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.