Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Five Fantastic Websites You Should Use NOW!

1. Teaching Channel
This is a store house of teaching inspiration! Watch video clips of other teachers reflecting on their practice, passing along helpful hints, and explaining their thoughtfully crafted lesson plans. This site completely revived in me a desire to better my skills in the classroom!

2. Glogster EDU
This online poster-making website has completely reshaped the way we do science fair here at school! Instead of the traditional trifold boards and boring, glued-on letters, Glogster allows students to create interactive, animated, and fun virtual displays of their projects. Students can embed videos, add music, attach documents, and layer predesigned graphics to create splashy, yet content-rich posters to show their work. The interface is incredibly user-friendly, and it took my girls less than a week to become completely fluent with the site. Glogster also provides built-in rubrics to help you grade the students' work!

3. Rubistar
An absolute must for lab reports, science fair components and other projects. Rubistar lets you customize a rubric as much as you want, or use a prefilled template of your choice. Perfect for accurately and consistently grading projects that you may have never done with the students before!

4. Screencast-O-Matic
This website has completely changed my teaching this year. I use it to make screencasts of my powerpoint lessons, and then upload them to my YouTube channel for the students to view any time. Totally free, and completely easy to use.

5. Poll Everywhere
A quick way to get immediate student feedback! Create a poll, and students can vote using their computer or cell phone. Results can be displayed on screen in real time, so not only do you get a quick snapshot of what your students know, but you can immediately identify where students are making mistakes and then reteach the necessary material. Super easy and completely free!

Teaching with YouTube & Screencast-O-Matic

This year I have been so excited to start using YouTube more regularly in my classroom. As a science teacher, I feel the abundance of video resources online are incredibly useful for reinforcing concepts I teach the girls. However, it can feel a bit overwhelming with so many videos available. Being new to the YouTube scene, I decided to start small. I created a "6th Grade Science" channel and then I made several playlists that corresponded to the units we cover.

One of the great things about creating your own channel is the use of playlists. Students can safely navigate to your page and click on only the videos you want them to watch (ones that you have previewed and deemed worthwhile), without the distractions of other (perhaps more questionable) channels and videos. Students do not need an account or password to view the channel. Simply an internet connection. 

Also, you have the option of uploading your own videos. While this may seem daunting at first, it is an incredibly useful tool. I create my own recordings of lecture topics using the free website Screencast-O-Matic. Through this site you can easily record your voice (and your face, if you have a webcam) while displaying a screen (such as Microsoft Powerpoint or Word). Your mouse movements, keystrokes, and window transitions are all recorded. It's like having a video camera over your shoulder while you work on your computer! Click here for instructions on how to create your own screencast of a Powerpoint presentation. (Coming soon!)

These recordings, called screencasts, have completely transformed the way I teach. It has allowed me to provide the girls with an additional resource when they are at home and not able to consult me for help. Since my lectures are organized by the lesson numbers in our textbook, I create a screencast for each lesson (typically they are between 5-10 minutes long) and upload them to our class YouTube channel. The girls are able to watch them whenever, wherever. Many of my girls (and parents) have commented on how helpful it is when they are studying for a test in my class. If they need clarification on a topic, they can find the appropriate screencast recording, and BAM! Suddenly it's as if I am standing in their room explaining it to them just like I did in class!

Check out one of my screencasts below:

I've also used this screencast technique to make a recording of a review game we play in class, then post it on our channel that afternoon so the girls can watch (and play it) again as they study for the upcoming test. 

Finally, as if you needed another reason why a class YouTube channel and screencasting were amazing, both are obviously super-helpful to those students who have to miss class due to doctor's appointments or sickness, etc. So far this year my girls have said that it is far easier to catch up after being absent in my class (as opposed to other classes) because of the resources I keep on our class YouTube channel!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why I love teaching middle school girls

(And why I'm the luckiest middle school teacher in the whole world!)

1. We had just started our unit on volcanoes (after having finished our unit on earthquakes) and I came back to my room one afternoon after my carpool duty, and this was left on the board for me. (*smiles*) 

(To be continued...)

Our Parking Lot

Science is all about asking questions. I try to instill this in my students every day. But sometimes in our class discussions the girls get SO interested and SO curious that we follow a rabbit trail of fascinating questions instead of the well-worn path. For example, without even realizing it we have departed our main topic of the moon's rotation around the earth and are suddenly discussing black holes and what happens to an astronaut if he left a spacecraft without a protective suit.

The parking lot is the perfect way to keep the students on track. Whenever someone asks a thoughtful, content-related question that we just don't have time to expand upon at the moment, I tell her to "park it." (Translation: Write it on a sticky note and put it on our Parking Lot poster.) I keep sticky note pads in little supply boxes on each table, so they are within easy reach. My girls are so used to this process now that many times they won't even raise their hands to ask. Instead of interrupting the discussion they simply get up quietly and park their question on the Parking Lot!

At the end of the week, I choose the best/most interesting questions and answer them on our class Blackboard page, complete with the girl's name who asked, and my answer.

My Favorite No

I recently found a wonderful resource online called Teaching Channel. It is jam-packed with wonderful videos to inspire your classroom teaching! One of my favorites is a short video on a strategy called "My Favorite No." It uses a traditional warm-up exercise done in the beginning of class and makes it more meaningful to the students by analyzing a student-generated wrong answer (the "favorite no"). I think this has wonderful implications in any classroom, regardless of subject area, especially because you are helping to foster risk-taking as well as higher-level thinking skills. I will definitely be using this in my own classroom!

Great gone lazy?

I am a great teacher gone lazy.

Or perhaps I am just tired. :P

Either way, it's funny. I feel like I was working harder to constantly improve my own teaching when I was working in the public school. Somehow the innate ability and natural sense of engagement that these girls come in the door with here have somehow unconsciously given me permission to let go of my drive to consistently make my lessons better.

These girls deserve more from me than this.

Why is it that creativity seems to be the first thing lost? This is my seventh year, and I feel like my level of creativity has steadily waned over that time.

I suppose this blog is an attempt to gather some of that lost creativity back. And to inspire both myself and others to continually get better in their craft. I hope that over time, this blog will be both a place of reflection and growth for me. I want to get out of this "teaching plateau" and reach for teaching that doesn't just get the job done. But teaching that truly sparkles.

Because perhaps teaching that sparkles will translate into learning that sparkles, too!

To watch this video that inspired this post, click here.

Welcome to my classroom!

My name is Leah. I teach 6th grade science at an all-girls private school. This is my seventh year teaching, and I absolutely love it! I decided to start a blog as a way to record my reflections, express my frustrations, and pass along helpful hints to my colleagues and teacher friends, both past and present! To start things off, I thought I would give you a tour of my room. Enjoy!

First, my room is expansive. I realize and appreciate this characteristic every day I come to school. It may actually be the largest classroom in the middle school (if not the entire school), and was the final selling point for my decision to come teach here.

On one side are the student tables which face the whiteboard and digital projector. On the other are the lab tables, sinks and storage cabinets. There is also a student center, a rolling demonstration cart (complete with sink and power outlet), a massive bookshelf, two standing glass-front cabinets, a refrigerator, filing cabinet and a fantastic L-shaped teacher desk. It is truly a science teacher's dream come true!!

This classroom (by it's geography alone) has allowed me and inspired me to create dynamic, student-centered lessons and laboratory exercises that I have never been able to do before in my teaching career. The girls can get up and move around, migrate through stations, work in pairs, work in groups, all without leaving the room!

(Oh, and by the way, don't worry. These pictures were taken at the start of the school year. I WISH my room was still that neat and orderly right now!)

Also, be on the lookout for more details and photos from my classroom. Perhaps they will give you ideas for organization or time/space management in your own room!