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.

Exit Slip Dice Game

I’m a teaching genius. Fine, fine….not really. I’m actually just a teacher trying to keep my head abovec543072_s water with only a handful of days left in the school year! When I’m blessed with a strike of creative brilliance at this time of the year, I am doubly thankful!

The last couple of days, I’ve asked to students to write standard exit slips (okay…they weren’t necessarily standard because one was a “Tweet from Vicksburg” and one was an “Emancipation Proclamation newspaper headline.”), and I wanted to do something different today. I broke kids into small groups and provided each group with a die. Each group member had to roll the die and answer the associated question:

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 8.45.45 AM


Totally fun and totally new to my classroom! I was able to wander about the room and participate in group conversations quite easily as students were engaged in this active “game” more so than if I had each student report out their learning in a whip-around. Plus, I felt like this met the requirements of collaborative group work because each student had a role but also relied on others to complete the task! I will definitely keep this in my teacher tool bag!

An extension may be to have students write down their peers answers which would hold them accountable for listening. Students could use that information to write a paragraph summarizing the lesson (literacy connection!!!).

Games and Motivation

I was trolling the internet the other day and came across THIS article about Candy Crush. I’m new to the game, though I was immediately addicted when I started playing. I thought the article connected quite clearly to our psychology study focusing on motivation, so I decided to use it in class.

  • I showed THIS video to hook kids onto the topic.
    • After the video, I led a discussion regarding what games kids like to play and why they enjoying playing them.
  • Students then read the article either independently or with a classmate.
    • I asked them to jot down notes answering the question, “How does Candy Crush motivate players?”
  • Students shared out their notes and found things like…kids playing
    • Food is inherently motivating to humans. :-)
    • You never know when you will win.
    • You lose more often than you win.
    • The game is simple but challenging.
    • The game gets progressively harder.
    • The game only lets you play so much before forcing you to take a break. You can’t wait to come back for more!
    • Players believe they are in control of their strategy when really it is a game of luck.
  • I was able to connect these points to conditioning and motivation as students have learned in class.
  • Next, I showed students THIS video explaining why games are addicting to kids, which we discussed after viewing.
  • Finally, I asked students to email me three ways teachers could get kids addicted to school, based on what they learned throughout the lesson.
  • Examples from kids include…
    • One way you can get kids addicted to school is by having a reward process; such as having a day to have homework and tests, while another day is having fun and games to learn a new lesson.
    • The fist idea to get kids addicted to school is to reward them for the things we do or get good food during school.
    • Make it simple and to the point with no twists or turn.
    • One way you could get kids addicted to school is to do more fun things. Another way is reward kids for things. Last, schools can do more things to be associated with fun and happiness. 
    • More hands on work.

Kids were pretty clear that FUN is motivating! :-) In general, student take aways showed they understood the message about motivation. All students listed as least one way to make school addicting that was directly tied to the article/videos (some ideas were opinions instead of tied to the content). I was happy  to leave the textbooks on the shelf today, and use a relevant topic to get kids exited about the curriculum!

My Career in Data

Every year, receiving Iowa Assessment scores strikes terror into my heart. This year’s scores aren’t as awesome as I’d like them to be, but check out this graph that essentially documents my seven years of teaching*…..

MyScores07_14I’m comparing apples to oranges in this graph (different kids each year), so the graph doesn’t tell me much about individual student progress. It does tell me about the effect I’ve had on kids each year, and the upward trend in student scores is a relief to me. I’m also looking forward to doing an item analysis of the questions as that will allow me to compare students in my classroom to students throughout the state and country. I often say, “I’m not a data person” because there are so few normed assessments available for social studies. My intense desire to pour over these scores would serve as evidence that I apparently AM motivated by data though!

*The red line delineates the change from “Iowa Tests of Basic Skills” to “Iowa Assessments.”

Survivor :: Academic Review Game

I needed another game today, and luckily my creative juices were flowing because I couldn’t find anything online (I absolutely scour the internet to beg, borrow, and steal ideas!). I really like to keep my games original so that kids don’t get bored.Survivor

  • Divide students into desired number of teams (I did four today).
  • Provide each team with a personal white board and a marker.
  • Each team must send one representative to answer a question.
    • If a representative gets the question right, they earn their team one point.
    • If a representative gets the question wrong, they have to sit on the “Lost Island.”
  • The team with the most surviving members at the end of the game wins!

I got a classroom full of “thumbs up” for this game, and I thought my presentation (see HERE) was HILARIOUS!