Faculty Highlight: Singing with Jaime

We all say things and do things with our students that we might never do in front of a group of adults. For instance, yesterday, I had a spontaneous dance party with the kids because they needed a brain break. Let’s just say there was a lot of ‘shootin’ the moon’. It’s the only dance move I have down.

Jaime, our amazing first grade teacher, wanted to bring one of her passions, singing, into her classroom. So, she decided to turn every lesson possible into memory songs. From classroom management and organization, to grammar and math skills,  Jaime and her kids sing  what they are learning all day long. Here is an exclusive interview with Jaime about how she comes up with her silly songs. She also shared some videos of these songs in action!  #getyourcuteon

Why do you sing with your students?

” I love singing and it makes things easier to remember. I really want to get things stuck in their heads.”

How do you use the songs you teach?

“I start each year in song with classroom rules, and then I use them throughout the year for grammar rules and things that are important to remember about reading. Memorizing might not be as meaningful without a tune!

While they are working, I might sing the song about the rule they are practicing and then they sing along with me. This reminds them of the rule as they work through the activity. I even use songs for classroom rules to remind them about things like putting your name and date on the page.”

How do you come up with your songs?

“I use tunes that I already know and enjoy and then I steal them and change the words. Sometimes, the class comes up with tunes together. First, we decide if the song would work and then I come up with the words for the tune. Giving kids a chance to pick the song means more buy in from the beginning. For instance, the kids really wanted to make up a song to the tune of Star Wars, which worked perfectly with the rule for adjectives. ”

Adjectives: (Star Wars Theme)
An adjective 
is a describing word
is a describing word
is a describing word
for a noun
Two Vowels Together (Happy Birthday Song)
“When two vowels are together
you will only hear the first one
the first vowel will be long
and the second one will be silent
Make It Plural: (One of Jaime’s favorite country songs)
“Make it plural
add an S
sometimes add an es
everybody knows 
an S makes more than one of those”
 If you want to sing with your students, talk to Jaime! She has a ton of strategies. My favorite part is you can really turn any song with a clear melody and chorus into a memory song. If you feel like jammin’ to tunes from the 80’s with your kids, go for it!


Lunchtime Chats: An MJS Pilot

Cult of Pedagogy, an education blog written by experienced middle school English teacher Jennifer Gonzalez, should be followed by every educator. Her content is very concrete and can be easily adapted in all K-12 classrooms. You can follow her on Facebook and Pinterest or just follow her blog and get emails when new articles are posted. Recently, she posted a very interesting article about Piloting. This is the new wave in PD. It is a teacher-led, grassroots approach to solving a problem or fulfilling a need in our classrooms and school.  Click here to read the article! 

So, when Lisa approached me about an important need she found: that teachers have little time to really discuss curriculum across a grade level, at least in middle school, I thought maybe Piloting could work. This is where the ‘Lunch time Chat’ idea was born.  Our first Lunch Time Chat will be focused on 6th grade. Lisa will be meeting any 6th grade teacher who would like to participate in P-3 to problem solve how 6th grade can become more cohesive in what we teach. We will open this up to different grade levels next month.

If you see a problem or need you would like to solve, see me and I would be happy to schedule a Keep Calm time for interested people to come together!

#teachingisbetterwithfriends #keepcalmandlearnsomethingnew #mjspilot



Two Common Misconceptions Teachers Have About Coding

The ability to code is a critical core competency for the jobs of the future.We know that kids need to code.  We have heard it a million times. However, teachers have certain reservations about utilizing coding in their curriculum because of two common misconceptions I’ve noticed and hope to dispel.

Misconception #1: “I can’t ask my kids to code when I don’t know how to code myself.”

Believe it or not, you don’t really need to know how to code to give your kids opportunities to do the work. It certainly will help to try the challenges yourself before assigning them, but surprisingly, it is not necessary. Coding is an activity that can easily be added to your day-to-day lesson plans with little prior knowledge on your part. And, it works great as an  INDEPENDENT activity.

For example, this week, with the help and guidance of Adrienne, I have been using coding challenges for early finishers. When kids finish the part of the essay we are working on, they can continue where they left off on their coding challenge. This is an easy way for me to focus on the kids that need extra help on their writing. Likewise, coding is an excellent activity for center rotations, which gives another opportunity for you to meet with small groups and feel confident that the rest of the class is on-task. The coding challenges out there are designed to be relevant and high-interest. For instance, one of the challenges I gave them last week was to design a Snapchat filter.

A side benefit of including coding in the lessons is that it gives kids opportunities to practice following explicit directions. We all know how much kids love to rush and skip directions. But, with coding, they simply can’t skip the directions. They must follow the directions in order, which is a skill that needs regular practice and reinforcement, and one that I like to employ in the classroom. Code.org is a good resource for similar coding challenges organized by grade level. Another resource that has short coding challenges, Scratch, is great for all ages because it utilizes the drag and drop method of coding. This makes it easy for all ages but still gives opportunities for more advanced and intricate animation. Here are the short Scratch challenges. My 6th graders loved them!

Misconception #2: “Coding is meant for technology class, not my class!”

What’s the point of learning a skill in technology class if students don’t get to practice it in a real and relevant way? Coding can be an easy way to have kids show proof of knowledge in your curriculum.  Any of the coding challenges that already exist can be altered to meet the needs of your lesson plans. For instance, next week, my students will code a stop-motion animation video about traveling the Silk Road that will integrate the coding process with applying knowledge from the curriculum.

Here are some ideas for you that you can adjust to connect with a novel study, a concept, required vocabulary, or even a time and place in history:

Don’t worry! Adrienne would be happy to help you choose the best coding challenge for your curriculum and grade level. She is an amazing resource!

And then you can leave at the end of the day knowing you provided your students with exposure to critical skills and enhanced their growth mindset without very heavy lifting on your part!

**A geofilter alerts the people you share the picture with on Snapchat of your location by inserting an overlay that represents the location! This would be an amazing assignment for a history class: What would the geotag be for a particular place in a particular time period?

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-4-55-44-pm Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 4.56.52 PM.png


The Case for Doodling In the Classroom

Have you ever been teaching something you find very important and you look down at one of your students and they are deep into a very detailed doodle? You think to yourself: “How could this student not be paying attention? How rude of them!” But, did you know that there is probably a higher chance that the doodlers in your class are actually retaining more information than the student who is obediently staring at you as you speak? Yep, that’s right. As much as we might hate to admit it, doodling can and should be allowed in our classrooms. I fought it for a long time, but I am a fervent believer in doodling today.

According to many studies, doodling effectively aids in executive functioning and multi-tasking. One study concluded that people doodling during a lecture could recall 29% of the the information given while the non-doodlers averaged 5.8%. In fact, they attribute this retention to the fact that doodling does not allow the brain to day dream, which takes a lot of the brain’s energy away from the task at hand. Doodling requires way less energy and keeps the brain focused on the speaker.

So, what if we started class one day by saying, “Students, I am going to share this information. I want you to listen and engage in class discussions at times. But, while you are listening, I encourage you to doodle.” We know that every student will be so excited for this. And, all of us with those fancy white board tables will rejoice at the fact that doodling is actually aiding in their learning!

Now, what if we then said, “Students, not only are you allowed to doodle, today I am going to teach you strategies for how to improve your doodles. Maybe you can even draw what you hear or see in the text.”   Taking notes with doodling even has a name: sketchnoting! It is the new spatial note-taking device that is hitting the education world by storm.

In fact, here is a sketchnote sharing different ways you can use doodling in your classroom!


Source for this picture

EdWeek: The Power of Visual Note-taking

If sketchnoting interests you, I encourage you to do a simple search for it on Google and you will be so surprised at how much is out there!  Give students who learn spatially a chance to learn their way. Outlining is not for everybody!

Tips for beginners and doodling and the link to my cover picture


Google Hack: Use Docs to Design Templates for Individualized Assignments

Did you know that you can type a document on Google Drive and save it in template mode? Students can then use it as a worksheet, only modifying their individual assignment. This is a great strategy for small groups to collaborate on ideas and organize research, or simply work independently on an assignment. Students love this because they can type their work and edit it later. Teachers love it because they can access their work at any point to make sure they are on task and creating beautiful work.  Students also rarely loose their work this way! 

Templates allows for easy differentiation or individualized instruction, as you can share different documents with different students. You can write personal notes, give hints, create scaffolds based on the needs of each student.

Here is a video for how to do this:

To learn more cool Google hacks, come to the Google Help workshop with Larry and Travis at lunch on Tuesday January 17th from 12:15-12:55 in my room.  

Sign up here for this workshop or any other for January

Some more cool links to Google hacks:

22 Cool Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Google Drive

A couple hacks from Teacher Priorities:



How Can We Make Grades Meaningful Again?


Let’s not mince words here.  Grading on a letter scale, the way we’ve always done it, has become a farce. The pressure to earn good grades often supersedes students’ intrinsic motivation to actually learn.   For students an A is another box ticked and another hoop jumped and not a cause for reflection on ability or progress. It isn’t the students’ fault. What does an A mean anyways except a gateway to a high school of choice. Teachers share this pressure. Because of this, grades have become heavily based on effort rather than merit, causing grade inflation.  So, in all of this pressure, the original intention of the grade, to assess and communicate students’ abilities and progress, is lost.

This is not unique to our school; grade inflation exists throughout educational institutions all the way up to the Ivy Leagues. And, here’s the thing, grading on a letter scale isn’t going anywhere. Students will continue to tick the box of completion after each report card. But,what if we could adapt our grading system within our own individual classrooms so that students could actually see their areas of strengths and vulnerabilities?

Changing my categories for grades is one way I have answered this question. Homework, classwork, tests, and participation are the most common categories and the ones I used for many years. But, what information do these categories really tell a parent or student about progress and ability? It certainly does send the message that some students are ‘good at school’ and others are not.

Here’s what I mean by being ‘good at school’:   A+ students do their homework, raise their hands to speak, and are good at taking tests.  With this view, students can quick identify themselves as ‘bad at science’ or ‘good at history.’ We have all said and heard comments like this. And, really, this is the precursor to that fixed mindset we have heard so much about.

Now, here are my new categories this year and the skills I assessed for from semester 1.


Most homework assignments fall into the research skill category, as homework in a history class tends to require students to do research either in the textbook or online to gather relevant information. Tests and writing can get tricky because I usually assess for more than one category. However, I find that I am now making tests that actually assess different skills because I have to categorize my questions. I also have found that the amount of extra work is minimal and I can assess my students areas of growth easily so that I can reteach when necessary.

It is important to note that I use total points and not percentages. I find that grades often become inflated or deflated when there are not enough grades in a particular category. It will still tally a percentage for each category so students can quickly determine strengths and weaknesses. I also can make certain assignments a greater factor if I want it to have a greater impact on the grade.

Below is a sample student. From this, the student is easily able to see the areas of growth and strength.


There are obviously some draw backs. Some assignments may be difficult to fit into the defined categories. Some categories do not have that many assignments. And, of course, there is still measurable amounts of subjective and effort-based grading. The grade doesn’t change, but how I explain the grade does. Comments come with ease when using this system.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this. Are there other strategies you use to make grades more meaningful? Please respond on Schoology! I would also love to chat with anybody one-on-one to restructure your categories.

Stay tuned for the next half of this blog post: “Using Rubrics for Everything!”