Star Wars in the Classroom: FREE ready-to-use activities

Friday is Star Wars Day! It’s doubly exciting because for many of us, Friday is also the last day before Winter Break.   Doing Star Wars lessons lets you neatly sidestep actual holidays.

Mr. Mangham, a sixth grade math teacher in Southlake, Texas, has created a Star Wars-themed packet centered around algebraic reasoning.  The entire packet is here.   Scroll through and choose what you like.  I enjoy the following lessons from the packet.  I have split the large pdf into these easy-to-access pdfs for you.   I have made no changes and take no credit.

Star Wars Word Problems: solve using algebraic reasoning

Star Wars Characters Math: choose your favorite character, then use order of operations and some very specific formulas to calculate things like the Chill and Skill Index.

Jedi Bridges: Use algebraic reasoning to solve visual puzzles.

Code.org has created a Star-Wars themed coding unit that your students will love.  There are two levels, so this unit is appropriate for K-12.

Finally, visit Star Wars in the Classroom for lessons related to many subjects: mythology, robotics, social studies, and more.

May the Force be with you.  As we wind down toward Winter Break, we’re all going to need it!

Posted in Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Dec 13, 2015

 

Stop looking–I found the best FREE printable cursive program

girlanddteacherMany students don’t learn to write cursive, which means they can’t read it, either.  If we keep going this way, we’ll have a generation that can’t read our founding documents.  Luckily, there are many great FREE online programs to teach kids this valuable skill.  One in particular is very, very good.

PrintableCursive.com is my favorite site for teaching cursive.  My favorite part is First Year Cursive.  This presents three leveled packets for teaching all cursive letters.  Each page is lovely, with beautiful handwriting and a nice word/picture based on letters the student can write.

Printable Cursive offers primers in three cursive fonts: ABeka, D’Nealian, and Zaner-Bloser.  I learned D’Nealian as a second grader, but prefer Zaner-Bloser because the Q looks like a Q.  None of that silly loopy 2 stuff for Zaner-Bloser.

Click HERE for 3 levels of first-year cursive in each of 3 fonts.

Click HERE for intermediate cursive: practice writing cursive while learning about the world.  (Coutnries of South America, poisonous snakes of the world, and other interesting topics.)

Click HERE for advanced cursive: more writing, more advanced topics, more fun!

Enhance your cursive writing unit by reading Beverly Cleary’s Muggie Maggie, about a girl who refuses to learn cursive and winds up in a silly predicament.  Her teachers motivate Maggie by making her a messenger.  She carries notes to vairous teachesr.  The notes are written in cursive, and Maggie can’t read them.  But she can tell that they all contain her name…

Click HERE for my post about Muggie Maggie.

Posted in Tips for Parents,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Nov 2, 2015

 

Extra credit: 5 tips for easy creating and grading

teacher2Extra credit can be a great way to motivate your students and help them feel in control of their grades.  Here are some tips to help you make extra credit a stress-free and effective addition to your classroom routine.

  1.  Provide standing extra credit opportunities that require no work from you.  Writing assignments are good for this.  Current event summaries, book reports, one-page essays, short stories, mini-reports–anything students can do on their own, anytime.  Just create basic requirements (number of paragraphs, complete sentences, etc) and provide a turn-in box.
  2. Use materials from your textbook for extra credit.  Don’t spend a lot of time hunting down extra credit.  Use what you already have: workbooks that aren’t quite suited to the current curriculum, supplemental materials from the textbook, etc.  I like to use the reteach/practice sheets from our math book.  At the beginning of each chapter, I copy the pages and set them out.  Students can take them at their convenience.
  3. Use online programs for extra credit.  MobyMax, Ticket to Read, and SuccessMaker are all good options.  They provide a steady stream of leveled material and require little or no input from you.  Once in a while (monthly, in my case), see who has done what and decide how much extra credit to reward.
  4. Create extra credit assignments in the grade book, ready to fill in as needed.   I like to create extra credit assignments within a category and leave the grades blank.  Input 100% if the students do the assignment.  If not, the grade is empty and it doesn’t hurt them.  Online grade books want a due date, so I make it for the penultimate day of the quarter.  Students who like to track their grades will enjoy filling in the blanks with extra credit.
  5. Create extra credit opportunities within an assignment.  One easy way is to assign the even problems, but offer the odds as extra credit.  Make word problems, extended-response questions, or critical thinking questions extra credit.  Students will be more motivated to do them than if the problems were required.
Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Oct 19, 2015

 

Teach students how to wear a bike helmet properly

As a teacher, we see a lot of kids with bike helmets.  It’s scary to see how many kids wear their bike helmets improperly.  The helmet can’t do its job if the fit isn’t right.

Most of the time, an ill-fitting helmet is either too big or worn too loose.  As a teacher, you can’t do much about the too-big helmet aside from tell parents.  However, you can help kids adjust the fit right away.

Bike helmet fit comes down to three things:

Eyes: the helmet should sit an inch above the eyes (use two fingers to measure that about an inch of forehead shows)

Ears: the straps should form a Y around the ears and come just under the ears

Mouth: the child should be able to fully open her mouth.  If not, the strap is too tight.

Make sure kids tighten the strap enough.  It’s scary to see a loose strap that lets the helmet come right off the head at the slightest impact or nudge.  Below is a simple video, less than a minute long, that demonstrates these concepts.

Posted in Tips for Parents,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Oct 5, 2015

 

“One Day More” flash mob at school district convocation

Talented teachers in West Des Moines Community Schools spiced up their convocation with a well-rehearsed flash mob, performing their own version of “One Day More” from Les Miserables.

The opening speech is very dull and illustrates exactly why teachers dread convocation.  Skip to 1:24 for the good part.  Use closed captioning (the CC icon) to catch all the lyrics.

Have you seen Les Miserables yet?  If not, check it out!  I really enjoyed the Les Misérables movie, but the Dream Cast in Concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall will always hold a special place in my heart.  It features Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean.  Lea Salonga is brilliant as Eponine, and Australia’s Philip Quast demonstrates how Javert’s songs are supposed to sound–booming and intimidating, full of fire and brimstone.

Posted in Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Aug 31, 2015

 

How to spot signs of vision trouble in children

reading150Anyone with glasses can tell you about that moment of clarity: seeing the leaves on the trees.  Help your students experience that thrill.  Watch for signs of vision trouble in students.

Of course, the classic sign of vision trouble is when the child can’t see the board.  However, many students won’t admit that they have trouble, so parents and teachers have to watch for the signals that indicate vision trouble.  Remember, vision trouble can go beyond nearsightedness to include lazy eye, crossed eyes, farsightedness, and astigmatism.

If you spot the following behaviors, notify the school nurse and call the parent.  (I call home because some students won’t give parents the nurse’s note.)  When speaking to parents, remember to describe the behavior you see and avoid anything that sounds like a diagnosis.

Correcting a vision problem can lead to quick and remarkable results.  I have seen students jump an entire grade level in reading fluency and comprehension shortly after getting glasses.

Signs of vision trouble in children:

  • rubbing eyes
  • squinting
  • tilting books to read them
  • leaning close to books
  • turning the head to look at objects that should be in peripheral vision
  • wandering eyes
  • headaches
  • covering one eye
  • avoiding reading or seeking out books with large print (not related to reading level)
Posted in Tips for Parents,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Aug 24, 2015

 

5 ways to cultivate a coworker relationship with your students

raisehandsIn many ways, I have a closer coworker relationship with my students than I do with my colleagues.   My colleagues are wonderful, and we help each other with teaching, classroom management, and meeting students’ needs.  However, the coworker relationship is much closer with students.

In the classroom, I am the manager and the students are my team.  Our task is to make sure everyone meets standards by the end of the school year.  I set a plan for how to accomplish our learning goals, but the students and I adjust it as the year goes on.

How to treat your students like coworkers:

  1. Cultivate the coworker attitude in yourself—it will show in how you approach everything.
  2. Share with students the state and national standards, curriculum maps, and pacing materials from the district. This helps them take your perspective–and take your job more seriously.  Seeing planning and accountability materials helps students understand the big picture and appreciate that school is about more than day-to-day assignments.
  3. When possible, tell students your objective and give them the chance to help you determine the best way to accomplish it. You can do this for a day, a unit, a project, a grading period, or the whole year.  Give the students experience with short and long-range planning.
  4. Assign class jobs. Explain to students that the classroom requires certain tasks be done in order for each day to go smoothly.   Teach students about man hours, efficiency, and management skills.  This will motivate everyone to complete their jobs because they understand the true purpose.  (Click here for detailed advice on setting up class jobs—including a FREE fill-in spreadsheet.  Click here for advice on how to work as a team to maintain the classroom.)
  5. Try to keep things between you and the student wherever possible. If you must involve an administrator or parent, move on after the incident is over.  Try to get back to dealing with the student directly.  If you can do this successfully, you’ll strengthen the coworker bond.
Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Aug 17, 2015

 

FREE typing resource for school: Typing Club

TwoKidsAndComputerTouch typing is one of the most important skills your students can learn.  The ability to type quickly and accurately will help students at school and in the workplace.  I recommend TypingClub.com, a FREE resource.  It has so many features to help teach typing and organize a class’s efforts.  You won’t believe it’s free!

TypingClub is great because it lets you organize your whole class and customize each student’s experience.  You can set the pace, the standards of performance, and the style of lessons.  The prearranged typing program will work very well, but you can also create assignments and tests.  You can set the program to allow students to progress freely through lessons, or you can hold them back until they meet standards.  It’s all up to you, and it’s very easy to set up.

Some students are naturally motivated to learn how to type.  Others need prodding.  Here are some things that encourage my students:

  • Tell them that they have an advantage over typing students from decades past.  Thanks to texting, today’s kids know where the letters are on the keyboard.
  • Give them candy every for every five lessons they pass.
  • Set individual or whole-class goals with associated rewards.
Posted in Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Apr 13, 2015

 

Easy tips to make your master paper and key stand out

TeacherCutting corners is usually not a good idea…but doing so helps your master paper stand out.

How to make your master stand out: Snip the top right corner.  The snipped corner doesn’t show up on copies, but Iyou can easily see that a paper is your master, and you’ll be careful not to throw it away.

How to make your key stand out: Write KEY in large letters across the top of the paper.  If you just write “key” on the name line, it doesn’t stand out from the students’ papers.

How to make the answers on your key stand out: Write with fat Crayola markers.  That way, the answers are in color and the lines are much thicker than what’s on the paper.  The answers really stand out, making my grading go more quickly.

Posted in First Year Teachers,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Mar 2, 2015

 

FREE pattern block puzzles–for online and real life

PatternBlockPuzzleHelp your students learn spatial reasoning skills with pattern blocks.  A class set of these versatile shapes can provide hours of fun and education.

Pattern blocks are mathematical manipulatives that let students see how shapes relate to each other.

In the first set, all shapes can be built from the basic equilateral triangle:

  • Equilateral triangle (Green)
  • Regular rhombus (Blue)
  • Trapezoid (Red)
  • Hexagon (Yellow)

The second set contains shapes that can’t be built of the green triangle, but can still be used in tiling patterns.

  • Square (Orange)
  • Small rhombus (Beige)

Click here for an inexpensive set of plastic pattern blocks available at Amazon.com

Students love to make their own patterns from pattern blocks.  Another good activity is the pattern block puzzle.  Students build complicated shapes, such as a train, using pattern blocks.  Some puzzles have interior lines to show which pieces to use.  That’s good for beginners.  More advanced students like to figure it out themselves.

I like to print the puzzles and either laminate them or put them in page protectors.  If you laminate the puzzles, I recommend taping or gluing the puzzle to construction paper for strength.

Recommended pattern block puzzles:

Complete pattern block puzzle book from LearningResources.com

Jessica’s pattern block templates 

Online pattern blocks–a fun activity for the computer lab

Christmas pattern block printables

 

Posted in Academics,Math,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Feb 24, 2015

 

Use desks as dry-erase boards

boyraisinghand2Some student desks  can be used as dry-erase boards.  This works on laminate fake-wood desks–but not all of them.  When you’re alone in the room, try a dry-erase marker on an inconspicuous portion of the desk.  If you’re lucky, the mark will wipe right off.  Presto!  Your students can use their desks for showing their work.  (Suddenly, students will fall all over themselves to show their work in math.)

I have found that this works best with any color of marker that isn’t red.  Red markers don’t usually erase well on actual dry-erase boards, either.  Additionally, I have noticed that the slicker the desk, the more likely this trick is to work.  Lastly, dark fake-wood desks tend to work better than the blond fake-wood desks.

This trick doesn’t work for everyone, but if it works in your classroom, your students will think you’re the best!

Good uses for desks-as-dry-erase-boards:

  • Showing work on math
  • Practicing cursive
  • Practicing spelling words
  • Taking notes–as a learning tool, not as notes the students need later
  • Practicing sample math problems

Other ClassAntics posts about whiteboards, dry-erase boards, and whiteboard markers:

Low-budget whiteboard markers and cleaners

Carpet squares make the best whiteboard erasers

Cheap “whiteboards” for no-budget classrooms

Posted in First Year Teachers,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Feb 17, 2015

 

Tips for using free online speed reading programs

TeacherStudentComputingFREE online speed reading software helps all of your students become more efficient readers–but you need materials and a plan to make the most of this resource.  Here are some tips from a National Board Certified teacher and speed reader.

For a full lesson on speed reading, read my blog entry on the topic.  Here are the Cliffs Notes:

  1.  Speed read by tracking with your finger.  Yes, just like you did back in first grade.  Build up speed by sliding your finger more quickly under the text and challenging your eyes and mind to keep up.  (The online version uses a computer program to flash the words on the screen.)
  2. This helps because it focuses your eye.  Without imposing focus, your eyes will just wander over the page, re-reading, skipping along, and generally wasting time.
  3. It also teaches you not to read in your head.  You know how little kids read aloud?  Well, us older folks enunciate the words in our heads.  As you learn to track your finger faster and read faster, you will read much faster than you could talk.  Once you break the reading-aloud-in-your-head habit, you read much faster.

My favorite FREE online speed reading program is Spreeder.  This tool is part of the terrific online speed reading course 7SpeedReading, which offers courses for individual users and educational institutions.  Request a free trial here–just click on EDU Edition on the menu bar.

Spreeder helps your students train their eyes and brain to work together more efficiently.  You can choose any text to practice with, although I recommend using their sample text first, because it explains the process.  In a nutshell, you have students adjust the program to flash words at them very quickly–about double their resting reading rate.  Students switch back and forth between fast and comfortable, building their ability to speed read in the process.

Spreeder is no fun unless you have ready access to interesting passages.  I found a great source: Mental Floss.  The website features is an offshoot of the magazine that helps clever people “feel smart again.”  The site includes articles, lists and features about everything under the sun.  Here is just a sample of what you can learn on MentalFloss.com:

15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever

What Do the Ms on M&M’s Stand For, and How Do They Get Them on There?

How a Game of Monopoly Put 15 Criminals Behind Bars

WWI Centennial: Germans Repulsed at Givenchy

Where is Old Zealand?

Tip: tell your students not to click on post links from around the web, because those are much lower quality than Mental Floss.

Happy speed reading!


 

How to make sure substitute teachers can find your sub plans

teacher3

If you know you’re going to be absent, leave your sub plans in a conspicuous place–and write the location of the plans on the whiteboard.

Spell it out–“Sub plans are on my desk.”  (Or the back table, or the podium, or the computer table–it’s surprising how many potential places there are to leave sub plans.)

If your absence was unplanned–perhaps because you woke up sick at 6:00 am–then you could email your plans to colleagues and ask them to place them in the room ASAP.  Ask the colleague to either speak with the sub or write the location  of the sub plans on the board.

Posted in First Year Teachers,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jan 12, 2015

 

It’s the new year–time to check progress and set new goals

girlanddteacherStudents and teachers know that the real new year is when school starts, but the actual new year is also an important milestone.  It’s a good time to review progress and set new goals.  Here are some tips for helping your students evaluate progress.

Print out as many benchmarks and data points as you can.  Give students their most recent STAR test, their AR progress, and their results on benchmark assessments for the 3Rs.  (Graded writing samples, scores from computerized assessments, etc.)

Show students their scores and give them a benchmark.  Be honest with the kids–tell them what constitutes at, on, and above grade level.

Encourage students to set new goals.  Choose a date for a new evaluation.  The end of third quarter is a good time to reflect.  Another good time is about three weeks before the standardized tests.

Give the students a log sheet where they can write their progress and goals.   Students on or above grade level may be self-sufficient for this step, but struggling students will need help.

Show students how they can improve their scores and reach their goals.  It’s the same advice we always give–read, practice math, focus on writing–but when that advice comes on the heels of a progress report, it might mean a little more.  Encourage students to write their action steps on their log sheet.

Encourage students to show their progress/goal sheet to parents.  You might want to require a signature and offer a reward for students who follow through.

 

Posted in Academics,First Year Teachers,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jan 5, 2015

 

MobyMax: individualized student curriculum built from the Common Core

KidComputerTeachers, you have got to check out MobyMax!  It’s a fantastic K-8 online lesson system that is taking the country by storm.  It’s comprehensive, fun, individualized, and effective.  It’s all built on the Common Core Curriculum.  And it’s cheap!  There’s a free version and a $99/year version with extensive capabilities and access to games and contests.

MobyMax is great for today’s busy teachers with large classes.  The site give students a placement test and then automatically assigns them lessons.  There are many subjects: math, math facts, different types of reading, vocabulary, grammar, writing, and test prep.

Students love working at their level.   MobyMax keeps kids in their zone of proximal development (ZPD).  That’s the sweet spot where the work is neither too easy nor too hard.  The site is efficient because it doesn’t spend time on standards the kids have already learned.

I like that MobyMax lets you differentiate instruction so easily.  The site does most of the work for you, although you can tweak it considerably.  For example, you can set the grade level at which placement tests begin.  You can assign any lesson at any grade level.  You can assign vocabulary words or let Moby choose and teach.

MobyMax is very motivating.  Probably the most motivating element is game time.  The site has over a dozen games, and students earn time by working on lessons.  You choose how much game time Moby awards.  It starts at about 2 minutes for every 5 minutes of work.  When I did sample lessons, I found that frustrating, so I chose a 1:1 ratio for my students.  It sounds like a lot of game time, but it works out.   It’s interesting to see how students use their time.  Some burn through their time and work for five minutes, then play.  They’re living close to the edge.  Others get really into the lessons and rack up over an hour of game time.  If they want to play for an entire class period, so what?  They earned by doing focused work.

MobyMax also offers other incentives.  There are badges, contests, and ways for student and teacher to communicate.  You can send your kids messages called Vibes. The messages can be attaboys or get-to-works.

MobyMax offers lots and lots of data.  You can get detailed results from the placement tests, showing which standards student have mastered and which they still need to learn.  You can collect data on student progress through the curriculum.  You can track exactly how much time your students spend on each component of MobyMax .  (My students worked much harder once they found out I could track them to the minute.)

I think you’ll find that it’s worth the $99 for the full MobyMax experience.  After the 30 day trial period, the free version is a letdown.  There’s no game time.  You can’t assign lessons to individual students; they just take what Moby assigns them based on their placement test.  Vibes and other features are gone, too.

Parents, MobyMaxis great for families, too!  If you feel that school doesn’t meet your child’s needs, enroll your child in Moby.  It’s great for extra practice, home schooling, and beating summer slump.

You’ll love MobyMax!

Posted in Academics,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Dec 29, 2014