January Craft: Hot Chocolate Mug

The cold of winter has set in, making now a great time to work on crafts in the classroom or at home. This cute hot chocolate craft stands on its own, just like a real mug of hot chocolate!

This is a great project to help students practice their fine-motor skills. It requires a lot of cutting, pasting, and taping, sometimes in odd configurations. Once the crafts are done, why not set each cup of hot chocolate along a shelf or window to decorate for the winter season?

If you’d like to allow for more creativity, have students decorate the mug using markers, stickers, and anything else they have on hand.

Here’s what you’ll need.


Construction Paper
Pom Poms

You can find the full instruction guide by clicking HERE.

If you end up trying out this craft, send us some pictures! We’d love to see what your class has created. Make sure to check back next month for our annual Valentine’s Day craft!

Posted in Arts & Crafts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Lower Student Dropout Rates

Students who leave school without a high school degree miss out on a lot of opportunities. Not only does it make it more difficult for them to get a job, but the lack of education can make their lives significantly harder. Over 1 million students in the USA drop out of school every year. Many of these students attend schools where 50% or more of the students never graduate.

This is a huge problem to tackle. Some of the issues are systemic, making this something you can’t always tackle on your own. But there are steps you can take to help more of your students graduate.


What You Can Do

The first step to preventing high student dropout rates is to understand the reasons why so many students are dropping out. One of the huge concerns is that students are not being held accountable by teachers and parents. Schools don’t have the resources to keep up with these failing students, allowing students to fall through the cracks. When students face roadblocks in academic subjects they can lose motivation if they aren’t pushed.

For most dropouts, there is usually some type of tipping point that makes them fall over the edge. This may be a suspension, fight with another student, or a failing grade. But this doesn’t mean dropping out is an impulsive decision; in fact deciding to drop out usually occurs after a long process. Students who drop out usually have been facing problems with school for many years before they leave permanently. Students who drop out more suddenly are usually facing problems at home or mental health issues.

The majority of students who do end up dropping out tend to come from lower-income families and/or have learning challenges. These extra struggles often go un-addressed and contribute to why students end up dropping out.

So what can you do? The first step is to have a way to know when a kid is in danger of dropping out. Keeping an eye on student absences, grades, detentions, and other types of data can go a long way. Don’t write these students off, help them! Students with issues like this may believe that you dislike them. Show them that’s not the case and that you want them to succeed. Give extra individual help.

You also need to try and get parents involved. The older students get, the less involved parents tend to be in their education. Encourage parents to attend conferences, keep up regular email communication, or even do home visits to help keep parents updated.

You can also change up your lesson plans to make them more relevant to your students. Bored, unengaged students are more likely to skip class. You can make any subject relevant to students’ lives using interesting lessons and assignments. Bring in speakers that can relate your topic to current culture. Find ways to make your subjects interesting to students. Just because it is interesting to you, doesn’t mean it is to your students.

Another excellent thing you can do is provide students with community resources. Set up a system so students can get this information anonymously if they wish. Provide pamphlets to local healthcare resources, therapy locations, community centers, and anything else you can think of that can help your students. Encourage service learning, or even make it a requirement in your classroom to get students helping out in the local community. This helps with personal growth but can also be a resume booster for when school is over.

What The School Can Do

These changes can be a huge help to your students, but if the school district makes changes the results will be even better. Creating a plan to address school dropout rates allows schools to create a more personalized plan that works well for their student population.

The first step here is to gather data and get it organized. Keep this information up-to-date at all costs. The most important data that must be kept track of includes attendance rates, discipline records, failing grades, grade repeaters, test results, and graduation trends. This concrete data is easy to gather and can help paint a picture of the problem area of a school.

The next step is to look at the surrounding community. What are the biggest issues in the area? Each community is different and each community affects students in different ways. A poor, rural community is different from a poor urban community, which is different from a community surrounded by expensive shops and restaurants. How can non-profits in this area help your students? What about businesses? Where can students volunteer? Collaboration with the local community is extremely important.

As attendance is the largest indicator that a student is at-risk, much more has to be done when it comes to poor attendance. Punishment is not the answer. Identifying the reason why students are absent is extremely important. Is it due to illness? Do they need to act as a caregiver? Are they being bullied? There’s many reasons for chronic absences, and by tracking down these reasons schools can cultivate different approaches to meet various student needs.

Address the concerns of your students in the community. Show them how a high school education can benefit them in their lives. This is especially important in schools in low-income areas. A school district cannot change the entire community as a whole, but they can make their school a safe space that provides students with resources to create a better life for themselves.

In Conclusion

There are many steps individual teachers and entire school districts can take to address the high dropout rate. Don’t let students slip away or be pushed away from school due to poor behavior. They are still children learning their place in the world, and it is your job as an educator to give them all the tools they need to succeed.

Posted in The Tough Issues | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Skills Modern Teachers Need

Teachers have been around for many, many years, but as our society grows and develops, the skills a teacher needs in the classroom must also grow and develop. Over the past few decades there have been major changes in everyday life. To properly reach your students your teaching style must adapt to these changes.

These tips are for the modern teacher in 2018. There’s no way of knowing what additional changes may occur in the coming years. For now though, we hope this list helps you pinpoint changes you may need to adopt in your classroom.

Skill 1: Be Willing To Adapt

This is by far the most important tip we can offer to teachers working in the modern age. With how quickly technology is changing, teachers must be able to adapt. A decade ago keeping cell phones out of school was a bothersome task, but doable. Now students face phone addiction, and dealing with phones in the classroom has become a more complicated problem. Additionally, new technology focused on education is constantly being developed. Plus with the internet new teaching strategies are easily found from a simple Google search. Keep track of new teaching trends and technology, and adjust your style accordingly as needed.

Skill 2: A Basic Understanding of Technology

There are older teachers in the workforce who still struggle with email, word processors, and spreadsheets. While this is perfectly understandable, to keep up in this digital age teachers must learn basic technology skills. Technology makes it easier to communicate and stay organized. Teachers don’t need to understand the newest, most cutting edge technology, but they need to firmly understand the basics.

Skill 3: Manage Your Online Identity Wisely

It is likely that you have social media profiles for personal use, but when you are an educator you need to manage these social profiles wisely. Your employer and students may be able to find these profiles and you want any content they see to be appropriate. Keep social accounts private or stay off them entirely.

Skill 4: Get Creative

With media, video games, and technology, the world has gotten a lot bigger. It’s more important than ever to engage students with interactive lessons that catch and keep their attention. While there’s nothing wrong with a traditional lecture, unique assignments and lessons will stick out in your students’ minds.

Skill 5: Use Effective Parent Communication Techniques

Technology has made it much easier to keep in contact with parents. You may choose to create a class website. You can use email services to send out a newsletter to all the parents in your classroom instead of sending home a paper one. Find the way that works best for you, but make sure you utilize these free techniques to keep the lines of communication open.

Skill 6: Keep Learning

The world is constantly changing, and there’s always something new to learn. This may be related to the subject you teach, the way you teach, social issues…the list is endless. It is your job to teach students the things they need to know to be successful adults. You should always be on the lookout for ways to better do this job.

Skill 7: Avoid Teacher Burnout

With all the technology available, teacher burnout is higher than ever. That’s because technology makes it even easier to take your work home with you. Teach yourself to unplug from work. Make a rule about checking email at home, or how much time you can dedicate to work outside of class.

Skill 8: Empower Your Students

Teachers can be a huge inspiration to students, and you can use this to help empower those same students. Empower them to think critically. To be creative. To ask questions. To be their own critics, support, and teachers. They have to learn to become independent, and you can help them with that.

Skill 9: Facilitate, Don’t Just Educate

You need to do more than simply hand your students information that they memorize for a test. Get students to interact with new information. Show them how it applies to their lives. Encourage collaboration and independent research. You want to help them grow into better thinkers, not just be good at memorizing.

Skill 10: Take Your Classroom Global

We don’t mean to literally take your students around the world, but the general public has a lot more contact with the entire globe than they used to. Teach your students about different beliefs and cultures. Make sure students understand how their actions can have an affect on the entire world. There’s much more out there than their city or country, and make sure they know it.

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

Giving Better Feedback

Giving good feedback is imperative to helping students succeed. Simply handing students back an assignment with a letter grade does almost nothing to help them improve. Yes, giving specific feedback is time consuming, but it is an easy way to help your students. Once you’ve gotten used to providing individualized feedback to your students, doing so will be easy.

Today we’re bringing you 10 tips to help you provide your students with better feedback.

  1. Be specific. It may be easy to write “great job”, or “needs improvement” on a paper, but this type of comment tells students nothing. If you want to see your students make improvements, you have to give more details about what they did well on, and what they need to work on more.
  2. Provide feedback quickly. If you don’t provide students with feedback for weeks after an assignment, they may have already forgotten the material. When providing feedback quickly, the material is still fresh in everyone’s minds, making it easier to correct errors and make improvements.
  3. Give an example. It will be easier for students to understand the feedback you are giving them if they see an example of how the work is supposed to be done. For example, provide your students with a copy of an A+ paper, with notations explaining why the paper did so well. With a model to look at, students can work at improving their writing.
  4. Teach students to self-asses. This doesn’t mean that you stop providing students with feedback; this simply gives your students the tools to take a critical look at their work in the future before they turn it in.
  5. Give your students a goal. When students are working towards a specific goal, you will likely see better improvement in their work and grades. Make sure your feedback is catered to help students towards that goal. Students need to understand why the information you are teaching is important and how it relates to them.
  6. Have students take notes when you give verbal feedback. If students are sitting down with you at some type of conference, make sure they take notes. Verbal instructions are easily forgotten, but notes are something students can refer to in the future.
  7. Keep track of student progress. It is easier to give student feedback if you are keeping track of how a student is progressing. This could be in a notebook, an excel sheet, whatever works best for you.
  8. Present feedback kindly. No matter how good your feedback is, students are not going to listen to it if you don’t present it the right way. Make sure your students understand the reasons for the feedback you are providing.
  9. Don’t give generic praise. When students receive praise such as “Nice Work” on a regular basis, they tend to tune it out. Instead give specifics. Tell them why their work was done well. You don’t want any of your students to disengage from the feedback you give.
  10. Use appropriate body language. Students may be uncomfortable or defensive if you hand them a paper with a low grade, and it will only get worse if you do so with a frown. Pay close attention to the way your body language conveys additional messages, outside of just the ones you write down.

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

Podcasts As An Educational Tool

There’s been a lot of interest in podcasts over the past few years, including in the educational world. Podcasts can have an ongoing plot, but many podcasts feature standalone episodes that seek to inform and entertain the listener.

But that doesn’t necessarily translate to podcasts being a good teaching tool. As with most things, podcasts can be of a huge benefit in the classroom if used correctly. We’re here to help with that.

The first thing to consider is that there are many ways to use podcasts in the classroom. The easiest way, of course, is to simply assign specific podcast episodes to your students. These can be streamed or downloaded to computers, phones, and other listening devices, so listening could be done in class or outside of it. You may choose to have students make their own podcast instead of a more traditional assignment such as a paper or book report, and you can even record your own podcast. This can be particularly helpful when it comes to reviewing materials around test time.

We’ll start with the easiest, which is to have students listen to podcasts that are already made from a third party. There’s endless podcasts out there to choose from covering all sorts of topics. English, history, science, math…you can find podcasts for pretty much everything. We recommend getting started by searching on your topic for podcasts. Make sure to do your research and listen to each podcast episode in full before assigning it!

Making your own podcast is a little bit more complicated, but once you know how to make a podcast it isn’t too tough. There’s plenty of free audio and editing software out there. If you want to add music, make sure it is royalty free. Once you’ve recorded your podcast make sure you test it. You want to ensure it loads correctly and sounds the way you want. And if you want your students to make their own podcasts, make sure you know how to make one yourself so you can teach your students how to.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled two lists. The first is our top ten choices for podcasts you can use in your classroom. The second is our top ten podcast assignments, for either you or your students to record.

Top Ten Podcasts For The Classroom

  1. Tumble – A science podcast specifically designed for kids.
  2. Brains On – Another science podcast for kids, co-hosted by kids!
  3. Stuff You Missed In History Class – Covers historic events you likely don’t cover in class.
  4. This American Life – Long-running series using journalism to cover a huge range of topics.
  5. Grammar Girl – Exactly what it sounds like; a grammar podcast to improve writing!
  6. TED Talks – Short lectures meant to inform and inspire on every subject imaginable.
  7. RadioLab – A show that dives into a variety of topics such as science and psychology.
  8. Stuff You Should Know – From the complicated to the mundane, this podcast covers it all.
  9. But Why – A show led by kids asking questions and getting answers.
  10. StoryCorps – The premise of this is to create a huge oral history.

Top Ten Podcast Assignments

  1. Have students interview each other, family members, professionals, etc on the topic of your choosing.
  2. Have students record a podcast instead of giving an oral presentation. This allows for more creativity and saves class time.
  3. Have students record a monthly podcast concerning current events. It helps to keep them informed about the world.
  4. Have students record reenactments of historic events using the correct language. This is great for history or English classes.
  5. Assign students a fiction or non-fiction episodic podcast as ELA material and discuss the episodes in class.
  6. Have students create a podcast to review material before a test. Not only will they have to review for the assignment, but they can listen to it to study.
  7. Instead of a book report, have students record a book talk, where they explain the book without giving away the plot.
  8. Take creative writing digital. Students can write and record their own fictional podcast. This gives them lots of room for creativity, plus they still are doing the writing.
  9. Use a podcast to foster classroom debate. Crime podcasts like Serial are great for this, as they allow students to discuss evidence.
  10. Podcasts make for an excellent ESL tool. Students can listen to podcasts to practice listening comprehension, speech patterns, vocabulary, and more.

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