New Year, New School, New Challenges, New Rewards

A new school year can be challenging, a new school...intimidating, but add in a brand new school building with a newly formed school and it can become downright daunting.  Yet about 50 other brave souls, along with myself, have accepted the mission to open a new charter school in our city and we're excited as all get out.

Along with the usual beginning of the year decor challenges, book labeling, and student names to learn, we are building a school from the ground up.  In fact the paint is still drying and the carpet is still being laid, but our determination and hearts are strong for the decisions we make and the training we undergo to make our school what we want it to be...a beacon for parents, a place for learning, and a spot where students will know they are loved.  It's why we are all so committed.

Just a few weeks ago, a blueprint and a targeted building list was as close as I could get to my classroom.

Now, with just a few weeks left of summer vacation, I can peek in my room and see the potential that all our work is driving towards.

 We learn about Capturing Kid's Hearts so we can build relationships with our youngsters and have them learn to be leaders in our communities.

We dive into Singapore Math and CKLA training so we can grow minds with great curriculum.

But we also build schedules that will let all sides of our students thrive.

  • We create a schoolwide DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time so that not just kids read but everyone from the principal, to the teachers, to the campus security reads and sets an example for the youth in our building.  
  • We include character education blocks so it's not just something we say, but it's something we walk.  
  • We have science and social studies in every schedule, every day so that every student, from kindergarten to sixth grade, is getting a well-rounded education.  
  • And we include the specials, which for us right now, in our first years, are PE, music, art, and Spanish.    

We also work as a team to create a school vision, lay the building blocks of how we will function as a team through our social contract, and work with our administration and literacy coaches on how to best serve our students.

It's an incredibly daunting and exhausting process, but it's so rewarding and enriching as well.  In the end, all this hard work will be worth it, as we create our new school and especially our successful students.

Let me know in the comments if you have ever opened a brand new school, and what were your favorite parts about the process.

Making Minutes Matter with History Minutes

Did you know that there was once a "year of confusion"?
Did you know that the computer was invented in 1822?
How about that President Garfield was actually killed by inept doctors rather than an assassin's bullet?

Each of these moments are covered in what are called "History Minutes," a brief two page look at a time or place in history.

I've had several people ask me about these new resources.  They've wondered...
Why did you create them?  
What's in them?  
How do they work?  
How can they be used?  
So I figured I would explain my "History Minutes," how they came to be, what they are, and just how they can be used in classrooms.  Then, at the end, I've got a couple ways that you can try them out and see how they fit you and your students.

Why I created them...

I created my "History Minute" resources for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost, I wanted to
integrate learning across the curriculum for my students.  That's why it's not just a social studies lesson.  It's a geography snapshot, a close reading activity, and a math or science lesson, all centered around one central theme.

At my school we were constantly looking for ways to integrate material between the language arts teacher and the social studies teacher.  Or the math teacher and the science teacher might be finding new ways to hook up and teach cooperatively, so I wanted to create something that was already geared towards that integration.

I also just love the true stories of history.  Forget the names and the dates and the memorization of facts, just tell me a story about people and connections and how one thing can forever change the world, and I'm mesmerized.  So in my "History Minutes" that is what I attempt to do. I try to hook students with the interesting stories that haven't been told.  I try to connect them to places by showing them what's cool or different that they maybe didn't know.

What's included...

Every "History Minute" runs around 30 pages when you count the answer keys.  That might seem like a lot for a "Minute" but there's a couple reasons for that.  One, is that integration piece.  I wanted to include the various pieces for the various subjects.  But two, is that the story is from a moment or a minute in time, not that it will take you just a minute to complete.  Here's a typical run-down of a "History Minute" packet.

For instance, in "Slavery, Snakes, and a Saint" students will read a 2-page story on the real life of Saint Patrick, who was never actually a saint.  They will then examine the main idea of what they just read, further explore the vocabulary that challenged them, and answer a page of comprehension questions as well.  Next up - support the idea with textual evidence, a great pre-cursor to standardized testing, and then delve into a writing prompt about metaphors.  Also included are guided cloze notes over the reading, a geography sheet on Ireland, a science lesson on the life cycle of snakes, and some fun notes which I've entitled "Smart Scribbles" that get kids taking notes and doodling at the same time.

How do they work...

"History Minutes" allow you to cover a history topic in as brief or as in-depth a way as you would like.

  • Don't have a lot of time?  Just read the 2-page story.  
  • Want to get in depth on Stonehenge and the Neolithic Age?  Complete the 5-part close reading activity and then explore the magical ratio of pi with circles and polygons.  
  • Want to split the work with a co-worker?  You take the close reading section while you allow a colleague to work with students on the geography and science lessons.  
Spend one class period on a topic, or spread it out, and use just five minutes at the start of each day, as a bell ringer, to cover a piece. 
The options are practically unlimited.

How they can be used...

A "History Minute" can also be used in a bevy of different facets depending on the needs of your class and the time you have as a teacher.

First of all, they are great to take and integrate into your unit lessons.  For instance, take "The Calendar Under Roman Rule" and add it to your teachings on Julius Caesar.  Who isn't going to know him for the crazy, mad dictator that he was, when they hear about the year of confusion?

If you don't teach lessons about South Africa, its colonization by Europe, or the diamond mines...then place "The Cullinan Diamond" in a station used for rotations or extra credit.  Students will have access to another point in history they might not have gotten to learn about, and you've got another work center for students to visit when they need a time out, when it's time to rotate through stations, or when they just need a new and different activity.

Best yet...if you're going to be absent and need something simple for your sub to do?  Pull out a "History Minute."  Have your students explore the life of Marie Curie or learn about the Columbia Shuttle disaster.  It's all at their fingertips and with the answers included, it should be virtually foolproof for any sub to accomplish when you're absent.

How do I try one out...

So now that you've made it this far, the real question is how do I try one out?  Well I have a couple of possibilities for you.  First of all, I've made a shortened sample of a "History Minute" on Machu Picchu.  Although there is a full length packet available, this will give you just a quick taste, as it's been cut down to one-third the size of a normal packet.

It is available HERE!

And if you want a full packet, you can enroll in my bulletin.  By subscribing, you will receive "Murder or Malpractice?" for free in your third issue, about ten days after you join.

Simulations Get Students Moving

Movement in my classroom can take many forms.  From music and juggling, to stations and rotations that get the blood circulating, to scavenger hunts that get kids racing from clue to clue.  Yet my number one favorite way to get kids up and out of their chairs is with a good, old-fashioned simulation.

Whether it's climbing in the dirt behind the school to get a glimpse of trench warfare, or breaking off into sides and debating the fate of Benedict Arnold, simulations allow students to get outside of their comfort zone and experience life from another point of view.  They get students to delve into history and examine the people, events, and attitudes that shaped our world.

Three of my favorite simulations are:
Each one offers new opportunities for movement and growth among the students.

The Roman Class Structure Simulation allows students to check out the roles of patricians, plebeians, and slaves during the Ancient Roman period by completing various tasks assigned to each of the social groups.  Students often go in assuming they want to be a patrician and leave wishing they weren't.

In the American Sweatshop Simulation students are put in the role of sweatshop workers.  The movement is limited in this one as they perform menial tasks in loud, hot, dark, and crowded conditions, but they come out realizing how good life really is nowadays and how fortunate we are, as Americans, to have the labor laws we do.

Finally, my favorite simulation, the French Revolution gets students up and out of their seats, grouped into social classes, and undergoing various simulation scenarios to please King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.  As the simulation runs on for days, the "peasant" class, or 3rd Estate, becomes more frustrated and actually rises up in revolt.  Little do they know a spy has been lurking among them, as Robespierre is revealed and students are led to the "gallows."  Although a harrowing time in history, it's a fun 7 days of lessons, and students really come out of it with a true understanding of class distinctions and the risks that social inequality means to peace.

So the next time you need to get your students up and moving, try creating a simulation to get them out of their seats and thinking about the world differently.  You just might be surprised with what you find.

Secret Santa for your Classroom

This is the time of year for lessons on gratitude and generosity, holiday cheer and happiness, and what better way to spread those ideas than with a class Secret Santa activity.

Every year about this time, when I taught elementary school, I would have my sixth graders partake in a Secret Santa activity.  We would run our Secret Santa's for two weeks before revealing them at our class Christmas party.

The first thing I would do is explain the rules.  There weren't a whole lot of rules to the festivities.  In my class, students were required to give two gifts per week, but gifts did not require any money to be spent.  They could gift class dollars, the promise of fulfilling class jobs in the new year, a sweet note, or anything along those lines.  Of course they were also allowed to gift candy, treats, soda, books, school supplies, toys, etc.  Secondly, they just couldn't tell anyone their Secret Santa identity.

The second thing I would do is give the students a questionnaire to complete.  It was a simple ten questions about their favorite foods, treats, books, movies, and the like.  Once these were turned in, I would scramble them up and pass them back out as my way of assigning Secret Santa's.  When completing this task, I had a checklist which I would complete with the student's name and to whom they were assigned to be a Santa.  I would then use this checklist to mark off the days that students received gifts to ensure we had no Scrooges in the class.  I also kept a small stash of Dollar Tree type items wrapped and ready to go just in case a student was being snubbed by their Santa.

Finally, during our class Christmas Party we would play a guessing game and reveal our secret identities.  For this final reveal, students were asked to bring a gift up to $5 in value.  I would then have every student find their final gift from a big pile made earlier in the day.  Before they could open it, students were given 3 opportunities to guess the identity of their Santa.  Raucous laughter would usually ensue if the Santa was able to escape the guessing without being named.  Once all the presents were open we would partake in a potluck feast and share some fun and fellowship with one another.

If you would like a copy of my Secret Santa activity papers, which includes my rules, questionnaire, checklist, and party flyer, please click here to receive them for free.

I hope you have a marvelous time celebrating the holidays with your students.

5 Fun & Free Ideas to Teach about the Aztecs

Third Grade Social Studies Activities: Make an Aztec Sundial
If you've been searching for ways to teach about the Aztecs, you may have been searching for a while.  There's not a lot of resources out there, readily available, and free for your use.  So that's why I have compiled 5 free resources to make teaching about the Aztecs fun.

The Aztecs carved a huge sun stone in 1479.  It was 3 feet thick and almost 12 feet across, and weighed 25 metric tons.  Made from basalt, this large sun stone was one of the first sundials and it was dedicated to the sun god.  Your students can make their own sundial with this first activity.  Students use a paper plate, craft stick, Playdoh, markers, and pencils, to create and decorate a real working sundial.  They can even lay it out in the sun and check it hourly to write the hour times upon it or mark it in some way fancy, like this one shown to the right.

BMserpentThe Aztecs highly valued and worshiped the snake as a sacred symbol, as they believed it to be a symbol of one of their most treasured gods, Quetzalcoatl.  A very prominent serpent once owned by the Aztecs and possibly given to Hernan Cortes just before the destruction of the Aztec Empire now resides in the British Museum and students can recreate this serpent with just some cardboard, tissue paper, scissors and glue.  You can get the full directions here, but in a short lesson or two students will have a beautiful work of art to display in their school or at their home, showing the importance of the serpent to that of the Aztec people.


Aztec Sun Clay ARt for Kids - Homeschool History Project
A third option for studying the Aztecs is to make pottery and artwork like the Aztecs did.  This step by step site will show you two examples of how to make a pot or a sun similar to those made by the Aztecs.  They have great examples and an Aztec pot for comparison.

If you're looking for something a little less crafty and a bit more meaty, than I have just the lesson for you.  This Origin Story Lesson covers the origin of the Aztecs and how they came to be in the south central valley of Mexico.  It includes an original article that your students can read to learn the background and history of the Aztec people.  It then includes comprehension questions and a craftivity foldable that deals with the symbolism behind the Mexican seal.  See, supposedly back in the 1300's, the Aztecs were told by one of their gods to look for an eagle perched on a cactus on an island in the middle of a lake, munching on a writhing snake.  The Aztecs saw this sign one day and that is what led them to build their village on the island inside of Lake Texcoco.  This symbol, of the eagle on a cactus eating a snake, has been preserved on the seal and flag of Mexico.  Students are given a picture of this seal and asked to summarize the story of the Aztecs inside.  They then have the opportunity to come up with their own symbolism for a home or business that they find near and dear to their hearts.  It could be their own house, a grandparents, an aunt or uncles, siblings, cousins, etc. but they get to think about where it's located and what makes it unique and special to them.

AztecchocFinally, for a fifth free and fun idea to teach about the Aztec, learn how to make Aztec Hot Chocolate.  Many people do not realize that the cocoa bean to make chocolate came from the Aztecs.  The Aztecs showed it to Cortes and he quickly changed the Aztec recipe to one involving vanilla and sugar, before shipping it back across the ocean to Europe.  In this fun recipe, you'll get back to the origin of the story and try your chocolate with a small kick of cayenne pepper, just as the Aztecs intended.

I hope you've enjoyed these five fun and free ideas to teach about the Aztecs.  I hope they have provided you with your own ideas that you'll go on to share so that this area of history no longer has such a tiny area of reference and materials from which to draw from.  But most of all I wish you and your students a great day of learning and a ton of fun.

Organizing Class Periods Using Rainbow Colors in Sequence

The Elementary Classroom

When I initially began teaching I innately began using color.  Back then I was teaching sixth grade in an elementary school in a largely self-contained classroom.  Color became my friend to help me quickly and easily discern one week from another.  As we started the year and began our weekly spelling, grammar, character education, and logic lessons, I used colored paper to help me identify week one from week two from week three and so on, and I used that paper in what I thought was an easy to remember and logical sequence, RAINBOW order.

Everything from week one, from the spelling words, lists, and tests, to the math worksheets, to the logic packet, to the Friday homework letter, etc. were copied on pink paper.  (I used pastel colors as they are cheaper than brights.)  The next week, it was salmon, then yellow, and so on.  Finding missing or late work became a breeze.  Sorting papers for storage was simple. And my mind felt calm and organized.

Middle School Organization

So when I stepped into a middle school for the first time, I wasn't about to let my love and use of color just fall to the wayside, and I found a quick and easy way to use color throughout my daily life. 

Middle school found me teaching sixth grade yet again.  This time I taught four core classes per day, as well as one class which was essentially a remedial test prep class.  Each class was assigned a class color, proceeding in RAINBOW order throughout the day, so period 2 was red (I had period 1 as a prep.), period 3 was yellow, (period 4 was for meetings), period 5 was green, period 6 was blue, and period 7 was purple. 

Just like I had done in elementary school, everything for that class was done, prepared, or colored in their class color.  Their portfolio folders I kept in the front of the room for them to store their work in were red, yellow, green, blue, and purple.  Their absentee board was in these same colors.  So was their reward jars, homework board, handouts, homework graph, and more.
Again, this use of color easily and quickly helped me discern period 2 work from period 4, which could also help me see when something was turned in later in the day than during class as directed.  It helped me to sort and organize papers rapidly. And it eased my own levels of chaos and anxiety by creating a system of organization and structure that I could easily manage, and that my brain instantly enjoyed.  I happen to function well and enjoy seeing things in color; maybe you will too.  Give it a try and see what structures and functions in your classroom would lend themselves well to a color-guided system, then let me know how it goes.

We Hold These Truths: A Kindness Campaign

I've joined with dozens, if not hundreds of other TpT authors to celebrate Inauguration Day in a new and exciting way this year.  We've created resources that celebrate kindness, honesty, truthfulness, inclusion, and have made those resources "forever freebies" so that teachers can truly celebrate and honor these character traits and what has made our country great for hundreds of years.

In the creation of my resource, I tried to honor both purposes by creating an Inaugural Address Card Sort, which allows you to take four Inaugural Addresses considered to be the greatest of all time and evaluate them for their content and the words spoken in that day.  Evaluate, categorize, and then discuss who said, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, ..."  See if you can determine who would have claimed, "We wish it because we think it is right and not because we are afraid."  It's kindness and truthfulness on a whole different level, and one your high schoolers might enjoy as a special twist come this Inauguration Day.

Thank you to ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures for putting this blog hop together for us so that we could get together and share all our great resources.  You ladies are amazing.  Thank you.