Creating Digital Reusable Lesson Plans

My first principal gave me a very large lesson plan book.  It had lots of space to write in my plans for each hour of each day, and most of my teacher friends were always rushing to get theirs written down.  However, being a techie, I asked if I could design my own lesson plan format on my computer.  After receiving approval, I decided to use Adobe PageMaker (which is no longer available) because I had been using it since 1987.

When the new school year began, I simply opened up the old file (LessonPlans8788), renamed it (LessonPlans8889) and started tweaking the lesson plans.  As I created new lessons or dropped old ones, it was easy to change the line-up on my digital lesson plans.  If the resource teacher needed a copy of what we were doing in class, it was simple to print another copy for her. 

When we adopted the new Houghton-Mifflin Language Arts curriculum in the early 2000s, it came with a CD that had lesson plans loaded on it.  I decided to spend a day copying and pasting those plans into my PageMaker file.  Then I added the weekly band schedule on one side of my lessons, and morning procedures on the other.  The addition of page numbers and standards made my plans almost substitute teacher ready.

Though Adobe no longer makes PageMaker, you can still create your own lesson plan template using MicrosoftWord, Apple’s Pages, Quark XPress, or most word processing/layout programs.  It is time-consuming in the beginning, but I no longer have to reinvent the lesson plans every year in a big, blank book.  I can spend my time with more important things, like making the lessons better to ensure student success.

Put Your Class in Jeopardy!

Answer: This television quiz show has been number one in the United States and its school classrooms for more than 45 years.

Question:  What is Jeopardy?

One of the most engaging review methods is the Jeopardy! format.  Give students the answer to a question, and they must come up with the question that fits that answer.  More than a decade ago, I remember making a Jeopardy! game for student review using a pocket chart and a lot of index cards.  Today, there are several ways to put your class in Jeopardy! for engaging and exciting review!

Photo: Tammy Dunbar 2008

Action Research: An Interactive Way to Make Teaching Better

When I first started taking classes toward my Masters degree at Teachers College of San Joaquin, my first professor, Dr. Joel, introduced us to Action Research.

Unfamiliar with the term, I read up and discovered that it was exactly what my Intermediate team and I had been doing since 2006.  Action Research, according to Wikipedia, ” is a research initiated to solve an immediate problem or a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a ‘community of practice’ to improve the way they address issues and solve problems.”

Think of it as a spiral Scientific Method.  You identify a problem, discuss it, make a plan (hypothesis) to solve the problem, try it out in class (experiment), and reflect on the results & data.  If the plan didn’t work, make a new plan and go through the steps again.  If the plan worked,  address the new problems that arise and go through the steps again. 

The idea behind Action Research is that our lessons are never perfect, never complete.  They always need reworking and tweeking and updating to make them engaging and effective for our ever-changing student population.

Action Research works very well when it comes to educational technology.  My Intermediate team came together in 2006 when we received an Enhancing Education Through Technology government grant.  Along with new technological equipment, the grant required us to have 50 hours of training for each of the two years of the grant.  Participating teachers had to attend meetings and allow classroom visits by the teacher leader (me).  After two years, our group had built up so much mutual trust through working together that we have continued the Action Research model ever since.

Now we’re working on integrating Mobi boards in our classrooms because, though we love our classroom technology, we have been tethered to the front of the class.  And mobility is key to classroom management.  There are challenges and learning curves with any new technology.  But with our team working together on the same equipment, we can overcome mutual problems by sharing our experiences, discussing potential solutions and feeling confident because our team is always there for us. 

Action Research provides the best tool for solving classroom dilemnas, builds community among team members and keeps your teaching fresh so students can stay engaged and find success.

Image from whataboutus.org.uk

Create Online Presentations & Reports with Popplet

Animoto and Prezi are powerful tools, but sometimes your students need something simpler and more user-friendly to get them excited about creating a presentation or report online. 

Popplet is a simple, easy-to-use site which allows students to create flow-chart-like reports or presentations.   It’s like creating a mind-map with sticky notes.  You start with one “popple” in the middle, add content to it, create more “popples” until your report or presentation is done.  And you can add a lot of content including images from Flickr and Facebook accounts, YouTube video or content directly from your computer.  To add a “popple,” just click on the grey circles; to size the “popple,” click the triangle in the lower, right-hand corner and drag it to the size you want.  Text is also easy to add, adjust, color and size.  Popplets can be saved as a jpg or embedded on a website.

My students recently did reports on Explorers, inclucing a diorama and a classroom presentation.  I introduced them to Popplet, Prezi and Animoto (they already knew PowerPoint) to use for their presentations.  Those that used online resources used Popplet because it’s easy to be successful with it quickly.

NOTE: There is also a Popplet App available for $4.99 in the iTunes store.

Videos (Homemade & on the Web) Make Science Engaging & Memorable!

When we adopted our Science curriculum more than eight years ago, we also received materials for a few experiments.  The textbooks and workbooks were nice, but my students really loved doing experiments.  However, with no sink or water in my room, we were limited to what we could do in class.

We were also limited with internet options in our classroom.  So, I started making my own videos (with my daughter & son) so my students could experience the experiments I could not do in class.  There was no fancy iMovie editing available to us at the time (the credits in the video below were recently added) — we did long shots, paused the recording, set up the next scene and hit “record” again.  Regardless, my students really loved the video experiments and how they set us up for the ones we could do in class.

Now all those materials we once had have been used up.  However, with the ability to access streaming video content wirelessly in our classrooms, we are supplementing our old video experiements with new content from Steve Spangler Science.   He’s also got a cool website with free videos as well as materials and eBooks for purchase, so if you save up those BoxTops for Education or have a kind PTA/PTC, you can get a little funding to get some science materials back in your classroom.