Sunday, October 22, 2017

Managing the Halloween Candy Problem

One problem I always have around Halloween (and other major holidays involving candy) is students sneaking candy into the classroom. Since I have a science classroom, students know eating food and candy in class is a safety concern, especially on lab days. Not only that, but they drive me crazy with the sticky tables and wrappers they leave behind. It’s an annoying battle I waged every year until I found a solution.

Have you ever heard of the saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”? In a way that’s what I do. (Although I make sure not to plan any labs on or near Halloween so there aren’t any safety concerns.) My students are allowed to bring candy to class on and around Halloween IF they give me a piece of their candy before class. Once class begins they aren’t allowed to share their candy with anyone else. This reduces the off-task behavior associated with students begging each other for candy and under-the-table candy passes. I let students know that if I find any candy messes or catch candy sharing the candy privileges are off. The students take care of their candy sharing before learning time and when it comes to the wrappers and messes they cleanup after each other.

With this little trick, the students are happy they get their candy and I’m happy I don’t have to monitor the students for something so silly. My classroom remains a positive learning environment where students want to be. I’m always amazed at how well this works. It reduces my stress, gets me some nice candy to snack on, and builds up my student reward candy stash.

Another way I manage the holiday candy problem is to include it in a lesson. Around Halloween I always teach physical science to my seventh graders. In that unit we learn about heterogeneous and homogeneous mixtures. Learning about mixtures is the perfect time to incorporate candy into a lesson, so I made a candy sorting activity. Students sort various candy into piles of heterogeneous mixtures and homogeneous mixtures. They discuss what makes a candy heterogeneous or homogeneous, and they debate when a candy is particularly difficult to classify. Using candy as part of the lesson increases their interest and understanding of mixtures. Depending on the timing and layout of my unit, I use the candy mixtures activity as an introduction, practice, or review of the two types of mixtures.

One more easy way I’ve included candy as part of a lesson is to teach qualitative and quantitative observations. Each student gets one piece of candy. They then use all of their senses to write as many observations as possible and classify their observations as qualitative or quantitative.

Happy Halloween! I hope these tricks help you manage your students’ treats.

If you’re interested in the Mixtures Activity, take a look below. It comes with many ideas of how to use it successfully in your classroom and has both a Halloween version and a version you can use all year long.

Heterogeneous and Homogeneous Mixtures Candy Activity

Saturday, May 6, 2017

How to Make and Use a Question Ring Booklet: A Fun Get to Know You Tool

During sixth grade my favorite teacher would periodically invite a student to sit on the teacher’s stool at the front of the room for a short interview. Peering up from her clipboard of interview questions, she would ask something silly, like “What brand of toothpaste do you use?” or “Did you have any dreams last night?” The class looked forward to the interviews, which for us never happened often enough. Looking back now, I realized my teacher did these interviews as a way for everyone to get to know each other, build and maintain a positive classroom environment, and fill the occasional leftover minutes of class time. (You can read more about that teacher’s fun strategies here.)

How can I use this activity in my classroom?


Recalling how much my classmates and I loved those interviews, I was inspired to do something similar in my own classroom. Instead of a clipboard with questions, I created a little booklet using a spiral notebook of index cards. On each page, I wrote a random question and a number. More and more questions were added every year. I use the booklet in two ways.

The first way is a simple get to know each other activity for the beginning of the school year. Each student answers one question.  The questions and answers create a lot of laughs and quickly get everyone comfortable with their weird teacher and new classmates. 

The second way can be used throughout the year to fill the minute or two of extra time at the end of some class periods. For this method, I get out the booklet of questions and ask my students to raise their hands if they want to participate. Usually, almost all hands go up. (I wish I could get that kind of participation with content related questions...) The student I call on tells me a number between 1 and 120, which is the number of questions I currently have in my book. Then I read the corresponding question from the book. After we listen to the student’s answer, I call on to a different student. Sometimes multiple students answer the same question, other times I have them choose a different number.

What types of questions should I ask?


I ask a variety of questions in my book. Some questions are silly and others are more serious or basic. The students like the randomness and not knowing just what kind of question they are going to be asked. I avoid questions that might cause a student to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. I also allow students to skip a question if they prefer.

When making your own question book, you can ask these types of questions:
An example card from my ring booklet
  • Favorites: What’s your favorite kind of candy? What’s your favorite movie genre?
  • Would you rather: Would you rather be able to talk to animals or time travel? Would you rather eat a stick of butter or drink a glass of ketchup?
  • Have you ever: Have you ever gone swimming in the ocean? Have you ever accidentally walked into a wall?
  • Opinion: Should students get paid for good grades? When should kids get their own cellphone?
  • Random: What would you do if your lovely grandmother made you a special meal and it tasted terrible? What musical instrument do you wish you could play?

How can I make my own booklet?


If you want to try this in your own classroom, there are a few ways you can make your own.

  • Use a clipboard with questions: This is the easiest, quickest, and least expensive option. You can type the questions on the computer and save the document. It’s easy to add questions throughout the year. One drawback is it has the highest chance of getting lost or beat up with repeated use so you might need to reprint occasionally. Plus, it just isn’t as fun.
  • Make a booklet using spiral bound index cards: It’s a bit more expensive and time-consuming, but it looks nice and holds up well. You will have to write the questions by hand unless you want to print them out and glue them. One drawback is the limited space. If you keep adding questions, eventually you’ll run out of room in your spiral book.
  • Hole punched index cards, cardstock, or laminated paper held together with a metal book ring or string: This is definitely the most time-consuming option but also the most versatile. You can write the questions by hand or type them with a computer. You can customize it with colored paper and fonts. You can rearrange, remove, and add as many questions as you’d like. For some teachers, this might be a fun summer project.

I like the idea, but I don’t have the time to write all of my own questions. Where can I get a premade set of questions?


In my Teachers Pay Teachers store you can make your own ring booklet with all 120 question cards I use in my own classroom. Take a look at it here.

 Big Pack Ring Booklet

Asking those silly questions and hearing my students’ answers and laughter is something I look forward to. I don't bring out the booklet too often, maybe once every other week, but it is always a fun time for the entire class and helps maintain a positive classroom culture. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

10 Things Teachers Should Never Do

All people make mistakes. Teachers are no different. Here are some teaching mistakes I've made and learned from or have seen other teachers make.

  1. Punish the whole class for the mistakes of a few:  It may seem like the entire class was acting up, but that is rarely the case. Punishing the whole class will cause you to lose the support of the students who were making good choices and likely won’t eliminate future misbehavior.
  2. Avoid getting help when it's needed: Most teachers don’t have a perfect classroom, and if they do it certainly didn't get there immediately and without work. If you sense a problem area in your classroom and don’t know how to fix it, ask for help. Have a conversation. Other teachers and administrators can observe your class and offer suggestions for improvement. 
  3. Assign a project prior to creating the rubric: Trust me on this. Your students won’t learn what they should, and it’ll be a grading nightmare.
  4. Plan a lesson that isn’t aligned to the learning objective: When planning, always keep in mind what you want the students to understand or be able to do by the end of the lesson. It can be easy to get lost in planning a fun and engaging lesson, but if it’s not meeting the objective then your students won’t benefit from it like they should.
  5. Grade every assignment: You’ll drive yourself crazy. Choose only the most important assignments to grade. I learned to aim for two or three assignments per week.
  6. Delay or skip parent/guardian contact: It can be intimidating and uncomfortable to have certain conversations. Calling a student’s home about misbehavior or an unfortunate event isn’t the most fun thing ever. However, parents and guardians need to know what’s going on with their child. They are usually a huge asset and can offer helpful insight and work with you to reduce and eliminate problems. (And be sure to call about the good stuff, too.)
  7. Not making time for themselves: You’re a person with a life outside of teaching. There will always be things you need to do as a teacher, but you have to take care of yourself. Make time to do the things you love and spend time with your friends and family.
  8. Not having a backup plan: Sometimes your lesson will run short. Sometimes students will find concepts easy and speed on through. Class time is limited and precious, so always have some sort of backup plan to enhance the lesson or build a positive learning environment.
  9. Be inconsistent with rules and consequences: Letting rules slip and allowing students to get away with misbehavior is all too easy to do. It only takes a few times of doing this to completely sabotage your classroom management plan. You’ll save yourself from lots of frustration by enforcing the class rules and consequences every time with every student. (Need ideas for effective classroom rules and consequences?)
  10. Not being open to learning new things: Find new strategies. Try new teaching methods. Read up on best practices. Observe other teachers and learn from them. Strive to be the best teacher you can be for your students.
What are some other things teachers should never do? Add your ideas in the comments section. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

10 Things the Best Teachers Do

When I think about the qualities of the most effective teachers I know, either from my own education or from colleagues I've had the pleasure of working with, these are ten things they all have in common.
  1. Be fair and consistent
  2. Communicate regularly with parents and guardians
  3. Have rules and enforce them
  4. Differentiate to meet the needs of all students
  5. Care
  6. Make the most of every class period
  7. Be willing to learn from others and try new teaching strategies
  8. Have a routine that students can count on
  9. Connect learning to real life
  10. Make time for themselves

What are some other things the best teachers do? Add your ideas to the comments section.

Read the 10 Things Teachers Should Never Do.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Odd One Out: A Strategy to Get Students Thinking Critically in Any Subject

Example Odd One Out Problem
Have you ever played the game Two Truths and a Lie? It is generally used as a simple and fun icebreaker activity where each person gives three statements about him or herself and others guess which one of the three is a lie. “Odd One Out” is a lot like that except it can be used as a way for students to think critically about a topic. I first learned about this strategy at a science team meeting several years ago. I am not sure of its official name, but Odd One Out seems appropriate. Odd One Out problems consist of a circle divided into four equal parts. Each quarter lists a word or phrase from a related topic. One quarter’s topic does not quite fit with the others though.

How to Make and Solve an Odd One Out Problem

To make an Odd One Out problem, choose four words or ideas from a related topic and arrange them in the four quarters of a circle. One of those parts should be just a little different than the others. Take the topic of colors, as seen in the example above. All four parts contain a color, but one doesn’t quite fit. Know which one?

Once you identify the odd one out, circle or shade that quarter. Then explain your answer. An explanation might sound like this, “Red, yellow, and blue are primary colors. Orange is the odd one out because it is a secondary color, meaning it is the result of two primary colors mixing.”


When I assign Odd One Out problems to students, I require them to write a sentence explaining why their chosen quarter does not fit. Their explanation is the most important part of the problem because it shows whether or not they truly understand the topic. Also, in some cases, an Odd One Out problem can have more than one correct answer causing the explanation to become even more valuable. This can promote student discussion and build even stronger critical thinking skills.

Odd One Out Problems with Multiple Correct Answers

Consider this example with actors. What answer would you choose?

Who is the odd one out? Is there more than one correct answer?

You probably picked Jennifer Lawrence because she is the only female listed. But can there be another correct answer? If you know a little more about these actors, you might realize all but one of them are American. Therefore, the Australian Chris Hemsworth could also be a correct answer. In fact, there are a number of correct answers to this problem. Knowing more about a topic can lead to a greater variety and depth of answers.

Answers that Are Not Really Answers

Sometimes, you might have students whose explanations cannot be considered correct. For example, in the above problem about actors, you might have a student with an answer like this, “Clint Eastwood is the odd one out because he’s the only one whose name begins with a vowel.” Yes, technically this is correct. However, it has nothing to do with the topic of these actors. To avoid getting answers like this, remind students that their answers have to do with the topic at hand.

Use Odd One Out Problems in All Subject Areas

One of the awesome things about Odd One Out problems is how versatile they are. They can be relatively easy to solve or provide quite a challenge. Students can use their understanding of a topic to make their own problems to test their classmates. They can be used for a ton of different ages, ability levels, and subject areas.  Look at the examples below from each of the core subjects for ideas to start using Odd One Out problems in your classroom.





Example of a Completed Odd One Out Problem Set

The Elements, Compounds, and Mixtures worksheet below is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store along with a number of other science related Odd One Out worksheets

Example Odd One Out Problem Set