November Reflections: Leaping into Learning


What, it’s November already? One would think that as a middle school teacher and magazine columnist I should have a better handle on my time management and blogging skills, but obviously I do not. Here I am though, finally writing again, on a school night! So, hello, dear reader and friend. Let’s catch up for a bit.

The first quarter of the school year has blown by, much like the non-existent season of fall here in the Northeast. (Seriously? I had a couple of weekends to enjoy the colorful foliage before some storms came in and left bare branches.) Working at a new district has been both exciting and challenging; exciting because it’s a new workplace, and challenging because it’s a new workplace. My past columns have focused on inquiry-based instruction, modeling instruction, and the 5E learning cycle so I have been really pushing myself to walk the talk in my own science classroom. Since my first year of teaching, my work motto was “Be bold and courageous in all that you do.” Science is about experimentation anyway, so why not try new  and different things?

Here’s some new things I “leapt” at this quarter and what I learned from them:

  1. The 5E learning cycle is a fun and effective way to teach science. One of the NSTA listserv members shared his 5E lesson plan template and I’ve adapted it for my unit plans. I think this year so far I have doubled the amount of hands-on activities and labs from what I usually do in a unit. Even though I  increased the number of labs, prep time and clean up has been reduced with the installation of class jobs and student helpers. Students seem to be more at ease with vocabulary and concepts that most students in the past struggled with, even after review and reteaching. I think that is because they are making the connections between their Explore lab experiences and the content. I too find it easier to explain something when I can say, “Remember what happened when…?”  or “Remember when you…?” Instantly an image pops up in their heads, and they get it.
  2. Visual sketch noting is not just for the artistically-inclined. Earlier in September, students completed a multiple intelligences survey and many described themselves as visual-spatial learners. I also had a lot of students who kept drawing in class. Rather than get annoyed by their scribbles, I embraced it and switched class notes to foldables and doodles in our science interactive notebooks. Now they were earning notebook grades for coloring and drawing–a win/win for us all! While I personally prefer outlines and bulleted lists for notes, I too have tried to be more creative by using Google Drawing to create diagrams, flow-charts, and summaries for notes. I also have tried drawing during team meetings, and while I get strange looks from peers, I realized I remember more things when I drew them because I could picture them in my head. Again with the images!
  3. Cognitive psychology tricks makes productive learning stick. (Hey, that rhymes!) In October, I attended a local science conference and one of the sessions I sat in was based on Peter Brown’s, “Make It Stick:The Science of Successful Learning”. The master teacher shared her experiences using vocabulary concept maps and summary sheets. I came home and tried both as review strategies for our first unit test. At first, students resisted. Middle school students resist change, especially when that change means they have to do more thinking and more work! They complained a lot about how hard it was, but then something shifted. They started getting into discussions about categorizing vocabulary words and how they should word their phrases to show connections. When they found out they could use the summary sheet for a test, they were excited until they learned they had to decide on their own what goes on that sheet. Students who really took the time to work on their vocabulary maps and summary sheets earned higher scores than those who blew it off. I like the strategies, and am interested to see what the results will be for the next unit. Will more students take it seriously this time? Hmm…
  4. When you have a low STEAM budget, build things out of junk. One of my classes is a STEAM class that meets every day for 20 minutes. It was a last minute schedule change before school started so I didn’t really have a lot of time or materials to plan out a curriculum. Thankfully, NSTA listserv members shared some STEAM resources and school staff donated recyclable materials to help me get through the first 10 weeks.  I started off with weekly themed challenges, like the Apple A-lympics. Students built the tallest towers, cantilevers, wrecking balls, and bridges with apples. When they got bored with that theme (and the apples started rotting), we switched to two-week challenges such as cardboard marble mazes and candy pumpkin’ chunkin’ catapults. Students really enjoyed building things, but we got burned out quickly. When I get the next batch of students in December, I plan to throw in videos, science literacy articles, and basic lab skills review to break things up and give us some breathing space. Instead of a weekly challenge, I may  break it up into 5- 2-week long short term projects or do 1 long-term project using Google CS where they can work on their own pace.
  5. Angela Watson is the queen of batching and streamlining; I want to be her when I grow up. Back in July, I signed up for Angela Watson’s “40 Hour Teacher Work Week” program. It has been hard to keep up with the weekly readings, audios and Facebook posts since school started but the content is pure gold. I have been commuting to work carrying only my lunch box! (If you’re a science teacher, you KNOW this is a biggie. I usually carry 1-2 totes of papers and STUFF that I need for a demo, activity or lab.) I have been getting more work done at work, and rarely brought work home since October. I have been getting out of work on time, and have not once had to go to school on a weekend to print! I get more time to spend with my husband, actually watch TV, or curl up with a book on weeknights. (Or like tonight, finally blog.) Bottom line: after seven years of teaching, I am starting to have my own personal life.
    1. Batching similar tasks means that I don’t go around in circles all day. I plan everything out the night before or morning of, prioritize my tasks for the day, and I make sure I check off my list. Done, done, and done.
    2. The weekly readings and Facebook posts keep me reflecting and revamping my routines and strategies to make it even more streamlined and effective. For example, I loved the idea of class jobs and I created all these fancy titles. Environmental manager? Technology specialist? Supply Manager? Cute, right? Fast forward to November and no one is doing those jobs. Turns out all I needed were paper passers. It may be Pinterest-worthy, but if it’s not getting what I need done, I need to avoid it and stick to what will help me do my job well and fast.
    3. Weekly Do-Nows, or bellringers, are a great way to set the tone for class. I used to do half sheets with 3-5 problems every day , which unfortunately just formed towering piles on my office desk because I didn’t have the time to look at them all. This year I created weekly worksheets and projected Science Spot’s Science Starters on the board or created my own problems in a Google Slidedeck. Now I’m thinking of revamping it again to a weekly review worksheet but with old NYS ILS exam problems printed on them instead of showing it on the board. Some students have also started to just wait until we go over the answers, but hopefully this way will deter reluctant starters and hold them accountable for the review.
    4. Where have single-point rubrics been all of my life? I learned about single-point rubrics at that same conference from that same master teacher who talked about concept maps and summary sheets. Single-point rubrics only describe the criteria for proficiency. Students’ eyes will no longer glaze over when they read over my rubrics! Why didn’t my college professors ever tell me about these beautiful things? Sorry, Rubistar, I no longer need your time-consuming analytic rubrics! Currently I’m rewriting my interactive notebook, lab report, and groupwork rubrics into single-point rubrics. This might be Pinterest-worthy. Streamlining can be sexy.

I’m not quite sure what’s in line for me for the rest of November, but hey, I’m trying and learning new things! That’s all I can ask of myself. So, be bold, my friend. Learn something new! Leap, and that net will appear! (Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving in case it takes me another few weeks to get back here.)


8 Things I Learned From My First Webinar


Earlier this March, I went live with my first webinar!  I debut as a Model Schools Instructor for a regional community information center where I shared some of my practices in instructional technology integration with district staff from over 14 school districts.  The webinar was called “How To Use Google Apps and Web 2.0 Tools For Formative Assessment”.  The webinar was based on my personal experiences as a middle school science teacher this school year using various tools with a 1:1 Google Chromebook program.

Attendance was high and the feedback from the course evaluations have been overwhelmingly encouraging and positive. Thank you to those who attended and took the time to answer the survey. The links to the Google Slides and Google Document are posted below.

The webinar was an exciting but daunting challenge. Sure, I’ve taken my fair share of professional development training webinars, but I haven’t been on the other side before. I didn’t realize what type and extent of preparation were needed to design and host a successful  webinar. At school, I was simply sharing my passion for instructional technology with my department team members over coffee breaks in the lounge room, showing quick 1:1 demos in my room, or sharing what I was doing with others at monthly faculty meetings.

A webinar was different. The challenge was how to transmit my passion and experiences through a computer screen to a larger group of educators I have never met before. To prepare, I decided to put together a list of things that I enjoyed about webinars I have taken as a teacher and incorporated that into my design.

4 Things I Learned About Preparing a Webinar:

  1. Begin with a question.
    • A webinar is not about the presenter. It is about the people who signed up to take that webinar. They have a reason for paying money for that webinar. Focus on that reason. Get rid of the Agenda slide and start with a simple question: “Why are you here?”
  2. Make the webinar interactive.
    • Sitting in front of a computer screen for an hour is going to be tough for viewers and you. Do not, I repeat, kill them by PowerPoint. Do use lots of fun and vivid imagery.
    • With a webinar, you can’t see or hear your audience so you need to build in multiple checks to engage and check in with your audience. Ask questions. Take polls. Luckily for me, my webinar was an introductory “smack-down” session on online tools for formative assessment!  I was able to create multiple checks where the audience experienced the tools as students.
  3. Write a script.
    • Despite the fact that I teach in front of students all day and presented a couple of times in front of very large groups, my knees still quake at the thought of speaking in front of people. I’m not very quick at forming articulate sentences; it takes me awhile to figure out what I really want to say.
    • Writing a script helped me focus on the most important ideas and say it with fewer more succinct words.
  4. Give homework.
    • Have your viewers take an active role in their learning. Ask them how they can use the information they learned in their classroom the next day. Brainstorm and share ideas.
    • Provide resources they can check out on their own. Since my webinar was an introductory session, I wasn’t able to spend more time on technical how-to’s on individual tools. Instead, I created a Google Document and linked several resources that the viewers can read on their own.

So, how well did my preparation set me up for the actual presentation? Holy moly, it was so nerve-wracking. I arrived two hours earlier at the studio and found that it was just barely enough time to prep the webinar through WebEx, which I have never used before. However, once I started talking, I quickly got the hang of it and I was shocked to see how the hour flew by so fast. I really enjoyed the process–it was so much fun! Below are some things I learned from presenting the webinar:

4 Things I Learned About Presenting A Webinar:

  1.  Improvise, improvise, improvise! 
    • Even with a script, I learned that I had to be very flexible. There were steps I had to remember on how to turn on the mic and record the webinar and some housekeeping announcements to make before I started. I also ran into problems on how to share my tools, but thankfully I was able to share the links via the Chat box and a TodaysMeet backchannel I created for the webinar. The unexpected items made me flustered and I found myself stuttering a few times. Finally, I just took a deep breath, cracked some jokes, and got on with it!
  2. You can’t control everything, so go with the flow.
    • There were audio problems with some of the viewers. (Sorry, the studio told me that as a presenter, I have nothing to do with audio!) Towards the end of the webinar, one of my add-ons didn’t work. It was frustrating, but I understood that sometimes things go wrong, especially in a live webinar. I apologized, made more jokes, and followed up with the Google Document.
    • After some research on how to improve my webinar skills, I later picked up the tip on creating and emailing viewers PDF printouts of your webinar slideshow. It gives viewers something tangible to follow along with and write notes on.
  3.  You can’t make everyone like you, so go with the flow.
    • While a majority of my reviews after the webinar were positive, I did receive one negative review. The viewer stated I was disorganized, none of my tools worked, and that my webinar was no help at all. I was CRUSHED! My mind was like a pit bull gnawing incessantly on a bone; I kept playing it over and over in my head for a couple of days. Finally, I decided to spit it out and let it go. What was one negative review among many positives? It was my first webinar after all.
    • After some reflection, I do think that in my next webinar my first poll should ask teachers where they are on the instructional technology spectrum. I would also share with the viewers a preview of the tools I was going to talk about and ask them to rate them on how familiar they are with them. While I was clear about my webinar being an introductory session,  I can customize it on the spot depending on the viewers’ feedback.
  4. Do what you love and have fun!
    • I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow as a professional educator and presenter, and to be able to share my practices and passion for instructional technology with others. It was a fun first experience, and I look forward to putting together more webinars in the summer. As we teachers like to quip, practice makes perfect!


Webinar Google Slides:

Webinar Google Document:


How We Got Rid of Missing Homework (Excuses) With Google Forms


One of the things my middle school team and I struggled a lot with before holiday break was the high rate of students who did not turn in homework and assignments on time. At first, we created a Google Document that listed students and their missing work. The document was shared with the middle school teachers and Grades 6-8 students. Students who were listed on the document had to come in during lunch and recess for “lunch detention” to make up their missing work.

While the Google Document allowed us to keep track of assignments, it made more work for us as teachers. We rotated through lunch shifts so that one or more teachers had their homerooms open for students to make up missing work. Did we doom ourselves to eating lunch alone in the classroom, never to eat lunch together again in the faculty lounge?

I was determined not to work harder than my students, and to figure out a way to get back to that far-away faculty lounge!  After a long thoughtful conversation with the boss, I realized that if we teachers wanted our students to take more responsibility for their work (or lack of), we had to reach out to their parents and get them in on the action. Sure, we emailed and made phone calls, but the communication channels weren’t always immediate.

What if there was a way to log online when a student didn’t do his or her homework? What if parents received an automated email each time this happened? Parents could talk to their child about that assignment on that exact same day. It would be parents holding their own children accountable, and not a Google Document, or teachers eating lunch in their classrooms. We’d finally start getting more work in on time!

By December, I was already using Google Forms with the Flubaroo Add-On for short quick assessments in the science classroom. After Googling ideas, sure enough, there was such a way!

Through my Internet research, I came across Mr. Trussell’s 2014 blog post, “Setting Up A Form To Email Parents About Missing Homework“. Within two hours, I had a working “Missing Homework” Google Forms template and a parent email template! I shared them immediately with the middle school team when we returned from break, and we were ready to roll.

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Screenshot of the Missing Homework/Classwork Google Form


That weekend before the end of the holiday break, I wrote mass emails to parents in each grade introducing the Missing Homework form and automated notices. Within minutes, my inbox was flooded with enthusiastic responses from parents, who loved the idea. Needless to say, students were wary that first Monday back.

Each teacher has his or her own way of using the Missing Homework Google Form. I use it with my work iPad, walking around the room and collecting work individually as students work on bell-ringers. Other teachers bookmark it on their desktop computers and run the list of students missing work during one of their preps.

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Screenshot of the first email template

We middle school teachers have used the Missing Homework forms for a whole month now, and I’m glad to say that it has greatly reduced the amount of missing homework and assignments. In that first week of January, we had close to 30% of students not submit work on time. That number went down to 8% in just two days after those automated parent emails were generated.  Now, a full month later, we no longer see the same staggering amounts of students with missing work.

Since then, I’ve tweaked the Missing Homework Google Form a little bit in response to peer teacher and parent feedback. Specials teachers loved the Google Form and wanted to use it in their classes to notify parents of late classwork and projects. Those teachers’ names were added to the drop-down menus, and I edited the form to include classwork. Parents also wanted to know the names of the missing assignments, when the assignments were assigned, and what the assignment deadlines were. I changed the short answer textbox to long answer textbox so teachers could add the necessary information–they could be as brief or as detailed as they wanted!

One of the drawbacks of the Missing Homework Google Form was that the “Autocrat” Add-on does not automatically merge the spreadsheet, email template, and coding whenever I submit a log on the Missing Homework Google Form. Fortunately, I have the last prep of the day so I can set time aside to open up the Google Form and run the merge manually while I type up homework emails to teachers and text reminders (Remind) to parents for the day.

So that I don’t forget to do it, I used the “Form Notifications” Add-on on the Google Form itself to send me email notifications whenever there are five or more responses added to the Google Form by the other teachers.

Despite the heavy legwork upfront, the Missing Homework Google Form, and automated emails have greatly improved our parent-teacher communications. Parents love getting the emails, and we teachers have PDF records we can refer to back up student grades. In addition, the Google Form offers visual diagrams of student work through its summary of responses.

I wouldn’t say that we have completely eradicated students’ inability to turn work in on time as a team, but at least, I get the opportunity now to take a real lunch break!

How Google Classroom Saved My Sanity

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This year, I went from teaching one prep to four preps, ranging from 6th Grade Earth Science to 8th Grade Regents Living Environment. Imagine: new school setting, teaching three science subjects I have not taught before, and creating (not one, but four!) new curriculum guides from scratch (again! for the sixth year in a row!). Sounds daunting, eh? 


It was! WordPress likes to remind me that I wrote absolutely nothing during October and November. That’s because I was so busy trying to keep my head above the water! Even when I had planned out my units in advance, my time was eaten up trying to create new everything–interactive notebooks, lessons, labs, and assessments–for all four preps. (Thankfully, I have an amazing support system of people both at work and online via the NSTA science listserves. That first physics unit could’ve gone horribly wrong if it weren’t for those science packs and encouraging emails.)

One October day, I was at work very early to run copies for all preps. The old printer jammed! My heart jumped out of my throat. The other teachers were going to be there any minute now, and I just couldn’t be that teacher.  It was bad enough that I was the new teacher who was printing over a hundred copies; now I was the new teacher who was printing over a hundred copies who jammed the printer ten minutes before the first period. Needless to say, I was quite unpopular in the lounge room that day.

Enter Google Classroom.

I’d like to say something more witty and intellectual about why I started using Google Classroom, but honestly, at first, it was purely out of survival. I needed a way to 1) organize all my lessons for each class; 2) distribute all the materials (and have copies for those students who seem to lose everything) and; 3) find a system that would help me keep track of student work. I needed out of my relationship with that ornery printer ASAP.

With a 1:1 Google Chromebook program and a Google account at school, it seemed a no-brainer to set up multiple Google Classroom pages for each prep.  Of course, I had no idea how to use Google Classroom, but with Youtube tutorials and quick searches online, that was easily remedied. I set up my classes and rolled Google Classroom out the very next day. The students, of course, took it to immediately.  Why didn’t I think of this before?

Fast forward to the present with Google Classroom.

I’ve used Google Classroom for two months now, and I can’t imagine my life without it. Not only did Google Classroom help me get organized, but it also got me to a point where I’m teaching in an almost paperless classroom. (I say “almost” because I still have to print NYS Regents lab packets and foldables.) I no longer risk my life in the printer room!

In fact, just before Thanksgiving break, there was another big disastrous printer jam. For a second, I felt the old panic. What was I going to do? How was I going to teach? Didn’t I need to print out notes for a class? Then I realized, Wait! I have Google Classroom now! I don’t need to print anything! That was the day I learned how to make interactive notes via Google Documents and the Drawing tool, and posted them on Google Classroom. (Thank you, search engine gods, for leading me to Nick Mitchell’s blog, The Scientific Teacher, and his post on online interactice science notebooks.)

Oh, Google Classroom, let me count the ways I love you:

  • With you, I am able to create a transparent classroom and save precious chalkboard space by posting my learning objectives, class agenda/minutes, and homework reminders online.
  • With you, I am able to better organize and archive my lessons. I used to use EduSync’s TeacherCal app as an online lesson plan book, which was an external account. Now I can simply use Google Calendar in house to create individual pacing maps for each class, and post them on Google Classroom. Students know when I’m teaching different concepts, and what the due dates are for projects and assessments.
  • With you, I am able to provide a variety of learning materials to meet the different needs and preferences of my students. I can easily share PPTs, interactive Google Doc notes, videos, online CK12 e-text chapters (goodbye heavy textbooks!), simulations, and virtual labs with students. I can even upload my own Screencast-o-Matic short demo and tutorial videos to Google Drive and share them privately through Google Classroom. (Thanks to Richard Bryne at “Free Technology for Teachers” for that brief tutorial!)
  • With you, I am able to differentiate my instruction by integrating other Google apps and online tools, such as Google Drawing, Padlet, and Quizlet to engage and motivate my students.
  • With you, I am able to encourage more collaboration among students by creating jigsaw projects using Google Drawing, Google Slides, and Google Docs and posting those projects through Google Classroom. They’re now working harder than I am in the classroom!
  • With you, I am able to hold my students more accountable for their work. I can see who turned in their work on time! Students can no longer use the excuse that they lost their work or didn’t know where to find it because it’s all posted online. Sorry, Fido! Can’t eat digital files!
  • With you, I am able to communicate more information with families. I can check on the revision history on projects. I can even share missing assignments with parents and students!
  • With you, I am able to reduce my grading piles by creating individual copies of assignments via Google Classroom. No more papers! No more folders! Each student has his or her own folder online, which I can access anytime anywhere with Internet access.
  • With you, I am able to cut my grading time in half and  get immediate feedback to my students through Google Forms, and add-ons such as Flubaroo and Online Rubric. I can create more frequent formative assessments and more meaningful summative assessments from the real-time data. Plus, I love the histograms–I share them with my students so they can see their individual and whole-class progress.



Google Classroom has saved my sanity. I’m more organized, less stressed, (no longer unpopular in the lounge room?), and actually even more excited to learn more ways on how to use Google Classroom in my classroom.

I’m especially curious to see how other science teachers are using Google Classroom in their classroom to create flipped classrooms, create blended online learning environments (assignments online, labs in person?), and  encourage more collaborative work among students. Please comment and share with me your Google Classroom experiences!

Celebrating Blessings This Christmas Season


Hello, readers! Are you still out there? One of my goals this year was to try to blog more frequently. Obviously, that didn’t pan out very well since my last post dates back to September! To be perfectly honest, I thought about scrapping this blog a few times, but each time I think I’m going to do it, I come across an inspirational post from Vicki Davis or from one of the other teacher bloggers I follow and hold off. So, here I am, brushing off the dust on this poor blog and trying again!


With Christmas break coming up in a few days, there’re a lot of things going on at home and in school. It’s very easy to get lost in the busy-ness, and lose sight of what matters most during Advent and Christmas season. I think this is the perfect time for me right now to reflect, celebrate and appreciate all the blessings in my personal life and career.

After making the decision to decline a high-paying position and teach at a small private school, I initially worried that I may be making a financial mistake. These past few months, however, have taught me that there’s more to a good life than money. You can make lots of money and be miserable at work, or you can wake up and actually look forward going to work because you love what you do. You can’t put a price tag on that!

The new school not only provided me with a safe place to heal emotionally but also with multiple opportunities to experiment with creating a blended science learning environment through a 1:1 Google Chromebook program and Google Apps for Education. In just a couple of months, through the use of Google Classroom and other apps, my science classroom is almost paperless! My brain is constantly buzzing every waking moment, trying to learn new things and figuring out how I can apply it in my instruction. I am very fortunate to have students who are willing to try all my experiments!

Right now I am experimenting with different apps and add-ons such as Google Forms and Flubaroo to provide more frequent formative assessment, automize grading, and provide more immediate and timely feedback to students. It is so much fun being able to marry my passion for science and educational technology in the classroom!

In January, I begin a part-time position as an educational technology specialist for a local learning center where I share what I have used as a science teacher using web 2.0 tools and Google Apps with other teachers. It’s an exciting new challenge, but the idea of doing webinars is nerve-wracking! I’ve done short flipped videos for my students before, but the thought of teaching other adults live online makes my stomach flip!

It’s a blessing to be able to come home feeling good from work, and being able to devote more time to my family at home. There’s all this buzz about emotional productivity nowadays; they tell teachers to assess the emotional mood of the classroom to boost learning. I think that administrators should also be more aware of the emotional mood of their teachers too. A little support and encouragement go a long way to creating a productive, happy, and efficient team!


5 #EdTech Tools I’ll Be Using This New School Year


This year, I am very excited to be working at a school with a 1:1 Google Chromebook program. It will be a brand new adventure for me as I learn with my Grade 6 students on how to use the Chromebooks; experiment with learning management systems like Schoology for my Grades 7 and 8 students; create blended unit modules using paper interactive science notebooks and online simulations and labs; and figure out an efficient work flow with assessments and feedback.

I wasn’t able to experiment as much as I liked last year with #edtech tools, but I know right away that there are a handful I’d like to use again this upcoming school year. They worked really well for me, so I’m hoping they can be tools in my toolbox I can use again this year!

  1. Classroom Timers – Pacing is key when it comes to a good classroom. As a first year teacher, I struggled with this until someone mentioned using timers in the classroom. Now I plan out my activities and use timers to create a sense of urgency and keep my class on time so they’re set before the bell rings!
  2. Remind – With Remind, I am able to send daily text messages to parents about science homework, events and special reminders. This worked well last year because not everyone had access to email, but they all had a cell phone! Remind is web-based, so I can type up one message in the morning and send it out to different classes. We have homeroom teachers this year who will check student planners, but I think I will continue to use Remind. In fact, I’ll set up a QR sheet for Back To School Night for easy parent sign-up!
  3. ClassDojo – I rolled ClassDojo out as a behavior management system in the middle of the school year last year, and despite the late use, it worked wonderfully! Students and I had a conversation about desired behaviors and incentives and rewards for top performers in the science classroom. Students loved their “creatures” and worked hard to earn their points so they can customize them at home. They also loved seeing their points on the board while they worked in class–they worked really hard and competed with each other to earn the most points. CD also had a good communication system with parents so they too can see and keep track of their students’ behaviors and progress.
  4. DropBox – I had Dropbox account and a DropItToMe extension installed on my class wikispace. Boy did it come in very handy when my students and I worked in the computer lab! Most of the time I forgot to bring a flash drive so I could save students’ final projects, so DropBox was my lifeline. Students were able to upload their multimedia projects to me via DropBox, and I could access them instantly. With Chromebooks, I’m sure we’ll have Google Drive folders but I’d like to still have DropBox available for students in case of missed work or other projects that need to be turned in.
  5. Evernote – Evernote is like my digital notebook where I scribble everything in. I have it installed on my personal laptop, and I can sign on the website anywhere and access my notes, PDFs, receipts, etc. I’m really trying to go paperless as much as I can and Evernote allows me to do that by scanning all my papers, filing them away in Evernote, and adding multiple tags to them so I can find them again very easily. This year, I have my personal laptop, a work desktop, and a work iPad. I’m going to try to create most of my files in Google this year, but Evernote is my catch-all app so I have no doubt I’ll be using it too this year. #productivitywin

5 Ways To Keep Up Student Motivation During State Testing

It’s that time of year again—state testing! For months, teachers all over the country have tirelessly reviewed, practiced, and helped their students show off what my dear colleague, Robbi, would call their “AC”– academic confidence.

Last week, we finished three whole days of ELA testing. Naturally the girls were nervous, but their anxiety wore off as the clock ticked on. As I actively proctored and checked in on them, I was so proud to see so many of them using multiple ELA reading and writing strategies we have worked on together throughout the year. They were annotating passages, eliminating answers, and even writing short response checklists on the margins like pros!

For middle school students, sitting silently and testing for 90 minutes straight can be downright stressful. A grown adult can’t sit that long silently! Below are some things I have done to help alleviate that stress and help motivate my students during state testing.

1. Provide healthy breakfast snacks in homeroom during test prep. Even though our school provides students with healthy breakfasts, I also make sure to buy granola bars, muffins, go-gurts, and juice boxes for my homeroom kids. For some reason or other, some students miss breakfast in the cafeteria. When they have a full belly, it’s easier for them to focus on the test.

2. Post inspirational messages on the whiteboard under the Start and End times.  Pinterest is one of my favorite online go-to places to collect and print free beautiful motivational posters and quotes. also has freebie posters that you can use, such as this one that says “Stay Calm and Rock The Test!”

3. Pass out “brain mintsSome students just have a hard time staying awake during the entire testing period. Since they can’t leave the room for water or bathroom breaks during testing time, I discreetly place Life Savers Wintergreen mints on their desks. The mints help wake them up, and gets them back on track. I also pass them out to all the hard working students; they love getting little surprise treats as they’re working on their booklets.

4. Write positive feedback on tiny post-it notes and post it on a student’s desk. As I proctor, I take note of who’s working hard and what they are doing to be successful on the test. I write 1-2 sentences like, “I like the way you’re carefully annotating there! Keep it up!” I try to make sure each student has at least one post-it note, and do several rounds throughout the 90 minutes.

5. Make a list of “Bright Spots” and read them aloud to the class when they are finished testing and the test materials have been collected. As I proctor, I write down a list of who’s working hard and what type of strategies I observed them using during the test. For example, I’ll say, “I love how M.C. annotated vocabulary words, and how L.L. pushed herself to give four details instead of two in her short response essay.” I try to catch all students doing something well, and make a big show of how long my list is. Students love hearing their names, and they all celebrate each other’s hard work and perseverance on the state test. Even better, I share the list with the principal and she publicly acknowledges their hard work in front of everyone during our all-school morning meetings.

My students and I have had a rough year together with our pending school closing, but I know two things to be true facts. 1)They know they can count on me, and 2) I can trust them to pull through the hard times and do what they need to do!