Monday, March 5, 2018

Reflection Connection: March

Ah, March, how I love your warm days and the promises of Spring Break...but oh how I grumble at the thought of the busy testing season that lies ahead. In April the testing season begins in earnest, and no matter how confident I feel, there's still this little nagging voice that whispers, "Are we ready?" I think it's just latent testing anxiety that originated in my youth, but nevertheless, it persists. That brings us to our reflection of the month: 

Question: What anxiety are you feeling? What steps are you taking to find life's positive moments?

My Response: At this point in the school year, any anxiety I'm feeling usually centers around the hectic schedule of testing and end-of-the-year activities. (Yes, I know it's only March, but the calendar is already starting to fill up and planning for class activities takes time!) Thankfully I have wonderfully supportive colleagues that share equally in the planning process and greatly reduce any anxiety I'm feeling. During the busy testing season, I also take time to stop and make sure my students know how proud I am of their work throughout the school year and try to create moments where we celebrate their accomplishments and growth. Above all, I make sure that my students see none of the stress I may be feeling. They are incredible individuals that work hard to succeed every day. I know that they already put pressure on themselves to succeed on the state tests - even when the adults around them reassure that all will be well. My goal for March is to make sure I find the time to celebrate the positive moments of each school day amidst the hectic schedule of the school year as it marches towards the lazy days of Spring Break and summer vacation.

Now it's your turn! Share your response in the comments or write it in your own reflection journal.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Ancient History Bell Ringers

If you're anything like me, you want to find interesting ways to engage your students right when they walk into your classroom.

When establishing my classroom routine at the beginning of the school year, I find that bell ringers are the perfect way to bridge the gap between transition times (movement between classes) and the start of our class activities. 

In my mind, a bell ringer should be relatively simple - a question or series of questions that prompts students to recall recent content, utilize previously learned skills to apply them to a new question or encourage them to think critically about a topic we've studied in class. I also want to ensure that the bell ringers are novel, engaging, yet consistent on a week-by-week basis. Whew! That's a tall order!

In my quest to create such engaging, novel and consistent bell ringers for Ancient History classes, I decided on five different topics: Map Skills, Critical Thinking Skills, Vocabulary Terms, Quote of the Day and Growth Mindset. Thus, the Ancient History Bell Ringers resource was born!

All of these resources are available in my store on Teachers Pay Teachers. Let's dive in!

The purpose of the Map Skills Bell Ringers is to reinforce the map concepts that you've taught your students in class on particular ancient regions or even to be used to introduce the location of a region for the first time. I've used it both ways. If my students have completed a mapping activity the day or two before, I like to start class the next day with one of these bell ringers as a review. I've also used them on the first day of a new unit to encourage students to dive into our classroom resources to identify major land and water features on a map of the ancient civilization. Not all questions are map identification skills-based. Many others prompt students to think critically about the geography of a region and the impact the land had on the people who lived there.  

The Ancient History Vocabulary Bell Ringers are the perfect companion to the Ancient History Interactive Notebooks as they use key terms chosen from the concepts covered in the INBs! Of course, the vocabulary words aren't specific to those INBs and are based on typical concepts covered in Ancient Civilizations courses in middle school and can be used separately from them. On the days that I use these slides to introduce new vocabulary, students use the corresponding activity sheets to write the definition of the vocabulary word in their own words, draw a picture or symbol to represent the word and use the term in an original sentence. The more access and use students have of these new terms, the better they'll be able to grasp them and use them frequently within our unit.

There were some very interesting, thoughtful and wise people who lived in ancient times! Each of the slides in the Quote of the Day Bell Ringers resource has a quote from a historical figure in ancient times. I love choosing a person that lived during the time we are studying in school and asking the students the prompts on the slide: "What does this quote mean? Do you agree or disagree? How does this quote relate to an event in history or in your own life?" Students respond to each of the questions on their activity sheet for the day and keep it with their other bell ringer activity sheets in their binder. It's a simple activity that prompts students to think critically and deeply about a historical quote. It also gives them an opportunity to make a personal connection of use higher order thinking skills to link it to a particular event in history.

I LOVE critical thinking questions, don't you? Each slide in the Ancient History Think About It Bell Ringers resource poses a question that prompts students to think critically about a concept related to ancient civilizations. Some of my favorite questions are those that prompt students to imagine that they've traveled back in time to see or experience something. They love thinking about history as if it's alive around them! The response sheet for the days I use these questions asks them to summarize the question before responding. There's plenty of room on the response sheets for students to record their thoughts and I always ask some students to share their thoughts to the prompts.

As much as I love constantly engaging my students in historical content in new ways, I also value time spent on self-reflection and goal setting. The Growth Mindset Bell Ringers are a perfect way to end the week. Each slide prompts students to take a few minutes to reflect, write, make goals, problem-solve and track their growth throughout the year. 

Each of these activities includes 40 slides - enough for the entire school year! In the four that pertain the ancient civilizations, questions about the following regions are included: Early Humans, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the Israelites, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, India, China and the Americas.

If these bell ringers look like the perfect addition to your classroom routine, consider saving some money and purchasing the bundle!

Happy Teaching!

Monday, February 19, 2018

8 Amazing Blogs for Middle School Teachers

These blogs are always on my reading list because they're filled with a wealth of information and resources for middle school teachers and homeschool groups!
I'm Lovin' Lit

Erin's blog is filled with great ideas for middle school language arts teachers. I love her tips on using interactive notebooks and her general advice on being successful in a middle school classroom. She always has wise words to offer her readers!

Secondary Sara

Sara writes about all things reading and language arts on her blog. As a social studies teacher, I love using her blog to gain helpful tips on creating engaging writing activities for my own students and learning about ways I can support the ELA teacher on my team.

Maneuvering in the Middle

Noelle is a math teacher extraordinaire! Her blog is chock-full of ideas to engage students in math class. Her website is beautifully designed and her content is relevant and insightful. She even has posts that appeal to teachers who teach other subjects, like this one that I love: 12 Creative Incentives for Middle School. Your math colleagues will thank you for passing it along to them!

Stephanie's History Store Blog

Stephanie's blog is perfect for middle school social studies teachers. She has tips on teaching kids in middle grades and writes about fun and engaging ideas for history classes. I loved her blog post about analyzing historical images!

The Science Duo

Beyond a beautifully designed blog, The Science Duo are known for writing tons of helpful posts specifically for science teachers in secondary grades. I love their idea for a domino review game - it's definitely a post I'm passing along to my friends in science class!

Brainy Apples

Heather's blog is designed for teachers looking to go the extra mile for their students. You can feel her passion for teaching exploding from her posts. Although she writes about a variety of subject matters, one of my go-to posts is about using primary sources in the classroom. She brought up a lot of important points that every social studies and language arts teacher should read, in my opinion! We should all strive to use more primary sources in our units. :)
The Cult of Pedagogy

Jennifer's blog is a powerhouse of content for teachers and administrators. I could spend hours pouring over the posts on her blog. One area in particular that I find unique and relevant are her posts on educator collaboration. I firmly believe that by working together, teachers can create resources of the highest quality. Collaboration can be really tough...but it can also be one of the most beautiful experiences on campus.

Minds in Bloom

Rachel's blog is well-known for creating helpful content for teachers in many grade levels and always features stellar blog posts from guest writers. From parent involvement in the classroom to novel ideas to excite kids in pretty much every subject in school, Rachel's blog is a great resource for every middle school teacher.

If you think I need to add a blog to my reading list, please leave me a message in the comments section!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Reflection Connection: February

February is the month of pastel hearts, cupid's arrows and little treats to show you care. In the spirit of love and all things wonderful, this month's Reflection Connection gives us an opportunity to consider what we love most about being an educator. Some of us are definitely in difficult positions or are dealing with a lot of stress at work. Still, it's important to regularly reflect on the positive aspects of life to keep everything in perspective. :)
Question: What do you love most about being an educator?
My Response: I love so many aspects about being an educator that it's pretty hard to choose just one! I love finding and designing lessons that make history come alive for my students and I'm very blessed to have supportive teammates and colleagues who collaborate to create engaging activities and a positive atmosphere. Most of all, I love working with students to instruct them in historical content and teach them life and social skills that they can use in the years to come. Middle school can be a confusing and exciting time in a young person's life. I'm thrilled that I get to guide them along in their journey, even if for just a brief time.
Now it's your turn. Leave your response in the comments below or write it into your reflection journal!

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Best Websites for Teaching the Constitution

 I love teaching students about the Constitution. It can certainly be challenging, but there's a beauty to the document that's undeniable - after all, it's one of our country's founding documents! I love to encourage my students to explore it in depth, debate it's principles and understand that it's a "living" piece of our government. Finding ways to link it to modern news stories is always interesting and my students love seeing the modern day implications of the decisions our Founding Fathers made two centuries ago. While nothing can truly beat studying the actual text of the Constitution, there are some useful websites that help bring it to life in new ways. Without further ado, here are my favorite websites for teaching the concepts in the Constitution:

The Constitutional Convention: Before diving into the Constitution, it's important to set the stage. Teaching American History has a fantastic interactive site that discusses various aspects of the convention in an engaging way. From interactive paintings to in-depth information about the delegates, this website covers it all. Click HERE to check it out for yourself.

Interactive Constitution: This is one of my favorite websites to use to examine the text of the Constitution. The website breaks down the Constitution into manageable sections and summarizes the content while providing student-friendly examples. Check it out HERE.

iCivics: I know I've probably said this before on the blog, but my students L.O.V.E. iCivics. They actually beg to play the games if they finish a test early during class. It's music to this teacher's ears because they're actually learning while playing a computer game. Genius. There are several games that pertain to the Constitution and honestly I find so many effective that I can't pick just one favorite! Click HERE to see the full list of games available. Don't be surprised if you find time slipping away quickly while testing these games out for your classroom!

National Constitution Center Games: Along with creating that amazing interactive Constitution resource I mentioned above, the National Constitution Center also has a page with games that reinforce Constitutional concepts. There are four to choose from - the "Which Founding Father Are You?" activity was fun and educational! Click HERE to visit the site.

The Constitution: Many of us have access to a textbook with a copy of the Constitution inside, but if you're the exception or prefer have a digital copy available online for your students to access at home, look no further than the National Archives. They have a transcript of the Constitution HERE for all to read.

Did I miss any websites? If so, let me know in the comments. I'm always on the hunt for great resources for my classroom!

Monday, January 15, 2018

How to Use Reader's Theaters in Middle School

One of my favorite ways to engage my students in historical content is through the use of reader's theaters. Reader's theaters are small skits that students read aloud either in small groups or to the whole class. I use them in social studies and they are commonly used in ELA. I'd love to see more geared towards science content as well! Here's how I use reader's theaters with my middle school students:

The Prep

Before using a reader's theater skit, I determine if there's any vocabulary words that my students need to understand. If so, I teach them the key words first.
The Reader's Theater
I've used reader's theaters both to introduce and reinforce content. That's the beauty of this type of activity - each teacher has full discretion over when to use it! I always use them as a whole class activity. I choose some students (usually volunteers) to play the roles and provide each student with a script. Since I use many reader's theaters throughout the year, I ensure that every student has the opportunity to be part of at least one skit. Usually there's plenty of roles for students to become historical figures multiple times throughout the year. As the small group reads and acts out the skit, the rest of the class watches and listens quietly. Since the skits are short, engaging and informative, the students LOVE to watch their peers!
The Assessment
After the reader's theater ends, I hold a brief class discussion to asses student understanding of the content. If you purchase the reader's theaters from my TpT store, there are 5 discussion questions already included. I use that time to address questions, take student comments and connect the skit to the concepts we've been learning in class.
From start to finish, the whole process usually takes 20 - 30 minutes depending upon the amount of time needed during the prep phase. Overall, they are an efficient and engaging way to reinforce my classroom content!
If you're interested in trying one out in your classroom for free, click HERE to download the Declaration of Independence Reader's Theater Freebie from my TpT store.
To see all the Reader's Theaters currently offered in The Teacher's Prep store, click HERE! I'm adding to the collection all the time.
Happy Teaching!

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Best Hashtags for Teachers on Instagram

Finding ways to connect with other teachers online is easier than ever if you use the right hashtags! Hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a pound (#) sign. They are used to group posts by topic to make searching for pictures, statuses, tweets, etc. easier.
While many hashtags will connect you with other educators, some are more popular than others. I love using hashtags to find new social media accounts to follow while gathering inspiration from fellow teachers.
Before you jump into the world of education hashtags, think carefully about how many hashtags you're using on your posts. Buffer suggests only using two for Twitter while on Instagram you can get away with 11 and still see a high level of engagement. Click here to read the blog post on Buffer to learn more.
Here is a list of some of the most popular hashtags that educators are using on Instagram, in no particular order:


Have I missed any? Leave a comment below and I'll look into it! :)