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Teacher to Teacher Tips

(from recent editions of the newsletter)


Timberlake High School in Boise makes riding a bike to school a bit safer and easier. In addition to ample bike racks near the main door, they have provided a small bike service area for students as well. Tires low?, no problem. Use the air pump. Handle bars need tightening?, you’re in luck. An assortment of hand tools are available for use. Everything is attached to locked cables and mounted on a permanent pole next to the bike racks.

Here's a First Day Activity: Pass out envelopes or postcards and have students self-address them. Keep them handy for sending postivie comments and / or suggestions home during the year. Make it a point to send at least one per student.

Designate a table near the middle of the room for "office supplies". On this keep paperclips, stapler, a good pair of scissors (tethered), tissues, pencils, etc.

Eliminate the forgotten pencil AND the pencil sharpener. Keep 2 large cans by your door. One filled w/ sharp pencils, one for dull discards. Have students pick up one as they come in and drop it off as they exit. YOU can sharpen them from home w/ an electric sharpener while watching a ball game. Eliminate the time waster of students needing to sharpen pencils and eliminates the forgotten writing utensil.

Along with adding student choice on assignments, consider also including choice on tests. For example students could choose 4 out of the 5 sections to complete, or "answer any 15 of the following 25 questions," etc. Or you could even have 3 different types of exams and students could choose one to complete entirely.

When it was time for my class unit test I was feeling a bit uneasy about the preparation. Thinking we should probably spend a bit more time I the topic, I told them that the test wouldn't count as a test, but was really just to give me some feedback on what they know and what we need to cover in more detail. Wow - the scores were the highest ever! Who knew that simply removing the stress associated with "TEST" would make my students smarter? I'm going to re-think how I present the idea of tests now going forward. - Conference participant, Toronto

On the morning of a state standards of learning test, I take the entire grade level into the gym for a 30 minute Brain Gym break. 20 minutes of upbeat music and activities, followed by 10 minutes of calming music and relaxing exercises. What makes this a de-stressor, besides pumping all of those great brain chemicals to help the students think, is that I tell them the state test is more a check of how we teachers are doing in our teaching. Test taking strategies are covered by the classroom teachers and as the Physical Educator, I integrate movement into the core curriculum. I believe classroom teachers and Physical Educators (and administrators in the lead) have a golden opportunity to unite for the common gain. As I like to say, the brains can absorb only as much as the hind parts can endure. And we are all in the brain business. -Mark Pankau, M.S. Ed., CMT, Loudoun Co., VA

In my math class I break the class into teams of four and have them work the practice problems out as a group. I sign them off as they finish and we have extra points for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place teams. Teacher workshop participant, Montana

When grading papers, I use a green pen and check the correct answers while not marking the incorrect answers. This provides encouragement, as most teachers use red to mark the incorrect answers. Timothy Bufford, Cross Creek High School, GA

Along with adding student choice on assignments, consider also including choice on tests. For example students could choose 4 out of the 5 sections to complete, or "answer any 15 of the following 25 questions," etc. Or you could even have 3 different types of exams and students could choose one to complete entirely.

When assigning math problems for homework, always send an answer sheet too. Have students self-check after every couple of problems. Doing 20 - 30 problems incorrectly and not knowing until the next day, does more harm than good.

On any test that affects student's grade, write their current grade in the bottom corner of the paper so they see immediately how current test affects their overall course grade.

Each time you change to a new unit, rearrange the room. Students are interested as soon as they walk into the room.

Do physical exercises or any movement requiring gross motor muscles while learning and practicing new spelling words

In math class break the class into teams to work the practice problems out as a group. Give points for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place team.

School planners, or agenda books, can be overwhelming to many students (especially those with ADHD). An alternative is to have them simply write their daily assignments on one sheet of paper, changing ink color with each subject. Then they can cross them out as completed

Mark Pankau at Guilford Elementary School in Virginia sent us this tip:
As the Physical Educator at my school, I assess all students on their dominant eye and ear, and then give to the classroom teacher for preferred seating.  A right eye/ear dominant should sit on the left side of the class if the teacher teaches from the front of the classroom.  Opposite for the left eye dominant.  Some will be a combination - sitting in the middle.  For eye dominance, student makes a window shape with their two hands, extends arms straight and looks at the teacher.  Only the dominant eye will show up in the window. For ears,tap lightly on a book or clipboard and ask the student to listen to the tapping.  They should put one ear toward the sound.

Since I teach Math, I have set up some class days in rows and columns, marking the floor with painter masking tape as a coordinate graph. As students enter the room they take a card with an ordered pair which is their seat for the class. (0,0) would be the last seat in the back row and the farthest to the left side of class if facing the front of class.(5,5) would be in the first row all the way to the right.  -Shirley Hartwig, Challenger Learning Center, FL

Help fight childhood obesity:  Provide (free) healthy snacks in every classroom in the school. Apples, bananas, oranges, cucumber, baby carrots, snap peas, celery, etc. Solicit donations from local grocers, parents, citizens.  Imagine the changes that can happen if kids ate 4 - 6 healthy fruit/veggie snacks every day throughout the day.

Here's a tip Dr Kathy Grover with the Clever School District in Missouri:  They hold their "open house" or "back to school night" before the school year begins (the Friday before classes start).  This helps keep the focus on teacher expectations and classroom procedures for the year.  As many of us know, traditionally at open house, parents like to ask questions specific to how their child is performing in class - even though school has only been in session a week or two.

I have a "Borrow Bag" in my classroom.  It's a transparent plastic hanging shoebag with 24 compartments.  Each pouch contains some classroom supply such as pencils, pens, scissors, glue sticks, colored pencils, a hole punch, stapler, etc.  When a student needs something, they can borrow from the bag by leaving a shoe as collateral. When they return the borrowed item, the shoe is retrieved.  Keeps me from losing many classroom items.  Terry Moore, Indiana. 

A Tip From a Workshop Participant:  The first step to developing a positive, working relationship with someone is learning and remembering the person's name.  Make it a start-of-the-year priority.  

When thinking about the upcoming school year, rethink how you post classroom rules, school policies and other disclosure items for students and parents.  As much as possible, turn the words so that they express a positive and welcoming climate.  Statements such as "students not suited up for PE will be docked 5 points" can easily be rephrased as "students earn 5 points for suiting up in proper PE clothing."  If you must list "consequences for not following school rules" they should always be listed AFTER your list of "consequences for FOLLOWING school rules

Shirley Hartwig, math teacher at the Adult Learning Center in Osceola, sent us this Teaching Tip: Gallon size zip lock bags make good storage bags to hold foldables, or in my case, polygon shapes, etc. Student activities or completed assignments can be stored in them.  Since they are see through, names can be easily spotted if the papers are faced out.


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