Distance Learning and You

We are entering an unprecedented time in our history.  Even in times of war, schools were still open and games were still played, but now we face a new challenge and one we must all face together.  We must do what is best for humanity by shuttering down our social systems and avoiding one another until this virus passes through and hopefully affects as few people as possible.

Ideas and resources to help with distance learning.

With this social distancing comes the need to perform learning from a distance, which is a challenge.  Will students have devices and Internet capabilities?  What about families with 4, 5, 6, kids and only one device?  What about families who can barely afford to put food on the table or can hardly function as a family, how can we expect them to undergo this latest challenge?  There are so many questions and so few answers right now, but the best we can do is to provide as many resources as possible.  Along with that, grace and understanding, flexibility and patience must be in our wheelhouses.  This is not going to pass without questions, uncertainty, trial and error, and many hiccups.  Be prepared to be unprepared and you'll feel less cajoled when the issues arise.

Teaching resources that are free during the pandemic.

I have compiled a short list of resources I have discovered over the past few days that are making your job as an educator hopefully a little easier during this tumultuous time.  Please use any or all of these that you can, and be sure to show them some appreciation when all this is over for helping you out.

  • Kahoot - Offering premium services for the rest of the year for free.
  • IXL - Is providing free access for 90 days.
  • Edmodo - Offering access for communication and learning during this time.
  • Discovery Education - Offering free access through the end of the year to affected schools.
  • Boom Learning - Offering free Ultimate subscriptions good through June 30.
  • Active History - Offering one month free trials upon request.
  • Kids Discover - Kids Discover Online is being offered to schools through the end of June.
  • Shurley English - Offering their program for K-8 for free, no code required.
  • Turn It In - Has a 60-day free trial.

A list of teaching resources that are free and always have been.

In addition, these great resources have always been free and continue to be so during this stressful time.
  • Big Blue Button - Webcams, whiteboards, and posted curriculum made for online teaching.
  • Zearn - A K-5 curriculum.
  • Khan Academy - Online lessons in a variety of subjects.
  • Wonderopolis - Short videos and readings that answer questions for students.
  • Xtra Math - Math fact practice.
  • Typing Club - Typing practice.
  • ReadWorks - Reading passages and lesson plans for students from K-12.
  • Math Celebrity - Math tutoring.
  • Quizlet - Practice and master content with quizzes.
  • HippoCampus - Free videos in 13 different subject areas.
  • Phet - Science and math labs.
  • PBS Learning - PreK-12 digital learning materials.
  • Fiveable - Free resources for AP students which includes trivia, study guides, and reviews.
  • No Red Ink - An online curriculum that builds better writers.
  • Go Noodle - Movement and mindfulness videos.
  • Dreamscape - Reading game for grades 2-8 that combines strategy, engagement, reading passages, and a game.
  • Class Tag - Communicate with parents and send home lessons and assignments.
  • Classroom Cereal - Grammar practice.
  • Collisions Chemistry - Digital games rooted in the rules of chemistry.
  • Arcademics - Arcade like games for math, language arts, and typing practice.
  • Museum Tours - Tour 12 museums for free with virtual tours.
  • Kids National Geographic - Geography, history, and science information.

A list of self-care ideas to help when you are practicing social distancing.

While you're busy taking care of your students, don't forget to take care of yourself as well.  It can be daunting to feel trapped inside or to have little social contact with others, so make sure to take some time for yourself and do what you need to do to protect yourself and your health and emotions.  Here are some suggestions.
  • Go for a walk - Even though we're supposed to be practicing social distancing, it is okay to get outside and get some fresh air.
  • Take a bath or shower - Freshen up and get clean with a soaking bath or a rejuvenating shower.
  • Read a book - Too often we don't have time to get lost in a novel.  Pick a book off your shelf and dive in to a great story.
  • Watch a Ted Talk - Whether to learn something or just hear some words of inspiration, a Ted Talk can give you a break and put you in just the right mood.
  • Meditate - Get a subscription to Calm or Headspace and partake in some meditation.
  • Pin It - Explore Pinterest and reconnect with your hobbies. As a teacher you rarely have time for you and your hobbies.  You may have even forgot what hobbies are.  Now is the time to reconnect with what you like to do.
  • Complete a Gratitude Journal - During hard times it can be difficult to remember to be grateful.  Completing a gratitude journal will help you to remember all the good there truly is to be thankful for.  I have this one and love it.

I hope these lists provide you with some resources that you able to use to make your days easier as we all walk this new unknown together.  


Are You a Genius When it Comes to Geography?

GeoGenius is a new line of geography magazines that allow you and your students to become experts in the field of geography.

With maps, interactive activities, fun facts, and more, GeoGenius aims to get students interested in geography again.  It aspires to show students a link between the fun and zany side of the world and just how that connects to our knowledge of geography.  In addition, students are given real world activities to complete that give them a glimpse inside the country or continent at hand.

The first GeoGenius features the continents and oceans.  You can get this free 22-page activity packet and lesson simply by signing up here.  GeoGenius Continents and Oceans should download immediately upon your confirmation, and then once every quarter, new free issues will arrive.  Expect to see issues on Australia (the continent), South America, and Europe.

As a partner to GeoGenius, are GeoJuniors.  GeoJuniors are short 10 to 15-page magazines that focus in on a specific country of study.  Each GeoJunior includes a location sheet, a guess the country game, maps, fun facts, and an infographic bookmark to help students retain the information that they've learned. 

GeoJuniors are meant to be taught all in a chunk or in small short bites, like a snack.  They're easily adaptable to fit your classroom and your lessons and are fun for kids with crazy facts, interesting maps, and cute graphics. 

Filling the gaps in between the GeoGenius magazines, GeoJuniors will arrive every two weeks.  You can expect to see issues on Albania, Bolivia, China, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Greece, Honduras, and others, as we jet-set back and forth across the globe, learning about the various nations that make up our world. 

All six permanently inhabited continents are covered, and GeoJuniors provide a great way to learn about other cultures as well as introduce other regions and new material.  Save a country until you're going to cover it, or use them to have a multi-cultural fair.  Encourage your students to make travel brochures on their favorite countries and explore more of what each country has to offer, or just use GeoJunior as a quick break from the curriculum from time to time.  The opportunities are endless.

Whatever you decide, GeoGenius and GeoJuniors, will help you become a GeoWizard!

Starting the New Year off Right

As you head back to school after a long winter's break, it's a great time to handle some much needed items in your classroom.  Teacher materials may need reorganization, classroom routines may need a redo, and your students will definitely benefit from a refresher.  I've compiled my years of experience into this blog post which I hope will get your new year headed in the right direction.

Starting the New Year Off Right

Organizing your Teaching Life

When headed back after winter break, the schools I worked in routinely had a couple days of professional development before the students showed up.  Usually one of those days was taken up by meetings, planning, and new requirements and procedures, but one was given to us to work in our rooms and accomplish what we needed to before the semester got rolling.  Here's what I recommend for that day.

Organizing your Teaching Life

     1. Declutter your classroom

Go through your cabinets, closets, and shelves and make it a priority to start fresh and clean.  Get rid of old papers, books you're not going to use, those old VCR tapes that can't be put into any of the televisions at school, dead markers, glue sticks with no caps, and your well-intentioned snacks you're never going to actually open.  Look for ways to re-purpose or reorganize your materials to get the most bang for your buck and definitely don't forget to go through your desk or teaching table too.

     2. Prepare your planner

If you didn't complete it at the beginning of the year, go through your planner and finish writing in all the dates, upcoming events, scheduled meetings, testing days, and long range plans for the semester.  Make sure you also get all those holidays and PD days penciled in as well.  Get as much of the first month planned out as you can now, because those first days back are long and exhausting getting used to routines and schedules all over again.  Build in that grace you know you'll need.

     3. Leave time for copying

Lastly, make sure you leave time to copy all the things you'll need for as long as you have planned or mapped out.  Don't forget those things you know you'll need down the road.  Just remember to put them where you'll remember them.  More than once I've copied things over because I couldn't find or remember what I had done with the copies I had made, or I just plain forgot I copied them at all.

Reflect on Your Systems and Routines

Reflect on your Classroom

Take a moment or two and reflect on the first semester.  Are there routines in your classroom that need some reorganization?  Are there new systems you need to put in place?  What can you do to build morale, introduce more writing, encourage more teamwork, develop a passion for reading, set up more time for practice, or whatever it is that you want to accomplish with your kids and your class?  If you weren't brainstorming and dreaming up ideas over the second half of break, which is usually when my brain started to kick back in, take some time and some quiet space now to think about your true goals and objectives and how you can maximize potential and reach new heights.  It sounds cliché, but new years is the perfect time to reevaluate and make new goals.  Once you've decided on what you want to accomplish, begin to make the plans to make those goals obtainable.  This will probably take up the majority of your day.

If you're struggling with ways in which to set a positive classroom culture, I've got you covered in this blog post.  Although written from the first of the year perspective, it has ideas and tips you can implement at any time to help you make a positive transformation in your room.

Also, for those who struggle with classroom organization or those dreaded seating charts, I have a couple blog posts to help you in those areas as well.  If there's something else, let me know in the comments, and I'll see what assistance I can give you.

Give Those Students a Refresher

Refresh Those Routines

     1. Connect with the Students

When the students get back, don't dig in and get going too fast.  Take some time to connect about what they need to talk about.  Some might have had a great break, but others may have been longing for the security and structure of school.  Allow a chance for those who need to talk to you to do so, and make sure you're aware of those who seem to have something to say, but are too shy or concerned to voice it in class.  Check in with them later, when you can, one-on-one.  Also, let the students have a moment to decompress from the holidays, prepare for the new year, and evaluate where they want to head as well.

     2. Tour the Room

Give the kids a tour of what's new and different.  Perhaps during your reorganization you restructured their supply area.  Did you get any new furniture or decor items over break?  Maybe you're introducing a new behavior management technique or system.  If so, take time to explain it, how it will work, the benefits of it, where they can monitor their progress, and more.  This shouldn't take long, but helps to set expectations, new procedures, and alleviates surprises down the road.

     3. Review the Basics

Also make sure to take time to review important rules, procedures, and routines.  We can all forget what side is up over break, so try not to assume that the kids will just remember how to accomplish things.  Set them up for success by giving some time for this important crash course.  It will also greatly help any students who moved over the break and are new to your school or classroom.

     4. Make the Last Moment Count

Finally, leave time to bond with your kids as they depart from your room.  There's a lot of discussion about morning greetings, in fact I have a blog post here where you can read more and get a freebie if you're interested, but I don't think enough is said about sending off our students right as well.  Give them a high five, a fist bump, or a handshake as they set to leave.  Send them off with some encouraging or motivating words. Let those kids who need it, know you'll connect with them later.  This sending off time gives teachers a unique and important opportunity to have one more moment and impact on each student's life.  How cool is that!

Hopefully when all this is said and done and you're a few days into the new semester, you'll realize the fruits of your labor and be glad for your new approach, outlook, and daily inspiration.  If not, keep at it.  New habits take at least 21 days to take hold, and it can be difficult to start a new procedure or management technique.  The great stuff always takes time!

I hope you have a wonderful semester ahead of you.

A Candid Conversation: Teaching with Depression

It's taken a long time for me to get up the courage to write this blog post.  It's not something that comes easily or that I take lightly, but it's something that I think is so important, that we need to start talking about it and erasing the stigma.  That's why I'm sharing this with you.

I have depression, and not just your run of the mill depression but bi-polar 2.  This means I have intense bouts of massive chronic depression, but the high waves of feeling good, never hit mania,  I just cycle between exceeding low and okay, all the time.

Add on to that, anxiety, a heightened sense of hyper-vigilance and an intense worry about anything and everything around me.  I question and question and question until I'm paralyzed with fear and driving my loved ones insane with my worry, doubt, fear, and intense questioning.

Finally there is PTSD, and I hate to even bring this one up, because I feel like I do the men and women who serve our country and truly face the horrors of war an injustice when I say I have PTSD, but in some small way, I have my own form of this horrible disorder.  Mine came after several years of being intensely bullied, badgered, and beaten down by some administrators who wanted to see me gone.  They made my life a living hell and made me feel like I was a failure time and time again.  Anyone who spoke up on my behalf was quickly and permanently dismissed and my world and contribution to education was erased in just under two years.  It was horrible and made me hate myself even more intensely than I thought possible.

These three disorders have combined to make one interesting individual.  My husband of 27 years is a saint for putting up with me and all my mood swings, bouts of depression, and feelings of worthlessness.  But I also love hugs, despite having resting B face.  I enjoy time in the mountains, seeing a student when the light bulb turns on, and helping others accomplish tasks.  My passions are in history, geography, and sports, and I love to see the pinnacle of success.  I cry at the blink of eye, I am the sappiest of all, and I love a good romance story. 

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty though, I take medication to help me regulate my moods and it helps to a degree, but without it, I am a wallowing mess.  I also go to out-patient therapy with a licensed counselor.  Early on we saw each other weekly but have since graduated to more time between appointments, sometimes three to four weeks.  I also was being treated by a psychologist, but after 18 months with little to no changes in my overall mood, she graduated me from her therapy and sent me back to my regular PCP.

I also have some coping mechanisms that help get me through rough days and difficult times.  I like to make lists and keep them in my calendar to help organize myself and set goals for the day or week.  I also have a mood tracker - A Year in Pixels - which helps me look for trends, identify troublesome areas, and talk about key points with my therapist.  I find it soothing to read, color, and nap, and may do all three or any one of the chosen activities if I need to decompress or have a moment to myself.  I also listen to meditations when I'm having trouble sleeping or calming down.  I specifically like HeadSpace, but just finding a meditation system that works for you, can help you zone out and keep in touch with your inner self.  Finally, I try to ground myself when I feel the paralyzing fear of anxiety wrapping itself around me.  This is a technique that involves becoming hyper-aware of your senses and what you can acutely see, feel, hear, smell, etc. at that moment, allowing you to free yourself from the fear

I'm sharing all this, because I know teaching is a high-stress job.  It comes with high demands, lots of pressure from various stakeholders, and young lives held in the balance.  I'm not the only one who has suffered from depression, anxiety, fear, self-loathing, etc.  It's time we erase the stigma, and that we get help.  It's time that we practice what we preach and that we reach out for assistance from those professionals around us.  It's time that we do what we need to do to be happy and healthy.

I am not a licensed therapist, psychologist, or doctor, and I can't tell you what's right for you, but if you find yourself unhappy, worried, or lost all the time, there are ways to get help and find that part of you that you miss.  Talk to your PCP or use Psychology Today to find a local counselor or therapist that's right for you.

You can get help and start living again.

I invite you to engage in a healthy conversation.  Ask questions, seek advice, share your story.


Teacher Appreciation Flipped

Teacher appreciation week is approaching.  In case you didn't know, it's usually the first or second week of May, and it's a time for teachers to be loved-on and appreciated for all the hard work, endless days and nights they put into the job, and countless hours they spend grading, planning, meeting, and teaching children.


This year I have a proposition for the teachers.  While free burritos, chicken, and coffee
are nice, and discounts at stores are sweet, how about this year we try teacher appreciation with a twist.  Call it teacher appreciation flipped, or teacher appreciation 2.0.


See I've wanted to be a teacher since I was 7 or 8 years old.  It happened to me in the second grade when I had Ms. Lopez as my teacher.  She was young, fresh out of college, and we were her first teaching gig.  It was Audubon Elementary in the 1970's, and I was in love.  She was young and vivacious, and full of inspiration and pep.  She treated us like people, not little kids or objects, and she really trusted and put faith in us.  As second graders we ran the school newspaper.  We had pen pals across town, who we wrote to bi-weekly, and we went on field trips everywhere she could possibly take us.  She even took us camping for three days about an hour west of town.  Ms. Lopez inspired me to be a teacher.  She showed me what teaching could be like, and I wanted to grow up to be like her.


So my proposition to you, as a teacher, is to take a moment of your time this year, and for teacher appreciation week, to pay it forward.  Write, call, email, or Facebook message your inspiration and let them know how much you appreciate what they did in your life to help you to become a teacher.


When I was graduating college, I found Ms. Lopez.  Although she had been let go after teaching my class due to budget cuts, she had continued on in the teaching profession.  She had taught for many years, become a principal, and was now moving to the head of special education for one of the districts in our city.  I wrote to her and just expressed my heart, my sincerest appreciation, and utmost adoration for all she had done to inspire me.


So, who inspired you?  Have you thanked them yet?  Let me know about your story in the comments down below.

Interactive Notebook How To

As many people who know me know, I love interactive notebooks.  I've been working with them for years and refining them within my classroom.  I've also been creating interactive notebook examples for my students to use throughout their own books and getting into the philosophy and construction of interactive notebook ideas.  It had never dawned on me before that many people may not be as familiar with interactive notebooks as I am, and it wasn't until a friend of mine came to me perplexed about what an interactive notebook even was, that I decided to write this blog post and guide and address some of the common issues that many people have with interactive notebooks.

Interactive Notebook How To

An interactive notebook allows students to be independent and creative thinkers and writers.  It takes class notes and other activities and allow students to process the information presented in class in their own way and in their own style.  Interactive notebooks can incorporate many different forms of learning so that all modalities are being met, and they allow for many creative ideas so that learning is fresh and always changing.


Interactive Notebook Setup

The interactive notebook setup can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish it to be, but I have found over years of experience, that the more time I take at the beginning, the less frustration I have throughout the process.  Therefore, I recommend looking at the pros and cons of each type of notebook and choosing the one that best fits your style and needs.  I've even gone as far as making a notebook from individual sheets of notebook paper as we slowly grew our sheets into a notebook over the course of the school year.  In hindsight, this is a method I would not recommend.


Next, there are things like the interactive notebook table of contents, an envelope for pieces and parts of foldable crafts, a bookmark, and page numbering.  Each of these items are effective and helpful in their own right, but none of them are critical to the process if things must get rolling and teaching must commence.


Then comes the examples, and the foldable crafts, and the templates that fill the pages; this is where the magic happens.  Interactive notebook examples can include writing pieces from anything from fiction to nonfiction, letters to stories.  They can include card sorts and Venn diagrams, foldable crafts, matching exercises, maps, and more.  There are over 1000 foldable templates for interactive notebooks alone.


Interactive Notebook Expectations

Ultimately, however, the effectiveness of the interactive notebook will come down to the teacher and how effective they are at guiding their interactive notebook time.  Just as with any subject, if the teacher is nervous, unsure, or shows an air of disdain, the students will sense that and run with it.  The teacher must be calm and collected, organized and efficient, energized and excited for the interactive notebook to be effective.  No one wants kids cutting and gluing their lives away, so ideas must be implemented appropriately in order to ensure that students maximize their learning time.

If you'd like more information on how to set-up and run your interactive notebooks, I have a free 13-page interactive notebook how to guide.  It's available here if you would like more guidance and support with this process.


Let me know if you use interactive notebooks in your classroom and how they work for you.  If you have questions or problems, please don't hesitate to ask.  I am here to help!  Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Grab your free 13-page guide.

Afternoon Tricks to Ease Your Teaching

As the day lingers, it can be hard to stay focused and motivated.  It can be difficult to remain patient and remember to complete the simplest task, but it was by completing three simple tasks that I made my life so much easier, and I'd like to share them with you too.

There's Pride in Ownership

The first trick comes with about 15 minutes left in the school day.  Assign your students chores, just as you would your own kids.  Have 3-4 kids assigned to wipe down the desks, use others to clean up the library, and pick a couple to vacuum or pick up the floor.  Whatever your problem areas seem to be, that's where you need to assign some kids to clean.  It only take 3-5 minutes and the room will be gleaming for you.  Along with the cleanliness, students learn to take responsibility for their environment and many gain pride in doing a job well.

Mystery Trash, the Game

On days where the floor seems particularly messy I like to play a game with my class.  This is trick number two, and I call it "Mystery Trash."  As the kids are filling out their planner or packing their bags, I take a quick trip around the room and pick 3-5 pieces of trash of varying size, color, and type.  Don't pick them up!  Just make a visual picture of them in your head and then tell the class it's time to play mystery trash.  If it's one of your first times, you'll have to explain the rules to them, but they're pretty simple.  Students pick up all the trash they can see, but before they dump it in the trash or recycling can, they bring it past the teacher first.  As the teacher, I survey their handfuls and look for my pieces of trash I visualized earlier.  Once I see one, I replace that piece of trash with that student's beautiful face.  Keep going until the room is spotless.  It usually only takes a couple minutes.  As kids bring you pencils and markers, glue sticks, and scissors, make sure they place them back in the supply bins and not in the trash.  Grab anything else out of their hands that might need to be kept, and tell them to dispose of everything else.  Once the room is clean, congratulate the winners, and if you'd like, pass out prizes such as class treasures, classroom money, bookmarks, or something easy and affordable.

Set the Room for Success

Lastly, trick number 3, is to set your room up for the next day before you leave that afternoon.  This can be a tough one!  By the afternoon dismissal and carpool has taken place, I feel wasted, I am exhausted and beaten down and just want to go home for some down time, possibly a nap, and some unwinding.  However, I have found that if I push through and set up my room for the morning, I am much happier the next day.  This includes writing the agenda on the board, changing the schedule on the wall, passing out papers to the student's desks, laying out the lesson materials, and more.  Whatever you might have to do before that first group of kids arrives, do it before you ever leave.  Even better, then you're ready in case you need the dreaded emergency sub.  I tend to be a morning person, and so you might think that I would want to do this all in the morning before the kids arrive, but to have it done and be able to focus on the next tier of tasks was really helpful to my productivity and mindset for the day.  It gave me a feeling of accomplishment before I had even accomplished one thing.

So those are just three quick and simple tasks to do before you leave for the day to make your life easier.  What else do you do in the afternoon to make your life smoother?  Leave me a comment below and tell me all about it.