No Lamination Machine? A More Affordable Solution

Last week, in my grade 10 class, we started our unit on functions and relations.

My students aren’t the strongest math students. Even if a concept was covered last year, they often can’t recall some of the key components from the unit. While I know it was covered in the Grade 9 curriculum, they looked confused if I asked them what they remembered.

Since we’ve only started the topic, I wanted a hands-on activity to help them reinforce the differences between relations and functions. This card sort activity comes from Kim Hughly of Math Tales from the Spring. There are 12 pictures that can be sorted either into functions or non-functions.

While my students will complete the activity in their INB, I decided I wanted some classroom sets for practice.

I have been debating whether or not to get a lamination machine, but decided against it when a colleague recommended a cheaper solution: clear contact paper! It is sometimes called kitchen shelf liner and comes in all sorts of pretty patterns. I managed to find some transparent shelf liner by Contact Brand at Canadian Tire. I had picked it up over the summer but didn’t try it out until now.

It worked well! Since it’s sticky on one side, I placed all my cards onto the sticky side, cut another piece and laid it on top. I sat on the floor and laminated while watching Netflix (yes, this is really how teachers spend their evenings).

Photo 2015-09-29, 6 17 01 PMOf course, I did one more thing to make sure my sets stayed organized.

Last year, when I laminated my cards and got them mixed up, it drove me nuts to try to resort them. Come to think of it, I think I left the cards all mixed up …

Anyway, I got some coloured coding labels and put them on the back. I’d like to give credit to the teacher that I learned this from, but I can’t remember!
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Here’s the finished product! I only made four sets as I only had four colours. I bagged everything in Ziplock bags, labeled exactly how many cards there were in each set – otherwise, they will disappear – and will be using them later this week!

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Getting Students Caught Up: Tech Solutions

A few students missed yesterday’s class, when we were filling out our Frayer models on relations and functions. Defining important math vocabulary is pretty important, so I wanted to make sure that they had their notes completed.

Now, when there is a lot going on in the classroom, trying to handle kids at different stages of a process can be tough. I used to run back and forth, giving two sets of instructions, but it got very tiring. It also doesn’t help that they become very dependent on your verbal instructions either! When I’m not there to tell them the next step, sometimes my students will sit there, start checking their cellphones or just waste time.

So I thought about it: how I could get them to work independently while I helped others?

Here was my solution: Edmodo.

This morning, I typed in the instructions and tagged a private post for those specifically to those who needed to get caught up. The only instruction that I gave was, “Log into Edmodo and bring your notebook” and then they’d follow the rest of the instructions on the site:

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It worked marvellously! The students got all their work done – there were three of them – and they were focused and quiet. They were able to fill out their Frayer models on relations and functions while I walked around and help others on another task.

I also ask students to write a comment and confirm that they completed the task. When I log into Edmodo later in the day, I see a notification at the top of the page – set up similarly to Facebook – and I know that that’s one more thing crossed off the list!

How do you get kids caught up? Have you used Edmodo in a similar manner?

End of the Honeymoon

It’s been 6 weeks into the school year. The honeymoon season is over and some of the cracks are starting to show.

Some of my students have fallen into the habit of skipping my last period, others have locked themselves out of Class Messenger and won’t reset their passwords and I’ve had to call parents of a few kids who are abusing the privilege of using their electronic devices during class time.

But this is completely normal. Your plans are never perfect despite all the preparations you make. Life in the classroom goes on.

Overall, things are great. Some of my newer students from outside the community have started making friends and are integrating well. Class Messenger is still a successful tool; when I send out a reminder of the upcoming day at 8:30 am, a few will reply if they know they’re coming late. And despite some issues with cellphones, encouraging kids to bring their cellphones and iPods means that there are always headphones available when we need to go on the computer lab and catch up on our math lesson online.

Basic school supplies are always available to us, as long as the stock room is full, without having to dip into our individual class budgets. At any time, I can ask for paper, pencils, erasers, notebooks, markers and chalk. For any teacher working with INBs, you are often surprised to see how quickly the gluesticks run out so it’s important I always have extra boxes in the back cupboard. On top of that, scissors constantly disappear.

We had a professional development day on Friday, so I made sure to stock up on stuff. I got a dozen pair of new scissors, so to make sure everyone knows they belong to my classroom, I use a quick swipe of nail polish.

The rest of Friday was spent writing anecdotal reports by hand, in preparation for the upcoming parent’s night on Thursday, so the afternoon disappeared quite quickly.

Nothing much else to report, other than I have to get rid of a stack of marking on the weekend and make another Test Flashback for my math tests!

Video Series: PBS Math Club

Over the past two days, both the Sec 4 and Sec 5 students have been reviewing integers. Yesterday, we learned how to add integers and today, we spent a good amount of time discussing how subtract positive and negative integers.

About 60% of the students were able to master both concepts fairly well by the end of class. I have to say that’s pretty good, considering our periods are only 50 minutes! I used dual coloured foam chips; we use red for negative and white for positive.

I model how I subtract or add on the Smartboard with this convenient website from McGraw Hill. I walk around and ask students to do it themselves. Some of them get confused at first because they’re reluctant to participate, but I model how I count – touching a “zero sum” with two fingers and saying “zero” – with my hands. Once they start doing it, the gears start turing and they get their “aha” moments.

Of course, adding integers with chips is easy.

But how the heck do you subtract 7 from -2? You start with two red chips and then …?

I won’t go into a lengthy explanation. This video below explains it pretty well:

It just felt great to see the kids really eating up the math!

At the end of the day, I dug around YouTube to see if I could spice up my lesson a bit and came across this lovely gem, PBS Math Club! They’re not cheesy or lame; on the contrary, the series is professionally done and the actors and actresses are pretty hip young teenagers who can hold their own. Check it out! There’s a pretty good definitely of adding and subtracting positive and negative, using an analogy of how much good and evil is happening in the city of Gotham!

I will have to play this tomorrow in class before we practice our skills with Integer Wars. The kids are really gonna get a kick out of this!

*It’s especially important for Second Language Learners to watch videos with closed captioning where possible. I myself watched a lot of Frasier as a teenager and learned a lot of good words that way!

Choosing a Good Education Tool

For the past two years, I’ve been using Edmodo as my digital home page. It’s been a great launch pad when I want students to do a quiz, go to a website, check out a diagram or give me a short written response.

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I’ve heard teachers say that Edmodo doesn’t work and it saddens me when a teacher tosses out a great device because they don’t know how to use it.

All the education apps, sometimes known as #edtech, I’ve seen advertised on blogs, teaching magazines and social media are popular and out there for a reason. Education apps won’t survive today’s competitive market if they aren’t well designed, versatile and adaptive. Think of it this way, a good carpenter would never blame a hammer for what it can’t do; an effective tech-savvy teacher takes time to test out a variety of BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) tools and focuses his/her energy on which is the best tool and what it can do depending on his/her classroom needs. Many school boards in Canada, such as the Peel District SchoolBoard, now have policies around BYOD and see blended learning as a necessity to developing strong students.

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The bottom line is, becoming tech-savvy and getting your kids to love your apps ain’t easy.

You can’t get a firm grasp of education tools if you’re not willing to put some time and effort into it. But being busy isn’t a good excuse; it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to find a YouTube tutorial or a post on a teaching blog explaining all the pros and cons or how to navigate Class Dojo or figure out how to turn Quizlet flashcards into literacy games.

If you’re just starting out, here are some important questions to ask when you choose an #edtech tool:

  • How accessible is it? Is there set up for desktops, accessible through the web or best used through an app?
  • Is it free? How much does a single user license cost? A school-wide license?
  • Which OS is it available?
  • How effectively can I roll out this tool? How will I introduce it? What strategies can I use to help my students to effectively use this site / app?
  • Does the site / app give opportunities for collaboration? (i.e. editing document together, developing discussions)
  • Am I familiar with the all the options that are available on the site? Did I spend time researching it?
  • How tech-savvy are my students? How friendly is the user interface (UI)?*
  • How do other teachers use it? Are there YouTube tutorials / blog posts about its effectiveness?
  • Are similar tools available? Which is better for my classroom (e.g. comparing Schoology and Edmodo)**
  • For BYOD tools, will a student without a cellphone still be able to access it from a desktop computer?**
  • What languages are available on it? Are translation tools available?***
  • How much bandwidth does it require? Does it load easily in the classroom?****

And smart developers know that teachers are their customers and ask themselves these questions when creating a good educational app.

But ultimately, the end user is always the student.

They are our main customers. They might vary from city to city, culture to culture, but most teachers quickly realize that our customers are pretty darn picky! While educators might choose tools based on how well we like it – we tend to focus on file management or how easily we can track our students progress – the biggest goal is to choose it based on how receptive our students are.

So far, I’ve been very, very careful about choosing my #edtech tools. I go through all the considerations I’ve mentioned above and read several reviews from other teachers before I decide to introduce it into my classroom. Not a single one of my choices have ever been rejected, but it often takes a month or so before students get comfortable with it and are able to navigate it on their own.

For example, many students were hesitant to install Class Messenger this year. They were comfortable with getting text messages from me through, but did not like the idea of a new app they had never seen before. I had to use several strategies to “sell” it, including using my own data to have students download it in class, but after 3 weeks, many of the kids saw how much more superior Class Messenger was to and any stragglers who didn’t have access to it were asking me how they could join the club. It’s worked well for our school because we have many kids without cellphones; if they only had an iPod, they were still able to be included on the updates when they connected to their wireless internet at home. Therefore, I was able to fill the needs for my students since I took the chance to try something new. And believe me, even I was initially hesitant until I put the time and effort into discovering a new app!

So while Edmodo has been working well for my students the past two years, most of my kids are starting to get tired of it. I’m working with older students – Grade 10s and 11s – they need an interface that allows them to create documents (i.e. Word, Powerpoint) and access them more easily. Edmodo can’t do that, but Google Classroom can! And since my students’ needs are changing, what better time than now?

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Of course, I only purchased the domain tonight and just started playing around with it. It’s eaten up a good 2-3 hours of my day already, so I’ll have to write more once I get this rolling. Learning about new BYOD tools is always a process with ups and downs. It will take a few months for my students and I to get the hang of it, but since I’ve heard so much from other teachers, I can’t wait to try it. It’ll be interesting to see how Google Classroom will impact my classroom in my 3rd year of teaching!

Which education tools do you use in your classroom? How do you choose a good app?

Have you looked at the #edtech hashtag on Twitter to learn more about educational tools?

Would you like to learn more about BYOD in the classroom?

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*Some UIs are designed to be similar to other social media platforms. For example, Edmodo has a similar set-up to Facebook.

**Kids don’t have Twitter? Put everyone on Today’s Meet. Want to review photosynthesis on Socrative? There’s still a desktop version available.

***An important factor to note if you work with Second Language Learners.

****I would love to use Classcraft, a classroom management tool, but the bandwidth in our school isn’t strong enough for it.

Breaking It Up: Circle Games

For the last two years, I was teaching out of the science lab upstairs. It was a very rigid set up because I could not move the lab benches if we wanted to change up the setting of the classroom.

So I was absolutely elated when I got a regular classroom this year. Now, by training, I’m an elementary teacher and while I work with high school students – specifically Grade 10s and 11s – every once in a while, I like to play games in my class. Especially circle games.

Circle games are a fantastic way to “break it up”. My 11s had spent the 5th period writing their first math test and were feeling a bit stiff. So after we did a quick note in 6th – reviewing the metric system and how to convert between the units – we pushed aside the tables and gathered together.

We did two activities:

  1. Writing observations: Every student was equipped with a whiteboard and a marker. They were also given a card with a North American animal, such as harlequin duck and nighthawk. Yesterday, we had talked about what it means to write observations, one of the 6 steps in the scientific method. How can we describe our observations? We can use our five senses and describe objects in size, shape, colour or form. We can also describe patterns of behaviour. Each student was given the opportunity to write a description of that animal, without using the actual name. I had a snapping turtle; I describe my animal as a reptile that lives in the water, is grey and eats fish and frogs. When they finished their description, they passed it to their “elbow partner” on their right. Their peer had to guess what the animal was. Then they had to discuss whether the description was adequate and what could be improved. There were a few students who wrote one word; others that gave a fantastic description. The board was passed back and repeated with the “elbow partner” on the left. At a quick glance, walking through the circle, I can access who understood the objective of the lesson.
  2. Riding the Bus: For the last ten minutes, we played a game that had nothing to do with curriculum (gasp). “Riding the Bus” is one of my favourite games that I learned from Tribes training*. Arrange the chairs in a circle. Pull one chair out and have one person stand in the middle. Start the sentence, “I’m riding the bus with someone who is … ” and finish the sentence with a descriptor (i.e. wearing glasses, dyed their hair). Whoever fits the description has to get up and find a new chair. The person who is left standing has to choose a new descriptor. Everyone was laughing. I also had a few sentence targeted at me, “I’m riding the bus withs someone who is over 30”, “who is wearing a watch” and “who is Asian”. Ha! I used phrases that included a large part of the group or everyone; “I’m riding the bus withs someone who is in Sec 5”, “who is wearing socks”, “wearing something black”. We had a lot of smiles and laughter.

Why sit in a circle? Why play circle games?

  • Everyone is an equal: Even the teacher sits with the student. This makes everyone feel that they’re all part of the group.
  • De-stress: It’s important to let everyone laugh and smile. Writing a test and going through 6 periods a day doing work is stressful!
  • Teamwork: Gives a chance for different kids to mix and intermingle. They are forced to talk to each other. BWAHAHAHAHA!
  • Physical movement: Moving around is important. The act of getting the body in motion is a great way to get some good hormones going!

On average, with each of my classes, I play at least 2 circle games a week. Usually they are math games but I want to make sure I have a good balance between both my math and science classes. My kids trust me and they know they have fun with me. I don’t have any teenagers sneering and saying that they’re too cool not to participate at all. Yes, it does take 5 minutes to rearrange the furniture and it does take time to clean-up. But my kids work together and it is great for the work ethic! And psssttttt, if you’re not caught up with today’s edubabble, “movable classrooms” are in! Lots of reasons to switch things up in the classroom!

Have you played circle games in your classroom? Is it something you would try?

*In the manual, it goes by a different name, but I’m not sure what it is.

Teacher Gadgets: Tab Punch from We R Memory Keepers

Finally got my We R Memory Keepers tab punch in the mail today! It was a REALLY difficult find.*

The last week I was in Toronto for the summer, I drove to Michael’s and Staples. I called Scholar’s Choice and the lady on the phone had nooooo idea what I was talking about! While I have not taken up scrapbooking, I wanted this tab punch so that I could be able to flip through my interactive notebook easily.

Eventually, after reaching out to other Ontario teachers online, someone pointed me to Class Act, a shop in Oshawa. The owner helped me set up the order, gave me an estimate and mailed it to me in the north.

I love it! It’s so easily to use! It’s fabulous and perfect for my INBs! The punch itself cost $21 and the stickers are $6/12 pieces. Pretty pricey, which reminds me of labelmakers; the gadget is affordable but the refills are expensive! Normally, I wouldn’t justify spending this much for a mere tab on the side of a notebook, but after two full years of hard work – mind you, after already burning out from teaching once – I felt I deserve a little reward.

Plus staying organized should be fashionable!

*Yes, Amazon does sell this product, but where I work, we no longer are able to receive free shipping.