The first week of school is different from all others. During this week, teachers and students alike spend time getting to know each other, become comfortable in the classroom where they’ll spend countless hours for the next nine months, and take time to reach a comfort level with leaving summer behind. I’ve gathered suggestions below from some of the leading education folks, those who are all about project-based learning rather than the application of pedagogy, to share with you. I’ve also included a few general back-to-school activities with a digital spin to get you back into school quickly and agilely.
- Authentically use forms
- Build a puzzle to decorate class walls for Back to School night
- Let students prepare how-tos to share with classmates
- Prepare English Language Learners to participate fully in class
- Review class tech tools so students are comfortable with them and not surprised when they pop up
- Review the class LMS
- Set individual goals
- Share back-to-school thoughts with a #hashtag
- Take class selfies
- Write a Back-to-school story
Authentically use Forms
Digital forms have become a go-to activity for polls, bell-ringers, exit tickets, quizzes, and more. When used early in the school year, they become an easy way to show students how technology can update classroom activities. Catlin Tucker suggests using forms the first week of school to collect student background information that is not only useful for you as the teacher but helps students get to know each other. Click her link and check out the complete lesson plan. She includes a video and a template you can use of her survey.
I get a lot of questions from readers about what tech ed resources I use in my classroom so I’m going to take a few days this summer to review them with you. Some are edited and/or written by members of the Ask a Tech Teacher crew. Others, by tech teachers who work with the same publisher I do. All of them, I’ve found, are well-suited to the task of scaling and differentiating tech skills for age groups, scaffolding learning year-to-year, taking into account the perspectives and norms of all stakeholders, with appropriate metrics to know learning is organic and granular.
The K-8 Technology Curriculum is Common Core and ISTE aligned, and outlines what technology should be taught when so students have the necessary scaffolding to use tech in the pursuit of grade level state standards and school curriculum.
Each book is between 212 and 252 pages and includes lesson plans, assessments, domain-specific vocabulary, problem-solving tips, Big Idea, Essential Question, options if primary tech tools not available, posters, reproducibles, samples, tips, enrichments, entry and exit tickets, and teacher preparation. Lessons build on each other, kindergarten through 5th grade. For Middle School, they are designed for the grading period time frame typical of those grade levels, with topics like programming, robotics, and community service with tech.
Most (all?) grade levels include base topics of keyboarding, digital citizenship, problem solving, digital tools for the classroom, and coding.
Included are optional student workbooks (sold separately) that allow students to be self-paced, responsible for their own learning. They include required weblinks, rubrics, exemplars, weekly lessons, full-color images, and more.
The curriculum is used worldwide by public and private schools and homeschoolers.
Who needs this
Tech teachers, tech coordinators, library media specialists, curriculum specialists
Classroom grade level teachers if your tech teacher doesn’t cover basic tech skills.
Everyone wants to write a book — right? Studies show that 74% of people think they have a book in them. Teens are no exception. With the ease in which that can be done, thanks to word processors like Word and Docs, online editors like Grammarly, and automated publishers like Kindle, there’s no reason why teens can’t do just that. Look at this list of kids who wrote successful books in their teens — or in one case, before:
- Alexandra Adornetto — published The Shadow Thief at age 14 and Halo at 18.
- Christopher Paolini — published Eragon at age 16 (he is now over 30)
- Steph Bowe — published Girl Saves Boy at age 16.
- Cayla Kluver — published Legacy at age 16
- Alec Greven — published How to Talk to Girls at age 9
As a teacher, I recognize that writing a book ticks off a range of student writing skills by providing organic practice in many required standards such as descriptive detail, well-structured event sequences, precision in words and phrases, dialogue, pacing, character development, transition words, a conclusion that follows what came before, research, and production/distribution of the finished product. I’ve tried novel-writing activities with students several times to varied results. Everyone starts out fully committed and enthusiastically engaged but by the end of the project, only the outliers on the Bell Curve finish. The rest have too much trouble balancing the demands inherent to writing a 70,000-word book (or even its shorter cousin, the novella). That I understand, as a teacher-author struggling with the same problems. As a result, usually I settle for less-impassioned but easier-accomplished pieces like short stories or essays.
Then I discovered co-authoring, a way to get all of the good achieved from writing a book without the intimidating bad. Many famous books have been co-authored, most recently, Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s The President is Missing but there’s also Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, and Preston and Child’s Special Agent Pendergast series. Done right, co-authoring encourages not just the writing skills we talked about earlier but perspective-taking, collaboration, and the teamwork skills that have become de rigueur in education.
The most common approach to co-authoring a book is to have students write alternate chapters but this doesn’t work for everyone. Today, I want to talk about four alternative co-authoring approaches that allow students to differentiate for their unique needs:
- multiple POV
- themed collections
Study.com is an online distance learning portal that provides over 70,000 lessons in fifteen subjects (including algebra, calculus, chemistry, macro- and microeconomics, and physics) aligned with many popular textbooks. Resources include not only videos but study tools, guides, quizzes, and more. You can read more detail on my Study.com review here.
What a lot of educators don’t know is that Study.com offers thousands of lesson plans for teachers — hundreds of them for free — to simplify lesson preparation and save time that is needed for student guidance. These lesson plans were created by teachers for all different grade levels and subject areas. They include:
- learning objectives
- length of time
- curriculum standards alignment
- key vocabulary
- related lessons
Once you select the lesson plan you’re interested in, you’ll see the credentials of the teacher who is providing the lesson as well as where it fits into a bigger course if that’s your interest (Though standalone, lessons often are aligned with a particular textbook). Many lesson plans include a video overview and a quiz to assess understanding of the material (though you can’t grade it without an account).
Life is much simpler when you–as a parent or teacher–can point to one solution for a problem, solve it, and everything is golden. Success in school was like that when grades were the barometer and studying harder was the tool. Now, we know that academic achievement is much more complicated.
“Students are telling us there’s a big missing piece in their education” –John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic
Today’s educators realize it has as much to do with academics as how students get along with themselves and others. This is called “Social Emotional Learning” or SEL. It’s akin to the importance of play in teaching kids to socialize with others, develop tenacity, and learn respect for those around them. If you’re not convinced of the importance of SEL, here’s what students say:
“Students and young adults believe SEL schools would create a more positive social and learning environment” — report by the Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
A positive attitude about themselves and others is linked to not only academic success but positively correlated to lessening the negative impact of future-ending problems such as drug use. It should surprise no one that twenty-three states are now working on SEL standards.
Free Holiday Activities to Promote SEL
An emerging leader in SEL is Sunburst SafeSchools and their suite of products and curricula that focus on building safe and positive school environments. This holiday season, Sunburst is offering three free activities for parents and kids (click for the bundle of all three and page through for the one you want).
They’re fun, positive, supportive to kids, and–while based on Sunburst’s award-winning Safe School tools (Q Wunder, reThinkIt, and Mightifier)–designed as stand-alone activities rather than part of their comprehensive SEL-oriented curricula.
This December will again host the Hour of Code, a one-hour introduction to programming designed to demystify the subject and show that anyone can be a maker, a creator, and an innovator. Last year, almost 300,000 students (age 4-104) participated from over 180 countries and wrote almost 20 billion lines of code. The 200,000+ teachers involved came away believing that, of all their education tools, coding was the best at teaching children to think. It’s easy to see why when you look at fundamental programming concepts:
- abstraction and symbolism – variables are common in math, but also in education. Tools, toolbars, icons, images all represent something bigger
- creativity – think outside the box
- if-then thinking – actions have consequences
- debugging – write-edit-rewrite; try, fail, try again. When you make a mistake, don’t give up or call an expert. Fix it.
- logic – go through a problem from A to Z
- sequencing – know what happens when
If you’re planning to participate in Hour of Code, here are activities by grade that will kickstart your effort. They can be done individually or in small groups.
Last year, I did a poll on the meaning of the word ‘turkey’. This was to demonstrate how powerful symbols are to your students and do so with an authentic use of technology to support discussion on math, language standards, and the holidays.
As a summation to your discussion with students on symbols, idiomatic expressions, geography, farms, or another topic, post this on your Smartscreen. The poll includes lots of definitions for the word ‘turkey’. Have each student come up sometime during the day (or class) and make their choices.
What definitions did your students come up with I didn’t list?
I’ve been there often. As a result, I’ve come up with fun ways to support learning while students power through the last few days of school. Here are seven I use during the pre-Thanksgiving season:
Time required: Less than one class
ASCII Art is the graphic design technique of creating images by typing the letters, numbers, and symbols defined by ASCII Standards. Holiday examples include this Thanksgiving pumpkin and these holiday bells. Here’s how you do it:
- Open your word processing program (MS Word, Google Docs, or another).
- Add a watermark of a picture you’d like to use, preferably a single image rather than one that includes a background. Silhouettes are perfect for this sort of project.
- Type over the image with the letters, symbols, and numbers that best fit the outline. It’s fine to use one letter throughout (like an X).
- Add color by highlighting the letters, numbers, and symbols typed over the parts you’d like colored (such as the stem of a pumpkin or the bow on Christmas bells in the linked samples above).
- When you’ve covered the image with characters, delete the watermark. That leaves just your typing.
- Save, print, share, publish as is customary in your classes.
Tie-ins: Use this not only for holidays but any academic class by creating an artistic image of the topic being discussed. Click the link for an example of Abraham Lincoln to align with study of the American Civil War or this one of the American Revolution. This is also a fun and authentic way for students to practice keyboarding.
Last year, only 61 percent of high school students who took the ACT English achievement test were deemed college-ready. In math, it was 41 percent. We teachers recognize it is our fiduciary responsibility to fulfill state and national education standards that prepare students for college or career. Many of us find students benefit greatly when the school employs curriculum-based assessments to measure progress. Why? Because by teaching, assessing knowledge, tracking progress, and personalizing to student needs, we can determine if students are accomplishing what they must to complete the work of learning.
Unfortunately, most textbooks offer no easy way to measure overall progress toward completing state or national standards, nor do they backfill for a lack of knowledge. Both of these are critical pieces to the successful accomplishment of learning goals.
This is where Mastery Education’s Measuring Up can help.
What is Measuring Up?
Measuring Up is a suite of tools that supplements any classroom curriculum by offering standards-based instruction, practice, assessment, and reporting customized to many state or national standards–with the singular goal of assisting students in meeting English Language Arts, Mathematics, and/or Science standards.
Three holidays are fast-approaching–Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. If you’re a teacher, that means lots of tie-ins to make school festive and relevant to students.
Here are ideas for Halloween projects, lesson plans, websites, and apps:
- ASCII Art–Computer Art for Everyone (a pumpkin–see inset)
- Lesson Plan: Halloween letter for grades 2-5
- Make a Holiday Card
- A Holiday Card
- A Holiday flier