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Teaching Tips, Tools, and Trends

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Sorry for being slack recently about updating the blog. Between football season starting (I coach), setting up my classroom, and attempting to learn German on Duolingo, I have been swamped. I have been tweeting more often lately as I find things I am going to integrate in my class. You can follow me at www.twitter.com/wlnelson.

Happy Teaching!

Classroom Rules 2.0

I just finished reading Ron Clark’sThe Essential 55,” however not strictly classroom management rules, I am going to borrow some of his thoughts on life for my classroom this upcoming year. This past school year I was hampered by my own lack of classroom management, and it’s becoming increasingly more clear that student need structure to succeed. Here are my classroom rules for the upcoming year. Keep in mind some are specific for my classroom:

  • Respect the speaker: if I’m speaking, please don’t, and if your classmate is speaking please be respectful.
  • Be organized: Your success in my classroom is influenced by your ability to study, and studying is much easier when you can find your notes.
  • Disagree/Agree Politely: We will cover some hot button issues. You will agree with some of your classmates’ opinions, and you will disagree with some, that’s fine, but do it politely. No one likes being told their opinion is stupid. Engage in debate, push yourself to defend your position with facts not insults.
  • Come to class prepared: I don’t mean have a pencil and paper, I can give you those items if push comes to shove. I mean come to class with your homework, having read what you were supposed to, and ready to contribute to what we are learning. If you aren’t doing your part classroom time must be devoted to remediation, and that wastes your classmates time.
  • Push Yourself: I know each and everyone of you have the ability to learn the subject matter. Learning it will require thinking, reading, and studying. Push yourself to think critically about science, read (not just what I assign, but related literature), and study. My tests will not be regurgitating the facts. I will ask you to apply what you know and synthesize it with other things you should know. Being able to do this means you have a command of the subject matter.
  • Don’t use the phrase of the month: (This is my rule inspired by Clark’s rule #47). What I mean by this is don’t pollute my classroom with phrases like “on fleek,” “swag,” and “bae.” I have two problems with words of this nature, the first is they reflect a lack of vocabulary on your part. Read a book, or find a thesaurus, expand your vocabulary. My second problem with words like these is they show that you follow the herd. You will say things just to be like others. I am teaching you to think like scientists, examine things critically, not follow along with the crowd.
  • If you’re confused, stop me: I can only occasionally look at your face and tell you have no clue what I am talking about. Don’t be embarrassed about not understanding something. It is my job to help you grasp the knowledge. Stop me and say, “I don’t get it.” I’m not going to be mad, science can be hard. Now if you don’t understand because you didn’t read…that means you didn’t do your job.
  • Do not leave my room because you’re bored: That means don’t go get water or go to the restroom because you are bored. You’re bored in my classroom for one of two reasons. Either I am not doing my job, or you aren’t doing yours. Science is awesome, and I can guarantee that if you are doing the reading and thinking critically about what we are learning, and I am putting in the effort to keep the class interested (and know the interests of my students), you won’t get bored.

Now I will have some rules that pertain to being in the lab, but for the most part the aforementioned rules are going to be what I run my classroom by this year. I may have to monitor and adjust, but we’ll see how it goes. The Essential 55 has a ton more rules that will make your kids better people, and I may integrate more of them in class as I go along.

Back-to-School Pep Talk

Alright folks, we’re two-three weeks out from going back to school, and honestly I don’t feel like I have had much of a summer vacation. Between family obligation, moving, and coaching my summer has escaped me…This got me thinking. I needed a back-to-school pep talk. I’ve seen several truly inspiring videos over the years regarding education. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Rita F. Pierson has a wonderful TedTalk about being a champion for a child. Watch it. This eight minute video can change your outlook on teaching. Follow this link to get to the TedTalk. 
  • Kid President’s message to graduates, and the rest of Kid President’s videos are great pep talks.
  • And lastly, if you have some time, watch “The Ron Clark Story.” You may have heard of or even read one of Clark’s books, or even heard of the Ron Clark Academy. You won’t regret the time you spent watching the movie. It’s incredibly inspirational, and reminds you why you chose teaching as a career.

If you have links to other inspiration for teachers, I’d love it if you would share those with me. Like, comment, and share. Happy Teaching.

Tech Tools for Teachers

I was once told that the best teachers are the best thieves…well I wouldn’t consider myself a thief, so much as an expert at reapplying/repackaging other teachers’ ideas. Here’s a list of some of the tech tools that I have used in my classroom and some I’ve seen used in others’ classrooms. All of these services are free, but some offer premium add-ons.

  • Edmodo– A nifty little social media tool for the classroom teacher. I have personally used it to upload files for future use, but several of my fellow teachers have used it more effectively. There are communities separated by content area with great ideas for teachers.
  • Remind-I have never used this, but I do know a number of teachers who use this remind students of events and due dates. The way the tool works is a student “subscribes” to a text messaging service and the teacher can then send mass texts to students and parents without disclosing their cellphone number.
  • ClassDojo-Another product I do not have first hand experience with (my classroom has never lent itself to this product), but more traditional classroom settings it is awesome! The product basically makes classroom management a competition. There are positive behaviors (+points) and negative behaviors (-points). The results can be displayed in realtime, and the teacher can use a mobile device to award points.
  • Google Docs-I love Google Docs. Its a great way for students to collaborate, and there is no cost. All one needs is a Google account and they are then able to use a wide variety of productivity applications. Students can also turn in assignments via their Google Drive, and with many schools going to Chrome Books, Google will soon become your best friend!
  • DropBox– If you aren’t already using DropBox for your personal files, I would encourage you to follow the link and back up your files. They give you a huge amount of storage for free. You can share folders with other users, and limit privileges. I started using this service in college to turn in files and back up files to the cloud.
  • YouTube– I occasionally show a YouTube video in class, there is a wealth of educational videos, and sometimes it’s better to see something done rather than the teacher drone on about a subject. Also there are great channels such as The Kahn Academy, which got me through college chemistry!

I would love to hear your thoughts on Tech Teaching Tools. LIke, Comment, and Share. Happy Teaching.

Improving SC’s Public Education System

A recent article posted on WalletHub had South Carolina’s Public School System ranked 45 overall (47th in School-System Quality, and 24th in Safety), this got me wondering…I am a product of South Carolina’s Public School System and I don’t think I turned out too bad…What do you feel would make SC’s Public School System better? is it money, is it the funding structure, is it our leadership? Take a few seconds to answer the poll and give me your opinion about how we can better the system.

Like, comment, and share. Happy teaching!

Social Media Outside the Classroom

We hear horror stories of teachers using social media for nefarious activities…I remember cringing when a student told me one of her teachers had added her on Snapchat. I’m not an expert at social media, or education, but there are lines which shouldn’t be crossed. As a teacher you’re constantly walking the line between immediacy and professionalism.

My goal for this post and my next post is to share my social media policy, and share with you a few social media/Internet tools to help in the classroom. Here are my general guidelines for social media:

  • Keep it professional, or keep it private: This tidbit was shared with me in undergrad and has stuck with me since. Your students will creep on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. accounts. Go a head before you step foot in the classroom and untag, delete, hide, any pictures of you from college that is less than appropriate. Sorry you’re not 19 anymore. Get rid of that mess. If the picture can be misconstrued, middle schoolers will misconstrue it.
  • Fort Knox Your Accounts: I personally believe that “Teacher” should be a privacy setting, but until that day comes, lock it down. Require approval for posts you’re tagged in, Have it set so only you can post on your wall (this really aggravates some people). Here’s are my privacy settings.

    Facebook Privacy Settings
    Have your social media accounts on “Fort Knox” mode.
  • Wait to approve friend requests: Your students will request to follow you/friend you. I have a policy of approving once they are no longer my student. I added my 8th graders when they matriculated to 9th grade. I added some 7th and 6th graders who I will no longer teach due to their moving, or my changing schools. But I will warn you, from what I’ve seen…all students’ posts are about their “relationships,” so I generally unfollow them.
  • Avoid Messaging Students: Just don’t do it. I equate it to feeding a stray dog…if you encourage that behavior their going to become dependent on talking to you. Don’t text them, don’t DM them on Twitter, and Don’t message them on Facebook. Have a personal life. Now, there are some instances when I have messaged a student, but I don’t make a habit of it.
  • Don’t do/say anything you wouldn’t want screenshoted: Screenshots can come back to haunt you. Be mindful if you do interact with students electronically outside of the classroom that you’re at risk of being screenshoted, and it’s easy to obstruct the context which things are said.

Please feel free to share your policy for interacting with your students on social media. Like, comment, and share. Happy teaching!

Back to School Deals

Teaching isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t have to be full-priced! Matter of fact Key & Peele’s recent TeachingCenter skit reminded me how much money I don’t make. I have searched the Internet for some deals for school supplies below are a few of the deals I’ve found:

  • Retailmenot.comGo here before you buy anything online. It’s an easy to use website…simply search the website you’re shopping on, and boom you save money!
  • Carolina BiologicalYou can enter your email address and get $25 bucks off of your order. This site is geared more towards your science and math teachers, but they’re reasonably priced and fast.
  • Amazon CouponsI’ll admit it, I just found these while doing some research for this post, but I’m definitely going to look into it more so!
  • Dollar GeneralUse coupon code TEACHER20 to save 20% off on school supplies.
  • ReStockIt5% with coupon code SAVE4SCHOOL

Share your deals. Like, comment, and share. Happy teaching!

My Tips and Tricks for Year One

My last post may have been doom and gloom from my first year teaching, but not all of it was terrible. I had some great successes, and I think some of the lessons taught may have stuck! Below are some of my favorite teacher hacks/advice from my first year:

  • Use Edmodo: I will be the first person to admit that I never used it to interact with my students. I found going to football games, baseball games, plays, and concerts a way better way to interact with my students outside of school, but Edmodo is an awesome resource for teachers. The “Communities” feature was awesome! There are countless ideas that other teachers have already tried. Similar results could probably be found on Pinterest, or Facebook Groups.
  • As previously mentioned, Go to Extra Curricular Activities: Go to baseball games, football games, plays, concerts, whatever. You’ll have two types of students there…the students who want to see you there, and the students whose parents you want to see there. Not all student issues will be solved by talking to their parents, but it will help you with some. And if you’re like me, moving to a new community where you know NO ONE, attending these activities gives you at least some social interaction.
  • Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: Until you get your feet on the ground…go to another, more veteran teacher, ask them for their advice for classroom management, discipline, heck! go as far as getting their help with your tardy policy and dismissal procedures. The NEA (The National Education Association–A professional association which you should highly consider joining) has a pretty interesting article about the subject, you can find it here.
  • Never Stop Learning: You’re a new teacher, you’re going to screw up somewhere along the way. Go to your curriculum teacher get them to help you with issues you’re having. Use resources like Edutopia for help with and inspiration.

What are your tips and tricks for teaching? Feel free to like, comment, and share this post. Happy teaching!

Top Three Mistakes of my First Year

While taking a break from preparing my syllabi for my second year of teaching, I am certainly thinking about mistakes I made in my first year of teaching. My mistakes are below, in no certain order.

    1. Lack of preparedness. I don’t mean I didn’t do a lesson plan, college taught me how to BS my way through a paper, but lesson plans are papers with repercussions. As long as a paper in college wasn’t plagiarized you were golden. You can’t just put down what you’re “planning” on doing on a lesson plan, email it in, and call it good. Turns out when you say your going to do an assessment, you have to actually make the assessment, and subsequently grade it, and put it in the gradebook. Which leads me to my second point…assessments.
    2. Lack of Assessments. I was baller when it came to giving classwork assignments. Students would have 25 or 30 classwork assignments in “the book,” but very few quizzes, and less tests at the end of the quarter. The problem with this is it distorts the reality of how the student is doing in class because when Johnny shows his mom all of the “A’s” he’s making in class they both believe he’s on his way to passing with flying colors, but a few poor quiz grades can really throw a wrench in that. The best lesson I learned this year was assessments create accountability for the student, and student accountability makes for WAY better classroom management.
    3. Being Young. OK, I was 25 on my second first day of middle school. I had never taught a day in my life (no, I didn’t student teach. I was going to do alt. certification, but that’s for another post). I was ten years older than some of my students, which they certainly used to their advantage. Now, I was able to have some very meaningful conversations and build some strong relationships with some students, but in most cases it caused more problems than it solved. I simply didn’t make students respect me.

I am excited about this blog, If you are a young teacher, or soon to be teacher, I hope your summer is going well, and you are getting geared-up/excited about the upcoming school year. Like, comment, share, etc.

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