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State Testing– a few things to think about…

It’s that time again! Time for testing… meh. It can be easy to get down in the dumps about testing this week, but I thought I’d share some ideas for keeping a little pep in your step– and your students’.

  • Be Positive— Remember, what we feel is what is real. Middle school students are emotional beings. This week, be sure to think about the “vibes” you are putting off to your students. We all know that our students repeat the things they have heard at home or from their friends, sometimes to the point of being annoying (ex. “That outfit is so ratchet!”), but we often don’t think about how they repeat our words, too. Talk positively about the test and schedule this week.
  • Show the Love— Try to show students how much you care about them this week.
    • Give compliments freely, have your team line up and high-five students on their way in the door, or use some butcher paper to make a “red carpet” for students to walk down.
    • Try putting positive notes on desks (find all kinds of free ones on Teachers Pay Teachers or write in Expo marker right on the desk).
    • Have students write positive notes of encouragement to each other.
    • Post motivational quotes or play motivational music between class periods and especially before testing.
  • Be Active— Students need movement to stay focused… and so do you! Be an active proctor, lead students through brain breaks, and add movement to your classroom lesson plans when possible. There are tons of resources online, like,  for getting kiddos up and out of their seats for short breaks– you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is for them to focus when they’ve got their blood moving.
  • Take Care of Yourself & Each Other— We tell our kiddos every year to get plenty of sleep, have a good breakfast, etc. But do we follow through with that ourselves? Be sure that you are taking care of yourself this week. It seems as though the plague is ravaging our building at the moment– wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, and take care of yourself. Also, remember that students might not be feeling their best but are at school to take the test anyway. Try to pick your battles and let some of the little things go this week. Don’t forget that we teach middle school– nothing ever goes as planned!

I’d love to hear what you do in your classroom to pump students up for “the big test”. What are your go-tos for getting kids moving? Or what do you say to make this week easier?


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Spiral Education, Harper Teen & Worksheets

Spiral Education– I’ve been on the hunt for quick, online formative assessment formats as we are a 1:1 building. You may have used,, Google Forms and other such online formats. I think this one might be worth checking out– You can upload pre-made presentations via PowerPoint or Slides and drop in interactive elements such as questions and collaboration time. The QuickFire feature is a formative assessment tool that allows students to answer in a variety of formats including text response or drawings. TeamUp allows students to collaborate on presentations together on multiple devices while Clip allows teachers to drop questions into videos to check for understanding. There is also a library of public presentations that you can edit and make your own. I’d love to hear if you try this out in your classroom and what you think of it.

Harper Teen Book Giveaways– A great way to keep up with current teen reads is to follow @HarperTeen via Twitter. They post little blurbs about new teen books as well as recommendations and links to excerpts. They also post contests through GoodReads! I have hopped on a few times to try to win some new books and then ended up bee-bopping around GoodReads,, for a while. If you don’t know about GoodReads, it is a social media site for readers to post books they have read, reviews, and books they’d like to read. I believe that our students already have the GoodReads app on their iPads!

Worksheets:– A blog that you’ll want to check out is where self-proclaimed “math nerd” John Stevens posts lots of goodies (he also is behind Table Talk Math, which provides strategies for conversing with kids about math). His most recent post is titled, “Confession: I Like Worksheets.” We all know that worksheets can elicit a “sigh” from kiddos, especially in a 1:1 building, but John makes the case for worksheets– as long as they meet the following criteria:

  • Carefully designed
  • Intentionally crafted (He mentions no more than 6 questions! Whoa!)
  • Thought-provoking
  • Reflective

Take a look at this and one of your “go-to” worksheets. Worth a read no matter your content area. Definitely worth digging into this site and all of its resources if you teach math.


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“Negativity Jammers”,Book Haul Videos, & IDOE Teacher’s Toolbox

“Negativity Jammers” from by Todd Finley– Take a look at a few of these ideas for squashing negativity in your classroom. The article is definitely worth reading for all 10 strategies shared, but here are a few snippets:

  • Good New and Gratitude (G.N.G.)– At the start of each class, I have students stand in a circle and briefly report on any life events that make them feel grateful: birthdays, trips to the beach, pizza for lunch, a new Beyoncé album, etc. In three minutes, everyone feels elevated and ready to learn.
  • Bliss Break– Before a team activity, ask students to silently group up with peers who have the same eye color. This will necessitate kids actually looking into each other’s eyes. Keeping the activity silent means nobody can shout, “Blue eyes over here.” They’ll giggle nervously and produce oxytocin, the love hormone, which leads to feelings of well-being.

These seemed like great bellringers or brain breaks to get everyone on the same positivity level. My thought is to use these before or after some particularly challenging content to bring everyone back to center.

Epic Reads Book Haul Videos– I feel as though you can never recommend too many books to middle school students. Though, there are a few inherent problems with this. Problem #1: What books do I recommend? I don’t have time to read every new YA release on the market. Problem #2: I don’t want to read every new YA release on the market. Problem #3: I often can’t bring myself to “geek out” about a mushy, corny, adolescent-y love story on cue. The solution– Epic Reads Book Haul. These short (15 min. or less) videos with a quirky host give your teens the skinny on all the new YA reads out there. Eeeeek! I recommend it!

IDOE Teachers Toolbox– Have I told you about this resource before? If you have not yet signed up to receive this resource, and you teach in Indiana, you might want to put it on your to-do list. I follow the IDOE on Twitter and receive updates when new newsletters are posted. There are often resources, strategies, and ideas posted for all content areas. Here are a few ideas from this month’s newsletter:

  • Check out — this site allows you to store YouTube videos, Pinterest images, Favorites, links and more in the cloud. Share saved content with students easily.
  • Turn math problems into sentences or stories. Give students mathematical pictures and symbols and ask them to create meaning from what they know. Have students take an equation or expression and turn them into sentences. For example, 5( x + 2 ) = 25 could be “Everyday (Monday through Friday) on my way to school I stop by the convenience store and buy a breakfast item and a $2.00 cup of coffee and the total cost for the week is $25.00”. Think about using this for your Q4 students that already know the math?
  • “Sweet” Engineering Lessons and Activities for Valentine’s Day:
    • Build a Better Candy Bag— In pairs, students design a prototype for a sturdy candy bag that can hold a lot of weight and that is useful and appealing.
    • Build a Candy Dispenser— Students apply their understanding of simple machines to design and build a prototype candy dispenser out of everyday materials.
    • The Heart Beats On— Students test their heart rate by monitoring their pulse after a range of activities and then think of how to track the health of their heart by using their heart rate.
  • Dove Self Esteem Project– Cairn Guidance is working with the Dove (Unilever) Self Esteem Program to spread implementation of a free middle school curriculum program developed to help young people develop a positive relationship with the way they look (body confidence).

This is a great resource for professional development opportunities, as well. Take a look and pass along anything you find worth sharing!


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Vulnerability, Focus, Ask 3 Then Me, & #WRAD

The Power of Vulnerability, TED talk by Brene Brown– While wading through the river of information on Twitter the other day, I ran across a tweet about this TED talk by Brene Brown. It is only 20 minutes long and is worth a watch. It really made me think about middle school– teachers, students, administrators, parents, etc. Here are a few take-aways:

  • Connection is why we are here– it gives us purpose and meaning to our lives.
  • Vulnerability is necessary.
  • “Children are hard-wired for struggle… my job is to look at them and say, You are imperfect, but worthy of love and belonging.”

I got to thinking about how valid and necessary these ideas really are, especially to those of us in middle school. Give it a watch. I’d love to hear what you think.

Building Attention & Focus– Another topic that is very middle school is attention and focus. When at a workshop for working with students from poverty, the speaker shared a number of tips and tricks for helping students to pay attention. She said, “Stop telling kids to pay attention and start teaching them how to do it.” Here are some ideas from that I’ve adapted for classroom use:

  • Busy Hands– Give directions while tossing a ball around the room, or any other activity to keep hands busy, while students are listening. I know it sounds counterproductive, but there are many students that need to doodle, fiddle with an object, fold paper, catch a ball, etc. to be able to focus on directions.
  • “Freeze, Focus”– sounds like a good brain break to me. Have students stop what they are doing and freeze for approx. 10 seconds. Then ask a few students to share what they saw or thought over that short break. Mannequin Challenge!
  • Make Memory Musical– Clapping, stomping, and tapping rhythms along with content can help students to focus on and remember information. We all know that kiddo that is tapping on their desk right now anyway, so why not make it purposeful?
  • Puzzles– Word games, logic questions, “what if” questions, puzzles, etc. can boost concentration and focus. Bonus: they’re fun!
  • Storytelling– Students love to be the center of attention, so have students provide information in a storytelling format where they are the main character.

Updated Ask 3, Then Me– We have all had to implement the “Ask 3, then me” strategy in our classrooms at some point. I’ve taught 6th grade… it was essential. Take a look at this post by Catlin Tucker (@catlin_tucker).  She suggests an updated version where students Google, YouTube, and post questions to social media before asking the teacher– 

She says, “ultimately, I think teaching this new version of ask 3 before you ask me will make our students more self-sufficient learners when they leave our classrooms.” With our 1:1 tech here in our building, this seems like a “no-brainer”, right?

World Read Aloud Day– #WRAD Thursday, February 16th is World Read Aloud Day. I know that might not sound as awesome as National Donut Day or National Peanut Butter Lovers Day, but all the same, I think it is worth our attention. Next Thursday, be sure to read aloud to your students, have them read aloud to you, a friend, or a pet. Snap pics and post them all over Twitter using #WRAD.



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Online Presentation Formats & Graphic Novels for Tween Girls…

Presentation Formats– Are you getting tired of traditional presentation formats like PowerPoint, Slides, and Prezi? Are your students? Here are a few ideas for shaking up presentations, whether they are your own or student created.

  • Powtoon: Create animated videos and presentations with this website. I first saw one at our PD day in January by a teacher in my building. It is a great way to share information in a fun, engaging way, without being the speaker or focus of attention. The website advertises that you can create a presentation in 10 minutes. Easy! I think kiddos would love putting these together, too!
  • Video Scribe: You know those really cool videos where someone creates sketchnotes while the speaker is talking? Yep, you can make them here. You choose images, text, music, and voice-overs. Though, this site is not free.
  • My Simple Show: This site is similar to Video Scribe in that you choose the images and narration of your video. Hands move the images in and out of the frame instead of drawing the images as the narration happens. This site is free. It is super easy to use– when you type in the text of your presentation, the site picks up keywords and shows possible images to match them. You can set the pace of the video, too.

My thought– utilize these quick, easy presentation formats to help explain information or skills when students are struggling (Q3 in our PLC format). Students that haven’t gotten it yet can pop in their earbuds and watch the same information be presented in a different way. Or use this to push some of your students that already know it (Q4) and have them create a video to explain the skill, concept, or idea. Use their vid later for those Q3 kiddos. I do recommend checking out how well these sites work on student iPads before assigning them.
Graphic Novel Recommendations for Tween Girls– Take a minute to check out the resources on Ten Books a Month. Sarah, a former librarian, posts book reviews and recommendations along with resources for teachers and librarians. She has a teenage daughter, which also adds to her street cred.
I liked that this post was specific to tween girls and graphic novels. I often stumble across graphic novel reviews and recommendations that are geared towards boys and reluctant readers. So, coming across this was great! Though, feel free to recommend these to boys and reluctant readers, too! Here is the list–

  • SMILE by Raina Telgemeier
  • A WRINKLE IN TIME: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Madeleine L’Engle illustrated by Hope Larson
  • SISTERS by Raina Telgemeier
  • ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson
  • AWKWARD by Svetlana Chmakova
  • SUNNY SIDE UP by Jennifer L. Holm
  • COMPASS SOUTH (FOUR POINTS VOLUME 1) by Hope Larson illustrated by Rebecca Mock
  • MIGHTY JACK by Ben Hatke
  • GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier