad Libs.
I love using Mad Libs with my students. When playing with my class, it can be tough to keep all students engaged because only one person contributes for each part of speech. I started using Google Forms so each student can play: each student fills out the Form and receives their copy via email. Then, a few volunteers read their examples out loud. It’s a great activity as part of a lesson, as a review, or just for fun at the end of the day.
First, let’s play!
Fill out this Form then check your email to see your Mad Libs.
Next, let’s build!
Create a Google Doc with your story. This works great with short fables, primary source documents, or informational texts.
Replace parts of speech with the tags. For example, “Replace <<plural noun>> of speech with the tags.” For duplicates, use <<plural noun 1>> then <<plural noun 2>>.
Create a Google Form with short answer questions for each tag. Remember to also ask for email address.
Create your Sheet, and install the Formule add-on.
If your student don’t have email set up, but do have Google Drive, then use Autocrat instead. You will still need a question for email/Google account. It will use the Form and a Doc, then share the merged Doc with the student. Watch this video where I show how to use Autocrat.
Also, Formule does limit to 100 emails per day. If you have 100+ students, either spread the fun over a couple days, or use Autocrat.
Last, let’s teach!
Send out the Form to your students and get ready to laugh!
We’d love to see your examples. Create one and share it below in the comments.
Quizizz is quickly becoming one of our favorite class games. My students enjoy the memes between questions and appreciate that they can work at their own speed while still being competitive. They’re always asking, “can I play again?” Of course!
As a teacher, I like that I can make a Quizizz “homework” — I don’t actually assign it for homework, but rather make it asynchronous and push it out through Google Classroom.
One of the best parts about Quizizz is that I can use it during stations work or for early finishers.
I’ve had students create Kahoot and Quizizz games in the past, but I’ve found it a bit cumbersome when they’re working in groups. Inevitably, one person does the majority of the work creating the game, while everyone else sits around doing nothing.
I have a solution for you!
Did you know you can upload a spreadsheet of questions and answers to Quizizz? This makes the process 100x easier for all of us! And, I’m making it 1000x easier for you by creating handy templates.
Creating Crowd-sourced Quizizz Games: It’s fast and simple to have students create their own collaborative Quizizz games. As a teacher, you can either upload their questions or have them do it.
Content Review No matter your stance on testing and grading practices, inevitably your students will have to review content at some time. Have students create their own review questions. (Best tip from student teaching: never do something you can have a kid do for you!) Divide students into groups by topic, and assign individuals or groups to create a 1-2 review questions. Early classwork finishers? Ask them to preview an upcoming topic and create a pre-assessment quiz for the class!
2 Truths and a Lie If you’re looking for a fun getting-to-know you activity? Create a class game of 2 Truths & a Lie with this template. (Change “name” to “question” on the spreadsheet before you download, or you’ll get an error message.) The best part is you can play along with your students, but no peeking at the response sheet too early.
→ Make this content focused by creating 2 truths & a lie questions about famous people, book characters, math operations, or even organelles!
Big thanks to Meagan, Katie, Casey, Joanne, Carlos, Carrie, Aubrey, and Nick for playing along and filling out the original template form! (Want to play this game? Go to join.quizizz.com → game code: 858171 → open until April 12, 2018!)
I recently watched the TED Talk “Rethinking Challenging Kids-Where There’s a Skill There’s a Way” by Dr. J. Stuart Albon. His phenomenal message helps us shift they way we approach behavior challenges, by empowering students with the skills to do well. We can teach these three skills: flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem solving.
It’s incredible to watch a student shift from being a tuned-out behavior challenge to one who turns in their work and asks questions! When I approach a student with empathy, work on skills, and set them up for small successes, it’s amazing what happens!
What is Restorative Practices?
Restorative Practices is an approach to discipline where there is a high level of control and a high level of support. Individuals are encouraged to uphold community expectations, and when they don’t, they are held accountable for their choices. We “restore” an individual to the community after a trust-breaking incident through forgiveness and making different choices.
It is about our mindset, rather than rigid practices. We build a community of empathy, every single day–my kids know I’ve got their back, even when they make poor choices. Far more frequently after a 1:1 conversation with a student, it ends with a “would you like a hug?” rather than consequences.
Here are some of the strategies I use as I’ve implemented Restorative Practices in my classroom:
Daily Check-in Form
Every day I check in with my students through their daily check-in and warm-up questions (read more here). This gives me an excellent read on the class at the very beginning, and I can prioritize students’ needs.
When I notice a trend with a student, such as things are overall a “1” for more than a single day, I will find a ways to loop back to that student multiple times during class, making casual conversation, complimenting them, or asking general questions. If a student tells me something in the “anything else I need to know” question, I will speak with them privately about what they shared.
This has allowed me to make quick personal connections with each student in the first 5 minutes of class.
Student Behavior Log Reflection
When minor incidents happen in class, I use progressive consequences to address them: warning, behavior log, change seat, referral. Rarely do we get past a behavior log! Although, for larger or more serious issues where a student is interfering with our safety or productively, we will skip to a referral.
After a student receives a warning, the next step is a behavior log. Students fill out this Form (Make a copy) at one of the computers in our room, then sit back down. The majority of behavior log entries are for a forgotten or dead iPad (no warnings, automatic behavior log) or off-task behavior, especially chatting.
When students take responsibility for reflecting on how their choices impact our wider community, they usually make immediate changes. Occasionally I’ll have a quick follow-up conversation with the student, either during class or just after. This gives me an opportunity to listen to their thought process, and how they will take ownership of their actions.
Our favorite part of Restorative Practices is the use of circles! My students and I use community-building proactive circles for check-ins and to share the positives in their lives. At the beginning of the year, we do circles almost every Friday. As the school year progresses and we get busier, they seem to get pushed to the side and happen every couple weeks. Students have grown accustomed to our talking piece, a small stuffed penguin–it signals to all to listen and be respectful to the speaker (some do need a reminder, or two!).
We ask a variety of questions in circles, some I come up with and others are student suggestions. Here are some examples:
If you could have any superpower, what would you have and what would you do with it?
What qualities make a good friend?
What was the best part of your week?
What is one goal you have for next (week, semester, year, etc.)?
Many of my quietest students feel confident enough to contribute in the circle, especially towards the end of first semester. If a student wants to pass their turn, they are allowed to; although their neighbors usually encourage them to share something.
Other times, we need to use circles for restorative conversations. In these circles, something major has happened that we need to process together then figure out a plan for moving forward.
We go through the following restorative questions together:
Who was affected by this?
What needs to happen to fix the harm caused?
This year, two of my classes made poor choices with subs, both in my class and in our other teamed classes. I took the majority of a block period to have students write their answers to the restorative circle questions, followed by a lengthy circle discussion. Many students talked about how some students’ behavior was disruptive or disrespectful, and they felt embarrassed that our subs had a difficult time keeping the class under control. The students who were responsible for more outright acts of defiance listened, contributed on a surface-level, but I could see the gears working as they heard their peers talking about behavior. That is powerful! Since this specific circle in early February, I’ve had fewer sub behavior incidents–they’re not perfect, but they’re more aware of their actions.
I love that my classroom is a community where all are welcome! How have you implemented Restorative Practices in your classroom?
Class presentations are a lot of fun, and it’s essential to give students the experience of speaking in front of others. Very early on in my teaching career, I realized it was difficult to keep presentations flowing, because in the transition time between presenters, students saw this as an opportunity to chat–and they had a tough time settling down again. Repeat this 30+ times, and we have one frustrated Ms. V.
Around the same time I decided to have students start to provide peer feedback for student presentations. They would fill out a Google Form (here’s an example or make a copy) after each presenter. Yes, after. I expect their iPads “apple up” on their desks while their peer is presenting, both as a sign of respect and to eliminate other distractions.
Unintended results! Off-task behavior between presentations was almost nonexistent! Students had something meaningful to do between the time it took for the presenter to sit down, and then next student to get up and connect their iPad.
One of the things I’m working on with students is how to write feedback. I’m realizing that I need to provide more sentence frames to help students share what the student does well, and what they can do to improve. I’ve used TAG Feedback, and it has helped!
This peer evaluation form has been such a big hit, that now I’m tasked with creating copies for all our AVID teachers when we do presentation projects.
Below are some tricks I’ve made data analysis even easier!
Conditional Formatting I use conditional formatting on Sheets to change the fill color for each rubric level. I can glance at the spreadsheet, and see overall how peers feel the presenter did.
Form Values Form Values is an incredible add-on for Forms. It creates a template spreadsheet where you can create lists that can then be imported into a Form for a multiple choice, checkbox, or dropdown question. I use this for my class lists, so I don’t have to constantly type in names into the “my name” and “presenter’s name” questions.
RowCall RowCall is an add-on for Sheets that takes all the unique values in a column, and creates individual sheets for each value. The way I use it is to separate each student presenter into their own tab. Then, I can quickly see how each student did, without having to sort or filter the main sheet. In the past, I’ve printed each student’s tab. Lately, I’ve asked students if they’re ok if I share the whole spreadsheet view only with all students (via Google Classroom), and I have not had any objections. They like seeing their own feedback, and also learning from how their peers were evaluated too.
I’d love to hear how you use peer feedback in your classroom!
Parks Online Resources for Students and Teachers, or PORTS, is a phenomenal and engaging program for K-12 students and their teachers. It’s offered through the California State parks, and is open to all classrooms! Yes, even y’all outside California!
Last year was my first opportunity to participate in PORTS. My classes talked with Ranger Jennifer at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, and learned more about weather and climate. Although her program was geared for grades 3-5, she was excited to speak with older students and have slightly different conversations.
This year, my 7th grade science students had the opportunity to video chat with Ranger Francesca from the Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach, CA about habitat protection and restoration. Just like Ranger Jennifer, Ranger Francesca was delightful to work with! She was engaging, patient, and excited to share her park with our class. Students were attentive as she showed us around her park, displayed and annotated graphics, and answered their questions. At the end, we even had time to ask Ranger Francesca about her college experience and why she picked this career.
The video chat was done through Zoom, which was perfect because Ranger Francesca was able to show and annotate graphics during our presentation.
To prepare for our video chat, I modified some of the provided lessons in the unit, and adapted them for our needs. I also let the ranger know ahead of time what we had studied so far, to make our time more efficient. For example, for habitat protection and restoration, we were already ⅔ of the way through our ecology unit, and had studied ecosystems, food webs, and resource availability.
Although it isn’t required or suggested in the program, I also asked my students to write thank you letters to our guest speakers. Many have little experience writing thank you letters, so we brainstormed sentence frames and what to include together (“Thank you for talking to our class about… “ or “Thank you for taking time to talk to us…” or “My favorite part was…”). Many students also drew pictures showing what they learned.
Example thank you letter to Ranger Francesca
Example thank you letter to Ranger Francesca
I highly recommend PORTS to all K-12 teachers! It’s a ton of fun, and the kids love it! They’ve been talking about it non-stop for the last 2 weeks!
Many have asked about example Mastery Tasks, and what this looks like in my classroom. I’ll be entirely honest that this post is a little intimidating to write, knowing I’m not the only one who does Mastery-Based Grading, and I still have a lot to learn. But, you know what, that’s the best part! I model a growth mindset for my students in that I am always learning and finding ways to improve.
Day-to-day in the Classroom
Our day-to-day doesn’t look too much different than it did before. However, I am more focused on the end product as we do lessons, labs, and activities. In my first post, I detail the overall Mastery-Based workflow in classroom instruction.
Since I don’t grade anything other than Mastery Tasks, many have asked how I hold my students accountable for their classwork and homework. For homework, that’s easy–I don’t assign homework (except on the very rare “if you don’t finish it in class, it’s homework!”). For classwork, I do a mix of stamping and checking work before students can leave. Even the prospect of being dismissed 30 seconds after their friends is enough to motivate students to get work completed correctly before the bell. Additionally, after a while, most students realize that what we do in class is directly related to our Mastery Tasks, and therefore will benefit them.
If you’re thinking, “this will never work for my students/my school!” please stop for a moment to reconsider. My school is one of the lowest performing in our district, we have attendance and behavior challenges, and parent engagement is almost non-existent. But. My students work hard, because I believe in them and we have created a classroom community where they are safe and supported. I rarely have behavior challenges in class, simply because my students believe they can succeed.
Planning for Mastery Tasks
With my PLC, we start with our Next Generation Science Standards, and try to distill down exactly what my students need to know and do. The Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices guide us to the “how” of mastery. Since writing Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) paragraphs is one of our essential skills in science, many of the Mastery Tasks have students write a CER based on a lab or activity. Other Mastery Tasks are videos, lab reports (usually using Google Slides), or digital/analog creations such as comic strips or mini posters.
The rest of my 7th grade science PLC has not implemented Mastery-Based Grading…yet! They are interested, and are hoping to introduce it next school year. The 8th grade science teachers are using it, so thankfully I’m not entirely alone.
That being said, many of my Mastery Tasks are still common assessments, even though they are graded slightly differently.
Example Mastery Task
Below is a screenshot of a Mastery Task on Google Classroom. Attached to the assignment are instructions, the Doc students will edit, and sentence frames to support struggling students (provided on the day of the lesson to specific students, then added to the assignment later to help students with revisions).
Students did a lab on the Law of Conservation of Mass, where they mix baking soda and vinegar in a flask with a balloon over the top. This lab was glued in students interactive notebooks, and students wrote the first draft of their CER in their notebooks.
Then, students traded notebooks with a partner, and used 3 colors to underline the claim, evidence, and reasoning. They also identified how their partner did based on the rubric. This was both an informal assessment of the partner’s CER and of the grading student’s ability to identify claim, evidence, and reasoning. When students received their notebooks back, they then went to Google Classroom and typed their CER into the Mastery Task Google Doc.
This Mastery Task came about a week after another CER on chemical reactions, where almost every student initially earned an In Progress grade. This led us to add in the additional draft, peer feedback, and finally their Mastery Task draft.
I love mixing in analog projects as well, such as One Pagers and 11×17 mini posters. While watching “The Lorax” movie, students analyzed it for how humans impact ecosystems and created a One Pager based on what they learned. You’ll notice there’s a spot in the corner for a stamp. This allows me to check the One Pager in class and stamp it. Then, students take a picture and submit it to the Mastery Task. If I see a stamp, I know it’s automatically Mastery. If there isn’t a stamp, then I know I need to check it (zoom in a bit, usually), and provide feedback either way.
Some Mastery Tasks are entirely skill-based. I have chosen to include notebook checks as Mastery Tasks because my students are working on their organization skills. They self-check their notebooks and answer a few reflection questions, then turn in pictures of both. I know some teachers may disagree with this, but it’s what works for me and my students.
Each 18 week semester comes down to about 20 Mastery Tasks. It’s not always one per week. Some weeks have none, while others have two.
Advice for getting started
Don’t be afraid to jump in and try! Use an assessment you already have, add a mastery rubric, ask students to complete the assignment, provide feedback, and allow them unlimited opportunities to revise and resubmit their work. Take it one step further by asking students for feedback on how to improve the assignment, and what lessons or activities were helpful in preparing them for the mastery task.
As I said in my first post, one of my next big steps is using One-Point Rubrics, simplifying the feedback process, and allowing me to give more targeted and individualized feedback. I love that I can grow as a teacher as my kids grow as students!
What was do you use to assess mastery in your classroom?