Author Archive

Summer off? Yeah, right! I’m already excited for next year!

July 1, 2013

So what does a middle school teacher do with his/her extra time now that school is over and he/she is getting antsy?  I don’t know about you, but I’m already thinking about how I can rearrange my classroom for next year.  I’ve checked out ideas on Pinterest, checked in with other teacher-friends, and have pretty much figured out how I’m going to do it.

So, what’s next, you ask?  Hmm, professional development!  I love to learn new things, which is good, since I will be teaching two different subjects next year than I taught this year, and I’ve never taught of them before.  Though I have a bit of anxiety about the switch, I’m really looking forward to it.  I’m also really lucky to have two other math/science teachers at my grade level who are willing to share their knowledge and materials with me.

Participants at the STEM Camp learn about plant life.

Participants at the STEM Camp learn about plant life.

Besides the TON of reading I’ll be doing during the next two months (and the school year), I’ve also chosen to immerse myself in STEM activities.  And here’s the coolest part…there’s a week-long STEM Collaborative Educators’ Camp that is absolutely FREE to Maine residents (and they provide housing too)!  There are varied classes being offered focused on teachers of grades 6-12.  I’ve looked through the brochure of courses (ranging from origami to and am torn about what I will attend, but having heard feedback from some who attended last year’s camp, I know I’m going to walk away with a toolbox full of new techniques, strategies, and knowledge for me to apply to my teaching.  Also, beyond classroom (both inside and out) learning, there are fun, experiential activities for those who want to participate, ranging from ziplining to swimming.  I just know that is something I should attend because of this quote from their website:

“Our hope is to encourage Maine STEM educators to share their passions and talents with one another to form a                   community vested in improving student learning in STEM topics across Maine.”

Doesn’t that tie into the Bright Futures Report beautifully?  A focus on collaboration and learning sounds perfect!

You can register right at the website I’ve linked above.  Hopefully I’ll meet some of you there!

Thank you to Lisa Smith for her permission to write about the camp.  She’s the Outreach/Camp Director and is happy to answer any questions you may have!

P.S. Bring your insect repellant and sun screen for those outdoor options!

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Mass Customized Learning…Oxymoron it is NOT!

November 6, 2012

PIMS Student uses origami to show what he learned about the causes of the American Revolution

If you were fortunate enough to have attended the MAMLE conference at Sugarloaf a week and a half ago, you heard quite a bit about Mass Customized Learning.  In my own mind, mass and customized seemed to contradict one another; yet, after lots of time to process this phrase, I’m FINALLY starting to really understand it.  Here’s what it means in my terms: learning that allows for personalization, based on how one learns, the pace one learns and one’s interests.  You’ll notice the multiple times I wrote the word “one” in that sentence.  It was done purposefully to show you that even though the word “mass” is used, it really comes down to individuality of learning.

I’ve read Inevitable by Bea McGarvey and Chuck Schwahn, I’ve heard Bea present, I’ve heard Bill Zima present, and I’ve heard Commissioner Bowen speak about it.  I get it…yup, I’ve bought in, because it makes soooooo much sense to me.  We no longer live in the Industrial Revolution Era.  We need to alter how we do “business”, so to speak, to keep up with the times.

So, what’s stopping me from implementing this concept in my classroom, you ask?  My biggest barrier is my school schedule.  And, though I can wrap my head around how we could change the schedule, I haven’t been able to figure out transportation for rural schools. Oh yeah, and there’s the whole school district aspect that I can’t change.

But, there are things I can do within my classroom that are supported by customized learning, so I’m trying them.  Here’s one example from Social Studies class.  I shared the first learning goal with students explaining what they were expected to meet and asked them how they thought they could prove to me that they’ve met the goal.  The brainstormed list was astounding, and quite creative, I might add.  Next, they shared the kinds of resources they could use (since we had already had the lesson on primary and secondary sources, this was pretty easy for them).  Some students even asked if I would be available to teach lessons along the way, rather than just facilitate.  Woo-hoo…some wanted teacher direction!  The best part for me was that students who had been struggling with motivation and/or staying on task completely bought into the idea of their having control.  One particular student is fascinated by origami, so his project incorporated content with an origami piece.  He was excited to show what he learned in a way that he liked doing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m still finding glitches, such as still being limited by numeric grades and quarters, but at least students have had the opportunity to dabble in customized learning, and they’re enjoying it.  Hopefully their critical thinking skills will continue to develop also, as they seek to choose ways to best show their learning.
So, I’m curious, what are others doing to implement customized learning in their classrooms?  I look forward to reading your ideas!

Brain Breaks…Have You Used Them?

September 4, 2012

I’ve had THE dream each of the past few nights.  You know the one – when you realize you’ve forgotten to wear some very important clothing on your first day of school.  That can only mean one thing…the school year is beginning!

While preparing for the new school year, I’ve recently read quite a bit on the value of “brain breaks” based on brain research. If you’re not familiar with what brain breaks are,  The Watson Institute defines them as “mental breaks designed to help students stay focused and attend. The brain breaks get students moving to carry blood and oxygen to the brain. The breaks energize or relax. The breaks provide processing time for students to solidify their learning.”

I must admit that originally I saw the idea on Pinterest (my summer addiction) and thought about how much sense they made. Then I had the argument in my head about the time it takes to do one of the activities I saw and how much learning time my students would lose. So, I decided that it was research time!  Unfortunately I haven’t found any specific brain research on the Internet to support them, but I have found many websites where someone cited someone who cited someone, etc. In looking over material a colleague gave me from a presentation she attended on brain research, the fact that the frontal lobe REGRESSES on average between ages 10 and 14 (found in a study done at UCLA) spoke loudly to me. Our middle level students are going through the largest growth spurt their bodies have seen since between birth and age 2.  Every once in a while taking a short break is exactly what they NEED to get momentum to move forward!

Here are some examples of brain breaks I’ve seen:

  • Play Boggle
  • Do the Macarena
  • Play Telephone
  • Brain Gym
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Hop
  • Simon Says
  • Do the Wave
  • Get drinks of water (the brain needs it every hour, after all)

Of course there are others, including some that could be coupled with team-building or review.  Some of those and other ideas can be found at the following sites:

Since this is not even close to being a complete list, please share any you’ve used!  I hope you have a WONDERFUL school year!

Summer – Learning While Rejuvenating!

May 24, 2012

Child ReadingI don’t know if you’re like me or not, but one of my favorite things about summer is reading, because I get to choose what I want to read and when I want to read it (some things haven’t changed since I was 13, I guess).  What’s interesting to me is that during the past few summers, I’ve noticed my choice of reading material has changed.  Though a sappy romance novel may be intertwined with other material, my recent choices have been pieces that make me consider my stance on education and understanding of the students I teach.  Perhaps one may consider that I’ve grown up, though we probably shouldn’t get carried away!  🙂  Instead, I like to view it as a true opportunity to reflect and look forward at the same time.

Sometimes, I need structure to truly get the best out of what I’m reading, and I definitely need collaboration, which provides me the chance to talk through parts that question my own pedagogy.  So, what will be my reading material for the summer, you ask?  Well, I’m sure I’m going to immerse myself in Common Core “stuff”…I know that I need a strong handle on it before I can expect that of my students.  I’m also hoping to attend the NELMS Summer Institute in Portsmouth, NH, since leaders in Middle Level education will be there (Chris Toy and Jill Spencer, to name a couple) and the whole focus is on Common Core Standards.  Of course the getaway will be great too, since black fly season in Northern Maine will be going strong by then…maybe I could get enough of them to fly me to Portsmouth!  Many other summer professional development opportunities exist, so find what suits your fancy!

Anyway, I’m curious what others will be immersing themselves in this summer.  So, what’s on your professional development agenda?

Transition…”Do I have to???”

April 27, 2012

As April vacation was coming to an end, I realized how little time I have left with my cherubs until they enjoy their summer vacations.  This also means it’s a time for helping them transition to the high school…”that big, scary place where I will get lost!”

There are several different times when transitions affect our students: school to school (primary to intermediate; intermediate to middle; or middle to high school) and one grade to another.Many of our students feel anxious about these changes, because it means having to learn a new system of rules and procedures.  Some do this seamlessly, others, not so much.

As an 8th grade teacher, I can’t speak to all of the attempts our schools do to make the transition a bit easier for our incoming 6th graders, but I can tell you how our 8th graders are eased into the process.  In the fall, we take them to a production of the high school play.  Then at our school in the spring , the high school guidance counselors introduce themselves and the “Program of Studies” options for students.  Next we take them on a tour of our regional technology center (of course, introducing the teachers there) and to lunch in the cafeteria (a much different experience than at the middle school).  There’s a parent meeting held in the evening, since parents also need assistance in this process.  And lastly, the week before school starts, an orientation day is held where students get their schedules (locker info is on them, so students make sure they work and can get into them) and practice traveling from one classroom to another during their typical day.

Therefore, I’m curious what your schools do to help students and parents move from school to school and/or grade to grade with ease.

Internship vs. Student Teaching…Which is Better?

March 19, 2012

Miss Green and a student work together on editing the student's writing

Spring is in the air and many education majors are planning their student teaching.  I remember my student teaching experience as though it were yesterday.  Luckily, I knew exactly what age group I wanted to teach: middle school…and I remember my advisor thought I should reconsider, thinking that early elementary would be a better fit for me.  So, I split my time between Waterville Junior High and Winslow Elementary.  Both schools were welcoming to me, but I was MUCH more comfortable with 7th and 8th graders than I was with 4th.  I’m glad I got the experience of working with my cooperating teacher at the fourth grade level, because she is a wonderful person, but teaching-wise, I would have been more prepared for the working world if I had been able to stay in one place.

Now, many universities offer two different ways of completing student teaching.  One is the kind most of us completed where there are two placements, each for about eight weeks.  The second is called an internship.  This allows a college student to observe one teacher at least one day per week for the fall semester and complete their student teaching with that same teacher during the spring semester.

In my humble opinion, one of the most important professional steps teachers can take is to advise a student teacher.  So, this year I opted to participate in advising an intern.  Since there is an interview process through the university and with prospective teachers, I had more say in whether or not this was someone with whom I thought I could work.  In the past teachers in my school have been asked about accepting student teachers, but we haven’t always known them before they appear “on our doorstep”.  For me, the new process seemed to be in everyone’s best interest.

Here are the advantages I’ve seen already:

– more in-class time before student teaching
– relationship built with students prior to student teaching
– ready to begin teaching right after the winter break, rather than only   getting in 4 or 5 weeks of teaching during a placement
– better understanding of school rules
– vested interest in being a bigger part of the school community
– familiarity with other teachers
– better understanding of the curriculum already covered and expectations for what he/she will  teach
– closer relationship with cooperating teacher, building trust

The only downside I’ve been able to come up with is saying good-bye at the end of the spring semester.  I’m sure there are probably others, but if people are honest during the interview process, I believe it really works out well.

I can’t really say which is a better scenario for everyone, but I think it’s worthy of consideration.  I know for me, being the cooperating teacher of an intern is a better option for me.  Maybe it would be for you too!

Bad Rap

January 16, 2012

At a fairly recent doctor’s appointment, I was asked  the question of what I do for a living.  When I  answered that I am a middle school teacher, the doctor responded with, “Those kids should be boxed up and sent away until they’re 15!” or something of the like.  Unfortunately, we know that many of “our” kids are very misunderstood, and yet I can’t imagine teaching any age but middle school!

While thinking about that conversation, examples of middle schoolers doing the right thing really stick out to me.  So, I figured this would be a great time to share one of these examples, this one I learned about from my principal:

On Thursday, a visitor to our school slipped and fell on the ice, which was hiding under a light dusting of snow.  The parent had come to PIMS for an early morning IEP.  As she was walking from her car along the sidewalk to the lobby entrance, she lost her footing and fell hard on the ground, losing her shoe, her paperwork . . . and her dignity.  Two of our students (brother and sister, eighth grade boy and sixth grade girl) waiting for the lobby doors to open, ran to her assistance.  She was shaken and worried about her previously injured knee.  The students recovered her shoe, helped her to her feet, dusted her off and escorted her into the building.  When she reached my office, she had tears streaming down her cheeks.  She was worried about her knee, since, as she repeated several times, she “just couldn’t miss work.”  She explained to me that while her knee hurt, and she was very embarrassed about falling as she did, her tears were tears of appreciation for the caring students who so kindly helped her.  Witnessing that type of a fall, many young people might have laughed, or pretended not to see and walked away.  These two students (who, by the way, have had their moments in the office) didn’t miss a beat.  They hurried to her rescue.  This parent was so moved by the students’ helpful nature, that she contacted me later that day to once again let me know how much she appreciated their help and kindness. When I called the parents of these students to share their good deed, again, unexpected emotion.  “I’m so used to hearing about the bad stuff; I wasn’t expecting anything like this”  — this amidst quiet sobs of pride.

I’d love to hear your examples as well!

The Holiday Spirit

December 9, 2011

I LOVE the holidays!  But, I’m one of the lucky ones.  I have a close family who gets together; I have warm, welcoming friends who invite us to potlucks and Yankee Swaps; I have friends who spend a day with me going Christmas caroling.  Since those are some of my favorites about the Christmas season, I truly feel like one of the lucky ones.  Many of us have our own favorite traditions that circle around this time of year.

Unfortunately, not all of our students spend the winter break in happy environments like the ones I mentioned.  So, what can we do?  Well, I’m certainly not able to take them all to my house, but my principal, Anne Blanchard, today reminded our staff of a few things that are reasonable, easy to do, and don’t cost a thing!  So, here’s what she had to say:

“Rather than dwell on the things we cannot change, I’d like to focus on the little things we can do to encourage and support our students who struggle emotionally and otherwise, particularly during this heightened time of year.

  • A kind word, compliment (particularly about their hair; it’s the single physical trait that most middle school students are concerned/worried about) can have a positive impact—especially if it’s unanticipated and sincere.
  • Striking up a brief somewhat personal conversation is another way to lift a spirit.   It shows interest in the student as a person.
  • Encouragement following a setback
  • Praise for effort and a job well done
  • A quiet redirection when the student is off the mark
  • Depending on the situation, use of humor to lighten the air.  A wise administrator once commented to me when I was a rookie:  “When you stop laughing with them (students), it’s time to get out of education!”  I’ve always remembered that.”

As you can see, these are such simple connections we can make with our students to let them know how much we care.

I wish you all a fun, safe, and rejuvenating holiday season!

“Down Time”

November 10, 2011

Knowing how social most middle schoolers are, I understand the importance of providing time for socialization during the school day; students will, after all, create it for themselves if we don’t provide it, right?  The school at which I teach provides about a 17 minute recess per grade level.  As long as it’s not “too cold”, students are outside (with the exception of a handful who prefer to work in the library instead).  On those really cold days (much of winter, since we’re in Northern Maine), students go to the gym instead.

Many of our students appreciate this time to play, but many are just standing around (or sitting when in the gym) talking.  If the intention is to offer time for students to move and stimulate their brains, we’re lacking in meeting that goal.

As I supervise eighth graders on the playground, I wonder if there’s a better way to handle this time.  I’m not necessarily talking about the need to add 17 minutes of academia, but rather, hoping there’s an opportunity for students to gain more out of this down time.  So, I’m curious what readers are doing.  Is recess held in your schools?  If so, how is it managed?  Are there different types of recess for different grade levels?

Hand in Hand

September 26, 2011

Good questions can define the path we take.

Every summer I reflect on the previous school year, as many of you do, and think about how I can do business differently in the coming year.

So, here are some of my thoughts from this summer.  Though the minimalist theory of learning has typically been used in defining the learning of technology, how would it look in a classroom designed to cover content such as U.S. History, adding integers, or solving chemical equations?  Well, the parts of the theory, as defined by Greg Kearsley, that stand out to me are the following:

  1. Activities should be based on learners’ prior knowledge and experience.
  2. Learners should be given realistic projects as soon as possible.
  3. Training is easily connected to the task.
  4. Instruction should permit self-directed reasoning and improvising.
  5. Provide time to recognize errors and learning from them.

So, how does this affect me, you might ask.  Great question!  Could you see this working in your classroom?  If so, how?


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