Category Archives: General Teaching

Engaging Middle School Writers with Picaboo – Trust Me!

It can be difficult to engage kids in writing – that’s just a fact. Therefore, I am excited to share a site that I found called, “Picaboo Yearbooks” to publish a class book containing my students’ writing. My students have bought in and so I’m stoked! You can actually create lots of different things on the website, but I am using it to create a class book of writing to engage my kids, and so far, so good!

I had been searching for a “self-publishing” type of site and couldn’t seem to find just what I wanted, in terms of style, practicality or price. Picaboo’s books are affordable (less than $10 for a 20 page book – full color, softcover and less than $20 for a hardcover) so I’ll be able to purchase one to have in my class library – this way everyone will be a published writer this year. There are no minimums needed to buy a book, either. If I just want one book – I’m free to order just one! Also, the way that I am choosing to set things up, each student has their own page to create. All I had to do was make ONE login and they can all access our class book. They know to work on their own page and not to mess with anyone else’s page. They can also easily read and give feedback to classmates, as we create this one collaborative collection of their writing. Finally, they love that they can change the layout, and add fun pictures and backgrounds to their pages to make them even more polished. They are enjoying the fact that this book will be published and so have been putting forth commendable efforts, so far.

In terms of particulars, I was going to have students write directly into the template, and some are. For others, they rather use Word to create their draft and then they are pasting the draft into the website to get feedback from peers. There was a little bit of a learning curve, however, the site is very user friendly and the kids are having no issues with the technology side! They’re grade 7 – technology is their forte!

Oh, and I did contact Picaboo before I decided to do this project to get a sample of their books. They actually sent me a beautiful sample and I was sold on the quality! If you are thinking about doing a class yearbook or wanting to engage your kiddos by setting up your class with Picaboo so that they can all get published – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. They also have tons of helpful videos, and Live Chat to help out as well, if you use the yearbooks as yearbooks, since they are more involved than what I am using the site for.

I only wish I had incorporated Picaboo earlier in the year with my kiddos – we could have made a larger collection of their work. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Picaboo Yearbooks

This is a first draft that one of my students is working on in the Picaboo Yearbooks template…

 

Elora of Stone

Do You Teach Your Students About Having a Fixed Vs Growth Mindset?

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!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa

Feeling the Love

As teachers, there are times that our jobs are stressful and we get to the end of the day and wonder if we actually taught anybody anything! Or, maybe that’s just me!

Well this was the opposite of one of those weeks. This week I was feeling the love! I came back from Christmas vacation to find a little card in my school mailbox. When I opened it, I discovered that it was from a student I taught last year, and who I had for Math again this year. She moved a couple of months ago. I only wish there was a return address on the envelope! I’m going to have to track her down!

So sweet, brought a tear to my eye.

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I mean, come on! How lucky am I to receive such a special card – this one filled my bucket for at least the next few months.

And then as I was just getting ready to head home today, I noticed this on the board. Now, they’ve written this on the board before, but they usually add, “And ——– is her favorite student!” This message was anonymous, and it topped up my bucket – I’m good until the end of June, now!

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Just in case you haven’t been told recently, YOU ARE AWESOME! Enjoy your weekend – I certainly have a little extra energy for the Master’s work ahead of me!

 

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How to Come Up with a Winning Science Fair Project Idea ~ Guest Post

So your child is in middle school and is participating in the school science fair, and you’re now trying to help come up with science fair project ideas. Irrespective of whether your child was forced to take part in the science fair or even if science is a much-disliked subject, you can turn the situation around with a winning science fair project idea. Here are six tips to share with your child to ensure (s)he enjoys working on the project, learns a lot in the process and maybe even ends up with a prize!

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Science Fair, 09” by Rich Bowen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  1. Begin Early

The science fair is a long way away, and you figure you have more than enough time to come up with a good science fair project idea and see it through to the end. Great! That’s no reason to put off starting on the project. You never know what complications may arise once you actually begin. Even the seemingly simple task of coming up with a good idea may take a lot more time than expected. The last thing you want is to find out that you have only one week left for the project, and an understandably limited choice of ideas to choose from. With more time in hand, you have the liberty of choosing a topic that truly interests you, spending enough time to do research and understand the topic in detail, and collecting the necessary information in a well thought-out and organized manner. And if you’ve got your eyes on the prize, each of these factors will help differentiate your project from the other good ones on display. Believe me, the judges can tell.

  1. Choose a topic that really interests you

The right way to go about finding a good science fair project idea is to begin with your interests. Don’t read through a list of ideas and see whether any of them appeal to you. Rather, take some time to think about what kind of topics get you excited. It doesn’t even have to have a direct link to science. What things make you sit up and pay attention? Sports? Cats? Building things with your own hands? Narrow your list down to a few of your favorite topics and spend some time thinking about them. Most probably you will have to do some additional reading on the topic to come up with a question that interests you. The Google Idea Springboard is a great tool to help you out in this area. You’re likely to spend a few weeks if not months working on your project, so having a topic that you love will keep you interested till the end.

  1. Come up with a good question that you can work with

A good science fair project idea begins with a good question. How do you define a good question? Firstly, it should not be a question that has already been answered by someone else. If you design a science fair project around the question ‘Which color light do plants grow best in?’, it is unlikely that you or anyone else will learn anything new from it. The experimental procedure and results for such a project can easily be found on the internet. Even if you do decide to do a project based on a science fair project idea you found online, make sure to change the question and ask something new so that you are experimenting and doing research on a slightly different area. Secondly, the question should truly interest you. Don’t adopt a question that someone else finds interesting or exciting. Use your ‘favorite topics’ list, spend time playing with different ideas in your head and only settle for a question that you would genuinely like to know the answer to. This interest will completely change the way you approach the project.

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Sanna Science Fair by terren in Virginia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

  1. Consider the experimental procedure involved

Remember, while trying to settle on your science fair project idea, you have to come up with a fool proof method for collecting data to answer your question. Consider the kind of time, energy and resources required to set up your experiment, and realistically evaluate whether it can be accomplished with what is available to you. Also check your experiment for any flaws. Is the data that you are collecting quantifiable? Is there any subjectivity involved? Have you considered and taken care of external factors that may affect your results? If you do not know the right answers to these questions, or how to design your experiment accordingly, you will need to spend some time understanding how to set up a scientific experiment.

  1. Feel free to change your question based on your background research

It is entirely possible that as you go about collecting the information you need for your project, you realize that your question isn’t a very good one, or that you think of a better and more interesting one. Feel free to change your question according to your findings. This is where point #1 becomes even more important.

  1. Make sure you understand all the concepts involved

Don’t worry about finding a topic that sounds highly complicated or scientific. In fact, the more simple your topic, the better you will be able to work with it. Nobody is expecting Ph.D. level research from you. More importantly, you will find the research and data collection far more difficult if you haven’t fully understood the topic yourself. Feel free to ask for help from an adult or the internet in order to learn more about the topic, but when it comes to the project, do all the thinking and analysis yourself. This will help you immensely when it comes to answering the judges’ questions about your project, and your in-depth understanding will show.

As long as you keep these tips in mind, you can be sure to come up with a science fair project idea that will win you over, impress your audience and maybe even tip the judges’ scales in your favor.

 

Author Bio:

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/

 

I Found a Pen That’s ACTUALLY Erasable, No Joke!

I LOVE cool school supplies! It is one of the ways that I know I’m meant to be a teacher – no one else really appreciates colorful tabs and post-its like we do.

Well, I have discovered my new favorite pens. Have you ever used those scratchy “erasable pens” that never really erased anything, but just tore up your paper and made a mess? These pens are NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING like those sub-par pens of years ago. Pilot FriXion Gel Pens are erasable pens that ACTUALLY erase. I know, mind….blown! I was skeptical before I tried them, but they really are fantastic! There is no “eraser” as such. When the erasing tip is rubbed against the page, it creates a little heat and the friction causes the thermo sensitive ink to disappear!

I often make mistakes when I’m quickly trying to correct or add comments to students’ papers, and I detest having to scratch something out that I didn’t mean to write. It just looks unprofessional – although I know that “everyone makes mistakes”. This way, I can still mark in pen, but it’s like my mistakes never happened!

These pens write smoothly, and are also re-fillable as well, which is a bonus!

Of course they come in lots of different colors which I take advantage of when I am correcting a students’ piece of writing multiple times – I use different colors of ink, so that they know which comment is new. And now, I can go back and erase comments, if I need to, so that a more reluctant writer can incorporate my comments into the piece of writing, but still use the draft without my hen-scratches all over the page. My students enjoy using these awesome pens during free writes, especially and they have been a bit of a reward as well, since they know that they are “Mrs. Mills’ special pens”.

As if erasable pens that really erase wasn’t enough…how about erasable highlighters? Yep! I found out that Pilot has those as well and they use the same “friction technology” to make the highlighting disappear! Now, would I give the highlighter to students and give the child free reign to highlight? Probably not. However, there are lots of applications for erasable highlighters – especially in middle school. For instance, I may have students work within a small group and each identify a certain phase in a novel by highlighting it for the purposes of a mini-lesson (and later erase the highlighting). Students could highlight key terms in a text book (and erase at the end of the chapter). Let’s face it – anything that helps kids note-take is a keeper. Kids like to highlight, in general, but to have the option to erase what they highlight really opens the doors for more activities involving text books or novels that we can’t have permanently marked.

Thank you Pilot for your innovation! Erasable Gel Pens and Highlighters! Who knew cool school supplies could make a teacher so happy? jamberry nails giveaway

 

 

 

 

 

Check Out Our New Playground!

It’s not QUITE finished, but I just couldn’t wait to share! You know WAAAAAAY back when I was harassing you about voting for my school in a competition to win $100 000+ for a new playground, through Aviva Community Fund? Remember that? Do you also remember when we won? Well, the playground is up and will be finished SOON!

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Just setting up in front of our new/renovated K-12 School

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I have to express my gratitude once again to all of you who voted and shared. This playground is AH-MAZING and the kids are going to LOVE it! I highly suggest you check out the Aviva Community Fund competition if there’s a project in your community that needs a boost! You just never know!

 

jamberry nails giveaway

 

 

 

The Write Genre: Activities and Mini-Lessons to Promote Writing

If you want help with organizing your writing program and teaching genres of writing more effectively, I HIGHLY recommend,Write Genre, The: Classroom Activities and Mini-Lessons That Promote Writing with Clarity, Style, and Flashes of Brilliance. I WISH that I had found it at the beginning of last year, as improving writing instruction in my classroom was something that I actively worked on. Better late than never, I suppose!

I love this book for a few reasons:

1.  Very readable and practical with lessons that I can take and use NOW

2. Suggestions are provided for assessment (6 Traits of writing)

3. It covers Personal Memoir, Fictional Narrative, Informational Writing, Opinion Pieces, Procedural Writing, Poetry and Multi-Genre chapters – basically everything I need to teach in Grade 7 LA! 

It’s a perfect fit for me, and the curriculum that I am expected to teach. Although I really like our relatively new resources in Grade 7 for Language Arts, I find that they do lack in writing, which is why I was working more on it last year (and why I wish I had found this book LAST summer – would have saved me bunches of time)!

If you have been looking for help with teaching writing, I strongly suggest having a look at this resource! I am so lucky to have such a great staff – someone recommended it and we were even able to purchase multiple copies for other staff who were interested (that’s how I ended up finding the book- lucky, I know).

Do you have any titles or websites to share that assist with writing in the classroom? I’m always looking for great mentor texts (of what to do or what not to do in a piece) and student samples! Please comment if you have some to share!

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“It’s No Joke!” Test-Prep Pack Giveaway for Middle and High School

test prep giveaway

A great giveaway coming your way, organized by a couple of blogger buds of mine.

There are THREE fantastic bundles of test-prep goodies up for grabs for middle and high school teachers. I have offered up a choice of item to the winner of the prize pack that I’m a part of.

That lucky winner will have his/her choice of ANY item from my TPT Store (along with the rest of the test-prep goodies, of course).

 Make sure to head over to The Language Arts Classroom to enter, and good luck! 

This giveaway is definitely No Joke!

Test Prep Giveaway

Students Take Responsibility For Their Learning By Reflecting on Their Tests

We had a PD day last week and I got to meet with my collaborative learning team. We’ve been looking at how to use Guided Math in our classrooms. It’s been a struggle, but I have made some gains in that area this year and I’m going to continue to work on it as a professional goal.

Something that one of the grade 6 teachers shared was really simple and useful and so I thought I’d share it here.

The basic idea is to have students reflect on their tests, quizzes, or reviews and to put the responsibility on to them as to what they still need to work on. It works wonderfully for math, but can easily be used in other subjects as well.

I created my own version and posted it in my TPT Store as a freebie. Click on the picture below for your own copy!

 

Krystal Mills, Lessons From The Mille, Teacher BlogTest Reflection TPT Test Reflection SHeet

WE WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you for all of your positive energy and good vibes! Very excited to announce that we were the GRAND PRIZE winners in the Aviva Community Fund Competition! Souris Consolidated School was awarded a cheque today for $135 000 to pay for our inclusive playground. It just goes to show that when parents, teachers, students and entire communities work together, amazing things can happen. Mountains can be moved. What may seem impossible, becomes a reality.

Thanks again, everyone! What an awesome, emotional and simply unforgettable day!

 

aviva cheque 2

 

Souris: A Playground for All (coverage about us begins at 20:50

Krystal Mills, Lessons From The Mille, Teacher Blog