Monday, January 30, 2017

Teacher Hack: Create Cheap Group Dry Erase Boards

Well, at least her supplies won't be that expensive with only 3 kids in class this year.


But, if you're like the average American teacher, you have anywhere from 21-27 students in your class, and at my school, 32 is not uncommon. Larger class sizes obviously mean more of your money is spent on supplies and more time is spent grading. In my blog post Teachers, Stop Grading Everything, I wrote about how I used whiteboarding to reduce my grading load, and I received some questions about how I had acquired a class set of the group-sized boards without selling a kidney. 

Ask, and you shall receive. 

This week I teamed up with a math teacher from my school, Melinda, who found the cheapest boards for purchase were $24.99- needing 32 boards meant roughly $800 or two kidneys. Yikes! 

Instead, we made them: Home Depot* to the rescue!

$79.40 later, we had purchased what we needed. That's a 90% reduction in cost for my non-math teacher friends. We had a blast, and even made a quick video for you if you want to see how the process went down:

In case you don't spend much time at home improvement stores, the "thrifty" dry erase panels are near the lumber, and this was the item we chose. Each piece makes 8, 2'x2' boards, so we picked up 4 of them. The store will cut them for free. Be careful as you pick them up, the edges get damaged easily until you tape them. 

And, that's why you need one roll of black duct tape. Don't be tempted by the pretty designs and colors they have available: your black Expo markers will stain them and leave a dark residue. This item is essential to keep the corners of your "thrifty" board for getting bent. After two years, mine are still unscathed. You can find tape in the middle of the store near the paint department.

Lastly, you'll need some poly rope, you may want a thinner strand (1/4") if you plan to hang them up so that more will fit on a hook. We were even able to find our school colors as the stars aligned on aisle 13 near the other ropes and chains. Oh, it's the little things...

With two quick drill holes at the top of the board, the rope handle makes the boards easier to maneuver when the students are presenting and can be used to hang them for storage. 

Finished Product
The time to tape the edges and drill the holes was minimal, and I had students help tie to handles during study hall. Child labor, FTW.

Note: I use microfiber clothes for the students to clean the boards that are machine-washable and more economical and effective than traditional erasers. I maintenance them with Fantastic and Pledge to keep the finish looking nice, as well. If you have not tried furniture polish on your white boards, you should; they erase so much easier! 

Lastly, once that you have new boards for the kids, feel free to keep the new Expos for yourself. 



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Teachers, Stop Grading Everything

I am fairly certain the wrinkles that have started to creep up on my forehead are from furrowing my brow and forming this same exact expression while grading over the course of the last decade.

Haven't we all been there?

After writing my first two blogs on going home earlier and leaving work at school, I thought I better share some strategies I have used get my papers graded during contract hours successfully. We teachers are tired of hearing commands from others without having solid, doable actions to marry with them. I am not a politician, so I will spare you that sort of treatment.

As a student, I lived for grades. I thought I had to do well to better myself, and I really believed that if I wanted to make it out of the trailer park, I had to have a 4.0. So, to this day, I have never made a "B." It's a shame that I can sadly relate to this nugget from education researcher Dylan William:

"When students receive both scores and comments, the first thing they look at is their score, and the second thing they look at is...someone else's score.  Being compared with others triggers a concern for preserving well-being at the expense of growth"

Who needs to really learn anything as long as you get an "A," especially if your "A" is higher than your neighbor's grade, right?

Before I give you some grading tips, I think it's important to emphasize that grading everything students complete undermines intrinsic motivation, squelches curiosity and keeps students from taking risks due to concerns about performance*.

But, I can also tell you that high school juniors are pretty smart: if they discover you aren't grading something, you have the same odds of winning the PowerBall as getting all of your class to do that assignment.

So how can you get your class to interact with content, each other, and complete their work without spending all the productive years of your life with a red pen clutched in your hand? Well, I made a video for all you visual learners! Yay differentiation. Check it out.

In summary,

1. Use whiteboarding and informal presentations to check for understanding, address misconceptions, encourage collaboration and get the students to DO their work. I am fairly certain that Expo markers have some "black" magic in their fumes that makes this happen. *chuckles* The American Modeling Teachers Association has excellent workshops and curriculum for STEM that integrate this practice if you want to know more.

2. For practice problems, have group secretaries share out answers on the board at the front of the room. Also, perform regular notebook checks that involve a few samples of work that is randomly selected.

It only takes an occasional radar-wielding police officer at your local speed trap to keep your foot off the gas pedal. This isn't a rosy analogy, but in a culture where parents and administrators want grades but you want anxiety-free practice in your classroom, this is a quick and effective way to make it happen.  

3. For free-response questions, grade in "chunks." Do so by getting a manageable portion of the answer key in your head, and then grading all your students' work for number 1 and 2, for example. Then do the same for numbers 3 and 4. This will keep you focused and your grading fair, and you will likely find your scoring becomes more consistent. It will also help you notice patterns in student misconceptions so you can address them more effectively.

4. Use a document pre-filled with common feedback to cut and paste comments into electronic work or have a poster made for your classroom that has common feedback abbreviations to cut down on the amount of writing needed to provide quality comments. Use a consistent rubric or checklist that can be quickly filled in as you read.

5. Or, try these free programs if you need to change things up:

  • Schoology - a learning management system that can be used individually, as well as at a district level, to run tests and quizzes from your textbook generator or accept electronic assignments
  • Socrative- allows students use their own technology to have competitions (similar to kahoot) and take assessments with instant feedback and automatic grading
  • Zipgrade- an app that turns your phone or tablet into an optical scanning machine if you don't have scantrons at your disposal
  • CamScanner- can scan portions of notebooks using a phone instead of taking up whole notebooks for a few pages (a few fellow science teachers made this recommendation instead of collecting large stacks of composition books from students)

I would love to hear your personal tips, and I hope this post "made the grade" for you.

I couldn't resist...



*I think that Mark Barnes does a nice job driving these points home in his article, "7 Reasons Teachers Should Stop Grading Their Students Forever." I also think that if I stopped grading students forever, I might lose my job.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Teachers, It's Time to Ditch Your Bag

Check out this actual picture of me leaving work last year!

Just kidding, my bag was pink.

I recently saw an article from NPR (does that make me cultured?)
in December about teachers being stressed that reminded me of my old work bag. I almost scrolled past it because reading about how stressed teachers are and seeing nothing done about it on a policy-making level, well, stresses me out. That's why I am writing this: changing the level of expectations for teachers isn't happening from the top down, so it seems we need to work from the bottom up. I digress.

Back on topic, here are some statistics I picked up while reading:

"Roughly half of teachers agree with this statement: 'The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren't really worth it.'"

"Between 30 and 40 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years."

That's pretty heartbreaking and inexcusable. But, I can't help but wonder if this data is partly caused by educators carrying home burdensome bags of papers to grade.

We never stop; even when we leave work, work leaves with us.

Student work is taken home, and if it makes it out of the car, begrudgingly becomes an apparition that haunts us from the dining room table until we coax it with the smooth strokes of a red pen. Relaxing is overrated when you have so much to do, right? That was formerly my opinion, and the reason I made the video below.

The article did go on to mention Patricia Jennings' Mindfulness for Teachers which I hope to check out soon. Comment below if you already have- I’d love to know your opinion. While I value and practice mindfulness, I hate the thought of surrendering many present moments to read a book  so that I can learn how to live better in the present moment (the whole idea behind mindfulness). Oh, the irony...

Anyway, I challenge you to travel light this week, teacher friends. Heck, see if you can fit everything in your pockets, even.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Set an Alarm and Go Home

I don't know about you, but I work much more effectively with a deadline. In fact, if I don't have a deadline, I am probably not going to do any work. Perhaps this is because the level of personal responsibility for moms and teachers is astounding, or maybe it is a result of the conditioning from being a student myself. Who knows?

What I do know is I can get my lesson plans gussied up posthaste if I know I am getting observed next period, and I can prep for a lab I decided to squeeze in at the last minute like a rock star. I am pretty sure the meme above was made for people like me.

Real talk.

So, when I decided to take back my life from my 80-90 hour workweek (that is not an exaggeration), one of the first things I did was to set a daily alarm on my phone for 4:15 p.m. and then leave. If you have a fitness tracker like a Fitbit, you could use a silent alarm, too.

Hitting the door at 4:15 gave me 30 minutes after the students were dismissed to wrap up tasks I hadn't finished and an overall work day of 8 hours and 25 minutes. The deadline helped give me a mild sense of urgency, and I immediately started to prioritize my time at work more efficiently. I stayed more focused during my planning period knowing I wouldn't be at school until 6:00 p.m. and then working into the wee hours once I got home. In case you want to see my smiling face give you the details...

According to this Washington Post article, most teachers work 10 hours and 40 minutes daily; and, in addition to their time at work:

"Teachers then spend another 95 minutes at home grading, preparing classroom activities, and doing other job-related tasks. The workday is even longer for teachers who advise extracurricular clubs and coach sports —11 hours and 20 minutes, on average."

Side note: God bless the coaches of the world.

At least the data says I was not alone in my endless cycle of work, but I think we owe it to ourselves to start whittling down on those numbers. I challenge you to set an alarm tomorrow.

Now, when was this blog post due again?