What You Missed This Summer – BOY Ideas

I know that my readership takes a dip June-August each year as many educators go on vacations or take breaks during those months.  Although I did not post as regularly as I meant to this summer, I did share some resources that I believe are worth repeating in case you missed them.  I am going to spend this week spotlighting some of those.

Here are some ideas I mentioned this summer that can help you and your students to get to know each other so you can develop great relationships at the Beginning Of the Year.

Chat Pack for Kids – Great icebreaker, attendance, and transition time questions that kids love to ponder!

#Awards – I used this idea, originally from Joelle Trayers, at the end of last school year, but it could also be an illuminating activity for the first week of school.

MyRebus – You and your students could create rebuses of two lies and a truth, a simple sentence about their summer, etc…  Also fun to create codes for BreakoutEdu.

Me – The User Manual – If you could give someone a set of instructions for interacting with you, what would you say?  This idea is a fun way to summarize what people need to know about you.

Week of Inspirational Math #3 – Kick off your school year by developing positive mathematical mindsets with these activities for K-12.

DreamBingo – Help middle and high school students develop specific goals to work toward this year as they learn about the “life skills” that are required for successful careers.

Did you already start your school year?  That doesn’t mean you can’t use any of these! Developing and maintaining relationships should happen throughout the term, not just at the beginning.

image from Pixabay

What You Missed This Summer – Jennie Magiera

I know that my readership takes a dip June-August each year as many educators go on vacations or take breaks during those months.  Although I did not post as regularly as I meant to this summer, I did share some resources that I believe are worth repeating in case you missed them.  I am going to spend this week spotlighting some of those.

When I wrote about Jennie Magiera’s ISTE 2017 Keynote earlier this summer, I was hoping that there would be an official YouTube video that I could share with you by the time the new school year began.  However, that doesn’t appear to be the case.  So, I will refer you back to the Periscope I mentioned in my first post (Jennie’s portion begins at about the 25 minute mark).

Jennie spoke at ISTE in June when I still hadn’t had time to relax from the previous school year – yet I left her presentation wishing that I start my new school year right away.  I promised myself that I would watch her speech again in August to be sure that I would be energized when I return to work.

If you are interested in re-kindling the magic that inspires teachers to take their students on adventures, then you should watch Jennie Magiera.


How to Talk to Parents (Reblog)

This is a reblog of a post that I wrote earlier this year, but I thought it might be fitting to repeat since many of us are beginning new school years.

This morning, Edutopia published my post, “New Teachers: How to Talk to Parents.”  I feel uncomfortable giving advice on anything because I certainly don’t consider myself an expert.  Even after 26 years of teaching, I know that I have a lot to learn.  But I have a few Oprah-ish, What-I-Know-For-Sure truths that I have collected throughout my career – and I can tell you that I Know For Sure that developing a positive relationship with the parents of my students goes a long way toward developing a positive relationship with the students.

image from Innovation_School on FlickrInnovation_School on Flickr

How to Stop Giving Meaningless Homework

It was about this time last year when I gave my opinion about homework.  To summarize briefly, I think that many homework assignments are a waste of time for the student, teacher, and parents.  I feel that it’s okay for me to criticize homework because I’ve seen it from all three sides.  I used to feel righteous as a teacher when I assigned homework to my 5th graders, but I now realize that a little self-reflection would have shown me that it did not in any way improve the learning success of my students.  If anything, it created more friction in my classroom as I became increasingly frustrated with students who repeatedly didn’t complete it – and my students became increasingly frustrated with my inexplicable need for them to live up to my controlling expectations.  As this article states, homework in elementary school has been shown to have no positive impact, but can very well contribute to negative attitudes toward school.

Many top educators, such as Alice Keeler (co-author of Ditch That Homework, along with Matt Miller), and Pernille Ripp, advocate for eliminating homework.  I have been seeing more and more articles like this one from the Huffington Post about teachers, and even entire school districts, who have determined that they will no longer assign homework. It’s becoming apparent that the appeal of homework is shrinking, particularly for those who want to reform education in a way that is more student-centered and relevant.

I don’t like extremes, so I imagine that if we eliminate homework altogether the pendulum will eventually swing in the other direction.  My feeling is that, if you are going to give homework, please make it meaningful.  Consider the different abilities of your students, the different ways they spend their time after school, and the different levels of support they receive at home.

I know many of the reasons that I used to give for the “necessity” of homework, so I made an infographic to help those of you who find it difficult to let go.  As you think about what is best for your students this school year, I hope that you will consider spending more time on finding ways to connect with your students and advance their learning than on chasing after incomplete work.

Homework Alternatives (1).jpg


The mission at DreamWakers.org is to connect students in 4th-12th grades who attend high-risk schools with professionals from various industries through video conferencing. In this way, low-income students can learn about career opportunities they might never conceive due to lack of exposure.  They can also speak with role models who give practical advice on how to achieve their goals.  You can learn more about applying for a “flashchat” through DreamWakers here.

DreamWakers recently made one of their popular resources available to all educators. Designed in collaboration with The Institute of Play, DreamBingo reinforces themes that DreamWakers identified as the “life skills” needed to navigate the challenges of pursuing desired careers.  (Some examples are: learn to network, stay organized, and be an informed citizen.) After going over the glossary of  these “DreamThemes,” a teacher can then use the Google Slides presentation included in the free materials to lead student pairs through playing Bingo as they try to identify the skills shown in video clips during the presentation.  Students respond on printable Score Cards after each round of the game, giving them a chance to reflect on how the themes are used by the speakers as well as how they can connect them to their own lives and those of their peers.

DreamBingo can be a a great way to engage and inspire your students.  By highlighting the “DreamThemes” referred to by these diverse role models, teachers can bring relevance to the classroom and open up the minds of their students to new possibilities.

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Screenshot of DreamBingo card from DreamWakers.org


Week of Inspirational Math #3

Earlier this summer I wrote about an inspiring session at ISTE co-presented by Jo Boaler and Alice Keeler. Boaler is dedicated to spreading the word that anyone can be a math person as long as you have a growth mindset and appropriate learning opportunities.  As a Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford, Jo Boaler co-founded youcubed.org, and has presented a new “Week of Inspirational Math” curriculum on the site annually for free for the last two years.  Week 3 has just been published on the site, and is ready for educators from K-12 to use.  Having used the Week 1 and Week 2 curriculums in the past, I would highly recommend that you begin your school year with one or all three of these sets of math lessons.  The activities are broken down into grade-level strands, so there is no need to fear that your Kindergarten children will be asked to solve high school equations. 🙂

This year’s lesson include videos, PDF’s, and even access to a program called “Polyup,” which you can learn more about here.

I have personally witnessed students who believe they are “bad at math” be successful with these activities and become excited about doing more.  Those who have had negative experiences learning math can turn these around with thoughtful conversation and the passion of a teacher who believes in them.   Put Week 3 of “Week of Inspirational Math” into your beginning of the year lesson plans, and watch as your students learn to love math!

image from Clement.sim on Flickr

Make No Mistake About It

I’ve become a bit concerned with how the word “failure” has been flung around lately – as though it is something we should strive for and flaunt.  I understand the sentiment behind this – growth mindset, stepping outside our comfort zone, taking risks, etc…  But “failure” will never have anything but a negative connotation to me.  To me, it is synonymous with “loser” or “quitter,” and features prominently in the speech of bullies.

What I do want my students to understand is that they shouldn’t be so afraid of making mistakes that they become fearful of attempting new adventures.  I am careful with how I speak about this in class, though.  I don’t want students to feel like mistakes are a goal; they are simply a possible by-product of learning. (Notice that I say “possible,” not “necessary.”  Learning can happen without mistakes in many circumstances – so I think it is wrong to tell students mistakes are required in order to learn.)

The truth is that not all mistakes are equally valuable.  There are different types of mistakes as well as different types of reactions, and I want my students to understand that. That’s why I was really excited when I came across this article from “Mindset Works”.  It includes this great visual that I think really explains the classification of mistakes.


As you can see, the potential for learning exists in all mistakes, but “sloppy mistakes” (what I usually call “careless mistakes”) are probably not going to yield as much benefit as “stretch mistakes”.  According to the article, “Stretch mistakes happen when we’re working to expand our current abilities. We’re not trying to make these mistakes in that we’re not trying to do something incorrectly, but instead, we’re trying to do something that is beyond what we already can do without help, so we’re bound to make some errors.”

So, as we teach our students about growth mindset and the “Power of Yet,” I think it is important that we avoid glorifying failure.  Instead, we should help our students to understand that, though they shouldn’t be steering straight for mistakes, they should recognize the types of mistakes and always reflect on lessons that can be learned.

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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