Sunday, July 12, 2015

Everything in My Store Is on Sale on the 15th!

Hello everyone! It's an exciting week here in Korea: I had a freebie featured in the Teachers Pay Teachers newsletter today, it's my birthday in a couple of days, and there is a typhoon outside. smile emoticon Anyway, I've decided to have a sale on Wednesday, July 15th. Everything in my store will be 20% off. Make sure to check it out!

My Teachers Pay Teachers Store

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What to Do in the First Week of School

In July, I always start thinking about the upcoming school year. Front and center on my mind is the first week of school. What should we do to start the year off right?  I know it is super important to talk about rules and consequences during the first week. I also have to discuss the syllabus (boring but important). I want to get to know the students, and I want them to get to know me. So that I am able to give the students what they need during the school year, learning what they already know about science is important, too.

Here is what I typically do with my seventh grade science students during the first week of school.  

Day 1:

I start the year by greeting all of my students as they come into the classroom. It’s always fun to meet the new students.  Usually they are uncharacteristically shy on day one.  Enjoy it while it lasts. J Just kidding. It’s fun when they start to show their personalities.

In my class, students have alphabetically assigned seats right away. I tell the students they have assigned seats so I can learn their names as quickly as possible. However, learning their names is only one of the reasons I give a seating chart right away. The students are usually vocal about who they want to sit with, which gives me an idea of the social connections students came in with and how different students work with each other. In addition, I don’t want them to get the idea they can choose their seats in my classroom.

Once the students are seated, we go over the syllabus together. I ask them questions about whether or not they’ve learned certain science topics before so I can start thinking about the time I’ll dedicate to each topic during the year. We also talk about the supplies they’ll need for my class. I only require the students to have a composition notebook and a pencil or pen. (We do everything in our interactive notebooks. Learn how to set up interactive notebooks here.) I make sure the students know they need their composition books by Monday of next week, and then I remind them of this every day for the rest of the first week.

After all the boring stuff is out of the way, we’re ready for something a little more interesting. This is when I give the students their first “quiz.” It’s fun to watch the students moan and groan about having a quiz on the first day of school. However, the quiz is easy and the students aren’t expected to know any of the answers. What’s the quiz about? It’s about their teacher. It is usually just a ten question multiple-choice quiz about who I am as a person. I try to choose questions most students want to know (“How old is Mrs. Thorsen?”),  have a short story behind them (“How many times has Mrs. Thorsen chipped her teeth?”), or show common interests (“What’s Mrs. Thorsen’s favorite video game?”). Once the students finish their quizzes, we go through the questions one at a time and we talk about the answers together. I like to have the students raise their hands to show which answer choice they chose.  I usually give a small prize to the student or students who got the highest score.

The last thing we do on the first day of school is ask get-to-know you questions. All of the students have to either ask me a question about myself or let me ask them a question about themselves. We take turns asking questions and listening to each other’s answers. It’s always interesting to hear what questions they have for me, and I can learn a lot of neat things about my students this way.

Before the students leave, I give them their first homework assignment: a Parent and Guardian Survey. All the students need to do is give it to a parent or guardian to complete and bring it back later in the week. Learn more about the benefits of using a Parent and Guardian Survey here.

Day 2:  

Day two is all about rules. This can be boring, so I try to liven it up a little bit. I thoroughly discuss each classroom rule and have the students help me by providing examples of following the rules correctly and breaking the rules. Once I think the students have a good understanding of the rules, I divide the class into six groups. I give each group a paper with a rule on it and the word “break” or “follow.” 

The groups then have to make a short skit acting out a class or student breaking that rule or following that rule. The skits are usually very humorous, especially the ones breaking a rule.

After the skits, we talk about what happens when students break rules. I go over each consequence and how they work in the classroom. I make sure the students understand exactly what happens if they choose to break the rules. It is so important for students to understand the rules and consequences perfectly so there are no unpleasant surprises for them or you later in the school year.

Day 3:

I start class with a brief review of the rules and consequences we talked about on day two. Then the students complete a Student Survey. (See my English and Spanish Student Surveys here.) I let the students talk to their classmates while they work on the surveys. When the students are done with their surveys, we share some of our answers together to build positive connections with one another. I have the students turn in their surveys. The surveys help me remember the students’ names. I keep the surveys in a binder for the rest of the year and refer back to them whenever I need a little help reaching any difficult students.

For the rest of the class, I give all of the students a notecard and let them decorate it. They can decorate the notecard in any way they want. I only require that they have their names on it and either use pictures or words to show who they are as a person. Some students draw pictures of their favorite sports. Other students make a list of their favorite bands. Many students like to cut out pictures or words from magazines and glue them onto their notecards. The homework that night is to finish the notecard.

During the year, I put several notecards on the wall at a time and rotate them out each week. The students love looking at them and trying to find their own and their friends’ cards. I think it’s a good way to help create a positive classroom environment and a place students want to be and feel a part of.

Day 4:

Day four is an exam day. Students don’t like this part, but once you explain the importance of it they’re much more accepting.  In the first week of school, I always give a comprehensive exam of everything we’ll be learning that year in 7th grade science. The exam helps me and the students see what they currently understand and what we’ll need to work on during the school year. It also gives us a chance to practice the class test taking expectations. Because the test is rather large, it can take more than one class period (unless you have block scheduling) for some students to finish.

Day 5:

I usually give ten to fifteen minutes for students to finish their exams from the day before. Then we grade the exams together. I tell the students it is perfectly okay if they get a terrible score. The exam is just to show us what we need to do this year. It does not go in the gradebook (that’d be soooo unfair). After we grade the exams together, they complete a reflection sheet to help them analyze their results and I collect all of the tests and reflection sheets. At the end of the entire school year, the students take the same test again (this time for a grade) and complete another reflection sheet. This exam really shows the progress they make over the year.

Well, that’s our first week of school. I hope sharing this gave you a few ideas to use in your own classrooms. Please let me know if you have any questions by commenting below or sending me a message using the Contact Me page on my blog. Have a great first week and an even better year!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Why You Should Use a Parent and Guardian Survey in Your Secondary Classroom

The first homework assignment I give my middle school students every year is a parent and guardian survey. It is the easiest homework assignment the students have all year, because all they need to do is get someone at home to fill out the form and then bring it back to school later in the week. Little do they know, this form provides invaluable information to me as a teacher.  I refer back to the surveys throughout the entire year.

I’m not sure if your district is like mine, but year after year I’ve found the contact information teachers have access to is outdated. I recall my frustration at trying to contact parents using every number listed on PowerSchool only to find all of them were wrong numbers, numbers that didn’t exist, or disconnected numbers. This was hardly a rare occurrence—what was a rare occurrence was when I was actually able to reach a parent. The inability to contact parents was what initially caused me to create and use a parent and guardian survey.

The survey I made has space for the contact information of two parents or guardians. The best times and methods of reaching each person are also listed. Giving these surveys at the beginning of the year ensured I had the most current phone numbers and email addresses. Once I began using the surveys, I rarely had trouble contacting home.


Since making the survey several years ago, I’ve improved it by adding and tweaking questions that aid me in helping my students. In addition to the basic contact information, I also ask parents and guardians a variety of questions about their children. Their answers help me give the students what they need to be successful.  A student might need help reading, practice speaking in front of others, or extra math assistance—all of which are helpful to know going into the school year.

I’ll know of any potential obstacles to getting homework completed because I’ll learn things like what activities the students are involved in, what kind of homework help is available, the different languages spoken at home, and whether or not students have Internet access. This information helps me determine what kind of projects I assign in my classroom and what parts of those assignments students will be capable of completing at home.

Through using these surveys, I’ve learned important information I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. I’ve learned of students’ allergies (something especially important for a science classroom that often conducts experiments with a variety of materials).  Hearing or vision issues have also come up; knowing about these helped me make effective seating charts. Some of my students had recent deaths in the family or were in foster care. Just knowing about what my students were going through allowed me to change my lessons or approach certain situations differently. (Genetics can be a sad topic for students who have never met their families, so a family tree project isn’t the best choice.)

Another part of the survey gives parents and guardians opportunities to help the students and the classroom. Many parents and guardians are more than willing to help; they just don’t know what is needed. Thanks to this survey, I learned who wanted to help and what they were willing to do. Many people helped enormously in my classroom by translating information, tutoring students for tests, and donating supplies.

It is important to know about our students so we can do our best to help them. A positive connection with parents and guardians can do wonders in helping students in the classroom. These surveys begin building home connections and allow teachers to reach out for whatever reason during the school year.  

If you don’t currently use a parent and guardian survey in your classroom, I strongly suggest implementing one this year. The Parent and Guardian Survey I made and use in my classroom is available in both English and Spanish. Click here for more information. 

 Parent and Guardian Survey