Common Core Graphic Organizers

My instructional coach provided our social studies department with a series of graphic organizers that meet the Literacy in History Common Core standards. I confess I haven’t done much with them  yet this year, but  my teaching cohort had a lot of success implementing one so I figured I’d better be next!

My students needed to read a passage about the Patriots’ “Struggle for Liberty,” so I thought that fit with the following literacy standard:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.3 Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

I chose to specify (and digitize) the general graphic organizer provided for this standard. Check it out:

4.3 Step Notes

During class, after reviewing material about the Declaration of Independence, I helped students preview the new material. One student read aloud the title of the section, but I had each row choral read one of the main ideas. The entire class choral read the main idea:


I then read aloud the “If you were there…” and allowed students to discuss the question with a neighbor before sharing their opinion with the class. Finally, I modeled for students how to complete the graphic organizer. See the video HERE.

At the end of class, we did a quick whip around in which each student noted one step the colonists took in their fight for liberty. I also asked students to rank this new note-taking strategy by a show of fingers…

1=This strategy didn’t help me
5=This strategy helped me! Let’s use it again!
Anywhere in between. :-)

Most kids ranked the strategy somewhere in between. :-)

I felt really good about this lesson. In terms of planning, I utilized my Iowa Core resources and my instructional coach. The lesson had a clear beginning, middle, and end. Students were responsible for their learning. I implemented multiple active engagement strategies. The whip around showed me who will need more support tomorrow as students finish the reading. On the downside, every time I watch a video of my teaching, I’m reminded of how fast I talk! Eep! No wonder some kids have trouble listening (Is that why they all look so bored?!). Also, I should have extended my modeling to a “we do it” segment in which students helped me write the notes. Next time! My one non-teaching reflective comment….Stand up straight, Miss Haines!!!! :-)

Who Dunnit?

In my 8th grade social studies class, we are deep in the heart of American Revolution instruction. After introducing the inception of the revolution through text, video, discussion, and a game, I reminded students that no one knows who fired “the shot heard ’round the world.” I asked them to imagine they were the person who fired first (British or American). They then wrote a one sentence summary explaining why they did it. I know the final bulletin board isn’t super exciting, but I really like it because…Shot Heard

  • Students had to use their imagination.
  • It was quick.
  • Others can see what is going on in my classroom.
  • All students could participate easily.

There were some not-so-awesome responses like, “I didn’t do it,” but there were some other great responses like…

  • “The British killed my best friend during the Boston Massacre.”
  • “I needed to show the colonists who’s boss.”
  • “I was tired of the British pushing us around.”
  • “My commanding officer told me to, so I was following orders.”
  • “I wanted to win more land and more freedom.”
  • “I have a shaky trigger finger.” :-)

You’d be surprised how many kids started the war on accident! I’ve always thought this “history mystery” question would make for a good…writing assignment? small project? debate? Let me know if you have any great ideas for me!

I <3 Technology

ITECThe longer I teach, the more addicted to technology I become. I find that technology is engaging for students (engaged students learn more!), it often makes my life easier, it easily fosters genuine creativity, and it helps train students to be 21st learners and consumers. I was THRILLED to be given the opportunity to attend ITEC 2014 this school year. While I don’t always pick the perfect sessions, I left wishing I could have attended the entire conference rather than just one day. While some ideas I heard were great reminders, I also heard some novel things I need to try…

  • EduCanon  may revolutionize the way I show videos to class. The program offers tools that allow teachers to directly embed comprehension questions into videos and receive feedback about student knowledge.
  • iFakeText is just plain fun. I asked my psychology students to create fake text conversations showing they understand the interventions for alcoholics.
  • FlipSnack may be an another awesome presentation tool for my eighth graders. I’m considering having students use this tool for their final American Revolution project.
  • ThingLink allows students to add tags to their own digital photos or photos of their choice. Again, my psychology guinea pigs tested this out for me by tagging a photo with information about depressive disorder.
  • The Noun Project allows users to choose from hundreds of symbols to tell a story. I’m not 100% sure how to use it yet, but I’m considering having students create a visual representation of an essential question essay.

I heard tons of other great ideas, and it was awesome to join with my fellow tech-lovers in rejuvenating our passion for everything technology! What will they think of next?

Accountable Talk

During a recent professional development training, my local AEA representative provided my peers and me information about accountable talk (method for encouraging students to stay on task during discussion or collaborative work). Based on the videos and blogs out there, I think the idea has been around for awhile! Regardless, the idea was new to me! I’ve noticed that this year’s crop of students could use extra support when working with their peers, so I was happy to test out the process.

I worked with my instructional coach to review my lesson plan, and she visited my room to observe and videotape the lesson. (Check out the relevant clip HERE.) I tweaked the sentence starters a bit from what I’d heard in professional development:

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 2.37.11 PM

I think my favorite stem is “How does the text support your ideas?” I think it reinforces literacy and social studies skills as well as helps students support their claims. I thought my introduction of accountable talk went well, but it is an expectation I will need to revisit throughout the year to ensure students see the value of working effectively with their peers.

Therapy Session

My psychology class is pretty tough. I don’t want it to be, but the book is a high school level text and my students are in 8th grade. The concepts are abstract and totally new to all learners. I’ve been trying lots of new things this year to make the text and vocabulary more accessible to my students. My instructional coach sent some ideas from Learning in the Fast Lane, and there was one that I was easily adapted for psychology….

Learning in the Fast Lane recommended having students act out vocabulary words to deepen their understanding. I transformed this into skits called “Therapy Sessions.” Students were assigned a partner and a vocabulary word (in this case, a psychological disorder). One studentpsych was the therapist and one was the patient. The students conducted the “therapy session,” giving clues to what their assigned disorder was. After the skit, the class guessed which disorder was being “treated” in the skit.

Kids LOVED this! I actually saw a girl skipping out of the room saying, “Psychology is the BEST!” I will absolutely continue to use this strategy. In fact, I think it will become a standard activity in psych class!

Sticky Sort and Ideas for Building Background

I had a good lesson today in social studies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Man, I love when that happens!

Essential Question: What was North America like before Europeans arrived?
Learning Target: I can recall background knowledge to enhance new learning.
  • I gave students a preference survey relating to various Native American culture areas:

culture areas survey


  • I discussed students’ survey results using this presentation (example slide):

(Active Engagement Bonus Points: “Raise your hand if you agree with…”)

Culture Areas PPT

  • I then passed out oodles of sticky notes. I instructed students to write one thing they know about American Indians on each note.Sticky Sort
  • After approximately five minutes of brainstorming, I instructed students to work in small groups, combine their stickies, and categorize their ideas. Students created categories such as food, resources, clothing, housing, and many more.
  • Finally, after discussing their categories and ideas in general, I assigned students a pretest so I could determine what lesson they need next.

I was BEYOND pleased with this lesson! First of all, I felt good about focusing the lesson with my essential question and learning target. I referenced each at the start of the lesson and many times throughout. Secondly, I utilized a legitimate collaboration technique (versus simply saying “Work together!” ….which I am wont to do). The energy in my room was infectious; the students were highly engaged in their work. Finally, I’m worthless at differentiation. The pretest is going to allow me to actually assign the next lesson based on students knowledge versus providing a homogenous activity. Another bonus point…I invited my instructional coach to observe this lesson! Yay me!

Toilet Paper and a Promise

I arrived at school at 7:00 a.m. today, the first day of the year for teachers. There was no toilet paper in either staff bathroom. I chose to go to the student bathroom, but there weren’t any lights on. The doors leading to the cafeteria where the kick-off would be hosted were closed formidably, blocking a dark hallway. Are we doing this thing today or not?!

These minutiae latched on to my preexisting crummy attitude and made me ill-prepared to laugh at the opening jokes and bask in the beauty of a fresh start. I told myself I would reassess my disposition at the end of the day, and it took me all eight hours to have an epiphany regarding the next 180 days. This is my Golden Year. Eight years of teaching eighth grade. I don’t remember my golden birthday because I turned four on the fourth way back in 1989, but this, a golden year of teaching, I promise to remember.pinky-swear

I promise to love the kids.
I promise to learn and implement new technologies.
I promise to be a positive, open-minded colleague.
I promise to create engaging, student-centered lessons.
I promise to bring snacks.
Today, I feel pretty ill-prepared to make good on these promises. What really matters on this first day is that I rekindled old relationships, met new friends, and was granted a glorious gift. 
The gift of a new school year, with every opportunity to make my dreams a reality.