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Memory Boxes, Top 10 Lists, & Packing Up This Year To Prep For Next

Memory Box– Need a great review or assessment technique? Want to give students a chance to show you all they know on a given topic? Or want to know what background knowledge students are coming to you with? Think about using a Memory Box. Students fill a box, frame, page, space, etc. with anything they can on a given topic. This can include lists, drawings, thoughts, opinions, ideas– really, anything. Make this activity digital (students could include images or links in this format) or keep it classic with paper pencil. Either way, give your students time to reflect on their learning and make it visual with this strategy. Want to take it a step further? Try one of these–

  • Class-created Memory Box– Do this activity with the whole class using a shared Google Doc or Slide.
  • Showdown– Students compare their boxes and earn a point for each idea their partner doesn’t have.
  • Expanded or On-going– Use this as a working document where students add notes as they go.
  • “Test” Your Memory– Have students fill a box before taking a test or quiz and use it as a reference throughout, if needed. Or have students fill the box with anything they know but wasn’t tested on at the end of the assessment.

I could also see this being a great page in interactive notebooks next year. Check out more strategies like this from the  resource site for the book Tools for Thoughtful Assessment. There are some great ideas for checks for understanding, processing information, and student data tracking.

Top 10 Lists– As we wrap up another school year, I know a number of teachers ask students to create an end-of-year project to show what they know. One thought would be to have students create a Top 10 List from the year in your content area. We all loved David Letterman’s Top 10’s, so why not use that same concept to have students process information learned? Have students brainstorm a big list of concepts, skills, activities, etc. that were a part of your class this year. Then, have them pull out the top 10 learnings and rank them, leaving the most valuable bit of information for #1. Think about whether you’d like to allow a sense of humor or if you want them to stick to facts/content only. This could be done paper/pencil, or think about utilizing these digital tools–

  •– infographic templates are easy to use. I’m not sure how easy manipulation will be on the iPads– please let me know what you think if you try this out.
  • Google Drawing– students can create infographic-like lists from scratch.
  • Google Slides– have you noticed that capabilities for adding images, text boxes, text effects, etc. is tough in Docs? Utilize Google Slides to give students more capabilities to express their ideas. Google apps are great for collaboration, so think about whether this assignment is best in groups or individual.
  • Piktochart– editable templates much like Canva. I, personally, feel that it is a little more difficult to share your presentation once you’ve created it but worth checking out.

Need some inspiration? Check out some old top 10s from The Tonight Show or check out resources such as Time’s Top 10 Everything of 2016.

Summer Pack-Up– Take a minute to check out this great blog post from Jodi at The Connected Classroom. This site, Upper Elementary Snapshots, features posts from teachers and former teachers with all types of focus areas and expertise. I know the name may be a little off-putting for some of us middle school teachers but there is a wealth of good info here if you just do a little digging. This post in particular is 3 Boxes Teachers Should Pack Before Summer Vacation. Here is the basic idea–

  • Get your back to school materials ready to go this week (maybe while students are taking finals or working on final projects) and save yourself some time in July. Think about including that paperwork you’ll need to give students the first week of school, Back to School Night materials,  lesson plans, notes-to-self, etc.
  • Designate a box for all of your teacher desk “stuff” so that it is easy to bust those things back out after summer cleaning.
  • Place in a box any decoration or set-up supplies you may need to get your space looking fab for your students such as bulletin board items, bins, table numbers, etc.

If you do a little clicking around you’ll see that Jodi has also posted some ideas for making your classroom clutter free (we all want to start that way, don’t we?!) as well other ideas for making the smooth transition from this year to the next. You might also want to scroll through the “About Us” section to find more additions to your professional learning network– many are on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


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HP in NYC, Field Trip Zoom, & Mystery Hangout

As the end of the school year approaches, I begin thinking of the travelling that I will do over the summer (and in this case, Spring 2018!). So, here are a few travel-related ideas for classrooms this week.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: NYC– Merlin’s beard! Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the stage play depicting Harry as a middle-aged dad sending his son Albus to Hogwarts, is coming to Broadway in the spring of 2018. Though the story does not focus on Harry himself, Potterheads of the US are rejoicing in the opportunity to see the latest installment to the HP story. The play has been winning awards and selling out seats since June 2016 in London.

For those of you that aren’t geeking out about this (Like I am! Yaaassss!) but do teach middle school, this is the perfect time to get students reading, or re-reading, the Harry Potter series. The 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone coming up in June, recent release of the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the upcoming online book club through, and now the stage play in NYC are all great ways to get students interested (again) in these magical reads. Here are some resources for wizards and muggles alike–

  •— This is the online center of the Wizarding World. Access up-to-date news pertaining to all things HP and dig deeper into the story while reading the books to get the details on characters, creatures, and more. Find out your Patronus, wand, and Hogwarts (or Ilvermorny) House all on this fantastic site. The new book club will be hosted by Pottermore, though I believe much of the participation will be done on Twitter.
  •— New to the world of HP? Check out this site to read excerpts from the books, listen to audio of chapters, and meet the illustrators.
  •— This is author J.K. Rowling’s website where readers can get current news and information pertaining to the HP world and her other writings.
  • There are TONS of Twitter accounts that could be followed to keep HP info flowing to you throughout the day, but do know that many are unofficial and could be anyone– I would urge students to stick with official accounts unless you are sure of the content being shared.
  • Do some Google searching and you’ll also find loads of posts about books for people who loved reading the Harry Potter series. Because many of these are blog posts, they may not be accessible to students when searching at school.

Swish and flick.

Field Trip Zoom– I just heard about this  from our e-learning coach in the district. Field Trip Zoom offers virtual field trips that are scheduled in advance and designed for student engagement. I have not tried this service out myself so I can only tell you what I have read on their website. It appears that you do pay for the service and there are many experiences to choose from at different grade levels and across content areas. I noticed events on the calendar that ranged in content from the Civil War to the Day of the Dead. The videos that I watched of students participating seemed to be more elementary focused though they do offer middle school and even high school “trips”. Here are the two options–

  • Field Trip Zoom Zone allows you to stream video and students are guided through the virtual field trip. This is only one-way communication– students cannot interact with the presenter. This field trip could be streamed by any number of classrooms at the same time throughout the country. This is set up much like a webinar, is my understanding.
  • Field Trip Zoom Class allows your classroom to not only be guided through the experience but also allows them to interact with the presenter. You do need some tech capabilities (video, microphone, etc.) to make this happen.

I know it can be difficult to get field trips scheduled, link to content, and find ones that students haven’t already participated in over past years in school. I’d be interested to hear what you think about this option. Please let me know if you decide to try this service out. I would love to participate and to hear about the process, pricing, and overall experience.

Mystery Hangout– Another way for students to “travel” outside the classroom is to host a Mystery Hangout. The idea is that your students would connect with a classroom via Google Hangout or Skype, somewhere else in the world other than their own school building. Students take turns asking each other “yes”/”no” questions to ultimately guess where the other classroom is. I absolutely love this idea for social studies and world language classes but would love to brainstorm some ideas for broadening the scope to other content areas. 


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Google Keep, Flipgrid, and Spinners

Google Keep– This is a tool that I learned about while at the GAFE Summit this spring. Google Keep is a way to take quick notes on any device (download the app for your phone or iPad)– since it is web-based notes are accessible from all of your devices! I used to be a big fan of adding the virtual sticky notes to my desktop to help me remember little bits of info, like when I had bus duty or to have a student in period 1 take the quiz after being absent. The only problem with the desktop notes is that I can’t take those suckers with me everywhere I go, they’re only on my desktop. Insert Google Keep. Here are some of the features it has to offer:

  • Notes can include pictures or audio
  • Type, draw or handwrite
  • Schedule reminders/alerts
  • Share notes with others
  • Send notes to Google Docs
  • Change color of notes for easy sorting
  • Archive notes you’d like to keep but not see right away
  • Add the Chrome extension to easily save websites, images, and content from the web to your notes

What I love is that my notes can range from those quick reminders (that I can set a notification for so I don’t just look past the note) to something I saw online that I’d like to come back to later. Not only is this a great teacher tool, but can you imagine having kiddos use it, too? I love the idea of students sharing notes with parents or teachers, or vice-a-versa– routines, homework, feedback, notetaking, outlines, brainstorms, reminders, etc.

Flipgrid– I’ve been seeing lots of posts about this tool on Twitter. Flipgrid is an online platform for teachers to post topics and have students respond via video. Students can respond to other posts and teachers can provide feedback on posts. There are a number of settings that can be adjusted for privacy, responses, etc.

Before getting super excited about this one, I have to tell you that this site is not free. It really breaks my heart. I think there are some great possibilities here for students and teachers but it is not cheap. It is free to create 1 grid, so my guess is the only way around the fee is to continue using the same one (sort or archive videos as you see fit to make this happen).

Here are just a few ways that I can see this tool being used in classrooms. I’m sure you can think of many more– so please share!

  • World Language– easily have students practice speaking and provide feedback for improvement.
  • Social Studies– have students discuss an event, idea, or concept from history or current events and respond to each other.
  • Math– talk through the process of solving a problem, what steps they took and why, etc. and provide feedback.
  • English/Language Arts– checks for reading fluency, discussions, debates, and more.
  • Visual Art– critique artwork, discuss an aspect of artworks, explain the thinking, rationale, or process behind an artwork, etc.

Fidget Spinners– Fidget spinners. Sigh. Everyone has one. I’ve seen students in the hall comparing the colors, the price they paid, and how fast they can spin them. I’ve read posts about how these little objects can help students focus and others about how they are a major disruption in class. No matter what you’re seeing in your room, here are a few thoughts–

  • This will end eventually like all other trends.
  • Be sure to take advantage of that “teachable moment”. There is a difference between fidgeting and playing– students need to know what that looks like.
  • Some students will find these objects incredibly fascinating while others could care less. Try not to blow it all out of proportion.
  • Don’t want to see them in your class? Make your policy clear to students and explain your reasons for implementing the policy. Stick to it.
  • Remember that the alternative for some students is to tap their pencil or foot, doodle (this was me),  play with their hair, or turn around in their seat.
  • Anytime you can connect to students’ interests you will increase the likelihood of engagement– weasel spinners into story problems, debate having fidgets in the classroom after reading an article, or slide them into creativity prompts– design a new fidget, etc.  


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A Couple Pinterest Finds and Book Recommendations

Connect 4 Review– This was a Pinterest find the other day that I thought could be great fun for review in any content area. I know we don’t make a ton of use of our whiteboards anymore because of the tech we have in our district, so grab those old markers, some Post-its and get going! Here’s the idea–

Draw a “Connect 4 board”– the actual board game uses 35 squares– my guess is you could change the number of squares based on the size of the class or how difficult/easy you would like it to be. Split students into small groups. Provide each group with a stack of Post-its (1 color assigned to each group). Ask questions to the entire class at once to keep everyone playing at the same time, or provide questions for groups to work through at their own pace. When a group answers correctly they may place their group’s Post-it note on the whiteboard (remind them that this will work like the Connect 4 game so they will start by “dropping” their Post-it in the bottom row). The goal is to get 4 Post-its in a row! Try this with vocab, math problems, and any other content questions you can think of.

Want that tech option? Here are a couple ways it could be done–

  • Utilize— the level of difficulty is adjustable and students enter in their names/nicknames. Partner students up with one iPad and take turns quizzing each other. If Partner A answers correctly he/she drops the “chip”. If incorrect, Partner B chooses where Partner A’s chip goes and so on. Thanks to Spanish teacher Laura Gunderson @Miss_Gunderson for sharing this one!
  • Have students create their own collaborative game using Google Drawings or feel free to break away from Connect 4 and have them create their own review games that could be shared and played.

Dry Erase Tape– This was another Pinterest find and I don’t have much to say about it other than– Dry. Erase.Tape. Oh, the possibilities!

15 Life-Changing Middle Grade Books– I ran across this post on WeAreTeachers the other day and thought it would be worth sharing. Middle school is tough. Finding books for middle school students that are age appropriate though challenging and that convey powerful messages is tough, too. Here is the quick list but I recommend hopping onto the site and reading the blurbs about each of these books.

  • Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
  • The Best Man by Richard Peck
  • The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
  • Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
  • The Secret Keepers by Trenten Lee Stewart
  • Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
  • Raymie Nightingale by Kate DeCamillo
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  • Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper
  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
  • Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt
  • Wish by Barbaro O’Connor
  • The 14th Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

A lot of discussion has been had about the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher because of the new show on Netflix. If you have not read the book or watched the show, as an educator, I recommend you check out what info you can about it. There are great resources on and you can get a quick synopsis of the book. I think both the book and television show bring up issues that teenagers, specifically high school students, deal with on a daily basis but are ones that our middle school students are beginning to deal with more and more. It is worth knowing a little bit about so that you are able to guide any discussions that you may overhear or be prepared to take action if you think a student is in need of help.


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Homework– Love it or leave it?

I recently attended a workshop by Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler tech-guru & former math teacher) and Matt Miller (@jmattmiller the Ditch That Textbook guy) titled Ditch That Homework. Here are a few ideas from the workshop that I’d like to throw at you to get you thinking. I have read of schools going to no homework policies, though my school building and district are not. Regardless, I think it is a great prompt for evaluating current practices. Take a look at these essential questions:

  • Why do we assign homework?
  • Is homework effective?
  • What would class look like if giving homework wasn’t an option?

These are questions worth asking ourselves whether we decide to continue with homework or not. As with a lot of strategies, it is easy to get into a comfort zone because that’s how they’ve always been done. It makes me think of the commercial about the guy being in a “food rut” when he thought he was in a “groove”. Are we in a rut with this one?

So, my first thought is to go to the research– what do those people that know a lot more than me have to say about homework? Well, thoughts fall all over the board from GPAs rising with the completion of homework all the way to giving students a chance to use their after-school time to participate in extracurriculars, read, and follow their own interests has a higher impact. Let’s also not discredit our own quick survey– ask a few parents of school-age children how they feel about homework. I am willing to bet that most say that it is a constant battle at home. Either way, I think it comes down to doing what is best for your group of students in your classroom.

Got it. But what would be the alternative?  Well, Alice and Matt feel that using class time more efficiently could allow for students to have independent practice and gain feedback from the teacher while at school. Here are the basics of a few of their ideas:

  • Feedback Loop– Alice demonstrated how she provides feedback to students, in person and online, throughout work-time during a class period. She said she really keeps her voice to a minimum as far as whole-group instruction but utilizes the time that students are working independently to guide their learning. 
  • Web-based games/formative assessments– Other possibilities could include using web-based review games/formative assessments like Quizizz to pre-test on material. You’ve done that a million times already, right? He said the real key is to use the new information right away. After instruction give that same Quizizz again that day. Continue this all week with the same content. Practice. Review. Practice.
  • Upgrade your worksheets– Another idea was to upgrade worksheets by making tasks more relevant and by utilizing technology. Adding a little bit of choice, real-world connection, and technology can really up engagement.

Interested in learning more? Check out their website, wait for their upcoming book, or find a workshop near you. Like all strategies, implementation is really the key– the best strategy can fall flat if not done correctly and that includes homework. Whether you’re going to “ditch that homework” or keep on keepin’ on, take a minute to evaluate what you do and why you do it.