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FREE Simulation | 7 Ways to Step Away From the Lecture Podium & Revitalize Your Social Studies Classroom: Simulations


I am really excited about my next several blog posts. Why? Because I want to help you bring excitement and true engagement to your social studies classroom. Between my husband and myself, we have almost 40 years of teaching experience, with most of those years teaching social studies (and I still can't believe that number is close to 40!). We know how important it is to implement a variety of teaching strategies, and one of the most used strategies is the ever popular PowerPoint. Not to knock the PowerPoint lecture and notes thing because some kids really do learn better that way, and students do need to have experience with it because they are going to see it for the rest of their school career. I have had several students who actually prefer this method, and they actually learn more from this delivery method than others. With that said, I have had WAY more students who benefited from other, more hands-on strategies. I hope you will check back with me over the next few months to learn "7 Ways to Step Away From the Lecture Podium & Revitalize Your Social Studies Classroom."
I know that it is really hard to get some of our students excited about social studies because a lot of them see it as irrelevant past events. They think history is dead. They have no idea how those past events have actually impacted their lives today, that those past events can be a good predictor of future events, and that they can use those past events to make better informed future decisions for themselves and their communities. Part of our job as educators is to help them find relevance in past events and help them connect those events to their own lives. Let's face it: our students can be very egocentric. If they don't think something applies to them, they probably won't have a lot of interest in it. 

It's a challenge to find teaching strategies beyond that PowerPoint lecture and notes because there is SO much information students need to learn, and that lecture is one of the easiest and quickest ways to deliver it. However, do most of your students remember the information days, weeks, months, or even years later? Social studies standards vary state to state, and I have found that a lot of states will visit a topic in an early grade, then a few years later circle back to that same topic and go more in depth. For example, in Georgia the Civil War is taught in the 5th grade and then again in high school during US History. How many of those students do you think remember what they learned in 5th grade to be able to dive deeper years later in high school? I am willing to bet many of those high school teachers have to review a lot before they can even get into their curriculum. 

I am not saying that if you use other methods to deliver your instruction students will remember EVERYTHING, because we know that just isn't realistic. BUT maybe they WILL remember the important pieces that will give them that solid foundation they need for later years. 


With all of this in mind, I decided to write a series of blog posts called  "7 Ways to Step Away From the Lecture Podium & Revitalize Your Social Studies Classroom" to help you add some new instructional strategies to your toolbox or to simply give you the push you need to try something new!

This first strategy I want to share is SIMULATIONS (and simulations might be my favorite one!)


What is a simulation?

A simulation is an open-ended scenario presented to students for them assume the roles of other people, make decisions, resolve conflicts, and make predictions to gain a deeper understanding of concepts or events. Simulations make it possible for students to repeat the scenario and make different decisions to see how the outcome is affected. Simulations can have multiple outcomes, depending on the choices the student makes, so students can see how events are connected. A simulation is a form of experiential learning that is student-centered. Some people call simulations "role-playing" because students are pretending to be someone else and assume various viewpoints. Students do not have a specific script to follow or series of actions they must complete. A simulation allows some free-choice for students. Some simulations can be completed in under an hour, while others might take days or weeks. 


Why use simulations?


  • Deeper understandingSimulations allow students to gain a richer understanding and evaluate multiple perspectives of a specific scenario. They can help students better understand historical concepts that they can't experience. It's hard for students to really connect with events and people from the past. Unlike science, you can't perform experiments in social studies, but simulations can offer that hands-on experience students need. You won't have to motivate students because they will want to learn. Most students retain more information learned and applied in a simulation than if they sat through a PowerPoint lecture and took notes. Students aren't observers and listeners during a simulation. They are living through an experience that they can modify. They begin to understand the relationships between events, and they begin to apply learned knowledge in new contexts.
  • Fewer discipline issues- When students are self motivated, we don't have to monitor their behavior. We don't have to redirect their attention. We don't have to ensure they are on task and doing what they should be doing. They are invested and interested. This leads to fewer discipline issues that you have to handle. Who doesn't want that?!
  • Increased engagement- When students participate in hands-on activities, they become more engaged and involved in learning the content as well as using the knowledge to solve problems, explore alternative actions, and come up with their own solutions. Simulations help students move beyond the surface-level learning.
  • Critical thinking- Primary documents can be integrated into simulations to help students make decisions in response to the scenario they face. Students have to be critical thinkers and analyze events to make informed decisions. Simulations help develop the skills of communication, working cooperatively, problem-solving, and critical analysis. Students learn how to use multiple sources of information, visualize and model an event or concept, and evaluate how their actions might affect an outcome. Students better understand their own thought process as they reflect and think about their choices and why they made those decisions. 
  • Improved writingStudents are more articulate and thoughtful in their writing after completing simulations, too. Because they have been able to "feel" the emotions, they are better able to convey their thoughts. How many times have you asked students to write from someone else's point of view, and what they turn in is less than stellar? It's because you are asking them to take on another person's perspective, but you have provided the opportunity for them to really connect with that person. Simulations help bridge this gap.
  • Simulations are effective- Pilots have to log simulator hours, the Pentagon simulates possible conflicts, medical students perform procedures on cadavers, and lawyers perform mock trials. These are just a few examples of how simulations are used in extremely important situations.
  • Simulations are FUN! They allow students to relive history in a sense, and often they can feel like a game. What student doesn't love playing games? The trick is to make sure students don't forget it's more than a game, and I will explain how in the "Roadblocks" section below. I know students love simulations, not because THEY tell me, but because their parents tell me that it left such an impression on their child, they have talked nonstop about it. And wasn't because it was "fun," it was because they had a better grasp of the content and learned it in a fun AND meaningful way.

How do I implement a simulation?

    Simulations can take varying amounts of time, so you need to make sure you accommodate enough time. You don't want to rush this! Depending on the simulation, you could use it as a hook before beginning a unit, or you could use it as a concluding activity after a unit. I have done both, and both are equally effective. It just depends on what your purpose is.

    Simulations have multiple stages. Before implementing a simulation in your classroom, you have to make sure students understand what a simulation is and what the purpose is. It is helpful if you have students do a simple "role-playing" situation so they can understand they are going to assume the identity of someone else. It's important the role is someone students would be familiar with: they could be a new student; they just lost a game; or they have just seen a friend they hadn't seen in a long time. These are simple roles, but it will help you explain to students they have to think from someone else's
    perspective.

    A typical simulation has the following stages:
    1. Background- Depending on the purpose of the simulation, students might need to have specific background knowledge before they go through the simulation. For example, you can't expect students to understand how a World War 1 soldier would feel and react in the trenches if they haven't learned about trench warfare and the new weapons and technologies of WW1. Make sure you equip students with the knowledge they need to be successful.
    2. Assume identities- Students will need to be either assigned a role, or they can choose a role. Again, ensure students understand the role they are playing. 
    3. Actual simulation- Once students have a solid background and understand the role they are assuming, you can go over the purpose and directions of the simulation. I always do a few sample turns with them, so they can see how it works. Sometimes I have my students go through it whole group, sometimes in a small group, sometimes with a partner, and sometimes independently. It really depends on what the simulation is and the purpose. One thing is consistent, though: Don't stop students, interrupt them to give advice, or try to steer them in another direction than what they chose for themselves! Obviously if they need help on how to play it, by all means help them. But even if they ask for advice on a decision, use all your restraint to NOT help them. It's important for them to think critically and make their own choices. Once students have completed the simulation, you might have them choose another role and go through it again, or they could keep the same role and just make different choices. 
    4. Debriefing- I know it's tempting to quickly wrap up after your students finish a simulation, but if it's their first time completing this specific simulation, please spend some time following up with students. This debrief period is an opportunity for your students to analyze their actions, the events that occurred, and discuss what happened and why. This is when most of your students deeper understanding will actually happen because they are able to communicate and interact with other students and you about their experiences. This is also a very important moment to let students talk about their emotions and how they felt. If the simulation is one that could stir up emotions, you need to help students understand why they are feeling that way and how to adjust to the simulation being over (I will address the appropriateness of simulations in the "Considerations" section below). You will need to make sure students are able to understand the relationship of the simulation to the historical concept, and how emotion helps tie them together. Here are some follow-up questions you can ask them:

    • What did you learn from this experience?
    • How did you feel during each of the roles?
    • How was this simulation similar to the real events that occurred? How was it different?
    • What do you think you should have done differently? Why?
    • How were the events connected to ___________?
    These are just a few questions you can ask your students, and they can even discuss these in a small group.

    It is also a good time to get feedback from the students about the simulation. 

    • How can you improve it next time? 
    • Did the simulation help them better understand the concept?

    What are some possible roadblocks?

    As much as I love simulations, I totally get that there are roadblocks along the way. Here are some that I have ran into, or I have been asked about before, and some suggestions for overcoming them (or preventing them altogether):
    • Time consuming- Simulations take time to implement, but they take even more time to create. They aren't something you can throw together in a short amount of time. It takes time to ensure they are historically accurate, appropriate for your students, and will provide the learning opportunity you want for your students. You can't rush through the simulation because you want to make sure students don't get lost in the fun of playing the game. You have to make time for the prep work and the debriefing. Otherwise they won't be nearly as effective. If you want to try out a simulation, but you don't have time to make one, I am offering a free simulation you can try out!
    • Letting go of control- Sometimes it can be hard to let go of your classroom. I get it. But in order for a simulation to work as it is intended, you have to be able to give the reins of the learning environment to your students. You have to be OK with the simulation not necessarily going in the direction you wanted it to go in. This is another reason debriefing is important. You have to let students have experiential learning where they are allowed to move in unexpected directions. This is how they gain that deeper understanding: through trial and error. 
    • Completely different from what you do- Anytime you try something for the first time, there will be hiccups along the way. Simulations can be complicated. There can be many moving pieces. Even if you have done simulations with your students before, anytime you do a simulation for the FIRST time, read through it thoroughly. Read it so many times you have it memorized. You need to be as familiar with the instructions as possible, so you can explain it thoroughly to your students. I have found it very helpful to play the simulation first, either with my husband, one of my children, or a colleague, so I better understand it. This helps me become confident in teaching my students about the simulation.
    • Assess students- Anytime we have students complete an activity that takes time, we want to make sure they have learned something. Simulations can be tricky to assess because students might make a wrong choice, but that's OK! They can use the knowledge they gained from that experience to correct their mistake. I usually assess my students based on the debriefing period, using informal observations and our discussion. Another way I love to assess my students is by assigning them a related RAFT task. This helps improve their writing AND allows them to apply their learning. I can easily see if they reached our learning targets by assessing their RAFT writings. 

    • It's all play- Students will sometimes slip into the mindset of it's just a game. There isn't an educational target. However, this is when you step in to remind students of the purpose of the simulation. It's great that simulations can be so engaging that students get totally sucked in, but it's our job as the teacher to pull them back down and make sure they are actively thinking about the concepts WHILE they go through the simulation.
    • Winners and losers- Sometimes there might be a winner(s) and loser(s). You need to remind students that the purpose is not to win, but to gain a deeper understanding about the content. You will have competitive students. I sure did! But I never offered prizes or incentives, and I always let my students go through it again, whether as a guided activity or as an early finishers choice. 

    Considerations


    • Don't forget your students when planning or selecting a simulation. I have seen a lot of simulations I would not have my students complete because I didn't believe they were appropriate. I am not saying the simulation wasn't good, but I knew it would achieve what I wanted for my students. This is where you have to use professional judgement and weigh the pros and cons. You have to know your students well enough to determine if a simulation would be too easy or difficult for students level-wise, but also emotionally.

    • You don't want to minimize other's perspectives or feelings in a simulation. For example, I chose not to use a certain simulation during our Holocaust unit. Asking students to find hiding places, or pretend to be persecuted was not something I felt appropriate.  I did not want to minimize how those targeted during the Holocaust felt, or how survivors of the Holocaust feel today. Those events are too immense to trivialize in a simulation. Asking students to emotionally feel how they felt is impossible. I attended a training sponsored by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and I realized that if I wanted students to emotionally understand those events, there were other ways than by asking them to feel like someone who went through it. I invited Holocaust survivors to speak with my students, and that was WAY more powerful than having them go through a simulation. 

    • Remember to be sensitive to simulations as they relate to ethnicity and race. We don't want to oversimplify history and oppression, nor do we want to trivialize others' experiences. Allow students to opt-out of potential emotional simulations. Don't group students in a simulation based on characteristics that represent real-life oppression. This can be very hurtful. Know your students and what they can handle, so simulations don't become personal.


    Tips to make it run smoothly

    1. Explicitly go over the learning target, purpose, rules, and expectations of the simulation. Students have to thoroughly understand what is expected.
    2. Have all materials in an easy to access location. Using envelopes, tubs, and baggies help keep things organized.  
    3. Hold students accountable for their participation. Let them know how they will be assessed: informal observation, discussion participation, RAFT writing task, etc. 
    4. Anticipate how it could go wrong and discuss this with your students. If you have never done a simulation before, you won't be able to do this.
    5. Even though you are hands-off during the simulation, you still need to be monitoring your students closely to ensure they understand the purpose and benefits of the stimulation.
    6. If students are working in small groups, try to have one student in each group that has a clear understanding of the simulation. This student can help his group members if they get stuck and you are unavailable to help.

    If you are wanting to try out a simulation, but you aren't sure how to create one or where to find one, I have this free World War 2: Battle of Iwo Jima simulation that I created. Try it out, and see how you and your students like it! If you want to learn more about how students play this simulation, I embedded a video where I talk you through the simulation below. 


    If you have experience with implementing simulations in your classroom, I would love to hear about it in the comments below!


    Hook Your Reluctant Students with Little Known Facts

    I don't know about you, but I had students in my social studies class that didn't like history (**gasp**). I don't know how anyone could not like history, but these students did not. I was faced with making history interesting enough so they would participate in class and LEARN. Sometimes I know the standards I have to teach aren't overly interesting (government and Econ, I'm looking at you), but even those standards I thought were super interesting, these kiddos were like, "Meh." And I was like, "Seriously?! This is cool!"

    I would also come across tidbits of information I really wanted to spend time teaching my students, but these weren't in the standards. I didn't want to confuse my students on what they were expected to learn versus not, so I came up with a way to still fit these interesting facts in AND engage my most reluctant, history-aversion learners.

    And this is how Unlock History's Secret Vaults ™ came to be! If you would rather watch and listen, you can do that on my Facebook page where I discuss how I use Unlock History's Secret Vaults ™ to engage my most reluctant learners and give those high achieving kiddos trivia bits. If you would rather read about it, just keep scrolling!



    Why did I create this resource?
    I always wanted to share tidbits of interesting information with my students about the topics we studied, but often there wasn’t enough time to fit it in. I didn’t want to just throw random facts at them, so I created a resource that would incorporate these tidbits and encourage student interaction. Some of the facts are common myths or misconceptions, some are controversial and were hidden, and others are just cool facts to learn. There are many misconceptions and myths, and I wanted to address this with my students. There are also facts that are controversial and were buried throughout history. I wanted my students to be aware of these facts, too. Some of the facts I thought were just really cool to learn, and so did my students!




    What is in this resource?
    This resource includes 10 color vaults, each with an interesting fact that may or may not be true. There are also 10 answers that explain why the fact is or is not true. For those of you who want to save color ink, there are 10 blackline vaults. There is a recording sheet and question cards that can be used to facilitate small group discussions and help students think through their responses. The question cards are also available in blackline. You can print the blackline vaults and question cards onto color paper. I have also included a separate file with one vault per page if you want to use this resource whole group.





    How do I use this resource?
    This resource is very versatile. You can use the vaults as:

    • stations to review at the end of the unit
    • table talks to get students talking to each other and to organize their thoughts
    • bell ringer to start off class with students thinking about the current topic of study
    • early finisher activity
    • time filler for those days when you finish your daily lesson early

    Who benefits from this resource?
    Every student in your class benefits!

    • Reluctant learners who don’t like history will find the facts interesting.
    • Advanced students who like to learn as much as possible about history will learn little known facts.
    • ELL students will be encouraged to participate in small group discussions to improve their language skills and history knowledge.
    • Struggling students who need to participate in small group discussions to think through the content to better understand it.
    • Any student because they will have to use their learned knowledge to formulate their reasoning to determine if a fact is true or false.

    This resource is meant to be low prep for you. You can simply print it 2-sided and cut it in the middle (each page has 2 vaults), or you can make copies and assemble using glue or staples. 




    You could even add small magnets or velcro to give your students to experience of really unlocking history's secret vaults! 




    You can get really creative and make your own mini-vaults to store each topic in, or you can simply store in baggies, envelopes, or small plastic tubs. 

    My students really loved learning these tidbits of information, and it also hooked my most reluctant learners, which is what I was after. Everything else was just icing on the cake :) I really hope you enjoy this new resource, and if you are interested in being notified of when I release new topics, be sure to sign up for my newsletter below!





    Setting Up the Middle Grades Classroom



    Hey everyone! I figure since it's almost back to school season for some of you all, I wanted to update my BTS blog post I did a couple of years ago. I am going to share how I set up my classroom for the new school year. (I did change my room up after I wrote the original blog post, so some of the newer pics may look a little different. The original pics are at the bottom of the post because I wanted to offer as much inspiration as I could as you head back!)


    Before I even begin decorating my room, I still write down every function I need my classroom to perform. I want to make sure I have a designated area for everything. AND that everything will actually fit. Nothing is more frustrating than decorating most of my room, and then realizing that all I wanted to include won't be possible because I have run out of space. 

    A place for students to turn in (and store) their work 
    Since I am teaching social studies, I know my students will be working on a lot of projects. These will most likely stay in my room, so not only do I need a place for students to turn in their work, I need space for them to store their work. Did I mention I teach 5 classes? So about 150 students...I need to have space for their work...ALL of them...during projects. 

    Supply corner
    My students will be coming to me with all the needed school supplies (pencils, pens, highlighters, markers, scissors, glue, etc.). However, there are always a handful who somehow forgets their supplies. Instead of wasting time having them go to their lockers to get their forgotten supplies, I want to have a corner of my room with everything they need, so they can quickly get a loaner (and I know most will go missing because loaners become theirs. That's why I have tubs of extras in my closet. And I have been known to ask students for a shoe when they borrow a pencil from me because they give it back every single time).

    Storage for extra supplies
    Since I will be needing to replenish my "I forgot my supplies" corner, I know I will need adequate space to keep all the extras that will eventually make their way to that corner...and I need storage for my own supplies.


    Absent work
    This is a biggie. One reason why I love middle school is because the responsibility of completing classwork, getting work missed, etc. falls on the STUDENT. Not me. The STUDENT. So when someone is absent, it is his/her responsibility to get missing work. We use an on-line platform, and I post what we are doing in class. However, if a student does not have access to a printer or a computer at home (which families can actually check out a laptop from our media center and get a broadband card for free so they do have the needed technology at home), or their Internet "broke" (which is an excuse I hear...a lot....) I need a place to neatly keep missing assignments so students can get it on their own without asking me.




    Word Wall
    Even though I teach middle school, I am going to have a word wall in my room. It's non-negotiable. This year my word wall will consist of social studies vocabulary because there is a LOT of content-specific words in the curriculum. I created my own word cards, and I  put a visual representation on each card to help students make connections as well as the definition. *You can check out this word wall by clicking {HERE}*






    When I taught ELA, I had a Greek and Latin roots/affixes word wall. There are SO many students are responsible for learning, and I found that they were forgetting already learned ones. I created a word wall specifically for students to refer to all year long. I put this word wall on a bulletin board. During the year, students would write words that contained a specific root/affix on a notecard and then tack onto the board under the word wall card. Students were on the lookout for roots/affixes without me having to ask! You can also use this word wall during science because several vocabulary terms have these roots/affixes. My students were referring to my word wall to remember key science terms! You can see this word wall by clicking {HERE}.

    Maps
    Maps, maps, maps.....and more maps. I will be teaching Europe, Canada, Australia, Latin America, and islands in the Caribbean. We are literally all over the world. So I will be hanging up a lot of maps in my room. Good thing I love maps :)

    A place to display student work 
    Even middle schoolers like to have their work hanging on the wall! I don't have wall space outside my classroom (darn those lockers!), nor do I have wall space for 150 kiddos. I can, though, have a dedicated space on my wall and rotate out student work, so they know I appreciate and respect what they create. And, even though they may not admit it, they are proud when they know their work is important enough to display.

    Quotes
    I love quotes. Wen I coached basketball years ago, there were 2 girls responsible for finding a quote to read to the team before our game. They had to explain the significance of the quote and how it pertained to our team and the upcoming game. It was amazing to hear the message my players heard from those quotes and the impact it made on them. So I knew I wanted a wall space for quotes for my middle schoolers. I also decided that since there are specific people I will be teaching, most of the quotes will be said by those people (yet another on-going project for myself this year!). Not only will these quotes hopefully give my students something to think about, but the quotes will also help my students remember the significance of each person.

    Interactive notebook table of contents
    I will be using an interactive notebook this year. There is SO much content I will be teaching, I have to make the material engaging for my students. I will do this through INB and projects. I need a place where I can display our INB table of contents so if students are absent or get behind, they can see what they missed and what they need to make up. This won't take up much space at all either...thank goodness!


    Daily Schedule and Announcements
    Our schedule changes every 3 weeks, so I have to post a daily schedule so students will know where they are going next and when. Our daily class times vary, too, because we have a homeroom period W-F. It gets confusing! However, the kids really do pick up quickly on it...so I guess the posted schedule is more for me. I created 3 different schedules, and each one is two-sided to show the different times that we use during the week. I can easily put the schedule up on my board with magnets. I also write on the board important announcements the students need to know such as upcoming projects/tests/events, homework, class activities, focus for the day, etc.

    Word Splash
    I love word splashes. I consider a word splash to be a group of words associated with one term. Because we will be studying 5 different areas, I want to help my students recognize key terms associated with each area. I need a large enough area to display the current splash as well as previous splashes (and I really need to think of a cuter name). I am going to color code each region's splash because color can help some students with remembering word associations. 

    Fun social media board
    We are a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) district. Our kids come to school with different types of devices. I know they use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I am going to bring those social media platforms to my classroom. I need a space where I can have an interactive bulletin board that they students will be responsible for updating. I have several ideas floating around in my head, but until the school year gets going, I am not sure which path I will take. As soon as I figure it out though, I will be blogging about it on my blog, so be sure to check in with me regularly!

    This day in history...
    I love trivia. And I love to know what happened today in history. This will be another interactive display my students will be responsible for updating. It won't need much room, but I do want a space where students can easily switch out events that happened in history, and I hope they find really obscure or interesting, little known facts! I just want them to become fascinated by history because I did NOT like social studies when I was in school. AT ALL. I am trying to think of things that would have helped pique my interest in hopes that it carries over to my students. I wrote a blog post dedicated to this project, and you can read about it {HERE}. Oh, and you can download (for free!) everything you need to do this project in your own classroom :)


    Important displays/posters

    I have class discussions often, so it's very important for students to understand ground rules for class discussion. I make I sure post anything that is very important like this in a prominent place in the room where it is easily seen by every student, no matter where they sit. In the photo below you will see a pic of 6 small posters, each with a ground rule for our class discussions. It's just to the left of our "This Day in History" display, so I can easily refer to it at the beginning of the year to help students learn how to discuss and debate in our class. If you are interested in learning more about how I set discussion norms in my classroom, I write a blog post {HERE} and you can also download those posters for free. Enjoy!



    A place for students to sit
    I guess this is important :) I do not like desks. Nope nope nope. These are the adjoined chair and desk, and they are so cumbersome! I like to have my students sit in groups, and those desks would move all over the room! They drove me crazy. I wasn't keen on the idea at the beginning of last year, but thought I would give them a try. I nixed that the 3rd week of school. So, over the span of several months, I replaced desks with tables. Now I have 6 rectangular tables and 1 circle table for my students. Not only do these tables not migrate, I have way more space than if I had 30+ desks. I want my students to get on the floor and spread out and easily do group work. Tables allow me to have extra space in the room.

    Once I knew what all needed to be in my room, I could begin moving furniture and decorating! Did I mention I love how I teach just one subject? I don't remember how in the world I fit everything 5 needed for multiple subjects in one room! I am going to eventually need storage space for social studies games and centers that I will be making this year, and I made sure to leave some blank space in my room for my new creations and, more importantly, for student creations. Oh, and keep in mind how you might rearrange if you are going to do any class transformations! In the photo below you can see how I had to "cram" our Aztec temple in front of our wall of maps, and the temple was around for about 2 months (I actually left it up past our Aztec unit because it took FOREVER to make and I had to have other teachers help me so I finished it in time).

    Lighting
    I noticed two years ago that when school started back, I started to get really bad headaches. This had never happened before, so I wasn't quite sure what was going on. On the weekends and during breaks, my daily headaches went away. I finally figured out that it was because of the overhead lights. Luckily, we are able to have lamps in our classrooms and patio lights that are outdoor grade (and if we need an extension cord, it has to be outdoor grade, too). I went straight away to Target and bought lamps and patio lights. I wanted enough so that I could not have my overhead lights on at all. We can't have the lamps and lights on for a long time period a day, so I kept an ear to the ground to know when our fire inspector was in our building :) My headaches went away, and my students would comment on how soothing and peaceful our room was. Anytime I had to be out, the sub would have the overhead lights on, and when I returned my students would complain about the bright lights they had to endure :)




    You can join my email list by using the form below. I will send you an exclusive freebie for joining, and you will stay updated with the latest happenings at Brainy Apples :) ***THE PICS BELOW ARE FROM TWO YEARS AGO*** I decided to leave them because you can see how my classroom has evolved. Some parts are the same, some I have really changed. After living in my room for a year, I realized what did and did not work for me, but I did want to give you as many visuals and possibilities as I could!

    Here's the fun part! Now, my room is not totally complete. I know there will be things I didn't think of that I need to add to my room. I learned in years past to NOT decorate every square inch of my room. Not only do ideas hit me out of nowhere, but I also want students to feel like it's THEIR room, too. It does make it look a little blah at the beginning of the year, but by the 3rd month (if not sooner), it becomes more colorful with the help of my students!

    So, here we go with my classroom set up! I will address each item on my "Must Have" list:


    A place for students to turn in (and store) their work 







    Supply corner

    Storage for extra supplies



    Absent work
    (the absent work display is behind my door)


    A place to display student work, Interactive notebook table of contents, & This day in history...

    Word Splash, Fun social media board, & Word Wall


    Maps









    I really hope you were able to get some inspiration from my classroom pics! And know it's totally OK to change up your room. I actually started to rearrange mine after almost half the year had passed. It's like your home away from home. Once you start spending a lot of time in it, you begin to see what does and does not work for you and your students. Just remember to not stress to much about your classroom set up and organization and just try to have as much fun as possible! And one thing I started to do was ask for student input on how our class is set up. Their voices also led me to making some changes, and they really appreciate it! It's their home away from home, too :)

    I hope you have a wonderful back to school and an amazing school year!!!!!

    You can join my email list by using the form below. I will send you an exclusive freebie for joining, and you will stay updated with the latest happenings at Brainy Apples :)

    Spend Less Time Reteaching Using Daily Spiral Math

    How many of your students forget learned math skills, and you find yourself having to reteach those skills before you can progress to the next big idea? This definitely happened to me, and I really wanted to find a solution so that I wasn't in a constant state of spending days reteaching skills my students had learned earlier in the year.

    The math curriculum I used was a mastery-based curriculum, which I prefer over a spiral-based curriculum. Mastery-based focuses on teaching units of study, with students mastering the idea before moving onto the next unit. Spiral-based focuses on teaching small chunks of a variety of skills, and then cycling back through to teach those same skills but to a higher level (I guess it's also called laddering). I used a spiral-based curriculum years ago, and I could not stand it at all. It didn't work well for my struggling students because they needed more time to practice those skills, and jumping around just flat out confused them. 

    So when my district adopted a mastery-curriculum, I was jumping for joy. I also knew, too, that I needed to have something in place so my kids would not forget math skills from units we completed.  I loved using Calendar Math on a daily basis because when we counted money every day, by the time the money unit came up, most of my kids had a solid understanding of each coin and were already counting change. Sure, a few of my students still didn't understand money even after counting coins for 103 days, but they did have more background knowledge than if we hadn't counted coins for 103 days. I decided to create a spiraling resource I could use with my students from day 1 that would serve this same purpose, but for all of our standards.

    What are daily spiral math reviews?
    The reviews I created served as a supplement to my existing math curriculum. Each day students are practicing one problem from each of the grade level's math domains. So when I taught 1st grade, students solved 4 problems a day. When I taught 4th grade, students solved 5 a day. These reviews take about 10-15 minutes a day to complete and go over. They are bite-sized chunks so that students are quickly reviewing and even previewing skills all year long.

    What are the benefits of a daily spiral math review?
    There are several reasons I used daily spiral math reviews in my class. The main reason, though, is I loved how my students were getting a quick review of skills they had already learned. I didn't realize how well my students were retaining skills, though, until it came to our end of year review sessions before the state standardized test. Previous years it took several days to review concepts I had taught earlier in the year and get it fresh in my students' minds again. The first year I used a daily spiral math review, though, I only spent a day reviewing. And, honestly, I wouldn't even call it a review because my students remembered the skills! I was ecstatic, and they were confident going into the EOY test because they hadn't crammed the info into their minds just for the test. They had truly mastered those skills. Another benefit of using a daily spiral math review is that it provides the perfect opportunity for informal assessments. You can get a snapshot of how each student is progressing, and you can also identify any weaknesses BEFORE you teach that unit. You can plan ahead for interventions so when you get to that unit, you can hit the ground running with those struggling students. You can also plan ahead acceleration activities for those students who have already mastered those standards. Daily spiral math reviews can help you differentiate your instruction for each unit, so you are meeting each student's individual needs.

    How can you use daily spiral math reviews?
    I used them in a variety of ways in my classroom. I used them as bell ringers because it helped my students get into the mathematical way of thinking. I also used them as morning work so that students had something meaningful to get their minds right for the school day. As the year progressed, I used them as a math center station (we had math centers before our math block), so that when our math block began the review was already finished and we could quickly go over them. At the end of the year they became homework because students had mastered all of the standards. The possibilities are numerous, and you will be able to find the best way to use them for your classroom.

    What if students struggle?
    I did not always make my struggling students complete all of the review. Sometimes I would circle the problems I wanted them to solve. Sometimes I would work with them on those skills we hadn't learned yet in a small group. It would only take a few minutes of our group work time. My students also learned that it was OK to not attempt a problem if they did not know how. However, my students also knew my expectation was if we had learned the skill in class, they HAD to work on solving the problem. I wanted them to learn perseverance and not just throw their hands up if it was difficult BUT reasonable for them to solve.

    That first year my second grade students and I found great success using daily spiral math reviews. So much so, when I changed to first grade, I created a daily spiral math review for first grade. And then when I became a curriculum coach, I created daily spiral math reviews for the other elementary grade levels. I now have a year long daily spiral math review for grades K-5. It took time, but it was WELL worth it! I would love to offer you a free week to see if will work for you! Just click {HERE} or the image below to receive a free week for grades K-5 from the month of August.
    Brainy Apples, math, math retention, daily review, spiral review, morning work, homework

    Interested in learning more about why and how I use daily spiral math reviews, or even how to create your own? Check out my upcoming webinars to find a date that works for you! You can also join my email list below to stay informed.





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