Sunday, October 25, 2015

Football Flash Freebie

I'm honored to have been selected this week for a coveted spot in Erin Cobb's (Lovin' Lit) Football Sunday giveaway! Here's where you can see the info: I'm Lovin' Lit.

Each week during the football season, Erin runs a "flash freebie" to celebrate a win by her adored New Orleans Saints.  She selects resources from the Teachers Pay Teachers website that are normally priced products. For one hour after a New Orleans Saints victory, the selected product becomes FREE.  So keep your eyes on the Saints game and  Erin's blog today for a chance to win my Make Inferences in Science - The Elements

It's super easy to implement because it's ready to print and comes with the answer keys.  It includes four short articles:  The Radium Girls, The Bombing of Hamburg, Start Appreciating Your Pencil (graphite), and The Hindenburg.

Each short article is accompanied by 4-5 inference questions.  Your students can finish the assignment during your bell work time.  It's a great way to address ELA reading standards (which many of us science teachers are required to do) without sacrificing instructional time from your regularly planned lesson.

It's kind of hard sometimes to find articles that are on a reading level that works for secondary students and also match the topic you are currently teaching.  And then you have to write your own questions for it.  This resource takes care of all that work for you.  You just print the article you want, with its questions, and you have a bell-work assignment that addresses both science and reading.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Formal Teaching Observations Part 2

Last time I posted about formal teaching observations I mentioned the importance of time limits and signals.  I'd like to go into a little bit more detail about time limits.  Let me start with a story.

I worked in a "full inclusion" school district.  That means that all students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, attended most of their classes with their same-age peers.  The regular educator was responsible for differentiating the work for all students.  They might receive assistance or suggestions from special education teachers but the classes were not co-taught. The regular educator was the only adult in the room most days and the classes included students on the entire range from gifted to severely disabled.  Full inclusion has its challenges for sure.  But you do learn to differentiate!

One year I had a student named Eric, who was on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. He really struggled with anxiety when teachers would give him a large chunk of work to do like 10 questions on the same page.  And it was also hard for him to stop working on one thing and transition to another.

A large part of his anxiety was related to timing.  It upset him to see a lot of questions or problems all at once. It seemed overwhelming to him and he had trouble with determining how much time to spend on any one question. And then he was annoyed when a teacher would tell him to stop working and transition to something else, especially if he had just one more thing to do and was being told to stop working on it.

In an effort to ease his anxiety I did a couple of things.  I started giving him smaller chunks of work. Instead of giving him ten questions on one sheet of paper, I'd give him one question on an index card and I would tell him how much time he had to finish it. Then, I'd collect that card and give him the next card, and so on.  It worked well for both of us.  He never saw the work he didn't get done so he wasn't upset about it, and he didn't resist working when it was one thing at a time. He often would say "I can do that" when I gave him one card.  And then he'd say it again when I'd give him the next one.  It was like he was reassuring himself. And he got a lot more work done too!

Another thing I did was to give him a heads-up when his time for any task was coming to an end, so that he was never taken by surprise by a request to stop working.  But he did NOT like it when I came to his desk to give him that warning.  He felt singled out.

So I started announcing to the whole class "In two minutes, I'm going to ask you to start cleaning up." That gave Eric the warning he needed, but without singling him out.  I was pretty surprised when that advance warning worked just as well for the rest of my students as it did for Eric.  They all did a better job of transitioning to another activity when I had given them the two minute warning before asking them to stop what they were doing.

So that's how I learned first hand about the value of time limits at the beginning and the end of a task. When you're being observed, you really want transitions to be smooth because then you don't lose much instructional time, which is something the administrator is attending to. Believe me, they're counting how many minutes it takes you and the kids to transition to the next activity. Of course I'm sure you would like to be more efficient with time whether or not there's an administrator observing you.  One thing there's NEVER too much of in teaching, is time!

One weird little additional tip:  Don't use time chunks like five minutes, or ten minutes etc.  Time chunks like those seem flexible not rigid.  They don't cause students to pace themselves.  It sounds strange but it's true.  If instead, you say "You have until 9:07" kids will do a better job of watching the clock and pacing themselves.  But stick to it.  At 9:07 it's time to stop.  It takes some practice but students will learn that you mean it when you say 9:07.

And do give them a heads up when work time is coming to an end.  Don't spring it on them.  Tell them "You have three more minutes to work" (another irregular time block) and then when you do tell them to stop, they'll be more likely to have finished their task and be ready to move on.  It used to drive me crazy when I'd have seven groups of students ready to move on and one group still rushing to finish and clean up. That problem pretty much went away when I started using time limits more effectively.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Best Place In The World

I just got back from a trip to southern Utah - and to my favorite place in the world - Arches National Park.  Most people see the park in spring or summer but I love it in the fall.  The light and colors make it difficult to take a bad photo.

Thought you might enjoy seeing some pics.  Over in the sidebar to the right >>>>>
you can click on the Featured Freebie to get these pictures (and 11 more) to use in your classroom.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mole Day Sale! Oct 23rd

Some of my science buddies from Teachers Pay Teachers are getting together to have a Happy Mole Day (Oct 23rd) sale!  All my science teaching resources (and theirs) will be on sale at up to 20% off.

Check out the blog of my friend Mrs. Lau (Science and Math with Mrs. Lau) for more information and links to the the stores that will be participating in the sale: Mole Day Sale 

Here are a couple of my resources that will be on sale. (And I have 98 other resources that you might want to check out too!)

My Chemical Symbols Color by Number activity lets students practice chemical symbols by coloring the puzzle to match the chemical symbol in each section.


And my Chemistry Vocabulary Playing Cards help students to identify molecules, compounds, atoms and elements and match pictures to names, symbols, formulas, and definitions.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Formal Teaching Observations Part 1

I know teachers who say they're not the slightest bit intimidated by unannounced formal evaluation visits. There's a little part of me that wonders if that's true. Who feels just fine about having someone show up unannounced to watch them work for 45 minutes?  I know it's supposed to be helpful. But it feels more like stalking when somebody shows up without warning, watches you silently and intently for nearly an hour without taking their eyes off you except to take notes on what you say and do, and then leaves without saying a word to you or letting you see what they wrote. There's absolutely nothing natural or comfortable about that.

The first round of observations in my district always starts in October. That's supposed to give teachers time to get to know students and get students used to the teacher and the structure of the class.  Unfortunately the time period from October through December is often packed with end of term exams, first parent conferences and grading piling up on teachers. And with holidays thrown in, administrators can get pretty pressured to get in the observations they need to do. The combination of those factors creates some unfortunate timing. I know a teacher whose principal came in to do an unannounced observation of her on Halloween in a middle school. News Flash: Middle school students are not on their best behavior when they're dressed like zombies.

I don't know how it's possible to be comfortable and teach naturally while someone is clearly taking data on everything you're doing, and is also taking data on what your students are doing, as if every move they make is somehow under your control.  In my job I was sometimes the second person sitting in the back of the room with the administrator during those observations. It was kind of like a checks and balances thing for people whose jobs were on the line and for whom the observation carried even more weight than usual. In a way, I was observing the observer. So maybe I can give you some tips about what your administrator will be looking for and what you need to do during an observation. Hopefully that will help you to not be so anxious.

Every evaluation system I'm familiar with includes whether or not the teacher explicitly states and periodically revisits the objectives for the lesson. It's not likely that your administrator will be in your class from the time class starts until it ends.  That's extremely frustrating when what you do at the beginning and end of class is part of the evaluation, but it's just the way it goes. And it makes it especially important that there be visible evidence that you went over the objectives with students before the administrator got there.

From my work with struggling teachers I can tell you that it's surprising how many teachers just start teaching when class begins and never tell students what they'll be doing, why they're doing it, or how they'll be expected to demonstrate what they've learned.  So there's no reason for students to get engaged in the first place. That is going to have a negative effect on student behavior and on the evaluation of your teaching. Get in the habit of writing your objectives on the board and starting class by going over them with students. It's fairly obvious when that is being done for the first time during a formal observation. It needs to be - and look like - a practiced routine, not like some dog and pony show that you're putting on for the administrator's benefit.

While you're teaching the lesson, point at the objective you wrote on the board and make a reference to it. Perhaps say something like this:  "At the beginning of class, we talked about today's objectives. We've been working on #1, and now we're ready to transition to #2, where you'll be working in small groups. You have one minute to get ready to move. I'll know you're ready when you have ____."

Saying something like that draws your students' (and administrator's) attention back to the objectives for the day and helps students make the connection between what they have just finished doing and what they'll be doing next. That statement also incorporates two other really important student engagement strategies:  Time Limits and Signals. More about those in my next post.