Author Archives: krystalmills
I am just getting ready to enter my 11th year teaching junior high (holy cow) and I’ve had some realizations, over the last 2 years really, in terms of the mental health of my students. It seems as though there is an extraordinary number of kids these days suffering from anxiety, depression, and stress in general. But why now, and what can I do about it? I teach Math and Science. If I taught LA or Health I could pull in connections more easily, however, I think I need to figure out a way to talk about what I’ve seen many of them battle for the last 2+ years.
I had many kids last year on medication for their anxiety and others simply missing time because they could just not get themselves to school. Kids are talking to counselors and therapists. What more can I do? That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out because it does affect their attendance, their grades, and their well-being in general. I want all of my kids to be healthy and happy!
I will be teaching grades 7-9 in September – Math and Science. Grade 7 is kind of a rite of passage in our school because the students start to “get marks” and in grade 9 they have a provincial assessment in Math that counts toward their grade. Two potentially stressful years. Anyhow, I’ve been trying to brainstorm how I may attempt to deal with/help the students who battle anxiety and depression on a daily basis. I know that bullying, social media issues, poverty and other home issues, peer pressure, as well as school pressures are all acting on these kids, each day.
I have been thinking about starting some kind of health related group in the school next year and teach them how to recognize anxiety and depression in themselves and in their friends, promote talking about mental health around the school – it’s not something to keep quiet about etc. I don’t know if there’ll be any interest, of course, but I think if I can brand it in a “cool” and useful way there may be buy in. I just feel sad for these kids and at a loss when I see their empty chairs, because they are once more absent. Many teachers in the province where I teach see this as an issue in their schools, but nothing seems to be happening in terms of support, top down. I feel like it needs to start, and it needs to start now. I’m not sure what this will look like or if it will fizzle out before it begins – if the kids aren’t into it – it’s dead and I’ll have to move on.
Would anyone care to partner with this initiative to brainstorm ideas? Share information (top ten causes of teen stress) or inspirational videos (ways to handle peer pressure) for example? Does anyone have a program like this in their school? I don’t know if I see it as weekly or bi-weekly, at lunch or after school etc. What I do know is that one day a year or even a week in the year, where the school talks about mental health, is not enough to battle what our kids are dealing with. I don’t know why so many are on medication or what the real catalyst for these changes has been. What I do know, is that it is very real and it’s time that we step up and try to help our kids help themselves.
One of the sites that I used in my Teacher Inquiry project over the summer was one I have mentioned before: Sumdog. I happen to love the site and have been using it again this year with my current students. My results from my teacher inquiry indicate that using Math sites such as Sumdog have a positive effect on students’ attitudes toward Math and motivation to do Math. The results also indicated that regularly using a site like Sumdog can result in improvement in accuracy and speed in the skills that they practice.
I have been using Sumdog for the last four or five years and the site underwent some major changes over the summer to streamline it, making it even more user-friendly. I use the site to assign weekly homework and an assessment to my students. I am able to customize skills for students easily and get real-time results of my students’ progress. I sent out a mass email at the beginning of the year to ensure that all parents were aware of the homework I was assigning (since you need technology to complete the tasks). Students also have the option of completing their work at lunch or after school in the computer lab. So far, I have had a mostly positive response from parents and students on this homework. As a teacher, I really like that it is so easy to assign tasks, but also that the site gives me so much data on student performance. I can even see problems that students get incorrect when I give an assessment, in addition to their final score.
If you haven’t used Sumdog with your students – check it out! I have used lots of different Math sites, but this is the one I go back to year after year. The kids enjoy it – which is the most important thing to me. Kids can play against the computer, the world or even against kids in their own class. They can earn little rewards – pets, for example – as they get more and more points. This is new this school year, but even my grade eight and nines are getting a kick out of their new pets and the tricks that they can do. As the teacher, I can assign competitions, assessments, and challenges easily and track data from each. The site is appropriate for grades 1-9, with a wide selection of skills from which to choose. Differentiation is super simple and a huge benefit of the site, as I want different students to work on different skills. Anyhow, I like to share this site each school year because it is one of my favorites!
What are your favorite Math sites?
I spoke in my previous post about teacher inquiry as a process in which teachers use their own skills, power, and creativity to solve a problem that exists in their classroom; a problem that if solved would improve student achievement in some way. I challenged you to state a wondering of your own, as well. This wondering should be something that you’re passionate about finding an answer to!
My wondering for my Master’s course requirement came at the end of this past school year. I had many different wonderings floating around in my head at the time. They dealt with whole class instruction, engagement, behavior, and other issues as well. The process of defining a wondering is key because it is this question which will drive the entire inquiry. Since it was the end of the school year and I was not going to have my students in front of me during the inquiry, I identified an inquiry that I could explore in the summer months.
As a Math teacher, one issue arises for me each September. Students come back from a summer of rest and relaxation, and I am so happy to see them! Unfortunately, I find that many students tend to regress in their skills and we spend the first couple of weeks of school bringing them back up to speed. I wish I was able to start the grade level curriculum more quickly, and so I started to wonder… I wondered if there was a way to work with students over the summer to help maintain their math skills to lessen this regression. My students and I were also participating in a technology pilot at the time, which ended up having a significant impact on how I organized my inquiry. When it came down to defining my wondering, I knew I wanted to follow my passion for Math, and try to incorporate technology and attempt to increase or at least maintain student achievement.
My wondering for my inquiry was: How can I use technology (Khan Academy, Sumdog and Google Classroom) to help my grade 7 students maintain their Math skills over the summer months?
In upcoming posts, I will discuss where I went from here with my teacher inquiry. So, any wonderings coming to mind? Please share by commenting below! I know many are already back in classrooms, although I do not personally start back with students until September 8th. I wonder…could we ever create an online group of teacher inquirers this school year? Any interest – please let me know and we’ll see what we can do!
I am proud to say that I have officially finished 9 of my 10 Masters courses (insert applause here). It has been a busy 12 months! My program really has changed me as a teacher – my planning, instruction, and how I regard assessment.
One course that I took a couple of months ago was “Action Research”. Before beginning the course, I was shaking in my boots. I envisioned research methods from my undergrad degree – reliability and validity, controlling variables and looking for statistically significant results…Shudder… I remember thinking, “It’s almost the end of the school year. I DO NOT have time to conduct RESEARCH!” As it turns out, I learned in the first week that action research has many other names, including “teacher inquiry”, and it was nothing like what I had pictured. I have come to prefer the term “teacher inquiry” to “action research”. I find it less intimidating – if that makes any sense! But, they do refer to the same process.
So, why have I chosen to share with you, my first venture into teacher inquiry? Well, as a requirement of my program, I had to conduct a teacher inquiry of my own. One of the major elements upon the completion of a teacher inquiry is to share what happened – the results, what I learned, and what it all means. So, as part of the “sharing” component I decided to share here on my blog with all of you. It’s too much to share in one post, so you can expect a few upcoming posts highlighting the whole process.
What you need to understand, if you are new to teacher inquiry, is that it is a simple, yet complex process. Time-consuming, yet rich in professional development opportunities. The entire process begins with what is called a “wondering”. This is a question that you wish you had the answer to. It may be something that you think about on the drive home, or discuss with your spouse or colleagues, or something that rolls around in your mind as you try to sleep. As educators, we all have wonderings, of sorts….How can I help So-and-So be more organized? What can I do to increase student engagement? What can I do to improve achievement with this unit? How can I incorporate more technology into my course? What can I do to make So-And-So stop blurting out in class? How can I get all of my students to actually LEARN their times tables this year? These were all potential wonderings for me as I started the process of teacher inquiry. I encourage you to think about a question, a wondering, that you would like help with. It should be something that would improve life in your classroom and in return, increase student achievement – which is what it’s all about – helping kids learn and have success.
I’m including a link to our course text, in case teacher inquiry sounds like something that you would like to explore this school year. In my opinion, the book was extremely helpful and user-friendly:
So, as I leave you to reflect on your own personal wondering, know that teacher inquiry is simply a structured method to help you find the answer(s) to that question. It is empowering, and helps teachers to find the answers to their own questions. So, what’s your wondering?
I mentioned a while back that my students were working on memoirs and that my students were each going to put their memoir in to a class book. Well, we completed our book and even added some of their art work, in addition to their memoirs. The books arrived just last week and the quality is awesome (and they took less than 2 weeks turn around time from when we submitted the final proof). The kids did a super job and the site that we used, Picaboo (which is actually a yearbook site) was fantastic to work with. We used the site to self-publish, essentially. However, they also sent me a copy of their actual yearbooks to get an idea of quality – and both hard and soft covers are really well-made.
Not all of my students could afford a yearbook this year, but the Picaboo yearbooks were only $10 a piece – that’s pretty affordable. There are no minimums for orders and so the teacher could order one book for the class library, or each student could purchase their own copy. Picaboo also offers free ebooks, so students could still share their work with parents etc.- just online.
The day the books arrived, I allowed my students time to mingle and check out each others’ published work and even write “yearbook” type comments – since every student did get a copy of our class book of writing, “From the Minds of 7B ~ A book of Memoirs”. They thought it was great, because again, they hadn’t all gotten yearbooks and this way they did get to sign messages to each other and it was almost MORE special since it was something that only our class was a part of.
Even my reluctant writers were pretty proud of their work and I think using a site, like Picaboo, to self publish is a must to give purpose for writing. This site is affordable, easy to use, and has tons of extra options for anyone who wants to “get fancy” with their class writing project. And again, at the end of the day – the site is a Yearbook making site – and I would recommend looking into them if you’re getting started with yearbooks in your school or classroom. Their customer service was wonderful!
Really, it’s pretty cool (in my opinion) to create a class book of writing, include artwork, class photos, cool backgrounds and borders – and all for $10 a book. I’m proud of the work that we did this year in writing and I’m happy that each of my students has become a published author before the end of the school year.
~Happy to have another blog post from guest blogger Catherine Ross. Summer slide. How can our kids avoid it?~
Every summer, an evil monster waits in the dark looking for its next victim – a young mind ready to stay idle for over three months. What evil monster? Why, the dreaded Summer Slide indeed! Children lose mammoth educational ground during their summer breaks because they are away from regular studies for a long time. Summer slide affects middle school children the most as they are in the most crucial phase of their education – the middle school years not only help kids discover their favorite subjects and areas of interest, but also help them set the foundation for advanced studies. While parents get busy planning family holidays as soon as summer sets in, ensuring that the learning doesn’t stop sometimes takes a backseat. So how can summer slide be tackled among middle school children while simultaneously making the most of the sunny, breezy season? Below are a few ways to make learning seem like a game and prevent summer slide in middle school children.
Middle school children must understand that it is important to stay connected to their last year’s syllabus. What they’ll learn in the next grade will build upon what they learnt in their previous grade. So it’s essential to know their last year’s math, science, and grammar syllabi. Set goals with your middle school child and try to make the learning experience fun. Examples: solve 100 math problems in a week, read four short stories in two days, conduct three science experiments in 5 weekdays, etc. The time limits will make it challenging for a middle school child to achieve the goals and eventually help in preventing the inevitable slide.
Setting a goal of reading four short stories in two days doesn’t necessarily translate into reading four short stories in one day. Or, solving 100 problems in a week doesn’t mean the middle schooler will solve 50 on the last day of achieving the goal. The whole objective of ‘setting goals’ is to ensure that the middle schoolers continue to practice their lessons through the break. So oversee your child’s daily routine and make sure she plans out the tasks sensibly. If a child has to read four short stories in two days, she should ideally read two a day, and solving 100 problems in a week will mean solving 14 a day on an average. When your child gets bored of solving problems and reading stories, switch to fun games for kids online that are both educational as well as fun.
Plan mid-summer rewards for kids on successfully achieving their goals. Why would they want to complete the tasks assigned to them within a limited time if there’s nothing waiting at the end of it for them? But avoid rewarding them with very fancy gifts and instead choose books, stationery, puzzles, board games, etc. In other words, choose rewards that have an educational value.
There’s another objective to summer besides trying and avoiding summer slide – enjoying summer! Museums, nature parks, and zoos never cease to teach us. Take kids out to these destinations and give them a chance to explore beyond their textbooks. Incorporate learning cleverly into these trips by studying maps of the places you explored, going back home and writing essays on the trip, documenting the trips to make a journal on their summer holiday, and more. After all, summers are meant to be outdoorsy!
Don’t forget to enjoy the sun while trying hard to avoid summer slide. Play while learning and learn while playing to make the most of both.
Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way in enhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at http://kidslearninggames.weebly.com/
In one of the courses that I am taking for my Master’s of Education, I came across a topic that really struck a chord with me. I am taking two courses at the moment ( my March “Break” has been pivotal in maintaining my sanity with this 2 courses at once, business). In my Differentiated Instruction course, the idea of a “Fixed Mindset” versus a “Growth Mindset” came up. To put it simply, some people (kids included) believe that we are born with a certain amount of intelligence – it’s “fixed”. In comparison, hose with a “Growth Mindset” understand that putting in effort to learn new things expands our minds, and that effort is what makes us successful and “smarter”.
I don’t know about you, but I have certain students, who constantly question themselves and do not give their full effort! Like, ever! Oh wait, unless it’s a really simple task. It is extremely frustrating, as the teacher, to sit back and see that if s/he just TRIED they would achieve the success that they wish for. What I have learned is that people with a “fixed mindset” see effort and “having to try” as threatening to their intelligence. This exertion of effort actually makes them feel stupid because they feel like they should already know the material. They think that others just “get it” while they do not. Kids with a “fixed mindset” don’t realize that other students are actually working harder than they are (exerting effort to do well) and it is the effort of these other students that causes them to gain more academic success, not intelligence that they were born with.
I teach grade 7 and I think that junior high students could really benefit from being informed about “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. Recognizing the type of mindset that they have and looking at how they can make simple changes to actually “grow their brains” and make themselves smarter? I would have to think that idea would be appealing to kids!
I found an interactive quiz to share with your kiddos if this is something that you’re interested in. Below the quiz are two videos – a Ted Talk by Carol Dweck who has researched this phenomenon, and a second video about how the brain works that would be suitable for middle school and up. I also found another quick video comparing “fixed” and “growth” mindset.
Carol Dweck’s book is titled, “Mindset” if this is a topic that interests you.
I also dug around and found “Mindsets in the Classroom” which I am adding to my Amazon wishlist. It looks fantastic and very user-friendly!
I think that the main thing that I got from the articles that I have read for my MSED on mindset, is that kids need to know that they have the power to “make themselves smarter”. Their effort is what matters – they haven’t been born with a certain amount of intelligence. Exerting effort to learn something new makes the neurons in their brain fire and can actually cause their brain to grow (whereby making them smarter than if they hadn’t exerted effort). Even sharing or reminding kids of that fact, and pulling the topic in when kids with “fixed mindsets” balk at challenges would be helpful with motivating and inspiring all kids to achieve.
I am excited to get back to class and share some of the things I have learned about mindset with my kiddos (the ones with clearly “fixed mindsets” especially). I would love to hear your opinions on this topic! Are you familiar with Dweck’s work? I have spoken to my kids on the topic of effort, but never in the terms of mindset and intelligence and I can’t wait to hear what they think!