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?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Efficient Classroom Organization

I have many goals as a teacher.  Some pertain to the teaching itself, others to my impact on the kids, and then I also have goals for classroom management & organization.  I'll be using this post to update the status of my classroom organization techniques and to share what has worked for my classroom.  I hope you find something that works for you!  :)

This is how I group my learning teams.  I have found that groups of 4 work best for 6th graders.  More than 4 allows shy students to become wallflowers.  Less than 4 is too few for balanced collaboration.  Before my students can leave my class, they have to have their area organized, garbage picked up, and books/resources stacked in the center.  If they don't do this, we have a "group meeting" in the hallway the next day. 
When they have activities as a group, I face the desks toward each other.  Usually I just have my first period move the desks for me.  There is definitely more talking when the desks face together, but if I circulate the room constantly then it's usually on-task talking.  If it is off-task too often, I give a consequence.

If it's an activity and I want them to work individually or in partners only, I face the desks forward instead.

Each group has the opportunity to earn points for various tasks (if everyone has their homework, if a student does something extraordinary, etc).  They can also lose points for multiple reasons (off-task behaviors, not coming prepared, etc).  At the end of the week, the winning team is declared.  For the following week, they get to choose a team mascot to sit on their desk all week (such as Freddy the Yeti) and they get to be the first to leave class when the bell rings.
Another potential team mascot.  His name is Wolfy Wolfington.

I've just started to create these unit binders.  For a while, I had "region binders"--one for Europe, one for Latin America, etc.  Those were too broad.  Then, I created "unit file folders" but they didn't have enough space for my extra copies.  This is my next attempt at organization!  My hope is that, when I start a new unit, I can just open the binder and go from start to finish.

:::UPDATE 7/15/2013:::
After only a year, I was growing tired of looking at all these binders.  I was also struggling with where to put my answer keys?  My originals?  So now I've modified these binders for class set storage.  Our school works hard to conserve paper so we try to create class sets as much as possible.  This cuts 130 copies down to 35.  And if I'm only using 1 document per day, this can save:
  • 95 pieces of paper per day
  • 475 pieces per week
  • 1,900 pieces per month
  • 19,000 pieces per school year!!!

Holy cow, that's the first time I've done the math... Crazy!  Anyway, I took one whole day and created my greatest masterpiece.  I call it... MEGABINDER!!!


MEGABINDER is a collection of all my units.  I use post-it sticky tabs instead of binder tabs.  I also used an entire box of sheet protectors.  The cover page of each unit has 
1) a list of the standards we cover 
2) a list of terms kids should know
3) a bulleted list of activities that we can do during that unit.

In the same sheet protector as the cover page, I put any bulletin board elements I have for that unit.  After this, I put my originals in order of use.

To recap:
  • Megabinder
  • Binder pockets store answer keys and various other useful items that don't really fit in a specific unit
  • Unit tabs
    • Cover page
    • Bulletin board elements
    • Activities in order of use
    • Test/summative assessment for that unit
  • Class sets live in another location, labeled by unit.

After 6 years of teaching the same thing, I am finally starting the get the hang of it.  Organization is key to efficiency and certainty.  The classroom is stressful enough - help yourself by creating a system that will relieve a bit of that stress.  

How do you keep your classroom organized?  I would love to hear your stories and maybe even share them here on the blog for you!  You can comment here or send me an email at  Stay inspired!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wanted Poster Lesson Plan

Today was a discouraging day at school.  My lesson plan for today went fine, but it felt lackluster.  


We are currently learning about the independence movements of Latin America and being introduced to Toussaint L'Ouverture, Miguel Hidalgo, and Simon Bolivar.  My lesson plan required them to fold their paper in half, creating 4 sections (2 on front, 2 on back).  Then they were to give each person their own box, detailing Who, What, When, Where, Why.  The 4th box was for "What they all had in common".  I gave them the opportunity to work in their learning teams, but most of them declined and chose instead to work independently.  It appropriately covered the content, but it just felt blah!

To continue the lesson tomorrow, I wanted to give them some way to practice using their knowledge but wasn't sure how.  Then, while riding home from La Parilla with my shmoopie, it came to me...
Since all 3 of the independence movement leaders were infamous to their European empire enemies, it would make sense to create a wanted poster.  The Europeans did not want a powerful, educated, leader with the passion and ability to lead the people to revolution!  
On their poster, I'm going to ask them to include:
  • Name of the person
  • Illustration
  • Who wants them and why
  • The reward
  • What to do if he's found
  • Date of poster publication
Hopefully this spices things up a bit.  I am going to have them share theirs with the class at the end to really drive the message home!  Wish me luck!


UPDATE 2/14/2012:
I did this activity today and the kids were excited about it.  Some problems I encountered:
  • Some students finished really fast while others took their time (typically, the more time spent, the better the poster).  This happens with almost every activity I do and I'm not quite sure how to fix it.
  • Some students tried making theirs look old (which I encouraged) but then the product was difficult to read/see.
  • I wish I had made an exemplar prior to giving the assignment (duh) but I ran out of time.  I think this would have given my students a better idea of my expectations. 

UPDATE 2/18/2012:
Here are some of the posters the kids made.  Didn't they turn out great?!  As a fun twist, I've hung a bunch up all over the school, so they're like real wanted posters!  Be on the lookout!