A new school year is a fresh start. For students, that means a different teacher and new classmates. For teachers, it’s another chance to make an impact on the lives of kids, turn them into life-long learners or at least let them experience the joy of learning.
In the chaos of getting ready for that all-important first day, it’s tempting to “do things as they’ve always been done” — like lectures, quizzes, student plays, and posters — but more and more teachers want to shake things up by adding innovative activities that differentiate for student learning styles while creatively accomplishing classroom goals.
Here are eleven such activities I’ve collected from colleagues using transformative tools that optimize learning while making students active participants in expected learning outcomes:
Use the webtool Too Noisy for the first month of class to show students how loud the class can get. Demonstrate how it works by showing that the louder classroom sounds are, the more the needle moves into the red. After that, project it onto the class screen occasionally throughout the day when voices and activity exceed what is best for learning. Let students notice the meter and then self-correct.
This tool is intuitive, easy to use, and is available on mobile devices only. A good alternative if you don’t have the ability to project your iPad to the class screen: Bouncy Balls.
Post a draft of class rules on the wall based on those followed last year. Ask students for suggestions. As they offer ideas, jot them down on the list. When everyone is done, post the edited list in place of the draft. Now, everyone is a stakeholder in classroom management.
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 (like Catlin Tucker, Alice Keeler, Eric Curts, Richard Byrne, and Monica Burns), 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 classroom activities with a digital spin to get you back into school quickly and agilely.
Classroom Activities include:
- 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.
Back to School night is a time-honored ritual where teachers and parents meet, with or without children, and preview the upcoming school year. Teachers share information about their teaching style and methodology, how they grade, what students can do to thrive, and how parents can connect to classroom activities. It’s a way of easing everyone back into the education journey after a long summer break and is arguably one of the most impactful days in the school year.
But Back to School night has changed over the years in large part because families have changed. Consider this list of reasons why from Edutopia:
- Increased pace of life
- Greater economic demands
- Alterations in family composition and stability
- Breakdown of neighborhoods and extended families
- Weakening of community institutions
The most important goal of Back to School Night — establishing the parent-teacher partnership — is a lot more complicated to reach than it used to be.
Assessing student learning used to be as simple as giving a test that consisted of multiple choice, True/False, short answer, and/or essay. How many answers students got right told the teacher how much they knew. No need to look further. Simply grade, record, and move on to the next chapter.
Educators have come to realize that there are lots of reasons why a test score doesn’t reflect student knowledge. Maybe the student had a bad day; maybe s/he isn’t good at memorizing (and the test was mostly memorized facts); maybe education researchers are right that doing well on tests isn’t a predictor of student success.
Tossing tests makes a teacher’s job more difficult. I’ll stipulate to that. Habits, templates, and routines are much easier than reinventing the assessment wheel but a tool that results in passionate students committed to lifelong learning gets my attention.
That’s what the next twelve options are: assessment strategies that inspire student interest and allow them to share what they know in ways compatible with their personal communication style. These can be used formatively or summatively and can be created by teachers or students-as-teachers. Decide what works best for your circumstances. The uniting characteristics are that all assess:
This just out: Turnitin has released “Rethink Feedback”–themed resources to help K-12 teachers and higher education instructors teach proper methods of attribution and help improve student writing skills in response to the ongoing priority teachers place on not only improving writing skills but educating students about plagiarism and integrity. New resources and tools in Turnitin’s back-to-school program, “Rethink Feedback,” help K-12 teachers and higher education instructors teach proper methods of attribution and improve student writing skills.
The free back-to-school resources include:
- In the Loop: Feedback Quiz – This 12-question, online self-teaching tool helps students understand the value of feedback and explains how to get the most from feedback and how to respond to instructor feedback, while encouraging students to separate feedback from evaluative measures like grades.
- Feedback that Makes the Grade – 78% of students say they want feedback from teachers, but how do they feel about the feedback teachers are giving? This infographic lists five tips for fantastic feedback, details how students use and think about feedback, and explains what makes feedback effective in the classroom.
- Aiming for Integrity Analysis – How well do students understand plagiarism? Compiling over 12,500 data points from over 25,000 responses to Turnitin’sPlagiarism Quiz, this report helps educators understand student perceptions of plagiarism and citation methods.
- Plagiarism Spectrum – This infographic defines 10 different types of plagiarism. Each type has been given an easy-to-remember moniker to help students and instructors better identify and discuss the ramifications of plagiarism in student writing. Request posters for classrooms, or download a student handout or the full study.
“Teachers intuitively know—and research supports—that there are best practices to giving feedback to students in writing exercises,” said Jason Chu, education director at Turnitin. “Feedback that is appropriately constructive, specific, actionable, and given at the right time drastically improves how much a student learns about good writing.”
Turnitin has been a leader in promoting and supporting teachers in how to give appropriate feedback leading to improved writing skills. Earlier this year, Turnitin addedRevision Assistant to its product lineup. Turnitin Revision Assistant, for grades 6-12 and developmental writing in higher education, extends teachers’ reach by giving students immediate formative feedback during the writing process.
Whether you teach science or PE, there are hundreds of apps to help you do it better. The response to this tidal wave of information has been confusion. As each teacher downloads their favorites, students spend as much time learning the app as applying it academically.
There’s a move afoot to pick five that are cross-curricular, train faculty, and then use them throughout the school year. This is the way it used to be when MS Office ruled the computer and everyone understood it. If this is your school, here are three apps to start the school year:
When looking for an app to curate classroom reading, consider these requirements:
- works well with your current LMS
- includes a wide variety of reading formats
- displays books quickly, allowing you to open multiple books, add annotations, and take notes
- displays class textbooks
Lots of apps do the first three; none the last. Why? Many class texts use formats that only display on the publisher website. What became apparent as I researched was that GoodReader was one of several considered Best in Class because of its broad-based ability to read, manage, organize, access, and annotate a wide variety of file formats. Where it has long been considered a leader in reading and annotating PDFs, new releases accommodate almost any type of file including .docx, mp3, jpeg, ppt, xlx, audio, and videos. With its tabbed interface, users can open multiple documents and click through them as needed.
In fifteen years of teaching K-8, I have learned that one factor provides a reliable barometer for student success: Parent involvement. In fact, it’s crucial. According to the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education Research Review and Resources, no matter income or background, students with involved parents are more likely to have higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school. According to the School Community Journal, “There is a sizable body of research literature supporting the involvement of parents in educational settings and activities”.
The data is so overwhelming, one of our important jobs as teachers must be to facilitate the involvement of parents in their child’s education. There are as many ways to do that as there are parents who need alternatives to the traditional parent-teacher conference and back-to-school night. Here are some of my favorites:
- Windows has updated their platform—again.
- IPads have been joined by Chromebooks as a common classroom digital device.
- There is a greater reliance on internet-based tools than software. This underscores the importance of teaching digital citizenship to even the youngest learners.
- Student work is often collaborative and shared.
- Student work is done anywhere, not just the classroom and home, meaning it must be synced and available across multiple platforms, multiple devices.
- Keyboarding skills are more important than ever, often critical to summative year-end testing for PARC, SB, and other formats.
- Technology in the classroom is the norm, but teacher training isn’t.
- Education is focused on college and career with tech an organic, transformative tool.
- Teachers have moved from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’.
- Students have been raised on digital devices. They want to use them as learning tools.
- Using technology is no longer what ‘geeky’ students do. It’s what all students want to do.
- Printing is being replaced with sharing and publishing.
- More teachers are willing to try technology when used authentically.
Between March and June, 2015, nearly five million students in 11 states and the District of Columbia completed the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing to measure student accomplishment of Common Core State Standards in the areas of mathematics and English/language arts. Tests were administered via digital devices (though there are options for paper-and-pencil). Besides measuring student achievement, they also were an indicator of school facility to administer green digital tests instead of the traditional paper-and-pencil versions. Lots of schools discovered that, though student knew the material, they were unable to adequately communicate their knowledge using unfamiliar digital tools as basic as keyboard familiarity.
I polled my PLN to find specific tech areas students needed help with in preparing for the Assessments. It boils down to five tech areas. Pay attention to these and your students will be much more prepared for this Spring’s Common Core assessments:
Students need to have enough familiarity with the keyboard that they know where keys are, where the number pad is, where the F row is, how keys are laid out. They don’t need to be touch typists or even facilely use all fingers. Just have them comfortable enough they have a good understanding of where all the pieces are. Have students type fifteen minutes a week in a class setting and 45 minutes a week using keyboarding for class activities (homework, projects–that sort). That’ll do it.
Basic computer skills
Skills that were listed by teachers as difficult for students included:
- Write a letter
- Watch a video
- Fill in boxes on table
- Mouse manipulation
- Know keyboard layout—delete, arrows, space bar
- Drop-down menus
- Use calculator, protractor, ruler
- Use video player
- Use multiple windows/tabs
- Use online dictionaries, thesauruses
- Plot points
- Read and comprehend online
The first day of class can be daunting. Students are curious about the new faces around them, intimidated–even frightened by the prospect of so many people they know nothing about. As a teacher, you might feel the same way. You knew everything about last year’s students, got excited when their baseball team won the playoffs, cried with them when a favorite pet passed away, cheered when they got an A in math. Those details–that intimate knowledge–helped you understand what motivated them so you could differentiate instruction to reach each of them where they were.
Now, you’re starting over. It would be easy to go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves, but you want the first-day ice-breaker to be more–enriching but fun, to set the tone for the rest of the year. You want students to quickly get comfortable with each other, bond as a group, without turning the classroom into a party room. And, you want an activity them haven’t done so many times in the past it’s boring.
One truth never changes: Students love talking about themselves. There’s no better ice breaker than one where students share information about themselves. There’s no better way to discover new friends than have a classmate understand perfectly what you’re saying about a tough soccer game because s/he too plays soccer.
Another truth: Kids love technology. This year, try a get-to-know-you that uses one of the many free online tech tools. How about these ideas: