As we approach the end of the year, it gets increasingly harder to hold the attention of middle school students. Students, teachers and administrators get tired of the same behavior patterns that have been on display for the past 8 months. Today, I would like to talk about a website you can use to reengage your classes and make the last month a good time for all.
Classcraft is a gamification website that allows you to gamify your students experience. From the teacher side its easy to use and administer in class. On the student side it opens up a whole new world of game experience in the classroom. Here’s a video introduction to the site.
Using this system, there are several layers of points that students can earn, work with or spend. Here’s a basic summary.
In addition, I do a once a week “Boss Battle.” This is simple a quiz battle that allows the students to fight a fictitious character. If they defeat the boss they earn points, if they miss questions, they could fall in battle. If a students health points falls to 0, they fall in battle. The game will randomly assign a consequence. I customized mine so that are small task to last 4 to 5 minutes. For example, organize my tables, clean the desktops. Kids willing do their chores to get back into the game and after they complete their sentence, the game will play a heavenly sound as they come back to life.
Managing this is the classroom is a lot off fun. I run the game screen on the projector in the front of my room, then use the app on my phone to monitor individual students. For example, if a group gets a daily assignment done, I give them 100xp. If a student is unprepared for class, he loses health points. Any loss of points will prompt their group to decide if they want to protect him or her.
What do my kids like? They love customizing their game characters, getting a new look or purchasing a pet. They talk and want to show each other their characters. I enjoy this site because it can be used as a 1 to 1 interface with kids sitting in front of computers or with a teacher computer projector to the whole class. From a cost perspective, its free to start out. You can purchase a monthly or a yearly subscription. I choose the monthly subscription because I like to use it the last couple months of the year. The real advantage here is you can subscribe and cancel at anytime. Unlike most EdTech products who want a hundred dollar year subscription, they allow monthly billing. In addition, it integrates with Google Classroom, so you can quickly import your classes and set up.
What do you need to do? Decide what behaviors you want to emphasize. This can be accomplished through health points and rewards in either Gold points or XP points. Look at special powers that work in your room. For example, some students could earn a power that allows them help on a test. Or my students favorite, hunting power, which allows them to bring food. All these levels and activities can be customized to fit your specific needs.
Kids love this system, they want to come to class and they talk about it in the hallways. Classroom content and learning still occur, its just wrapped in a different blanket. One that kids love and have a great time in class. Especially as the weather gets nicer and summer vacation is knocking on the door.
May the fourth is coming, do you have any special plans for your students? Over the years we have had the pleasure of reading Star Wars books in school, participating in cross curricular activities and enjoying special “Stars Wars Days.” In this post I would like to explore some ideas for celebrating May the 4th.
Star Wars Themed Door Decorating: Kids love making themselves into mini Darth Vaders, Luke Sky Walkers and Princess Leia. We have students use Death Star Themes, JEDI and my favorite, the Yoda Door. All the kids to come with and idea and each student can customize their door Avatar.
Sith Versus Jedi Challenges: Split up your students into two groups. The Sith (bad guys) and the Jedi. Give your students simple academic challenges or play a game like kickball. Who ever wins will rule the universe.
Jedi Training: Jedi’s require skill and ability to use the force. Walking on balance beams, crossing swamps, there are a variety of opportunities here.
Interested in some more? Over the years I have incorporated many of these ideas into the following products.
In our previous post we talked about general tips for Working with Middle School Classes. In this post we are going to dig deeper into the concept of Bell Ringers.
Anticipatory Set, Bell Ringer, Warm up, there’s many different names but the concept is the same. Get the kids working as soon as they walk into class. The sooner you classes are engaged, they less behavioral problems you’ll face. In addition you communicate to kids that you have work for them to do. Establishing this routine early in the year or at the beginning of a new class paves the way to an effective learning environment.
Class transition time:
Be sure to greet students as they come into class by name. Especially those students who you know could be a problem. It’s important to establish positive communication. I generally will greet them and let them know what they will need (notebook, computer, book etc.). Additionally, this is a good time to ask about last nights band concert or todays Volleyball match. These few minutes are vitally important to establishing a positive climate. During this time, your bell ringer activity should be posted, either on the board, on paper or projector. A portion of the class will begin to read and think about the question or activity right away. This is an important point, if half the class is reading your bell ringer, that means there are less kids to redirect at the start of class time.
Bell Ringer Types
Content Review Questions: These are simply lesson objective questions from the previous day. Generally low order questions (we want a quick start with lots of success). The goal here is to engage lots of kids in yesterday’s work. For example, reviewing parts of Photosynthesis in a science lesson. I created an Ecology Bell Ringer Pack for this purpose.
Content Preview Questions: Sometimes we’re looking to see where a class is at. For example, does a class understand absolute value, providing a few sample problems.
News Events: I like these because they instantly engage student. For example, The Chinese Space Station Crash. Kids hear about these items and want to share and talk. I like to tie these into content areas to make class more meaningful.
Physical Challenge: Sometimes its fun to have kids just build something simple. I have some classes with very active students, so I use physical challenges that get them thinking hands on. Draw a box, build a cube, make a quick tower. I created a Science Stacker Series for this purpose.
Grading: I like to have students keep a section of notes dedicated to bell ringers that I can check at the end of a section or quarter. Additionally, if they are doing something that you want to engage them a little more, use a stamp to grade their work. This allows you to circulate the room, spot checking work with a stamp letting everyone know they completed the work.
The key to bell ringers is using them. Be sure to have something up everyday. The more teachers in your school that follow this procedure, the more productive your classes can become and the less behavioral headaches you’ll have to deal with.
A colleague of mine introduced me to the wonderful world of Arduino. These simple microcontrollers allow you to program, build and create simple inventions using inexpensive microcontrollers. There is a vast online community that offers sample code and ideas. From this humble introduction we currently have middle school students. . ..
Arduino starter kits cost around $35.00 via Amazon. You will need a computer to use Arduino IDE, the programming language. There are online versions and ones you can download to the computer. It seems that most of the online versions charge a small fee, while the downloadable versions ask for a donation (not required). I used Donorschoose.org to fund my latest project and it took about a week. There are many companies and individuals looking to support STEM based teaching ideas.
So instead of asking your students to make a model, or an imaginary invention. Take the next step and ask them to create the real thing using Arduino controllers! I will be writing more on the topic in upcoming articles. If you do get started, I would suggest trying the Blink program. It turns a light on and off on the control board and introduces you to the basics of coding.
Day 100 has passed, we’re well into the second half of the school year. We’re also getting to the point that difficult students are driving us crazy. So, what can you do as a classroom teacher? In this series of posts, I’m going to review a handful of tried and true strategies to get your classes back on track and maintain your sanity. Hopefully along the way we can return valuable instructional time.
The most important daily routine for middle level students is getting started as quickly as possible. The longer your students sit with nothing to do, the more likely there will be discipline issues. I set a mental note to always be teaching when the bell rings or class starts. This requires a few steps.
1. Always have a bell ringer or warm up exercise posted. Greet your students by name and direct them to this activity.
2. Start class with as positive attitude as possible, I’m not talking about playing unicorns and rainbows. But the incidents from yesterday are far away in students mind. This is a struggle for teachers because we don’t forget anything. I try to give the kids the benefit of the doubt each day.
3. Clip art does wonders to PowerPoints. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but kids will start talking if they see something that interests them.
4. Understand that 75% of kids will be ready when class starts, work on the 25% who aren’t.
5. Be ready to redirect off task requests. There are always a handful of students that their first act of class is to ask you to do something. Can I.. .
Go to my locker
Go to the bathroom
Go call my parents
Go to the library
You can respond to these request in two ways, “NO” or “We can talk after class gets started.”
I use both approaches, the ultimate goal is to get your students together and on track at the start of class. Many kids use this as avoidance behavior, which leads you to interruptions 3 minutes later when they return. Side note: if a kid is turning green I will tell them to go to the nurse or restroom. These are the rare exceptions where professional judgement tells you the kid is not feeling well.
6. Seating charts are a must. In classes that are difficult, we must provide structure. Removing the daily questions of who will I sit by reduces drama. Additionally, it’s one more variable you can manipulate to help improve students learning. We’ll talk about this on in later posts.
If you are looking to refocus and improve the start of your classes, remember, it’s your classroom. We have a lot more control of what happens in the room than we think. Start with the little details and they rest will fall into place.
Here’s an example of an activity I created for a particularly difficult group of students, Science Stackers. The goal was to get kids working on a hands on activity that engages lesson content.
Best luck with your teaching!
Google classroom has many benefits as a learning management system, but some features are more helpful than others. What’s my favorite? Assignments that automatically create copies or templates for students.
Learning projects that push students to deeper learning are more complicated. As a teacher, I have two choices, create a rubric with bullet points to keep kids on track or create a template that guides students. Templates are far better because I can include video, instructions and tips in a format that’s easy for students to navigate. Additionally templates are editable for the students, making grading easier and final products more polished.
Just open your Google Drive account and build a document that matches the requirements for your project. Add links, instructions, pictures and examples. Once you are complete, give it a descriptive name. The video below will explain this in detail.
Now go into your Google Class and select the class you want to use and click the Google Drive Icon. By clicking recent, the last document you worked on will appear. This is a huge time saver because you don’t need to sort through and find your files.
Google will ask you what options you want, by clicking “make a copy” for each student, it will automatically put a student’s name on the file. No more forgetting to put a name on your paper! This automatically creates a copy in the students Google Drive account that they can access either through Google Drive or Google classroom.
These steps can be completed in seconds. This is one of the reasons why I believe Google Classroom is a leader in getting content to kids. Whether you are using it for class or making online copies for parents to access. This will save you time and energy when creating assignments.
These are lessons I use that can be used with Google Drive.
TED Ed is one of my favorite video resources for use in middle school classrooms. They have a variety of topics that are well designed and fit any lesson. Best of all, they are free and can be easily embedding into any lesson presentation or used as online content for 1 to 1 classrooms. Check out the "Myth of Oisin" published on January 18th.
It all started out with Wiki, kids could edit information and "mess up" quality information. To Wiki's credit and user ship, I rarely find bad information in my search for science teacher content. Now making false, misleading and many times funny news account is a common practice. A school custodian once told me that they were going to close route 90 near lake Erie/Buffalo because there was too much snow. It would be closed for two months till spring, I had to be the bearer of bad news and explain that they fell for fake news.
Thankfully this creates teachable moments for us in the classroom. Now we can look for opportunities to teach our students how to be more critical and understand bias in news media. Our guest poster Jeremy from LearningEdTeach recently did a tech tip about "Factitious" an online tool to help us better teach about fake news. Check it out below.
I love to play educational games with my students in class. Kids often forget they are learning something in the middle of these high energy sessions. New online resources make classroom games even easier to create. In this post I would like to introduce Quizizz, and online multiplayer game that allows your students to have fun and learn at the same time.
Like other online quiz programs, you can build and design your own quizzes quickly and easily. Pictures are easily integrated into question types and the presentation to the student is very clean. One advantage over platforms is that questions are given at random to all students at the same time. They do not need to see the live game to answer questions.
You can also search other public Quizizz creations. Working on Verbs? An ancient culture? You can pick and choose questions from other teachers in one click. This is the easiest I have seen this feature in any online quizzing program.
During the game, a leader board is posted for the students. Points are given for correct answers and how fast you answer. Students are constantly jockeying for position as they work through questions. This is all set to an engaging music file. Students who answer correctly are given an encouraging meme while incorrect answers are subjected to an angry cat face (you have options here).
As a teacher I enjoy this program. All students stay engaged, not feeling left behind. In addition, you can assign these as homework, which makes for a great test review. My favorite part is that this program is free, so what are you waiting for, try it out!
Every teacher has lessons that are” ringers.” Guaranteed to get kids attention, engage them and lead to meaningful learning outcomes. I always struggle with how to use these older lessons in the face of changing technology. Especially when the new technology provides new learning methodologies. New technology doesn’t mean we abandon tried and true learning strategies. Instead it provides us opportunities to better educate our students. I believe digital imagery is the easiest and most effective way for students to extend their learning in these types of situation. Consider how simple it is to take a picture of a product, event or class activity and have your students reflect, analyze or compare. Here are some reasons why using digital images to enhance great lessons is effective.
Capturing a moment. Often teachers run out of time because your class must end. Capturing digital images of your student’s classwork allows you to capture that activity. The next day, you can bring it back as a bell ringer, learning objective or some other class activity. Students will quickly connect with the lesson and be ready to go.
Sharing is easy. With programs like Google Drive, DropBox and Box, it’s easy to capture and share digital images. You can have student take an image and “mark it up”, make comparisons or create new learning products. These creative activities require students to aspire to higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.
Technology is Everywhere. Capturing images is easier than ever. The other day I assigned one student to be the class “Photographer.” With one Ipad she captured images for the whole class. We went for a walk, talked outside. After a day with several classes, I had 100’s of great images that I quickly uploaded to Google Drive and shared with the class. Whether its Ipads, cells phones or Chromebook, this is a great add on to any lesson.
In closing, look at your lessons. Are there parts that can be improved with a real-life image of your students work? Consider how much better sharing outstanding work would be if you had it captured in an image collage? Or comparing and contrasting two great examples of student work. The possibilities are endless.
If you are interested in learning more about capturing images or creating image mark ups, check out these lessons.
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Middle School Resources to Engage Kids
Love this one, simple but effective.
What if Jupiter was a star?