Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer is here!

Coming off my most draining school year of my career, I'm so happy to say that it's finally summer!  This school year was difficult more so for the personal challenges than for professional ones, however the line between personal and professional was quite blurry this year.  I also took on a new challenge or two that contributed to the chaos. Here's a recap of my year since my blog has been quiet this year. 

When the school year started, I agreed to be my grade level's team leader.  There are 14 teachers in 8th grade, plus our ELL teacher, guidance counselor, and AP attended the meetings.  I enjoyed the task of organizing our agenda and (usually) running an efficient meeting that stayed on topic.  We met almost every Monday for about 30 minutes.  In all, I think I did a good job, but I'd like to see us nominate a secretary next year and keep electronic minutes that we can share with anyone who is absent or with admin as needed.  I wanted to do so this year, but it didn't happen at the beginning of the year, so it didn't happen period. 

I switched classrooms.  This was 90% a good thing.  I love having windows and an exterior door.  My mood improves just by seeing daylight, unlike in my old room that was windowless.  I also liked being back from the hallway; I got to be blissfully unaware of some of the drama of 8th grade because my hall duty was minimal.  The things I missed about my old room were my magnetic whiteboard, getting to know all of the students on hall duty, and my awesome next-door-neighbor.  The two of us just "get" each other and it was easy to give a knowing look between classes, bounce lesson ideas off of each other on the fly, or swap difficult students into the other room for a few minutes when a time-out was needed.   Not that my new neighbor wasn't great; he was.  I just have a great bond with the other teacher and I miss being right there next to her. 

I found a house in August, just as school was starting.  I closed at the end of September, had significant work done, and moved in just prior to Thanksgiving.  Between packing, paperwork, unpacking, and coping with the challenges posed by a 60+ year old house, I probably doubled my workload this year. 

Back in December, I had a medical issue that resulted in surgery in January.  As I was going in for the surgery, we got a call that my grandmother was not doing well.  I was able to make it back to see her before she passed two days later.  For someone who usually has perfect or near-perfect attendance at school, this year marked more absences than the previous 6 years combined. 

As spring came, we got some bad news about a couple of colleagues at school.  One 8th grade teacher's husband passed away following a surgery.  They were looking forward to her retirement this June so they could spend more time together (he was already retired).  Connie, a history teacher on my team, passed away rather suddenly from a relapse of her cancer.  She'd battled it twice before, once in 2009 and once in 2012.  This time, it was too much.  Her passing left a huge whole in the team. 

So, it's been a tumultuous year.  I've been in a funk since December/January when I got sick and Mommom passed, and I don't think I ever really emerged back to my happy self.  I'm looking to summer to reenergize me and help me reframe things in a positive light. 

To that end, a little something happy.  :)  You deserve it, too, if you've read this far!

I'm taking a grad class right now on Differentiated Instruction.  Let me start by saying it's a required class for my Master's and it wouldn't have been my first choice.  It's been very good, though.  We met last weekend and will meet again this weekend to finish the class.  I'm really getting a more positive view of differentiation than I had before.  It's still going to be a lot of work to do some of the things proposed, liked tiered assignments, but I'm also already doing much more differentiation than I ever realized.  

One of the activities proposed was called "cubing."  From the name, I had no idea what this could be.  Turns out, it's just using dice.  Haha!  It was suggested that we personalize dice with questions and have students roll to decide which questions they would answer.  You can allow them to pass once if you like.  Anyway, I had remembered seeing "Cool Cubes" in Teacher's Discovery catalog.  I wanted them last year when I saw them, but I didn't think they were worth $16.95 for 4.  I hit up Dollar Tree and my laminator and made my own.  My grad class friends are each going to get one, my little gift for making this class enjoyable (and so much more than my last grad class).

Here's what you'll need to do:
1. Pick up some foam dice from Dollar Tree.  These might be hard to find, so try a couple stores if you need to.  I thought they were discontinued because they've been dwindling in my local stores over the past year.  I had to dig under dinosaur hats to find these.  Good news: if you want a bunch, they're available online.  You could probably ask your store to stock them if you want less than 36 packs. 
Not fuzzy.

2. Laminate a piece of cardstock.  This will be your erasable surface, so white or a light color makes the most sense. 
Nerdy Teacher.  Best $17.99 on Amazon ever.
3. Punch/cut out the laminated paper sized to fit the dice.  I used a 1.75" circle punch from my scrapbooking tools.  If you don't have one, consider if your school has a suitable die on an Ellison machine (like the middle of the letter O) or if you have a crafty friend/parent volunteer who could help.  Free handing is also an option but I'm too much of a perfectionist for that. 
Scrapbooking supplies are always good for math
4. Adhere the laminated paper to the dice.  I used some photo squares that I had.  Double sided tape would be great.  Just look for something permanent instead of removable or you'll be replacing the tape often.  Then, break out your wet-erase markers.  I knew there was a reason I kept them long after the days of overhead projectors in my classroom. 
Under $3 investment!

I'm going to use these in my French class with some of our most common questions.
In math, can see myself using questions about functions, giving the students in a group each a different sheet of 4-6 graphs, equations, tables, etc to consider.  My questions would be, "Identify functions with slope > 2," or "Compare your 1st function with your neighbor's 1st function,"  or "Which has the smallest initial value?"

Other ideas:
If you're trying to be more efficient, you can type up your list of questions, number them 1-6, hand out the list to students, and use regular dice.  Less fun, but just as effective. 
Put vocabulary on the dice, have students take turns defining or drawing each term.

How have you used so-called "cubing" in your classroom?

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