Badge Boards: Allowing More Time for what Matters Most

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As a teacher, my biggest wish is more time.

More time to meet with students one on one. More time to fine tune lessons to specific students’ needs. More time to look at data and really use it to drive decisions. More time to build relationships with my students.

I might have found a solution. Thanks to a random Twitter Chat I participated in (still learning how to do those), I was introduced to something called “Gamification”, or similarly “Game-Based Learning”.

Essentially, it’s using games to engage students in activities online and off. The ideas is to pose questions as challenges or quests. Students practice skills and are rewarded with different levels, badges, special items, a class currency, etc. If you’d like to learn more about gamification or game-based learning here are some great sites to check out:

Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Works, and Where it’s Going

The Difference between Gamification and Game-Based Learning

After reading and researching, I’ve come up with the idea of what I like to call “Badge Boards”. While the majority of my students are working independently (or collaboratively) within this Badge Board site, I am free to pull small groups, conference with students, but most importantly… HAVE MORE TIME!

The beauty of using Badge Boards is that my students are engaged in fun, game-like activities that are personalized (and differentiated) to meet their own learning needs.

So what are Badge Boards? Let me show you. But, please keep in mind these resources are still in their early stages. They’re a work in progress. They’re subject to changes. They still require work.

Here is the home screen with a brief overview of Badge Boards.

Badge Boards

On the left, students can navigate to the table of contents for all the literature skill badges, language skill badges, discussion skill badges, and behavior badges. Here are the different badges available for each subject area. (Badges are based on Missouri standards and skills for sixth graders.)

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Badge Boards (2)

Badge Boards (5)

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When students click on a button, it will take them to a list of available challenges. Students have a choice of which challenges they’d like to do. They can choose to work independently or with a small team. The challenges are differentiated to include a variety of learning styles as well as different levels of difficulty.

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Here are some examples of various challenges. Some challenges are online games or tutorials that give immediate feedback. Not all challenges will require a computer, though. My goal for blended learning this year is to use technology as much as possible, but that isn’t always realistic. Some challenges will be comprised of completing task cards, or other classwork that has an immediate feedback component. My plan is to keep adding activities as the year progresses. Hopefully, I can recruit my ELA colleagues to contribute some of their activities.

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Once students have submitted proof of three completed challenges, they can request a master-level badge. For my higher learners, they can complete five challenges and request an expert-level badge. I don’t have the request form created yet, but it will be a Google Form since our district uses G Suite products. Here are some examples of what the badges will look like:

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Master Level Badge (three successful challenges)

Badge Design Gallery (1)

Expert Level Badge (five successful challenges)

Student badges will be on display in our Google Classroom. That way, students can view each other’s badges, but their privacy will still be protected. Each student will have his or her own Google Slideshow with the front page you see below, and then a new slide for each new badge he or she earns throughout the year.

My Badges

Notice the XP. For each master badge the student earns, he or she will receive 5 XP (experience) points. Expert badges will result in 10 XP. For positive behavior in class, students can be awarded random XP at the teacher’s discretion. This will be part of my behavior management plan this year. Whenever students are working with the Badge Boards, they have an opportunity to trade in XP for classroom rewards such as leave class early, work with a partner, bring snacks to class, etc.

Another goal is to have a class leaderboard in place for the top ten students with the highest amount of XP. Since students can earn XP for both academic and behavioral acheivements, my hope is that the top ten isn’t all just high achievers. I want to reward students who improve and put forth effort as well.

Hopefully my journey into blended learning this year will be a success. I think that utilizing this Badge Board system will provide me the time it takes to work with students in a small group setting. I think the students will be more engaged since they have the opportunity to choose their own activities. It will take a lot of work to build the Badge Board challenges, but I am more than ready to begin.

Badge Boards

Gallery of Badge Designs

Do you use something similar to Badge Boards? I’d love suggestions from others! If there are any other middle school ELA teachers wanting to collaborate with me on the challenges, I would love help adding activities. Please comment below with your thoughts.

 

Poetry Project Part 2: Choosing a Topic

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If you don’t already know a little bit about my poetry project, I’d suggest reading a general overview here. Before students choose a topic, I introduce the project first.

Choosing a Topic

Since poetry is so near and dear to the soul, I wanted to make sure students were allowed a choice of topics. In order to do that, students needed a list of topics to choose from, therefore… another paper chat! This time, I had students brainstorm possible poem topics. I gave them these prompts on different posters:

  1. What makes you angry or upset?
  2. What worries you? What are you scared or afraid of?
  3. What makes you sad?
  4. What do you love?
  5. What do you find beautiful?

Once we finished “chatting”, I handed out the Topic Proposal Paragraph handout. I told them we already came up with ideas on the posters, so they did not have to fill out the column on the right. (I included it as an alternate activity for brainstorming other than the paper chat.) Poetry Project Part 2- Topic Proposal Paragraph.jpg

I told the students to think carefully when narrowing down their topic choices! It is a lot easier to write about a topic that you are passionate and know a lot about.

Topic Proposal Paragraph

In sixth grade, we are still focusing a lot on improving our paragraphs, so I provided an example for students to use as a guide. I had them write two paragraphs using the template on the back, one about their first choice and one about their second choice. 

Poetry Project Part 2: Topic Proposal Paragraph Example

Afterwards, I collected the paragraphs and sorted students into teams of 3 to 5. I quickly realized that some students chose topics that no one else was interested in, or I had a lot of students choosing the same topics. Here are some suggestions for those issues:

  • If there are no matches for a student’s first or second choice, I offered the student a choice: work independently or choose a different topic. Although…
  • I tried to avoid groups of one or two in case of absences. (Collaboration is a huge part of the project.)
  • Groups of 5 worked fine enough, however, it was hard for them to share resources at times.
  • For popular topics such as bullying, I broke up students into several smaller groups which seemed to work pretty well. (I had three groups of three).

Next up in my Poetry Project series, I’ll explain how teams met and began the next step of the design process… imagining! In the meantime, stay tuned!

Here are the resources for my Poetry Project Part 2:

Poetry Project Part 2 – Lesson Plan (Google Slides)

Poetry Project Part 2- Topic Proposal Paragraph (PDF handout)

Poetry Project Part 2

Poetry Project 2017: Collaborative Multimedia Poems

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What is powerful language? How can it be used to inspire people?

Those were the two questions students investigated during this year’s poetry project. Back in January, I introduced the project and students were charged with a task:

TASK: Work collaboratively in a small group to create and present a multimedia poem that (1) creatively uses a combination of poetic devices and persuasive techniques and (2) effectively expresses an emotional or deep-felt message.

Spending one or two days a week since then, students completed the following process.

  1. Choose a meaningful message or topic. Form teams around similar topics. Share topic proposal paragraphs. Explain evaluation. Show examples for inspiration. 
  2. Work collaboratively to list and prioritize tasks to complete project.
  3. Research sound devices, word choice, presentation techniques, and other poetic devices using some Poetry Project Resources
  4. Plan, write, revise, and edit using this Planning & Drafting Template
  5. Publish final poem using student choice of technology.
  6. Finally, share with a live audience at our poetry premiere.

IT. WAS. AMAZING!

Check out some of our finished poems! (More to be added soon.)

The Kindness Project This group used iMovie and some very creative visuals.The Kindness Project.png

Change This group used movement to creatively illustrate their poem. Change.png

Beauty This group also used iMovie to showcase their excellent word choice.Beauty

Taking Chances This group included an interview with our school resource officer.Taking Chances

Risk This group used an iPad and a stop motion app to capture their hand-drawn visuals.Risk

Climate Change Rap Using the green screen, this group introduced and concluded their poem as a news report, complete with a special appearance by Mr. Earth.  Climate Change Rap.png

Animal Cruelty This group went to a local animal shelter to film their own footage.Animal Cruelty.png

Music This group used WeVideo and had passionate, fluent speaking voices.Music

Loss This group used the DoInk app with the green screen. They even included bloopers.Loss

Dance This group included sound effects… themselves tap dancing.Dance

Animal Cruelty This group used a variety of settings and facts about their topic. Animal Cruelty

Bullying This group had some great word choice! Bullying

Bullying This group had some creative combinations of sound devices and presentation techniques. Bullying.png

Friends Using iMovie, this group included great word choice. Friends

Those were only a few of the published poems. If you’d like to see more, visit my YouTube channel here.

Yes, this project took time, but the results were well worth it. Students were able to:

  • Conduct research projects using several sources to answer an essential question.
  • Engage in collaborative discussion, building on others’ ideas and expressing own ideas clearly
  • Follow rules for discussions, set specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles
  • Produce a clear and coherent poem in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience
  • Develop and strengthen poem by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach
  • Use figurative language such as metaphors, similes, personification, imagery, and hyperbole in a poem
  • Use specific word choice to illustrate the theme, mood, and tone of a poem
  • Synthesize information and present it in different formats
  • Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations
  • Present poem using appropriate eye contact, volume, and clear pronunciation

This summer, I plan on writing more about the process and posting a mini-series for those who might want to try this collaborative multimedia poetry project.

First, up: Poetry Project Part 1: Where to Begin

Flexible Classroom Seating in Middle School: How I Started the Switch

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Why Flexible Classroom Seating?

Boy, do my students just love to fidget. This year, I have an especially squirrely bunch. It’s been pretty distracting. Even more so now that the end of the year is near. I had heard about flexible seating options before, but didn’t know too much about it. After doing some research, I fell in love. It was the perfect solution!

I’m no expert on flexible seating (sometimes called alternative seating), but I will share with you the steps I have taken to make it happen in my own middle-school classroom.

 

 

Step 1: Research and Plan

I started this whole process by researching and reaching out to some who’ve already done it. I’d recommend the following places to start:

 

 

Classroom Eye Candy: A Flexible-Seating Paradise

Flexible Learning Spaces

Flexible Seating

Flexible Seating – Oh, The Possibilities!

Flexible Seating

Flexible Seating in Middle School

Once I decided that, yes indeed, this is what I want to do, I went to my co-worker to tell her about it. She grew more excited by the minute and wanted to give it a try as well.

 

From there, we created a Flexible Seating Pinterest Board and Google Slideshow to store and share our ideas for the project.

Step 2: Request Permission

Before we started searching for items, we wanted to make sure flexible seating was even allowed in our building. No one else has any sort of alternative seating in our middle school.

We spoke to the principals and briefly laid out the reasoning and rationale for switching over from our traditional classrooms. Luckily, our principals are pretty open-minded and willing to let us try new things. They both agreed!

Other than just the principals, we also let our custodians know. Everyone knows the custodians (and the secretaries) are the ones who truly run the school. We were super sweet to them. We’d be asking a lot of their help in the upcoming weeks and months moving things into our rooms.

 

Step 3: Educate and Inform

The next step was to tell our students and parents about flexible seating. We drafted a note home to parents using a template we found. It basically mentioned what flexible seating is, why we’re doing it, and what kinds of donations we’re looking for.

 

In class, we read the letter with students and showed them the inspiration board we had created. For a few minutes, we brainstormed and discussed some items they might want to see in the classroom and where they might find those things.

The very next day, we had donations. Students and parents started bringing in items. The journey was off to a successful start!

Step 4: Start Searching

So the journey of collecting items for our classrooms began.

Within the first week or two we received:

  • bean bag chairs from garage sales
  • gaming chairs from students’ parents
  • coffee tables from a friend and a fellow teacher
  • carpet squares from a local flooring company

So far, most everything has been a donation.

For example, Reinhold Flooring donated two big area rugs and lots of carpet squares simply because we emailed them with an inquiry. We explained we were classroom teachers on a mission to begin flexible classroom seating. They were very generous and responded to us in just a day or two!

It’s like my mom always told me, “It never hurts to ask!”

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Students choose where to sit during independent work time. Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

I would definitely recommend slowing switching out old tables and chairs for new seating options. We brought in a few pieces at a time. Of course, we had to go over expectations with the students almost immediately.

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We love all the different chair choices! Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

Let me tell you, the first true test was our workshop day. Students have always struggled to work quietly and stay on task during this 45-50 minutes of independent reading and writing time. After being allowed to “Pick a Place”, they were focused like I’ve never seem them before. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

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Students can also choose to sit or stand at my podium. Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

It’s working! And the next workshop went the same way. And the next one after that. I can’t wait to see how a full classroom switch will affect our students.

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They’re so focused! Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

We’re still in the midst of searching for several more items. Hopefully, we’ll use this summer to complete our collection. If you’d like to find out more about our finished rooms, stay tuned! We’ll post an update in August! (Click here for my August post and see the finished classroom!)

What are your thoughts on flexible or alternative classroom seating?

Student Selected Stations

Kahoot - Student Selected Stations
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Ever have those days where it’s just not the right time to start a new unit? Well, today was one of those days. Our sixth-graders just finished two days of MAP testing. Pair that with the fact that half of our students were out all day on a band field trip. What did we do with the students we had left? We tried out something new.

Introducing… drum roll please… student selected stations!

It started with an idea from Rachel Jones, the science teacher on my team. She wanted to do some fun labs and demos that she wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do. So her and I got to talking. (Side note: She is an awesome colleague to brainstorm and hash things out with!) Together we came up with this idea of turning the day into a sort of a station type thing. And at that point, Student Selected Stations was born!

The logistics were a bit tricky. But hey, I love a good puzzle. I brought the idea to the rest of our team teachers. They were immediately excited and on board. (Another shout out to Brittney Jungwaelter and Sarah Polanc for always being willing to try out new things!)

So what did we come up with? Here is an example of our shared Google Spreadsheet.

Each tab is a separate hour. Across the top, were the stations available in our classrooms that particular hour. The space below is where we signed up the students.
Here’s how each class period worked:

  1. Bell rang to start class. We took our normal attendance.
  2. We showed students the Google Spreadsheet and explained the choices for that particular hour.
  3. Randomly, we called on students one at a time. Each student made a choice and his or her name was typed onto our spreadsheet. The beauty of using Google is the ability for all of us to type at the same time.
  4. At the designated time, (we said 10 minutes, but we really only needed about 5), we sent the kids off to their stations with all their stuff. Once there, we took attendance again. Better to be safe than sorry!
  5. From that point on, we each explained the directions for our activities. Our class periods are 47 minutes long, so we still ended up with a good chunk of time to complete the station (about 30 minutes).
  6. At the end of class, students were dismissed to go to their next scheduled class.
  7. Repeat!

We had so much fun. Check it out!

Final thoughts:

Since so many students were gone, it was a great opportunity to try out a new structure such as this. This setup would work well for a whole grade-level teambuilding day or something similar.

How would you use this structure?