Are You Ready To Save Money??

As promised…. I have a gift for you!

Just to recap- because I love all my readers and FB likers so much, I am giving you a code that gets you $5 off EVERY SINGLE PIECE you buy from Megan Rusek’s LulaRoe group starting Wednesday, November 8th through Friday, November 10th (2017!). If you know and love LulaRoe, great! If you’ve never tried it… now’s the time! If it’s not for you… what about your adorable kids? Why not, it’s on sale? =)

261

“Get to the code, Mikos.” OK- here it is: Refuse to Reinvent the Wheel appreciates me. Send Megan a message with that code and you get $5 off all the Lula.

DON’T FORGET! I will be raffling off LulaRoe gift cards on my Facebook page all week… If you haven’t already “liked” it, get to it to be eligible to win!

Thanks again so much for all of your support!

It’s Almost Giveaway Time!

so-very-thankful

I am so very thankful that anyone wants to read what I write. I appreciate all of the teachers out there who give me their feedback, collaborate, and inspire me. As a small token of my gratitude, I have posted a giveaway on my Facebook page at Thanksgiving the past 2 years. (BTW- if you haven’t checked out and “liked” my Facebook page, stop on by! I am much more active there because I have time to write 1 sentence much more often than full blog posts. Click here!)

The past 2 years I raffled off custom lanyard keychains in the winner’s school colors. This year, I’m upping my game! A friend of mine recently started selling LulaRoe…. she is married to a teacher, so we can trust her. 😉 She has agreed to do a LulaRoe sale sponsored by Refuse to Reinvent the Wheel. Ok, I know. I’m giving you the opportunity to spend money…. that’s the opposite of a raffle.

Stay. With. Me.

For the 3 days of the sale (November 8-10, mark your calendars), I will have a “discount phrase” posted here on my blog. If you send her a message with that code, you will get $5 off EVERY PIECE you buy!! AAANNNNDDDDD- I will be raffling off TWO gift certificates for LulaRoe from Megan Rusek on my Facebook page (seriously, go like it now!). So there, that’s how much I love you! =)

In Conclusion : If you haven’t seen/liked me Facebook page, here it is. Go join Megan Rusek’s LulaRoe Facebook group so that you’re ready when the big day comes. Mark your calendars for the LulaCash giveaways and sale on November 8-10.

As always, THANKS for stopping by! =)

My Favorite Use of Wikipedia

Do your students just love Wikipedia? Do they love competitions? Do you want to see how much they know about a topic before you start and are sick of pre-tests? Are you looking for opportunities to further challenge your students that finish their work early or who are ready to move on while others in the class need another round of review?

If your answer to any of those questions was yes, then this is the blog post for you! Once again, this is not my original brain child. I don’t remember exactly where I heard about this, so if it was you then thanks. There are so many ways that you can use this technique and your students will find it strangely addicting.

I call these Wiki Relays. The idea is to get from one Wikipedia page to another in as few links as possible. Seems simple enough, right? The trick is you have to go in ahead of time and make sure there are no direct links between the two pages. This forces students to think about which links they should click that might take them in the right direction.

For example, if the task was to get from the Wikipedia page on dogs to the one on elephants:

Inkedwiki 1_LI

Here’s the page on dogs. There are no direct links you can click to take you to the page on elephants. But maybe you click the link to “Mammalia”….

Inkedwiki 2_LI

There’s no text/word link to elephants… but students might figure out that the pictures are links too! And what do we have here? A picture of elephants! CLICK.

wiki 3

And in 2 clicks, here we are on a Wikipedia page on elephants. That would be the shortest number possible.

You would think that the more students know about a topic, the shorter the number of clicks because they should know which ones will lead them in the right direction. But sometimes the link they think will get them there doesn’t… and around and around they go. They get frustrated, but can’t stop. It can actually be quite entertaining to watch. And what the kids don’t see is that you are watching their every click in the name of formative assessment! Have them write down every page they click on so that you can see who did it in the shortest number of links and give that student a prize, but also so that you can see their process. Are they just randomly clicking links? Do they have any idea what the connection between the blood and iron is? Do they know a lot about that connection and can’t decide which link will be the best?

Added bonus- you can introduce students to the Ctrl+F function (also known as how I got through graduate school). Instead of reading (change that- skimming) the entire page, if they think they know a word that might connect the two pages they can just use Ctrl+F to search for it! It’s such a valuable tool that hopefully they will take into other digital research assignments too!

Have you used Wiki Relays in your classes? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by! =)

Velcro Vocab Folder Puzzle Thingies!

Last summer, my (then) 3 year old went to nature camp at our local forest preserve. As a warm up activity, they had the kids match pieces of butterfly pictures that were velcroed to a manila folder. Brilliant!

Though I thought my high schoolers might appreciate the simplicity of butterfly pictures (and maybe they’d actually appreciate the brain break), clearly I would have to make them more challenging. And what’s more challenging than scientific word parts?? So here’s what I created:

I printed out a bunch of scientific words split into two parts with the meaning next to each word.

FullSizeRender 1

Then I cut them all out and glued the first part of each word to an old manila folder (I had a ton laying in a drawer from activities I no longer use and I just couldn’t bear to throw them out…. ). Then I laminated the folder and all the loose pieces.

I bought a roll of Velcro that’s sticky on both sides and cut it into small pieces. Then I attached all of the loose pieces and their matching Velcro to the folder.

 

IMG_4290

Yes, I see the wrong definition is attached to the last one… but it’s already summer and they’re at school so you’re not getting a new picture. 😉

 

I tore off all the velcroed pieces and stored them in the folder (make sure you paper clips the sides shut so they don’t fall out and get lost).

FullSizeRender

I made 20 of these. You can hand kids a folder as they walk in the door to get their brains going. I have the pile sitting in a spot students can get to if they finish their work early. It’s so simple. The kids are not intimidated by it. If they get one wrong, just peel it off and fix it. Teaching kids scientific word parts is tough because they are so detached from the words. But the more they use them, the stronger their vocab skills become.

My next step- make another set for my A&P students with medical terms! You could use these Velcro folder puzzles in just about any class: English with characters or details from a book, math with numbers and have the kids create their own problems, chemistry to balance equations…

*UPDATE: I used the words from my B1 Word Parts power point. I just copied/pasted. We go over these words in class and students write them all in the notebook, so they’ve seen the words before (or at least will before the end of the year….). Feel free to use the power point!

How would you use them? Comment below with your thoughts! Thanks for stopping by! =)

Bringing in the Big Guns

This post has nothing to do with actual guns. Sorry (or you’re welcome). I’m talking about the “big guns” of information. Yes; real, live human beings that are experts in their field.

I’m a huge advocate for field trips. Any time that you can get your kids out into the real world and let them experience something for themselves outside of the classroom, do it. But I’m also a huge advocate for reality. You can’t take them on field trips for every unit of every class (man, wouldn’t that be awesome though??). Field trips take LOTS of planning, and can be expensive, and when you teach in the middle of no where (like I do) you tend to spend more time on the bus than at the intended destination. Not to mention that when you take the kids out for one class, they’re missing out on the rest of their classes. But I still love field trips.

I also love guest speakers. When you choose the right speaker (trust me, not everyone is cut out to entertain a large group of teenagers…), they can really enrich your curriculum. The kids trust that this person must know what they are talking about and therefore trust what they’re saying (dare I say as much as they trust Google?). Having a live guest speaker gives students the chance to interact and ask questions as they come up with them. It also lets students see that whatever it is they are learning about in class is also a real thing outside of your classroom! But again, there are downsides. I teach 3 or 4 sections of freshmen bio (depending on the year), and they are never back to back in the day. So it is usually not realistic to ask a speaker to stay for all 4 sections. Instead, I combine all my kids into one hour to hear the speaker. But this means they’re missing other classes again. Plus, teaching in the middle of nowhere makes it tough to find speakers that are willing to make the hike all the way out to us.

So while I still use field trips and guest speakers once or twice a year, I’ve found a way to bring in experts much more often: YouTube Live. Depending on the unit we are studying, I find 2 or 3 experts in the field. Honestly, one of the best ways to find these people is just to ask around on social media (“anyone know an oncologist?”) and you’ll be shocked how many of your friends have useful connections! Added bonus: you get to talk to speakers from all over the country/world, not just the ones that are in your school’s area (I teach in IL and have recorded with people from CO, NY, FL, and IN). video shot 3

While my kids are working on their unit project, I have them do some initial research and then give me all their questions. I tell them to ask anything that they don’t know or read, but don’t understand. Then I compile those questions into 3 to 5 categories or over-arching questions and record a Google Hangout through YouTube Live with my experts. They answer their questions in terms that my students can understand and I can ask follow up questions for clarification. I have to admit, I really love these opportunities for my own learning, too! I can record the video whenever is convenient for the experts (usually at night, though sometimes you get lucky and a zoologist wants to record while they’re working like the one seen below!) and then my students can watch it whenever is convenient for them. Think of it like a personalized, way more reliable Google search.

video shot 1

You should definitely give this a try! I set my videos to “unlisted” so you can’t search for them on YouTube, but I can send my students the link. And setting it all up does take some time to learn, so I suggest trying out some dry runs with your friends or family. Make sure you’re in a space with reliable, strong internet (otherwise the sound will get…. wonky) and set your camera up at eye-level (or at least check for bats in the cave.).

Like anything else, some kids really love these expert videos and get a lot out of them. Others can’t be bothered to care. But the more in your arsenal (metaphorically, of course), the better!

I’d love to hear how you use this technique in your classroom… don’t forget to comment! =)

Teaching Teachers: Professional Developments that Work!

I am a PD junkie. No, correction: I am a good PD junkie. There is nothing better than coming together with teachers from different schools, backgrounds, and views on education to improve our craft. These great PDs encourage me to continue learning new content. They make me excited to try new methods and ideas in my classroom. They make me want to be a better teacher.

And there is nothing worse than a one-size-fits-all required PD. If I have to sit in an auditorium with hundreds of other teachers and get a “pep-talk” from one more person (with no background in education), I just might lose my mind. And those online, mandated videos…. They are the worst.

But let’s keep this positive and focus on the good PDs. The ones that make my heart do little cartwheels…. Data shows that teachers need PD that is tailored to their specific situation (whether that be grade level, content, student demographics, etc.). Think of all the changes we as educators are facing today: new standards galore across multiple content areas, technology out the wazoo, and new information (climate change, anyone?) just to name a few. So teachers should be allowed (and encouraged) to choose the PDs that they need. Depending on the size of the district, some teachers might have great PD opportunities in their building. Others might have to go off campus- neither has been shown to be more effective, so don’t stress over that. However, many teachers have expressed that either way, they don’t want their PD run by their own administrators. Many do not see them as experts and the stress of evaluations takes away from the sense of “just try this and see how it goes”. There are also tons of great online opportunities for PD, allowing teachers to work at their own pace and tailor it to their personal needs and interests. But there are also some less than wonderful online options.

The beauty of PDs is that they really depend on teachers to make them better. Bouwma-Gearhart explained that “quality increases future involvement” and vice-versa. If there are great PDs out there, we need to make sure that other teachers know about them. And the more teachers that attend the PDs they want to, the more encouraged these organizations will be to improve what they are providing. That’s why I’m writing this post; to share quality PDs.

pd

I have been so lucky to have had some amazing PD opportunities, but it was definitely work on my part to find them. And every time I return and tell my colleagues about these amazing experiences, they always ask the same thing. “How did you find out about this?” Like I said, I’m a junkie. I am on a ton of email listservs and social media sites and apply for any PD that involves travel (my other weakness). So here are some great PDs that you should check out!

CDC Science Ambassador   

This one is seriously amazing. I attended this week long PD in the summer of 2015. You spend 5 days at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta working with other teachers and CDC scientists to develop curriculum you (and any other teacher) can use in your own classroom. You also have the chance to sit in on training for the EIS officers (some of which truly changed to way I teach!). This program is open to 6th-12th grade teachers and the application deadline (for the 2017 program) is February 15, 2017!

Wells Fargo Regional Sustainability Teachers’ Academy (with Arizona State University)

This program comes highly recommended from a fellow teacher! These two-day workshops are open to teachers in grades 5-9 who are looking to implement improved curriculum in sustainability that can impact not only their schools, but the entire community. Workshops are held multiple times a year in different locations throughout the country and participating teachers are eligible to receive up to $300 to get the program started at their school. Application dates vary depending on the location and date of the workshop.

Teacher Classes at Brookfield Zoo

Another highly recommended program from several teachers I know in the Chicagoland area. These 2 day programs are aligned to NGSS and offered twice a month. They cover a variety of topics and grade levels. Each program is $160, with the option of grad credit for an additional $100. However, they run several discounts throughout the year. I haven’t attended one of these… yet. But they are definitely on my to-do list! They sound like an amazing way to get content knowledge from the experts, plus I’m sure your students will think you’re some kind of rock star when you share your experience with them!

Teacher Courses at the Museum of Science and Industry

Are you ready for this? FREE PD! I know some of us are fortunate enough to have PDs paid for, or at least get reimbursed for them. I also know some teachers have to use their sick days to attend PDs (not to mention pay for it themselves). MSI Chicago is so teacher friendly. These free programs are aimed at teachers in grades 4-8 and are aligned to NGSS. Courses are offered year round, and application due dates are in May and August.

I hope this gives you a place to start (or continue) your great PD search. I would love to expand out to other topics and locations. So if you have other suggestions for PDs that you’d recommend, please leave them in the comments!

Refuse to be another “burned out” teacher.

I’m not going to say that I’m burned out, but I feel myself moving in that direction. And it breaks my heart. I’ve been hearing and reading about teacher burn out since I started teaching 8 years ago. I said to myself, “That won’t be me. I love teaching. I love my kids. I love the people I work with .” And all of that is still true, yet I feel myself getting sucked into the angry mob of burned out teachers.

Statistics show this issue is not getting better. In fact, according to a study discussed in NPR’s recent Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It’s Time to Address the National Teacher Shortage”, nearly 8 percent of all working teachers (over 100,000 teachers nationwide) are leaving the profession every year. And less than a third of them are retiring. The US Department of Education also recently released a study showing that 17 percent of new teachers do not make it more than 5 years in the profession. This particular study tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, saying that the percentage is significantly less than previously quoted. But the down side is that the number is increasing every year (as shown in their data).

I’m sure that any of you reading this post (I’m assuming mostly current teachers) are aware of all the causes of teacher burn out. Things like budgets (or lack there of), mandates and standards, and administration from the federal to state to local levels that are unsupportive and not properly trained. I don’t want to go into them here…. because they bum me out. I don’t have the answer to those problems. What I want to focus on is how we, as teachers, can keep our candles burning a little bit longer in spite of all those problems.

candle

My first recommendation is to take of charge of what you have control over: yourself. So many teachers get so caught up in everything we are doing for our students, our families, our schools, and our communities that we forget about or just don’t have time for ourselves. There’s a reason I haven’t posted here in 4 months. I’m literally just too busy. I’m a mother of two little ones, I’m in grad school, I’m teaching, and I’m attempting to be a good wife, friend, and daughter. And I know I’m not the only one in this chaotic boat. A few weeks ago, I told my husband that I just literally couldn’t keep this pace up anymore. I needed a night off. Thankfully, he’s a wonderfully understanding human. I booked a room at a local hotel on a Friday night a few weeks later and spent the night with… myself. It was PERFECT. I ordered pizza, drank wine, and watched two whole uninterrupted movies. In the morning (after sleeping a solid 9 hours) I drank coffee and read my book. I went home a much more rested, happy, and patient person. And that carried into my teaching on Monday. It let me clear my mind and just unplug for a while. Maybe just a night at home will work for you. Or go out to dinner with friends. Find whatever YOU love to do, and do it. You deserve it.

My second recommendation is to be friends with the people you work with. And do things that friends do. Go out to eat. Let your kids hang out together. Meet up for drinks. There have been some big changes in staff and administration in my building over the last few years. With so many new faces coming in, it can be hard to find someone to turn to when I’m having one of THOSE days. And when you just bottle it up (even just until you get home), it’s never good. Teachers need to work as a team in order for a school to be successful. Being friends with your colleagues, not just “the teacher down the hall” goes a long way in reducing stress levels. And maybe even more importantly, the kids pick up on it. When you are standing in the hall talking and laughing like friends, the kids see the teachers are a team. I think it goes a long way towards building that sense of “community” that we all want in our buildings.

Lastly, you’ve got to keep the kids as the top priority. Seems simple enough. I spend 7 hours a day looking at them. But you have to find the good in them and remind yourself how awesome/funny/creative/amazing they are. This year I have started pushing myself to write down the little things. I have a clipboard with all 7 rosters (including my study hall) that I keep in my top desk drawer. When I see them do something good (ie. asked for help, brought in supplies for a lab when no one else did, pushed themselves in class), I jot it down. Then on Friday, I go through my list and email their parents with what I saw. Sometimes I get a response, sometimes I don’t. That’s not what’s important. It’s really about being more conscious of the good things and sometimes that means I have to look really closely. But it’s there. I’ve also had a LOT more one on one after class chats with students this year. I want them to see I’m on their side and that I believe in them. It also gives me the chance to see them as people, not just students, and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.

It’s really easy… REALLY EASY to get lost in this burn out spiral. And it seems, from personal experience, that the more you let yourself focus on the problems (especially the ones that we don’t have direct control over) the harder it gets to stop. This isn’t me saying “get over it”. There are legitimate problems educators are facing today. And I have lots of thoughts on those… maybe another post. But while we are dealing with those problems, we have to keep our candles burning.

I hope these tips are helpful to someone out there. If you have other suggestions, by all means share it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!