Saturday, October 27, 2012

Best App Ever??

As a smartphone user, I am a big fan of apps ("There's an app for that!").  As a teacher, I am also a fan of apps.  There are so many great educational apps that make learning fun and easy!  And students love talking about their favorite gaming apps.  If I would let them, they could use up entire class periods simply talking about their favorite apps.  But what would be the BEST APP EVER???!!!

The best app would cook and clean for me while sending me on an instant vacation.

Until that app is created, I would gladly settle for an app that would take care of all my grading!  I LOVE teaching, but I do not love grading papers.  I do enjoy seeing my students succeed, and when I grade essays, I enjoy seeing their thoughts on paper.  However, the act of grading is a real chore--especially when you have 130 of something to grade.  Quite frequently, the thought of grading stands in the way of even starting the process, so I procrastinate.  
But a grading app!!!!  WOW!  I could snap a quick picture of the item, then it would automatically be graded and entered into the gradebook.  Oh, how amazing that would be.  
Ooooooh!  Even better idea: Let's give all kids iPads that have the assignments pre-loaded!  And once a concept is taught, the teacher unlocks the assignment and makes it available for completion.  Students complete it, hit submit, and it is automatically sent to the gradebook (graded).  After all papers are graded, a summary report is sent to the teacher detailing which concepts students mastered and which concepts should be retaught.
Until our schools catch up with technology, classrooms will still be primarily pencil and paper institutions.  But we should never cease dreaming of the possibilities! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Funny Story About Fragments

Sometimes funny things happen in Obertopia.  Rarely are they planned.  The story you are about to read is just one example.
I was trying to explain to my 4th period today what a sentence fragment was... and I was trying to come up with something off the top of my head.  Here's what came out: 
"Okay guys, here's another example of a fragment: 'So that's when my hair got stuck in the toilet.'" 
 Seriously-this really happened! They all started laughing, as did I. Then one kid asked, 
"Uhm, how did your hair get stuck in the toilet?"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Classroom of the Future

Public schools are on the edge of a new era.   
I would like to call this new era “The Paperless Era.”  I’m not sure how long it’ll take to get there, but I’m guessing it’ll be here within the next 5-10 years.  The Paperless Era is sure to be more efficient, more cost effective, and more relevant than current public school education.  So what will The Paperless Era look like?   

The Blog of Obertopia is going to take a trip into the future to show you some of the exciting possibilities of a truly 21st century classroom.

iPads (or an iPad like device)
photo from the Apple Store website

The reason I default to iPad is because the Apple company has always been a supporter of education.  When I was a college student, I was able to get a student discount on my iMac computer.  As a teacher, I’ve been able to buy several Apple products with my teacher discount.  Can you imagine if the Georgia Department of Education arranged a deal to put an iPad in the hands of every public school student in Georgia??  Of course, some of the cost would have to be on the students/parents.  Maybe the district pays the original cost and the parents pay the insurance...?  I’m not sure what the proper ratio would be, but an old friend of mine used to say, “You’ll take better care of it if you’re financially invested.”
My job would be easier if all my students had iPads.  Currently, when students enter my classroom, they typically have a warm-up or “Opening”.  After the opening, I go over the goals of that particular day and we enter the “Work Session”, which is usually when the students work on the goal of the day independently or with others.  At the end of class, we are expected to have a brief “Closing” where we summarize the events of the class period.  All this takes place in a 72 minute period.  A few times throughout the week someone says, “I don’t have a pencil (or paper, or my homework, etc.)”, to which I reply, “I am not your Wal-Mart, or Office Max, or Target.”  :)
 If all students had to remember was their iPad, what an amazing thing that would be!  And chances are, they are not going to leave their iPad at home because how are they going to play games on the bus? 
The “Find my iPad” app could be helpful if students ever misplace their valuable educational tool. 
I have several friends with young children, and they are experts on the iPad!  They know how to turn it on, how to swipe the screen to unlock it, and how to open their favorite app.  Why are we still using pencil and paper in the public school classroom?  The only reason is cost.  It costs money to set up wireless for an entire school.  It costs money to supply the technology.  It costs money to purchase apps (or app subscriptions). 

Apps (for the iPad or iPad like device)
photo from

Speaking of apps, I heard that the new software update for the iPad will include a setting which locks users into a certain app.  Certainly, this is ideal for small children who unwittingly hit the ‘Home’ button and accidentally close out an app.  But this setting would be great for the classroom, too.  As a teacher, I’ve taught many kids who could be trusted to stay on task (and in a certain app) if given an iPad.  I have also taught many kids who would be too tempted by Angry Birds to complete their assignment.  Therefore, this new setting would be ideal for the classroom iPads... Maybe something the teacher could turn on or off as needed.  It would be a great classroom management tool to allow students “Free Time” in the last 5 minutes of class if they complete all of their goals for the day.  My students love working towards a reward!  And one of the biggest reasons for misbehavior in the classroom is unstructured time. 

In classrooms with advanced technology, differentiation would be so much easier!  The idea of differentiation is this: Each student in our classroom has different strengths and weaknesses, so teachers should create a variety of methods to instruct and assess students so we can serve students at their individual levels.  As you can imagine, with classes averaging 30-35 students, this is often the biggest challenge educators face!  Trust me!  Sometimes I feel like giving up before I even start because it is such a daunting task.  But just think of how iPads could make this happen!  Some students are visual learners, so they would do great with educational apps that ‘show’.  Others learn best via audio and would learn best from apps that ‘tell’.  Still others are kinesthetic and need an app that lets them ‘do’.  

photo from

Paper textbooks are ridiculously expensive!  And sometimes, they are outdated within a year of being published.  What a waste!  It would be awesome if school systems could instead subscribe to a certain textbook for a yearly fee.  And if textbook companies won’t give schools a good rate, then there are PLENTY of online resources and website we can use for free. 
We could also replace class sets of novels.  Surely Scholastic would give schools a good deal when buying electronic copies of books in bulk.  These books could then be read on the iPad at school, at home, or anywhere else.  Awesome!!

Cameras in the Classroom
photo from

I know some people are against the idea of cameras in the classroom, but I think they would do more good than harm.  Here are a few reasons:
1) Principals would be able to truly assess the strengths and weaknesses of the teachers.  Then true professional learning could take place.  Principals would be able to easily flip from classroom to classroom and know what’s going on in the school.  Maybe they’d only be able to watch 5-10 minutes of each teacher per week, but this could be a great thing!  Fair principals (hopefully) would understand that all teachers have bad days and it’s unrealistic to think all observations would be perfect. 
2) Absent students would be able to participate by watching recorded lessons.  My least favorite thing to do is create make-up work.  I understand that kids get sick, but make-up work is never as great as the original.  So much of what I do in the classroom is group oriented.  If each day could be recorded, this would replace the need for make-up work.  Also, the videos of successful teachers in each content area/grade level could be studied to see what generates the success. 
3) At our school, we’re expected to do (generally) the same thing as our fellow teachers in the same grade level subject area.  If a teacher is absent, the school could show the camera feed of another teacher’s classroom in the absent teacher’s class and the substitute could serve as a proctor.  This would be a great way to keep classes on track if a teacher is unavailable for a day or two (or possibly longer).  

Thanks for reading what I hope is part 1 of a multi-part series on "The Classroom of the Future."  If we're going to compete with the rest of the world in our global economy, we are going to need to make some changes.    

Monday, June 11, 2012

Turtle Saving!

One of my favorite things to do is save turtles from the road. To date, I have saved 3 turtles! The 2nd turtle I saved looked small from the car, but it turned out to be at least 10 pounds! It had the tail of a (no lie!) stegosaurus!

Yes, one of these...

I had trouble picking it up, but I did and moved it to the side of the road, out of harms way.  Hooray me!

So imagine my joy when I left the house the other day to find this little guy hanging out by our garage!  He was the littlest turtle I've seen in the 'wild'.  Much smaller than any turtle I've ever picked up.

I tried to bring him inside and feed him a green bean, but he didn't want it.  As you can tell from the photo, I only grab turtles around the middle because I am not a fan of turtle bites-or pain of any kind.  However, I was shocked when this little guy stuck his neck out farther than I thought possible and almost got me!  He reached it all the way around to my fingers!  I put him down quickly and he didn't try that again.  I set him free in our backyard.  I named him Squirtle.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

More blogging to come!

Hello all!
Not sure how people have been visiting the blog, looking for a new update, but I thought I'd give you one explaining my absence.

It has been a crazy few months in Obertopia.  Toward the end of March, my students and I worked hard to complete all of our standards before the CRCT.  We succeeded!!!  We had Spring Break at the beginning of April.  I was out of town with my family during the first half of the week, then the rest of that week was consumed with gifted endorsement coursework.  We took the CRCT during the 2nd/3rd week in April, and that takes a lot out of everyone!  It is exhausting and draining, but we made it through!  Since then, we've been doing a variety of fun activities in class (a few I can't wait to share with you, when I have the time to properly blog) and have even started reading a novel.

We only have 4 weeks of school left... Phew.  I am excited but sad at the same time.  Every year is like that a little bit, but this one more than most.

Great kids + Great parents + Meaningful learning = Wonderfulness!

Thanks for reading, and I invite you to check back in about a month because there will be plenty of time to blog once summer break begins!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Silent Lunch

Had to share a quick, funny story.  It has to do with classroom management a little bit, so I thought this would be the perfect place to share it!  :)

I work really hard during the beginning of the school year to create an organized, well-managed classroom.  One of the most important things to manage is behavior.  If you spend the necessary time on classroom management at the start of the year, it WILL save you LOADS of time "down the road."  Since I spend so much time managing behavior earlier in the year, I rarely have behavior issues (**knock on wood!**). 

One of my pet peeves in seeing/hearing loud classes in the hallway.  It is very important to me that my class is quiet while walking in the hallway so we do not disturb other classes in session.  I'm pretty flexible about this... If they're whispering, then I'll let it slide.  But YESTERDAY, I found a violator!!!!  ;)

I'll admit, the kid wasn't talking too loud.  But I saw him talking and I couldn't ignore it.  For the sake of this story, the student will be called "Fred."

I said, "Fred, silent lunch!"
Fred was very compliant.  He did not argue.  He did not complain.  

And then.... I forgot I gave Fred silent lunch.

So today, we go to lunch.  I sit down.  I see Fred at the silent lunch table.  

I smile at Fred and say, "Is this for Mrs. Smith*?"  (*name changed)
 He opens his eyes real wide, smiles, and yells, "No, for you!"  
I say, "For me?!"  
...And Fred proceeds to remind me about what I said the day before. 

I immediately start laughing.  
He says, "You mean I could have sat over there and you wouldn't have remembered?!"  
He's also laughing.  
I say, "Yes, but now you've reminded me so you'll have to serve it."  

Now, you may think this sounds mean and cruel, but you should know I gave him my applesauce.  :)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Canadian Environmental Issues 'Pass-Around'

I am always trying to fill my portfolio with potential group activities.  Occasionally, I'll be driving around and an idea will POP into my head!  That is just what happened with this activity.

Our latest standard is "SS6G7" (which stands for Social Studies 6th Geography standard #7).  It says "Students will explain the major environmental concerns of Canada regarding acid rain and pollution of the Great Lakes, the extraction and use of natural resources on the Canadian Shield, and timber resources." All this really means is know what the issues are, what's causing them, and how it's affecting Canada. 

So I found 8 pieces of 11x17 paper.  8 pieces because my room is broken into 8 learning teams.  Each paper was given a specific heading and a question.  Every student had a resource book with information about the environmental issue.  All groups were given a different colored marker.  They were told to answer the questions as a group and they had 3 minutes.  When the timer went off, they were to pass the paper to the next group.

My two rules:
1) No one gets a free ride (everyone participates)
2) You cannot say something another group has already said.

Here's (generally) what they looked like:

Whenever a group got a new poster, they did 3 things that reinforced the material:
1) They read the question and the answers of all the previous groups.
2) They checked their resource to see what they could put.
3) They discussed (and argued-constructively) about what to write for their groups answer.

Maybe you can use this in your class, or modify it to fit your current standard...?  It has a lot of potential and can fit lots of different scenarios. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Test Review!


I've always hated it... the dreaded TEST REVIEW DAYS!

"Is this for a grade???" -every 6th grader

There are three important reasons why I've always hated test review days:

1) I've got to come up with some creative, engaging, fun game that students will enjoy and learn from.  I have even gone so far as to dress up as my alter-ego "Phillip Livingston", an Alex Trebek wannabe from Papua New Guinea.  (SPOILER ALERT: It's really just me with a name-tag and mustache that's been touched by a rainbow. Shhh!)
2) I have to manage behavior during the games because some 6th graders get WAY to excited when I say the word "game".
Mrs. Oberkofler: "Today we are going to play a review game."
Class of crazy childrens: "YESSSSSS! OH MAN! WOWZAH!!! Cool! Can we write on the board? Do we get to run around? Can I throw things? Do we get to punch each other? What do we win? Do we get candy??"
Mrs. Oberkofler: "Oh, Lord in heaven. Please help me."

3) The students who always do what you ask them to do DON'T NEED TO REVIEW! They know it backwards and forwards and a review is a waste of time.

Luckily (for my sanity's sake), I have found a simple solution!  ...All in 8 simple steps, after the break:


Step #1: Put your students into collaborative learning teams

Step #2: Get enough of these big envelopes so you have one for each team

Step #3: Number your envelopes (mine are numbered 1-8 since these are my team numbers).  Nice and big!

Step #4: Laminate these puppies!!  They won't last a day if you don't laminate 'em!

Step #5: Fill each envelope with in-depth, high DOK review questions that go along with that unit.  You might want to laminate these too, if you're like me and plan on having 130 middle schoolers looking at every card.  (UPDATE 7/17/2013: You can also put primary documents inside the folders along with questions that students can answer as they analyze the document.  Sometimes my students finish with the folder too fast and this can lead to off-task behavior.  I make a mental note to add more questions next time.  On more than one occasion, I've added more questions after the test review has started.  I'll just come up with another question on-the-fly, scribble it on an index card and give it to the group that needs more questions - "Add this with your folder, please.")

Step #6: Pass out folders.

Step #7: Put 3-4 minutes on a timer.  Tell students when the timer goes off, the folder will rotate.  They are to discuss in detail each question.  No one gets to sit and do nothing.  Everyone will participate.  The teacher will be walking around to check and make sure this is happening.  If you'd rather review by yourself, I can give you a textbook and send you to another classroom!  And GO!

Step #8: Ask "Are there any questions we should go over as a class before tomorrow's test?"

Tah-Dah!  The students just had a completely student-centered review lesson.  No one needed to be out of their seat.  No one got a free ride.  Everyone had to play along for the good of the group.

Now all that's left to do is take the test!  Wish us luck!

Enjoy this post?  Check out our other teaching posts:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spray Painting the Eiffel Towers

While finishing up my recent side table refurbishment
...I looked around my living room for other items that might need refreshing.  A few weeks ago, I bought a set plates from the thrift store.  I spray painted a few of the plates so they would fit with my decor.
Once those were finished, I still had some primer left and also a few other paint colors.  I REALLY wanted to use this beautiful color on something...
...And I had a collection of black Eiffel Towers in our living room.  


They look great!  I will take some pictures of how they look in my living room sometime soon, but for now, I'm watching Sherlock Holmes on Netflix and it's getting good!  See ya!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Behavior Accountability: Discipline Board

Every teacher will have to deal with discipline problems.  Some teachers say, "I don't sweat the small stuff."  When teachers say this, I hear, "I let a lot of misbehavior go unchecked in my classroom."  This is a generalization, of course... But my students know that I am the one in control of my classroom.

If a student steps out of line, I am quick to discipline fairly and objectively.  I do not hold grudges, and I do not yell.  I used to yell... It's true. ...Admit it! It's easy to become a yeller in a classroom full of children!  However, a few years ago, I heard a speaker who specialized in classroom management and something clicked!  They said that, when you yell, you automatically create a reason for students (all students being yelled at) to become defensive.  You lose 'face'.

What typically happens in a classroom:
In a class of 30 kids, there might be 4 or 5 kids acting up and being loud while the other 25 are being little angels, subjected to the silly antics of the few.  Then, a teacher can only focus on the negative behaviors and yells something like, "Get to work!  The warm-up is right there!  You all know you need to come in and do it, so what is the problem?!"  Those 4 or 5 "bad" kids got a tongue lashing, but so did the other 25.  You've lost them.  They are no longer on your side.

Instead, what this speaker did was focus on those who were doing what they should be doing and thanked them for it.  An example: "Thank you everyone who is doing the warm-up quickly and quietly.  I really appreciate it!"  The 25 "good" kids feel appreciated and remain on your side, while the 5 "bad" kids feel embarrassed that they didn't get a thank you.  Works like a charm!  I know this from experience!

When a student does something unacceptable, I call them into the hallway and have a private chat with them.  They are told why they're in the hallway and how I feel their behavior is disrespecting me.  As a result, they are also disrespecting their peers.  I also give them the option of leaving my class and being placed in a different classroom to do their work, to which they always say, "No".  Then, I tell them if I ever have to speak to them again, they will be placed on the "discipline board".  Obviously, if the behavior is WAY out of line, other disciplinary measures are utilized.


Now if this all sounds very idealistic and soap-boxy, let me say 2 things:
  1. My classroom is a very fun place to be and students would rather be there than anywhere else.  I reinforce the value of respect almost every day and most of my students want to do what they can to please me.  This has only happened through practice and trial/error, so I did not start out this way!
  2. I teach 6th graders and they are (in my opinion) the best grade to teach.  They are new to middle school and not yet jaded, and most of them are slightly afraid since they're in a new place.  If you get them early, and they trust and respect you, behavior management is much easier.
I hope this helps and doesn't sound too preachy!  I believe classroom management is the #1 most important factor in being a good teacher.  Some might disagree with me, but I have found it to be true!!  :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Side Table Side Project

When I moved into my home, I was low on furniture (and money).  It overwhelmed me to think of furnishing the whole place!  Then, my family and friends stepped in and basically gave me half of my furniture!  Second hand recliners, coffee tables, loveseats... Really great stuff!

My Aunt Lynn gave me a pair of these side tables:

When I got them, they were entirely the dark brown color, so I painted the top in two tones and also painted the hardware.  They weren't my style, but they've served us well over the past few years.  I recently saw some pictures on Pinterest of repainted thrift store/garage sale furniture and I was inspired!!!

Last night, Ben and I went to Home Depot and purchased a big can of primer.  While continuing through the paint section, I found a pair of these beauties:

 50 cent paint samples!  And it looked like just enough paint to cover up my side tables!  Of course, I bought both of them.  I couldn't contain myself, so I started priming this morning.

 And after two coats of primer, I completed the first coat of paint:

I started to feel frustrated with the thought of putting the old drawer pulls back on until I realized I had these...

I bought them for $7 at IKEA a couple years ago and they did not fit the project I had planned.  But the big question... Would they miraculously fit this drawer?!?!

Perfect fit!

After I completed two coats of paint, I let it dry.  Finally, I took some sand paper to the edges and gave it a bit of a distressed look.  Voila!


Before & After

Such an improvement!  I love how they look now, and all it took was some primer, a paint sample, sand paper, $7 hardware, and a weekend of work.  Do you have any old furniture you've been meaning to rejuvenate?