School started three weeks ago. We spent several days building class culture. Things like building card towers, Flipgrid to introduce ourselves to each other and Human Rock, Paper, Scissors. I learned a lot about the students and they learned about me. Even though there always feels like there's a need to "get things going", I decided we weren't ready for academics. Thankfully I had found Eduprotocols by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo.
I have been lucky enough to see Jon present several of the eduprotocols over the last couple of years and had implemented one or two here and there. However, I hadn't really spent time with the why behind them or how I could use them effectively in my class. So this year, I decided to start the year off right.
We began with Frayer a Classmate. Students got to interview each other to learn what they liked and disliked. They found more in common with each other than if they had just walked around the room "Finding Someone Who", a frequent beginning of the year activity that I have used for years that really doesn't help anyone bond as a class. The best part of this activity was I got a bunch of information about my students that I would never have known without the activity. Now that the students have used the eduprotocol, I can use the same format for vocabulary words and content note-taking.
Next we tried the Iron Chef Slides. This is an activity I had done last year that the students really couldn't connect with. That was completely my fault. I hadn't showed them the benefit and ease of doing it. In a nutshell, the students (in groups of 4) split content and report as a team, similar to the Jigsaw method that has been utilized in many classrooms over the years only digital. We started with basic (read FUN) content this year to get the kids invested in the process. Our first Iron Chef was on Disney. What's more fun than that. When the kids told me they didn't know something to use in their particular slide (a common comment for the DisneyWorld slide since we live in Ca and an hour away from Disneyland!), they were amazed to learn they could look up the information on the internet and I didn't have to "teach" them for them to get the answers. As we move into more content areas (prefixes, natural regions of the US), the students are no longer asking how do they get the content and what do we have to do to complete the activity. They are finishing it in record time with great answers that worksheets wouldn't allow me to access.
Our third activity is the Cyber Sandwich. Another Jigsaw type activity also blends Venn diagrams and paragraph writing. Here the students read articles or watch videos that are the same as their partner or similar in content. They take notes then complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting their answers. This information is then used to writing at least a paragraph on the content. Students are able to integrate the information in a more engaging manner than if I had just told them to read the articles or watch the videos themselves. Like the Iron Chef, we started with something fun, The History of Chocolate! How more engaging can you get with students.
The last eduprotocol we are using for now is one I used a lot last year called the Fast and Curious. If you haven't tried Quizizz, I highly recommend it. This is a great one for quick vocabulary activities that can take a lot of class time without much retention. Students take a quick quiz (10 words) on Monday. We go over the answers for each of the words and take the quiz again immediately. Students try to beat their score (gamification at it's easiest). Almost every student can get at least 1 more correct after going over the words one time. We take the same quiz every day for 4 days. If students get 100% at any time of the week, they don't have to take the "FINAL TEST" on Friday. Since we go over the questions missed most often by the class every day, students are retaining the vocabulary without taking more than 10 minutes of class time. Since the goal of school is to get kids to learn the vocabulary and not to trick them, they have many opportunities to do this with the same words. When I did this eduprotocol last year, 90% of my students had retained the vocabulary words a month later. How often can teachers say that?!
There are soooo many other great activities to try in the book. We will be adding more as the year goes on as appropriate for the content. If you are looking for an easy way to get the students using the 4Cs and engaging with the content, I highly recommend checking out the book and website.
Every July and August the memes start. You know the ones about teachers trying to get into their classrooms as the school is still being cleaned. (Come on, the school couldn’t be THAT dirty, could it???) While most of us really need that summer break, even if it is spent working other jobs, the knowledge that school is about to start is a rush for two very different reasons.
First, there is that moment when you realize school is only a few days/weeks away and you are just getting into your classroom. Whether you consider yourself crafty or creative or not, there is pressure (whether it comes from within or from school culture) to have the “perfect” classroom. Don’t the kids deserve it? Don’t you deserve to have an environment that is pleasing to you as you go to work every day? There are so many pictures in various teacher groups showing off their finished classrooms. Some of these are theme based, (hello Harry Potter and cactus!) while others are decorated plainly but effectively. Some are lucky (or unlucky depending on your perspective) to have hallway bulletin boards or doors to decorate. Some have a wall of windows that leads to less space inside the classroom to fill. Then there is the planning for the school days. This alone can take several days and is made worse if you are changing schools, classrooms, or grade levels.
When my kids were little and came into the classroom with me to decorate, I would spend half a day (about as long as their patience of mom working would last) doing as much as I could for as many days as my admin would let me. I could stretch this out for two weeks ideally. As they got older and I worked on my own, I could still spend two weeks getting everything ready. What this really looked like was the first week of actually working in the classroom. The second week, once my colleagues returned, was full of the latest gossip and catching up. Mind you this was pre-social media and teachers didn’t know anything about what their peers did over the summer anymore than the students. Now we don’t get into our classrooms until maybe a week before class starts. This means decorating/planning/preparing on our own time at the same time we are trying to enjoy those last days of summer. Hence the rush.
The other rush is that feeling you get knowing you are about to start another year. What will your students be like? Will you be the teacher they need? Will they be ready for what you have to teach them? As you sit down to plan out the year, it’s a perfect time to change up what you do. Bring in more tech, start morning meetings, connect with other classrooms around the globe. There are so many possibilities. It’s a chance to get rid of that lesson that really hasn’t been working but you continue to try anyway. Or take a risk and finally try that one thing that has intrigued you. One of the best things about teaching is that you get a fresh start every year. Not sure there are many other careers where this happens. The rush that teachers get on that first day of school, even if it’s partially hidden by nerves, is one of the reasons we get into this profession. It’s also one I hope to never lose, no matter how long I’m teaching.
(If you haven’t read my original post, That Kid, please take a moment to do so.)
A week ago the school year ended. It was a tough one for a variety of reasons. I was glad to see it end, but it also meant I would no longer have THAT KID in my class. He had been there in one way or another for the last three years. When it came time to culminate and end their sixth grade year, I cried. Not because I would miss him, although I will greatly, but because I was so proud of how far he had come.
“Charlie” ended up being an integral part of our Student Tech Squad. I relied on him for any problem the other students (and usually I) couldn’t fix. The other kids recognized his worth in more than just tech, and he became pretty popular with many of his classmates. (Not too bad for the kid that used to be labeled a bully and was everyone’s scapegoat!).
As I spoke to him and his family after the ceremony (my eyes full of the same tears I saw reflected in his mother), I was struck with the connection we had made. I reflected on our not-so-great beginnings together and it made all of us laugh. I shared how proud I was of his accomplishments and how I hoped he would continue to rely on his strengths as he moved to the middle school. His grandmother credited me as a good teacher and that was what had made a difference. I think it was more than that.
When students come into your lives (because they are never just “in your class”), we try to find a way to make connections to relate to what they are going through so that the curriculum can be made more personal and understandable. This is a lofty goal that is often difficult to achieve with every student in your class. That doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying. It’s because of these connections that the students are able to learn from us. Whether you reach one student for just one day or make a lasting one (like I believe I have with THAT KID), it’s these connections that make the difficult days or years worth it for both you and the kids.
Charlie may no longer be in my class, but he will be one I will remember always. Hopefully I have made a positive lasting impression on him as well.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching