Lesson Ideas: Wordle

Wordle is a very cool website that creates “word clouds” out of text you provide. I was first introduced to Wordle last year through a colleague, and am planning to use it this year in a number of my courses. Here are a few ideas I have for using Wordle in the classroom:

Vocabulary Words: Have students create a Wordle using vocabulary words for a unit.

A Wordle using Solar System vocabulary words.

All About Me: Have students create an “All About Me” Wordle, using words to describe themselves.

All About Me Wordle for 8th grader Susan

Unit: Have students create a Wordle on a specific unit studied in class, it could be a Science unit, novel study, anything!

Harry Potter Wordle

Special Occasions: I first saw Wordle when a coworker used it to create a “word cloud” for her Educational Assistant during Appreciation Week. She had each student write down a word to describe the EA, created the Wordle, had it framed and gave it to her as a gift.

Helpful Hints:

  • The “back” and “forward” navigation buttons do not work with Wordle. Have your students create a list of words in a word processing program, and cut and paste them into Wordle. It will save headaches (for you and your students)!
  • The more times a word appears in the list, the bigger it appears in the Wordle.
  • Wordles can’t be individually saved, they can either be printed  or saved to an online gallery. I used the “Print Screen” feature to save my Wordles as JPegs so I could use them as an image.
Wordles are very cool, easy to create and your students will LOVE THEM! The uses for them are endless!
Mrs. E

Moment of Awakening: Mr. B. and PS22

I’m sure many of you have heard of Mr. B and PS22… they’ve been on almost every talk show, had a cake made for them on Ace of Cakes, are going to be on an upcoming Sesame Street and even performed at the Oscars. Yes, THE Oscars. Every time I watch a video or see PS22 featured somewhere I can’t help but get emotional.

I love the Arts and hold a very strong belief that any form of extra-curricular activity whether it be music, theatre, student government, athletics, or who knows what, gives students an even greater “educational experience” than the classroom alone can provide.  Since I have been employed as a full-time teacher, I have directed a number of school plays. Yes, it is stressful. Yes, I give up a lot of after school time. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But, it is also one of the most rewarding parts of the year for both myself and the students involved. I love seeing my students “shine” on stage. But, this post isn’t about me.

Mr. B. and his passion for both music and his students is inspirational. You can tell he loves what he does and the students have gained so much from having him as a teacher. He took his love for music and brought it to the classroom. He made his passion known and in return ignited a fire within his students.

So, what can you do? What is your passion? Art? Reading? Cooking? Science-Fiction movies? Sewing? Scrapbooking?  Is there a way you can share your passion with your students?

Mr. B and the PS22 Chorus are truly awakening. Follow PS22 on youtube agreggofsociety, or on their blog http://ps22chorus.blogspot.com/ .

Hope you had your kleenex handy.

Mrs. E.

Hot Topics: Auditioning Teachers

The Washington Post Education section has some really fantastic articles published on many educational topics! I read one this morning titled “D.C. schools aims for selectivity by requiring teaching candidates to give try out lessons” by Bill Turque.

In a nut shell:

  1. D.C. Public Schools are requiring teaching applicants to conduct a sample lesson as part of their interview process along with an online test and interview. Their goal is employ the best of the best, and the sample lessons will help them  “weed people out.”
  2. D.C.P.S. is also putting cameras in their classrooms to help define “the attributes and practices that make educators effective.” They are going to create a video library of the “best lessons delivered” which will be used as a professional development tool.
My opinion:  
I think the sample lessons are a great idea! You can have a candidate that looks perfect on paper… impressive resume, detailed cover letter, skilled interviewer, but can they teach? In my opinion, engaging students and making them life-long learners is the #1 goal of an educator. Do you need to have a G.P.A. at the top of your class or 15 years of classroom experience to be able to provide an enriching classroom experience? Just because you understand math doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach it.
We’ve all had those teachers, you remember them. The teachers who bored you to tears, the ones you mocked, the ones whose class you hated to go to. But, you also had the teachers who inspired you, who made learning fun, whose class you looked forward to! Shouldn’t the school system be looking for those “good” teachers?
Getting a job in the education system in Canada can basically go two ways: 1) You have to sub for a number of years, hoping to get a long-term position covering a leave of absence (maternity, sick, etc) just to get your foot in the door or 2) You move to an “undesirable” teaching location. I opted for door number two and found myself moving across the country to one of the cities with the worst reputations in Canada. I was given a contract at a Job Fair before I can even graduated from university after a 15 minute interview. I wasn’t the only one, many people chose to apply with that district as a back-up because “they’ll hire anyone.” (My first year in the district saw over 50 new teachers, the year before almost 100).  But you know what… I am thankful I chose to accept a job with that district in the “undesirable” location.
  • I have been a full-time classroom teacher, with a permanent teaching certificate, teaching what I love for the past three years.
  • I started my career directly out of university.
  • I have had an abundance of Professional Development opportunities including conferences, training and courses.
  • And on a personal note, I met my husband here 🙂
Would I love to be teaching in another part of the country, closer to my family, and away from the “undesirable” aspects of my current city… absolutely! But then reality sets in. If I move, will I be placed in a pool with how many other applicants? Will I have to sub for a number of years? Will people who “look better on paper” or those with more experience get a job over me? And then I think, if all school districts were to employ a “sample lesson” aspect to their interviews, I might have a chance.
I am confident in my teaching abilities… most of the time. I believe I create dynamic lessons and that the students benefit from being in my classroom. But, would I want to be videotaped for the whole district to see? I don’t think so. Being judged and assessed by my peers would be totally uncomfortable (and slightly inappropriate) even if it were for the positive attributes.
My district has a mentorship program where first year teachers are matched with a more experienced teacher teaching at their same level. They observe each other’s classroom and collaborate on lessons and practices. Is this the better way to go?
So, what do you think?
Mrs. E.

Simply Entertaining: The Hogwarts Education System

I stumbled across the article “What did Harry Potter learn at Hogwarts” written by Valerie Strauss and published in the Washington Post. I couldn’t resist posting on it for a number of reasons:

  1. I love Harry Potter (books, movies, characters, all of it… LOVE).
  2. I went to see the final movie yesterday (Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2) and LOVED it! I cried for a good 3/4 of the movie.. dorky I know.
  3. It raises some good points!
We all know I’m in support of unconventional, “out of the box” classroom experiences and based on the article’s description, my teaching philosophy fits right in at Hogwarts! In fact, if they could guarantee I wouldn’t have to teach or fight against the Dark Arts, I’ll put in my application today!
Watch out McGonagall, there’s a new professor in the castle!
Mrs. E.

Lesson Ideas: Publish a Book!

There is a really cool company out there called Student Treasures that publishes student work into really professional-looking books.

As a class project, I had my two health classes create a Healthy Cookbook. Each student was responsible for one page of the book, they had to include a recipe written in their own words, nutritional information, a description of why that was a healthy choice and an illustration page advertising a healthy tip. We then sent our cookbook to Student Treasures and had it made into a published keepsake. The students LOVED IT!

How Student Treasures works:

  • You apply for a publishing date and they send you a “kit.” You can either do a class book or individual books for each student.
  • Students receive an ordering form where they can pay to have their own copy of the book (it cost my students $17/book) or choose not to purchase. This form also acts as a copyright form giving permission for that student’s work to be published.
  • “Good copies” are made and organized by the teacher to be sent back to the company for publishing in a supplied prepaid box.
  • 4 weeks later, you get the books and very excited students!
What I really liked about Student Treasures:
  • There was no pressure to purchase the book: You don’t have to commit to buying a certain number of copies, they are just happy to do it (about half of my class did end up purchasing).
  • It’s an amazing keepsake! My students got a professional book to remember their grade 7 year. If you were to do this for each individual student, it would be a great keepsake of writing from kindergarten, or grade 3, or any grade! Parents would LOVE it!
  • The students LOVED IT! They put a lot of work into their pages because they knew it was being published and bought by their classmates. (Just like the “Book of Awesome”, this is an assignment with a purpose).
My only wish with this project was that every student got a copy of the book. If planned enough in advance, could we have fundraised enough to cover a copy for every student?
Here are pictures of the two cookbooks I made with my class and will keep forever, but where; kitchen cupboard or classroom library?
Until next time,
Mrs. E.

Teacher Talk: Summer Vacation

Another school year has come and gone. Report cards have been handed out, classrooms have been cleaned and goodbyes have been said. So… now what?

After ten months of lesson planning, marking, extracurricular activities, parent teacher interviews, staff meetings and extra help sessions, it’s now time to relax and regroup for the next school year. Today is the first “official” day of summer vacation and I’m already trying to find things to do for the rest of the summer. On today’s list: laundry and cleaning. When the cleaning and laundry are done, what am I supposed to do next? My husband is off to work, we have no children, I have the whole day to myself.

I could:

1) Catch up on daytime television. I’m not really into soaps but could handle mindlessly watching a few daytime talk shows or hours of TLC.

2) Read a few books that are sitting, collecting dust on my bookshelf.

3) Prepare extravagant meals for my husband.

4) Visit with family and friends (this is particularly difficult when they live on the other side of the country).

5) Take a course.

6) Take up a hobby.

7) Do absolutely nothing.

What do you do on your summer vacations?  Please post a response as a comment

Mrs E.

Hot Topics: To Facebook or Not To Facebook?

Facebook is a very controversial social network for the teaching world. Should a teacher have a personal account? Is it okay to add parents and students? Is there really such thing as privacy?

In today’s world of iphones, ipads, blackberries, ipads, notebooks, macbooks and the other hundred pieces of technology I know nothing about, I believe that social networking is one of the strongest tools a teacher has. My students haven’t used an agenda since the first week of school. Without breathing down their neck, monitoring how often they use it and constant reminders, for the average Jr. High student an agenda is never going to be used. I have a homework board, a teacher website and yes, a facebook page.

I created a facebook page for my students, they had a week to join and then the group became secure… join with permission only. I teach 74 students and 43 of them are part of the facebook group and so am I. I encouraged students to put their profiles on the strictest privacy settings facebook offers and did the same for myself. I cannot see their personal pages and they cannot access mine.

At first, the page was used mostly for little messages like “hey peeps!” or “wuz up?” or complete gibberish like “akhsdflkjadsifelkae  hi”, but then something great happened… a student posted a message reminding the group to study for an upcoming science test (a course I didn’t teach). My plan was working. My students were using the page to talk about homework. Since then the group has blossomed… reminders about permission slips, congratulating school teams and clubs, homework questions, funny stories from the day, birthday wishes… they’re all there!

Not only are the students talking about homework, but they’re talking about homework with students they wouldn’t normally ask for help or even have a conversation with on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter what social circle or homeroom you’re in, everyone is willing to communicate and help one another on facebook!

I have one student who has extreme organization difficulties… his locker is a mess, he never passes anything in on time, he loses almost all of his assignments, and was just scraping by academically. This student is also the one that posts the most on the facebook group. He may not remember a reminder from me in class, but I know that he sees the many posts and reminders on the facebook group. Wether it’s due to the facebook group or not, I don’t know, but I have actually seen a rise in completed assignments and test scores since the group was created. Coincidence?

So the facebook controversy…yes, I may be taking a risk having a class page but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Shouldn’t we, as teachers, be adapting our communication skills to how the students communicate? And, isn’t electronic communication growing across the country? Is it time to put the “what ifs” aside and change our communication strategies with the students?

My students may never open an agenda or use a calendar, but I know that the first thing they do when they wake up, when they get home from school, and before they go to bed is check their facebook… don’t we all?

Mrs E.