Sunday, November 29, 2015

What I Am Thankful For

Although Thanksgiving often brings it about, we should take time to consider what we're thankful for many times throughout the year. What am I thankful for? Teachers Pay Teachers. During a rough time in our lives, Teachers Pay Teachers came through to help us get through that financial tough spot--and it involved me getting over my mindset that all teachers should share everything freely.
We have a lot to be thankful for around here. My husband and I are employed (I almost said gainfully, but we are, after all, teachers :)). We just had a week off complete with perpetual turkey coma in the form of an obscene amount of leftovers. We have three more weeks of work, and then we get two weeks off. I'm feeling pretty much like this is the life.

Of course, all you teachers know the truth--the time off is spectacular, but it's seldom restful. There is just so much to do.

There are lessons to plan, papers to grade, turkeys to baste, children with projects to complete ("How long did you know about that one?" I never get a straight answer...).

Okay, so these are first world problems, but it is true that a teacher's job (like a parent's) is never done. So we all know that teacher-parents don't sleep.

One thing I had to admit I was thankful for this Thanksgiving (aside from the obvious family, friends, and job) is the internet.

It saves time. If you taught back in the day, you know this. You either had to create everything from scratch, or you had to order pricey materials through the mail. Now you can google a topic and free lessons pop up.

Or you can get high-quality, professional items at a very reasonable price on websites like Teachers Pay Teachers.

I know some people scoff at websites like this. "Teachers should share freely," they say. "Absolutely," I reply. And we all do. There are thousands of great free items on Teachers Pay Teachers. We pass papers back and forth in the copy room at work completely free of charge.

But if sharing freely applies to teachers, who put hours and hours into creating resources for their classrooms, then it should apply to the giant publishing houses, as well. So where's my free curriculum from them? :)

A year and a half ago, my husband had been out of work for awhile. We were barely scraping by (this is not a sob story--we have it way better than so many--but it is a tale about how we got by, so read on if you're interested, but skip to the free item at the bottom if you're not).

I was tutoring (and house-cleaning) to supplement our income (my husband waited tables), and it helped, but I was NEVER home for our son, so I had to start turning down jobs. We were cutting it so close every month that I would break into a cold sweat at the check out line in the grocery store, counting in my mind what I could put back if we came up short (bananas are an extravagance, and for that matter, so is meat--dried beans are highly nutritious--they went up a quarter--WHAT!!!). There was a lot of hair pulling, coupon-clipping, and bargaining with the electric company and bank.

One day, I did come up short at the grocery store check out. I put back juice, a box of cereal, ground beef, and bananas, and my debit card went through. I was leaving the store when one of the bag boys came up to me with the groceries I had put back. I was dumbfounded and more than a little embarrassed.

"That lady got your groceries," he said.

I looked over and saw a little old lady with white hair wave at me. I choked back a sob, held my head high, told her thank you, and that I would pay it forward.

My mom, an elementary school parapro, told me that a lot of teachers at her school use a website called Teachers Pay Teachers, and why didn't I try to sell some of my lessons on it? I was reticent to charge for things that I had been told I should be sharing freely, though.

But I had spent hours and hours and many a sleepless night working on these lessons. Why shouldn't my family benefit from them?

So I opened a store on TPT, uploaded lessons, and for the next year, while my husband was still looking for work, we didn't get rich, not at all (and I'm a very private person, so I cringe to type this--we lost our house), but we got by. And I no longer break into a cold sweat at the grocery store.

I hated going through it, but there are worse things to go through. So much worse. I always read Dave Ramsey, budgeted, saved, clipped coupons, drove cars until the doors fell off. And then that frustrating few years when my husband just couldn't find work, and my teacher's salary just couldn't support us--we both felt so guilty about not being able to stay afloat and about asking for help.

Selling my lessons got us through it. We lost a house, but we have each other, and we ate.

And I like to think that maybe my lessons have helped another teacher.

I know other teacher's lessons have helped me. Here's the first lesson I ever bought on TPT. I was in a bind and needed something last minute for a sub. A teacher made it, so it was incredibly practical and easy for a sub to implement. And it let me be mommy to a sick kid.

The other day, I was in the grocery check out when a lady's card was declined. I reached into my purse, took out my card, and started to hand it to the cashier when the lady said, "Wait, try this one." And it went through.

So I'm still waiting to pay it forward, but until then, here's a free world history project for all of the teachers that, as a parent, I am very grateful for. And my store (and most stores on TPT will be 28% off on the 30th and the 1st--just use the coupon code SMILE at checkout).

World War II Battle Project
Get it HERE
Have a very happy return to school, and remember...

Winter holidays are coming.
What are you thankful for this holiday season? Leave a comment below to let me know.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Three Reasons You Need to Discuss the Paris Attacks with Your Students

Every day is normal until it isn't. When I look back on my life, every shocking and horrifying event (both in the world and in my personal life, though both are linked) has occurred on a sunny morning or evening as I was going about business as usual.

Today, work was exhausting. I had three stressors outside of the usual suspects--first, it was Friday the 13th, second, my students gleefully skipped off to the computer lab to complete a survey over my performance, and third, the Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner.

I went home, sat down on the couch, and promptly fell asleep. My husband woke me around 6 P.M. to tell me that Paris was in the middle of a horrific attack.

I did what most people do in 2015--I turned on the news, and I opened my Twitter feed. I watched the situation unfold with horror. I feel terrible for all of the people touched by this. I feel terrible for the people in Lebanon and Syria. But I have to admit--I am concerned about a similar situation occurring here in the U.S. I'm sure my students are, too.

Terror targets in the past have been largely aimed at institutions such as the World Trade Center. This is a new form of terror--a highly coordinated simultaneous attack on multiple soft targets. A restaurant, a football stadium, a concert hall....

Parisians out enjoying a beautiful Friday night that was barely becoming Saturday morning, and now 149 of them (so far) have been counted dead.

My students will want (need, even) to discuss this. Here are the issues I'm considering surrounding a classroom discussion on Monday:

1. Why it is necessary to discuss it in the first place
2. How to approach it compassionately (as opposed to sensationally)
3. Questioning our responsibility as global citizens in incidents like this

Why it is Necessary to Discuss it in the First Place

Our students will be aware of it. They may be afraid that it will happen here. Perhaps they have no one at home to discuss it with. I don't think we need to lie to them and tell them that it's not possible for it to happen here, but they do need to understand that security measures are in place.

They also need to understand the dangers of buying into extremist ideology. Soft target attacks (against public places such as malls, restaurants, and theaters) will probably come from citizens with easy access to these places who have been indoctrinated by extremists. Being aware that it is possible to be indoctrinated in the first place may make them more vigilant.

How to Approach it Compassionately

The people who endured this atrocity deserve our attention. They just do. These people were going about their business on a normal Friday evening, and their lives were changed irrevocably in an instant. Death, PTSD, loved ones gone forever....And all for what? So that indoctrinated, misguided terrorists could prove a point?

Another issue that I can foresee with my students is stereotyping. The majority of my students identify as Christian, but we have students and citizens in our community who identify as Muslim. Our Christian and Muslim citizens are largely good people who contribute much to our community.

I know my students. I know that several will blame the attacks on Muslims--they will generalize and stereotype. I will begin our discussion by simply telling them not to do that.

I'll open the discussion with an analogy that has been effective with my students in the past. I'll simply say this, "If you ask somebody who's in the Ku Klux Klan what their religion is, they'll say Christianity. All people in the KKK identify as Christian, but not all Christians are in the KKK. If you ask somebody in ISIS what their religion is, they'll say Islam. All people in ISIS identify as Muslim, but not all Muslims are in ISIS."

A final issue to discuss in the way of compassion is this--bombing, nuking, or boots on the ground in Syria and elsewhere means the death of innocent people, too. People like us. People like those in Paris who were slaughtered tonight.

Questioning Our Responsibility as Global Citizens

The mere fact that attacks probably connected to ISIS (though not definitely) occurred in Paris and were targeted at civilians on a Friday night is indicative that we are global. What happens in Paris concerns us. What happens in Lebanon concerns us. What happens in Burma, China, the Sudan, and Canada concerns us. We are all culpable for how we respond to it.

Remember the Nuremberg Trials. Remember the Armenians. Remember Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. Consider the implication of the Paris attacks to all of the Syrian refugees. We have a responsibility as global citizens to speak out against wrong wherever it occurs in the world and to consider its human implications.

Our students, then, need to be aware of what is happening in the world--not just knowing what is happening, but understanding what is happening and in that understanding, being mindful of the consequences of our response. And of being participants in it.

My friend Andrea from Musings of a History Gal has compiled some excellent resources to help you provide context while addressing this difficult topic with your classes.
Click Here for the Resources
How will you address events in Paris with your students? Let me know in the comments.

I wrote this post on Friday night, horrified, while watching the events in Paris unfold. I had forgotten that the Secondary Smorgasbord link-up for this month was all about creating a global classroom. I had intended to participate, but my topic was radically different.

Here are some great posts from other teacher-bloggers discussing creating a global classroom--more relevant now than ever. Thanks to Pamela and Darlene Anne for organizing. 

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Use Quizlet for Quick Vocabulary Reviews

Vocabulary review is not the most riveting activity; we all know that--and so do our students. This is where Quizlet comes to the rescue to make it more fun. I describe three different, engaging, and useful ways that you can use Quizlet to review vocabulary for upcoming assessments in this post.
Today, in my psychology class, I knew the students needed a vocabulary review--their blank stares when I started talking vocabulary gave it away.

I didn't want to do anything too major, as we had a lesson to get to, but they have a quiz coming up, and it was painfully obvious that no one had studied. This is where I find quizlet.com a valuable resource.

At the beginning of every unit, I give students a unit organizer with a list of topics we will be covering, a url, and a qr code to that particular unit's vocabulary list on quizlet, and I print a list of their vocabulary words and definitions on the back.

They have no excuse not to have been studying already, but when has that ever stopped a teenager (or me, for that matter)?

So, we took out our phones, got on quizlet, and got to studying. There are so many quick and effective ways to use quizlet in the classroom when your students need a review (or when you need to fill up a few minutes). Here are my three favorite ways.
Vocabulary review is not the most riveting activity; we all know that--and so do our students. This is where Quizlet comes to the rescue to make it more fun. I describe three different, engaging, and useful ways that you can use Quizlet to review vocabulary for upcoming assessments in this post.


Vocabulary review is not the most riveting activity; we all know that--and so do our students. This is where Quizlet comes to the rescue to make it more fun. I describe three different, engaging, and useful ways that you can use Quizlet to review vocabulary for upcoming assessments in this post.  My students sit at tables, so they're already in teams, but you can group students into teams of four to make this work. If you don't have mini whiteboards (which are super cheap to get cut up at Home Depot), they can use paper.

Click on the flashcard mode in quizlet. Set it so that the definition appears first. The first team that raises the correct word on their whiteboard after you show the definition, and say, "GO!" gets a point. When you've gone through the entire set, the team with the most points wins.

Vocabulary review is not the most riveting activity; we all know that--and so do our students. This is where Quizlet comes to the rescue to make it more fun. I describe three different, engaging, and useful ways that you can use Quizlet to review vocabulary for upcoming assessments in this post. Scatter and Space Race in quizlet are two games that are easy and that the students enjoy. They like to take a break and play these on their phones anyway, but if you have a smart board, use it to challenge students to beat your time.

Play one of the games for the students, and quizlet will mark your time. Invite volunteers to come up and beat your time. Dangle a prize in front of them if somebody beats you, like a no homework night.

Vocabulary review is not the most riveting activity; we all know that--and so do our students. This is where Quizlet comes to the rescue to make it more fun. I describe three different, engaging, and useful ways that you can use Quizlet to review vocabulary for upcoming assessments in this post. There are two ways that I implement this. One is that I ask the students to generate a test on quizlet and to show me their score when they complete it. Then they review the words that they missed in flashcard mode (quizlet is really cool because it will generate flashcards of the ones the students missed only.

Sometimes, for a particularly difficult vocabulary unit, I'll generate a test on quizlet, print it, and give it to the students as a pre-test. I'll play billboard hits from the 1990s and 2000s (a spoonful of sugar) and have them take the test.

After a specified amount of time (I let them know it's getting close by saying, "one more song"), project the key on the board in PowerPoint. Instruct them to mark the ones they missed with an X and to write the correct answer off to the side.

Vocabulary review is not the most riveting activity; we all know that--and so do our students. This is where Quizlet comes to the rescue to make it more fun. I describe three different, engaging, and useful ways that you can use Quizlet to review vocabulary for upcoming assessments in this post.Vocabulary review is not the most riveting activity; we all know that--and so do our students. This is where Quizlet comes to the rescue to make it more fun. I describe three different, engaging, and useful ways that you can use Quizlet to review vocabulary for upcoming assessments in this post.I take a screenshot of the score key from Easy Grader, and put it in the PowerPoint, but it works just as well to project it directly from the website. With the screenshot, though, you can save it for future uses.

The students see what their score would be if they took a quiz on that day. You can carry it a step further by giving them index cards and instructing them to create flash cards of the ones they missed.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Helping Your Students Overcome Burnout

Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.
I have been shaking my head over test and quiz scores here in the second 9 weeks of the term. I had been so proud of my students for working really hard and doing so well during the first 9 weeks that the past two weeks of indifference I’ve encountered have caught me off guard. (I’m writing this with three full stacks of ungraded papers next to me, so it looks like I’m guilty, as well).

I’ve been trying to think of reasons this may be, and I’ve come up with a few.
Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.
So how do we re-ignite the flames of the first few weeks of school? I think if being overwhelmed is an issue, then making the students mindful of the implications of their daily choices and showing them how to prioritize is a good start.

Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.Case in point, today I was feeling overwhelmed. My initial reaction was to sit on the couch, watch T.V., and feel sorry for myself. But I got up. My family and I cleaned the house. I washed my car and went for an oil change. I worked on my next interactive notebook. I’m writing this post. On Sunday, I will have a grading party (I will eat copious amounts of Halloween candy and plow through those papers).

My surroundings are uncluttered, my car is taken care of, I’ve ticked one more item off of the huge interactive notebook list, and I know I’ll feel better once those papers are marked.

I think that’s what’s going on with my students right now. Their list is long and they don’t know where to begin, so they do what I wanted to do (fight or flight—I’m a natural runner) and give up. Too many small things to do on a consistent basis leads to procrastination, which leads to feeling overwhelmed, which leads to burnout.

How I'm Trying To Help


So I’m trying an experiment. I’ll ask my students to make a list of all that they have to do at home for my class for the next week. They will list how much time they will spend on each task and how they will reward themselves when finished. 

The reward is key because even though their long term tasks are not finished, their task toward completing them for the day is. The reward signals that the day's work is over, and it's time to relax. It will give them a sense of accomplishment. Accomplishment=Empowerment. Empowerment makes burnout less likely.

We’ll talk about how it’s going, and I’ll see if they want one for each of their classes. They can put the list in the front pocket of their class notebook.

Here is a checklist template and example that you can download HERE.
Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.

Student burnout is as real an issue as teacher burnout is. What can we do to help our students feel less overwhelmed and to make their school work seem more manageable? I describe the system I tried in my class and why I think it's an important structure for students to have.

This is not a new idea, but so many of our students don’t do it. As a consequence, they forget homework/studying or just skip it because they have a vague sense that it’s just too much, or it’s not due for a few days, so why bother? If they see what they have to do listed before them and see that they don’t have to finish it all at once—just work on a little at a time—it becomes more manageable. When they check it off, they’re done for the day. Slow and steady wins the race.

I think that we often overload our students with work, but many of them don’t have the tools/skills/mindset to see it through. They give up. Maybe if we spent some time helping them with time-management and study skills, this would change.


What do you think? How do you help your students through “burnout”? Leave a comment below, and let me know!

Stick around and check out these posts!

5 Alternatives to Lecture
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Dealing with Difficult Students: What to Do When Nothing Works
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Use Short Discussion to Teach Reasoning
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