Teacher Hack 1

Ever find yourself giving out an original worksheet to students by mistake and having to resort to copying from a copy when you need another class set of that worksheet? The quality of the copy decreases rapidly with each successive copying round – leading to ugly, unusable worksheets… but you can’t get another ‘original’ because you have no idea what the source was or what name the file is labelled as on your computer! I’ve been there. After hours of searching for the original source I actually re-made the worksheet from scratch!

Here’s the fix:

To avoid this problem, write in yellow highlighter on your original copy. The yellow won’t photocopy in a black & white copier. Write on the file name (or book/poster) and year. Tada! You certainly won’t give your original out by mistake and if you need to edit it – the file name is immediately to hand.
I have also used this technique to write answers on cloze (fill the gap) worksheets. No-more separate answer keys for me!

Love, cuddles & death stares,

TSTN

Essentials for every Science Teacher

As a Science teacher there are, quite simply, some items you will frequently need which other teachers will not.

For me there are 20 essential items which I always keep stocked in my classroom:

1. Batteries (or cells if you are in teacher mode!) Science teaching brings with it one of my greatest joys – toys. Unfortunately, toys often require batteries and because of their usage patterns you can guarantee they will run out of juice at a crucial point in the lesson. I hold a stock of AAA, AA and D batteries in my classroom (bought in bulk). I get through 20-30 AAA a year. Just don’t let it be known that you have a stock – otherwise you will become the ‘go to’ person when other teachers projector remotes need a change of battery.

2. Screwdrivers Things will break. Science toys will need new batteries. The vandergraff will need a new belt in the middle of your lesson. All good reasons to have a screwdriver to hand. You must make sure they are named though or someone will walk off with them! Ensure you have Phillips head & flat in lots of sizes – including the tiny ones. I also have miniature screwdrivers for fixing glasses and have used them more times than I care to count!

3. Superglue Quite simply, it’s amazing what I’ve fixed over the years using superglue. Sheep skulls, a fossil, my lanyard, kids shoes… Always have superglue nearby!

4. First aid kit You’ll need lots of band aids (plasters) and eye wash. Make sure every kid knows where it is. I nearly made it an entire term without needing the first aid kit… and then I got a paper cut on the last day of term. Typical.

5. Latex gloves Moping up body fluid, the Goliath hand experiment, dissections & handling iron filings. My (actually latex free!) gloves come out at least once a month.

6. Electrical tape While everyone else swoons over washi tape I remain firm in my love for electrical tape. I’ll do a separate post on everything I use it for but I love this stuff!!

7. Spare bin bags (Trash Bags) As a science teacher you will be able to produce inordinate amounts of trash. Any STEAM/STEM activity will fill your bin to the brim. Therefore, I always keep spares. (And always be kind to your cleaner if they end up lugging it all away at the end of the day!)

8. Labels You need 3 types: permanent, removable & pretty ones. The removable ones are easily obtainable from science catalogues and are great for quickly labelling anything where you want to get the labels off quickly. (e.g.. temporarily labelling equipment for stations).

9. Permanent markers These will label anything. And if you want to remove it – you have the power – after all, you’re a science teacher with access to vast quantities of ethanol!

10. Washing up gloves (Marigolds) Man I hate all the washing up that comes with this job. Avoid dishpan hands. Get a decent pair of washing up gloves and label them.

11. Tea towel (Dish Towel) See point 10

12. Electric desk Fan At some point you will do an experiment which involves dead organs, candles or sulphur (sulfur). The room will stink but you won’t notice how bad until the next class comes in and starts to complain. Throw those windows open and get the fans blowing. Fans are also useful for speeding up evaporation practicals, wind turbine making and keeping teachers cool.

13. Long handled Lighter with spare gas Try lighting 30 candles in the space of 10 minutes with matches. Not pleasant. Traditional lighter? Don’t use it – your thumb will be crying within 5 uses from the friction and heat. Instead, get yourself ‘a clicker’. This long armed lighter is traditionally used for lighting BBQs. The great news is that even if it runs out of gas the friction spark (or ‘click’) can still be used to light your Bunsens. I have at least 3 on hand for pupils to share. All labelled of course! (are you seeing a trend?)

14. Dustpan & brush Broken glassware and sugar will end up on your floor at some point. I’ll take a bet on it. So make sure you have a quality dustpan & brush to hand. You may even want a separate one for broken glassware which is stored next to your glassbin.

15. Glass bin No cleaner deserves to risk themselves because little Suzy managed to brush a record 3 thermometers off her desk in one lesson. Invest in a designated glassbin.

16. Elastic bands I’m sure kids with long hair only forget to tie their hair back on the days I get out the Bunsen or candles!! Despite having a termly homework reminding them to put hair ties/clips in their pencil cases there is always one child who forgets. If I’m feeling mean I’ll hand out an elastic band, if I’m kind, they’ll get one of the bands I purchased on the cheap from Poundland.

17. Spare clothes I don’t care how good your lab coat is, at some point the coke and mentos experiment will go wrong and attempt to drown you. Be prepared. Even if it’s just an old t-shirt & jogging bottoms. But don’t forget underwear. Seriously – I’ve needed to change 3 times in my career and every time I dragged the clothes out of my car boot I was ultra thankful for my incredible foresight.

18. Spare paper towel Somehow, I go through heaps of the stuff. I have a rule: always keep spares. This is especially when the whole class washes their hands. I do have a hand washing towel available but it needs relaxing daily too. Papertowel is also ultra useful for the inevitable spills. I cozy up to my cleaner at the start of term and ask for spares to toss in a cupboard.

19. Towel This is the most versatile bit of kit I keep. It can be used as a blanket for a kid in shock, to roll up under a twisted ankle, to dry off after the mentos & coke incident of 2010, to mop up an epic-sized spill, rolled up against the bottom of the door to keep smoke inside the classroom thus avoiding setting off the alarms in the hallway…. Clean towels are ultra useful.

20. Mobile phone My mobile phone is also known as: (in no particular order) the emergency calculator, spell checker, phone to the office when a kid is sick, music player, unit converter, projector remote, countdown timer, attendance checker, Plickers device, stop clock, noise level monitor, camera…

My 20 must-haves for all Science Teachers. I’m sure you’ll have your own to add to the list though! Let me know if I’ve missed one or two items off!

Love, cuddles & death stares,

TSTN signature

Marking can be Manageable

This is my chant. I say it to myself most nights when I crawl into bed at 11:30pm after doing SOME of my allocated marking.

I hate marking. Despise it. If I ever give up teaching it will be because of my total and utter loathing for (you guessed it)… marking.

For years I have tried to get more ‘on top’ of my marking game. It’s a slow, up-hill battle but I think I’m gaining ground.

One of my (many) poor habits which contributed to a heavy marking workload was not marking books in class when the opportunity arose. That’s right. I simply walked around class, discussing things with pupils, pointing out ways to improve their work and NEVER touched a pen to their books. Shocking I know.

Why?

  1. I find it difficult to multitask.
  2. I never have a pen to hand.
  3. I feel like the kids will judge me or be disappointed if I don’t manage to mark their book.

Absolute and utter rubbish excuses all three. So I aimed to improve. Being that point 1 and 3 are nonsense, to ensure point 2 never occurs I have discovered a neat trick: attaching a pen to your person means you always have a pen to hand. (I know! Who would have thought it?!)

Now let me tell you my usual school attire – I wear dresses without pockets or belts. My hair style is not conducive to tucking a pen into. I don’t wear a lanyard because it would end up knocking over equipment and is a safety hazard. So where on Earth could I store a pen?

The answer came to me when Mini-Pirate came home from Summer Camp with a blast-from-the-past adorning her wrist. She was wearing a slap band (also known as a slap bracelet, snap band or snap bracelet). This bit of cloth covered plastic was cheap, rigid and tight to the skin without rubbing. It was wide enough to slide a pen clip over and hold the pen in-line with my arm. It was, like many genius ideas, a revolutionary fluke-finding. I put it up there with Viagra and Febreeze. (Wow that makes it sound like those products have revolutionised my life – please know they didn’t! Pirate is fine on his own and our house smells nice all by itself FYI.) I digress…

So, here I am. Wearing a 4 year olds hand-decorated slap band on my non-dominant hand. Tucked into it, aligned with my inner arm, is my trusty red pen. I use Frixion pens because if I am distracted (see my inability to multitask) I sometimes write words or phrases which are part of an unrelated thought process in a child’s book as part of their feedback. Frixion is ‘erasable’ and has saved me looking like a fool more than once.


So there we have it. My first of many posts on how I battle my biggest teaching nemesis: marking.

Love, cuddles & death stares,

Minimising Low Level Disruption

When the Head Teacher showed around prospective parents (unannounced) I would always cringe. I took a quick look around my (often chaotic) classroom and tried to see it through a strangers eyes.

My ideal world when post-chalk & talk discussions occur.
My ideal world when post-chalk & talk discussions occur.

Often things were going swimmingly – mainly because the bulk of my lessons are pupil centred and have everyone actively involved in a task of some sort. On rare occasions though, I was caught instructing the class. It was then that I cried inside. Why? Three words: Low Level Disruption.

Low Level Disruption (in my world) is a pupil playing with their neighbours pencil case, passing notes, having a quiet conversation, voicing their idea without raising their hand (shouting out), doodling, suddenly getting out of their seat to pick up a dropped pen, swinging on their chair, slipping a peek at their phone…. These basic behaviours which aren’t exactly bad, but they look bad when an outsider is watching!

I reflected on my lessons and pinpointed the peak times when LLD occurred. A lot of it happened during class ‘discussions’, a time after I have finished my ‘chalk and talk’ where pupils are encouraged to ask questions. As a matter of fact, I rarely got a descent question during these sessions. The vast majority of hands raised were for procedural clarifications, toilet requests or pupils ‘showing off’ their knowledge with ‘did you know?’ statements or long winded loosely linked stories. No wonder the rest of the class switched off!

So what did I do about this? – I took away the time and tools pupils used to participate in Low Level Disruptions. Basically, I eliminated the items they fiddled with and cut down on the ‘discussions’ & ‘what are we going to do?’ questions! I now use these rules:

  1. On your desk should only be a pen, pencil and ruler. Pencil cases go on the floor, tucked under the desk. There is no need for a 6-part puzzle eraser shaped like a hamburger.
  2. Mobile phones are not allowed. If they are seen (even if they are turned off) they are confiscated and passed to the office for the rest of the day.
  3. Instructions are quick and (as much as possible) involve the pupils. This can be in demonstrating, answering random-name questions or chanting the steps in a procedure.
  4. I have written instructions on the board (to get rid of those kids who ask questions for things I have already gone over). They are very clear and list the names of equipment, amounts and what to do when finished.
  5. Questions are only accepted after everyone else has started the activity. This dissuades the story-tellers as only I will be listening to their amazing anecdotes and frankly they would rather get on with the activity.
  6. No-one is allowed to use the toilet during my lesson. Ever. (I would allow a note from the school nurse though).
  7. No-one is allowed to see the school nurse during my lesson. Ever. (Unless they are injured during my lesson. A sore tummy can wait.)
  8. When pupils enter the room, during settling time, they are made aware if they are working in pairs, individually or groups during that lesson and have time during settling time to identify who they will work with. (I found that this was all they were concerned about when I was demonstrating how to do a practical and therefore they didn’t listen to what they would shortly be doing). I convey this information by writing it on the board.
  9. I have an ‘open/close’ sign on my board which says ‘Yes we are doing a practical experiment today’, ‘No, we are not doing a practical experiment today.

All Low Level Disruptions are subject to my Consequence Escalation Protocol. I try my best to be consistent with it.

My Consequence Escalation Protocol

Each lesson is a fresh start.

  1. First LLD: Warning. Name is written on the board.
  2. Second LLD: Warning: tally mark is added next to their name.
  3. Third LLD: move seat: I have a special seat away from everyone else reserved for this moment. If that seat is is use I move a desk under the white board at the front of the room and sit them there. Form teacher informed.
  4. Fourth LLD: out of the room: they take a bubble timer and sit in the corridor away from their friends. Hopefully a member of SMT will come across them and reprimand them. Once the timer had ended they come back into the room. They are supposed to listen carefully whilst outside. I use the timer because I have a tendency to forget children are out there! If I remember they are out there and it is safe to do so I will have a short conversation about their choices in the corridor. Form teacher & parents informed.
  5. Fifth LLD: Sent to a different classroom: they will stay here for the duration of the lesson. They take work with them or work is sent with another child after they have left. SMT, Form teacher & parents informed. A lunchtime reflection detention is also set.

Sanctions for LLD & Poor behaviour choices

The first 4 can all be done non-verbally. Writing a name on the board, adding a tally mark, taking a child’s book and moving it to a new desk, handing them the timer and pointing at the door. Only when they get to step 5 do I verbally reprimand them. A quick recall list of everything they did to result in being sent out of the room, tell them where to go (prearranged at the start of term with another member of staff) and a quick ‘we’ll speak about this later’.

There is the notion that some children listen better while doodling or fiddling with something in their hand and therefore I try not to give a sanction for this type of activity unless it is distracting others or they jump out of their seat to retrieve a dropped piece of stationary.

By analysing my lessons I discovered the common types of LLD and when they occurred. I then acted to take away the common tools used for LLD and reduced the time that was available for it. For those who still found the ways and means to disrupt others learning my sanctions protocol (when consistently applied) helped to make even those resilient offenders reconsider their actions.

I’m sure I’ll now discover other times when LLD rears it’s ugly head but that will be something else to tackle in the constant learning curve which is teaching.

Love, cuddles & death stares,

Homework: Organising the Chaos

Moving to my latest school was a small shock when it came to homework.

At my previous school, homework hand-in rates were exceptionally low and the entire process was a constant time-consuming battle. Eventually our department adopted a ‘project based’ homework approach where only 3 pieces of homework would be handed in each year. Despite this, I still had to literally find and chase children to collect in their projects (and I mostly ended up with lame excuses rather than the actual work!).

This was all in sharp contrast to my new school where the children are frequently prompting me to set their weekly homework. I have even experienced children interrupting my coffee break to hand in homework early!

Being that I never had to handle vast quantities of homework before I quickly became swamped with the task of organising homework setting and retrieval. Matters were complicated when each year group had a set night for Science homework but I did not teach all of the year group on that day. Nor did I teach all of the year group on the designated hand-in date and therefore couldn’t collect the work ‘next lesson’. This resulted in a year of always feeling on the ‘back foot’ when it came to homework.

My latest strategy is working very well however.


Here is how I stay on top of the homework paperwork mountain:

Homework Setting & Design:

  1. Homework is meaningful, linked to our lesson and extends their learning while reinforcing facts/skills learned in the lesson.
  2. All my homework is set on worksheets or can be completed on paper. The paper is pre-trimmed so it can be glued flat into the pupils book once returned.
  3. Spare sheets are available in a designated place.
  4. Books do not go home. This prevents the inevitable lost/forgotten books impacting learning through missing work and time spent searching for books in desks or looking for paper to write on. I don’t set ‘complete classwork’ homework. That can be done during lunch or in reflection time. The worksheets contain any key ideas which may be in their books and are needed for homework.
  5. I aim to decide upon, copy & trim the homework at least 3 days in advance.
  6. Every sheet has a clear area where the pupil can write their name and class. This simple measure dramatically reduces the number of sheets without names at the Hanson point.
  7. Each sheet also has a space where I can scribble feedback as required. Nothing is written on the back of the sheets so they can be glued flat in class books.
  8. As I teach the same lessons each year/term I found it is a good idea to create a separate document which lists all the homework I set as reference for the next year.
  9. During a lesson previous to the homework night, check each child has written homework task in their diary (on the appropriate day) with the correct due date. If you are super organised you can print the homework task on a sticker for each child to stick into their diary. I check by asking the pupils to copy the homework at the start of a lesson and leave their homework diary open on their desk. I will shut the diary when I have checked it.
Having a large photo frame which doubles as an extra whiteboard allows me to display homework all week.

Homework Retreival

  1. Have a designated person in each class collect in the homework. They are also responsible for checking everyone has put their name and class on the paper. The monitor marks who has handed in their work on a tracking sheet and brings all the work to my classroom on a set day. This avoids 60+ kids coming to my room to hand in their work individually.
  2. Each class has a designated homework folder which is clearly labelled and has my tracking sheet attached to the outside. The monitor collects this from me on hand-in day. There work is stored in the folder for marking and until it is returned to the students.
  3. For pupils who have a note from home to excuse their homework I request they accompany the monitor when the homework pile is handed to me. I can review their note in person before the lesson. I then make the appropriate recordings on the tracking chart.
  4. Any work handed in late is recorded in my chart.
My homework tracking sheets – colour coded to match the class book bins of course!

Marking & Returning Homework

  1. I only record effort grades for homework. I have found that parents have too much input when it comes to homework and the work often isn’t a true indication of a pupil’s ability.
  2. Missing work is not chased. It is noted in my chart and this information is passed onto parents through notes in the child’s homework diary. I also give a copy of my homework tracking sheet to form tutors once a month so they can detect patterns. My lessons do not depend upon completed homework.
  3. The same monitor who collected in the homework hands it back post marking at the start of the next lesson. Comments can be acted upon during reflection time and the sheets are glued flat into books as soon as they are received.
How I annotate my Homework tracking sheet.

This plan has worked well for me. It’s not foolproof and is certainly not the best use of homework for learning but this gives me something workable with room for tinkering & improvement. What more can I ask for?
Love, cuddles & death stares,

My Ultra Teaching Ninja Skill During Test Season

My top secret Ninja teaching weapon during test season is… wait for it… touch typing. That’s right. Touch typing.

touch typing

\ˈtəch\ \ˈtʌɪpɪŋ\

(adjective)

  1. The act of typing words on a keyboard without looking at the keys using all 8 fingers.

Try it. You’ll be amazed how often you want to glance at the keyboard just to check the lettering. Keep that head held high, eyes forward and allow your muscle memory to guide you.

So how does a keyboarding skill become a Ninja Skill? When you use it like this:

When pupils sit formative tests, end of year exams or really any written activity which needs to be carried out independently and in silence, you simply sit in front of your keyboard and type.

TOUCH TYPING: catch cheats during tests with your Ninja skills!

Look down at the keyboard while you type for the first 30 seconds. Those key taps will be sounding around the room giving the pupils an auditory signal that your attention is otherwise occupied. Go on – lull them into a false sense of security. After those short 30 seconds have passed, raise you head, whilst still typing, and look around. It is the most amazing feeling when you make eye contact with that kid who was looking to have a quick peek at their neighbours test and thought you were otherwise occupied. Gotcha!* As I said; Ninja Skill.

So... you think you can move your eyes away from your paper? Not in my lesson!

*I like to pull out the Robert DiNiro move from Meet the Parents when I catch the kids with wandering eyes. Oh! My internal glee when their face drops.

Love, cuddles & death staresTSTN