Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Class Dojo

This is my second year to use Class Dojo, a free online behavior management tool.  I love that it is easy to set up, engaging for the students, and customizable.  There have also been some neat little features added recently, which makes it even more awesome!  Since Class Dojo can be used in a variety of ways, I thought I'd share how I use it in my classroom.  

If you've never heard of Class Dojo, check out the Student Introduction Video that I showed my class during the first days of school. 

After registering my class, I was able to customize behaviors that I wanted to award points for.  Here are the ones I chose:

Positive Behaviors:
-Following Rules/Procedures
-Good Behavior in Special Areas (I always ask about how the students behave in other classes, but Class Dojo recently added the feature to allow special area teachers access to your class.  These teachers can join and award/take points as necessary.)
-Helping Others
-Listening Well/Attentive
-On Task/Does Not Waste Time
-Sets a Positive Example
-Working Hard
-Model Safety Patrol Student

Needs Work Behaviors:
-Not following instructions/procedures
-Negative Behavior in Special Areas
-Negative attitude
-Disrespectful to other students
-Disrespectful to teacher
-Does not keep hands to self
-Inattentive/Lack of focus
-Excessive talking
-Inappropriate playground behavior
-Negative behavior at car pick-up
-Calling Out/Does not raise hand to speak

I award more positive points than negative, and this class is so well-behaved that I didn't have to check a single "Needs Work" behavior until the end of the 3rd week of school!  I think that's a record!  As of now, my students have around 40-50 points each.  At the end of the nine weeks, we will turn our dojo point values into Dojo Dollars and hold a Class Auction (similar to past years).  When students reach 50 points, I give them their "Secret Code" and they are allowed to change their avatar. 
Every nine weeks, our point values start over (Although, you don't have to; it's just my preference).   I think I'll eventually change the auction system and use a reward system similar to the following:
Click here to check out other Class Dojo ideas from my Pinterest board.

Parents are able to check their child's progress at any time, but each Friday, Class Dojo emails the parents reminders to view their child's behavior progress report.  Also, if you need to share information with a parent via Class Dojo, there is a messenger feature that's been added recently. 

I feel that Class Dojo holds my students more accountable for their behavior.  Parents are able to see, in real-time, their child's progress, and it's been so much easier to discuss behavior with the parents.  Last year, when I started using Class Dojo, I had a parent ask me at dismissal, "Why, exactly, did my child lose a behavior point today?"  I honestly couldn't remember, and I admitted that!  I turned to the child and said, "Tell your mom why you lost a point."  He was able to say, "Well, I did..."  This took the burden off of me and put it onto the student (where it belongs).  My students are old enough to be able to explain their actions.  And they can remember situations better than I can at times!

Class Dojo has made it easier for me to manage behaviors in my classroom and report to parents.  It is fun for the kids and simple for me to use.  Because this system is web-based, I can use it on my laptop, phone, or tablet; it's so versatile.  I would definitely recommend Class Dojo to any K-6th grade teacher.

Friday, August 29, 2014

First Days of School 2014

We've been in school for two weeks now, and I'm having a wonderful time with my sweet, easy group!  Seriously, this is the easiest group I've ever had.  I have yet to take a behavior point from anyone (we're using Class Dojo), and this class is catching on super fast to the material I'm teaching.  It's so exciting!  These students are engaged, creative, obedient, and kind.
Here are some highlights from our first couple of weeks together:   
On the first day of school, I gave the students a pair of sunglasses with a note that reads, "My Future is so Bright, I've Got to Wear Shades."
We took our first day pictures:
 And again, with the shades:
After getting to know one another, learning new procedures, and taking a couple of pretests, we had our first geography lesson on the first day.  The students learned about map projections and that a globe is more accurate than a map. 

To illustrate that it is impossible to take something round and make it flat without there being any distortion, we used oranges with a slit in them.  We carefully peeled the oranges, trying to keep the peels intact.  Finally, we flattened them out, and the students were able to see the rips and tears in the peels. 
This activity helped the students understand the difficulty cartographers have in creating an accurate representation of the earth.  At the end of the lesson, the students realized that there are many map projections of the earth, and each is distorted in some way.
At the end of week 1, the children took part in their first 5th grade cooperative, problem-solving activity called "Save Dave."
They were so focused during this activity! 
Most groups were able to "save" Dave.  Unfortunately, he did drown in a couple of groups!
During the second week, we learned about longitude and latitude.  5th graders usually have a tough time with this concept, so I tried something different this year.  We created a grid system (using yarn) on the floor, labeled the "lines of latitude/longitude," and plotted various coordinates.
Just an FYI, the Tropic of Capricorn isn't located at 20 degrees.  I tried to place it around 23.5 degrees.
This method was very effective!  The students were able to quickly and easily transfer this skill to plotting points on paper maps.

The students have also been making great progress in writing.  They have been learning about Target Skills (from Melissa Forney's Razzle Dazzle Writing), writing poetry and journal entries, and reviewing the different traits of writing.  We completed a group activity so I could assess their understanding of the various "Write Traits":   
Each group was assigned a trait and had to address two questions: "What does this trait mean?" and "Why is this trait important?"
Finally, each group presented their work to the class:
As you can probably tell, I like to encourage my students to learn through collaborative work.  I also engage my students by incorporating hands-on activities into the various subject areas I teach--even spelling!  Yesterday, the children practiced their spelling words by writing them in shaving cream on their desks.  
I've seen this used in younger grades, but what kid doesn't enjoy getting their hands a little messy?  These 10-year-olds loved it!
The children were so impressive to me--they were actually able to maintain self-control while taking part in this fun activity!  I had no spills nor messes (and each child neatly cleaned up their area afterwards), and every person was on-task and obedient.  Now, you teachers know that you can't do an activity like this with all groups.  What have I done to deserve these angels?!   
Is this just a "honeymoon" period, or are they really this amazing?!
I choose to believe they are really this amazing.  I'm looking forward to an awesome year!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Classroom Reveal 2014

This year marks my 7th year of teaching....my 7th first day of school....my 7th time of setting up my classroom and preparing for new students.  This year, I finally got smart about preparing my classroom and enlisted the help of last year's students:
These girls worked so hard--helping me clean, move furniture, align desks, complete bulletin boards, label books/workbooks, etc.  What we accomplished together in 1 hour would have taken me at least 5 hours on my own.  I treated them to milkshakes afterwards!
Here are the before and after pics:
Before:  Clean carpet, but all my stuff is piled in one corner of the room.
This year, I traded my "Cranium Club" cabinet in for a "Woot Wall."  I got the idea from fellow teacher blogger, Melissa, over at Teach, Bake, Love. 
This is how the Woot Wall works in my classroom:
  • When you earn a 95 or higher on a test or quiz (Exception: a 100 or higher must be earned on a spelling test), you will then be allowed to sign the Woot Wall and select a decorative sticker.  (FYI:  The stickers can be used to decorate binders, journals, "cubicles," etc.)
  • At the end of the 9 weeks, you will count up your signatures on the wall and receive that number of raffle tickets to go into a drawing.
  • I will draw three different people and award them with a special surprise!
  • Rewards will vary, but could include individual privileges such as Popcorn Party, Soda Day, Gum Day, Homework Pass, iPad Dibs, Treasure Chest, or Extra Computer Time.  You never know which awesome prize it will be! 
Our school held Orientation on Thursday, the day before school started.  I put all the paperwork in a folder labeled with each child's name and number.  Inside, one side was labeled "Take home and Read," and the other side was labeled "Fill out and Return."
I also left a treat for my students (a Pinterest find):
Finally, I had a volunteer table set up where parents could sign up to lend a helping hand in the classroom.  I didn't have to plead for volunteers; these parents are ready and willing to help out this year!  I'm so thankful! 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

EdCamp Leon 2014

Last Saturday, I attended my second EdCamp here in Leon county.  I was looking forward to it because last year's event was so amazing.  While I had a good time, I have to admit that my experience this year wasn't as great as last year's.  I've been reflecting this week on what was so different.  Were my expectations too high?  Maybe I was overly excited last year because it was my first EdCamp event.  I don't know...

In this post, I'm going to reflect on both EdCamp experiences and compare/contrast EdCamp 2013 and EdCamp 2014. 

First of all, EdCamp 2014 didn't seem as organized or as promoted as EdCamp 2013.  Last year, EdCamp Leon was promoted heavily on Twitter and there was no confusion about the registration/start time.  When I first found out about this year's event (on a flyer at a workshop), the start time was posted as 10 a.m.  When I registered, the start time on my ticket was 9:30 a.m.  Eventually, I saw on Twitter that the start time was 9 a.m.  I was so confused!  I had invited several people and was unsure what time to tell them.  I stuck to the 9:30 a.m. time but wish I had arrived earlier so that I could have met and networked with other teachers.

This was another difference.  Last year, I arrived at 8 a.m. and sessions began at 10 a.m.  This gave me plenty of time to meet new people and talk about what's working in our classrooms.  I even shared how I used technology in my classroom with a new teacher-friend and got her started on Twitter.  I had so much fun connecting with other teachers and getting to know them before the sessions began.  This year, unfortunately, I arrived only 30 minutes before sessions started.  I felt obligated to sit next to the coworkers I had invited, so I didn't really get to chat with new people. 

If I were in charge of EdCamp, this is what I would do to encourage networking:  I would assign each table a number.  When people arrived and registered, I'd give them a sticker (indicating a number) to wear on their shirt.  I would make sure that those who arrived in a group (or those who are from the same school) would get different numbers.  The people would sit at the table that matched their "assigned" number and get to know the teachers around that table.  Maybe after a certain time period we could switch seats, but I would encourage attendees to get out of their comfort zones and have conversations with new people.  That's what EdCamp is all about--getting to know new people and learning from them.  I didn't feel that that was encouraged as much this year. 

Not only was there not enough time to mingle before our sessions, but we were given a presentation during lunch (via webcast) so very few people were conversing; they were all watching the screen!  I wanted to debrief with my co-workers about the morning sessions they had attended and share ideas, but I couldn't speak across the table because of the loud webcast going on.  To me, the webcast wasn't that helpful, so I began talking to a guy next to me who is starting a school next year.  He shared ideas with me, and our conversation was enjoyable and exciting.  It was great to finally connect with someone.  I felt that this year's EdCamp didn't allow time in our schedule for conversations to flow, connections to build, and sharing to occur among attendees.  I felt stifled this year; last year I felt free.

Another thing I missed from last year was a whole-group segment called "Digital Tool Shout-Out."  During this 15 minute session, teachers had a chance to stand up and share, in 20 seconds or so, their favorite website/app/digital tool that they use in their classroom.  I thought that this was helpful, and it also allowed teachers who didn't feel comfortable enough to lead a session to still share what's working in their classrooms.       

Throughout the day, just like last year, I attended four sessions.  These included:
1.  Web 2.0 Resources
2.  That's What He/She Said (a session about backchannel communications)
3.  Things That Suck
4.  20% Project

The sessions that I went to were great, and I learned something new in each one.  Many of the online resources I learned about would work best in a BYOD environment or 1:1 classroom.  At this time, my school doesn't have this, so the sites/apps suggested were more "cool" than practical for me.

My favorite session was "Things That Suck," which was the most participant-driven one.  I loved it!  The leader of the session began by "drawing" an imaginary line down the middle of the room.  He said he was going to give us a topic and we had to move to either side of the line--one side of the room stood for "I think this topic is great and I agree with it" and the other side stood for "I think this sucks and is bad for education/learning."  Topics included homework, grades, grouping of students, standardized testing, teacher evaluations, and teacher tenure.  The tough thing about this session was that there was no middle ground.  We had to take a stand on each issue and be able to defend our position.  After everyone "voted" we all discussed why we stood where we did.  We had some great conversations!  This session was such a hit--people were still talking when time was up.  One of the EdCamp coordinators had to come in the room and say, "Okay, everyone, we have to wrap this up now because the next session is about to start."  No one was ready to leave!  I think this would be interesting to do at a faculty meeting so we could all learn about each other's teaching philosophies. 

Overall, EdCamp Leon 2014 had some great sessions, and I learned some new things.  The down side was that there was very little time to connect with other teachers, and sharing ideas/learning from others is what I enjoy most.  I would definitely attend another EdCamp.  I've learned that every event is unique and I shouldn't expect the exact same thing each time.   

Friday, May 30, 2014

End of Year Gift 2014

In the last post, I shared how delighted my students were to receive their personalized, framed Word Clouds.  Here's the video of them opening their gifts:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

End of Year/Volunteer Appreciation Gifts

This year, I wanted to do something special for my students' end of the year gift.  I, of course, searched Pinterest for ideas and found inspiration for not only my students' gifts but also my classroom volunteers' gifts.  For my students, I decided to surprise them with an encouraging, personalized word cloud in a frame:
In order to put these together, about a month before school ended, I told the class that we were going to complete an encouragement activity.  I asked them to take out a sheet of paper, write their name at the top, and then number from 1-15 (because I had 15 students).  Each student is assigned a number in my class, so I asked them to mark through their own number in the list.  The children had to pass the papers around the classroom (of course, I did this very orderly), think of a positive characteristic for the person whose name was listed at the top, and then write this encouraging attribute next to their own assigned number.  Since I know all my students' numbers, I could easily tell who had not yet signed someone's paper.  Also, the students were not allowed to repeat words, so occasionally, I'd have to say, for example, "Oh!  Numbers 9 and 14, you both said this person was 'Awesome' so you need to change this.  We can't have repeats."  I encouraged them to stay away from "blah" words like nice, sweet, great, awesome, etc.  The kids took this task very seriously and many of them pulled out a thesaurus!
Once all the papers were completed, I collected them and did NOT let the children see their own papers.  How mean!  I told the class, "Don't worry; I'll let you see them another day."  They continued asking about them each week.  I finally said, "Okay.  You'll see them on the last day of school."  Groan.  They were not impressed, but I knew they would love what I was going to do with these lists! 
I used Tagxedo.com to create the word clouds.  I printed them out and cut them to fit an 8x10 frame.
On the last day of school, I placed the gift bags on the students' desks, but the children were not allowed to open their bag until everyone arrived.  I chose gift bags of blue and yellow (our school colors), which were reminiscent of the first day of school when I decorated each desk with blue and yellow balloons and a welcome bag:
Last Day of School
First Day of School
I loved hearing the delighted "ooohs" and "aahhs" from the children as they opened their gifts.  They seemed to enjoy reading the positive words their classmates had written about them.  It was a sweet way to end the year.
Oh, yes!  I also added a little something extra to the bags of the students who were stuck on Space Shot with me during our Space Camp Trip:

On another note, let me share my volunteer appreciation gifts with you.  This year, I had three main moms help out in my classroom.  I gave these ladies homemade pomegranate hand scrub...and I may have made a batch for myself too!  I attached a note that said something like, "Thanks for lending a helping hand this year.  Now, please enjoy this homemade pomegranate hand scrub."  I also personalized Thank-You cards for them.  I appreciated their help so much this year!
The hand scrub was super easy to make, with only two ingredients, and it smelled delicious!  I simply combined sugar and Dawn dishwashing liquid (the pink kind with Olay hand renewal) until the consistency was like a scrub.
Voila!  As I said at the beginning of this post, Pinterest was my inspiration.  If you'd like to check out my Gift Ideas board, click HERE.  To see my End of the School Year board, click HERE.