Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Good News Calls and Parent Teacher Conferences

Yesterday was Parent-Teacher Conferences at my school. Though I had met most of the parents before, I was still nervous, but overall they went great. I love getting to meet my students’ parents, as so often I can see exactly where my students get their personalities from. It is also fun to get to tell parents how great their child is. Although conferences are littered with the conversations of your child “is talkative”, “needs to stay in his seat”, or “needs to do her homework”, it is always easy to come up with good things to say about each student (which parents love to hear!).

This has been so evident this year as my school has taken on the initiative for each teacher to make a weekly “good news” call. Once a week, we call home to a parent about something nice, thoughtful, or academically good a student has done. I have made phone calls ranging from students hard work to get an A+ on a test, working to help other students understand class material, or asking great questions in class. Parents are always surprised to get the call and some even start with “What’s wrong?!?” but they loving hearing great things about their child. This is not a new concept to tell parents good things about their kid, but how often do we take the time to do it? I can say it truly pays off as it creates a great parent-teacher relationship and a positive school atmosphere.

Ms. H

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Talking Text Evidence - Literacy Integration Example

Common Core.  Sometimes I look over what my seventh grade students are expected to do and become slightly overwhelmed.  They are so new to the concept of a rigorous, daily social studies course, and the reading and writing tasks can be daunting.  I am doing my best to break it down for them visually so that the process is more easily understood.  This week, we are focusing on the following standard:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

 My students are completing this chart to help them with the task of citing textual evidence.  While the initial set-up was challenging for many of them, most have found success once I  provided one-on-one support.  I think this will be a graphic organizer we go back to throughout the year, and I am hoping they will develop into text evidence pros by June!

What are you using to teach ‘text evidence’ in your classrooms?

--Mrs. K

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Informational Text: Literacy in the Social Studies Classroom

We are officially working in our Social Studies Department PLC this year on the goal of raising standardized test scores in the informational text strand for a selected target population group.  Holy smokes!  Our goal is to help 75% of our identified students become proficient in this by the end of the school year.  Why?!? (I often need to remind myself of the why, as this is quite the process…)

I am lucky to work with a group of teachers that firmly believe that they too are teachers of reading in their secondary content area classes.  We do not just teach students dates, places, and battles!  Our team integrates literacy within social studies to help students use text evidence to support their arguments, summarize main ideas and central messages, evaluate how word choices and structure contribute to the author’s purpose, and offer deep analysis regarding context and audience.  At least this is what we are trying to do, anyway :)

Everyone should go get a MEd in Reading and Literacy!  The things I have learned over the past fourteen months have made me ten times more effective as a teacher.  Not that I am counting down, but only eight more months to go! When a get a free minute (ha!) I will share some specific activities my 7th grade kiddos have been working on this year that integrate literacy and American History.

How are you integrating literacy into your secondary content area class?

-Mrs. K

Monday, October 14, 2013

Literacy in Math Class

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation on literacy in the classroom hosted by a professional development speaker. Initially I was apprehensive about the presentation; what ideas could I apply to my math class from a speech about literacy? As in any good professional development seminar, I walked away with many things to ponder and new ideas I wanted to try in my classroom.

Over the course of the presentation, the speaker addressed the different types of reading students need to be competent in. She also demonstrated how students can organize their thoughts and writing with graphic organizers and how it is important to incorporate reading and writing strategies across all disciplines. I started to think about what reading and writing I currently bring into my math classes. This year, we have been writing more in my classes by practicing extended response problems. I observed that most of my students fit into four major categories when working on word problems:

1. A few students cannot get past reading the problem. After reading, they have no idea where to start or what answers need to be found.
2. Many students can read the problem and understand where they should end up, but lack the critical thinking and problem solving skills needed to reach the answer.
3. The students that do have the critical thinking skills to solve the problem can not explain why they do each step.
4. Then, there is the student who can solve and explain the problem and answer before most of the class even reads the problem.

I made a new graphic organizer (shown below) to help my students solve and explain these extended response problems. Most of my students are at level two or three and will be able to meet my objective of solving and explaining extended response questions through classroom instruction. My level four students will receive challenge problems to help them stay engaged and challenged as I walk through the organizer with the rest of the class. After the class looks at it, I will make sure to pay special attention to my level one students as we go through more examples and utilize pull out groups if necessary. I realize these strategies may need some adjustments, but I am excited to work putting these ideas into practice in my classes this week.

Ms. H

Monday, September 30, 2013

Post-Test Processing

What do you do when some students show mastery of content on a test and others demonstrate little to no understanding of what you have been teaching for the last month?  As a social studies teacher, I have found that this scenario is common in my classroom.  I cannot just move on to the next unit when some of my kids have not demonstrated that they have met our learning goals.  This is where my Post Test Processing activity comes in.

Besides the test question corrections, this activity also gives students the opportunity to self-assess their studying efforts and reflect on what part(s) of the test they most struggled with.  I also get some pretty creative thoughts in the Open Mic section! :)

Are there any post-test activities you do with your students?

-Mrs. K

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cooking with Fractions

Seventh Grade is officially done with their first project in my class, Cooking with Fractions. This was by far my favorite project I have ever had students complete because it so clearly was applicable to their lives. The project had students find a recipe that had six ingredients and at least four measurements of which two were mixed numbers. They then took this recipe and found how much of each ingredient they would need to make one serving and sixteen servings.

Students had three days in class to work on their project. They had access to Chromebooks to find recipes and create a spreadsheet of which their final values were recorded. Students also used that time to write all work down on loose leaf to turn in. The example below is of one of my students who did an amazing job labeling, showing work, and organizing how the information was laid out.

The best part though was having students bring in the food for the recipe they had been working on. This was optional as a fun end to the unit. Each student had a permission form signed saying they could eat the food and if they had any allergies. My students, or maybe their parents, are incredible cooks! We had brownies, cupcakes, cookies, dips, pies, dirt cups, rolls, and more. I was so full at the end of the day I could barely move! Not only did I love the project, but so did the students. They were so excited to be able to bring something into share and get to try others food. Plus they saw the real-world connection, they understood that math can be used in real-life and how important it is. I was so happy with how the project turned out, I cannot wait to do it again next year!

-Ms. H

Friday, September 13, 2013

7-12 Perks

With week two finishing up (TGIF people), I would like to pat myself on the back a little bit.  Eight days of school and 132 names mastered!  That would be first names only, but the last names are slowly learned as I continue to update my gradebook.  Go me!

This is the first year I am working at a 7-12 school.  I have previously taught at a 9-12 high school, a 5-8 middle school, and a K-12 school (the one in Alaska).  I am beginning to dig the 7-12 situation for a few reasons:

  • One class to prep for.  This comes in handy when you are working on a MEd as well.
  • I am teaching middle school students (my favorite) but get to be involved in high school activities, such as homecoming contents, varsity athletics, and spirit week fun.  Love it!
  • I am part of both the 7th grade team of teachers AND the 7-12 social studies department.  This kind of rocks :)

I do miss visiting the “littles” at my K-12 school.  Small Eskimo children are just about the cutest thing in this world.  I can see myself teaching K-6 students in the future as I work toward becoming a licensed reading specialist (this was a choice inspired my struggling readers in Alaska. So glad I decided to pursue Reading and Literacy Education).  But for now, I am loving my 7-12 perks :)

Have a great weekend!  What will you be doing?  I will be heading to a high school football game tonight in support of my husband (also a teacher and a coach).  Friday Night Lights!  

Mr. K in action!

-Mrs. K

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Proud Election Week!

Week 4, I can’t believe I am almost a month into school! The first tests are almost here and projects are due this coming week; we are officially back in business. Along with the tests, sports, service projects, and clubs are also beginning. Last week my school held Student Council elections. I am the faculty member in charge of facilitating Student Council which proved to be a busy week as students campaigned with posters, handed out plenty of stickers, and ended the week with inspiring  speeches. One of my favorite ways to get to know my students is by leading clubs that my students have taken a passionate interest in.

I am impressed how responsible my middle school students are. I was very proud of the results when I tallied up the votes and saw who my students had elected. Naturally, I was worried it would result in a popularity contest rather than an election of who would best represent the student body. However, my students that were elected will all do a great job representing our school. I cannot wait to get started with our first meeting and to appreciate the many ideas and projects the students come up with.

Working with my students outside of academic classes has propelled me to get to know my students and their interests. I’m most proud when my students take on a leadership role and have discussions that don’t normally occur in math class. They never cease to amaze me with their new ideas and projects that they choose to undertake. Addressing the dress code with administration and encouraging kindness throughout the school are examples of my students’ willingness to contribute. Their ideas for raising money for the club have also impressed me. I am so grateful for the opportunity to take on this role with my students.

How do you get a chance to know your students outside of class? Do your students make you as proud as mine make me?

-Ms. H

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Connecting with Kids

My first week of school is quickly wrapping up.  I haven’t taught just middle school level students in a few years, and I am starting to remember the following:
  • I will not get to sit down during the day.  Not once.
  • I need to invest in shoes with better support.
  • If you want students to be quiet, just ask them to stop flirting. Magic!
  • Saying something ten times is never enough...I am going to lose my voice.
  • Exit slip post-it notes that read: “Mrs. K is awesome” make me smile!

I want to share two things that my kiddos LOVED this week:
1) Duck Dynasty Poster.  This sits right over my computer in my desk/teacher area.  I stopped counting how many times my students asked me about it and then proceeded to tell me how often they watch the show, who their favorite bearded man is, and Uncle Si cracks them up.  It definitely is a winner in the classroom decor department and has been a great way to start non-school related conversations with my kids.  Is Duck Dynasty just a favorite in rural areas?

2) The Kid President and his Pep Talk.  I showed this to students on the second day of school.  They were laughing so hard!  

How can you not smile when you see this video?  This led into a cooperative learning group activity:

How can we make our classroom more awesome?
The Kid President asked us, “What will YOU create to make the world more awesome?”  Today, we are going to work in our cooperative learning groups to brainstorm how we can make our classroom more awesome!
Task:  Come up with a list of 5 to 7 actions that describe what you (as students in social studies class) can each do every day to make our classroom an AWESOME place of hard work, learning, kindness, and fun! (Example: one person talks at a time while everyone else listens).  Write your answers on the front and back of this paper.

My students came up with some great ideas that I am going to post in our class along with a picture of the Kid President.  They cannot wait to watch another Kid President video next week!

How did you connect with your kids this week?

-Mrs. K

Friday, August 30, 2013

Five for Friday

Five for Friday {Linky Party.. August 30th}

Happy Friday!  We are linking up with Kacey from Doodle Bugs this week to share 5 random things from today or this past week.  Mrs. K is going to share her week of back-to-school workshop fun!

1) Introductions galore: There were new staff introductions at the Jr/Sr high staff meeting on Tuesday morning, new staff introductions at the school board meeting Tuesday night, new staff introductions at the district meeting on Wednesday morning, and new staff introductions at last night’s 7th and 8th grade orientation/open house.  On the other hand, everyone at my school is so friendly and so passionate about education.  I hear angels singing whenever my principal opens her mouth.  Honest.

2)  Wall decor:  This is the perfect poster!  It combines two of my loves: history and literacy.

3) Desk layout: We are going to be working in cooperative learning groups almost everyday.  The desks are arranged in groups of four, and we will be going over the student roles in class next week (Facilitator, Recorder, Summarizer, Presenter).

4) Bulletin Board Inspiration:  I love this link! “What Questions Do We Ask of the Past?” inspired one of the two tiny bulletin boards my windowless classroom.

5) Open-House Night:  Last night we had the seventh grade students come to school with their parents, practice getting into their lockers (struggle!), walk their schedules, and meet their teachers.  Have I mentioned I love middle school students??  After two years of teaching multiple social studies courses for students in grades 6-12, I am SO excited to teach one course to 140 seventh grade kids!  They are my favorite :)

Happy Long Weekend!  Don’t forget to pencil in some fun!

-Mrs. K

Monday, August 26, 2013

Routines and Procedures

I am officially done with the first week of my second year of teaching -- what a great feeling!  It amazed me how I felt 500% better going into this year than last.  Being at the same school, working with many of the same people, knowing several of the families and students at my school, and being familiar with all the school policies, rules, and procedures really helped me start the school year off with confidence!  In addition, I am teaching most of the same classes as last year and therefore have a working knowledge of the coursework.  I even had time to make curriculum maps to align with common core over the summer (something I did not have last year).  I can enthusiastically say I am very happy to be done with my first year of teaching and onto my second!

The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher [Book]While reading and discussing Mrs. K’s last post with her, the book The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong came to mind.  If you have not read this book, I highly suggest it!  I had the opportunity to see the Wongs speak as well, and I can honestly say the knowledge I gained from them has been more useful in my teaching than information from any other source!  The book goes through setting up rules, procedures, classroom management, positive expectations and everything else a teacher needs to start off the year on a positive note.

I looked back through The First Days of School before I started this year just to make sure I did not forget anything.  Mrs. K’s post talked about setting up procedures and routines in the first days of school, and I find this just as important as she does.  Because I work at a private K-8 school, I have many of the same students I had last year (only three students are new to the school at my grade levels).  This factor makes it difficult to set up any new-to-the-students routines and procedures or change any of my existing ones.  It may take a couple weeks, but after practicing and reviewing the new procedures I know my students will get the hang of them -- middle school students are very adaptable!  Here is a list of the routines I will continue and the routines I want to change or refine:

Routines I have:
  • Becoming quiet
  • Checking Homework
  • Lining up before class
  • Where to find the assignment
  • What to do if there was an emergency or some type of drill
  • What to do if a student was absent

Routines I want to change or refine:
  • Asking to go to the restroom
  • When to sharpen pencils
  • Starting class by entering quietly, writing down homework, and then working on the bell ringer
  • Leaving Class/at the end of the day

What routines or procedures have you tweaked over the years to improve your classroom culture?

Ms. H

Friday, August 23, 2013

Teaching Daily Routines

Happy Weekend!

For those of you like Ms. H that have kiddos back in the classroom already, bless you!  I am sure you are exhausted (*understatement*),  but I hope you had a fantastic week :)  My students return the day after Labor Day, so I am still in scrambling/planning mode over here.  

As I think about returning to the 7th grade classroom (I am coming off a two-year stint as THE 6-12 social studies teacher in a remote Alaskan village -- more on that to come!), I am reminded that seventh grade students sure have special needs!  Especially when they are new to our 7-12 building and transitioning to the secondary classroom.  Establishing routines really helps students to feel comfortable in your classroom, and it can curb behavior issues.  Consistency is key, people!

Routines I would like to establish on day one:
  • “Bell Work”
  • Handing papers in and out
  • Correcting assignments
  • Group work
  • Being prepared for class (with all necessary materials)
  • Organization

Day 1 Overview:
  • Briefly introduce self
  • Explain ‘Bell Work’
  • Complete ‘Bell Work’
  • Explain the use of folders- show students where to keep ‘Bell Work’ worksheet until their collection at the end of the week
  • Transition to materials needed- have students hold up what they have
  • Group activity- have students define “history” *Make this part content specific*
  • Go over group work expectations and roles
  • Turn in group activity answer sheet- practice the correct way to turn in papers
  • Record homework in planner, and touch on how to use your planner to stay organized

How do you establish your classroom routines the first few days (or weeks even!) of school?  

-Mrs. K

Monday, August 19, 2013


Meet the Secondary Sisters!  We are two middle school teachers (and sisters!) who are excited to share our classroom adventures with you as we begin a new school year.  We live in different states and teach different subjects, but we both LOVE what we do!  A little bit about the sisters:

Mrs. K:
  • 7th Grade Social Studies Teacher
  • Teaches at a 7-12 public school in a rural Midwestern area
  • Beginning 5th year of teaching
  • BA in Social Science with minors in Secondary Education and History, working on MEd in Reading and Literacy Education
  • Certified in 5-12 Social Studies

Ms. H:
  • 7th and 8th Grade Math Teacher and 8th Grade Religion Teacher
  • Teaches at a K-8 private school in an urban Midwestern area
  • Beginning 2nd year of teaching
  • BS in Math Education and BA in Secondary Education with endorsements in math and business
  • Certified in 5-12 Math and Business
Follow us as we swap stories, resources, and our lives in the secondary classroom!

- Mrs. K & Ms. H