Thanks for stopping by E for Educate, a blog that seeks to support teachers in their daily grind by offering ideas, resources, encouragement, occasional laughs, and a forum for discussion of educational “hot topics”.

October Time!

October Time

October is already just around the corner. Here are some interactive activity ideas linked to the month of October that you could use with your students.

  1. Reading Competition. October is National Book Month. Talk to your students about the importance of reading, and have a competition to see who can read the most books during the month of October. Dedicate a bulletin board (or poster) to your reading competition, and give your students an age-appropriate book report format. Every time they read a book, they need to complete a report and hang it on the bulletin board. Encourage students to read and talk about their reports. At the end of the month, have a prize (a new book, perhaps?) for the student that read the most books. If you are on your school’s leadership team, you could even consider arranging a similar competition between classes. For more ideas on encouraging students to read, click here.
  2. Fire Prevention Session. October is also Fire Prevention Month.  See if a volunteer firefighter can come to school and address the children, talking to them about how firefighters put out fires and, more importantly, about ways to prevent fires. If possible, arrange for the firefighter to bring a fire truck with him to show the students. As a class, write a letter of gratitude and appreciation to your local firemen.
  3. Get Organized! The first week of October is Get Organized Week. Share this information with your students and give them a little extra time (maybe 10 minutes at the beginning of class, or a home room period) to get themselves organized. Don’t forget to share these tips with them.
  4. Wildlife Research. The second week of October is Wildlife Week. Tell each student to pick one form of wildlife they are interested in and learn more about it. At the end of the week, they need to tell the class what wildlife animal they chose, where it lives, what it needs for survival, what threatens its survival and what we can do to help preserve it if the species is really threatened.
  5. Healthy Habits, Healthy Children! The third week of October is National Health Education Week. Take some time to talk to your students about the importance of healthy habits. Give your students (as groups or individuals) topics to pick from (e.g. eating, drinking, sleeping, exercise, hygiene), and tell them to research their topic and make a list of healthy habits associated with it. Give your students a little time in class to share their conclusions.
  6. Chocolate Lovers! October 28 is Chocolate Day. Tell your students in advance and ask them to research, on their own time, the history of chocolate, the process of making chocolate, any health benefits associated with chocolate, and any health disadvantages associated with it. If it isn’t against school policy, bring your class a chocolate treat on October 28.

Have a great month of October, everyone!


11 Ways to Help Students Take Risks in the Classroom


11 ways to Help Students Take Risks

It’s easy to say that teachers should help students take risks. It’s harder to actually make this happen in the classroom. Here are a few things teachers can do to encourage their students to take risks, learn from mistakes and develop a growth mindset.

  • Give students different roles and responsibilities in the classroom. Make sure students take turns fulfilling different roles – this gives them the opportunity to develop different skills, practice leading and facilitating, and learn from their mistakes along the way. Possible roles: leading a group project, or being a time keeper, recorder, checker, etc.
  • Give students many opportunities to predict what they think will happen before reading, completing a project or doing an experiment. Students will then evaluate their prediction; if it was incorrect, they need to analyze why. Making a mistake is not wrong, as long as they later understand why they made a mistake and learn from it. Mistakes can actually bring students closer to the truth.
  • Encourage problem solving. Incorporate real life problems, especially ones directly related to your students, into your instructional methods.
  • Ask your students to come up with possible ways to solve the problems, instead of giving them a set of steps to follow. This helps them develop higher level thinking skills and creativity. It also encourages them to express themselves even if they’re not sure their idea will work – a case of risk taking.
  • Validate your students’ ideas and feelings. Even when their idea is “wrong”, or their feeling needs to be guided, first show them that you understand how they reached that conclusion or why they feel that way.
  • Praise students when they put forth effort, take risks and seek to challenge themselves. Show your students that you value these characteristics more than you value a “perfect” product/performance.
  • When you evaluate a group project, discussion, etc. focus more on the learning process than on individual results.
  • Give students ample time to research, observe and inquire into different topics.
  • Show your students how to take risks and make mistakes through your example. When you make a mistake, point it out and share what you learn from it. When you have an opportunity to take a risk, talk to your students about it.
  • Grade your students based on their growth. This helps minimize the fear of making mistakes because students know you’re more interested in how much they learned than how many mistakes they made.
  • Encourage your students to set personal goals for the year. Toward the end of the year, invite them to share their goals, and discuss/evaluate what strategies they used.

It will take your students time to develop a growth mindset, especially if they have already have a “set” mindset. Be patient and give them as many opportunities in this area as you can. Come up with your own ideas, not included on this list – even if they don’t work, you’ll have given your students another example of taking a risk and learning from your mistakes!

Helping Students Get Organized


Help Your Students Get Organized

In my last post, I suggested organization as a strategy that can help students handle stress. Sometimes, lack of organization is itself the main cause of stress – students get tense when they aren’t succeeding at school because they can never find the right files or get to class on time… Other times, lack of organization is a secondary issue, causing an already stressed student to get even more stressed. In all cases, encouraging students to organize their school life can only help their situation, relieving stress and empowering them to succeed by being better prepared and more productive.

  1. Keep an assignment planner – a designated location where they write down all assignments, and their due dates. Remind your students to organize their planner in a way that makes sense to them – by subject or by due date, for example. With information technology readily available, students that don’t want to be carrying an extra notebook around can maintain an electronic assignment planner, either creating and updating a document on their computer/phone/tablet, or downloading an app designed for this purpose.
  2. Make check-lists. If a teacher assigns a multiple-step assignment, students can break the assignment into smaller, easier to follow steps. This can help your students make sure they fulfill all requirements of their assignment.
  3. Use a calendar. This can be part of the student’s assignment planner or separate. The calendar should help them keep track of important events and responsibilities they have in addition to their assignments. This gives your student the opportunity to prepare in advance.
  4. Learn the schedule well. Tell students to memorize it if they can; if it’s too complicated, tell them to keep it somewhere easily accessible at all times. Knowing the schedule can help students show up to the right class at the right time, and decreases stress associated with figuring out which way to go at the last minute and arriving late.
  5. Develop a personal system of organization. Students need to find strategies that work for them. How is it easiest for them to organize their personal work? Do they want separate notebooks for each subject, accompanied by folders to hold handouts or work ready to be submitted? Or do they want one binder per subject with different sections for notes, handouts and assignments? Give your students different suggestions they can try until they find what works best for them.
  6. Get organized before leaving for school. Being organized at home will help students show up to school prepared. If they get what they need ready the night before, they won’t end up rushing out the door without half of what they need. They can review their assignment list, gather their books and even get an outfit ready the night before so their day begins in organized way.
  7. Organize time after school. If your students set regular time for their homework and responsibilities, they will know they always get done and won’t be wondering half the time what they still have left to do. After school activities and socializing are fine, as long as they don’t become an obstacle to success. Remind your students to arrange their social life around their responsibilities if they want to succeed at school – they shouldn’t take on more than they can handle.
  8. Organize supplies. Encourage your students to keep their desks clear and their school supplies organized. This mitigates distraction and gives them easier access to materials they need to use on a regular basis
  9. Choose a productive study area. Where your students study makes a difference. Studying on their bed while watching TV, or with a friend at McDonalds isn’t the best way to engage in the learning process. Tell your students to pick a study area conducive to learning and with as few distractions as possible. Somewhere quiet, well lit and with easy access to resources would be a good idea.
  10. Take study breaks. Just like students need to organize their time and study methods, their minds need to organize their thoughts. Studying too long without a break doesn’t give their minds time to digest and organize everything they take in. Students should take at least a short 3-5 minute break every hour.
  11. Make backups. Whether your students are working with pen and paper or an electronic file, remind them to make an electronic backup or photocopy of their work. This way, they will still be prepared even if the neighbor’s dog eats their assignment or, as is more likely, they misplace their paper or get a virus on their jump drive.

10 Ways to Help Students Handle Stress

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In yesterday’s post, How to Engage the Uninterested Student, I referred to helping students relieve stress as a possible strategy. The following techniques can help students minimize stress in their lives.

  1. Identify the cause of  stress and decide whether or not it can be changed. For example, if the cause of stress is coming from school, due to bullying, a heavy course load, etc., the school probably has systems to help students resolve such issues. Refer your student to the proper personnel within the school that can help him. If the cause of stress comes from the home (parents getting divorced, too much pressure for perfection, financial instability, lack of parental presence, etc.), encourage your student to stop trying to change something that is outside of his control – it only causes more stress.
  2. Talk to a good friend or mentor about what’s worrying them. Maybe it won’t change the situation, but sharing his thoughts and feelings with someone else can help your student put things in perspective, find solutions and feel relief.
  3. Find ways to laugh. Encourage your student to spend time with people that make him laugh, think of fun memories, or read a joke book… A sense of humor can help him relax and de-stress.
  4. Develop strong friendships. Help your student develop good relationships with other students. While this doesn’t change what’s causing stress, it can add a new and supportive dimension to his life, giving him more opportunities to release his stress.
  5. Exercise. Stretching, walking, running, biking can all help relieve stress physically.
  6. Sleep well. Getting a full night’s sleep makes a big difference with stress levels. A well rested student is able to see things in perspective and has the energy to react proactively.
  7. Eat well. Like sleep, a healthy, balanced diet can relieve stress and give the student greater control over his thoughts, feelings and actions.
  8. Relax. Tell the student to find things that he enjoys doing and help him relax (music, drawing, talking, etc.), and to find regular time for these activities.
  9. Look for things that are going well and appreciate them. This can help a student worry less about what’s stressing him, and focus more on all that’s going well.
  10. Get organized. Lack of organization can be the primary cause of stress, or a secondary cause that increases stress due to distraction. In both cases, help your student realize that establishing organized systems and keeping track of his responsibilities can mitigate stress and build his self-confidence.

How to Engage the Uninterested Student

Uninterested Student

There will always be one or two, if not more, students sitting in your classroom but not really there. They might be looking at the ceiling, shuffling through their books or backpack, or staring out the window or trying to make eye contact with a pal across the aisle. These students are often the thorn in a teacher’s side, the hardest ones to work with. They can be very bright, but stay uninvolved.

How can teachers help these students? Balancing the desire to pull in the uninterested student while continuing to meet the needs of the rest of the class can be a challenge. Here are a few ideas that can help:

Begin by identifying possible causes of the student’s lack of interest. Then adopt a strategy that will help solve the cause of their behavior.

Causes of Lack of Interest

Teacher Strategies

Difficulties at home. Is the student distracted, uninterested, or possibly even depressed due to pressures outside of school (rocky relationships at home, financial difficulties, etc.)? If you know of specific circumstances that could be affecting the student’s behavior, meet with him and/or his parents to discuss the way circumstances at home are influencing his success at school. Be sympathetic and understanding, and encourage the student as much as possible to try to separate their home worries from school.Give students strategies to help them identify and relieve their stress.
Lifestyle. Is the student disengaged because he’s staying up too late, not eating enough, or not leading a balanced lifestyle in some other way? If the student seems tired or famished, ask them if they are getting enough sleep and food. Discuss elements of a healthy lifestyle and encourage the student to make necessary adjustments. Explain that changing his habits will not only help him succeed more in school, but will also improve his health, energy level, etc. across the board.
Peer pressure. Is a student acting uninterested to be “cool”? Sometimes students that would otherwise be actively engaged in the learning process hang back due to fear of rejection by another student or group of students. Talk to the student about true friendship. Are the friends he has chosen supporting him or making it harder for him to succeed? Are they really friends that care about him if they are preventing him from succeeding?Give this student the opportunity to make new friends that can have a positive influence on him. Divide the class into groups and place in him a group of students that can form a productive relationship with him. In the worst case scenario, if pressures from classmates seems to be the #1 reason for a student’s failure, you could request for him to be transferred to another classroom.
Bullying. Is your student being bullied? Bullying and rejection often causes students to retreat within themselves, ceasing participation. Address the problems caused by bullying with the classas a whole. Follow any schoolprocedures set in place for specific incidents of bullying.Help the student increase in self-confidence.Give the students opportunity to develop constructive friendships with other students.
Lack of interest in your subject. Talk to other teachers; if the student behaves the same way in all subjects, this wouldn’t be the cause, but if the behavior is unique to your class, it’s a possibility. Observe and/or talk to your student to find out what he IS interested in. Try to show him how your subject either relates to what he is interested in, or will help him develop different skills and understandings required for his future goals. Give him a reason that he relates to, to be in your class.
Different learning style. Think about how you direct your class. Do you regularly use certain teaching techniques, or do you include a range of instructional methods that appeal to a variety of learning styles. Experiment with different learning styles in the classroom and see if your student seems to get more engaged in one than another.Ask your student (orthe whole class) to complete a learning style inventory so you find out their learning preferences.Incorporate more musical, kinesthetic and naturalistic methods in your instruction – these are the styles that most easily get overlooked.
Ability level. Students that are completely bored or way behind tend to zone out. Try using differentiated materials in your classroom. Does the student get more engaged if you present him with more challenging material? Or if you present him with simpler material?Consider whether the student has any signs of a possible learning disability. If so recommend that the child be tested for such a disability, following your school’s policies for such cases.
Attitude. Some students just don’t want to be in school. They are forced to go, which fosters animosity, reflected in the classroom as lethargy, distraction or disruption. Unfortunately, this is the hardest cause to address, because it requires an internal change on the part of the student; it can’t be solved by altering external circumstances. Showing the student that you care despite their apathy and developing a respectful, but positive, rapport can sometimes help the student change their mentality about studying. When the student still doesn’t respond remember that it’s only one student. Keep the door open and make it clear that you’re always willing to help, and then focus on rest of the class that is engaged and willing to learn.

None of these methods guarantee that the student will become actively engaged in the learning process, but they do ensure that you, as a teacher, have done everything possible to clear potential obstacles and empower the student to succeed and even enjoy learning.

Comprehension Flags: Facilitating Communication between Students and Teachers

Comprehension Flags

Just sharing a quick idea we’ve used to help teachers keep track of how many students are following completely, how many are absolutely lost, and how many are dying to ask question or share a reflection.

Each student gets 3 flags – one indicating comprehension, one indicating lack of comprehension, and one indicating a question/reflection. Students keep a small piece of clay or an empty cup on their desk. They keep the flag indicating their stage of comprehension in the cup, changing flags when appropriate.

This technique works well for 2 reasons:

Students can communicate their level of comprehension to the teacher without interrupting – this helps keep the level of noise and distraction down (note: I’m a real fan of engagement based learning, so I don’t mind noise in the classroom in many cases, but I also believe the students should be able to respectfully listen to each other and the teacher without interrupting when needed).

Teachers can see at a glance how the majority of students are doing. If the majority seem to be suddenly confused about something, the teacher has the opportunity to try explaining it again, or can have the students keep listening if he thinks their confusion will be cleared up by something he’s about to say.

If you want to try this technique in your own classroom, feel free to download the image above to use for your flags, or have students create their own! Students can attach the rectangles to straws, toothpicks, etc. to complete their flags.

If you share this image with others electronically, please include a link back to this source.

Have fun!

Think, Pair, Care


Our school is doing a new, project oriented twist on “Think-Pair-Share” called “Think-Pair-Care”. The main goal is to help our students grow in their awareness of the need to care for their environment and contribute to their community.

Part of “Think-Pair-Care” will be related to our Eco-Project rooms. Students will get together in pairs to plan and implement experiments related to caring for their environment. They will observe the results of their experiments, and share them with other students, sometimes leading to implementing the idea on a wider scale. Some of the projects will also be geared at educating the students on their history and culture. In addition to fostering a sense of responsibility for their environment and community, these projects will also give students the opportunity to develop higher level thinking skills and a growth mindset.

Since we live in a dry, hot region close to the desert (the horse latitudes, to be exact!), some of the projects currently planned include the following:

  • Placing mannequins in the project rooms. Pairs of students will research into traditional garb worn by various tribes in the area and recreate realistic costumes for the mannequins. They will then give presentations to the other students about the history of tribes in the region and how they could be distinguished by their forms of dress.
  • Groups of students will build an outdoor fire pit, such as traditional ones used in the desert, and learn how to cook as though they were in the desert wilderness.
  • Students will care for plants and small animals (birds, lizards, etc.), learning how different elements of the environment interact with each other and what conditions are optimal for their survival and flourishing.
  • Students are welcome to suggest other ideas they are interested in inquiring into as well

These projects will take place outside of class time, and will pair students of mixed ages together.

Other projects will be directly connecting Think-Pair-Care with the school curriculum, particularly in science and humanities.

The 8th grade class, for example, will be required to plan, implement, observe and evaluate school-based projects to help care for their environment (such as mitigating waste of water, encouraging use of renewable resources in place of nonrenewable ones as much as possible, growing more plants to help release more carbon dioxide, etc.). Their implementation, evaluation and presentation of their projects will be their final assessment for the first study unit.

Looking forward to seeing Think-Pair-Care unfolding in action over the year! Hope to post pictures and progress periodically!

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