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.

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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!

To Give Full Credit, or Not to Give Full Credit…

…That is the question.

I realize that late work is a touchy subject for some teachers. We all have various policies, and some schools have a blanket policy for all teachers. But this is my policy that I have adapted and changed over the years. I finally have a plan that I really like, so I want to share it with you.

Until a few years ago, my policy was any homework turned in late was worth 60% of the total points (our lowest D is a 70). So I would grade it, and as long as they got a 60% or higher, that was their grade. If they got 59% or lower, then I gave them that grade. What I did not like about this policy was that when I (or a parent, administrator, or student) looked back at the gradebook, you couldn’t tell if the low score was the result of incomplete work, the student not comprehending the task, or just that it was late. And then I had a group of students that forced me to change (so looking back, thanks kids). Their mindset was that it was better to turn in work incomplete (and I’m talking REALLY incomplete) than to get points off for being late. I’ve gone to great efforts to make sure that any homework I assign is enrichment and will help the students deepen their understanding. It’s never busy work or just because I feel the need to take up every free moment they have. So because they weren’t completing the work, they weren’t getting the information. And everything else they were doing in class was suffering as well.

So I had two big issues here; getting kids to complete the work and being able to tell if students were getting the knowledge and skills. Here’s what I now use: I will accept all late work until the day of the test for full credit (see, controversial… I warned you), but I will not accept ANY incomplete work. If a student hands in an incomplete assignment, I hand it back to them and explain the value of the work and that it’s worth more complete and late than the other way around. I rarely have a student hand in incomplete work more than once.

Now before you go thinking I’ve lost my mind, yes, I do know that turning work in on time is an important life skill. So when I say they get full credit for late work, that’s a tiny bit untrue. I keep a separate grade in the gradebook for “on-time” points. They get 15 points per quarter. Any time they turn in something late (or without a name), they lose one of those points. So there is an incentive for turning your work in on time, but turning in one or two late won’t trash your grade. It also makes it super easy to look at the gradebook and see if a student’s grade is low because they aren’t doing well on the assignment (which was complete, of course) or because they turned work in late.

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This policy has been working really well for me and my students. I know that in a perfect world, students would do their work well, on time, and completely finished. But this isn’t a perfect world. So for me, it is about choosing which skills are the most important (and realistic) for my kids and putting my emphasis there. I hope this is helpful to some of you. I’d love to hear your class policies in the comments!

Collaboration Concept Maps

We just finished final exams at my school (though my grading is far from done….). I usually dread the days leading up to exams because I find that the kids are as bored with reviewing as I am, though it is a necessary evil. I’ve tried review games, but find that the kids don’t really get as much out of them as I’d like. But this year I found an activity that I really like!

I’m always shooting for the application end of my content, not just memorization of facts. So on those review days, I handed each student an index card as the walked in. I had marked each card with a colored line (I had 4 or 5 colors). Then each student chose 5 words to write on their card. They had to choose words from the section of the study guide that was due that day (I had not collected the study guide yet). I advised them to choose words they understood since they were going to have to use them.

Then the students were grouped according to the colors of their card. They compared their lists and replaced any repeats. Then each group was given a posterboard and created a concept map using their words. Creating the map itself is tough for them when it’s from scratch and there are no bubbles to fill in. But the struggle is worth it.

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The next day we started the same way with new cards for everyone. This time they were in different groups, so when it came time for the concept map they had to choose a random one that was started the day before and figure out how to fit today’s words in it. This was a lot harder for them since they may not totally understand the words that were already on the poster, but it was beneficial for them to see what they really did and did not understand. They also had to not only know the meaning of the words (memorization), but be able to relate those words to other words (application).

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The third day was the same routine; card, 5 words, groups, concept maps. By the end, students were comfortable explaining words or concepts they understood to their group members that didn’t. And I always feel like they’re more willing to learn from their peers than from a teacher. This was, in my opinion, a much better use of review time!

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How do you review for finals?

By Popular Demand!

A while back I wrote about turning my classroom into bakery. Here’s the original post: Let Them Eat Bread  Since then, I’ve had a lot of people ask for the document I used for the yeast lab. I apologize that it took me forever to post it, but better late than never. So here it is: YeastLab. I have my students do a formal lab report with this one. Their initial hypotheses are usually all over the place, and someone always says the salt will kill the yeast.

This year I used both the yeast tube lab and the bread baking in our cellular respiration unit. I started the unit by having them write in their journals in response to “Why does bread dough rise?”. It was important to emphasize to them to just write whatever they thought. This gave me a good idea what their pre-conceptions were, but also allowed me to show growth throughout the unit. After baking the bread, they had a one question quiz. “Write one paragraph explaining why bread dough rises.” They had to include the words cellular respiration, yeast, glucose, and carbon dioxide. I graded them not by marking their answers right or wrong, but by asking questions. Then I put them into pairs based on their scores and had them revise together to raise their scores. I feel like they got a lot more out of it this year.

If you try it out, let me know what works and what doesn’t. I really appreciate your feedback!  Happy Baking!!

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A Blog About a Blog!

I’ve been a member of the Life Science Teacher Resource Center since last spring. I completed their scholar program which taught me the ins and outs of the site and was then asked to return as a mentor for the new scholars over the summer. As part of that program, I was also asked to be a guest blogger on the LifeSciTRC. I’m so proud of the work I did over there that I want to share it here!

   Get Your Students to Gobble Up Reading

A lot of the ideas I discuss there, I’ve already introduced here on my blog…. you know… refusing the reinvent the wheel!

But seriously, check out their site. There are THOUSANDS of awesome lesson plans and classroom resources on there. And it’s all FREE! The community isn’t very active, which I really wish it was because I feel like it could be such a  valuable resource within itself. But hey, if you join too feel free to jump in! Maybe I’ll see you there!

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Unleashing Student Creativity

It’s back to school time. I’ve had my students back for a full week and so far, so good! I’m really making an effort to encourage students to be more creative in my biology classes and prove that they understand the concepts and not just memorized facts. I wanted to hit the ground running with all the review and beginning of the year topics (ie. scientific method & lab safety).

  As my students came in the room, I had a power point rolling through lab safety memes I found on the internet. Here were a few of my favorites….

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As a class we came up with a list of important lab rules and wrote them on the board. I made sure we hit all the big ones, but also allowed pretty much anything (ie. “No twerking in the lab”). They completed the lab safety symbols list in their science notebooks ….

IMG_1437Then they worked in partners to create their own lab safety meme. I gave them a bunch of magazines they could cut up. Some chose to print pictures off the internet. One group even took a picture of themselves on the iPad, uploaded to google drive, then printed it out. These turned out so much better than I hoped! The ones below are my favorites. I’m going to laminate them and hang them in my room forever!!

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Review Days- More Than Just Jeopardy

My exit slips... thank god for post its!

My exit slips… thank god for post its!

I’ve been doing some pre-school year planning this week… can you believe it’s time already? This week I put together a list of review activities. Like most teachers, I have a go to review game that the kids love (hint- they get to throw things). I put them in groups and ask them questions. If they get it right, they can throw a suction cup ball at my lab tables (which of course need to be cleared off!) to multiply their points depending on which table they hit. This past year I made the addition of letting them either add the points to their score… or take them away from another team. Survivor meets bio class! They love it (again, they can throw things…. AND be vengeful)! But I decided that most teams just rely on one person and not everyone participates.

So here are some new ideas I came up with…. for most of these, I would put them in pairs or small groups depending on the class size.  I plan to use these the day or two before the test.

  • Create review presentation or video:  It could be about the whole unit or pick a specific concept for each group. They could present it to the class and/or could post it on the class website for others to view and use to review for the test.
    •  Side Note: Whenever I have them do presentations as a group, I make them give me a print off and initial on whatever parts they are responsible for. This way they all participate. And more than once I have had students come to me and tell me “so-and-so” didn’t really do their part.
  • Present current event story to class: We all love written articles (ahem, Common Core), but I also let them use online videos (from a credible source, of course) or they can do a write-up from a news cast. They can turn in a summary, relate it to what we learned in class, and then tell their classmates about it.
  • Write test questions & answers: Once in a while, I use them on the actual test. Rarely on the test they are about to take because I have to have it done further in advance in order for special ed. teachers to have time to modify. But I can always make changes for next year. I could also have them use them in class to review with each other.
  • Create review worksheet or group activity: Again, I will hold on to the good ones and can use them next year. My students are sometimes surprisingly creative! But I can make a few copies and they can do them together in class or can post to the website for other students to use when reviewing for the test.

I’m thinking I can have a few students complete each task, then put them in groups with people from different activities to present what they’ve done instead of presenting to the whole class.

What review ideas do you love??  And good luck with the new school year!

Biology Bell Ringers

Picture1Just a quick post today while my little one naps!

I have my students (in all my classes) keep biology journals. Originally, this was part of their notebook. But I found it SO time consuming to sit and go through 130 notebooks. And since there is no way I am bringing them home, I had to stay after school for hours to work on them.

So now, they do their journals on GoogleDocs. This system is so much better. I can grade them from the comfort of my sofa & sweats. They use the same document all year, just add to it each time. This also gives me a running document of their work throughout the year. I have 13 iPads in my room all the time, which is great. I can tell them to get logged in as they walk in the door. Having said that, 5 of my 6 classes have more than 13 students. So this means they have to take turns and I have to have something else ready for them to work on (which sometimes is as simple as review what we did yesterday). And then there are the kids who can’t log in, for whatever reason (seriously, how do you forget your password everyday?). So once in a while I will allow a student to just write their response on a paper and turn it in, but I really try to avoid that!

I require a minimum 2-3 sentence response from students. I try my best to go through and write a response to each student, but sometimes its just not possible. But it’s a great way to see if your kids are comprehending and learn a little about them at the same time.

So here are most of my journal prompts. I say most because sometimes I just make them up as we go along. These cover everything from characteristics of living things to specific organ systems. I also throw in a few pictures that I think are funny. Sometimes I just want to see if they get it…..

Here you go!     Bell Ringers

If you have other ideas for journals, I would LOVE to hear them!

When All Else Fails, Show a Video!

 

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“Just show a video.” What teacher hasn’t heard that? And let’s be all honest, we’ve all said it from time to time. I have the Planet Earth DVDs and season 1 of Bones in my desk, ready to go at a moment’s notice! But I noticed last year that I don’t have the time to show full 90 (or even 30) minute videos anymore (not really sure why, but probably has something to do with adding more detail to my curriculum, plus more research days for student projects, not to mention time for things like local assessments).
But the students love to watch videos! And sometimes I just need a few minutes to do something else. So what I have started doing in finding litle clips (usually around 5 minutes) that I can use at pretty much any time. Sometimes they’re an introduction, sometimes a review. Other times I just like to play something silly while they are walking in the door (check out the rollar skating babies singing about fetal circulation…). It takes a lot of time to find and collect these videos (thank you Pinterest). And if I tried to stream them at school…. forget about it. So I use a youtube downloader to save everything. Makes life easy. Here are some that I love:

http://www.youtube.com/user/scishow SciShow Channel- TONS of videos on TONS of concepts. And he’s funny (but possibly the fastest talker alive).

http://www.youtube.com/user/AsapSCIENCE ASAP Science- One of my absolute favorites. Again, they’re funny and my kids love that. WORD OF ADVICE- Watch the video all the way through! Not all topics are “school appropriate”, depending on the grade you teach. There is a preview of the next episode at the end of each video… I played “Margarine vs. Butter” in class and at the end it says check out our next clip- “The Science of Pornography”….. “Mrs. M, what’s pornography?” Me: “Ask your mother, wait. NO DON’T”

http://www.youtube.com/user/AmoebaSisters Amoeba Sisters: Cute animations and language that my students can understand. Who doesn’t love little colorful critters telling you about meiosis??

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3EED4C1D684D3ADF Crash Course Biology: Same guy from SciShow, but usually more detail here. Sometimes a little higher level than my kids get, but never hurts to expose them to more information!

http://www.youtube.com/user/TEDEducation/featured TED-ed. (TED talks) If you’ve never looked at TED talks, they’re amazing! So many different topics it can be a black hole I often get sucked in to, but I’m not complaining.

http://www.youtube.com/user/sciencestatedclearly/featured  Stated Clearly. Good explanations on a variety of bio topics. All animated.

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFC4EE4355ADEBDB1 The Symphony of Science. LOVE THIS. They take speeches from real scientists and remix them. My kids don’t quite know what hit them when I play them.

Now on to specific videos…..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B2xOvKFFz4  “7 Billion People: Are You Typical” from Nat. Geo. Not the most biological, but the kids think it’s really interesting. Good bell ringer! I use it for genetics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zGbibn5xmY  “10 Extremely Dangerous Insects” The name says it all.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmFEoCFDi-w “How Do Cancer Cells Behave DIfferently than Healthy Ones” A TED-ed video. Love it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBTnVoEIb98 “Renewable vs. Nonrenewable energy” Stop motion video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBBGKx65Ygg “The How, Why, and How Much of Oil” From SciShow. You already know how I feel about them….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWZG50VD9_o “Stalking the Wild Mushroom” From Science Friday (who you should also check out….). My kids like that the guy is a little….. cooky.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJvAL-iiLnQ “The Glucose Song” Silly. Great bell ringer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSbbDnbSEyM “The Circulatory System Rap” Scientifically accurate sillines. If I can get kids rapping along at the end, it makes my day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SdCoNpDzqw  “How Special are your Physical Traits?” Weird genetic traits. Good reinforcement that dominant does not necassarily mean more common.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPimn229Ezg  “The Chemistry of Chili” Haven’t had time to look into the whole channel, but this one is really interesting on why chili is “hot”. Something my students always ask when we study the sense of taste.

 

I realize that’s a lot, so thanks for sticking with me. If you have clips you LOVE please share them in the comments!