The best part of teaching is the ability to start and finish every year. Summer provides the perfect time to reflect on your past your and make corrections. More importantly, it allows us to grow as educators and improve student experience the following year. Kids always come into my room after moving up and ask “Why didn’t we do this last year?” I like to reply that we are always making thing better. If you haven’t started this process, here’s some areas for reflection to help improve next year teaching.
These are just a few questions I look at in the summer, this could go on and on. Currently I am working through student notebooks to look at what exactly my kids did over the course of the year. These provide valuable clues for my pacing. Additionally, I am looking to better organize my physical space to include more supplies for make space type activities.
There’s nothing more important than building positive relationships with our middle school students. The simplest way to do this is to greet your students as they come in the classroom. Here a few reasons why this simple act of kindness is so important.
You set the tone for the class. A simple greeting lets students know that their day is starting over, you are ready to go and any past issues have been put to rest. How many kids face situations where love and relationships are conditional based on their performance. Kids get ignored, punished for things they have little control over in their home life. As a professional educator, we can give them a new chance every day without a cloud hanging over their head.
You model positive behavior. Students need to develop the process of communicating with others. Greetings are widely known as a prosocial behavior. Understand that many students do not have this behavior modeled in their own homes. You represent a positive role mode to a world they may not have access too.
Saying “hi” can communicate value. Have you ever known a person that simply ignores you and doesn’t even acknowledge your presence? This can be frustrating at the least. People have names and it’s the easiest way for us to build up our students.
You get a barometer of the day. Excited, bummed out, stressed? You can generally get a feel for the way your class will go just by this small interaction. There have been days where I restructured a lesson because I could sense the students were “nuts” that day and I would need a schedule that would help reel them back in.
If you never made it a point to greet your students, now’s the time to try. Building positive communications with students is like putting a deposit in the bank. The more positive interactions, the easier it is to make a withdraw when you have to deal with discipline issues in class.
Being outside with students is awesome. My kids love collecting bugs, leaves, rocks and all sorts of living stuff. For our students, we have a wealth of technology and tools at our fingertips. The daily challenge teachers face is how to maintain a positive hands on leaving environment, integrate technology into lessons and meet curricular goals. As usual, we are spinning lots of plates. Too much technology means too little hands on learning. Hands on learning not properly aligned with curriculum goals leads to missed learning opportunities. To address these issues I focus on three core elements in classroom lessons.
Mini lessons: introducing new content objectives are key for providing context to hands on learning experiences. This is face to face teacher led instruction. A teacher sharing their passion and experience is necessary to bring students into great learning experiences. This approach works in lab, or in the field. Before taking students to the salt marsh, we want the to have a basic idea of a wetland. Prior to collecting macroinvertebrates in a stream, they need to understanding what the difference is between biotic and abiotic factors. Mini lessons don't need to be long, 10 to 15 minutes is perfect. The key is to prepare your students for the learning that is coming.
Looking for the perfect mini lessons? Editable presentations, incomplete outlines and scribble notes all available in these complete lesson resources.
Lesson experience: Students get out into the field (or in the lab) to experience what we are learning. Collecting, classifying and organizing are key skills in taxonomy. Allowing kids to hold flowering plants, study vein placement in monocots or view protists under are microscopes are exciting opportunities. These activities need structure and purpose to help student connect the dots between content knowledge and real world application. For example, placing celery in colored water, then slicing it to look at xylem and phloem. This experience is even better if students understand that xylem transports materials from the roots and phloem brings nutrients from the leaves (they will note that the phloem tubs are empty when using samples from the grocery store). Hands on explorations that line up with core content mini lessons will maximize student achievement in your classroom.
The following lessons represent a variety of hands on experiences for the middle school classrooms. From mapping, model construction to quadrat studies, there is something for every style of teaching.
Lesson Reinforcement Allowing students to revisit, reflect and assess is a key process in learning. These activities can take place in a variety of formats. For example, using Google sorts to directly review lesson concepts. Google sorts are quick, effective ways to help kids experience content after a lesson experience. Classroom projects or lab reports also provide opportunities to review. The only caution is to be sure you outline your expectations and timeline. These assessments can consume many days in the classroom if not carefully planned. In the end, time circulating during these activities will provide valuable feedback to your teaching process. Students who can synthesize and apply what has been experienced will achieve the best learning results. Students who are struggling will quickly identify themselves providing you opportunities for reteaching and intervention.
Looking for some help with your lesson reinforcement. Each of the following products provide easy access and use with your middle school students.
Have you ever had a class of middle school students that tested your resolve to come to work each day. Engaging difficult classes is at the core of a successful middle school teaching career. Activities that students can learn from, stay busy and be motivated can be difficult to find. The metric race car lab was an activity that I created for such a class. They loved it, it kept their attention and we learned a little along the way. The lab is broken into three basic parts
Student choose a race car, Formula One or NASCAR. This is a great internet research activity. Using that car, they need to figure out the dimensions of the car in the metric system, from length, width, height and mass. This is a great opportunity to get them to apply their measurement skills on a project. At the end of the activity, students draw their own vehicle with measurements and dimensions. As a culminating challenge, I provide them with three samples of simulated fuel. Students must calculate the densities of each fuel to determine which type is the best. Hint: Less dense means less car mass, which means greater speed. Its fun to have kids make posters or mark out the lengths of the car on the classroom wall.
If you are looking to try out this lab with out the extra work of creating the materials. Visit my store to purchase the lesson.
Google docs are a great tool for student collaboration and creation. If that’s all your using them for, don’t sell yourself short. Google docs create great reinforcement activities that enhance student learning. In this post we will look at Plate Tectonics Google Sorts.
To start this lesson sequence, we will look at two important scientists. Alfred Wegener and Harry Hess. These gentlemen made significant contributions to the theories of plate tectonics in their own unique way. Wegener was passionate about the study of polar weather and when he wasn’t traveling to the artic he was pitching his theory how the plates of the Earth move. He froze to death in the artic and his body can still be found there today (buried under 100 feet of ice). Middle school students love these details. He is responsible for the concept of Pangea, one of the most popular supercontinents in history.
Well after Wegener's death, Harry Hess provided additional support to Wegener’s ideas through the use of SONOAR. I introduce video clips from the movie The Hunt for Red October. This classic submarine warfare movie provides great visual and audio clues describing SONAR. Hess uses it to map the ocean floor. Armed with data he created the idea of sea floor spreading, which further supported Wegener’s ideas.
During this time, students compose incomplete notes. I prefer to use the Connell Note system. These have many benefits and helps students organize thoughts and ideas. In addition, there is a quick little summary section at the end which is essential to long term learning. Incomplete notes provide a valuable adaption for your IEP students who are in your classroom. Need to challenge your students? Give them a blank Cornell page to complete during the lesson.
After students complete the core content, they log onto Google Classroom (or you can share a link with them). From there they complete the various Google Sorts and models related to the lesson. I like to circulate around the room, converse with students and check their understanding. I will grade these on the sport and have them make corrections. This is an assignment that I want everyone to get 100 percent since it reinforces a major lesson objective. These activities are very helpful because students expose misunderstandings as they manipulate the content through these lesson activities.
Save yourself time by purchasing these lesson components from my TPT store. There you will find lesson plants, editable documents, recorded videos and everything else you need to teach these concepts.
“If you start wrong, you can’t finish right.” This was a quote from a former coach decades ago. In that sport, you had a 3 second movement, so every step had to be precise. Teaching is very similar. If you are unorganized, off task and not on your “A” game at the start of class, it can be difficult to finish well, especially with challenging classes. The focus of this blended learning post is starting your class.
Variety is the spice of life, but routines keep us sane. Every day your students should have something to do immediately upon entering your class. This could be something simple, like recalling yesterday’s materials or something more applied, like explaining their experience with a lesson topic. Here are some tools I like to use in the blended learning format.
Quizizz: A great quiz tool, lots of fun. Kids log in, create a name and start working. Keep it short for starting class. A great free learning tool that every teacher should use. Each student gets an individual question, them a meme based on their response. This site ranks all students as they compete, I find learners enjoy the opportunity to jockey for position. In addition, they get instant feedback based on their responses.
Mentimeter: This tool is an interactive presentation. Students can log on using a code and quickly respond to questions you have set up. It’s a nice change of pace, you can use the limited free version for starters and pay to gain greater features. The format is visually appealing to students.
Kahoot: Another quiz tool. Designed more in a winner takes all approach. This will get your classes fired up. Students like the exciting game show atmosphere. Quiz questions appear on the projector screen while kids choose a button that matches their response. Just watch out, there are spam bots’ kids can use to blow up your Kahoot (increase the users 100 fold). Keep answer times to 20 seconds or less to avoid issues.
Google Forms: A perfect tool for a class survey or questions about a concept. I like to use form quizzes after a day of difficult lessons, this allows students to review prior learning to help long term retention.
Youtube: The perfect place to find 3 to five minutes to engage your students. Not interested in video, try music. Its fun to bring kids into class playing a song, ask them how do they think it will relate to today’s lesson?
How to start your lesson?
Clear instructions are key, on the board, projector or calendar. Students should be able to immediately see what is taking place. Over half your students will begin working on your getting started activity if they know what it is. The other students may need some direction, but ultimately clear directions reduces the number of students you have to get started.
Start with a PowerPoint slide or message that relates the following.
The key to any lesson is the facilitators ability to line up the lesson goals, with their students needs and the tools available. Be sure you are communicating with students on the way in, setting the stage for a great learning experience. The most disheartening thing learners can here is “open your laptops and get to work” for an entire period of instruction. The beginning of class is a busy time to connect, learn, excite and motivate your students to excel. Say “Hi”, connect and direct them to the learning activities.
In our next post we will explore the “Core” lesson, the main teaching goal and instructional content for the day.
In previous posts, we have discussed the concept of Blended Learning and explained how to identify "Core Content." For this post we will look at the basic structure of a Blended lesson. For the purpose of this post, we will define a class as a 45-minute session of instruction. Blended learning lessons follow a traditional instructional format. The difference is where the instructor chooses to place technology elements.
Please note, if you have older or younger students you can modify each individual element to fit your age group. Upper high school and early college age could use core content sessions closer to 30 minutes, while younger middle school students may be closer to 10 to 15 minutes)
Following a basic lesson template helps automate the lesson planning process. This means no more wondering what you are going to do daily. This doesn’t mean you never deviate from this plan, it just gives you a starting point. Special days that involve labs, project and long-term assessments may have individual schedules all their own. The following describes the basic lesson format.
Getting Started: This is meant to engage your students when they walk into your classroom. It answers the basics question “what are we going to do today?” By providing a stimulating activity at the beginning of class, students become engaged in your content right away. These activities can be a variety of different things, from questions to pictures, or videos to interactive websites. The goal is to connect the content to the students.
Core Content: This is the key instructional material you developed in step two. Core content is the essential learning that will take place. The easiest approach here is a standard presentation with a note taking outline. However, with blended learning you have some options. Aside from face to face lecture, you can “bend” these lessons. Meaning you prerecord yourself giving the lecture, then have students watch on their devices. We compare this to flipped learning where they watch videos at home, here, they watch the instruction in class. In addition, readings with study guides can be used here also. My personal favorite is face to face discussion. This is my opportunity to share (briefly) my passion for a topic with my students.
Reinforcement or extension: The goal of this session is to allow students to extend what was discussed or learned in class. Students need to be exposed to content multiple times to facilitate learning. So immediately after learning a concept, ask them to do something with it. Google Interactives are my favorite for this topic. Interactives require students to sort, identify and understand new concepts. Most importantly, while students are working, this provides important dialogue for the instructor to assess understanding.
Closure: This is the last chance to review and reinforce core learning. Students remember the first and last moments of class. This provides a great opportunity to move new learning into long term storage. The key to closure questions is that all students participate. The instructor can decide if they are looking for simple recall or want to reach for a higher level of synthesis.
Keep in mind all of these areas are flexible. The key is providing a structure that students can use technology with a purpose. The teacher can help provide direction on a sliding scale. Younger students will need more structure and goals while advanced older learners can work towards self direction. In the coming weeks we will dig deeper into each lesson area in more detail, providing examples and best practices.
In previous posts we’ve defined blended learning in our previous post. Now we will transition into the process of constructing blended learning lessons. Before designing face to face or digital instruction components, you first have to identify core content for instruction. For planning purposes I break this down into two groups:
1. Core content objectives
2. Core content vocabulary
Core content objectives are a written narrative of the essential learning in the lesson. What should students know, be able to say and do. Be sure to identify any key process in lesson content. Also, be aware of any higher learning goals your students need to achieve. For example, if a student needs to evaluate, synthesize or create, they must understand the underlying concrete concepts first. This is a mistake educators often make, trying to reach a higher learning level without first establishing a solid core content base. For example, you must understand the concept of atoms, to fully understand what H20 means.
The next component is to identify core vocabulary. This is extremely important when students are reading about a topic and trying to learn new materials. Aside from the obvious new words, be sure to include review vocabulary and materials students should have learned in previous courses. For example, when teaching about Earthquakes, it would be natural to include faults and fault types as basic vocabulary. However, underlying this concept would be the layers of the Earth, heat and movement of tectonic plates. These interwoven concepts are where exceptional teachers make effective lessons. Ensuring that students not only understand the basics of an idea but can confidently talk about all supporting concepts.
After identifying core content and vocabulary, it’s time to plan your assessments. Objective tests come to mind at this phase. Consider each important idea and be sure that several objective items address the concepts. Projects and hands on activities are another way for students to demonstrate their grasp of new materials. It is not necessary to have every question written at this step, but you should have an outline with some sample items to guide your instruction.
This part of the planning phase is often the most cumbersome. Many educators want to jump into lesson and activity planning. By taking the extra time to identify content, you will ensure that both your physical and digital content matches your assessments.
In the next lesson we will be looking at structuring and constructing blended learning lessons.
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