Top Tips for the New Google Classroom

About to start using Google Classroom again this year but worried that there are some changes? Well first off, don't worry, because they aren't too significant, and second, I'm going to walk you through them!
 Here's what it looks like when you open up your class first. At first glance, it doesn't look much different, but you might note the headings in the top center have changed. They now are: STREAM, CLASSWORK, and PEOPLE.
 Previously in Google Classroom, you could assign an activity by clicking the plus sign. With this update, clicking on the plus sign still allows you to create an announcement or reuse a post, but not create an assignment.
Clicking CLASSWORK will bring this screen up. You will see any assignments you have previously added (if it is your first time in the classroom, this will be blank). Here you will find the all important +CREATE button!
Click the CREATE button in this CLASSWORK section and you will get the choices Assignment, Question, Reuse Post, and Topic. This is where you would click assignment if you want to add a drive link or other assignment.

Finally, we have the PEOPLE tab, which I have not utilized with students yet; however, it is where you are going to find all your students and even teachers that have access to the class. I will try it out in September and come back and let you know!
Also, you may want to consider using TOPICS. I used it pretty minimally but now in the CLASSWORK stream, assignments can be sorted by topic. Click CREATE, and then TOPIC. 
Then, add a few topics. I started with Math and Reading.
You will then see the classwork sorted by topic. In this screenshot, I have not assigned a topic to "Homophone Practice" but I can click on it, choose edit, and assign a topic easily. Topics may also help your students find certain assignments.
Also note, the old ABOUT button has gone somewhere else. It's now on the class image (seen in the lower right of the colored pencil image here, above Select Theme and Upload Photos). When you click it, the only thing it seems to have now; however, is the class code.


 I hope this helps you sort through the new Google Classroom updates as of summer 2018! 

If you have questions, let me know!

Teaching with a Chronic Illness or Disease

I have considered writing this blog post for a few years and recently decided it was time to share. As most of you know, I have been teaching second grade for twenty years and I also am a certified reading specialist. What most of you don't know is that when I was three years old, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. I am going to share this story with you in two parts: first, a short  (hopefully) telling of my story and then secondly, what it's like to teach with a chronic disease like this. After all, I am not alone. 

You won't find a ton of advice here - though I might share a tip here and there. This post is opening up the window to  what is like to teach when you're in this situation. At the end of the post, I  will share some helpful links with you if you would like suggestions. 
So, the history...  at age two, I was complaining  that "my legs hurt". After my knees swelled up (my mom said they looked like apples) I believe my parents took me to a few doctors and that's when they got the unexpected diagnosis. It was a scary time for my parents  with a lot of worry and fear because they didn't know what to expect.  They took me to the wonderful Children's Hospital in Boston. So thankful for the doctors and staff there because I continued to be treated there into my college years - close to two decades. 

 I got braces for my legs and had to wear them for several years with clunky shoes. It's hard to tell but I am wearing my tights over them in this picture. At the time when I was diagnosed, in 1977, the only treatment for children was baby aspirin, or Bayer. I had to take several aspirin every few hours. I had a physical therapy mat and exercises.

Several years later,  (note the 80's style) my knees and ankles had improved and the braces were gone. The arthritis was now affecting my wrists and fingers. I don't recall being limited as far as what I could do because of it but the BIG problem became my stomach. Probably due to five+ years of taking  baby aspirin every day, I was having huge stomach pains. They would come and go but were very painful. I have flashbacks to being doubled over in pain in the local supermarket and being up in the middle of night with pain.  I spent a good amount of time in the school nurse's office due to these stomach aches. 

Luckily, not too long after this, in the mid- 1980s, new medications were approved for use with JRA (Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis) patients. The first: plaquenil. The problem: I couldn't swallow pills. I never learned and it scared me. The solution: smash the pill up and put it with a spoonful of jelly. The result: disgusting, horrible, bitter tasting crap. 

I went on to several NSAIDs and other medication such as prednisone. I also suffered through years (I think almost ten) of "gold" shots. Yes, shots that contained "gold". It's a substance that is very thick and requires a large needle and takes a long time to inject. 

Here I am in college! Still getting the gold shots, but on some very effective medication and doing well. Between these time periods, however, I lost flexibility and mobility in my right wrist and was unable to do some activities such as lifting heavy things (Obviously an empty box as seen here was ok) and things like playing volleyball or other sports requiring the hands or wrists.

Right after college I started a medication called Methotrexate. It was effective and I remained on it for most of my twenties. I was able to travel, have fun, and begin my teaching career. I still had issues with my hands and wrists however, and that has never gone away. My current medication is an injectable and I have been injecting myself once or twice a week for more than a decade. I am happy that I have been able to stop all others meds except for occasional use!

So what challenges great me as I start the school year? I imagine many of us have the same challenges but we with illnesses and diseases have some of the challenges I outline below.

I am tired. Very  tired. Everyone is tired but those who are battling illnesses, diseases, or chronic conditions on a daily basis are really tired. I can't recall a time when I was not tired, back to when I was about ten years old. When a body is fighting something serious, it takes energy and you feel it. I joke that I have a "sleeping sickness" but really it's the extreme fatigue. Plus, medications for illnesses often have that side effect of  you guessed it, fatigue. We are exhausted. We press snooze multiple times. We struggle to stay alert when driving to and from school (my personal secret weapon is chocolate covered expresso beans). We fall asleep on the couch after school and don't get anything done. Then because we napped, we can't fall asleep. So if you have colleagues dealing with this, please keep in mind we are S T R U G G L I N G with energy and alertness.
For folks dealing with illness and disease, daily tasks at school can be challenging. Just a few  that can be tough for me are writing on the board, writing neatly on papers, activities that require fine motor precision (drawing straight lines without a ruler, cutting small items and carrying items that are heavy and put pressure on my wrist. We also might struggle with using a key to lock and unlock doors, not being able to use the bathroom for hours at a time, climbing stairs, not being able to be restraint trained, bringing items to and from the car and standing or walking around for long periods of time.
If you're dealing with an illness, disease or chronic condition, you may have to put pride and independence aside and ask for support. We may ask for extra bathroom breaks (or even just one), we may not be able to do a recess duty or lunch duty, we may not be able to move items ourself and need to ask the custodian or a friend for help, or we may have to advocate and say that we simply cannot restrain a child. Maybe we have to take more days off than allocated, ask to work a shorter week or day, or take a medical leave. We may have to ask for a classroom on the first floor or for elevator improvements. It can be psychologically tough to speak up and ask for help. Personally, know if I ask someone for help or an accommodation, it is truly needed and I am sure most teachers are similar in this regard.

Some of us have illnesses that you don't know about. Maybe we only told our principal or boss or a few close friends and word did not spread. Or you heard once ten years ago but forgot because it doesn't "look like" we are sick. I had to speak to a new administrator a few months ago because I realized since she was new, she did not know. She was quite surprised because again I don't "look sick". Autoimmune disease and other illness don't always have obvious physical markers so keep in mind we may look okay but there is a lot going on beneath the surface, 

Sometimes, there are not enough leave days. Or we have to take every single one. Two years in a row, two different parents called the principal, asked how many days I had taken, and complained that it was too many (even though I had taken less than the fifteen allotted days). Doctor's appointments have to be during the school day, or we might have to leave early or take a half day to get there on time. We may miss PD time because of them. Sometimes we're just struggling and even though we don't have a fever or cough, it's our illness and we need to get your energy back and take as day. We all hate to be out as teachers, but when you see colleagues who DO use those leave days, don't judge or silently criticize. We may have no or very little choice.  And I thank goodness every day for the leave days I do have to use! 

Being a teacher is so challenging! And I honestly feel it's extra challenging for those who are dealing with these issues. I felt like it was time to share my own story and thoughts and maybe we can support each other and others as we go through this teacher life!

So what are your experiences like with these struggles? Have you or your loved ones gone through these types of challenges at school?

If you'd like to comment about your own personal experience, please do so. I'd love to support each other. Or feel free to privately email me and we can connect that way. 

I mentioned some resources that might help at the bottom. I found a few other helpful blog post and even a podcast. They give some great advice and tips!

The Cullom Corner: Strategies for Teaching with a Chronic Illness
Angela Watson's Truth For Teachers Podcast: 4 Ways Teachers with Chronic Pain or Illness can Maximize their Productivity
EdWords: What Teachers with Chronic Illnesses Wish our Principals Knew
Music Teacher's Helper Blog: Teaching with a Chronic Illness

7 Movies about Teaching

After a long day or draining week of teaching, sometimes you just want to put on the TV and press play on a show or movie. Isn't it a little weird sometimes to watch movies with teachers or about teaching? It can be fun, but sometimes not too relaxing. You compare your teaching reality to that shown in the movies. So are they worth a watch? Let's break down 7 movies about teaching and see what they are about and if you'd want to take a look. 

Bear with me as far as the images. It's important to be respectful to copyright and I included images that were  allowed to be reposted. Many images came from Wiki Commons. 

Stand and Deliver
     The first movie I think of when I think of teachers in movies is Stand and Deliver, based on real-life teacher Jaime Escalante. Below is some artwork of Escalante and the actor who portrayed him in the film, Edward James Olmos. In real life, Escalante taught some difficult and apathetic students. He used some unconventional teaching methods and helped his students turn things around. In fact, they ended up scoring so well on the AP Calculus, some officials were suspicious. No movie will do a perfect job at portraying a teacher and students in a realistic way, but this movie does a pretty good job!

Dangerous Minds 
     This is a movie that you probably remember with Michelle Pfeiffer about a teacher who goes to teach in a tough high school, ends up bonding with the students, and of course, getting a leather jacket, and therefore becoming the "cool" teacher (yes you should insert a little bit of sarcasm there <--). The teacher is a former Marine who uses the Karate Kid, candy, and other unusual tools to connect with her students. It's somewhat cliche and not very realistic, but still was pretty entertaining. Plus Coolio sang the theme song...
 School of Rock
     Yes, that's right - the Jack Black film School of Rock. Teaching movies can't always be gritty dramas. You may even remember his character's name: Dewey Finn. Dewey gets kicked out of his band, disguises himself as a substitute teacher and gets a job at a private school. He notices some of his fourth graders have a lot of musical talent so he starts a band with them and works to win Battle of the Bands. Now, I would never condone anyone pretending they are a teacher or a substitute. On top of that, this film is very unrealistic! However, it is funny and entertaining. It might be worth a watch if you're looking for a comedy. Just don't take it too seriously!

This pic is from the musical School of Rock - definitely recommend it!

To Sir With Love
     A classic with one of the classiest actors in film history! Sidney Poitier (shown below in a still from the film and walking the streets of London while filming) plays yet another fish-out-of-water teacher. He plays a would-be engineer  named Mark Thackeray who gets a job teaching tough students at a London school. The students challenge him (however their shenanigans seem very minor to me) but as with all movies about teaching, he eventually wins them over. At the end, even when faced with future students  who are threatening to give him a run for his money in the fall, he turns down an engineering job and commits to the teaching profession. This film was released in 1967,  so it's hard to compare to life as a teacher today and evaluate it's realism, but most of us can identify with the drive and passion to teach and willingness to take on the challenge, even if we could possibly work elsewhere.

The Freedom Writers
    Based on an autobiographical book by Erin Gruwell, the movie starred Hilary Swank. Gruwell was an English teacher in Los Angeles at Woodrow Wilson High School. As with many of the other teacher movie characters, she has a tough time connecting with her students. She ends up taking two part time jobs to be able to afford school supplies, books, and composition books. Over the long term, students began to open up and even write about their experiences in the composition books. There also is a moving plot line (again, based on real experiences) about guiding her students through a journey of learning about the Holocaust. As with many movies about teaching, this takes liberties with reality and Gruwell's real experiences, but personally, I found it somewhat inspiring, especially having been an English major myself.
The Great Debaters
     This is a 2007 movie that may have snuck by you starring Denzel Washington. It is based on a real story about Melvin Tolson, the debate coach at Wiley College in the 1930s. He started a debate team and they worked extremely hard and were able to get to a debate competition with Harvard University. Social and racial injustices in the American South at that time are explored and disclaimer: there is a lynching. Now, some might debate whether or not we should be evaluating the role Denzel played as a teacher, professor or coach. Regardless, he worked closely with and inspired many students. In fact, one of his debate team members, who began working with him at age 14 was James Farmer, Jr. (pictured below) who went on to start C.O.R.E (the Congress of Racial Equality). Overall, it explores important issues and Denzel does a terrific job.

Mr. Holland's Opus
     This one is a real tearjerker! Richard Dreyfuss played Glen Holland, a musician who was writing his own symphony but took a job teaching music at an Oregon High School. The plot line is pretty complicated but Mr. Holland spends his career fighting for the importance and value of music education. Finally, the opponents of music education score a victory and Mr. Holland is forced into early retirement. He is saddened and depressed also by the fact that his music composition (his opus) will never get financed and played. Mr. Holland's current and former students come together and learn and movingly perform his opus at a final concert. I am not a music teacher so I am not sure of the realism of the teaching scenes (but the movie also showed a bit of his personal and family life) but if you want a touching, emotional film about teaching, this one is for you.

What would I like to see in the future? Did you notice as I did that many of the movies that have been released are about white teachers and African-American or Hispanic students? There are some exceptions, however, it would be nice if Hollywood could consider more diverse casting and less stereotypical fish-out-of-water storylines in the future. For right now though, Hollywood seems to be focused on sequels and Marvel and DC Comics movies, so I doubt teaching movies are in the works.

So what is your favorite teaching movie? Or what do you think is the most realistic   one? Comment below!

The 6 Best Spelling City Games

I have been using Spelling City for YEARS!  It is a fun and engaging way for students to practice their spelling words. Plus, there are tons of choices as far as games and practice activities for students. It can be amazing but overwhelming.

Additionally, I noticed that when students worked on Spelling City at home and in class, they were not always mastering their words. Spelling City is terrific because teachers, parents, and students can all check student records and see data like which activities students chose, how long they spent on it, and their score if applicable. After studying my student data, I realized kiddos may have been choosing to play games and do activities that were NOT helping them learn the words. I put together a list of the 6 best Spelling City games for some parents, but I realized that every teacher and parent might benefit from this info!

So when I looked very closely at Spelling City's activities, some of them were fun and popular with the students, but didn't actually involve spelling practice - which is the point! For example - Silly Bulls and Rhyme Time fit this category.  I took a look at every activity and... I present you with my 6 favorite Spelling City games! If there are any I missed or you think would be beneficial, comment below and let me know!

Before I get started though - in case you aren't familiar, here is one way to get to the games. When on tablets and iPads, choose your word list and click the games button.

One of the best games! It incorporates spelling practice with a fun little game. The cat has to aim and hit each letter in the correct order to spell the word correctly. What I love about Spelling City is that the word is spoken, and a sentence is provided for students to hear the word in context!

A basic but very useful practice activity is the practice test. It's under Test Me and students would need to hit "Practice Test" and not "Test" since Spelling City only allows students to take the actual test once. Teachers can reset the student's account manually but it is a bit of a hassle. For the practice test, the word and a sentence are dictated and students type the word in the box and click next to move on. Students can also click "word" and "sentence" again as needed to make sure they heard the word correctly. 
Additionally, something that was added recently was the ability for students to check their work at the end. They can reread what they typed and go back and edit if they want before doing a final submit.

Two useful games/activities are Initial Sound Speller and Final Sound Speller. They work very similarly, With Initial Sound Speller, students must choose the initial sound and with  Final Sound Speller, as you see below, students choose the final sound. When students tap the letter(s), Spelling City tells them what sound it makes so students can determine if it makes sense. If they choose wrong, Spelling City basically says "oops, try again". When they choose the correct letter, the word is sounded out for them so they can make those sound/spelling connections.

Test n Teach is simple but it is useful. It may only work on web browsers though - I tested it now on my phone and it was not working. Similar to a practice test, a word and a sentence are dictated and then students type the spelling. They can have the word and/or sentence repeated. The words are sorted into correct and incorrect so students can focus on certain words to practice more.

Speedy Speller is one of my favorites! It encourages speed with the "TNT",  however, might not be the best for students who do not like to feel rushed or be timed. A word and sentence is dictated and students type it in.  The top picture is what it looks like before students start and the bottom picture shows that the TNT "string" (I don't know what its called!) lit up and it starts to shorten.

So what is your favorite Spelling City activity? Comment below and let us know!

Hope these games and activities will help your students master their words!

Stock Photography from Molly Coulter