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.

Mindfulness in My Classroom: A 6th Grade Teacher's Story

As my school year started, I knew I wanted to make mindset play a key role in my student's day.  Each day a bell ringer greeted my class, and almost every day that bell ringer had something to do with mind set, character education, or ethics.  We discussed how to deal with losing in sports, how to handle getting a bad grade on a test, how to challenge one's self to possess a better character, what to do if you found a lost wallet full of cash.  Yet, it became apparent, pretty quickly, that my class needed something more.

Mindfulness in the Classroom - A 6th Grade Teacher's Story

Behavior - bad behavior, or poor choices - was at an all time high in my class.  Our daily bell ringers, weekly character lessons, school PBS (Positive Behavior System), student affirmations, and classroom incentive program had done nothing to sway the rampant disrespect and disregard I had seen throughout my classroom.  I had tried all of my usual classroom management tricks and nothing had an effect.  That was...until my teaching assistant and I had an interesting discussion one warm October day, when we both shared with one another about our success with meditation and mindfulness on a personal level.

Mindset, Mindfulness, Meditation

As we both had been experimenting with meditation and mindfulness, seeing the benefits of calmness, serenity, and focus in our own lives, we thought maybe the class could see those benefits as well.  Within days I started my class on daily meditation, through an app I got on my iPhone, and almost immediately we started seeing results.

I tried the meditation and mindfulness at two different times of the day, after recess, and after lunch, finally settling on sharing our time together after lunch.  We would turn off the lights, turn on the speakers, and listen in to the message of the day.  Some kids would really hone in and focus, closing their eyes, breathing deeply, and working hard to master the techniques being taught, while others would simply color or put their heads down.  Regardless, of how they approached it, the mindfulness and the messages were working, as my behavior issues and referrals declined by approximately 30%, and our lesson content taught in the afternoons increased as well.
Meditation Apps - Headspace & Calm

Besides trying the meditation and mindfulness at two different times, we also tried two different apps.  These are not affiliate links, just my own experience and the feedback I received from my students.  The first app we tried was called Headspace.  I got this app recommendation from a doctor I had seen, and had only tried the free sample sessions previously.  Once the kids and I got through the 10 free sessions, we then switched over and tried Calm, an app I was recommended by a friend.  The kids immediately had an aversion to the Calm app even though I thought it had more features that they would like.  The students did not like the sound of the voice and felt like it was too rushed.  They also hated the background noise of the waves crashing on the shore.  So we went back to Headspace and I bought a yearly membership.  It's not cheap, just to warn you, although it is tax deductible if you're using it for your classroom.  I thought the investment of less than a $1 a day was worth it, but it can be a lot on a teacher's salary.

Mindfulness quote

Mindfulness wasn't the solution to all my problems, but it alleviated a lot of the headaches I was having.  It also gave me 5-10 minutes to reground and recenter myself before starting to teach again.  I enjoyed emulating and setting an example for my students and I think many of my kids appreciated having the guidance and the security to see that mindfulness is not hokey or stupid or goofy; it's something even adults do.  One of my most difficult students was one of my best exemplars when it came to our daily mindfulness and meditation.

So if you have been dealing with behavior problems in your classroom, or a class that just comes back from specials bouncing off the wall, try mindfulness as a way to calm them down and focus them on learning.  You can use your personal device, a computer, or even just have them breathe deeply in and out for 18 seconds while thinking about where they are and what they are doing in that present moment.  Another idea is to have your students ground themselves in the moment by examining what they can hear, feel, see, touch, and taste.  This not only helps you to focus on the moment and mindfulness, it helps those with anxiety to regain control.

So give these mindfulness ideas a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below.