To Assign or Not to Assign… Homework

Teaching middle school math and science in the inner city of Los Angeles, I wrestled with my previously formed opinion of assigning homework.  Was it fair to assign homework to adolescents who went home after school to take care of their younger siblings while their parents were both at work?  How many problems needed to be completed for sufficient practice?  Could the students master concepts and skills without the homework?  If I gave homework students, I wanted to give the appropriate amount and quality of homework to reap the benefits without causing stress, fatigue, boredom, or frustration.

I thought back to my days as a student, when classmates would “slack off” yet would ace the test.  They proved their learning on the summative assessments without completing the homework.  Would their grade in their class reflect their knowledge and skills or would it reflect the fact that they didn’t complete their daily assignments?  Some schools have completely abolished homework!

I considered what my personal desire was for my students when I assigned homework.  Was my motive drill and kill or did I want to deepen my students’ understanding?  Did everyone need to complete the same thing or could I give my students choice based on their learning level, interests, or learning style?  If you are looking for ways to engage your students, consider trying one of these 20 creative homework ideas.

Finally, many teachers know all to well how the piles of homework needed to be graded grow exponentially!  What type of feedback would best help the student?  Did I need to input it into the grade book or could the students be accountable in another way?  Taking all of these things into consideration, I decided to greatly reduce the amount of homework I assigned.  Homework no longer had a sufficient weight on the students’ academic grades, but was considered when assigning grades for things such as effort.  Whenever possible, I would offer student choice. 

What is your homework policy?  Has it changed over the years?  Let us know in the comment section below!

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Terrific Teacher YouTube Channels

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When I wanted to introduce my students to different colleges and universities, I often turned to the treasure trove of YouTube to expose my students to campuses without the hassle of permission slips, transportation, and coordinating field trips! When I needed to show students examples of symbiotic relationships, I went to YouTube. When I….well, you get the picture. Even so, I barely scratched the surface of the vast resources available to teachers. Here are some of the YouTube channels you might find helpful as a teacher:

Edutopia

Stay on top of current topics in education by watching short clips by Edutopia! Most of the videos are between 2 to 4 minutes and cover topics such as mindfulness, Socratic circles, parent workshops, and creating student norms in the classroom. Find out what is working in K-12 education today!

Buck Institute of Education

If you want to learn more about Project Based Learning, check out the Buck Institute of Education for helpful videos! The content includes successful ideas to implement and suggestions to help align projects to standards, design and plan projects, and to engage students in learning. If you are interested in receiving graduate units for learning and implementing Project Based Learning in your classroom, you can enroll in EDUX 7635: PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: AN OVERVIEW.

Bozeman Science

Make your science lesson come alive with a clip from Bozeman Science! These videos include easy-to-understand diagrams, demonstrations, and models. Created by a high school teacher, the content covers everything from renewable energy to neurons!

Richard Byrne

Improve your lessons with a little help from Richard Byrne! Get tips and tricks in technology to engage your students. Imagine what you can learn and do with his tutorials!

TED-Ed

The TED-Ed YouTube channel topped the list of many educators (if you’re not already one of the 8.4 million subscribers, you will probably become one after checking out their videos!). Many of the 4 or 5 minute videos grab the attention of students and engage them in history, culture, science, math, literature, geography, and more! These high-quality videos will greatly enrich any classroom.

Here are some links of additional lists of top educational YouTube channels:

Great YouTube Channels for Teachers

Top 100 Teacher Youtube Channels on Educational Videos, Tutorials, Lessons & Courses

8 Excellent Educational YouTube Channels for Today’s Teachers

10 inspiring YouTube channels for teachers

If you are interested in receiving graduate units for professional development in technology, click here.

Which YouTube channels do you enjoy incorporating into your lessons? How and when do you use the videos? Leave a comment below!

Saving Money as an Educator

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Teachers give generously of their time, and more than often, their money. With school budget cuts and limited funds, teachers have to find ways to save money and be resourceful.   Here are some great ways to get the most bang for your buck and provide your students with an optimal learning environment.

 

Books

Looking to expand your classroom library? Thrift stores, garage sales, public library bookstores (Friends of the Library) and used books stores are treasure troves of good deals to help develop a love of literacy in your students.

 

Science Labs

Need to purchase equipment for science labs and experiments? An article on TeachHub gives you tips on where to shop, how to minimize and simplify your supply list, and who to ask for donations! Flex your creative muscle as you find ways to pinch the pennies and stock your classroom.

 

Furniture and Supplies

Before you go buy furniture, craft supplies, or anything else for your classroom check Freecycle, Craigslist or Ebay! Or ask your friends and family if they have the item(s) and are willing to donate to your classroom.

 

Graduate Units

Are you in need of more graduate units to move over your district’s pay scale? Making more money every year sounds good, doesn’t it? If you want to save money for your professional development, check out the affordable courses at College Credit Connection! Read the testimonials of teachers like yourself who have found the courses to be a great value and beneficial to their classrooms.

 

More ideas

These lists of the 20 Best Money-Saving Tips for Teachers and Teaching Strategies: How to Save Money have great ideas ranging from applying for grants to getting teacher discounts! They include links and great resources for the frugal educator.

 

Do you have a great money-saving idea to share? Are you inspired by one of these ideas? Let us know in the comments below!

Teacher Burnout and What to Do About It

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Walk into any coffee shop and you can almost immediate recognize a fellow teacher. They probably aren’t wearing scrubs, an official uniform, or have a certain hairstyle. No, you recognize them because they are grading papers and possibly look a little discouraged because the students did not perform well on the last assessment.

You recognize that look and empathize. The demands on a teacher are never ending. The hats teachers wear are too numerous to count. Your school just rolled out a new curriculum and changed the grading system. Parents want to discuss their children’s grades and behavior. You lost your temper right before lunch today. Administration did not handle that last disciplinary situation well. Colleagues complain about other incompetent teachers. Last week’s teacher meeting went on forever while you thought about all of the bulletin boards that needed updating, progress reports you needed to finish, and parent calls you needed to make.

Teacher burnout is nothing new, but the conversation might be shifting. In an article by Tim Walker, he discusses with Doris Santoro ways that morale can be revitalized. When teachers are constantly being told what they are doing wrong without being told the correct way, it is demoralizing. Santoro suggests school leadership bring teachers together to problem solve for the well-being of the students. She also suggests looking to unions for community and collaboration.

So what does a teacher do in the midst of discouragement, fatigue, and demoralization?

  1. Change your mood

You’ve probably heard the saying that laughter is the best medicine. An intense power struggle with a student can often crumble with a joke (especially if you teach middle school!). Recognize your frustration and deliberately choose to shift the mood. Try to find the humor in the situation! Check out Bored Teachers for inspiration.

  1. Try something new

If you are having fun, your students probably will, too. If you are passionate about the content, share it with them. If you are not passionate about the lesson, go on a quest to make it more fun. The internet has so many ideas! Attend a conference, take a professional development course, or ask a fellow teacher how they approach the subject. Make the learning meaningful for the students by using real-world examples.

  1. Hold students responsible

Give your students choice. Help them chart their learning levels and set goals for themselves. Revisit those goals and progress regularly.

  1. Take care of yourself.

Exercise (take a walk in the outdoors! You know…that place outside the walls of your classroom and home). Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it. Eat your veggies and fruit. Drink water. Each healthy step will help you tackle the bigger problems inside and outside of the classroom.

Dear teacher, here’s a well-deserved virtual high five. Your dedication to your students makes all the difference. You invest in the future before and after the bell rings. Thank you for all that you do!

Do you have any advice to deal with teacher burnout? Comment below with your suggestions!

Hold onto the Knot in the Rope

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During one of my undergraduate teacher preparation courses, my professor held up a piece of rope with a knot in it and told us that there would be times when we would be overwhelmed and would question why we even became teachers. And THAT, she reminded us, is when we need to hold onto the knot in the rope. I’ve discovered that the knot is different for everybody. For me, the knot formed at a very young age when I experienced the joy of teaching my younger brother how to read. The excitement of sharing my knowledge and witnessing him grasp the rules of phonics, recognize sight words, and develop a love of reading was magical! I became a teacher at the age of six. No other career path even entered my mind.

James Bayard writes, “I am a teacher because I have experienced first hand the role education can have in lifting young people out of a cycle of disadvantage.” His article reminded me of when I chose to follow the path of teaching whereas many of my fellow scholars chose career paths of law, medicine, engineering, or business. Many people viewed my choice to teach as an “underachievement” but failed to realize both the challenges and rewards of teaching.

This problem largely goes unnoticed. Many districts, schools, and universities do not actively recruit strong teacher candidates. Some organizations even advertise the teaching career as a “stepping stone” to a better career.

Chuck Poole, a fellow educator, reminds us to be proud of what we do. Teaching really is one of the most prestigious and rewarding professions in the world. We are charged with passionately teaching students who will go into all other professions, and that amazes me!

A Pre-K teacher, Brian Smith, wrote a list of some reasons why he teaches. He encourages fellow teachers to “Keep in mind what inspired you to begin with, and remember the reasons you chose to take on this daunting, wonderful job.” I encourage you to take some time and make your own list and review it whenever you need those reminders!

How do you “Hold onto the knot in the rope” during the difficult days? Leave a comment below!

Back to School!

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Back-to-School Stress

Parents, children, and teachers tend to feel a lot of emotions and stressors when summer is coming to an end, and school is about to begin.

Parents are likely thinking about adjusting their schedules; students are likely thinking about seeing their friends AND having their summer freedom aborted; but teachers are likely stressing the most about getting ready for a new school year.

Psychologist Gail Kinman offers advice on how to reduce stress and prepare for the new school year.   Among other suggestions, she advises becoming in touch with your feelings, listening to your body, doing a bit of planning, and getting extra rest.

Researching advice from psychologists and teachers, five top tips emerged for relieving “back-to-school” stress. They are as follows:

  1. Practice self-care. Get in the habit of taking care of yourself so that when the onslaught happens, you are already in the habit of taking some time for yourself. Remember the flight attendants’ instructions: “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting the person next to you.” If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the energy to take care of anyone else, particularly a room full of students!
  2. Meditate and/or pray. There are multitudes of studies showing that meditation and prayer lower According to a University of Pennsylvania research study, just 30 minutes of daily meditation improves the ability to prioritize and manage tasks and goals, re-focus attention and stay alert to the environment. Even 5 minutes helps. Close your eyes for 5 minutes and breathe deeply to get back on track.
  3. Be prepared. Just a little bit of preparation can reduce your stress before it even starts to build up. Spend a little time organizing yourself before school starts and you will likely feel more relaxed. Make a list of what you want to do, then prioritize the items on your list. Don’t try to do everything at once. Feel free to cross off a few things on your list. Accomplishing the top few items can relieve a lot of anxiety.
  4. Use your mind. Take a few minutes to visualize yourself making a positive impact on your students. It is amazing how much this little practice can change your mindset and reduce stress.
  5. Get moving! Studies show that exercise reduces stress and releases endorphins. When you think you are too busy to exercise, it is often the times you need it most. It doesn’t have to be a full workout – just a quick walk or some stretches will do the trick. Yoga is also highly recommended.

(Reduce Back-to-School Anxiety Naturally)

Additional links are as follows: Back to School Tips, Back to School Preparation.

Summer and school breaks are great times to work on professional development classes. Flexible, online classes can be helpful for busy teachers.

So, take some deep breaths, and welcome the start of the school year!

If you have some good tips for reducing back-to-school anxiety, please comment below.

Try Something New!

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Do you ever feel like you have gotten into a rut with your teaching practice? Maybe you haven’t lost your passion but are looking to do something different than what you’ve done in the past. Whether you are a fairly new teacher or a veteran, consider some of these unique ideas to engage your students in learning!

Stitch in Time

Anna Davidson tried something most teachers wouldn’t even think to do with their students. She taught them to embroider! “With fabric, needle and thread in the students’ hands I have their absolute, undivided attention. They are learning with their hands and their hands are teaching their brains things that cannot be learned any other way. How to think in three dimensions, how to manage and manipulate the tools and materials to achieve the task, how to be the boss of the process, how to plan ahead, how to treat an error, how to avoid error in the first place. Their brains are as busy as their hands.”

Start from Scratch

What do your students need? What resources would open up doors of opportunities down the road for them? In one of the oldest public schools in California, Deron Ambler built a lacrosse program. Since its start in 2013, the school has successfully had a lacrosse team with the support of the student body, friends, a grant, and the community. Some of Deron’s students have even received full scholarships!

Storytelling with Podcasts

When it comes to technology, no limit exists to the ideas of engaging students with content! Jennifer Osborne opened up the exciting world of communication for her 11th grade students by having them create a podcast to share a personal event. Her students also created visual interpretations of poems through video-making platforms and collaborated on a literary group project using NoodleTools.

Serve the Community

Students can measure ingredients to make a cookie mix for local workers in the community such as police officers, firefighters, or nurses. Beautify your campus with environmental education. Donate non-perishable food, blankets, and clothes to a local shelter. Learning through service benefits both the students and the community!

Do you have a great idea to share? Are you inspired by one of these ideas? Let us know in the comments below!