Tuesday, March 10, 2015


It's been a while since I last posted, but I felt compelled, given the current state of education in Arizona, to share how I'm reacting to the multitude of challenges we face.

Friday was a full moon, the day before spring break, and the last day of benchmark testing. We had just learned we are going to a four day week next year and one of our elementary schools is closing. Kids were not in the mood to be testing and many tried less than we would hope. I heard many teachers express frustration, defeat. We were all feeling a little unappreciated.

And then in the middle of the night, Governor Ducey and our state legislature passed a devastating budget that cuts our district's budget by an additional $600,000 (on top of the $2.7 million deficit we already face due to our override not passing). The budget also cuts 100% of funding to community colleges and many cuts to our state universities. In short, we pro-education, pro-child people felt defeated. My husband and I spent all day Saturday reeling with anger or crushed with sadness. I wanted to jump into action, but where do we begin?

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In addition to raising my voice and expressing my opinions to those in government and doing my part to help my district and students prepare for next year's changes, I have an immediate plan to boost my own mood.

I am going to rock in my classroom. I am going to go back after spring break with some engaging, amazing activities for my kids. My alt-ed junior high students are not in the school mode this time of year, so I need to hook them back in. No matter what's going on outside my classroom, I owe it to my kids to be the best I can be. Remember - we make the weather in the classroom. If the kids are acting frustrating, we are the ones with the power to change it.

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I'm going to get my kids' butts out of their seats and their heads back in the game. We're going to do a gallery walk instead of just sitting down to read texts. Instead of a worksheet, we're going to do Think Dots (a strategy where students roll dice to determine which questions they will discuss from a set of cards I give them on a ring). Instead of writing down vocabulary definitions, kids will choose between making digital or actual flashcards and then play a card game in which they match definitions, words, and examples*.

I'm going to have kids collaborate and make choices. I'm going to hold them accountable and make sure they all learn. I'm going to differentiate, engage, and mix it up. Will it be more prep? Yes. Will it be worth it? Yes. In the past, when I've spent more time preparing for engaging lessons, I've seen that the kids and I are happier. They learn more, perform better on formative assessments, and can move on more quickly. Sometimes my ideas flop, but that's ok. My kids know we're in this together and we all make mistakes. What matters is that my kids will see that I am trying, that I have a positive attitude, that I believe they can achieve.
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How are you going to kick butt in your classroom next week? Please comment below! We all learn together.
*I learned about Triplets and Think Dots from Dr. Nanci Smith at the AZ K12 Center. She's amazing. The K12 Center is amazing. I highly recommend checking them out.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Teaching Boys

For the last five years, I've taught mostly boys. I'm also the only woman in the house at home. Here's a few things I've learned about the male species during youth, how they learn, and what helps them thrive. These tips can work great for girls, too. I may be stereotyping a little, but I do see differences between the two genders, so forgive me.

Drink water. When girls are upset, we cry. Boys are told that's not ok (which I totally disagree with), but they still need the release. A big glass of water can go a long way with a boy who is frustrated or emotional.

Time. Another thing boys need when they are upset is a cooling off period. We women can't expect boys/sons/students or grown men/husbands to be ready to talk about it right away. They need time and we need to back off.

Different perceptions. This is tough, but in the real world, boys are judged harshly. I teach my boys that even if a girl gets in your face and yells at you, if you yell back, you're more likely to be the one to get in trouble. It isn't right, but boys are judged more harshly for things like this. They are more likely to get in trouble, drop out, get arrested, etc. They need to know that they will be seen through this societal lens that presumes male guilt and be careful to avoid trouble.

Stay calm. When they mess up, stay calm. Let them know you care about what they are feeling. Yelling at them will only make them react with more frustration. This is easier said than done and goes for boys and girls.

Listen. The stereotype may be that girls talk more, but that doesn't mean boys don't need someone to listen, too. The difference here is that boys especially need to know they will not be judged before the vent and they often don't want to do it in front of a crowd. Allowing for a little one-on-one time between classes or pulling a boy aside can help them open up a lot. Also, validating their feelings by saying things like "no wonder you're frustrated with all that going on" makes them feel more comfortable.

Be up front. This goes with listening. Boys want to know what's going to happen. Will you tell my mom if...? Tell them right away what you have to report and what you don't so they can decide what they would like to share.

Move around. Teenage boys have a lot of energy. We all know that. We teachers need to remember that a 2 minute break is not going to wreck our curriculum calendar. If they look restless or bored, get them to move around. I like this video for a dance break (yes, boys will dance) and my husband does yoga brain breaks.

Action! In addition to moving around, boys like to hear about action. In history, play up the battle scenes. In reading, choose books with action. They love it!

Non-Fiction. In my experience, boys tend to like realistic fiction, historical fiction, or non-fiction texts. Learning about how to do something (build a robot) or how to something works (hurricanes, maybe) is fun and relevant.

Laughter. All kids need to laugh. Let them. Plan for it as part of your class time. It softens the tension, puts people at ease, helps us build relationships. Again, this is not a waste of time. It makes life and learning fun.

What would you add to this list? Are there any tricks that help teachers relate to female students in a unique way? Please comment below!