Instructional Feedback

A recent assignment for professional development was to record ourselves teach (again?! I haven’t lost ten pounds yet!) and watch for use of purpose statements and active engagement strategies. We were asked to use the following rubric to reflect on our teaching:



You can view my teaching HERE if you’d like to grade me yourself. :-) As for my self-reflection…

  • Purpose Statement
    • The purpose for my lesson is visible and mentioned verbally.
    • It is written as an “I can” statement.
    • It is not clearly linked to the content standard.
    • It can be assessed, and what you don’t see is the exit activity where I ask students report out one way the debate over slavery intensified.
  • Active Engagement
    • There were multiple opportunities for all students to talk to each other.
    • There were multiple opportunities for students to signal their knowledge of the answers.
    • A couple of students dominated the closed questions. What other strategy could I use?

Students were SO nervous when I set up the camera! I chose 6th period because they are my most challenging class to engage in discussion and activities. In the previous period, I did a better job of explaining some of the vocabulary—abolitionist, annexation, etc.–and drawing students’ attention to the map as a clear illustration of the U.S. at this time. Sixth hour needed those extra explanations and I missed some of them! I definitely think I can continue to push for higher levels of engagement and academic performance in this class period!

Regional Super Heroes

After Chapters 12 and 13, I feel pretty good that kids have an understanding of the characteristics of the North and South before the Civil War. Historically, I’ve had them make Venn diagrams or write short essays proving their knowledge. This year, I finally struck upon something FUN…regional super heroes!

Learning Target: I can represent the North and South before the Civil War using personification.

  1. Students will engage in carousel brainstorming regarding the topics…super hero
    • Economy of the North/South
    • Society of the North/South
    • Working conditions of the North/South
    • Changes in the North/South
    • Each of these will be posted on a separate sheet of paper (eight total), and the class will be divided into eight groups with eight different colors of markers. Students will have ninety seconds at each topic to think of everything they can.
  2. I will model for students how to connect their brainstorming to their super hero. We will discuss the term “personification,” and I will assign them THIS worksheet to design their super hero.
  3. Students will work independently on the written characteristics of their super hero as well as the visual representation. (I wish you could have heard the OOOs and AHHs when I showed them THIS website!)
  4. Students will work collaboratively to write an illustrated story pitting their two super heroes against each other which will showcase their understanding of why these two regions will come into conflict.
    • Students will use PowerPoint to tell their story. I will review the elements of a plot line as well as technology tips such as inserting images and backgrounds, textboxes, and autoshapes.

I am sooooooooo excited about this project I had to share the idea immediately. Check back for examples of student work!

Review Games

I really like to keep my social studies class fun and engaging, and one way I do that is to play a lot of games. Students are much more engaged in a review GAME rather than a review LECTURE! Also, I like to play lots of DIFFERENT games so that students don’t get bored. Each of these games begins with a PowerPoint full of review questions, but the game process changes each chapter. Please beg, borrow, and steal from the list below to keep your class exciting!

TrashBall: Divide students into at least four teams. Give each team ten X’s on the white board. ballUse masking tape to mark two lines on the floor as “shooting lines” and place a clean trashcan a few feet from the lines. Pose a question to a team. A correct answer allows that team to erase two X’s from another team. The answering team also shoots a basket from either the two point line or the three point line. A made basket allows that team to erase two or three more points from any team. A team who has no X’s left may gain them back by answering questions and making baskets. The team with the most X’s wins. There was a SERIOUS sense of competition in my room as teams cheered for others when shooting and while deciding which X’s to erase. Teams even started building alliances!

swimSink or Swim: Divide the class into at least two teams. Pose a question to one team. If they get it right, they earn one point as well as the opportunity to “sink” a player on the opposite team. As the game progresses, teams continue to earn points and sink players on the opposite team, but they can also “swim” a player who has been sunk. Again, the highest scoring team wins. My favorite aspect of the game is that the kids who usually answer the questions are sunk immediately and the reluctant participators are forced to engage in the game!

Liar, Liar: Divide the class into at least two teams. Pose a question to one team. Each team member who believes they know the answer stands. The opposite team gets to pick who answers the question. If the chosen person gets the question right, the team earns the number of points equal to the number of players standing (which explains the motivation to stand even if you don’t know the answer!) Team with the most points wins…or perhaps it is the team who lies the best!

Win, Lose, or Draw: Divide the class into at least two teams. Pose a question to one team. trophyThe team earns five points for a each correct answer–that’s the “win” part. The team can then choose to draw from a deck of cards that include situations like add # points, lose # points, lose a turn, steal # points, double your score, etc. Let your imagination go crazy! Again, team with the most points wins.

Triple Play: Divide the class into at least two teams and provide each team with a white board and three “triple play” cards. Pose a question to all teams and allow them time to discuss their answer and write it on the white board. If the team feels VERY confident about their answer, they may use one of their “triple play” cards and earn three times the points. If they are wrong, they lose that many points from their total score.

baseballBaseball: Divide the class into two teams. Display a baseball field on the board. Pose a question to one team. Each correct answer advances the team one base. Build in “home run” or double/triple play questions as well (utilize true/false, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and open-ended questions). The team with the most runs at the end wins. You could totally do this with football…I’m just not much of a football guru to compose the rules!

King/Queen of the (Insert Topic Here): Have all students stand up. Pose a multiple choice question to the class and have each student answer by raising 1, 2, 3, or 4 fingers (representing A, B, C, D. You could also do this on individual white boards). When a student gets a question wrong, they are required to sit down (ask them to keep answering the questions to stay engaged). The last person left standing is the King/Queen. Put their name on the board for bragging rights.

Hot Seat: Ask a student volunteer to sit in the front of the class in the “hot seat” while you pose a multiple choice question to the entire class. seatHave all students answer the question by answering via Socrative, white boards, or by a show of hands. The student in the chair answers last. If a student gets the question right, I give them one point of extra credit. If the student gets the question right but the class gets it wrong, I give the student two points of extra credit. I like that this game forces everyone to participate but includes a little extra “show off” time for a kid who wants it.

Board Races: Divide the class into at least two teams. Have each team send a representative to the board. Pose a question to all players. First person to answer the question correctly earns their team one point. One variation on this game is to only put one marker (or piece of chalk) in the tray. When a student thinks they know the answer, they have to get ahold of the marker and write the answer. This makes it MUCH easier for me to know who had the right answer! Team with the most points wins.

tic tac toeTic Tac Toe: Divide the class into two teams. Pose a question to one team. A correct answer allows the team to place an X or O on the board in a square of their choice. Continue running the game just like normal tic tac toe. This is fun because all kids know how to play and have very strong feelings about the best strategy! Many classic games–Checkers, Connect Four, etc.–can be played in this same fashion.

Double or Nothing: Divide the class into at least two teams. Build your PowerPoint using animations so that there is a question followed “on click” by multiple choice options. Pose an open-ended question to one team. The team can answer the question, without the options, for two points. If they don’t get it, the other team may steal the question for two points or choose to have the teacher display the multiple choice options. If the team uses the multiple choice options, they only receive one point for a correct answer.

I highly recommend using a “Vanna White” for any of the games that require score keeping. My favorite games are the ones that force teams to work together and strategize in addition to recall the material. What great games do you use in your class?


Classical Conditioning

My psychology students are learning about classical conditioning, so I was scouring YouTube and Learn360 to find an informative video when a genius idea hit me…..I could explain it myself! :-) Check out my video HERE to see how I did. There is always room for improvement, but I liked that I was able to put a personal spin to the topic. (Sidebar…It is SO weird to see myself dressed so casually as I wear a dress to school almost daily. I do think casual dress makes my demeanor more casual as well!) I also liked how many choral responses I encouraged which made the lecture more engaging. I know there were students blurting, but they were blurting on-topic comments. I like that students feel comfortable freely engaging in academic question

After my explanation, I did show THIS video clip to expand students’ understanding of the topic. Following the lecture/video, students completed a review by walking around the room to answer ten review questions on a piece of scratch paper. We checked and discussed the questions as a class, and students who earned a passing grade on the review were allowed to pick an item from the prize bucket—prizes make any lesson better. :-) The activity earned 19 out of 20 thumbs-up from students who thought the style of review was fun. They also reported that it helped them learn because they could discuss the questions with peers as they moved around the room

I’m feeling better and better about psychology each day!

Progressive Essay

My students are taking Iowa Assessments this week, so they are pretty zapped by the time they get to social studies. (Heck, I’m zapped! I took a nap after school yesterday, and I NEVER nap!) I thought I would mix things up for our Chapter 11 essay as well as utilize an idea I heard about in professional development recently while discussing productive group work.

First, students shared out every detail they could think of from Chapter 11 that answered the question, “How did westward expansion transform the nation?” I typed up all of their answers into Wordle and told students they’d be allowed to “cheat” and use the Wordle when writing their essay. Next, I used a choral response method to have students remind me that the first sentence of the essay must be the introduction (restate the question as a declarative statement), followed by three supporting details, and a conclusion.

Chapter 11 EssayEach student then received the assignment sheet, but I only allowed them to write the introductory sentence. Students passed their paper to a peer and every student in the room read the introductory sentence and crafted a follow-up sentence that supported it. Students passed the paper three more times to write two follow up sentences and a conclusion (five different people wrote the five sentences of the essay on the same paper). Students passed the paper a sixth time for a quick peer review, checking for punctuation, capitalization, correct grammar, etc. Finally, volunteers read essays aloud while showcasing the writing on a document camera which gave me a chance to give essay pointers to the whole class.

This process truly solidified the essay-writing process for students. (I need to do it at the beginning of the year so that kids have a better handle on my expectations from the start!) Also, students had to rely on each other to create informative, accurate, and well-written essays. I loved that a student who lacks confidence in their writing abilities could still experience success. Students were also motivated to do a good job because they had an audience other than me. Plus, kids thought the activity was fun, and fun means heightened engagement!

Sounds and Learning Lab

I had another breakthrough in psychology! Last semester, my first semester teaching the class, the kids seemed the most engaged in class when we did labs (not surprising). This semester, I’ve been trying to include more labs and ensure that they are well-planned.

psychChapter 9 is about is about learning, asking students to understand how experiences change behavior. The lab asks students to consider how sound may effect a person’s learning and emotions. I opened up with some examples of songs that have strong emotional connections for me. First, I played Old Time Rock and Roll by Bob Seger and explained how it elicits very happy memories of my dad. He requests it at every wedding dance, and in my mind’s eye, I can clearly visualize him getting his grove on. Next, I played In Color by Jamey Johnson. This song was released around the time my Grandma Babe died, and hearing it still brings me to tears. Kids connected easily to this attention getter; many tapped their feet and sang along to the Bob Seger song whereas there was absolute silence during the Jamey Johnson one.

Next, we previewed the lab introduction in the book, but of course I changed up the directions…

Hypothesis: Because pleasant sounds make people feel happy, people will prefer an image paired with a  pleasant sound more than an image paired with an unpleasant sound.

Materials: Computer with internet access, data sheet.

  • Students should prepare a PowerPoint or iMovie of four images paired with four sounds.The pictures should be very general (nature, abstract art, etc.) and all of the same theme, but two sounds should be pleasant and two sounds should be harsh.
  • Students should administer the visual/auditory test to ten participants. After each participant views the presentation, students should ask the participant “Which image was your favorite?” and mark the selection on the data sheet.

After students completed the lab, students shared their data during a class discussion and completed a final lab report.

laptopsKids had a surprisingly good time building their presentations! Since my junior high is 1:1, students are pretty tech savvy. I was excited that adding sound  to presentations was a new challenge for some, and many students enjoyed using their own music (versus stock PowerPoint and iMovie sound effects). Lab reports reflected that students saw a connection between sound and learning, so I think they are well prepared to discuss the various types of conditioning.

Manifest Destiny Discussion

The idea of Manifest Destiny is pretty crucial in the formation and expansion of the United States in the mid-1800s. John O’Sullivan can receive the accolades for coining the term in 1845, but the Americans who made their way west turned the dream a reality. To help students understand this concept, I presented a series of five paintings depicting manifest destiny and westward expansion such as…300px-American_progress

I showcased each photo for about a minute, and asked students to jot down answers to the question…

MD questionI was impressed with the seriousness that students approached the art appreciation portion of the lesson. They wrote feverishly while analyzing each picture. After showing each picture, I numbered students off and sent them to the four corners of the room to discuss what they had written down. This was a quick and easy way to get them talking to new people. After discussing in small groups, I led a full class discussion about the big idea, “What is manifest destiny and how did it change America in the mid-1800s?”

I’m terrrrrrrrible at leading discussions. Terrible. It is a major teacher flaw for me. I thought this method was a true rendition of “think-pair-share,” and I was quite pleased with the responses I garnered from kids. Check out the compilation of student answers below:

Manifest Destiny Student Response

Make word clouds of your own using Wordle.