Monday, May 25, 2015

Active Learning Essentials

One of my goals for my classroom is that my students would be engaged in active learning as much as possible.  This means that they get to move, they get to talk (hopefully about reading and writing rather than about what they've been watching on Youtube lately), they interact with the material we are learning in lots of different ways.  The struggle I found this year in incorporating this is a lot of my ideas for active learning require stuff.  Like, stuff I have to buy.  And, every teacher knows that  our active-learning-stuff-budget is zero.  Of course, I had to shell out some money from my own pocket, but this year I was also able to receive a grant for $300 that helped so much. As the year comes to a close (eleven days and counting!) I have been reflecting on the resources that get the most use in my classroom.  If you are lucky enough to have a budget (I'm applying for your school!) or you are able to get a grant, or even if you have to spend some personal money (crazy that teachers are expected to do this) and you are looking to buy some materials that can enhance your classroom here are the things that I have found can get you the most bang for your buck. These are the items I've bought that I use ALL THE TIME.

Sticky Notes
My students have joked that I must have stock in Post-Its, or that I am single-handedly keeping them in business.

Uses:  Post questions on the board and have students answer on sticky notes and stick them near the question.  I've also done a variation with quotes related to the theme of a novel we were about to read which students then had to respond to on sticky's.  We've used them for taking notes while reading a novel.  My kids had to do five sticky notes a chapter and stick them straight onto the page they were written about.  I've used them for sorting and brainstorming.  For example, each student had to write down what came to mind when they thought about poetry on Index cards (one word per index card).  Then, they had to sort them into categories as a table-group and use sticky notes to label the categories.

Index cards
They aren't just for college students!

Uses:  you can have your kids create cards for studying vocabulary or key terms.  My students love quizzing each other and seeing how many words they can get right.  Again, I've used them for sorting.  Anytime you have kids list, group, and label doing this with index cards and sticky notes makes it more tactile than just writing it on a piece of paper.  I've also used them for Give-one Get-one.  When we learned about foreshadowing, flashback, and suspense they had to write down an example of each one that they'd seen in a movie or TV show or read in a book on a different index card.  Then,  I had them walk around the room and trade each of their cards with someone else and talk about their examples.

Paper bags
Whenever I pull out one of these bags a student asks if I brought them lunch.  The middle school sense of humor never fails.

Uses:  put a photo or object in there related to a story you are about to read.  Have students move from bag to bag looking/feeling inside and making predictions about what the story will be about.  Put pictures or words in a bag that you want students to sort into categories with a partner.  One I've used quite a bit is putting strips of paper in a paper bag and having students draw one out.  I've give them key terms and their definitions and had them walk around the room and try to find the person with their match (i.e. one person has the term one person has that term's definition).  I've used different examples of figurative language and had them move to a spot in the room labelled with a type of figurative language (one table says "Metaphors," several students have examples of metaphors and walk to this table, one table says "Similes" etc.).  I've also used this strategy for random selection of groups or partners.  Or to give them something to act out.  For example, I gave each student a strip of paper with a different type of conflict (man vs. man, man vs. nature etc.) and then they had to walk around and find their groups and create a skit in their groups that showed an example of their type of conflict.

Butcher Paper
Luckily, my school provides this in abundance so I didn't have to pay for this one.

Uses:  Post around the room with questions on each large piece of butcher paper.  Students have to walk around and answer the questions on the butcher paper.  Put a big piece at each tablegroup and have students work on something collaboratively.  For example:  Students had a poem in the middle of the butcher paper and had to draw imagery they saw in the poem and write down examples of sound elements (onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhyme etc.) all around the poem on the butcher paper.  This way, students can all work on their contributions at the same time and see their peers ideas to help them.  Butcher paper is also good for creating anchor charts on the cheap.

Individual Whiteboards
Warning... Do not spend all the money to buy pre-made ones.  Get yourself down to Lowes or The Home Depot.  Buy a large piece of what looks like a whiteboard (I can't remember what it's called) and have them cut it into one by ones.  Then, buy whiteboard markers in bulk and hotglue little fuzzballs to the top to act as erasers.

Uses:  You can use them for a quick check for understanding, to review a concept from yesterday, in identifying things, for vocabulary.   I put an example of figurative language on the board, students write down the type of figurative language on their whiteboard.  You can also have them sketch something on the whiteboard, or even do a quick response to a question if you don't want to collect their responses.  In order to hold them accountable in this case, after having them answer the questions have them share out in their table-group using Up Share Down (everybody stands up, once you have shared something you can sit down) or by choosing a person at random that will share with the whole class.

Talking chips
These can come in the form of marbles, rocks, pennies, actual poker chips or whatever you can find.  Mine were a bag of marbley things that I got from the dollar store.  I think pennies would be fun, because you could give them two and call it, "Put your two cents in," but I'm pathetically punny like that.

Uses:  I used these during Literature Circles and at other times when my students were discussing a novel we were reading.  Talking chips come in handy anytime you want your students to discuss something and you want to make sure everybody participates.  How they work is you give every student a certain number of chips (I usually do two or three) and every time a student adds something to the conversation they put their talking chip down.  When a student runs out of talking chips, they cannot talk until everyone at the table has used all of their talking chips.

What do you use to keep your students actively engaged?  Are there any items I should add to my list?  Do you have any other cool strategies I can steal to use with these materials?

P.S. If you noticed that my images look pretty generic and low-quality, surprise they are just downloaded from google images.  It is the end of the year.  Thinking about photographing and uploading pictures of my own stuff made me want to rip my hair out.  So, this was the best my end-of-the-year teacher brain could do.  Sorry, not sorry.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

You Can't Let God Down.

I was singing (in the shower, cause where else do you sing?) a few Relient K lyrics.  Back when I was an angsty teenager, Relient K was my jam.  "I so hate consequences, cause I know that I let you down, and I don't want to deal with that."  The most painful part was the, "I know that I've let you down."  It was all most too much to bear thinking that I had let God down.  That's when God broke through and told me this simple but sweet truth, "You can't let God down."  He's not let down when I mess up because he knew what he was getting into.  When he called us, he knew we were broken.  He remembers we were once dust.  That's not to say that when we mess up God doesn't notice, or even that he doesn't care.  It's just that he's not feeling hurt by what we've done.  He's not disappointed.  He's not thinking, "I had higher hopes for you than this, and you really let me down."  God is outside of time.  He already knows our past, present, and our future.  Yes, even our future screw-ups.  Therefore, it is impossible for him to be let down by us.  He already knows what's going to happen.  He knows we are going to make--let's face it--tons of mistakes.  Yet he still calls us.  I believe that what he is thinking when we do wrong or miss right opportunities is more along the lines of, "Let's become even more beautiful," or "I have something better for you."  It is so freeing to know that I can't mess up God's plan.  He is not phased by my weakness.  His will is bigger than my struggles.  There's nothing I can do to make him give up on me.  I hope that you too will find freedom in knowing that, no matter what you do, you can't let God down.
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