Wednesday, September 26, 2012

First Year Stories: Meeting Expectations to Meeting in the Middle

As a teacher, you are always meeting someone else's expectations.  The expectations of your school, the administration, your coworkers, the students, the parents - the pressure is enough to bring on an anxiety attack.  And you have your own expectations as well - expectations for how your class will be run, how your students will behave, and how well your students will do in your class.  And you have expectations for yourself - you expect to be completely prepared for all of your lessons, you expect you can handle difficult situations with parents, students, and staff with dignity and grace.  And yet there are times (and there will be many of them) in which these expectations will not be met.

I realized that I run a very tight ship in my classroom.  My students come in, and I already have them with their planners out recording homework and their notebooks out recording today's objective and Do Now.  My morning classes greet these expectations by being very quiet.  There will be some chatting going on, but it's subdued and will usually stop when I come to see how much writing they've done in their notebooks.  To me, a quiet classroom is one I can control, and I feel my morning classes run very smoothly.

My afternoon classes are another story.  My first afternoon class comes in like a whirlwind - they need to chat with each other before they sit down.  They need to chat while they are working.  And recently, they felt the need to chat when I've been teaching.  That certainly did not meet my expectations, and I convinced myself that there was a big issue with this class.  I tried every trick up my sleeve - discipline ladders, rewarding the whole class should they not chat while I am teaching with a series of strikes.  Yet, nothing really seemed to work, and I found myself going to my coworkers with fear of losing control of my class.

My coworker had a prep during one of my afternoon classes, so she said she would peek in to see how it was going.  And after she did, she told me something I didn't expect to hear: "Your afternoon class is supposed to be like that!"  "But," I kept telling myself, "My morning classes aren't...why should this afternoon class behave so differently?"

I talked to my other 7th grade team members, and found they were having similar issues as well in terms of chatting and literal hyper activity in their afternoon classes.  My coworkers helped me see the bigger picture: they're coming off from lunch and their fine arts classes, where structure is minimal.  Then, they come to my class, where I expect them to be quiet and they just can't - they have too much pent up energy from the past two periods.  I realized at that point that it was my turn to change my expectations, instead of expecting others to rise to mine.  I set more concrete rules for when students would be disciplined, not something vague like "being loud" which I had before, but more like, "you will not chat while you are supposed to be taking notes."  I also practiced being calmer, and instead of constantly calling them back to attention with my countdown (which I only have to do once or twice with my other classes), I would stand there and wait and say, "we'll start this lab when you're ready" in a low voice.  I realized they're excited for my class and for science because they get to "do labs" - even in they're not 100% what that entails just yet, so they would quiet down pretty quickly.

Basically, the moral of this "first year story" is that sometimes you need to adapt and change your expectations.  Once I met my afternoon classes in the middle, I found myself enjoying them more.  And now that we are in the 4th week of school, I find they have also settled into my routine.  I opened my ears and my eyes to other classrooms as well, and watched as the 7th graders took forever to settle down, would run into the classroom and make a scene, or would have the absolute hardest time staying in their seats.  Moving forward, I realize that I need to not only adjust my expectations, but my teaching styles as well to fit the energy within this class.  My Do Nows need to be more concrete so they become settled quicker (a worksheet they will turn in for a grade instead of an open ended question in their notebooks) and I need to embrace the noise and the energy and realize a loud class is not a class I don't have control over.  That is not to say I need to throw away my expectations, and my students still need to know that they cannot chat while I am teaching and cannot be too loud or rambunctious during laboratory activities or experiments.

I feel that as a "first year teacher," there are so many things I was never told and a multitude of lessons I was never taught in school.  The hardest part about being a teacher is that although you are constantly surrounded by people, the profession can sometimes feel so lonely.  It is only you in that classroom, and you have no idea what is going on with other classrooms or other teachers when you are concerned only with what is going on within your four walls.  Sharing my story with other teachers helped me overcome my issues, and I hope it will help other teachers, be they first year teachers or veteran teachers, as well.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tips for Making Review Time Interesting!

When I was in school, I always dreaded the day before the test.  Not because the test itself was approaching, but because I knew I would have to sit there and complete a study guide, which was pointless when I had been studying for the test all week.  I appreciated my teacher's efforts to let me know what was going to be on the test, but regardless I still hated sitting through students asking the same questions over and over and being assigned busy work to help me review for the test.

My cooperating teacher had a lot of great ideas for review games, especially in Math.  The day before a test, I would have my students play games like "Hands Off!" and "Face Off!"  The kids enjoyed these games because they were a creative, fast paced way to practice review problems.  Rather than have my kids work on problems independently, I had them working in teams, using the blackboard (which kids love to do, really), and tackling problems that were on their level.

The school I am working in now loves technology.  There are SmartBoards in almost every classroom, and this year every staff member was given their own MacBook Pro in order to help us prepare for when every student at the high school will receive his or her own MacBook within the next 1 or 2 years.  I wanted to make the most of my 2 months here by immersing myself in technology.  The information on technology and applications and software for teachers is overwhelming, and this summer I found myself getting lost going from blog to blog as I read what other teachers were doing with the SmartBoards in their classroom.  During my search, I found this wonderful site that teachers have used to create review games for their students.  These games allow teachers to go over the necessary material, yet the students are actively involved.  You can have students work independently or in teams to solve problems and answer questions.  The games will keep track of your score, so you can reward students who did the best (on a side note, I knew a teacher that would give 10 extra credit points to the team that scored the highest during a review game.  As we know, many of these games have a large element of chance, and I would never recommend awarding points to boost a student's test grade and give them an unfair edge over others.  Being able to pick a song to listen to at the end of the day is a nice reward though).

I wanted to take the time to review these games, as I have already made one of them.  If you don't have a SmartBoard, do not fret - you can still play these games with a computer attached to a projector (just control everything from your computer).  You could also create similar games in PowerPoint.

I do have to add a small disclaimer for this site.  There's an option where you can download the game, but to do that you need to sign up for a subscription.  I registered my email address, but then it went to another page where it asked me for my credit card information.  I never put it in because I didn't want this company to have my credit card number (even though downloading the games comes with a 30 day free trial), but for a few days I had a $1 pending charge on my credit card from this company.  My credit card is fine, but if this makes you nervous, I would suggest not using this site, and certainly not giving them your email address.  Make these games on a work computer and not one with your personal information on it.  I hate that this site does this, because my students have had a wonderful time playing these review games.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Complete with the sound effects from the actual game show, this game allows the teacher to create multiple choice review questions.  If students have their own laptops, you can assign students to answer each question independently and see who can reach the $1 million mark first.  When I did it with my class, I had them split into groups of 4 or 5 people each.   However, because the game just keeps going from question to question (as if 1 person was playing it) I challenged each of my 5 sections to see if they could earn the most amount of money.  So, not only were they working in a small group to come up with answers to these questions, they were supporting each other on a whole class level as well.

This is a great review game for open ended questions.  This game is good for a small group setting, and you can keep other groups involved by reminding them that any wrong answers can be answered by other groups.  The game keeps track of the teams' scores so you can just worry about moderating the game.  Plus, you can create final jeopardy at the end, with each group wagering how many points they want to risk on getting the right answer.

Speed Match Quiz Game
This game would be best for independent review. I would probably use it as a center for my middle students who need some extra review, but don't need my instruction for it.  This game times students as they match terms to a question.  If you know all of your students have computers at home, I would send this review game home for homework and ask students to write down how quickly they solved the quiz.

Board Review Game
This is another game which could be used as a center for 5 or 6 students to review the material.  The thing I like most about this game is the way you can differentiate it.  Just like with the speed match quiz game, you can make three different types of games - one for your high, one for your mid, and one for your low students.  This way, students are being challenged appropriately.  You can also play this on a whole class level as well, with the class grouped into 5 or 6 teams.

This site also has a few classroom management tools as well, such as a random name generator you can use instead of popsicle sticks and a group making tool so you can quickly and easily group students for these review games or centers.  I can see myself using this site often, especially the jeopardy and who wants to be a millionaire games, to help my students master terms and definitions as well as review for any upcoming tests.  Let me know if you try these games out for yourself and tell me what you think!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Garlic Chicken Pesto Pizza

I've been on this kick lately in which I've been actually making dinner for you all.  If you take a look at my recipe box, I'm pretty sure it is about 80% dessert recipes.  However, in the past week I have made 3 different dinner recipes.  I've made pizza before, but when I made it last year I had made individual pizzas on the grill.  This time, we decided to make it in the oven.  Including the time it took to make the dough and the pesto, the whole process took about an hour (with help, of course).  Plus, I was able to save about half of the dough to make another pizza later (or to make both at once).

I had been waiting to make this pizza for a long time.  Waiting for the basil plants to grow tall enough, waiting for there to be leftover chicken.  This pizza was definitely worth the wait.  This is also another really great recipe to have on hand during the school year, since you can make the pizza dough over the weekend, freeze it, and then leave it in the refrigerator during the day to defrost.  Then you can come home, preheat your oven, top your pizza, and dinner will be ready in about 30 minutes.  Now that I'm teaching, easy weeknight meals are clutch to have around :)

This dough is for a thin crust pizza, so you can either bake it right away, or let the dough rest and rise for a couple of hours to get a thicker crust pizza.  I made it both ways and both ways were very enjoyable.

Have fun with this recipe!  Have everyone in your family make their own mini pizza.  Or put all of your favorite toppings on one pizza and see how it comes out.  The only thing that needs to stay the same is you need to put your cheese on at the very end and let it bake for about 3 minutes.  The cheese will scorch before the dough is cooked if you put everything on at once.

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

Garlic Chicken Pesto Pizza 
Makes about 3 pies, depending on the size of your pan

For the pizza dough
- 1 ½ c water, lukewarm
- 2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (1, ¼ oz packet)
- 4 ½ c flour
- 1 tsp salt
For the toppings
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 c pesto
- 1 1/2 c cooked chicken, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 500F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick foil.

Pour packet of active dry yeast into lukewarm water and whisk with a fork until the yeast is dissolved.  Let sit for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast. 

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl and form a well in the center of the flour.  Pour the water into the well and, using your hands or a dough hook on an electric mixer (not a beater!), mix the flour and the water together.  When combined, transfer half of the dough to a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, not sticky.  Repeat with the second half.  (Note: at this point, you can let the dough rise for a couple of hours in a cool, dry place, or you can let it rise in the oven while it bakes). 

Take one ball of dough and place it in your baking sheet.  Press the dough down and stretch it out until it fills the pan.  Brush olive oil over the dough.  Spoon your pesto sauce into the center of the dough and spread until it is about ½ in from the edge of the dough.  Pile on the chicken.

Bake the pizza for about 5 minutes and then rotate your pizza 180 degrees.  Bake for another 3 minutes, sprinkle the cheese and garlic on top, and bake for an additional 2 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.   Let cool for about 5 minutes and then serve.  

Dough can be stored in a plastic bag in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer.

Dough adapted from: The Kitchn