Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Minute to Win It (Part 5 of 5)

It's the final countdown (I use this song in my class the day before the big end of year assessment)! My last 10 Minute to Win It Challenges! 

26. Clipboard Tennis: For this activity, 2 students will use clipboards to volley a balled-up piece of paper back and forth. Meanwhile, I will ask 6 questions, stopping mid-sentence if the paper hits the floor until they are volleying again. The students should take turns answering the 6 questions.  Once six questions are answered correctly or the buzzer sounds, the game is over.


27. Ring Finger: I use the Halloween spider rings for this challenge, in which the student must associate 10 items to a particular term and place a ring on each of their fingers to represent each correct response in 60 seconds or less.  For example, if the unit we were studying was American Indians, I might say "1. hunted buffalo", and the student would respond with "Lakota," then I might say, "2, lived in the Eastern Woodlands," the student should respond, "Iroquois." I do this 10 times. I can also see this activity being done with geographic regions, scientific method, geometric figures, spanish vocabulary words, etc. 

28. Paper Clip Chain: In this activity, the selecting student's team must answer questions correctly and attach paper clips to one another to form a chain. I give the team about 8 paper clips. Some may get more than 1 paper clip if the teams are small.  I start the questioning with the selecting student. If they get the question correct, they hand their paper clip to the next player. That player connects their paper clip to the first student's clip. If they can also answer the question correctly, they can pass their chain to the next player. If the paper clip chain is all in one lengthy piece before the buzzer sounds, that team has successfully completed the challenge.

29. Puzzled: I love doing this activity with maps, but it works with any image. After printing the image on 8.5 X 11 paper, I write a question on the back of the sheet. Then, I cut the image into 9-12 pieces of varying shapes and sizes. The team that selects this challenge, must tape the puzzle together, flip it over, read the question, and answer it correctly in 60 seconds or less to complete this task.

30. Marble Track:  The student who selects this challenge must build a marble track using sets of staples.  Usually I pre-set modeling clay, books, or other items to vary the elevation of the potential track (students can always add or take away from what I've set). I always mark a starting point and have a cup at the end point. Then, when I start the timer, I have the student set up the track with staples and additional supplies (if necessary). When he/she acknowledges that the track is ready, I ask him/her a question. Once the student answers the question correctly, he/she has to drop the marble at the beginning of the track and hope it makes it all the way to the cup.  If it doesn't, they must fix their track before being asked another question and sending a marble down the track. Here is a short version of the track:

31. Marble Yard: The student who selected this challenge must answer three questions correctly, and then spend the remaining time trying to roll a marble down a yardstick and into a designated area. If the student can get one marble to sit in the designated zone, than they have completed the challenge successfully.


32. Balloon Blows: Set up 4 cups at the edge of a desk or table. Each of the cups should have an index card with a question inside. Give the student a balloon. The student must inflate the balloon and try to blow off the cups and answer the questions. They will have to inflate the balloon multiple times. If they can knock off all 4 cups and answer all 4 questions correctly, they've successfully completed the task. 

33. Timely Order: For this activity, I provide handouts with pictures/text representing events from history that the student's team must put in chronological order. I usually give 10-12 events that they must put in order in less than a minute.  

34. Marshmallow Mouthful*: I'VE NEVER TRIED THIS. I'm not sure, if I will or not. But, for this activity, a student must start with one marshmallow in their mouth. Then, they have to answer a question correctly. Once they do, they put another marshmallow in their mouth. Six marshmallows and six correct answers in 60 seconds, and the mission is accomplished. 

35. Ping Pong Tissue Box*: I'VE NEVER TRIED THIS. Have a student tie an empty tissue box (using rope/yarn) around their waist. Remove the plastic part where the tissues were grabbed with snotty hands and put 5 ping pong balls inside the tissue box. Student must bounce around to knock the balls out. If they can knock three balls out and answer 3 questions, they win.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about these M2Wi challenges. The students love them. They don't have to be used as part of a M2Wi game, they can be used and adapted in many different ways. Just get creative :)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Minute to Win It (Part 4 of 5)

As you read more of these M2Wi challenges, I encourage you to consider ways that you can add some fun and excitement to learning in your own classroom. It really keeps the kids engaged and interested.  I hope you think of ways that you can use these activities in your own content!

16. Pictionary: You know the drill. One student draws a picture and his/her team must guess what they are drawing. I have an index card prepared with the item that the student must draw. I have kids use the dry erase board so that the whole class can see what is being drawn.

17. Sculptorades: Anyone who has played Cranium knows this one too. Similar to Pictionary, but instead of drawing, the student who selected this challenge must sculpt a pre-selected item using Play-doh. I have an index card prepared with the item that the student must sculpt. Their team has 60 seconds to guess what they are sculpting.


18. Easter Egg Hunt:  A perfect challenge for the springtime! Before class begins, I have already hidden 4 easter eggs in the classroom. Up, down, all around (except in my teacher-only zone), the classroom has many good hiding me.  If you don't believe me, grab some sticky putty and then try. I let the whole team of the student who selected this challenge search for the eggs. Inside the eggs are a sheet of paper with a question on it. Students have a minute to find 3 eggs and answer 3 questions correctly. It's always fun to see the students' reactions when you show them where you've hidden the eggs they didn't find!

19. Stocking Stuffer: Another seasonal challenge, this winter activity can be quite amusing. I stuff a Christmas stocking with all sorts of stocking stuffers--little stuffed animals, toys, t-shirts, you name it. The student's task is a difficult one. They must be able to make some connection to what they've learned in class to any 3 items they pull out. For instance, if they pull out a stuffed cow, they could say, "The Mid-Atlantic colonies specialized in livestock." If they pull out a University of Virginia T-shirt that was sponsored by State Farm, they could say anything about Thomas Jefferson, cotton, or farming--as long as it related to something they learned in class.  They could pull out a candy bar and talk about how the Columbian Exchange made candy bars a possibility. These are a couple of examples from my classroom...there are so many opportunities and sometimes the kids will come up with things that you've never thought of yourself!

20. Sentence Structure: For this team challenge, the students must correctly place individual words in order to form a grammatically correct sentence. For example, I might give them 13 sheets of paper with the following words:

Doctrine                  European                     not                in                The                     Western                     interfere
Monroe                   to                              nations           warned          Hemisphere.         the

Can you put them in order?

The students should be able to put the words in order as a team correctly in under 60 seconds. The punctuation and (sometimes) capitalization are big clues.

SPOILER ALERT: The sentence should read, "The Monroe Doctrine warned European nations not to interfere in the Western Hemisphere."

21. Who, What, Where Charades: The student that selected this challenge must act out silent clues to get their teammates to guess who they are, what they are doing, and where they are doing it. I provide an index card with that information to the student before starting the timer. You could do something like, "Robert E. Lee surrendering at Appomattox Court House" or "George Washington leading the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia." To challenge your students even more, you might want to  switch one or two of the who, what, or where so that they are silly and not necessarily historically accurate. Examples: "Robert E. Lee surrendering in an igloo" or "George Washington digging for gold in an airplane." You could also play this game as Who, What, Where Pictionary.  This idea was inspired by a board game.

22. Head of the Class: The student who selected this challenge must balance a book on their head and answer 5 questions correctly. If the book falls, they must put it back on their head and answer 5 more questions. If they can balance the book until they have finished answering all of the questions, and they do so in less than a minute, they win it :)

23. Post-It Challenge: As you've probably read already, I have a bulletin board with a map of the U.S. in my classroom. Before the challenge, I write one geographic feature or region on each sticky note in a stack of post-its. I hand the stack to the student and start the timer as they must rush to throw all of the stickies on the board in the appropriate location before time runs out. 

24. Bucket Head: The student who selected this challenge must answer three questions correctly and make three baskets, one after each question.  The student must choose a teammate to hold a recycling bin or other bucket on his head. The bucket must stay on their head during the shot. They can move around, bend their knees, or jump, but they cannot take the basket off their head. I don't count it if the ball bounces out (the student must figure out a way to keep it in the bucket!).

25. Did You Just Flarp?: Flarp is a noise-making putty that comes in a plastic can.  If you keep it in the container and move your fingers around in it, it will make some laughter-inducing noises. The student who selected this activity should stand 10-15 feet away from the flarp. They must answer 5 questions correctly, but after each correct answer the student must run to the flarp and make a flarping sound. The rest of the class should be quiet in anticipation for the sound. Once it's heard, the student runs back and answers another question (the rest of the class is usually giggling at the flarp sound). This is repeated until 5 flarp sounds have been heard or the buzzer sounds.

My final 10 Minute to Win It challenges are coming next week...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Minute to Win It (Part 3 of 5)

The following activities are part of a larger game I play, called Minute to Win It. Check out my previous blog posts to learn more if you haven't already!

11.  Ball Toss: For this activity you need to set up cups in a pyramid and have a squishy ball of some sort. I hide questions on index cards in the cups. The student who selects this activity should throw the ball toward the pyramid while a teammate retrieves the ball and throws it back.  The goal is to knock down the pyramid, run to the fallen cups, and answer the questions on the index cards correctly before time runs out. I usually have a six-cup pyramid and three of the cups have questions.

12. Hut, Hut, Hike:  For this activity, the student that selects the challenge becomes like a center in football ready to hike the ball. Except, instead of a ball, the student will throw toilet paper between his legs and into a basket. I ask the student 4 questions and then give them the remainder of the time to try and hike the toilet paper into the basket one time. If they do, they accomplished their task! It involves toilet paper, and apparently, anything that involves toilet paper in the classroom is fun for the kids.  I won't forget purchasing an oversized bag of toilet paper from Wal-Mart for personal use at home, and while standing in line, one of my students spotted my wife and I and asked if the toilet paper was for a classroom activity. Unsure of what to say, I simply grinned and said, "You'll have to wait and see..."

13. Spell It Out: A simple team activity, for this challenge I ask a recall question that has a short response (maybe 2-4 words) and have the students dig through foam letters and spell out the answer. I think I might try a new twist this year, in which students would go through a newspaper or magazine and have to cut out letters that spell out the correct answer.  WARNING: In order to make this task reasonable, make sure that your answer is a short one!

14. Zip Around: Similar to "I Have, Who Has", the team of the student who selected this challenge must complete a zip around of 10-12 cards in 60 seconds. Each card has a question and an answer to another question in the room. For instance, one person asks, "Which president bought Louisiana from France?" and someone else reads, "Thomas Jefferson" then flips their card to read the next question. The final answer should be on the back of the card with the first question.

15. Flash Mob: One of my favorites, party music must be readily available for this one (remember you just need 60 seconds of a song). When the timer begins, so too does the music and dancing. I allow my students to dance on chairs and (sturdy) desks, while I read flashcards aloud to the student who selected the card. The student's goal is to answer 8 of the flashcards correctly without being too distracted by the music or the groovy moves of his/her classmates. This challenge may or may not have been inspired by my attendance at this event:

I make an appearance at the 4:05 mark. Can you spot me?

There will be 2 more posts in this series. Each one will contain 10 more Minute To Win It challenges that you can use in your own classroom!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Minute to Win It (Part 2 of 5)

Below are 5 more M2Wi activities. I hope that many of you will take these activities and somehow incorporate at least one of them into your classroom or that your creative engine is sparked to do something else based on what you read.

6. Ping Pong Cups: A similar challenge to the Balloon Pop activity that I described in my previous post. This time, however, instead of hanging balloons on your bulletin board, staple plastic cups to it.  Again, I use this one on a map of the United States. The student must give a fact about where a cup is located and then throw a ping pong ball in its direction in the hopes of making it in. One made basket is all they need in 60 seconds. The student gets one shot for every fact given.  Some of the facts students give might be how the U.S. acquired particular territories, historical events that happened in that area, or geographic information.

7. Putt Putt: Prior to class, I tape off different "zones" and place the 'hole' at a particular spot. SIDE NOTE: I used a section of the bank in an old monopoly board game that I found in my classroom to use as my 'hole'. I suppose you could use a cup or mark a spot on the floor or a wall.  I ask the student who selected this challenge 5 questions. Each time they answer a question correctly they move up a zone, closer to the hole. If they miss the question, they must stay put. After the 5 questions have been asked, wherever the student is, they have an unlimited amount of putts to make the ball into the hole one time. I use my own personal putter and golf ball. I suppose you could use any stick and ball to make this work. Usually another student is chosen before the time begins to help return the ball if it doesn't go in the hole.

8. Paper Airplane: This challenge also uses zones. A student must make a paper airplane and put it into flight. The zone the airplane lands in will determine how many questions must be answered correctly in order for a student to win this challenge. If the student rushes through the airplane and makes a poor one, it most likely will not fly far, and they'll have to answer more questions correctly. If the student takes their time, they may create a better plane, and in return, only have to answer 0 or 1 question correct. I sometimes say if they can hit the back wall in the air the time will stop, no questions asked. WARNING: Some students may want to crumble a sheet of paper up and throw it. I tell them this doesn't count as it is not an airplane.

9.  Paper Football: The student who selects this activity must make three paper football field goals in a minute. In order to shoot, however, they must answer a question correctly.  Basically, I ask a question, if they get it correct, they shoot until they make a field goal, then I ask the second question.  I use a pre-made cheap plastic table football set instead of homemade paper footballs. However, the same activity can be done with real paper footballs and a teammate to use his hands to make the field posts. I'm sure every class has a student who knows how to make a paper football, but just in case, here are some instructions.  WARNING: See picture below.

10. Sort It Out: Teachers use sorts all the time to get their students to categorize information. Why not make it into a competition in which a team must beat the clock? Students must complete a sort in 60 seconds....


You can expect several more activities to be shared in this ongoing M2Wi series...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Minute to Win It (Part 1 of 5)

I play many games in my classroom. One of the review games I play is called Minute to Win It (M2Wi).  It is perhaps my favorite review game because the kids love it so much. Students are given 60 seconds to complete various challenges just like on the TV show. Over the course of the next several weeks, I will post about many of these M2Wi activities. Some of the activities are directly from the game show.  The way I set up the room is simple, I divide students into 3 teams. Each team sits around the room on 3 sides (the 4th side is where I set up most of my activities the afternoon before).  In the middle of the room are 2 student desks with about 30-40 index cards (a good amount for a 90-minute class) that indicate a M2Wi activity.  Some of the activities require the whole team to participate, some require just a partner from the team, and some are done alone. The option for team activities is helpful for your students who may not be interested in standing in the spotlight and having all eyes on them.


Teams will take turns sending 1 student up to pick an activity. There are many ways to choose a student to begin the game. I've used methods such as random generators and calling on a well-behaved student.  Once the first player for the first team selects his option, I explain in 20 seconds or less how to play the activity.  Once I explain the activity and I ask if the participant(s) has any question, I end with "you have a minute to win it, go" and start the online stopwatch timer on my SmartBoard.  At times, I have kept score. The way I do it is by adding up the amount of time left on the clock when a challenge is accomplished. Many times, there will be rounds in which no team is awarded points because no challenge was completed.

So, what exactly are these challenges or activities I am talking about? Here are just a few. You can expect more to be posted soon.

1. A Bit Dicey:  The student who selects this activity must answer 4 content-related questions correctly and then balance 4 dice vertically on a popsicle/craft stick in their mouth for at least 3 seconds. I always model this one for them and then throw away the popsicle stick. It's harder than it seems! All these questions should be written out ahead of time.

2. Rubber Band-It: The team of the student who selects this activity line up behind a pre-existing line with rubber bands and must shoot at a pyramid of coke cans. At least one of the coke cans will have a question on the back. Once the top can falls, the student who selected the activity must run to the cans and ask the question(s). Depending on the sling shot skill level of the students in your class, you can adjust the number of soda cans in the pyramid and the number of cans that actually have questions taped to the back.

3. Map Instructions: I give the students on the team a box of colored pencils and a blank map with instructions on the bottom. The instructions may say things like "Color Virginia blue," "Label the ocean that surrounds Antarctica," "Draw a lone star on the state that had been an independent republic before it entered the Union," "Draw Mr. Piedra in a canoe with a fishing pole on the Columbia River," "Circle the border states," "Put a compass in the top left corner."  I list about 8-10 steps for my students to complete in 60 seconds. Instead of a map, math teachers could use a blank circle and have students "Write the definition of circumference," "Draw the diameter," "Label the radius," "Shade 1/4 of the circle gray." For Reading, you could have a paragraph and write, "Circle the mistake in the first sentence," "Underline the verb in the third sentence," and many more I ideas I am probably not qualified to suggest.

4. Roll of the Dice: Give the student who selected this activity a dice. The student must roll the dice 4 times in a minute. Each time they roll the dice, they will get a question corresponding to the roll of the dice. For instance, if a student rolls a 6, the question may be "Name 6 states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy." However, if the student rolls a 3, the question may be, "Name 3 colonial advantages that Patriots had during the American Revolution."  Another version of this activity is the 6 to 1 Challenge. In this activity, the student doesn't roll the dice but instead must answer questions with 6 answers ("Name 6..."), then 5 answers ("What 5..."), all the way down to 1 answer. All these questions should be written out ahead of time!

5. Balloon Pop: A student-favorite. In this activity, I set up a bulletin board in my room with a blank map of the United States. I then tack about 5 balloons in various locations on the map.  In order for a student to win this challenge, they must give a fact about any balloon's location and then pick up a sharpened pencil and try to pop that particular balloon from about 8-10 feet away. The facts range from nearby geographic features, to names of the region/state, type of climate, Indians that live there, historical events that occurred there, etc.  They have 60 seconds to pop one balloon.  They can give as many facts for as many balloons as they need to in order to be successful. They get one toss per fact provided.  WARNING: Keep other students far away from the board so that they don't feel the effects of a poor ricochet.  For math teachers, put fractions, percents, shapes, angles, etc on your bulletin board. For Science, you could put phases of the moon. For Reading/Writing, you could put vocabulary words or stems.  I have seen students pop the balloon with 58 seconds still on the clock and also right before the time runs out.

Nothing like a good buzzer beater...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Arranging Student Desks to Fit A Lesson

As I create lessons, I think about how I want my classroom to look and feel when delivering the lesson.  Should the students all be facing the front of the classroom? Will the students be working in pairs? groups of 3? of 4? of 5? or more? Do I need one desk for every student? Can I survive with less? Or, do I need more? How many students do I have in each class? What should the lighting be like? What do I want the students to see on the walls? Should I divide the classroom with (butcher paper) partitions? What are the objectives of this lesson, again?  These are just some of the many questions I ask myself when I think about preparing my classroom for a lesson.

Today, I want to focus on student desks. Arranging desks is a successful tool to enhance student engagement and maximize learning in the classroom. Some teachers keep the same seating arrangement all year long. These teachers should ask themselves if there is any rearranging they can do to enhance their lesson prior to delivery. For some teachers (i.e. those with smaller classrooms, tables instead of desks, chronic back issues, etc.) the challenge is greater. But, for many of us, the opportunities are knocking on our door!

Because I change the desks around 3-4 times a week on average, I rarely assign seats. My students come in, find a seat and begin their Do Now, which is posted on the SmartBoard.  They aren't allowed to save seats. At times, based on the activity, I will find it necessary to assign groups; and therefore, I will have a seating chart posted on those days.  To eliminate student complaints on those days, I let students know the first week of school that it is a privilege to sit where they choose in my classroom and it is my right as a teacher to assign seats when I feel it is necessary.

Here are some of the ways that I have arranged desks in my classroom. In the models below, I use 25 desks.  That is more than I have had to use in the past on a regular basis, but I think my class sizes will be a little bigger this coming year, so I wanted to try it out.

This is one I use the first week of school when I want kids to focus on me (facing the SmartBoard in the awkward corner).  I usually teach students procedures using verbal and visual instructions and modeling.  I also tell the students a bit about myself and let the students share about themselves too. 

I use the above seating arrangements a lot when I have groups of 5, 4, or when my students are working in pairs. The top two are also good arrangements for 4-5 learning centers. 

I use this arrangement for test days. Students face the walls allowing me the ability to see all computer screens from the center of the room.  The multi-purpose table usually has a labeled space for students to turn in extra credit study guides, paper copies of the test (just in case technology fails), and a 'Tell Me What You Know' handout to complete after the test that diagnostically assess prior knowledge of the upcoming unit. 

I use this seating arrangement when I really want to drive something home and use direct instruction.  Students sit close together and close to the front of the classroom. 

I have only used this when I play Histor-opoly with my students as a review.  More on that in a later post...

This one is a fun arrangement. I have only used it when teaching about the Battle of Vicksburg because students sit in the middle of the circle of desks and pretend like they are living in "caves" on the hillside as the Union fires upon the city. I can see this being a great arrangement for a review game like Telephone Pictionary or something similar.

This is the arrangement my fellow Social Studies teacher and I use when we have all our students together for a Constitutional Convention.  The two desks in the back represent Rhode Island, and are not used during the Convention, while the other 12 sets of desks represent each state. The desk up front is reserved for George Washington.

This is my typical Minute To Win It (M2Wi) set up. I have three teams of students who must perform challenging tasks in  under 60 seconds in preparation for tests.  There are over 35 different M2Wi activities that I have used in the classroom.  There will be many more on those in posts to come...

I used this when I wanted to pretend that my students were "taking a field trip" to an archaeological site in the classroom. They had a guest speaker named Bob the Archaeologist (me) to present different artifacts that day.  It's a nice change from the regular look as the back of the classroom gets some much needed love and attention.  It's not a bad set up for a guest speaker.

I've used this arrangement when I have wanted two teams or learning stations in which I didn't mind really large groups. 
I usually either sit in the middle of one of the stations and lead that more directly or move between groups to monitor progress, provide feedback, and answer questions.

I use this for a simulation on the American colonies and their relationship to Great Britain and others in Europe. 
The middle of the classroom has rows of blue butcher paper representing the Atlantic Ocean.

I use this arrangement when my students will be moving around the room doing picture walks 
or acting as "museum patrons". 

 These are just some of the many ways that I arrange my classroom throughout the year. I'm hoping to get a bit more creative with my space this year.  Students seem to respond with curiosity when they see a new arrangement. It gets them interested in being in class before I've said anything at all.

If you arrange your desks in a particular way, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Summer Reading: Teach Like A PIRATE

Teach Like A PIRATE by Dave Burgess is an excellent book for any educator. In fact, I believe it's the reason that I no longer feel I need to write a book. In other words, it says just about everything that my book probably would have said, and he says it better.

If you haven't read it, I recommend you do (a coworker of mine suggested it to me). The author reveals his PIRATE system (Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. I will try to be brief in my summarizing and opinions below in the hopes that you will still read the book:

PASSION- Burgess breaks passion into three categories: Content, Professional, and Personal. He says when we aren't passionate about the content we teach, we should rely on our professional and personal passions. He defines professional passions as the stuff about teaching that got us into the profession in the first place (i.e. creating lifelong learners, turning student apathy into excitement when it comes to school, developing engaging lessons). He also says that we should infuse our personal passions (i.e. baseball) into our lessons, particularly when the content is dry (i.e. Colonial America-thanks, SOLs). In the past, I have played baseball as a review game during the Colonial America unit in order to rely on this personal passion.  So whether your passion is art, food, or chasing cougars*, somehow we should try to find a way to blend them into our lessons.

*A shout out to a fellow teacher and friend of mine.

IMMERSION- I love this one. It's the idea of completely giving ourselves up to the moment and fully "being" with our students. It's about leaving our email alone while students are with us, always moving around the room and avoiding the use of the "stool of drool", and simply being "in the moment."

RAPPORT- Relationships! Relationships! Relationships! Start building them on DAY 1.

ASK AND ANALYZE- How can I become more creative when I am creating my lessons?  How can I get my class outside my four walls for this lesson?  Can I use a game that incorporates movement and action to enhance this lesson?  Can students design word pictures in which the way the word is written reveals its definition? How will they possibly apply this in their life? Can I use music to make my transitions smoother and more engaging?  Many of these questions are questions that I have thought about in the past. I intend to use these and many more of the questions posed in the book as I create engaging lessons for my students. His book offers a plethora of excellent questions to help when planning lessons that may be geared more toward your passion and teaching style than the ones I chose to write here.

TRANSFORMATION- It's about committing to raising the bar by enhancing our lessons so that our rooms would be full of students even if they didn't have to come to school.

ENTHUSIASM- It's having what one of my professors referred to as "Withitness" but to a much higher degree. It's about being "on" all the time, yes, even the last period of the day. No sense in cheating them by not sharing your high energy later in the day.

Other thoughts that I took away from the book: 

On collaboration, Burgess says, "I strongly believe in the power of collaboration but I don't believe the final goal of such work should be to come to a single 'right' way of teaching." AGREED! I've appreciated hearing from other teachers (both in my content and outside of it), learning from them, and sharing ideas with them, and I appreciate that I have never been pressured to teach a lesson in a particular way. But I know that other teachers have been told they must use particular programs, they must teach a particular lesson, or they must spend a specific amount of time on particular subjects. This stifles creativity and does not permit the most student engagement possible. Unfortunately, this tends to happen to the teachers in the two contents that seem to matter most these days--reading and math.

On creative potential, he says, "We all have unbelievable creative potential. It lies dormant just waiting-no begging-to be tapped...Don't doubt for a minute that you are a creative wellspring that will soon be releasing a flood of awesome ideas into the world." This applies to teachers, sure, but we should also keep in mind that this applies to our students and others in the world too.

On rigor, he says, "...let's be careful with this word 'rigor'. Here's how Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word:

  • 'harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgement
  • severity
  • the quality of being unyielding or inflexible
  • strictness, severity of life, austerity
  • an act of strictness, severity, or cruelty
  • a tremor caused by a chill
  • a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable'"
Burgess continues, "I don't want any of these definitions to describe my class. The only good thing in the whole definition is the word challenging." How true is this? While I don't think educators intend to use the word rigor in this way, I do think that rigorous standardized tests do cause life to be uncomfortable and lead to a tremor with many of our students. Do kids need to be challenged? ABSOLUTELY!  I think challenge is one of their main needs, along with purpose, power, a sense of belonging, and affirmation.  But how are we meeting a child's need to belong or contribute if the tests make them feel uncomfortable? How are we meeting a child's need to feel like their work is purposeful if we make tests hard for the sake of making tests hard while ignoring their own passions and interests along the way? How are we meeting a child's need for affirmation when rigor implies harsh inflexibility in opinion and judgement?

Educators, if you are looking for something to read this summer, I suggest Teach Like a PIRATE
I think you might enjoy it. And, to my colleague that suggested I read it, and even jokingly suggested I might have written it, thank you :)

UPDATE: Recently, I was given the opportunity (with the teacher who recommended the book to me) to share a bit about the PIRATE method with other teachers in our division. We will actually be doing a book study as well. But, as my intro to PIRATE teaching, I created this video that was inspired by the words in Dave Burgess' introduction in Teach Like a Pirate.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Stuff For My Classroom

It's that time of the year. It's one of those times when every teacher enjoys some autonomy.  It's not Christmas time, but I've made my list and checked it twice. It's time for me to place my order for the classroom supplies I want next year. 

There's quite a lot of thought that should go into this yearly ritual. Do you GO BIG and buy a nice pencil sharpener? Do you GO BIGGER and buy an X-ACTO Trimmer or piece of furniture?  Or, do you purchase the mundane--the scissors, the staple removers, and the colored pencils? In my district, we've been given a budget of $300 to use for our classroom. I'm not sure about you, but that's $300 more than I thought I'd get when I became a teacher two years ago! 

So, what am I purchasing this year?  Here are a few of the items I have on my wish list.

1. Rubber Bands--What else will my students slingshot toward the Coke can pyramid in the hopes of knocking it over? (Only to have to answer the content questions taped to each one.)

2. Balloons and Sharpened Golf or Compass Pencils--Students use the pencils to pop balloons that hang on a map in my classroom. They get one shot for every fact they can give. It's part of my Minute-To-Win-It review game. 

3. Easy Tack Spray Adhesive--I think I am going to try some activities this year (maybe a glow in the dark lesson) in which some spray adhesive will help me keep things hanging!

4. Fabric Markers--I usually have students create T-shirt designs on paper when we learn about the Quakers. This year, I think we might just have to use real T-shirts!

5. Expo Markers and Wipes--My students love using dry erase markers on their desks. My very first content lesson of the year is to have students draw a map of the world (as they know it) on their desks.
The students also use the markers for pictionary and jeopardy, among other things, throughout the year.  I am kind of OCD about keeping my boards clean daily. So, this one's also for me. 

6. Play-Doh--I've used play-doh many times before in the classroom, and what is left is drying up. I've used it to have students sculpt Roman columns, geographic features, and during a Cranium-style Sculptorades review activity. More recently,I have been inspired by the book "Teach Like A Pirate" (a must read for any teacher) by Dave Burgess to use play-doh on day one as a way students can reveal something about themselves and introduce themselves to the class. 

I buy things that I use, yes. But, more importantly, I buy things that I believe will help my students be more engaged in the learning process. Some of the things I buy, I have no use for right now. But, my hope is that I will be able to come up with a lesson to use those materials (i.e. frog tape, burlap). My total bill right now comes to 299.80. My big question is now, how do I spend the remaining $0.20?