eLearning, say what??

We survived a week of eLearning here in South Carolina. We never get snow that sticks in the winter. But this year, we got an whooping 6-8 inches. I know, all you Northerners just spit coffee all over your keyboard. But remember, this is the South. We don’t do snow.

So, eLearning swooped in to save the educational lives of our students. And for 4 days, we conducted Google Meets, we had class discussions and had numerous rounds of “Show & Tell” featuring dogs and cats.

People like to complain and say that eLearning is hard on parents. And I can only imagine it its. But listen, teachers aren’t exactly living our best lives either. Do you know how hard it is to conduct a Google Meet with a tired, hungry and over-it two year old? Try typing an email with wrangling said two-year away from your keyboard, coffee and mouse. It’s like the Hunger Games.

Thankfully my children’s school went back to in-person on Wednesday. And the rest of the week flowed MUCH smoother for me.

If we have an eLearning days in the future, I would love to try new things like:

— Have students work in groups then come back and “teach” the rest of the class

— Create more guidelines about having everyone turn on their camera. I think that would help increase student participation.

I would love to hear what other teachers have done with virtual or eLearning!! I don’t see this going away, and so let’s do what teachers have always done, take something and make it GREAT!

Practicum Experience, Praxis Reflections

Teachers Taking Tests

I will be the first to admit that I postponed starting my practice for the Praxis.  I don’t know why, but this specific test had me in quite the state.  I had taken several Praxis exams before and never had such anxiety about it. 

And so I did what every other overworked teacher with two small children that is taking three courses does, I conveniently did not find time to start studying. Which I realized was the exact opposite of what I tell my students to do for their tests.  And yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I crammed the day or week before.  I am not that type of person.  So maybe, I’ll just start in February, when I actually got around to registering for the test to begin with. 

Once I completed the registration, I downloaded the accompanying study companion.  All 45 pages of it.  Immediately I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the PDF I was looking at.  It should also be noted that this first foray into Praxis-readiness was happening at 8:30pm.  Right around the time this Cinderella turns into a pumpkin. 

So, I downloaded the study guide, that counted for something right?  Well, it turns out that downloading the study guide and actually using it were two completely different activities that were separated by more days, okay weeks than I’d like to admit. 

Daunted by the 45-page PDF, I turned to the other study option available to me from the Praxis website, which was the Practice test.  Feeling particularly confident one day in March, I sat down and took the 120 question practice test.  Which I prompted did NOT do well on. 

That was when the panic set in.  The questions were over material that I was completely unprepared for.  Did I turn to the study guide? Nope! I did what most of my students do when I ask them a question, I Googled. 

In hindsight, I should have started making flashcards then.  Right after my first calamitous practice test.  Maybe it was pride in my usually excellent test-taking skill that kept me from the flashcards.  Or maybe it was exhaustion.  Again, these practice attempts were being made late at night by a partially pumpkin-ified heroine. 

Then the two week mark before the test came and I suddenly got serious.  I found online flashcards and started working on them throughout the day.  Not just at night when I couldn’t concentrate, but during breaks at work and in the afternoons.  I took the practice test two more times and with each attempt, my score climbed a little higher.  

By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, I was ready.  I truly had put in as much effort as I possibly could and I felt that beyond that, there wasn’t more I could do. 

The questions were NOTHING like what I prepared for.  With each passing question, I had to calm my nerves and steady my breathing.  Out of the 120 questions I answered that day, I probably marked about 59 as ones I need to come back and look at.  

So I slowed down and I looked at each question carefully.  I found key words in the question and tied them to key words in the questions.  I paused before moving on to make sure I did not miss anything.  I went back over the whole test when I was finished.  When I saw my raw score I wanted to cry in relief.  I’m still waiting on my actual test results, but this whole experience had me wondering. 

Is it more important to cram as much information in between your ears before the test or is it more important to calmly take the test and use the information in front of you as intelligently as possible? Or is it a combination of both? 

Practicum Experience

Reflections from an Elementary School Library

On the first Monday after Spring Break, I walked into Brushy Creek Elementary school to shadow their Media Specialist. 

Let me say that I am not an “elementary” person.  I know people say middle school is tough, but for me, those little people are WAY tougher than my 6th graders.  I was a bit nervous, just because I wasn’t sure how busy “we have a full busy day today” was going to be. 

Turns out busy meant incredibly, working every minute supervising littles. 

I didn’t realize this until we spoke over a Google Meet, but at elementary schools, the librarian serves as a Related Arts teacher.  At some schools that means a flexible, come as you will schedule and at others, a fixed rotation A/B schedule of times when students from all grade levels visit as part of their Related Arts class. 

The Monday of my visit, the librarian had a class come in each period. She planned four different lessons, repeating her K5 & 1st grade lesson.  

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Did I mention that at elementary schools, there is a morning show?  Yup. And the librarian and a group of four 4th & 5th graders run it each and every morning.  So in between prepping for her own lessons that morning, Mrs. Dobyne was also supervising the preparation for the show.  A group of kindergartners walked in to help say the pledge.  Students got their headsets on, the twinkle lights on the backdrop were turned on and the show started.  There was only one hiccup, as a student forgot to advance a slide, but for the Monday after Spring Break, it was a good show. 

We had maybe a ten minute break from the end of the Morning Show to when the first group of 3rd graders came in.  In that ten minutes, supplies were placed on the table centers, the touch-screen Promethean Board was set and we grabbed a breath before the day.  Also, we had a steady stream of students and teachers come in for chromebook issues:  damaged screens, broken chargers and stolen laptops.  All day long. 

I truly enjoyed the first lesson of the day: Onomatopoeia.  Students were given cartoons that featured onomatopoeia words.  They read the cartoon and then shared with a friend the onomatopoeia words.  Then they switched and again shared.  Then they were given a half-piece of paper and a list of onomatopoeia words to create word pop art.  The students worked very hard at their art, and there were some great examples of pop art in that 3rd grade class. 

Next we had a sweet group of 1st graders come by.  The librarian read them the winner of the South Carolina Picture Book award.  It was about a student who dreams up what he would change at his school.  Afterwards, students were given a sheet of paper to draw what they would change about their school and a spot to write a one sentence summary.  They had some very good ideas.  This lesson was repeated at the end of the day with the kindergartners. 

With the 5th graders, we played a GimKit review game for their Science Light unit. This lesson was prepared with their science teacher as a review for the upcoming SC Pass Science test.  The students played the GimKit twice and tried to bet their previous class score.

Each group also checked out books.  I loved her procedure for getting the students attention with a clapping sequence.  She also had a great procedure in place for dismissal that the students: steps for leaving the tables cleared up and in order and where they were to wait for their teacher. 

Overall, this experience was not what I was expecting.  I wasn’t expecting four full-on lessons every class period.  I wasn’t expecting 28 kindergartners in one class.   But I also didn’t expect to like the experience.  The kids were sweet and well-behaved.  And freedom to craft lessons to reach all content areas is appealing.  Whether it is appealing enough for me to deal with the 28 kindergartners, that is the question friend! 


Inventory Inspiration

Today I helped my librarian with inventory.  This process must take place twice each school year, once at the beginning of the year and then again towards the end.  Every book must be scanned and then a report is run to verify that all the books we started the year with are still on the shelves.  

This was my second time working the shelves with a scanner.  It’s a glorious job for someone who likes to look at books.  Which is me! I always end up writing down titles or taking screenshots of books that I want to read for myself. 

Today I was scanning our Sports, Mystery and Fantasy sections.  The Sports section was not too long and honestly, there really weren’t any books in that section that truly grabbed my attention.  The Mystery section held some books that I stopped and read the dust jacket and made a mental note of, but it was in the Fantasy section that my brain started working in overload mode. 

A particular book caught my attention as I titled it out to scan it.  The book was “Before the Sword” by Grace Lin.  And I was looking for a book like this one at the beginning of the year, but I didn’t know how to find it.  Our librarian was out on family leave at the start of the school year, or she would have pointed me to this book in a hot minute. 

I was doing an Extra Credit Book project with my Ancient Civilizations unit in Social Studies.  It was super easy to find books on the Greek and Roman civilizations – thank you Rick Riordian for the Percy Jackson books, and Mark of a Thief by Nielson is an excellent look at Rome.  There was even a superior series on Ancient Egypt, the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordian for Ancient Egypt.  

The only two civilizations that I had trouble finding books for were China and India. 

I did some online searching for book titles but was not familiar with any of the books that popped up.  Also, I don’t like to advertise books that I have not personally read, or that someone I trust can vouch for. 

Needless to say, our project fell a little flat of truly giving students a look at the fiction world that comes from those ancient civilizations. 

Then I saw “Before the Sword” and it is set in Ancient/Imperial China! I was so delighted I called my librarian over and asked her about the book.  She mentioned it was a new title but she heard great things about it.  Then she was able to point me to a Newbery Medal title by the same author, “Where Mountain Meets the Moon” and I was so excited! 

This time of year, especially for me, since I’m a complete nerd, I start getting really excited about next year.  

I know, this year still isn’t over, but the end is IN SIGHT! And my brain tends to wander, how I can improve my instruction and classroom resources for next year. 

Now I know that I can truly give my students a more complete set of books for their Ancient Civilizations unit, since I can vouch for titles for 4 out of the 5 civilizations.  

I am still going to be on the hunt for one or two titles for Ancient India, so if you know of any, please send me a message with your favorite one! 

Essay Questions on Tests

So I Brought Back An Old Testing Friend

When I first started teaching Social Studies most of our tests had an essay question.  We would give the students a study guide that contained three choices and they would pick one and write a simple 5-10 sentence paragraph. 

At first I was overwhelmed at asking that of my students, mostly because I was worried about grading and didn’t feel comfortable.  Thank goodness my teaching partner assured me that the students would be fine and she would help me grade my first couple. 

After that first year, we tweaked how that essay question happened on the tests.  We started giving students key words/phrases that should be included in their essays.  It helped tremendously with grading and it also gave the students a framework to build their essay responses from. 

Then I got a new teaching partner and the idea of hand-grading hundred-plus essays was not her cup of tea.  And since I was too new to Google Forms to figure out how to create a rubric, I let her win and we took away the essay question. 

Several years passed, and low and behold I got another teaching partner.  This time around, I warned them at the beginning of the year that I wanted to include an essay question on the test and they were on board.  

But the year got away from us and if you’re ever taught you know that sometimes sticky to what you already have created is easier and saves your sanity.  

Yet, I truly felt that the students were beginning to slack on actual test prep.  They had gotten so dependent on the test prep we made that they did not create any on their own.  And testing prep is an incredibly important academic tool. 

Maybe it was out of frustration, but I told my students that they were not going to get the expected test prep AND they were getting an essay question. 

You would have thought I told them they had to hand-write the test in Latin.  They groaned, they complained that this wasn’t English class thank you very much and that they would fail. 

But I stuck to my guns. I gave them their essay question a week in advance.  I choose their essay question to nicely go along with an activity we had completed a week prior.  And, I offered to look at any essay in advance. Which only two students took advantage of. 

I will not lie, the night before the test, I was nervous.  And I wasn’t even taking the test! I was worried that they format was too new.  That the new format would throw them off and that this final test grade of the quarter would tank their grades. 

And of course that did not happen.  Most of my students performed just as well as they had on previous test grades.  Some even did much, much better.  Overall, the test outcome was successful. 

Now, was it more work for me. HECK YES. 

Mostly because I have still not figured out how create a rubric and tie it to Google Classroom so that I wouldn’t have to grade each essay by hand. 

And if any teacher out there isn’t aware, if you put TWO Google Form into the same Classroom assignment you can’t import grades. Yes. I had to look up EACH student’s multiple choice test grade, add their bonus question to that score. Then open another Form and grade their essay. 

It would have been easier to grade an entire paper and pencil test. But lessons were learned. Even if it was the hard way. 

Bottom line, it was a good experience.  I learned a lot about my student’s thought processes by reading their essays.  Some students did so much better because they were able to gain points by telling me what they know instead of having to pick the correct multiple choice answer.  And not going to lie, some of the essay responses were hilarious and totally worth the extra effort! 

Practicum Experience

High School Library Day

Today I went back to the very first school setting I stepped foot in as a junior Social Studies Education major. Back in 2007. Technically I had stepped foot there before, as a sub a handful of times in 2013.  But obviously, for this post, let’s not count those handful of visits. 

This time instead of heading to the Government/Econ class, I stopped half-down the hall and walked into the Media Center. 

Things were different and they were very much the same. The room smelled the same, the must of books and the stillness of a morning library that hasn’t quite gotten its start. But there were so very nice changes. The furniture was updated, shelving had been moved around and rearranged. Also the head librarian, who graciously invited me, I had never met before. 

First off, her blouse and earrings were amazing! A floral and ruffle shirt and a boho dangle made me instantly like her. And her energy was fantastic. I found myself asking her to host a podcast and that I would listen to her as she motivates teachers and librarians. 

I knew right away that I was going to learn a lot.  

The day started with an advisory meeting, which was extra fun since that meant seeing students interacting in the library.  It was contagious to hear about their animal service project and listen to students presenting to their peers. 

Next came a tour of the library. 

The library is a long rectangle of a room, with an entire wall of windows facing the street.  The natural sunlight makes the room an inviting and relaxed place.  The most interesting set-up to me was the the fiction and nonfiction were at opposite ends of the room.  Separated by quite a large space of desks, tables and alternative seating.  

Scattered throughout the room are comfy caffe-style chairs and tables with puzzles, games and coloring sheets.  It was altogether a very cozy space. You could smell hints of spring as the weather was particularly nice and the sunlight was streaming in through the windows.

The first bell of the day rung and students came trickling in.  This was my moment to watch the interactions between the librarian and her students.  It was obvious that she worked hard to develop a good relationship with her students.  She knew their names, chatted about scholarships and college, and greeted each one warmly. 

Mostly the students were quietly chatting in groups at the tables, studying for classes or reading. 

After second block had started, we went on a small trip around the front of the school and up to a class on the 2nd floor hall to give a student a book.  We chatted about how to build relationships with teachers that are increasingly busy and students that are glued to electronic devices.  

I believe that the small act of bringing a student a requested book was a way to build and maintain those relationships.  It was a day without any lessons in the library, and it took all of five minutes. 

Now, scattered throughout our interactions was a healthy dose of tough-love from the librarian to her students.  The most common student interaction was printing needs.  There were instructions printed on the table and not once did the librarian complete the task for them.  She directed them to the correct table that had the instructions, and told them she was there if they needed any extra help. 

Now, don’t think that this whole day was spent with me doing nothing! I learned how to check books in and out to students.  I re-shelved the returned books throughout the day.  I also learned how to cover hardback books with a dust jacket. I mostly managed to not mangle the job too horribly! We ran a job through the laminating machine, and I got all my questions answered and more. 

At the end of the day, I left with so much to think about! But I knew that I had met a superhero of a librarian and that no matter where I ended up in the future, she would be there to lend a helping hand. 

No Internet

When the Internet Goes Out

Every once in a while technology hits you with a curve ball.  Today was supposed to be an easy start to the school week.  My students were going to take their Benchmark Test and then we were going to gently ease into our new unit on the Scientific Revolution.  

2nd Period started off smoothly.  Students took their Benchmark.  We will skip over how well they did because that can be an entirely DIFFERENT post.  Then they started working on their Introduction to our new unit.  

So far, the day was going well. 

Then the green light on our wifi box light up.  Usually green signifies that something is a “go”.  Not for us.  Green is the signal for death.  That whatever you had planned, which everyone has arranged around technology, is going to hell in a hand-basket. 

I’m not going to lie, my heart stopped.  And I started hoping that it was just a fluke and that it would come back on.   

But then I started panicking. Usually when our internet goes out, our printer connection goes as well.  And today was the day I decided to save printer copies. I was only going to print the copies for the students that were seated in front of me.  Which meant that I had some serious copies to make if I was going to make it through the day. 

By some miracle, the printer worked for me!  

Did I also mention that we had a new teacher start today?  This was her first day at my school, “Welcome!” She had no copies because she wasn’t even tied to the school log-in yet! 

So I printed.  Class set for her and about 100 copies of the student handout.  Then another class set for my other fellow content teacher down the hall.  Then for my own students. 

And you want to know the crazy thing?? 

It was a good day.  The students worked well with the change in plan.  We had great class discussions about how we need to be life-longer readers and never stop learning by asking questions and observing our surroundings like the men from the Scientific Revolution did.  We would not have had those discussion if they had worked through the handout on their own like my original plan was. 

I would not have had the time to have a side-bar conversation with one class period about the Watergate Scandal and what that was.  Can I say I love my 4th period?  They ask the BEST questions!  Apparently on their school-issued calendars it mentioned the Watergate Scandal and one student was curious.  That was a great lead to later on in the lesson when we discussed questioning the narrative.  Since none of the students knew what Watergate was, I asked them how they could know what I told them was the truth.  We had a great mini-review on reliable information and how we gather it. 

I repeat, it was a good day.  Discussions were had that ventured into their personal lives.  I hope that connections were made between how people lived their lives during the 1200s-1300s in Europe and how we live ours today.  

And I would have never had this lesson if my perfectly laid plans would have worked out. 

Moral of the story: print your copies BEFORE the lesson but embrace the curveballs the internet and life throw your way.  They may turn into the lessons that change the way students think.  And that fellow teachers, is what it’s all about. 

So… tell me about what happens when the internet goes out at your school! 


Free Images… Pixabay

If you are like me you thought that any Google Image could be used as long as you were creating something for your classroom and that was covered under Fair Use.

Yeah, well about that. That’s not actually how it works.

While I still find Copyright law and Fair Use confusing, I decided that the easiest decision would be to use a website that is full of free pictures that can be used.

Enter Pixabay.

I love using Pixabay for all my image needs in my classroom. I know that I am not infringing on any copyright or fair use laws and that is one less trouble on my brain.

Pixabay is so easy to use and I can ALWAYS find a great image for my presentations and graphics.

When I started this blog, Pixabay was my first tool that I pulled from to create visuals like this one below.

I used this image for my Medieval Japan unit and it was PERFECT!

Crash Course Channel

Crash Course: World History Channel

If you are a Social Studies teacher and you haven’t heard of John Green’s Crash Course World History Channel stop what you’re doing and head over to YouTube. You will thank me later!

As a history teacher its hard to make past events exciting. Most of us don’t have the time or expertise to create exciting videos for our students. Much less make it chalk-full of important content. And make it funny. Enter Crash Course!

I’ve been using Crash Course for the past 7 years with my students. I especially like their World History channel as it is much easier for my students to follow and most closely aligns with my state’s standards. Basically the channel covers content from Paleolithic Era to Age of Exploration.

The videos are usually 10-15 minutes long and let me tell you they pack A TON of content in that short time. Most of all I love that it gives students another voice, John Green’s humor keeps them entertained and the graphics are amazing! The content is solid information as well.

The only caveat I will add about the videos is that they are intended for high school students. And as such there are some sections that I have skipped. Since I teach 6th graders, I don’t want to spend time explaining what “skoodilypooping” is. There is never anything overtly egregious in the videos, just use your teacher wisdom and knowledge of your student’s maturity level.

Here is the first video that I usually introduce to my students about the Agricultural Revolution!

Let me know if you’ve seen this channel and which video is your favorite!


Canva, a teacher’s best friend

One tool that I have started using WAY more is Canva.

Originally, I used it as just a site where I could create my family’s Christmas cards– which did NOT turn out all that wonderful on the first try, let me tell you. But with a little practice, I was ready for next year’s cards which turned out amazing!

My first school creation was a poster for the Student Council’s Dodgeball Tournament and I was immediately hooked on all the exciting ways I could use this new tool in my classroom.

That same year, I had all my students create a poster for our Ancient China Acrostic Poem and they turn out so well! The learning curve was a bit steep, but once the students got the hang of it, they were so happy to be able to get creative with all the free elements on Canva.

I stuck with posters for my room and for our hallway but then last year, I started noticing some incredibly exciting presentations that blog-users and fellow instagram teacher friends were using. When I asked, they all said “Canva!”.

Did you know that Canva has hundreds of exciting presentations for every subject under the sun? Did I mention that they are all loaded with exciting fonts, animations, and compelling graphics?

Did I mention that Canva is free?

Did I mention that you can spend less time creating amazing content with Canva?

Click on this link to see the super cool presentation I put together for a grad class I am taking.


Let me know how you are using Canva in your classroom!