The A-Z of Back to School for Teachers! (Part 1)

Hey…just me jumping on the Back to School Bandwagon…because suddenly in mid-July, BTS was ALL over the place…social media, store ads, TpT…everywhere! So I am entering the fray of the BTS Frenzy!

First off, I have a NEW PRODUCT ON TPT – Back to School Bingo! This is a fun activity I used with my students on the first day of school (I revised this for the first day after Fall Break, Christmas Break and Spring Break…those are coming soon!

CLICK HERE FOR BACK TO SCHOOL BINGO!

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 7.55.30 PMFirst BTS idea; a few weeks ago I uploaded my FIRST for-sale product to Teachers Pay Teachers!  I can’t think of a better way to start the school year than with PASSION PROJECTS!  What better way to start the year than engaging your students in working on a long-term project on something they love? Also, you can find out SO much about your new students by surveying or interviewing them on what their hobbies, interests, and passions are! I did not create this until I was out of the classroom and working with small groups of gifted students, but I would SO implement this in the first month of the school year! It could be your 80/20 project for the first half of the school year, or even the entire school year!

Hop on over to this product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store! And PLEASE, if you do purchase, I would appreciate some reviews on this in TpT.  If you don’t end up purchasing, please share the product on social media and with other teachers!

I had 25 back to school seasons in my career…and like many other teachers, got smarter each year and changed up how I started my school year to make it better, smoother, and less stressful for the students, their parents and ME!  So I now have an A-Z guide to help you, the amazing hard-working teacher, have a less stressful Back to School season!

First, and foremost, the amount of time you spend on routines and procedures should never be underestimated! Take it from me…during my first few years of teaching, I just barreled right into the curriculum and then paid for it later when I couldn’t understand why my students could not seem to know what to do to turn in assignments, find materials, sign-out for the bathroom, etc. By my final years in the classroom, I was spending a good WEEK on these routines and longer if necessary! I made sure to give them lots of reminders and visuals hanging in the classroom.

Second, the amount of time you spend on making your rules and expectations clear can also never be underestimated!  Those darn mistakes the first few years were not repeated again! I made sure the students understood my recognition system for doing the right thing and the consequences for not doing the right thing. More importantly, I made sure parents understood these expectations as well!

And…speaking of parents, there is no such thing as too much communication to parents!  Well, I guess there is common sense; parents don’t like being inundated every hour or day with texts and emails…but always err on the side of too much!

So…along about my third year, I finally got around to creating a beginning of the year packet for my students and parents. This packet had all the procedures, expectations, and information that I could think of…and I’m sure it was overwhelming to some students and parents, but it was my way of making sure I covered everything! I spent the first few weeks going over this packet and reiterating things…and made up daily review games that allowed students to win homework passes (these passes could be used to get out of homework on certain evenings! I also sent home the packet and had both students and parents initial each section. Here are the items I included in my packet…did it in A-Z style!

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 Afternoon Clubs: My teammates and I used to set aside one after-school day a week where students could stay and get extra help on ANYTHING they needed…homework, projects, math and reading skills, etc. We made sure parents knew they were staying and had a way to get home after the club.

 Bonus Points: These were my “digital badges” before I knew what digital badges were.  I gave bonus points for various things…keeping up with their planner, typing assignments (which was still a novel/optional thing back in the 90’s), prizes in games, etc. These would go into the grade book and could jump their grade up slightly!

Current Events: This was an activity I did all year…and I think one of the best things I ever did as a teacher! I created a schedule of when each student would present a current event they found in the newspaper or a magazine (now I would be using Newsela for this!) and do a recap of the article for the class. I gave them guidelines for what was needed to be included in the presentation; I can’t remember them right now but will try to find the handout. Some days, the article was so interesting or debatable that we ended up discussing it for over an hour and I had to adjust my schedule! 

 

Daytimers: These were the planners students were required to have. Our school sold them, but students could purchase their own as well. At the end of the school day, I would take 5-10 minutes to talk about the homework expected of the class. I wrote it out on a template on the overhead (ugh – the 90’s!) and they were expected to show the daytimer daily to their parents and get initials each day.

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Expectations: Here was my list ( I realize these are from 20 years ago and many things have changed in schools!)

  1. Respect all people and property in the classroom.
  2. Use quiet voices during work time.
  3. Raise your hand to speak during class discussions (this didn’t always happen during our heated currents events debates!)
  4. Wait for a speaker to finish speaking before raising your hand to comment.
  5. Use a polite listening position when someone else is speaking.
  6. The class will walk quietly in a straight line through the halls when going to Specials and other events (this was a school-wide expectation).
  7. School supplies will be used only for the purpose they were intended (this came about after a student bored a hole in his desk with the sharp point in his compass!)
  8. Use the Sign Out Sheet if you need to leave the classroom for any reason.
  9. 9. Try to use the restroom as little as possible during the school day and not during a lesson or presentation (this was because I had sometimes had serial bathroom goers!).
  10. Please chew your gum in places other than this classroom and school.

FImage result for F gifriday Folders: The parent’s best friend and a school-wide expectation (at the most recent schools I worked at, it had been changed to Thursday folders and most of the info is on the school website). These folders came home every Friday and contained student work, school announcements, flyers from outside organizations, and a sheet with my comments about the students’ week and a place for parents to initial and make comments. I used to “love” when a folder came back on Monday with no initials and the entire contents still in it!

Image result for G gifGrades: This, of course, is where I would explain my grading police that our school district used.

 

 

Image result for H gifHow am I doing? Before the age of parent portals, where parents can log in and see grades for their student on a weekly basis, I would have the option for students to fill out a 1/2 sheet on what was their current grades in all subjects. If students took this home, filled it out and returned, they received Bonus Points. Some students did it all the time (many were expected by their parents to do so) and some never did. But the option was there!

Image result for I gifIllness:  In this section, I explained how student needed to take ownership of finding out about work missed while they were absent. I had a 1/2 sheet form called “We Missed You!” which let the student know what they missed that day.

So that’s it for Part 1 of my A-Z packet! Tune in next week for Part 2! In the meantime, BEST OF LUCK GETTING YOUR SCHOOL STARTED! REMEMBER, I AM HERE TO HELP YOU!

 

 

Implementing Passion Projects in Your Classroom!

8445357129_cb73fe70ab_oWhat’s YOUR passion? We all have at least one, and many of us have more! As a teacher, it’s our job to help our students find theirs! Read on for a way to make that happen in YOUR classroom or with your small group!

Just like many other teachers, I can say for certain that I made many mistakes during my career. However, I can also say that there are some things that I did right, and they were INCREDIBLY RIGHT! Implementing Passion Projects with my students was one of them!

A passion project is just what it says…a project based on a student’s passion! The idea comes from Google’s Genius Hour concept: all of Google’s employees are allowed to use 20% of their workday on their own personal projects. Many schools and teachers have now embraced the idea of letting students work on their passions for part of the school day; many of them call it their 80/20 time (check out this great article from Edutopia on implementing 80/20 project time.)8485655331_a082a959ca_z

I first used Passion Projects back in the 2013-2014 school year while working as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator in the Douglas County School District in Colorado. My district (then being run by corporate reformers), was pushing personalized learning, among many other things.  There is nothing inherently wrong about personalized learning, it’s just hard to implement when you have a classroom of around 30 kids in elementary or 150 for a secondary teacher.  However, it was somewhat manageable with my gifted students, especially since I created a learning plan for each of them.  My students had so many interests and hobbies, both in school and out, and I wanted to take their passions and let them work on a project about them. After hearing about Genius Hour…my Passion Project Unit was born!

I continued to do these projects over the next four years with my students…but this is NOT just for Gifted students…this idea can be used with ALL students of any age! I have since retired, but I still have teachers at my former school using my materials to help students find their passions and share with others! 5862444402_6bce17f53d_o I have also presented on these projects at this year’s Denver Comic Con and will be presenting in October at the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented Conference in October! 

Throughout the four years of having my students do these projects, I was constantly amazed at the hidden passions they had, and their teachers and fellow students would never have known if they had not been able to work on these projects!  Topics ranged from “How do you fly a 757 Boeing jet” to “How can I create an app for middle school?”

Of course, with some students, it took more conferring and digging into their personal lives to find out what they were truly passionate about. Some, at first, even said they did not have a passion! Eventually, however, all were able to find something they loved working on or creating. This was an inquiry project; students always had to come up with an essential question to guide them in their research. The other non-negotiable was that they had to share them in some way…either on our school-wide presentation day, set up similar to a science fair, or on safe social media, or another way of their choosing.  Most chose to present in person, as they wanted a chance to show off their accomplishments. There’s a link in the project with photos of all the fantastic ways my students chose to present! (Preview below!)

 

 

In this product, you will have the steps and information you need to:

  • Help your students find their passions and get your students started on these projects!
  • Choose the essential question
  • Research the topic/question
  • Find experts for students to interview
  • Prepare students to present

I am also available to work with any teacher or school who would like to implement these projects; check out my consulting information HERE!

HERE IS THE LINK to access the product on Teachers Pay Teachers! 

If you end up using these projects in your classrooms, PLEASE let me know and send photos! If you have your own ideas or suggestions for implementing projects like these, comment below!  These projects have been the highlight of my teaching career, and I hope they will be for you too!

Until next time…Follow Your Passion!