Do you have students that shut down in your class and don't do any work? Most of the time there is always a reason for this. There could be issues going on in the home, issues with friends, or health problems. But did you ever consider you as the teacher might be contributing to the problem? This is especially something teachers who like to be sarcastic at times (like me!) need to be conscious of. If this is not your personality, this blog post isn't for you. But if you like to goof and be sarcastic with students, then time for a little self reflection. Here are my top 3 tips of things we often do as teachers that we need to stop doing in order to build a better classroom culture:
1. WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING: Bringing up things kids did previously.
We are all human. We make mistakes. And guess what- nobody likes to have those mistakes brought up, especially in front of their friends or peers. Here are some examples:
Have you had a kid drop a beaker? Next time she comes to pick up lab supplies, don't say "let's not drop it again!" because I can promise you she didn't do it on purpose the first time, and now she won't want to participate in the lab because she is so worried about breaking something.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Instead, try to not put the student on the spot, but give gentle reminders to the entire class. Using the broken beaker example, when ALL students come to pick up their supplies, keep repeating "Use two hands please" so she gets the reminder without being singled out.
2. WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING: Punishing behaviors you want to see.
I know this sounds like something you would never do, but if you think about it, you've probably done it. Do you have a student that comes to class tardy almost every day? I have plenty.... and it is super frustrating. Lets say Jesse has a bad habit of coming to class 5 minutes late. You've talked to Jesse about it and even called home. Finally Jesse comes to class on time and when he enters you look at him and say "FINALLY!" or "Am I seeing things?" Even if you are joking, these comments will likely make Jesse feel uncomfortable when he should instead be getting positive reinforcement.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Instead, reinforce the behavior with a positive comment like "Hi Jesse, I'm so glad to see you!" or "I really appreciate you making an effort to be here early today."
3. WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING: Being inconsistent with with consequences.
This is the number one thing students will call you out on if you ever do it. For example, you walk by Vanessa who should be on task but is on her phone and you say "Vanessa, please put the phone away." Then 10 minutes later you see Ricardo on his phone and take it away until the end of the class period. I can promise you, Ricardo isn't going to give up that phone without an argument if you aren't being equitable.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Try and do your best to be consistent with your consequences at all times. While there are sometimes exceptions to this rule (IEP accommodations, doctors notes for extra bathroom breaks, etc) try and be conscious of being fair to all students, even the ones that are repeat offenders. And when you do make a mistake and a student yells "that's not fair!"... own it. They will respect you more when you admit you were in the wrong opposed you answering "life's not fair" (even if that is what is crossing your mind).
Overall, building positive relationships with your students is key to them learning. As Rita Pierson says, "kids can't learn from people they don't like." So even when you are having a bad day and you want to crawl under your desk and cry (I've been there), try your best to take a deep breath and build the kids up, not down.
Every year, we celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd. If you have some flexibility in your curriculum, it is great to take a day or two and do some fun Earth Day activities. If you already teach science, it is really easy to pick a topic that should fit into your curriculum. I've compiled a list of activities, projects, articles, and movies you can use this month. Find one or two that catch your eye and have fun!
LABS and ACTIVITIES
Carbon Footprint Calculator- Have students calculate their carbon footprint at www.footprintcalculator.org. If you would like a worksheet to accompany the activity, click here.
Quadrat Biodiversity Survey- Go outside and have students complete a biodiversity survey. You can mark off quadrats with string, meter sticks, or even borrow hula hoops from the PE teacher. Here is a worksheet you can use for this activity.
Air Quality Lab- How clean is the air you are breathing? Use this simple 2 day lab to look at particulate matter in the air. (Microscopes required).
Learn About Acid Rain- If you are lucky enough to have rain during April, collect some of that rain water! Have your students compare the pH of tap water, bottled water, and rain water. They will be shocked how low the pH of rainwater is (It is generally around 5.6)!
Build A Water Filter- Millions of people around the world don't have access to clean drinking water. Challenge your students to build a water filter with every day resources. Here is a free lesson to get you started from NASA.
Urban heat islands- Here in Phoenix, we have a major urban heat island problem. If you live in a large city, chances are you do too. Teach students about urban heat islands, and have them go outside and record temperatures of different materials on your school campus. Here is a lab worksheet you can use.
Build a Solar Cooker- If it is warm enough where you live, solar cookers are really fun to make! I let students use whatever materials they want. I've had them bring in shoe boxes, pizza boxes, and even pringles cans. Cook up some smores and have a gooey treat.
Simulate an Oil Spill Cleanup- This lesson from National Geographic is really engaging! Students use vegetable oil, water, soap, food coloring, and other inexpensive materials to simulate an oil spill and analyze the best way to clean it up. You can check it out here.
How Much Waste? Have your students see how much trash they produce by having them carry their trash around for a day. Give each students a grocery bag and the next day in class they can weigh their bags and analyze what percent is food waste vs recyclables etc. You may get some groans, but it is a very eye opening experience for them!
Plan a Fundraiser- Have your students plan a school fundraiser for an organization such as Water Is Life or One Tree Planted. Even small donations go a long way!
Neighborhood Clean Up- Have students organize a neighborhood or park clean up near your school. It is also a great way to earn some community service hours they may need for classes or clubs!
Virtual Field Trip- Don't have the funding to take your students on a field trip? Try a virtual one instead! Many sites such as Discovery have cool virtual experiences for students to see things that they wouldn't normally have an opportunity to see. Here is a list of more options.
Plant a Tree on Campus- I know this sounds cliche, but honestly when I've done it in the past students really enjoy it and never forget it. I've had students that graduated come back and check on their tree. Call around to a few local nurseries, and they will often donate a tree for free to a school, or you can do a small fundraiser on campus to raise money for one. You can also check out this freebie that has students measure the worth of one tree.
Make an Infographic- Assign your students an Earth Day related topic (water pollution, renewable resources, recycling, etc) and ask them to do research and make you an infographic. Piktochart is a great and free website you can use to make info graphics. If you would like some worksheets to help guide students through the infographic making process, click here.
A Long Walk to Water- If you run a book club at your school or your library has multiple copies of this book, you might want to give it a try. It is a really quick read about kids in Sudan who struggle with having potable water.
Pacific Garbage Patch- Have your students heard of the Pacific garbage patch? Find an article on it (such as this one on newsela) and have students read about pollution in our oceans. Have them brainstorm ways to fix this problem.
MOVIES & DOCUMENTARIES
Below is a list of documentaries and movies that are related to sustainability, conservation, and climate change on our planet. Preview before showing to make sure they are appropriate for your students.
Story of Stuff- This Youtube channel tracks consumer products from production to landfill. Choose a product you think your students might be interested in.
The Lorax- The original is available on Youtube.
Chasing Coral- available on Netflix.
Before the Flood- available on Netflix.
One Strange Rock- available on Netflix.
The Boy who Harnessed the Wind- available on Netflix
No Impact Man