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Keep Class Fun!

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A new growth mindset for a new year

I love to laugh as you can see from the photo above. My husband calls it the ugly laugh when I get so tickled that I can't pull myself together. In fact, I remember being taken out of class on more than one occasion because I could NOT stop laughing. Well, now that I am on the other side of the classroom perspective I think my sense of humor comes in handy with my students! Studies show that laughter in the class can actually improve student learning. Check out the following article for more information.

As we head into a new year I have been reflecting on the past several years of my teaching career. I have had some wonderful classes with students who have loved learning and have been a joy to teach, and I have had some classes that literally took me to the cliff of my sanity and tried to push me off. If you have taught for any length of time I'm sure you know what I'm talking about! I have been teaching for over a decade now and have taught everything from elementary classes to high school Chemistry. One thing that has stood out to me over the years is the power of my attitude. I recently heard a seminar presented by Annette Breaux, a popular educational speaker who combines humor with practical teaching tips (you can find Annette on Twitter @AnnetteBreaux). In her presentation, Annette pulled out a harmonica and played a slow solemn song. Then, she played another song on the harmonica, but this song was joyous and fun. After playing the two songs she revealed to the audience that she had played the same song but had simply changed the way the song was presented.

The same content can be delivered in two very different ways...

In other words, the same content can be delivered in two very different ways to our students. The difference lies in the attitude that we convey to our students as we teach. As teachers, we hold the power in our classroom. We decide what methodologies we will incorporate and which practices we will use. Here are a few of the guidelines I use in my classes to help keep things fun and engaging!

1. Maintain good classroom management techniques

I've written other blog posts before about the importance of good classroom management and I don't mean to belabor the point except for the fact that without good classroom management it is nearly impossible to enjoy your time with your students! Trust me, the times I have slipped with my classroom management have always turned into frustrating class periods for me (and probably my students too!)

I'm a big fan of positive reinforcement so anytime I can praise and reward good behavior or critical thinking I do it! I use a lollipop tree where students can earn incentives such as homework passes, extra credit on a test, or a large candy bar, and you can bet when I pull that lollipop tree out I suddenly command full attention from my students!

I also really want to encourage my students to be considerate and helpful towards one another. I use incentive charts like the one above to motivate my students to work productively and collaboratively during labs, projects, group discussions, and even on field trips! My students love being able to compete with the other science classes know bragging rights travel outside of the four walls of my room! You can check out some of my incentive charts for your science classroom in my Teacher's Pay Teacher's Store by clicking here if you don't have time to make your own.

If you have any students who struggle with ADD, ADHD, or Autism, a fidget box is a great options to have in class.

2. The more hands-on, the better

One of the things I do throughout the year is survey my students to get feedback about the kinds of activities they like to do in class. Without fail the vast majority of my students report that the hands-on activities are their favorite. Demonstrations (advanced students can help you lead some of these), project based learning experiences, group activities, labs, and field trips are always listed as the most popular activities by my students. These kinds of activities are more memorable because students get to interact physically with the learning materials and their peers. Another benefit to hands-on activities is that they typically involve all three learning modalities (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) making it easier for students to retain the information.

I recently created a hands-on classroom simulation to model the process of nutrient transport and photosynthesis with my middle school students. Remembering the names of the various molecules and how many of each are used has always been something my students have struggled with, but after our simulation I saw SIGNIFICANT improvement! Even my students who are not as likely to interact or speak up could verbalize how various chemicals traveled throughout a plant! Hands-on activities do not have to be fancy either. Something as simple as grouping students together to act out a vocabulary term (ie. charades) can be a success.

3. Surprise your students

I looooove surprising my students! Sometimes I walk into class with a big bag of materials from home and say, "Who wants to do something fun today?" Mind you, I don't walk in and say, "Who wants to learn about planetary motion today?" Heck, I don't even want to when it is worded like that! My students get so excited about the idea of doing something fun that they forget we are also going to be learning or reviewing information! My positive attitude and the element of surprise always get my kids right where I want them. I have their undivided attention and they are ready to listen to instructions. Again, this doesn't have to be something fancy. Surprising your students with a review game of Kahoot or Jeopardy can be enough to peek the interest of your students. Just remember, a surprise is only good if it is something out of the ordinary. For example, if your students always use Kahoot, try mixing it up by playing Pictionary. Even activities that start out as fun can get boring if they are overused.

A few months ago my students walked in to class to see six feet of wall covered with labels (luminosity, temperature etc.) and their tables contained colored and laminated stars with fact cards. You would have thought there was a celebrity in the room! My students were immediately asking, "What are we doing? What is all this?" I just laughed and said, "You'll see!" Little did they know we were about to create a giant scatter-plot graph to investigate the relationships between star luminosity, temperature, and color. But if I had started class by saying that I would have lost them!

Take a look at what you are teaching this next week. How can you make class a little more fun? Do you need to tighten the reigns with your classroom management or incorporate some new incentives? Maybe you can add some hands-on activities? Or maybe you can add the element of surprise to something you were already planning on doing. Whatever it is don't wait! Try something new this week and let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear from you!


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