Monday, September 15, 2014

Save Time by Getting Students to Help You ~Time-Saving Tips for Teachers {A Daily Blog Series: Day 4}

Aside from yourself, your students know your classroom the best. I have shared tips on my blog for managing student jobs that will help your school days run smoothly (you can view that post here). In addition to the job chart tasks, students can also be used to assist you with completing many tasks that you would otherwise take on yourself. 

The key is to utilize their eagerness and ability to help in an efficient and effective manner. This can be accomplioshed by listing tasks that they can complete that are not time sensitive as you think of them and scheduling a time for the children to assist in completing them.  Here are a few tips to make it a successful experience:

  • Schedule a block of time outside the regular school day to have your helpers come in. I have found that 30-60 minutes once a week or once every other week is sufficient.  Because this is not instructional time you can also use the time to do some of the administrative tasks that you need to do file, plan, etc.
  • Obtain the proper permission from administration and/or parents.
  • Select students who are capable of getting the jobs done quickly and accurately. Because you may not want to exclude children you may consider sorting tasks by ability.  Alternately you may enjoy inviting former students who are now older and capable of taking on more responsibility to come back in and help out.
  • Have everything you need ready to go when the students arrive. 
  • Provide the students with a copy of the list of tasks that need completing and allow them to check them off when they are done.
  • Preparing Science Experiements: Provide students with a list of materials and have them sort them onto trays or into dishpans for easy distribution during class.
  • Organizing Math Manipulatives: Volunteers can count out and bag up pattern blocks, cubes, etc that will be used for math lessons and activities.
  • Leveling Books: Capable students can use the Scholastic Book Wizard to type in book titles and record the reading level on the cover. 
  • Maintain Your Library: Students can check to make sure books are shelved properly by direction, level, genre, etc. This is also a good opportunity to dust the shelves and clean the area.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Save Time by Implementing Efficient Email Strategies ~Time-Saving Tips for Teachers {A Daily Blog Series: Day 2}

Email can save you lots of time, but if not managed properly it can cost you valuable time as well.  When you check email throughout the day you open yourself to constant distraction.

We often find ourselves on mail lists that are of no value to us. Typically there is a link hidden somewhere within the text of each email that allows you to opt out of getting them. Do this!

Sometimes you’ll receive emails that you know don’t need to be read without even opening them. This is especially true for promotional mailings alerting you to a sale. Simply delete these without taking the time read them.

Ideally you will want to respond to a message immediately so that it is not lingering as an undone task. This is not always possible. For that reason it is helpful to set up folders for messages that are awaiting an action. Typically you can get by with 3 folders: answer, do, and save. If you are not able to act immediately on a message forward it to a folder or tag it with a label to answer or act upon it at a later time. If it simply needs to be saved so you’ll have it to reference it can be moved to a saved folder to clear out your inbox.

Avoid checking email throughout the day. Instead check it first thing in the morning when you arrive at school to see if there are any messages that are time sensitive or contain information needed for that day (schedule changes, meetings, etc). Delete and sort emails quickly. Designate time after school to check it again and act/respond to the day’s messages as needed. Add these times to your daily schedule to help you stick to them. Be sure to communicate to your students’ families that you typically respond to emails in the afternoon.

Often we waste time stressing over how to respond or how to word an email tactfully. If you are trying to compose an email and it is taking more than a few seconds of thought it may be best to skip the email and make a quick phone call instead. This is especially true for email where “tone” may be wrongly inferred.

Before sending an email ask yourself:
Is this email necessary?
Will this email invite or require a response from the recipient?

Simply put the less email you send, the less email you’ll receive.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Constitution Day {classroom ideas, crafts, lessons, books, pictures, tips, videos and more}

Did you know that on September 17th ALL teachers in schools that receive government funding are required to teach about the Constitution? 

Here's the thing...I don't typically get into the debates over politics and about how the people making these laws and policies aren't teachers, but this certainly falls into that category. Do I think the Constitution is important? Of course. Should children learn about it? Sure. Do I see why they picked September 17th as the day that we must teach a random lesson? Yes (It's the day the Constitution was signed).

While I do understand the thought behind it, as teachers we know that it is not considered best practice to randomly teach an isolated lesson about a topic that requires a great deal of background (much less attempt such a task only a couple of weeks into the school year). In the past I scrambled to find something to fulfill my obligation as Constitution Day ALWAYS snuck up on me. It seemed the same was true for many of my public school teacher friends so I knew it was time to plan ahead and create something useful for a spectrum of grade levels.

The final result was a 50+ page packet for grades K-5 with a choice of different activities included. There is certainly something for all abilities and levels and can be used year after year (even if you change grade levels).

{Click to access and download the Constitution Day Packet}
{Click to access and download the Constitution Day Packet}

I'm  really looking forward to doing the included Classroom Constitution lesson this week as I feel it will be an awesome community-building activity AND will make the upcoming Constitution Day lessons have so much more meaning to them. If you have already developed a set of  "classroom rules" you can still do this by discussing how the established rules have been working for the class and making the focus be on Amendments.
I decided to try something new this year. Because students don't typically have a lot of schema about the Constitution and since we are required to teach a lesson about it so early in the year, I am planning to create a Classroom Constitution in place of the traditional "Let's make a set of class rules together" lesson. I'll be teaching it this week and will blog about it next weekend (the full directions are already included in the packet), but the basic idea is that they will work together to draft a document that outlines the expectations in the classroom. It will include related vocabulary such as Preamble, Articles, and Bill of Rights...and best of all...we will make amendments to it. 

I drafted a one page summary explaining the Constitution in kid-friendly terms. It's a great guide for teachers and students to help understand the basics. There are two graphic organizers included. These are helpful for recording information as the students learn about the Constitution, as planners for a writing project on the topic or they can be used as a culmination activity to assess student understanding.

The Preamble activity can be differentiated for use with Kindergarten through upper elementary. It was designed to help students understand what the words and phrases mean and includes an overview for teachers, a choice of a poster or a flap booklet for students to put the preamble into their own terms, a colorful title for a classroom chart along with labeled cards for students to either illustrate (younger learners) or explain in words and/or pictures (older learners). The idea is to assemble these onto chart paper using the included title to create a super-simple display.
These themed pages can be used with the included prompts or any prompt you select and are differentiated to meet the varied needs of your learners. They include drawing paper, head line/midline/baseline paper with room to illustrate, and lined paper for older learners.

This section contains two different versions. The first includes the wording of each amendment with an explanation of what it means and the second includes the wording of each amendment with space for the student to explain what it means. Both include space to record their thoughts in either words of pictures. These can be used to have each student complete a book of his own or as a collaborative project to make a class book or display. A cover is included.

Show the students the video titled, The Preamble to the Consitution which is part of the Schoolhouse Rock! DVD . I highly recommend this DVD as it includes every School House Rocks video ever created. While they are old, they truly engage the kids and are so short that they can be incorporated into so many lessons. We use them for grammar, science, social studies and more.

Although it is a bit harder to find, your friends may also enjoy The Birth of The Constitution:This is America Charlie Brown [VHS] which (like it's Pilgrim and Thanksgiving video) includes a surprising amount of actual content at a level kids understand.

If you or your school has a subscription to Brain Pop you could show the video they created to teach about The Constitution as well.

  • As an extension, have your students complete a "House Constitution" at home with their families.
  • Host a classroom discussion about the Constitution by asking open ended questions such as "What would happen if there were no laws?"
  • Gather a collection of books for the students to read during self-selected reading (see list below for ideas)
  • Have students complete a biography project on one of the Framers who were influential in creating the Constitution.
  • Make a timeline of the events leading up to the signing of the Constitution.
  • Have students create artwork or practice writing their names with feathers dipped in ink.
  • Create a word collage of vocabulary that relates to the Constitution.
{original sources  - clockwise: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4}

Me on The Map is one of my all-time best-selling products. It would be a wonderful way to help students understand that they are citizens of the United States, prior to learning about the Constitution.

Biography Activities to Use when Studying Anyone contains a variety of mini-projects that are extremely open-ended because they can be applied to anyone. They are perfect when learning about historical figures, but I also like to use them to have the kids complete autobiography projects about themselves. You could use any of the activities in the packet to study the Founding Fathers who created the Constitution.

I use my Living Biography Museum packet as part of our biography unit. Again it would be a great enrichment activity when learning about the men involved in the creation of the Constitution.

If you are looking to integrate some science and social studies then Ben Franklin is the dude for you. He is my favorite person to research with the kids because he did so much. We learn about him at the same time we are covering science and electricity in science. It will be nice to have the connection to the Constitution as well.

Because Constitution Day falls early in the school year, your students may not yet be skilled in having discussions that require them to state and support their opinion. You might find my Common Core Opinion Paragraph of the Week to be helpful in developing those skills for future discussions. {It is also available as a bundle with my Common Core Narrative Paragraph of the Week}.

Coming soon! Check back soon as I will be updating when I complete the activities in my classroom.

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