Tag Archives: teaching

The Original Team Challenge Cube

I just received an email with a link to the Team Challenge Cube I learned about (and wrote about here) at OMLA a month ago.

We are using a slight variation at our school, and it’s been quite interesting watching our 7th graders get into it.  I will be posting more about it in a week or so. I want to see how it plays out for a few more days.

Meanwhile, go check out Katie’s other videos here. She has a lot of fun and easy  ways to get students motivated and manage your classroom.

Inspired by The Flip, The Cube, and The Apple

Earlier this week I attend the Ohio Middle Level Association conference with seven people from my building, many who happen to be some of my best friends. We left after school on Wednesday and got home Friday just before dinner.  It was a whirlwind trip with lots of laughs, lots of honors, and lots of inspiration.

We had some time to catch up with each other beyond the confines of our classroom walls, talk about our personal lives, learn new things about each other, and realize, despite the bad things happening in our schools these days, we still share the same common desire: to engage and relate to middle school kids.

Sometimes getting away from the classroom can be just what you need.

I am excited to put some new ideas into action and tweak some other ideas to fit my classroom and my personality.

One of my friends presented a session called “Just Flip It”. Not only did she do an amazing job of presenting at 8 a.m. on Friday the 13th, she inspired me to try some flipped classroom concepts myself.  I guess, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought “flipping” was only meant for the math classroom. I couldn’t picture flipping anything in Language Arts.  I realize now I was wrong.  Anytime you have a chance to frontload students, flipping is an option.

The key points I took away from her presentation:
-Start with someone else’s videos.
-The videos don’t have to be perfect. (In fact, she said they’d be downright ugly at first.)
-Keep your videos short!
-You can hold students accountable in a variety of ways. (eduCanon, guided notes, Poll Everywhere)

Yesterday I sat down and made 6 short videos (the longest is 3:23 minutes) for my 7th grade Resource Room Language Arts class.  The videos introduce the 6 Notice and Note Signposts.  I did start with some YouTube videos I found here, but having students who struggle with reading, I added a voiceover, and I included some of my own material to match what I already have created in my classroom, which you can see here.  I probably spent an hour making the videos and the accompanying handout, and each video was a little easier and faster to make.

If you’d like to know more about flipping the classroom, I am sure my friend wouldn’t mind sharing her presentation.

I also attended a session called “Strategies to Revitalize and Energize Your Classroom.”  The two presenters were so similar in personality to me, and I enjoyed every moment of their presentation.  I am now searching for a perfect cube-shaped box, so I can make a “Team Challenge Cube.”   Just imagine students bringing their agenda, their book, a pencil and their homework to class everyday, and never needing to give that lecture!   Look for a future blog post about my experience with The Cube. 

Click here for contact information for both presentations.

Sometimes you can be your own inspiration. When you get just enough confidence and believe in yourself, when you put yourself out there in a new situation…it’s exhilarating.

My principal asked me to write a proposal for a presentation at this conference, and I did just that.  My presentation was posted here on the blog a few days ago, so many of you may have already taken a look.

I was incredibly nervous and my mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls, but I did it. I gave a 45-minute presentation on something I am passionate about: writing.

My friends said I did great; I have to take their word for it. I remember very little, but I am so glad I took the risk and had the opportunity to present.  It may not have been perfect, or completely how I envisioned it, but it was a learning experience and something I look forward to doing again.

So where does the apple come in? (This is where I brag a little.)  On Thursday night, following a social hour with some of Ohio’s top middle school teachers, I received the Ohio Middle Level Association East Regional Award for Best Middle Level Practice. Nominated by my administration, primarily for my experience with author Rick Niece, I received a certificate and an apple. Oh, and this special ribbon to add to my name tag.


The thing about it all, the reality…I could not have won that award without my 21 students.  They were there with me every step of the way. They were the reason I stood in my driveway and made the call to Rick Niece in the first place. They were the reason I won this award. Everything I’ve done this year, I’ve done for them.  Without them, I wouldn’t have this apple.


When Every Minute Counts: Making the Most of Journal Writing

From my Ohio Middle Level Association presentation on Feb. 13, 2015…..



To access the paper handout: OMLA Journal Writing Handout (PDF)

To view the presentation slides: OMLA Journal Writing Slides (PDF)

To view the powerpoint: OMLA Journal Writing Presentation (pptx)



Stay tuned to hear all about my experience at the Ohio Middle Level Assocation conference!


*Let’s cherish every moment we have been given…The time is passing by*

I had Miss Taylor for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade, and we had a special connection.  She had beautiful blond hair and a quiet disposition. She was shy and very nervous when we first met. She remained quiet, but she was always sweet. She made so much progress and “grew” in so many ways.  She will always be one of my favorites.

I am now friends with both her and her mother on Facebook, and I see regularly that she has grown up to be a beautiful person both inside and out.

Our bond was confirmed when I recently received this message:

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 8.14.07 PM

The picture that made the shoebox?

Ian Kristopher - only a few days old

Ian Kristopher – only a few days old


This picture dates back to 2003, when I ended the school year on maternity leave. After 13 weeks of bed rest, I came in to see my class with my baby boy. I had given each student a tiny 2×3 photograph of him.  Obviously, it meant a lot to Taylor. And it must have also meant a lot to her mother ~ to share this moment with me.

Looking at this photo, I am amazed it has been almost 12 years, and that Taylor is 21.  This is just a reminder that we should cherish every moment, because the time is passing by… so very quickly.

*Title from the lyrics of Kool & the Gang’s “Cherish” which, oddly enough, I played for the kids two nights ago after dinner. Earlier that day they had gone to the Skate Place, a childhood hangout of mine, and I was reminded of this song.  They didn’t appreciate it so much, but I sang my heart out. 


Back To Business: Point of View, Mood, and Inferencing with Emojis

This is a little activity I made up one day when my daughter showed me some funny emoji pictures she had edited. (I used SMART Notebook and altered the transparency. MJ used the app called “Insta Emoji.”)

How you use this PDF is up to you. I am not exactly sure when and where I will incorporate this into a lesson.  (Click here for a PDF of Emoji-Mood Journal Prompts)

Here are some ideas I have been tossing around:

  1. Students identify the mood and make an inference and explain.
  2. Students compose the letter that the person is reading. (Point of view of the author)
  3. Students respond to the letter that the person is reading. (Point of view of the reader)


What would you do with these prompts?

If you have a great idea, share it in the comments!






Back to Business: “Dear Parent” Letter

After a much-needed break, I’m almost ready to dive back in. I have eight precious days of summer vacation left. So between all the last-minute appointments for things I’ve put off all summer and the final fun days with my kids, I thought I’d get myself back into the groove by posting one Back-to-School idea a day.

We shall see how this goes….

At the beginning of the year, we all want to know more about our students, gather important phone numbers, e-mails, and information.  There are many ways to gather such information: a Google form, a paper questionnaire, office files….

For years, I spent a lot of time perfecting my letter to parents about myself. It always ended up sounding like a mash-up of a resume and a letter in a Christmas card.  Who was I trying to impress?

After about 10 years I education, I learned to keep my letter short and sweet.


This will be easy enough for you to type up in less than 5 minutes. If you are really pressed for time, I will attach a word document at the bottom that you can customize in a matter of minutes.

This will be easy enough for you to type up in less than 5 minutes. If you are really pressed for time, I will attach a word document at the bottom that you can customize in a matter of minutes.


As a parent, I feel overwhelmed by all the paperwork that comes home in the first few days.  So, I only ask for the things I really need to know!

Short and sweet and non-threatening - kind of like me!

Short and sweet and non-threatening – kind of like me!


This system works well for me for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s easy to prepare, explain, and send home. (Just be sure you round-up some pink cards early in the shopping season!)
  • I learn valuable, pertinent information on each specific child. (How many times do you mark “n/a” on a form?)
  • It gives parents a chance to say what they need to say. (Parents can fit a lot on a 3×5 card!)
  • I get a glimpse into the home-life and background of each student. (I still read their cumulative files, but this is the most current, up-to-date info I need to know right now.)
  • It’s easy easier for students to keep track of this card. (I am not against offering candy as a bribe.)


ParentPinkIndexBlank (This should be the word document you can customize. Please let me know if it doesn’t work! It’s hard to test out on my MacBook.)

ParentPinkIndexBeginningoftheYear (Here is a PDF if you just want to cut and paste the index card directions to your own letter.)



How do you communicate with parents at the beginning of the year?

What information do you most want to know?

Share what works for you in the comments!


The 8th Reason I Love 7th Graders

I got a special delivery at school today:

“Thank you for being the best teacher.”


I Underestimated Seventh Graders

Seventh grade is a grade I managed to avoid in my 17 years of teaching. Believe it or not, I have taught every single grade except 7th grade.

Yay me!

When I first started teaching, I thought I only wanted to teach the little ones. I taught ABC’s and counting for a few years.

Then a move back to my hometown forced me to take a job at the middle school level and I found I liked that maybe a little more than the elementary.

For 17 years, I bounced around from elementary to middle to elementary to middle to high school and back to middle school.

I thought I found my place when I was involuntarily moved to the high school. It was the most challenging and the most rewarding job I’ve probably ever had.

Then, because I clearly like change, I moved to 8th grade and thought I could easily stay there forever. I spent 5 years in 8th grade, my longest stint in teaching.

How silly was I to think that!?

I was moved to 7th grade this year and I wanted to cry, “But I don’t like 7th graders!!”

For some reason, I had developed this unfair but very real fear/dislike for these awkward, hormonal preteens. I was always one to boast I had never taught 7th grade.

Well, let me say here, on the last day of my first year in 7th grade, I was wrong.

I love 7th graders.

Want to know why 7th grade trumps 8th grade?

I have seven reasons.

1. 7th graders still think you are funny. Hilarious even. 8th graders think you are lame.

2. 7th graders want to be the Teacher’s Pet and want to help you with everything. 8th graders want to be cool. (Teacher’s Pet = NOT cool)

3. 7th graders want you to like them. 8th graders couldn’t care less if you do.

4. 7th graders say “Hi” and acknowledge you in public, and then they talk about it the next day. 8th graders act like you are invisible.

5. 7th graders never forget funny moments. It could be months later and they keep an inside joke going and going and going…. “Zach Frost” was a joke that started in early winter. Even though it hasn’t snowed in months, it still comes up at least once a week.

6. 7th graders ask, “Can we have you again next year?” 8th graders rarely even say good-bye.

7. Whether it’s “officially changing your name to Fa-Delmo”, doing an Irish jig in study hall, or happily and willingly playing board games with the teacher for three periods on the last day of school, 7th graders just make me smile.

Just Enough to Get Me Through

As I looked in my mailbox at lunch today, I saw what appeared to be a “Please call Mrs. So-and-So” memo from the secretary.

My heart sank.

What now? Who did I give detention to? What did I forget? Whose grades are not where they should be?

The year is ending in 11 days and my sights are already set on next year: Year 2 in 7th grade. I just need a fresh start. A do-over, if you will.

This year was not a stellar year for me. New grade level, new content, new co-teachers, new administration….I just never felt like I was on top of things in a fabulous ‘Super Teacher’ sort of way.

However, the conversation turned out a little differently than I expected.

“I just wanted to thank you for working with R. this year and being so patient with him and so understanding about his needs. It’s no secret he hates school, but he told me last week that he doesn’t want this year to end.”

(Hmmmmm….What 7th grade boy says that??)

His mom continued, “I asked him why and he said, ‘Because Ms. K won’t be my teacher anymore.'”

I think I may have said something like, “Awwww…..I just love him!” I told his mom that I knew he’d do great next year in 8th grade and that he’d be in good hands. Truly, he gained a lot of confidence this year and really matured. I couldn’t be happier with his new and improved attitude and effort.

That was ALL she wanted to tell me.

I hung up with a smile on my face and a warm, happy heart.

And I skipped out of the office to face the rest of the day.

This whole year I felt like I hadn’t done enough.

Was I giving enough, teaching enough, learning enough, helping my kids grow enough??????

Right at a time when I really needed to hear it, when eleven days feels like ten too many, one simple phone call was exactly that – enough.

Teacher Appreciation Week has passed. End of the year gifts are nice and all. But trust me, in times like these, such a simple gesture means a lot.

Searching for the Connection

While we were doing Literature Circles in my inclusion class, I really started thinking about comprehension, reading strategies, metacognition, and connecting with the text. Not to toot my own horn, but I think one of my strengths has always been helping kids make connections with what they read.

However, it seems that for a while now the focus of my class has veered away from these much needed reading strategies and focused more only on citing evidence to answer constructed response questions.

Sometimes I think if I say the words “Find evidence from the text to support your response,” I might throw up.

If they aren’t understanding and connecting with the text, how are they going to be able to come up with a solid response with the right evidence?

When I step back and look at the big picture, I start to feel confusion, conflict, and a little bit of chaos in my mind.  Eighteen years of ideas, strategies, tricks, and educational jargon is swirling around in my head and I can’t figure out what to do and how to do it.

What is more important? What needs to happen first? What do my specific kids need? How do I get there?

I feel like I have temporarily lost sight of my beliefs and my philosophy.

Or is there a possibility my philosophy doesn’t work in today’s educational world?

I know I have strong opinions as an intervention specialist. I know that have my own beliefs about how kids learn best. I know that I have some great teaching strategies that work.  I know I have a lot of ground to make up with my students who are still reading far below grade level and state-expectations.

I just can’t find a way to put it all together.

I cannot make the connection.

I am searching for a connection between all that I know and all that I have and all that I read and all that I want to do and all that my kids need to understand to make it in the life that is planned for them.

So yesterday, when my 1st period class started and two of my girls started asking me tough questions about a young man in our town who just received a life-saving heart transplant, I had to veer away from my plans.

They had shown the news story on our morning announcements and once this small side-conversation started, my whole class joined in:

What if he didn’t get a heart?

How much did they have to pay for the heart?

What happened to the person who donated the heart?

How do they take his old heart out and put a new one in? 

Do you have to die to donate your organs?

Was he awake when he got his heart?

What was wrong with his heart? 

Do you have to donate your organs?

 How do doctors learn this stuff?

How did they find out?

Was he scared?

Could they put a new heart in my grandpa and make him alive again?

Is this a good example of being resilient?

If this is a happy thing, why do I feel so sad?

These are tough questions. Some of them may sound silly, but we all know there are no dumb questions.  They trust me and they wanted to know the truth. I answered truthfully when I could. I admitted when I couldn’t.  We stopped our conversation for 20 minutes to take the quiz I had promised them.

After that, I gave them the time they needed on the iPads and my computer to search for the answers and learn more. They found numerous newspaper articles about this boy. They found a website set up for people to donate towards his medical expenses. They found a place they could send him a message. They found video clips with interviews with his friends. They found his Twitter account, which held the most important and life-changing words this boy has probably ever tweeted: “This lady just came in. My hearts here.”

My own heart was filling with love for my students who just wanted to understand. My head was filling with ideas of the things I could teach them if only I had the time. Think of the skills I could incorporate into something they were so interested in and that so perfectly fit into the two themes we have focused on this entire year:

How can conflict change us?

Being resilient in tough times –  Do you have what it takes?

I do not know this young man who has made an impression on my students and my community. As I bounced around to different buildings in district, I somehow missed meeting him, teaching him, and knowing him.

We still have 7 weeks of school left, but this situation and this classroom moment felt like the culmination of the school year and the connection that I’ve been desperately searching for.

The answers to all my questions and all my doubts lie right here in my heart.


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