Sunday, November 16, 2014

Social Studies in the Middle School Grades

Students will be utilizing different strategies for Social Studies and History under Common Core.

I have developed a lesson that provides a multimedia approach to the explicit instruction of terminology and processes in Social Studies for middle school grades.

Click on the link to check it out!

Middle School Mayhem Part 3: Hedge Your Bet

Sometimes I think we forget we are teaching KIDS. Teachers look at the amount of content they must cover, testing standards that are RIDICULOUS at best, and an observation system that is flawed by design and we panic. We create the same insane standards for our kids that we have thrown upon us by those making educational decisions.

Vast majorities of Middle School Kids will shut down when they feel stress and failure. They are already dealing with hormonal changes and social pressures, and the addition of schoolwork failures causes a system overload. It is easy to spot when this overload occurs. It is the student that suddenly becomes the discipline problem, or the kid that refuses to do any work, or the kid that starts missing school.

Teachers create these phenomenal lesson plans that are encompassed within even greater projects, and often we forget that we are teaching kids, not standards. When we realize students are jumping ship, we need to stop and regroup. Within that fantastic lesson and award winning project, we must foster activities that will make ALL students feel successful. It is called hedging your bet, and it means that you are giving a little in order to gain all of the rewards at the end.

We all need to feel successful throughout our journey through life's obstacles. Students place as much emphasis on their grade as we do on their test scores. What might seem like giving grades by actually counting an activity that everyone makes 100% might just be the life preserver that keeps one of your students afloat. Help your students cross the finish goal by giving them some sustenance along the path.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Middle School Mayhem Part 2: Praise

I once heard someone say "an ounce of prevention prevents a lifetime of cure." The saying was something along those lines, although I think I changed it to fit what I needed to know. Basically, it means those who take the extra effort in the beginning will reap the rewards of that action in the end.

This saying holds true with Middle School Students. (I am going to shorten the name to MSM from this point forward.) If the first interaction you have with a MSM is negative, then you have already lost the battle.

Any kid, no matter what the age, responds to positive comments. In most cases, it only takes one positive interaction in the beginning to set up a communcation highway between you and the MSM. Whether it be telling them individually that you have heard great things about them and are excited to have them in your class, to something as generic as "I think you are a neat kid", you have taken the time to acknowledge that they are SOMEBODY. So many kids today feel lost and left out. If you say something nice, and you sound like you mean it, you have validated that student's presence in your eyes.

When you know your audience, the positive interaction can be creative. For example, there are students in my school that are obsessed with creating and ordering their own unique sneaker. I stopped one in the hallway and called him over. I asked him where he got such cool looking shoes. He told me he ordered them, and I peppered him with a few more questions about the process. Did I care to know how he obtained the shoe? Not really, but I engaged him in a positive conversation about something he cares about, and he responded. I had done my homework, and I knew this student would be in one of my upcoming classes. Additionally, I knew that this student had the reputation of being quite the troublemaker for attention. I won the war.

Our second term started almost 5 weeks ago, and when I saw the roster of students scheduled for one of my classes, I literally sat down and cried. I CRIED. Working in ISS one period hearing horror stories from core teachers, combined with seeing these students in the office every single day that I went down to check my box, I knew I was going to be miserable for an entire 9 weeks. After a period of week long mourning, I decided that I had to take action before I became a statistic.

The first day of the new term brought exactly what I expected. I could hear them in the hallway, and it sounded like a riot outside my door. When they walked in my room, I made them stand at the door until I acknowledged each one by name. I then told every single student where their seat would be. They came in, and when they sat down I told them not to touch anything because we were going to have a discussion first.

I started to tell them about myself, and what my expectations were for every student in my class. As I told them about what was allowed and not allowed, I suddenly stopped mid sentence and turned to look at them. I told them that I had to go over these rules, even though I could tell they were going to be my best class and I was wasting my breath. I paused, and I could hear crickets in my head because the silence was deafening. Two kids actually looked around with the expression "is she insane?" I went on, never cracking a smile and never tipping my hand. BOOM - I had them.

I had three days before THE NIGHTMARE got off of out of school suspension and joined our class. THE NIGHTMARE had already been suspended out of school on five different occasions, and had a reputation like no other. For the three days he was out, I heaped constructive praise on the students individually, and as a group. They were like putty in my hands, which I needed in order to be able to handle the addition of THE NIGHTMARE to the class.

THE NIGHTMARE showed up exactly like I had expected. He walked in, trying to catch the eye of the other strategically placed students as he passed. None of them even blinked. I reviewed the directions, and I could tell he was already on the computer and not listening to the discussion. I did not call him out, but instead rehashed my first day presentation. As he got up to leave at the end of class, I asked him to stay for a moment so I could talk to him. He had a small smile on his face, because he was sure that I wanted to discipline him for not following directions.

As he stood at my podium, I turned so the other kids could not hear what I was going to say to him. It was then that I told him I was so excited he was back to school, and that when I saw his name on my class roster, it made my day. I let him know that I KNEW he was going to be the best kid in the class, and that if he proved me right, I was going to need his help on special projects. He shrugged his shoulders and walked out of the class.

I was not sure my strategy had worked. The next day, THE NIGHTMARE walked into my classroom and sat right down. He logged in and was waiting for instruction, and I kid you not, he WAS being the best kid in the class. He immediately went from being THE NIGHTMARE to MY FAVORITE. MY FAVORITE made me cry a few weeks later, but not for the reason you would expect. That will be in a later post.

Every kid needs some positive light in their life. Be the one place where a kid feels loved.

Middle School Mayhem: Part 1 - Front Street

I have always gotten along with kids. Whether it be working for a daycare, Upward Bound in college, or leading children's musicals at church, I tend to bond well with kids. Someone once told me I had the Santa Claus effect after I sat down in public and two little kids just came over and started standing with me. I had not noticed until she pointed it out, and it has resonated with me ever since. I guess you can call me "The Kid Whisperer."

I have been at my current school for three years, although the first year I was only there part time working with the teachers as a TIS. I was scared stiff the first day I actually took over as the Computer Tech teacher, because the word cloud describing Middle School kept me on my toes. My bag of tricks worked, and I had 100% participation in my classes. Although student behavior was excellent, I WORKED HARD AT MAINTAINING it.

My first tip towards mastering classroom management is something I like to call "Not Putting Kids On Front Street." Middle School Kids are driven mostly by peer pressure and acceptance. In elementary school, kids are in highly controlled environments where they spend the majority of their day with the same group of students. High school students start developing their individual personalities, and it is generally accepted that there are different groups of kid within the same building. Middle school is the toughest age, because elementary school kids are now moving and existing in a mixture of new faces and social settings. Throw in the imbalance of hormones, and you have a recipe for disaster. Think about a time when you walked into a room of people you did not know. Did you walk right into the center of the room confidently? Did you quickly scan the room for familiar faces and make a beeline towards someone you felt comfortable with? Did you slide into the room and awkwardly try to establish a rapport with someone you were drawn to? Did you even walk in at all?

My job is to be teacher, mediator, and moderator. I am the "Julie" of this vessel. (Julie - quick reference to The Love Boat. Activities Director) I am the match directly in the middle of kindling. I am the one that can ignite a huge wildfire if I am not careful. If I call out to a student in front of all of their peers to admonish their behavior, I am putting the kid on Front Street. I have now taken this poor soul, who has worked tirelessly to evade public humiliation at the hands of the other kids, and put a spotlight on their every imperfection. Cue the Fight or Flight response. I must find a way to redirect their behavior without putting a target on their back. Unless this student is causing physical danger to themselves or another student, I will lose the trust of the student if I make a spectacle of whatever they are doing. If I get into a confrontation with a student, it is a lose-lose battle.

A good teacher will call the student aside to address their behavior. A great teacher will have set up protocols before the first behavior has ever taken place to ensure the ability to address future behaviors without disrupting their teaching flow. These protocols are easy to establish, and I will be discussing a few in my next Middle School Mayhem segment.

Don't put kids on Front Street!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Middle School Mayhem: Introduction

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would enjoy teaching middle school kids.

If I had created a Word Cloud back then, the different phrases I could picture were impulsive, mouthy, hormonal, unruly, immature, hormonal, extreme, uncontrollable, hormonal, disrespectful, hormonal, and hormonal.

Did I mention hormonal?

Fast forward a year and half after taking the Computer Technology position at a middle school. I am brutally honest to a fault, and I must declare that I LOVE MIDDLE SCHOOL KIDS.

Scratching your heads, right? So was I. About six months ago, I was not so sure I was cut out for my position. However after tweaking some classroom activities mid term last nine weeks, I have created an environment that I truly enjoy. Well, almost. If I only had to deal with kids in my classroom, it would be perfect.

I have advice for anyone that will be, or is currently, responsible for middle school students. I am not a master of anything, but I do have some things under control after 20 years. Watch for my Middle School Mayhem tips to see what I have found to be successful and UNSUCCESSFUL.

Old Teachers and Zumba

(published on the Staff Spotlight of our Tiger's Telegraph website)

I took an interview with Ms. Mutterback.  She is the Computer Tech teacher here at Princeton Middle School.  She is one of the best teachers here in my opinion.  She always has a smile on her face and she is always nice to everyone.

Q: How did you meet my parents?
A: I met your parents when you and my son played on the same soccer team.  I really liked your mom and dad, and I remember thinking that your mom was hilarious.

Q:How long have you know us?
A: I think I have known your family since 2006.  That is a rough estimate

Q: Do you remember when me and Bryce played soccer together?
A:  I remember very well when you and Bryce played soccer. What I remember about you was your mom telling you to stick your tongue back in your mouth because she was afraid you were going to bite it off.  You would run and have your tongue stuck out.  She cracked me up!  I think you were faster when you stuck out your tongue.

Q: Why doesn’t he play any sports anymore?
A: My son doesn’t play sports because he really loves being in band. He stays after school almost every day for band practice, and he has learned how to play so many instruments I have lost count. He is going into a musical professional, so I am happy to stay after school and take him home.

Q: Do you want him to play sports again?
A: I want my son to do what makes him happy. I am not sad about his preference of music over sports. I just want him to go into a profession where he makes lots of money, so he can take care of me and I won’t have to work when I am old. If that means doing something with music, then I support it fully. I am kidding about the taking care of me financially when he grows up. If ANYBODY wants to support me financially in the future, then that is fine with me! (JUST KIDDING!!!!)

Q: What is your favorite thing about your work?
A: My favorite thing about work is all of the kids that I get to see. I think there are some fantastic kids at Princeton Middle, and I feel lucky that I get paid to come and work with you.

Q: What made you want to do this?
A: I have been around kids my whole life, and going into teaching was a no-brainer.

Q: How long have you been in your career?
A:  I am on my 20th year in teaching. Six of those years I worked as a Technology Integration Specialist, which allowed me to help teachers use technology with students.

Q: What is your least favorite thing about work?
A: The least favorite thing about my job is when I have to work in ISS. I cover it the last period of the day, and I would prefer teaching last period so that I could end my day on a positive note.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do?
A: My favorite thing to do is to go to the gym and take classes with my friends. Did you know old teachers like me take Zumba? There are many old teachers that go to Zumba. Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Sink, and Mrs. Gross from the high school go to Zumba with me! Do not tell them that I said they were old. They may get angry.

It was so amusing I had to share.

Advice from the Elderly

As I sit and lament on my 20 years in education, I marvel at how things have changed. Even more unbelievable is the fact that so many things have stayed the same.

When I emerged from Concord College (now University), I was bright-eyed and buried deep in the educational utopia that I was convinced I would find. I had created my Education 360 units, survived my student teaching placements, and earned the golden seal of approval, signaling that I was a well-equipped teacher.

I moved out of state because I already had a Special Education job filled with my name. There were only two of us that graduated knowing we had a job: myself and a young, African American named Paul. Jobs were hard to come by in the mid 90's.

Within three years, I was able to come back home and teach. My parents had suffered health set-backs, and I needed to be near them. When I ran into old college professors, I adamantly expressed the need to have introductory Special Education courses be a required part of any general education degree. Mainstreaming was quickly taking hold, and the rising college graduates did not have Special Education training unless that was their major. Shortly thereafter, Special Education courses were part of the catalog for education curriculum.

I have held every job that you can imagine.  I was certified in Mild/Moderate Impairments along with my Multi-Subject K - 8 degree. I was employed in Special Education at the start, and truly loved my job.  However, money became the name of the game, and states started realizing the money they could save by lumping students with mental disabilities in with students recognized with behavior disorders. Each impairment had a max number of students that could be housed in a room by one teacher. For example, a teacher could have up to 8  Mildly Impaired self contained, or 4 Moderately/Profoundly self contained, or 4 Behavior Disordered self contained students. After the max number was reached, an aide would be assigned to the class. The state quickly realized that as long as the max number was not reached in any given category, a teacher could have a roomful of students at the same time without an aide. My last year of Special Education was when a BD student was thrown in to an already impossible teaching load of Mild Impairments/Learning Disabled students. That story is a whole other post.

I have held a multitude of teaching jobs over my 20 years. I went to college with the idea that I wanted to have a cookie cutter elementary classroom. I attained a Master's Degree in Reading Education K-12, and after becoming certified as a Reading Specialist, I entered into the Title 1 world. From Title 1, I was employed as one of the first Technology Integration Specialists in the State of WV, and for six years I worked with teachers. I have landed as a middle school Computer Technology teacher presently. Looking back, I could have never predicted that my true love would be teaching middle school students. My only regret is not becoming certified to teach anything at the high school level.

I just got home from the funeral of my aunt. While there, I spoke to two relatives that were in college to become teachers. Both stated that their goal was to become elementary school teachers, just as I had envisioned so many years ago. My advice to them was heartfelt, and I hope that they are forward-thinking enough to heed my words of wisdom. My advice was to get certified in their first love, but to also look at subjects and grade levels that only required one or two additional classes to complete. Often, your general education classes are the same, but the specialization requires just a few more classes for endorsement. As they grow and mature in their career, their tastes may change, just as mine. While an undergraduate, you can take additional classes without paying more tuition once you're full time. Once you get your Bachelor's Degree, you pay for coursework by the hour. Take any extra classes that might garner you an endorsement in another classification now, so that you have the flexibility to move around in the school system later.

When I think about 20 years of teaching, it makes me feel old. Can I retire yet?

When at First You Don't Succeed...

I am dead tired by the time I go home each day. When the first tardy bell rings, it is a never ending scramble to maneuver through roadblock after roadblock, flying through each class period. We have had server issues, including the inability to log in on a computer at any given time. If a computer does log in, the start up script runs extremely slow, because it is pulling data from the server. This week has been tough, to say the least.

The class working on our Tiger's Telegraph has taken the worst hit, trying to meet their one article a week requirement. We go through a variety of different log in strategies, and if we get in, we must maneuver between using the proxy or taking out the proxy. Those individuals who are the furthest behind get first dibs on any computer we can successfully log in.

Students have not been given email access, and have used a dedicated folder tied to their login information to store any documents or presentations they are creating. About 2 weeks ago, the folder system disappeared, and was completely blank once it was retrieved. In order to be able to collaborate, we have had to become very resourceful.

I discovered that Google Docs now includes a feature where you can share a link with someone and it gives them editing ability. No longer does the person accessing the link need a Google account to view and edit the document. This feature has saved me from having a meltdown in my classroom. I set up a document for each student, and then hyperlinked their names to their document. All of the hyperlinked names are on a private Google site page. Once a student has completed their article, they signal the editor to critique their work. The editor accesses the document from their own computer, and while the author is watching, will make comments and suggestions about their writing. Collaboration, my dear folks, at its finest.

My pundits, who are in reactive instead of proactive mode, would immediately criticize the fact that students can access other student work. I understand their concern, to a degree. But I feel that in this instance, I am teaching students acceptable behavior on the internet. Before I even set up the system, I had a series of discussions with the students about proper behavior and safety. I preempted any use of Google docs with the understanding that if a student accessed another student's work, and did any harm, they would fail my class for the 9 weeks. I would go back to the revision history and be able to see who accessed which document at which time. Is that a bit of a stretch? Maybe.

I am of the school of thought that instead of blocking students from anything they might encounter that is less than stellar, we need to teach them behaviors and procedures WHEN they encounter things on the internet. There is not a filter in the world (unless you count the Chinese filter for their country) that will keep out every single thing that may be found offensive to others. If we do not teach students strategies on how to handle situations such as this, we are not truly preparing them for an unfiltered world when they get older. There is nothing confidential that is stored on any Google Doc, but the idea of mature behavior versus unethical malice is practiced every day by my students.

Think about this scenario. Have you ever accessed someone else's unprotected Wi-Fi? I know that I have, even though it is unethical and probably illegal. If I were to be on someone else's Wi-Fi, and threatened someone, or pirated movies, the person left holding the bag is the individual with unprotected Wi-Fi. There will be times in life when students will encounter access to content that is not their own, and by knowing the implications beforehand, our students will be equipped to maturely deal with the situation.

Until I am given a better alternative, my use of Google Docs stands.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

5 Free Books Through Bookit

Everyone loves free items, and the Bookit program does not disappoint!

The week of November 10-14, five free stories will be released for teachers, parents, and students to enjoy. Click on the list below to access the site.

Ignorance Does Not Mean Malice

Yesterday, I overheard an adult telling kids to "enjoy their day off tomorrow." This statement really struck a nerve with me. I did not say anything, because absence of remembrance is an indication of ignorance, not malice.

I encountered a group of kids shortly after hearing this statement. Out of the blue, I asked them why we were getting off school tomorrow. Out of the 8 kids standing in front of me, only one was able to articulate that it was Veteran's Day. I took that opportunity to give a spontaneous history lesson.

I have a good rapport with the kids in my building, and I was able to quickly tell them that the day was celebrated to remember those individuals who had served our country to protect our freedoms. The right for us to go to school, and to have free speech, and to express our opinions were covered by the blanket of freedom that these brave men and women fought to obtain, both on foreign and domestic soil. I ended with the plea for them to thank someone that had served in any branch of the military on Tuesday.

I was not angry with the individual that I overheard celebrating a "day off from school." Instead, I felt sadness, because we are slowly transforming our next generation from a love of society into a love of thyself. Our kids are not learning to care about the past, but only to look forward to their spot in the future.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Keyboarding - A Lost Art

Everyone, at one point or another in their life, will encounter typing on a keyboard. It may be on a desktop, a laptop, or even the Qwerty keyboard on a smartphone. By the time kids get to me, they have at least 2 years of hunting and pecking solidified in their brains. Philosophically, I feel keyboarding should be taught at an early age. The lack of computer access, coupled with the amount of content covered in a classroom, often negates the opportunity for students to consistently learn how to type using home keys prior to middle school.

The necessity of formal keyboarding is a topic of debate in the technology community. Some of the points in opposition to formal adherence of keying with specific fingers center around the different types of technology students access with a keyboard. Expecting a student to use both hands housed over home keys is not possible due to the size of the keyboard when using a smartphone or smaller tablet. Additionally, others feel that students have learned informal typing well before the start of actual keyboarding in school. I support both sides of the argument, and organize my keyboarding class to recognize that some students have developed a typing technique once they get to the middle school.

Keyboarding programs and websites are commonplace today, so the need to teach typing by a book is obsolete. Our county purchased a program years ago called Microtype Pro, and that is the only typing program at my middle school that can be accessed when the internet is down. Last year, our server was out of commission for at least 2 solid months. We could use one login for every student and hit the internet, but any program housed on the server was inaccessible.

On Edmodo last spring, someone posted about a typing site they used. I actually checked it out when I had free time, and I fell in love with the ease of use. I created an account but did not actually begin using the program until the start of this school year. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and my 6th grade keyboarding students could not log in to our server. (Surprise!) We used a generic login, and my relationship with Typing Club sprang into life.

After 2 months of use, I was notified that my trial account would flip over into the free version, which meant I would gain all kinds of ads and lose my ability to create typing tests. When I checked into the actual cost of the program, I found that I could easily fund 60 student accounts to last me through the year. 

I will be blogging about my successes and failures while using this program online. If you are looking for an alternative way to teach keyboarding to your students, I recommend this program wholeheartedly.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

When Lyrics Mean More Than The Song

One of the pivotal moments that helped reaffirm my mission to teach occurred while watching "Dangerous Minds." At that time in life, I was teaching in a rural area that was the crossroads between four major drug cities in the US. I encountered inner city problems, while receiving a rural community salary.

One of the scenes that struck home was when Michele Pfeiffer brought out Dylan lyrics to teach author's purpose and comprehension. The students had to interpret meaning from the words that were easily overlooked by millions of fans listening to the music.

Fast forward 20 years, and I find myself in a similar situation. The dangers my students face today are much worse than the obstacles facing the students of  the 1990's. I strive to promote unity, and a sense of family for my kids. Many not only lack a stable home, but also lack any type of parental figure due to our widespread drug epidemic. I decided last week that music might supply an understanding that I, alone could not provide.

I will be adding more songs as I find commonalities between the message and my reality. I open with "Where is the Love" by the Black Eyed Peas. We read the lyrics line by line, and the students analyzed what the words meant. After, when we listened to the song, the students realized they would not have known the message of the song if they had not studied the lyrics first. Two Tupac songs followed, although I had to censor heavily due to some language choices.

I challenge you to conduct a lesson on comprehension using songs. Let me know what you discover!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Evolution of Bryce's Musical Talent

So proud of my son!! I rarely give a shout out to my son, who is extremely private. However, it is my birthday and I am so proud of the young man transforming in front of my eyes. I am so lucky to have you as my son.

Contact Santa Soon

There are several places that give you the chance to contact Santa. I wanted to share another one in case you feel it necessary to get in touch with him.

Security Video Shown Publicly

I have discovered information that alarms me so much, I decided to include the info here. You can tap on the image, or go to

If your security cam shows up, all you have to do is go into you security cameras settings and change the default login. The same idea applies if you set up a wireless router in your home. You must alter the default login or anyone can login to your system.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What has Happened in Your Lifetime?

I first saw this activity on Richard Byrne's "Free Technology 4 Teachers" site, and decided to try it in my class. I was pleased with the results, and wanted to share what happened with you. You can access the site by clicking on the image.

I went through the site with the students as a group, showing them how to select their birthday and view content. There are drop down arrows on each of the information boxes, changing parameters of what is shown. Once I felt the students had a grasp on how to maneuver the site, I turned them loose.

One of the pieces of information
shown on the site.

Amid the claims of amazement and the facts that students started blurting out, the heart beat interactive was the most attention-getting information on the site. Above, you can see my heartbeat estimation compared to that of a Blue Whale.

I jumped on this opportunity to evaluate how much work a heart has to do to reach over a billion beats. When I felt the students were able to summarize how much work it went through in 42 years, I asked them what effect activities that damaged the heart would do in the span of 2 billion beats. I mentioned activities like smoking, drug use, and inactivity, asking what would happen to a heart over time if damaged. One student said it would wear out quickly.

I used the analogy of a knife (I have several hunters in both classes.) I appealed to those that cook and those that hunt, and asked what happened to a knife when it was used over and over. One student said "it dulls the knife." I explained that they could sharpen the knife, but if they did not take care of the of the knife it was useless after a while. I likened the sharpening of the knife to exercising for the heart. 

"Imagine taking that knife that is used often and banging it up against a hard tree, damaging it like smoke damages the lungs and heart. What do you think will happen to that knife?" I asked. Immediately, the students responded saying the knife would break. I encouraged the students to think about their heart, and activities that might weaken a heart that will have beat 2 billion times by age 42. I knew at that point I had them.

Check out this site, and think about the effects of your existence on the world. I showed students the endangered species information, and I told them that once the last member of that species is gone, it does not exist anymore. 

I am so thankful for Richard Byrne sharing this site!

WVU Athletes Encourage Students in Academics

"Seven student-athletes provided motivational speeches through WVU's SPA 270, Effective Public Speaking course."

To access the videos, click on the image. The video is available near the bottom of the page, and looks like the image posted above. WVU athletes are the pride of our state, and they make important statements to our younger generation about staying in school and striving for academic excellence.

Students look up to college athletes as role models, and this is a wonderful opportunity to hear their favorite athletes speak about education. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Flipped Classroom - Plot Twist

The new buzz in teaching is the idea of a "Flipped Classroom." In order to give a basic definition, I am going to quote from the website Educause.

Basically, the material is presented outside of class and the students work on projects inside of the classroom. An even easier to comprehend definition is found on Knewton website. You can click on the link to check it out.

My problem with being able to totally flip a classroom in my situation is the knowledge that many of my students do not have access to the internet at home. I have heard (and even stated) the excuse that students can go to the library and access the internet for free. Yet today, our local library closes at 5:00 pm. I would never expect something from my students that was not universally accessible by all of my students, so I am having to tweak my expectations.

Edmodo has given me the opportunity to provide content online to the students in my classroom. At first, I simply used Edmodo to list each student's activities for the day. However, I have discovered so many features that make it an integral part to my day.

I can create assignments and have students turn their work in to me. You can see by the screenshot above that my current assignment has 16 responses by my class. In addition, I can open their submitted document and provide feedback in the form of a comment on their work. They, in turn, can comment back to me after viewing my comment.

I have flipped my website class to the best of my ability, making links and information available to students on their posts. The students review the information I have provided, and then actively work on their articles for our Tiger's Telegraph website. Below, you will find the post that was sent to the students on November 3rd, indicating the information and work that was expected for the week.

The greatest challenge I have with this class is the notion that they are not on task. The teacher in me wants to organize our class periods in a timely fashion. I have to remind myself, however, that there will be times when they are working collaboratively and it sounds as if they are on off task.  This is a learning experience for me, as well as for my students. I will document our efforts and the successes/failures I find with this teaching method.

Wish us luck!

Interviews - Things Students are not Taught

My student reporters were given the assignment to conduct an interview and write the interview as an article for our Tiger's Telegraph site. A few of the students have already written interviews, and I had no specified a particular template to use. I brought up a site that had instructions for writing an interview on Monday, and described the formats provided on the following link.

Students have two options when writing their interviews. They can use the news story, or they can follow the Q and A format. The site links to another site that has transcript examples of interview formats. Clicking on the next image will take you to other transcript examples.

The students had to access their Google Docs page and write down 10 questions they wanted to ask their subject. When the student editor read and approved their questions, they were printed off and given to the student for their interview. I am excited to see what the students write!

Exposed Online

Today I posed a question to my students.

"What information do you think someone online could find out about you?" I asked them. Most of them assured me that there was nothing that could be found, and the remaining students indicated they were not allowed to have any online accounts.

I showed them our Tiger's Telegraph website, and then went to Google Analytics. I brought up the reports for demographics, location, behaviors, and sessions. I will provide a screenshot of just one of the pieces of data that is collected by a visitor.

We watched a video about the types of information that can be found out about someone online. The video is provided by and can be accessed by clicking on the picture.

Afterwards, students evaluated how much information could be gleaned from their online identities. We then went to the game site of NSTeens and played the Passwords game. After playing the game, students described how to make a password that was difficult to decode by hackers.

Learning about identity vulnerability is a lesson that everyone needs to evaluate.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Student Articles

I am so proud of the work my students have put forth on our student website. Sometimes I get so busy with the mechanics of my day that I forget how much the students have grown.  As I sat down this evening, I look a look at the new articles posted on our site. I wanted to share two posts that have touched my heart.

After reading these articles, a revelation came to me. Sometimes, it takes the words of a peer to get through to students. No matter how much adults preach the mantras of eliminating bullying and the finality of teen suicide, we cannot relate to the emotional toils the kids face every single day. I have said so many times that I was their age once, but I really cannot compare the two time frames. I did not grow up in a world where every bad decision was easily posted for the community, and even state, to see. I did not live in a world where the atrocities of war was at my fingertips constantly. When I grew up, most adults were functioning, even if they were using drugs. Authentically, the most that I can say to the students of today is that I care, and that I will do whatever I can to help them. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Tradition

A couple of years ago, I created a digital story to demonstrate to students how their imaginations were much more vivid than any movie or picture they could see. The project was the launch for the Creating Digital Story unit, and my hope was to inspire creativity in students when they made their own story.

In honor of Halloween, I showed my story to each of my classes. I want to share the story with you in honor of Halloween.

If the video does not show, click here to access the link.

Science Fair Kickoff

My school was treated to a Science Fair Kickoff Presentation hosted by Mr. And Mrs. Flanagan. They brought in example projects and conducted live experiments to inspire students participating in this upcoming event. They captured the attention of the student body with activities such as Zombie Foam,  male vs. female taste test, and the Leaf Blowing Toilet Paper contraption. Science came alive for the students, and the Flanagans' presentation was fabulous!

Halloween Sounds Playlist

Today, while programming code for Angry Birds, I am letting the students listen to a variety of Halloween sounds and songs in the background.

If you would like to access my Playlist, click on the link.

2014 Halloween Freebies

While searching for Halloween activities, I came across a post describing all of the free deals available for Halloween 2014. After scanning the list, I wanted to share the post on my blog. I had no idea you could do all of these awesome things on Halloween!

Honestly, who doesn't love free??

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Time Management for the Smartboardless

I have found that the students respond very well when they have a definitive time frame of expectations. In my two 6th grade keyboarding classes, I would give time remaining prompts. The students seemed less agitated knowing that there was a concrete stopping point during typing.

I realized that as I was walking around monitoring, it would be difficult for me to keep an eye on student performance and an eye on the clock. I had an inspiration during my second class - I would find a timer I could display on my board.

The title seems misleading, because what does a Smartboard have to do with a timer? More importantly, why does a computer tech class NOT have a Smartboard? Even further, WHAT IS A SMARTBOARD???


The only question I can address is Smartboards and Timers. Smartboards are interactive and allow the teacher to stand in the front of the room and manipulate the presentation. One of the tools built in to a Smartboard is a timer feature, and by having a board you can activate the timer while up moving around. I have a project shining on a wall, and my presentation station is on the opposite wall (and restrictive.)

In my search for a timer to use (on Windows 7) I came across and their suggestions for computer timers.

I downloaded the Orzeszek timer, and used it with my class. It is an easy to use program that needs to be cut and pasted onto the desktop. When you click on the timer, a frame appears that allows you to type in the time frame you need to measure. It immediately begins a count down, although there is no warning sound upon completion of time. This timer serves its purpose for my need in the classroom, and so far I am pleased with the results.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Check Out Books At Home For Free

My son is an avid reader and loves spending time in the library. However, due to his school and band schedule, we are unable to go as often as I would like.

During his last visit, they signed him up for the e-book program available through the library. Princeton Public Library is affiliated with WV-Reads, one division of OverDrive.

He received an email, and is setting up his account to be able to check out books on his iPad. I will do followups about the program and his progress, but I encourage all students (and adults) to take advantage of this free service!

Powtoons instead of PowerPoint

As a computer technology teacher, I am always looking for new ideas to present to my students. I think PowerPoint has it's advantages, but since Microsoft office is now an additional fee for new computers, I was looking for something outside the box.

Enter Powtoons.

I created a free teacher account through a promotional event going on this year. I was given 60+ student accounts to use in my classroom, and I could purchase 30 more for a $5 addition. I loved the idea, but did not know when I would find the time to learn how to use the site.

I found a Youtube video that presents Powtoon creations step by step. I let my class follow along, stopping after each set of steps so that they could manipulate their own creation. You can follow the link or try viewing the video below:

The students caught on quickly, and soon we were making advanced Powtoons that they could upload to Youtube. If you want to create a single account, there is a free option that has a more narrow selection of choices.

Guarantee Your Students A Job!

In this economy, positive employment news is a welcomed change to the dismal outlook facing our children. Finding opportunities to earn livable wages seems like a distant memory, and guiding kids towards careers is a narrowing path.

Computer Science is a growing market, and with the ease of technology access for young people, programming should be at the forefront of skills taught. I was blown away by the Stats that were provided one the site. When the national discussion of rankings by our American students as compared to other nations falls short, why is Computer Science not important in schools?

I have signed up my school to participate in the Computer Science Hour of Code Week December 8 - 14. I wish I could have the whole school participate, so we could be considered for the $10,000 prize awarded in each state. We simply do not have the resources to facilitate every student getting on the computers to complete an hour of code during that time frame. offers many different courses of study, all free to teachers and students. If you would like to check out the activities, or sign up to be a part of this recognized week, you can click on the Code avatar to access the site.

A Great Blog and Even Better Resource!

I have been in technology for quite some time. I have found that not all technology is right for every teacher. I follow a blog written by a high school teacher named Richard Byrne called Free Technology for Teachers. I have found so many useful suggestions from his blog, and want to give him a shout out.

Most of the things I write about have been attempted in my school setting. If it is something I discovered from his blog, I will give him credit at the end. I suggest you visit his page and look at everything he has available, because he is truly the technology guru. I am adding a link to his site so that others can use his resources!

Thanks Richard Byrne!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lessons Learned

I tell my students every day that I learn as much from them as they do from me. 

I used my school money to purchase an iPad for the students to use on the website. I had taken notes on the Note App, and was trying to find a way to upload the notes so they could be erased before the students took the iPad. 

While helping a student with his math, I did everything possible to save the note in another location. I configured email with no luck. I downloaded Google Drive and hit a brick wall. The cloud would not work at school.

After all of my unsuccessful attempts, I put my head in my hands out of desperation. The student looked up at me and said something so profound I was speechless.

"Ms. Mutterback, why don't you just take a screenshot and save the picture on your iPad?"

I learned a valuable lesson today. We can all arrive at the right answer, but the routes we take to get there may not always be the same

Secondary History App

I downloaded a free app called Congressional Moments, produced by The Center on Congress at Indiana University. I was immediately awestruck by the ease of use, and when I played one of the videos available, I knew I had found something teachers could benefit by using in class.

History will come alive with the addition of authentic resources from this app. I recommend this iPad app for anyone teaching history to students.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Free Online Activities Matched to Content

Last year, I discovered a site that became a staple within my teaching practices. The site gave me a access to a wealth of content that I could utilize to build learning paths for my students in an online format. Teachers can create classes and track student progress once a student has created an account with the site. is a site that has online games and activities for many different subjects, and teachers can build learning paths that can be assigned to their classes to focus students on activities directly aligned to what they are teaching. The whole site is free, which is the magic word to almost every teacher. Parents can be sent a code so that they can access their student's accounts, and the fact that students cannot communicate with each other makes the safety factor even more appealing.

Comprehension Units

It is difficult for teachers to purchase libraries when funds are in short supply. We are often scrambling to find sites students can visit that will provide reading activities to use in the classroom. Common Core is now in effect, and finding any material aligned with Common Core standards is always beneficial to the time-strapped teacher.

Readworks is a site that provides reading activities aligned with common core. They have released a set of of online books that are common core aligned, and separated by grade level.

With the K-5 stories, you are given a Lexile Score, Read Aloud Lessons, and sometimes given Paired-Text Questions. With the 6-8 Novels, you are told which areas of comprehension will be covered by the novel. Make sure to bookmark this site to access wonderful stories to enhance your teaching!

Chart Go

Our students had an amazing presentation on Friday afternoon by Mr. and Mrs. Flanigan. The school held a kick off for the "Science Fair." While presenting information helpful to students organizing their Science Fair projects, the presenters also conducted mini experiments in front of the student body.

One of the sites mentioned during the presentation was ChartGo.

ChartGo is a site where students can input their own data and create a chart for their Science Fair project. On the left, you will find different types of charts that can be created on the site. After selecting the type of chart you want to create, simply fill in data cells to demonstrate your findings. At the bottom, simply click CREATE CHART and you will generate a professional looking chart for your project. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lifesaving Algebra Calculator

Common Core has brought many changes to the math curriculum that we all grew up learning. Students in 9th grade in West Virginia now take MATH 1. The curriculum is a hodgepodge of algebra, geometry, and other types of math meshed together in what can only be described as "Math on Meth." 

Math 1 replaced the previous Algebra class that 8th graders could take if they exceeded a host of criteria. My son qualified for this class, and after two days of homework, I knew I was quickly out-witted. I delved into my bag of tricks and started searching for ANYTHING that would help me understand his homework. 

I found a site that has turned out to be a LIFESAVER. The site works flawlessly on an iPad, and all I had to do was open Safari and access the site. I did try accessing the site on a laptop, but for some reason the answers had characters inserted that I did not understand.

Select the tab at the top which represents the type of math you will be checking. Each drop down has characters and functions that can be added when typing in a problem. You can submit to provide an answer, and if you want to see actual steps you can purchase the ability from the site. I wanted to check my son's work, and this site provided me with the ability to do so. Mathway has enabled me to become a functioning parent in this new math world.

Friday, October 24, 2014

PhotoMath - Smart Math Calculator

My son is currently enrolled in Math 1, the Common Core redesigned Algebra class. I have not taken a math course since college, and the change in math practices left me unable to help my son with his homework.

I recently saw an ad for a new app that bills itself as the "Smart Math Calculator." I downloaded the app, which was free much to my surprise. The app website provides this description of PhotoMath:

This app is available on both iTunes and the Windows store, but an Android version will not be available until 2015. Watch this video about PhotoMath and see if the app may benefit you!

Create Word Clouds with K-5

As a former technology integration specialist, I can say with certainty that many sites claiming to be primary grades friendly end up being a nightmare in actual use. If you are familiar with Wordle, you will love the site I will show you. has provided a program that allows primary age students the ability to create a word cloud demonstrating a concept. In addition, ABCYa  has many other games aimed at primary and intermediate grade students. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Classroom Playlist

One of the positive reinforcements that my classes using the contract have earned is the right to hear music when they are working quietly. Knowing that current hits include subject matter not appropriate for the classroom, I reached down into my bag of tricks and created a playlist of songs that would expose the students to different time eras and different kinds of music. If you would like to see the songs I have on this list, please click on the link below. As time goes on, more songs will be added.

Math Trick - Multiply Using Lines!

I recently saw this on my Facebook feed. I have tried it out several times, and so far it has worked. If you have a student that has trouble with multiplication, watch this video and see if this is something that might be beneficial to them!

How to Win Students and Influence Kids

I recently attended a training on classroom management. In layman's terms, the training gave us ideas on how to promote acceptable student behavior. While the behavior in my classes is usually excellent, I wanted to hear additional tips that I could add to my repertoire of strategies.

Students need to feel that you care about them. Point Blank. If they think you want them to succeed and be the best that they can be, you will have more latitude to shape their behaviors. I cringe, however, at some of the maligned attempts to foster this type of environment. Please give me a moment to get up on my pedestal so that I can provide a clear description of what I mean.


I have seen this boundary crossed, and the results make life harder in school. You must maintain a boundary with students so that you are not perceived as their equal. If you allow students to think you are "on THEIR side," then you are pitting yourself against other teachers, and other standards of practice. Eventually, this group of students that you have empowered begin to view themselves as superior to other students and teachers. Not all empowerment is bad; when students are empowered with the knowledge that they have the tools to succeed in life, you have done a great job educating kids.  However, teachers who empower students with the idea that they are "above the law" destroy the character of those impressionable kids. I have 20 years in this profession, and although the place may change, the results stay the same.

All students must be held accountable for their actions. If you allow students to "use your authority" to evade consequences, then the students learn that they are held to a lesser standard of conduct. Let me provide an example:

You are the yearbook sponsor for your school. When selecting students to be in yearbook, you include both students who are hard workers as well as students who are the children of your friends. On picture day, the yearbook members are taken from classes to help you with the event. Students are told that they will be sent back to class if they are no longer helping with pictures.

While taking pictures, a few students start playing around instead of doing their part to assist with the flow of the process. These two students were picked not due to their work efforts, but because of your friendship with their parents. If you do not send these two students back to class (as you clearly defined prior to picture day), then you have empowered those two students in a negative manner.

 Kids flourish with clearly defined, consistent expectations. When looking at the rosters for upcoming classes, I realized quickly I needed to be on top of classroom management. The first day, I told the classes expectations that I had for their daily performance. I discussed these behaviors with a stern voice, providing examples of what I needed to see each day.  As they left my room, I could see that they had lost their equilibrium, and their usual behavior was in a state of unbalance. The second day, I reviewed the goals of the students. On this day, however, I told each class that I knew they were going to be my favorite. We created a "contract" that would outline what they thought actions a teacher demonstrating respect would exhibit. Then, the students created a list of behaviors they thought would garner the right to have a party at midterms. You can see one of the class charts below:

The contract was signed by every student in blue pen, and hung on the wall. To my amazement, the two classes that created contracts have become my favorite classes! It takes time and reinforcement to encourage those positive behaviors, but it is well worth my sanity to take the time out each day to praise them for their hard work and respectful manners.

Monday, October 20, 2014

School Spirit

In the hustle and bustle of covering massive amounts of content, we tend to forget that we are working with KIDS.  It would be lovely to think that the math concept that we poured our heart and soul into teaching would be the lasting memory of these kids, but the memories that these young ones will retain are of the things that occur outside of our instruction. Teachers sometimes forget that they were once, too.

We recently ended "Spirit Week" for our school. One day, we had hat day. Another day was wacky Wednesday, where students wore outfits that creatively expressed their interpretation of crazy. The students got to have a pep rally the day before our Homecoming game, and the culmination of the week was a dance held on Friday.

My 6th grade students in first period designed and created my door. I think they did an outstanding job!

Although I think our Spirit Week was fantastic, the purpose behind my post is much different. If you want kids to "buy in" to our school environment, you must provide them ways to create a vested interest in the day to day happenings. For some of the kids that darken your doorway, their life at school is the only chance they get to redesign who they want to be. Some of the kids that come to school have lives that require them to grow up too quickly, so it is vitally important that we allow our students time to "be kids."