Friday, May 27, 2016

What Worked for YOU This Year?

It's that time of year again when we are wrapping up lessons, cleaning up our rooms and preparing to say goodbye to this year's students.  Along with that, most of us are thinking about what lessons and strategies went well this year and which didn't.  The ones we'll use again next year, the ones will modify, and the ones we'll just discard and try something new.

This year, one of the units that was best received by my 8th grade Information Technology students was our unit on Adobe Photoshop.  Not all districts are as lucky as mine - we have access to the entire Adobe Suite of products for our students.  Teenagers LOVE to take pictures and the ability to edit them in different ways is naturally engaging.  Although we did have to cover appropriate use of images of others and discuss the true meaning of "school appropriate", students had a lot of fun with these lessons and learning some valuable skills they can use in high school and throughout life.

This isn't the first year I've taught Adobe Photoshop, but I did approach it a little differently this year.  We started with a basics lesson that included a step-by-step tutorial of mini lessons on the most used features of the program.  Then, they demonstrated their learning of these features in a creative project of their own.  

Feeling comfortable with the menus and features of the program, we moved forward into a short lesson about the most popular photo editing features.  Students learning how to remove red-eye, remove blemishes, etc.  Up next was a challenge where they chose from a variety of tutorials and learned how to do "something cool" like create a new animal from two different pictures.  By now they were pretty comfortable with the program and were really enjoying helping each other create the most amazing pictures.

We spent more time on Adobe Photoshop this year than we have in the past, but students really enjoyed feeling a real sense of mastery with the program!  I'll be adding a couple new "choices" to these lessons for upcoming years, but I'm glad to have invested the time in this.  Students having fun and doing something authentic keeps them engaged and learning and also gave them confidence that they could master a difficult program!

You might also enjoy:

"I Am" Silhouette Project in Adobe Photoshop

Animated GIF in Adobe Photoshop

Friday, May 20, 2016

How to Get a Jump on Next Year . . . Before Summer Even Starts!

It's the last few weeks of the year, and even though there's always lots to do, taking the time to do a few things in preparation for the first days of NEXT year will help make your summer more relaxing!  Here's a few things you can do now and can even have your current students help you with.  My students love helping get the classroom ready for next year's students and think this is fun, not work.

1.  Make copies for the first day of school.  I don't know about your school, but our copiers are always busy or broken at the beginning of the year.  If you have syllabi, parent information/permission forms, student classroom procedures, etc. that you'll be handing out the first day or two of school, consider printing those now and letting your student helpers staple and organize them.  Put them together on a shelf, in a basket or on a cart and that will be one less thing you need to do when you start getting your classroom ready in the fall.

2.  Take down posters, border, bulletin boards, etc. that you are going to change for next year.  Again, I use my student helpers for this.  If you want to get super ambitious, you can start (or even complete!) putting up decorations for next year.  Make a list of things you want for the upcoming list (new border, new letters, etc.) and add these things to your "to do" list so you can obtain these during the summer when you're shopping.  If you need a fun, colorful "to-do" list to motivate you, download this free one.

3.  Start purging things that are out of date, aren't going to be used, or are records that you'll be shredding.  Even if you need to hold on to them until the end, find an empty file cabinet drawer to tuck them into so you can just open the drawer and empty it into the trash or shredder on the last day.

4.  Reflect on what worked this year and what didn't.  You've probably done some of that throughout the year, but it's a great time to consider some of the things you wish you'd done (or wish you'd done differently!).  Add them to the list so you remember them as you're modifying lessons over the summer.

What are some of your tips for getting ahead BEFORE the new school year starts?

Graphic Credits:  Six Picks & Ashley Hughes

You Might Also be Interested in:

Classroom Expectations Template
To Do Lists (FREE)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Middle School Memories - Three End of the Year Activities

Middle School Memories
My 8th graders are entering their last three weeks in Middle School and even though most of them don't really want to admit it, they're having some conflicting emotions right now.  They're anxious (and apprehensive) about going to high school next year - leaving a school they've been at for 3 years and a place where they're now the "Big Men (or Women) on Campus" to go to a new school with new teachers and new classes.  For most, it means leaving behind some of their friends who are going to a different high school (our district has three high schools).  

Right now, it is difficult to get them to focus on school, no matter how entertaining the lesson.  They want to think back over their memories of friends and fun, and look ahead to the fall when they'll be enjoying new experiences.  So, I came up with a few lessons that let them learn some new skills AND get a chance to reflect back or look ahead.

Idea #1: “I’ll Always Remember” project in PowerPoint. Students combine pictures with a short paragraph about a specific memory they will “always remember” from each of their classes in a PowerPoint presentation and then share these.  Get the full lesson.

Idea #2: Memories from the Year video project gives students an opportunity to share their memories from the school year as a culminating activity to the year. It uses the Web 2.0 tool, WeVideo, which is convenient for teachers and students since it does not require download. Students use existing pictures and videos or shoot additional ones and then combine those with WeVideo’s built in music to create a video retrospective of the year. Get the full lesson.

Idea #3: Showcasing the Year’s Best Work in an Online Weebly Portfolio utilizes the free Web 2.0 tool to create an online portfolio/web site. No download is required to use the product, making it easy for teachers who are not able to download software on classroom computers to still give their students a choice in learning.  Students enjoy looking back at all their accomplishments for the year and seeing how their work has improved too! Get the full lesson.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

5 Ideas to Help You (and your Students!) Survive the End of the Year

Most teachers are entering those final weeks of the year.  For some of us (like me!) that means we still have standardized testing to get through.  But, more importantly, we want the last few weeks of the year to be as memorable and filled with meaningful learning as the first weeks of the year.  That's not always so easy!

My middle schoolers are DONE with school.  I teach 8th graders so they are done with MIDDLE SCHOOL all together.  They are focused on what high school will be like, what classes they'll be taking, which of their friends will attend their high school, etc. even more than planning for summer.  Like every year, some are done working.  They're letting their 90+ grade drop into the 70's as they just.don'

This may be okay with them (and sadly, even with many of their parents), but it's NOT so okay with me.  A break from learning, sure.  A total "stop" . . . uh, NO.  So, it becomes my job to find something they still want to do that takes them to the next level of learning.  Since 8th graders are pretty savvy about "real work" and what actually interests them, this is a challenge every single year.

Does this describe your classroom too?  Here a few ideas that I've tried successfully over the years:

1.  Let them choose their project.  You know what they still need to learn, but HOW they learn it could be up to them.  Authentic learning is always great and if they feel like they have more control, they're going to be more motivated and take more ownership of the project.  Let them choose whether to do a poster, create a website, use a collage, etc.  You can set up what they need to demonstrate in their learning and then let them choose the "how" of the project.

2.  Have a competition.  Get other students who AREN'T in your class to judge.  We did this for a robotics competition and used 7th graders to judge.  My students wanted to impress these kids, so they really pulled together and worked hard.  You can use competitions for review too - think Jeopardy-style quiz games or free sites like Kahoot to get kids re-excited about learning.  Note:  be prepared for it to get a little loud!

3.  Figure out what they're wasting time on and make it a lesson.  Everyone wants to play computer games?  How about learning how to create one with a free site like Gamestar Mechanic or Sploder?  Neither of these require download and are great for all ages.  We like combining this with a competition where students rate each others' game and give constructive feedback for improvement.

4.  Try something that might be just a little too hard (aka challenging) for them.  My 8th graders have taken on some tough stuff:  AutoCAD, Adobe Photoshop, etc. and done really, really well with it.  I let them work together and help each other, provide them with tutorial links and videos and let them see what they can do without the "stress" of a grade for specifics.  I grade them instead on being on task, working collaboratively, using their resources and trying their best.

5.  Recognize that there are going to be days where no one (including you) wants to work.  The weather is nice, summer is almost here, and they've worked hard all year.  Let them work with a partner, work in a team, use their phone to research information, or just take a "brain break".  Take them outside, plan an activity where they can move around, give them some fun options if they finish early . . . in other words, use that same creativity that has made your year fun and awesome to get you and THEM through these last few weeks.

Who has other ideas to share?