Take Your Classroom Out

Spring is nearly here, and we bet both you and your students are eager to get outside and enjoy the warm weather. What we want to know is…why don’t you? There are plenty of benefits to moving your classroom outside, and it’s certainly not going to hurt to move your lessons outdoors once in a while.

Getting outdoors for your lessons is excellent for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Increasing environmental awareness
  • Added physical activity
  • Decreased stress
  • Higher levels of student engagement
  • Less time sitting in front of screens
  • Kinesthetic learning opportunities

Clearly there are some amazing benefits to outdoor learning (and not just getting to enjoy the warm sunshine). Yet there are many teachers who never venture out of their classroom with students unless it is for lunch or a field trip.

Barriers To Getting Out

Some of the most common reasons teachers say that getting outside to teach their lessons simply won’t work:

  • Difficulty of supervising children
  • Outdoor hazards
  • Daily classroom schedule to maintain
  • Not enough time in the school day
  • “No nature” to take the students to
  • Using nature in lessons not a priority
  • No lesson plans for teaching outdoors

While some of these claims are more serious than others, if you want to take your class outdoors there are ways around these problems. Specific nature-based lessons can be planned. You can treat the excursion as you would a field trip to keep track of the class. You don’t need to have a forest on the property; just getting kids outside can make a huge difference.

Get Started Now

If you want to start taking your students outdoors for the occasional lesson, start now! It doesn’t need to take hours of extra preparation and lesson planning, though it certainly can if that’s how you would like to do it.

Make sure when making plans that your outside activity works with the lessons you are teaching inside. Students should still be learning – this isn’t a second recess!

You’ll also want to come up with specific rules that all students must follow when they have a lesson outside. Getting out of the classroom is sure to give students some extra energy and that’s great, but set rules to keep them safe and remind them that if rules aren’t followed, they’ll be heading back inside.

You may also decide to take students outside in the event of good behavior. This works particularly well if you teach a subject that can easily be done outdoors with few modifications. History lectures and book discussions are only two great examples of this type of curriculum.

Rules should also be set for the weather, not just your students. Pick a temperature it must reach before you take students out. Figure out your parameters for how dry the ground must be. This makes it easier to choose the days you take students out.

And don’t rely only on yourself. There’s tons of nature lesson ideas online, so take a look! Other teachers in your building may already be doing this. You can also get in contact with local nature centers who could be interested in teaching classes or coming in for a presentation. You don’t have to do all the work by yourself.

10 Easy Ways To Use The Outdoors In Your Lessons

  1. Use chalk. This is a very easy way to use the outdoor environment in your lesson plans. Use chalk to write out math equations. Have students use chalk to draw the setting from a history or geography lesson. Write out sentences and have students correct them. There’s tons of ways chalk can be used to engage students outside.
  2. Organize a service learning project. Clean up your schoolyard or a nearby park. This type of project helps to connect students to the environment they’re living in. It can help teach your students to value nature. Pair this with a lesson about what trash does to the environment.
  3. Grow a school/class garden. There are so many benefits to this outdoor activity. Not only are gardens additional green space, they allow students to see where their food comes from and students actually grow healthy produce. This works well with science lessons in particular.
  4. Send your students on a scavenger hunt to find specific nature items. This is another lesson that works really well for science classes. Students can identify different types of trees, plants, insects, and leaves.
  5. Take a walk around your school’s outdoor space based on the content of a book you read for class. Implementing this will depend on the book, but there are some great outdoor walks you can do that will give students a better context for the story they’ve just read.
  6. Have students design and monitor a weather station for your school. You can also pair this with a season or weather observation journal. It is a great way to teach basic meteorology, and while taking the class out to make notes on the weather station you can point out different cloud types and discuss season changes.
  7. You can take students out into nature and teach them basic survival skills. You can work this into a number of lessons. Maybe you’re reading a book such as Hatchet, that involves survival skills, or maybe your history lesson involves someone surviving the great outdoors.
  8. Take your students outdoors to measure different angles. You can also have them measure the height, length, and circumference of various areas of the school. Having trees around your school can make activities like this even better, but you can also use the school building, shadows, and playground equipment.
  9. Move your free reading time outdoors! Make sure each student brings a book or borrows a book from you that they would like to read, then take them outside and let them find somewhere to sit and read. This is more relaxing than reading at a desk and requires almost no prep work.
  10. Give students an open-ended art project that uses nature. Have students collect items outside that they want for their art projects. This could be flowers, sticks, rocks, whatever they think of! Then let that creativity shine as they create a truly unique art piece.

With so many amazing possibilities, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider taking your students outdoors for a lesson sometime this spring!

Posted in Classroom Activities | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How To Develop Growth Mindset

You may have heard about the term “Growth Mindset” lately. Research backs the theory that believing your brain can learn and change actually makes it possible for this to happen. There is a lot of excitement in the field of education about changing student mindset so their capacity to learn can grow.

An individual’s mindset has a huge impact on how they learn. A student afraid to fail, for example, may avoid challenging themselves. An individual who has the goal to learn is more likely to choose more challenging assignments.

A fixed mindset leads individuals to believe that intelligence is fixed. This is what leads to students believing, for example, that they simply can’t understand math. They may give up more easily and put in less effort, since they believe they can’t learn the material anyway. Someone with a growth mindset, however, will understand that struggling is just part of the learning process.

Teaching growth mindset in schools can not only help struggling learners, but has the potential to help close the achievement gap. And happily, teaching growth mindset to your students comes easier than you may think.

Praise Less

Praising your students for getting the correct answer can actually be a setback. Focusing on the results instead of the effort can discourage struggling students from trying and stop successful students from challenging themselves. Praise students for their efforts, not for their abilities. If a student’s efforts are failing, encourage them to look at the problem with a new perspective.

Allow Students To Struggle

There is a tendency to push students towards the “correct” way of finding answers to problems. Instead, let them struggle. Encourage them to think about solving a problem on their own. Share the different strategies students use with the class. You can still teach students a faster way to solve the problem, but encourage them for arriving at the answer even if it is not in the traditional way.

Refuse “I Can’t”

Whether students genuinely believe they cannot complete or understand an assignment or not, it is important to not accept this statement at face value. Ask why your student feels they can’t do something. Ask what they do understand. Teach your student to ask questions, not just give up on finding an answer.

Give Micro-Goals

Don’t only focus on the test; provide students with smaller goals they can succeed at to build their confidence in their learning abilities. Students that find success over a period of time have a better chance of developing a growth mindset.

Focus On Process, Not Results

Students need to understand that learning is a continuous process, not an end goal. Instead teach your students that they should focus on the act of learning and the progress they are making, not on a single grade at the end of the year.

Use Different Teaching Methods

What works for one student won’t work for all students. As an educator, it is your job to discover what learning styles each student has so you can ensure your teaching reaches every student.

Give Constructive Criticism

And make sure students understand that criticism is meant to help them grow. Explain your feedback, how students may use that feedback, and that the feedback contributes to the constant process of learning.

Reward Hard Work

It is easy to reward talent and natural skill, but it is more important to reward students who are working hard and trying their best. This positive reinforcement can help individual students and the entire class see that working hard has positive results.

Ramp Up Student Goals

Creating goals in the classroom is not an uncommon strategy, but take it a step further. Every time students achieve a goal in class, have them create a new one. Learning is never done, so goal setting should be constantly revisited and revised.

Explain The Benefit Of Challenges

Describe how the brain responds to obstacles. This will show students why it is so important to not only challenge themselves, but to keep working through those challenges to get a desired result.

Have Students Elaborate

Have them go beyond simply answering the question. How did they arrive at the answer? Ask follow-up questions. You’ll get a better sense of what they do and do not understand, and it encourages critical thinking.

Allow For Reflection

This gives students time to think about their goals and their learning experiences. They can look at what has been working for them and what hasn’t, and make plans to improve. Encourage students to share their concerns with you so you can better accommodate them.

Use The Word “Yet”

This can change negative thinking habits into positive ones. “Yet” shows that mastering a skill is something that takes work and is attainable in the future. If your student claims they cannot do something, correct them that they cannot do it yet.

Track Successes

Over the course of the year students may forget the progress they’ve made. Develop a way to keep track of progress with evidence the student can look back on. You could keep examples in folders, in your files, or even just recorded online. This way students can see how far they’ve come.

Teach That Failure Is Okay

If you treat student failure poorly, your students will feel poorly about themselves. Instead of simply using a letter grade, take this opportunity to go through the steps of an assignment again so students can understand better next time.

Celebrate Others

Encourage students to celebrate other students’ accomplishments. Your classroom is not a competitive space, it is a space for all students to learn and celebrate their achievements. Make sure all the students in your classroom understand this.

Make Your Classroom A Safe Space

Encourage your students to take risks. If students are afraid to fail you, they’ll be holding themselves back. Tell your students you value them thinking outside the box and that they should always be trying new things.

Adopt A Growth Mindset For Yourself

Practice what you teach and learn to adopt a growth mindset for yourself as well. Share your struggles with your students and show them how you apply a growth mindset in your own life. This is of a benefit to not only the students, but to you as well!

Posted in Tips for Teachers | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Top 5 Tips To Stop Procrastinating

Everyone struggles with procrastination, and that is especially true for teachers. With so many tasks that need to be tackled it is easy to put off the ones you deem unpleasant, especially during a busy time of year.

By allowing this work to pile up though, you’re opening yourself up to additional stress and longer hours. It may lead to you rushing through tasks and producing mediocre work.

Procrastination is a fact of life and is, unfortunately, extremely persistent. It is unlikely that you will ever shake it entirely, but there are steps you can take to reduce the hold procrastination has over you.

  1. What Are Your Goals?

What goals do you have when it comes to teaching? Get specific and even unrealistic. You can’t beat procrastination if you don’t have a concrete goal.

Do you want lesson planning to get done faster? Do you want to get your files and materials organized to save you time down the line? Maybe you want to build a library of lesson plans for substitute teachers. It can even be as simple as wanting to check your email every day.

Once you have your goals written down, you want to break down these goals into specific, short-term steps to make these goals attainable.

Put these steps in your schedule or on a to-do list. As you complete these steps, you will be able to watch yourself get closer and closer to accomplishing your goal. The closer you get the more motivated you will be to keep going, which will discourage you from procrastinating.

  1. Identify Your Struggles

Once you have your goals identified and steps to complete these goa

ls written down, the next step is to think about what you struggle with that may prevent you from meeting these goals.

What factors stop you from staying on task? Do you feel overwhelmed by all the tasks you need to complete, or are you distracted by personal issues in your life?

Once you discover why you can’t focus, think about what you do instead. Are you gravitating towards different tasks that are still productive, or are you checking social media? Are you putting off tasks you believe to be challenging in favor of easier tasks?

With these things in mind, you can find ways to remove distractions so you will be forced to stay on task. If you put off lesson planning to grade ahead, keep the papers at school. If you can’t get off social media, keep your phone out of reach. Eliminating temptation makes procrastination much more difficult.

  1. Set Time Limits

Setting time limits for specific tasks can be helpful in multiple ways. Not only does it encourage you to stay on task, it also reminds you that soon you can relax and not have to worry about said task.

Getting started on an unpleasant task is the hardest part, and that’s a reason why time limits work so well. If you know you only have to grade papers for half an hour and not until they’re done, you’re more likely to pick up those papers to begin with.

What’s great about this is that once you’re in the flow of a task, you are more likely to continue after the time limit has passed. You’ll watch as you get closer to completing your goal, and that will just encourage you to work harder.

But if the time limit comes and you want to stop whatever task you are working on, you should! You’ve met your goal and that means you can take a break, guilt-free.

  1. Use Breaks Wisely

If you can’t sit and focus on answering emails or writing your parent newsletter, then why would you think sitting still on Facebook would help you focus later?

If you need a break from grading essays, reading articles online isn’t going to leave you feeling refreshed when you get back on-task. If your mind isn’t occupied by lesson planning, then focusing on a TV show isn’t going to help as much as you think it will either.

Your mind craves novelty and variety. The teaching profession involves a lot of concentration, so if you need to take a break do something that doesn’t require your brain to concentrate.

Take a walk. Organize your closet. Get ahead on the dishes. Do some yoga at home or take a relaxing bath. Do something that is either active or completely relaxing where you can turn your brain off for a little while.

  1. Take Time For Yourself

It may seem impossible to take time for yourself as a teacher but doing so makes it a lot easier to stop procrastinating. Something you have to remember is that there is a huge difference between procrastinating and letting yourself “waste time”.

Schedule time off for yourself, during the weekend and also during the week. This is time for you to do the things you enjoy doing, without feeling guilty about not working on teaching duties.

You don’t need to be productive constantly. In fact, if you try to be productive constantly you will likely suffer from burnout. Taking time to do the things you enjoy will energize you and make you more productive later on.

Put it on your schedule if you have to. Your career as a teacher is only one part of your life, not your entire life. When you make time to do the things you enjoy it is a lot easier to stay on task later.

Have your own tips about beating procrastination? Let us know in the comments!

Posted in Tips for Teachers | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

In The Wake Of Another School Shooting

How do you reassure your students that they are safe inside your classroom after the latest school shooting?

You can’t.

Since 2013 there have been nearly 300 school shootings. While this data does include instances of no student injuries or gun use near schools after school hours, it doesn’t change the fact that guns are prevalent in our cities across the country, and sometimes there are fatal consequences.

So how do you talk about this with your students? Should you talk about it at all? The sad reality is that school shootings are unlikely to ever go away. Instead of hiding this from your students, it is more proactive to prepare them in case anything was to happen.

Gun reform and school administrative changes will take a lot of time to implement. So what can you, an individual teacher, do right now to make your students safer? What can you do to make them feel safe? And what can you do to spot potential trouble before it becomes a headline?

Train Your Students

If your school does not have active shooter drills, now is the time to discuss what to do in the event of this emergency with your students.

The old philosophy of lock the door and wait may not be the best course of action. It is important to go over details with students depending on the situation they find themselves in.

Even if implementing ALICE training, a drill is still only a drill. If an active shooter is in the school, students aren’t going to evacuate outside. If a shooter is in your classroom, the doors can’t just be locked. Giving students the tools to make split-second decisions is imperative.

What You Can Do Now

  • The latest school shooting involved the use of a fire alarm to get students to leave class. When the fire alarm sounds go to the door before your students. Do a quick check for anything suspicious before leading your students out.
  • Ask students questions to help them make an emergency plan. Where would they go if they escaped the school during a shooting? What would they do if you, their teacher, was not there to take the lead? Where would they go if a lockdown was announced during passing period or lunch?
  • Evaluate your classroom door. Does it lock from inside or outside? Are there windows? How could you barricade it if you needed to? If there are windows beside your doors you need to have a plan to barricade these in the event of an emergency.
  • Teach students that they should do whatever they can to survive. They can break windows to escape or throw books to cause a distraction. If an active shooter is already in the room, hiding is not going to do any good.
  • Make sure all students know where the nearest exit is. Then make sure they know where the next closest exit is if the first one is inaccessible.
  • Come up with a way to evaluate your students. Are any of them a risk for starting an altercation? This educator has come up with an inventive way to do this without students even realizing it.
  • Make sure your students understand that they must never open the door in an active shooter situation. If someone is banging on the door to get in, they should ignore it.

What You Can Do For Yourself

As an educator it can be a challenge to deal with the news of another school shooting, but there are steps you can take to combat this.

  • Talk about it if you need to, whether that is with a loved one or a therapist.
  • Turn off the news. Step away from social media. Take a break from the constant coverage.
  • Be healthy. Eat well and exercise. Get plenty of sleep.
  • Don’t obsess about your safety plans. Know what you need to do in a dangerous situation, but don’t allow yourself to ruminate on it.

What You Can Do For Your Students

Outside of helping students prepare for an emergency, you must be ready to discuss the issue of school shootings in the classroom after an event like this unfolds.

  • Listen to their concerns. If they feel unsafe, ask how you can make school feel safer for them. Answer any question you can.
  • Explain the safety plans your school has in place.
  • Provide access to professional resources.
  • Remind your students that school shootings are not common.

Posted in The Tough Issues | 5 Comments

Create A Classroom Escape Room

You may not have been to an escape room, but it is likely you’ve heard of them. Escape rooms are extremely popular right now. The basic premise is this; you and a few others are locked in a room and have 60 minutes to use clues and objects to solve puzzles and escape the room.

Escape rooms allow for team-building, engagement, critical thinking, and problem solving. These skills are essential in the classroom, so why not build your own escape room to do in class?

Creating an escape room takes time and can seem overwhelming. We’ve broken it down into a few simple steps to help you get orientated.

Step One: Determine Your Goal

You may choose to use this activity simply for team-building, but most of you probably want to use this game as part of your curriculum. It’s important to have a clear goal so you can achieve this.

Do you want students to learn specific information during the game, or do you want the game to enhance the material you’ve discussed in class? The puzzles may even require knowledge from previous class assignments. Once you’ve decided on the learning objectives of the activity it becomes much easier to plan everything else.

Step Two: Consider Your Classroom Space

You don’t want to create amazing puzzles if your classroom doesn’t have space for them. How much space do you have when you move the desks? Where can objects be hidden without being too difficult? Once you have a better idea of the layout you have to work with, it is much easier to design your escape room.

If possible you may consider moving your escape room to another part of the building. The stage of an auditorium is particularly good for this. Talk to your administration to see if this would be possible.

Step Three: Design The Puzzles

The puzzles are the most important part of the escape room. You want to provide a variety of puzzles both in terms of difficulty levels and type. Every puzzle should not involve wordplay, for example.

Using math and numbers is a great place to start. Riddles and other wordplay puzzles are also simple to design. Using blacklight is a great way to give clues to students. Make sure there’s enough to do in the activity space so students can work in groups, and are not left fighting over the one available clue.

Step Four: Plan Puzzle Specifics

A successful escape room has many puzzles, red herrings, and tasks that cannot be completed until other puzzles are solved. The tough part is figuring out how to juggle all these tasks. Make sure each solved puzzle will lead students to another puzzle so they can see they are making progress.

Here’s an example. On your whiteboard there can be a passage of text with certain letters bolded. These bolded letters form a word, which tells your students where they will find a decoder. This decoder can be used to provide a number for a combination lock, which opens a container with another clue.

Step Five: Do A Test Run

This may involve you mapping out the game on your own or with a co-worker. You want to make sure the puzzles all make sense and lead to the desired outcome. If there are holes in your game students will become understandably frustrated.

It helps to think about the puzzle as if you were doing it yourself. Are there any jumps in logic you’d not make on your own? Do the clues lead to each other clearly? If not make some edits, but if they do you’re ready to present the challenge to your students.

Step Six: Evaluate

After your escape room activity is complete, ask for feedback from students. Take note of what worked and what didn’t. Make sure all the learning objectives were met. Can your escape room be improved? How can it be tweaked for next year if you plan to try it again?


We understand that even with these steps you may be intimidated by the idea of creating puzzles. They don’t have to be complicated or expensive. Here are some supplies you may want for your escape room and some puzzle ideas:


  • Combination Locks
  • Directional Locks
  • Blacklight Pens
  • UV Flashlights (Several For The Entire Class)
  • Magnets
  • Containers & Cabinets
  • Books (To Mark Passages, Hide Items, Etc)
  • Paper/Pens
  • Maps




Puzzle Ideas

  • Create A Secret Code
  • Embed A Clue In A Reading Passage
  • Hidden Objects
  • Connect-The-Dots To Form A Pattern
  • Create A Clue That Can Only Be Read With A Mirror
  • Create A Glow In The Dark Clue
  • Leave An Unfinished Crossword Puzzle In The Room

Additional Tips:

  • Use colored stickers, crepe paper, etc to mark off areas in the classroom not to be explored in the game.
  • Storage lockers and locking filing cabinets make for great obstacles.
  • Allow students to decide as a class to ask for a hint, but limit the amount of hints they can use.
  • Use props and lighting to create ambiance.
  • Offer an incentive to students for if they “escape” in time.
  • Have fun!

If you’ve done an escape room in your classroom we want to hear about it! Have any tips for a teacher just starting out? Post about it in the comments!

Posted in Classroom Activities | Tagged , , | Leave a comment