March 31, 2016

10 Ways to Pass the Time While Monitoring Students During Standardized Testing

Our district just completed our "first round" of standardized testing for the year last week, and let me tell you - it was no picnic. For me or the kids. Blah. Double blah. I just HATE this time of year. And now we are taking tests like this TWICE each year. Boooooo.

Okay, I do understand WHY we are required to test our students. I just don't like it. I wish I could change it. But I can't. So, as I paced slowly around the classroom last week for hours on end, I had to come up with some "creative" ways to keep myself from going brain-dead from boredom while not breaking any of the test security rules that could get me fired. Um, yeah. I need my job still. 
Every teacher dreads standardized testing. Especially being bored as you monitor students during testing. This blog post shares a teacher hack: 10 things to do while monitoring students taking standardized tests. Try a few the next time you’re stuck walking up and down the rows in your classroom. Definitely a teacher sanity saver. My favorites are #3 and #9!
So today I'm sharing ten of the ideas I came up with.
Hopefully you'll be able to use some of these while monitoring your own students during the upcoming state testing that we all dread.

Strap on that FitBit or clip on a pedometer. Let's see exactly how many steps (and consequently how many miles) you can walk during each test. And, hey! As a STEM teacher I am all about data analysis, so keep track of the number of steps, the testing time, and the tested subject. I wonder if I take more steps on the first day of testing or the last? On the math test day or the reading? During a longer test or a shorter one? Just be sure not to write anything down DURING the test. That's a big NO-NO!

As you wander up and down the rows of hard-working students in your room, come up with an adjective to describe each of your students. The challenge? See if you can choose an adjective that fits their personality that also begins with the same letter of their name. For example, I could be Kind-hearted Kim (first name) or Creative Coker (last name).Once you've chosen an adjective, practice the names as you pass each student (in your head, of course) and see if you can memorize them by the end of the testing period. It's actually pretty challenging. It kept me busy for 75 minutes!

It's no secret that I love a good song parody. Especially when it's something science related. Read about some of the songs I use when I teach science concepts here. I'm usually pretty lucky to find some great songs on YouTube, but there are some topics I teach in science that I haven't been able to find a great song for. So while you are walking around watching your students during testing, think of one of the more recognizable songs (that tends to get stuck in your head easily) and try to make up your own lyrics to fit a topic you teach. Last year my husband and I put together a song parody for the TCAP Test Pep Rally and shared it with the school. I happen to think it's brilliant. :) And yes, that IS my hubby dancing around randomly...

Not really, but IMAGINE that you were in charge of the world. What rules, laws, changes would you implement? Be creative. I actually blogged about this LOOOOOONG ago on my family blog after asking my own kids what they would do if they were in charge of the world. While my list has changed some, there are definitely some that I would STILL add to my list today.

Along the same lines as #2, choose a cartoon character that you think each student is most similar to and imagine that character sitting at the desk trying to pass the test. I've got one student that I SWEAR would make the best Ferb (from Phineas and Ferb). Imagining him sitting quietly taking the test cracks me up!

Now, don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying to stand in the front of the room and do a series of jumping jacks or a kickboxing routine, but there are some exercises you can do without disrupting your students. Besides, they should be completely focused on the task at hand anyway, right?!? For example, do some toe raises. Every so often, stop walking and lift your toes while keeping your heels firmly on the ground. Another idea is to  do a few sets of shoulder shrugs. Shrug one shoulder toward your ear, hold and then relax. Repeat with your other shoulder. Another great one is doing hand stretches. Simply tense and relax the muscles in your hands. Make fists, spread your fingers and bend your fingers. And last but not least, try contracting your abs as hard as possible and hold it for about 5 seconds. Release and then repeat again.

As you pace the room trying not to regret choosing teaching as a profession (just kidding), look closely at your classroom. How could you improve its overall visual appeal? Think like an interior designer on one of those addictive HGTV shows and try to mentally rearrange the desks and other furniture to create a more inviting space. Is there a way to add a "pop of color" to spice up the place? What about a whole room revamp? Last year I came up with the idea of switching out my student desks for a set of larger tables. This year I actually got to do it and I have to say I LOVE the results! So use this time to rethink your room. You might be surprised with how much you like it!
Need some inspiration before the tests begin? Check out this board on Pinterest.

If you've been teaching for a long time, this one will be great for you. I saw someone post on social media once that teaching is the one profession that will make you rethink all future baby names for your own children. Well, now is your chance to make some changes - temporarily. Pretend you were in charge of giving your students their names at birth. What names would YOU have given them? Does that one girl in the back of the room really look like a "Lydia"? Or would you call her "Amanda" instead? Trust me. This is an interesting mental exercise.

I love the Back to the Future movies. Even though the first one is my favorite, I've always thought it would be interesting to go into the future to see how my life and my kids' lives have turned out. So try this. Imagine you have traveled into the future 20 years. This will make your students adults. What job do you think each student will have? I seriously have one kiddo in my class that will be president some day. I kinda wish he was running in the current election He'd have my vote for sure!

One of the things I love most about my little brother (who is actually a grown man and father of two kids of his own) is that he will always answer a question. No matter how silly it is. And he will give it a lot of thought and justify his reasoning even if it is completely outrageous. So think of some really crazy "Would you rather..." questions and try to answer them in all seriousness. See if you can come up with a rational justification for your choice. For example, when asked "Would you rather have really long nose hairs or a huge outie belly button?" my brother explained that he would choose the long nose hairs because he could trim those every day but a huge belly button would get caught on the waist of his pants all of the time. Pretty reasonable. Ha!

So now that YOU'RE prepared for the next round of standardized testing, how about a little something to help motivate your students and show them you care? Grab a set of these motivational treat labels to encourage your students to do their best on state standardized tests (or any other class or local test). 

Every teacher dreads standardized testing. Especially being bored as you monitor students during testing. This blog post shares a teacher hack: 10 things to do while monitoring students taking standardized tests. Try a few the next time you’re stuck walking up and down the rows in your classroom. Definitely a teacher sanity saver. My favorites are #3 and #9!
(Click on the image above to download.)
The great part about these labels is that they are formatted to print directly onto Avery 5160 address labels. Excellent for the busy and overworked teacher (Aren't we all?) who still wants to do something sweet for the students.

March 20, 2016

Weekend in Review {2016 French Lick Blogger Meet-Up}

One of my goals this month was to take some time for myself, and I definitely did that last weekend. I had the most amazing opportunity to attend a blogger meet-up in French Lick, Indiana with around 200 other teacher-bloggers.
Before the event, I was asked to share some of my thoughts. 
In a video. 
To be shared at the meet-up.
Yikes! 
I was asked to share was why I liked attending meet-ups and collaborating with other teachers. 
Well.....I kinda shared something else instead.


I was brutally honest and admitted that I DON'T like meeting new people. I am so incredibly shy. And I tend to be pretty bad at small talk. The whole weekend had me freaked out. In fact, I almost didn't go at the last minute because I was so nervous. (Yeah, it was that bad.) But my amazing husband kicked me out of the house and told me not to come back...in the most loving of ways. And when I called him on the way t tell him my headache had gotten worse and I might turn around and head home, he gently reminded me that my house was filled with kids and that I would be much happier if I just kept driving. When I arrived in French Lick, I stopped at a gas station across the street and had to give myself a pep-talk so I wouldn't run away. #thereisdefinitelysomethingwrongwithme

Here is the awesome compilation of LOTS of teacher-bloggers put together by The Male Kindergarten Teacher. Talk about a lot of work! Somewhere around 6 1/2 minutes you can witness my awkwardness firsthand as I tried desperately not to have a panic attack on camera.


I LOVE that Beth Freuh from Adventures of a Schoolmarm starts this whole video out by voicing my feelings exactly! #iamnotalone As I reflect back on the weekend, it makes me laugh to think about how nervous I was.

BUT the truth is that I had fun! Really!
Oh, don't get me wrong, I was sick to my stomach through half of the weekend and my headache never really went away. But I am soooooooooo glad I sucked it up and decided to step outside of my comfort zone.
Reason #1: Elementary Entourage
I really wanted to meet up with the girls (and Greg) that I collaboratively blog with. Not everyone could be there, but it was great to meet up face-to-face with some of these great teacher-bloggers. Such a fun group!
Reason #2: Proof that my online friends are real people
If you're like me, you stalk follow a lot of inspiring teachers and bloggers on social media. I get some of my greatest ideas form other teachers. I also find that if I'm stuck and need some guidance there is always someone willing to help. Facebook might be my favorite for that! I'm a member of a bunch of groups on Facebook and it's so comforting to know that these online communities of teacher-bloggers really DO collaborate (even if it is from different cities, states, or even countries).

Reason #3: Freebies
I wasn't sure how to share this part without sounding "greedy" but EVERY teacher loves some freebies! And there were so many AMAZING sponsors who donated items for door prizes and as part of our swag bags. From digital downloads, to pins and stickers, to paper and lotions. Seriously generous. I came home with so many goodies.

Reason #4: Relax, recharge, and reconnect
There were so many teachers, bloggers, TPT sellers there that I felt like there was something for everyone! It was great to attend the round table discussions and learn how other teachers integrated technology and social media into their classrooms. Such a wealth of information. I even got to meet Amy and Nicole from TeachersPayTeachers. #starstruck
Reason #5: Adding to my t-shirt collection
I got a super cute baseball tee to wear and remember all the fun from the weekend. It says, "TAKE YOUR PASSION AND MAKE IT HAPPEN" which was the theme for the weekend. It's so cute and comfy. And I really AM addicted to t-shirts.

So, if you're wondering whether to attend this event next year or not...
The answer is YES!!!
And if you're thinking that you can't since you aren't a blogger...
Come anyway!
There were actually about 20 teachers who called themselves "blog stalkers" who attended. It was so much fun sharing teaching ideas with ALL of the attendees!

March 15, 2016

Songs in the STEM Class {Kinetic and Potential Energy}

Last month I shared one of my favorite teaching strategies: using songs to review and reinforce concepts in science. Read more about it here. The short version? I find that students retain basic information better when it is put to a catchy (albeit sometimes annoyingly so) tune.
If you aren’t using music in the classroom yet, you should be! Songs are a great strategy for teaching science concepts and vocabulary. A catchy tune will help those concepts stick.
This month I want to share another song that I found while scouring YouTube for something to accompany my Energy Unit.

I present to you: "Kinetic and Potential Energy"
video
You can also find this video on YouTube here.

I know what you're thinking...
Polka music?
But, YES!
For some reason the tune is really catchy and believe it or not, students love singing along.
The lyrics are right on the screen and pretty repetitive, so it doesn't take long for students to catch on and begin singing. They love shouting "OLE" really loud too.
If you aren’t using music in the classroom yet, you should be! Songs are a great strategy for teaching science concepts and vocabulary. A catchy tune will help those concepts stick.
The song shares several different examples of potential and kinetic energy along with pictures and simple animations. My students always get super excited when they see the yellow VW Bug (since that's what I drive).

After listening to the song, I help students to develop working definitions of kinetic energy and potential energy to write in our interactive notebooks. I let students work with a partner to classify different examples of energy into the appropriate part of this Venn diagram template.

If you aren’t using music in the classroom yet, you should be! Songs are a great strategy for teaching science concepts and vocabulary. A catchy tune will help those concepts stick.
While students are working, I play the song again. Sure, some of them groan about it. But most of them end up happily singing along while they work.

Have you come across any great songs or videos to help teach the difference between potential and kinetic energy? I'd love to add to my "collection". Share a link in the comments!

March 10, 2016

Slow Motion Videos

First and foremost, I have to give my husband credit for this idea...sort of. 
(He insisted.)

The other night, we had Family STEM Night at our school (but that's another post for another day). One of the activities that students got to try had to do with an object's center of mass. My husband (whose phone is permanently attached to his hand) decided to record our kids using the slow motion feature of his camera. It was actually pretty cool. I had honestly never thought to use that feature on my phone before. Hence, he gets to claim credit for the idea...sort of.
Teacher Tech Tip Hack: Using slow motion videos to teach about Newton's Law of Inertia. Student activity that shows the impact inertia and gravity have on a moving object.
I'm currently teaching students about forces, motion, friction, and energy. I absolutely LOVE teaching about Newton's 3 Laws of Motion. Every year I collect so many ideas for demonstrations, videos, and lab activities on my Forces & Motion Pinterest board that I have a hard time making a choice of what I will actually use!

This week, I was gathering supplies for teaching about inertia. I showed students a StudyJams video about inertia. (I love StudyJams - and they are FREE!) Students read part of an article that gave some examples of how Newton's First Law of Motion is applied. I described a situation that most students had experienced while riding in a car and going around a sharp curve. But inertia is a really tricky concept for fifth graders.

Most of them could relate to the idea that an object at rest would remain at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. BUT imagining a world without friction where an object continued in the same direction at the same speed forever was too much for their little brains. ;)

So I grabbed my phone, a tennis ball, and a big plastic bucket and presented them with this challenge:
Teacher Tech Tip Hack: Using slow motion videos to teach about Newton's Law of Inertia. Student activity that shows the impact inertia and gravity have on a moving object.
Oh, boy! Were they ever stoked about this challenge. Especially the boys. They were SURE that it was super easy. How hard could it be, after all? So we went outside and I chose one of the more obnoxious excited volunteers to go first. I gave a few specific directions.

MOST IMPORTANTLY:
1. The student MUST run at top speed and NOT slow down when they reach the bucket.
2. The student MUST hold the tennis ball so that it can be released (without adding any force) into the bucket.

Then I recorded them.
In slow motion.

The first couple students were so darn mad. They had no idea why the ball kept missing the bucket. The rest of the students watched and started coming up with ideas. To be fair, some were actually successful. After 4-5 attempts, I took everyone back into the classroom to watch the "slow motion replay" of the challenge. It was A-MAZ-ING to see the looks of surprise and sudden understanding of what was happening. 

They watched as each student slooooooooooowly approached the bucket, dropped the tennis ball, and it continued to fall at a diagonal trajectory. 
That's inertia, baby!

Here's another one.
I can't get over how cool it is to watch!

Table talk time.
Students discussed and then shared answers to these questions...
What the heck was going on?
Why didn't the ball fall straight into the bucket?
What happened to gravity?
What real-world applications does Newton's Law of Inertia have?

Best. Lesson. Ever. (well, at least this week)

So, the moral of the story?
Listen to your husband. Hahahahaha!
The real moral of the story?
Use the technology at your fingertips. Even the simple camera on my iPhone worked wonders.

Need more ideas for teaching about Newton's Laws of Motion?
Check out my Forces & Motion board here:

March 9, 2016

My Teaching Style Metaphor

I've come across several great lists where people compare teaching to other things.
It got me thinking. But not just about what teaching is like.
Instead, I started thinking about my own TEACHING STYLE and how it is unique to me.

My teaching style metaphor: PIZZA! This is such a fun way to think about what I do as an elementary science teacher. Self-reflection | Humor | Food
So today I share with you...
Why I think my teaching style is a pizza!
Keep reading...
I know you're curious.

Whether I'm making a pizza from scratch at home or waiting for one to be delivered from my favorite pizza place, it is NEVER ready fast enough. I find myself checking the dough over and over to make sure it really IS rising under that warm towel. I often pull it out of the oven too soon (leaving the middle of the crust doughy) because I can't wait any longer. And when I order it to be delivered? I'm constantly watching the clock, counting down the minutes until the doorbell rings. Then when it's delivered, my mouth starts to water just from the smell. As soon as I shut the door, I'm digging into the box to grab a slice before even sitting down.

Must. Eat. Pizza. Now!

My teaching style can be the same.

Let's be honest. Any teacher who feels they have enough time to accomplish everything they'd like to each day is lying. Or they are WAY more organized than I am. I feel like I can never get everything I had planned to teach actually taught in the amount of time I have with each class. I always feel like I am rushing through my lessons, frantically trying to get to the next topic. (see #2) And while I definitely struggle to get out of bed each morning - I really love my pillow - I also get excited when my students get to class. I'm impatient as I wait for the morning announcements to finish. I hurry through any paperwork so I can get right to the meat of that day's lesson. I admit that sometimes I even forget to take attendance because I'm so focused on starting an activity!

Ever bite into a slice of pizza only to realize (too late) that the roof of your mouth is burning? That you should have waited a couple extra minutes to be sure it was ready to devour?
Um, yeah. So do I.
Every. Single. Time. (see #1)

My teaching style is similar.

If I get impatient and jump into a lesson too quickly or move on to the next topic before students have a good solid understanding, it only ends up coming back to bite me later. I find that students aren't able to apply the concepts in a new situation. Or they totally bomb a test I thought they were ready for. I promise that I know it really IS best to introduce ideas in a methodical fashion through scaffolded lessons and activities. But I get so darn excited and I want to fit everything in. And I have so many ideas and ways that I want the students to interact with the information. (see #3) I just find myself diving in full speed ahead.

Must. Learn. To. Slow. Down.

Growing up, my pizza toppings pretty much consisted of pepperoni and cheese. As I've gotten older, I have expanded my interests to include so many more topping combinations and even a few unique specialty pizzas. There is just so much to choose from! It's wonderful, really. Unless I'm ordering pizza and my kids all want something different. Then it can be a headache. Those are the times I like making personal pizzas at home. Each kiddo gets to "decorate" their pizza exactly how they like it. the perfect fit for their picky taste buds.

My teaching style is like that too.

When I first started teaching, I was careful to follow the curriculum that was purchased by the school. I taught what was in the textbook in the way it was suggested. I did my best to get students excited about learning, but I will admit that my lessons were often dry and repetitive. If you know me now, you're probably shocked by this revelation.

Now? I have come to realize that every single student needs something different. Learning styles? Too many to even count. While I would love to let each kid in my class "decorate" their lessons exactly the way they would like, I also have to be reasonable. So my compromise is that I do my best to incorporate as many different ways of teaching a concept as possible. I vary my grouping strategies. Individual, partners, small groups, whole group. I change up the method of delivery - sometimes several times within one lesson. Lecture, note-taking, short video clips, independent work, visuals, artistic representations, comparisons and analogies, jigsaw learning, student directed projects, homework, classwork, written responses, quick checks for understanding on white boards, hands-on investigations, teacher demonstrations, STEM challenges. Whew. Good times. But seriously exhausting. (see #4) Also totally worth it! (see #5)

Thank. Goodness. For. Pinterest.
I've got some boards that are seriously PACKED with ideas for each topic that I teach.
Have a look!



Sure, I love a good store bought pizza most of the time. But sometimes I really, really, crave a home-made deep dish pizza with all of my favorite seasonings and toppings. And for that, it takes some work. I've really got to be prepared to spend some time in order to end up with a really tasty pizza. If I don't let the dough rise enough, the crust will not be light and crispy. If I don't take the time to add some olive oil and spices, the sauce will taste bland. If I don't crumble the sausage, separate the pepperoni slices, arrange each topping carefully, and top the pizza with just the right amount of mozzarella cheese, I won't be satisfied with the results. (see #5)

My teaching style fits this comparison as well.

I recently had my academic coach visit my classroom to watch me teach a lesson. At the end, she stopped to thank me and tell me that she enjoyed her time in my room. She mentioned how engaged the students were throughout the lesson and how much fun she had observing me teach. I shared my concerns that I felt my lesson was fragmented and too fast-paced. She assured me that everything flowed seamlessly together and that I made it look effortless. What a relief! Luckily she understands that teaching is NOT as easy as it seems from the outside. Can anyone really understand the time, effort, planning, researching, and (quite frankly) performing that goes into each lesson if they have never taught themselves? No way! But that's the beauty of my teaching style, I guess. As crazy as I might feel during the presentation of each concept, it comes out looking well rehearsed and "easy" to others.

It's been a long day. I'm so tired. And hungry. Because, let's face it, I was too busy to eat anything at lunchtime. Again. So I rush home eager to have dinner. Only to find that there is nothing appetizing left to eat in the house. My solution? Order a pizza! I once got this text from my son:
My teaching style metaphor: PIZZA! This is such a fun way to think about what I do as an elementary science teacher. Self-reflection | Humor | Food
Pretty much sums of my feelings about pizza too. Frozen, homemade, or delivery. It's all good.

My teaching style usually matches this description.

I have my ups and downs. Good days and bad. Tiring weeks and easy ones. Difficult students and little angels. Angry parents and supportive ones. Successful lessons and total busts. (see #2) But despite all of this? I can't imagine a job more important or rewarding than teaching. If I can just make an impact on one student, it's worth it. Honestly. As my son so aptly stated, "I could eat frozen pizza for every meal be a teacher for the rest of my life and live a full, happy life."

So, tell me...
Leave a comment to share your teaching style metaphor. Or leave a link to a blog post so I can read all about it!
My teaching style metaphor: PIZZA! This is such a fun way to think about what I do as an elementary science teacher. Self-reflection | Humor | Food
One last confession: I totally had pizza for dinner tonight! ;)