Saturday, January 14, 2017

Virtual Field Trips For Middle Schoolers

Budget cuts. This time they hit you personally. Those fabulous field trips your students used to look forward to are now off the table. How are you going to replace them?

Thankfully, we live in the digital age. Virtual field trips are not a new concept, but the options and availability are growing and changing as I type this. As a thrifty homeschooling parent, virtual field trips have always been a part of my teaching world, but I realize that the idea may be new for some. SO. How about I share with you 3 of my top picks for virtual field trips perfect for Middle School classrooms. I also am just learning how to use Google Earth to create my own virtual field trips that I can share with my tutoring students, so I'll share what I've learned so far. 

Oh, and btw, this post is linked with a little group of teacher bloggers who are all sharing fresh ideas for teachers, and we are giving away a camera to one of our readers to use in his/her classroom!
1. History/Geography: Beringia

7th and 8th grade students across the country learn about the Beringia Land bridge and how it allowed the first people to find the North American continent. But it seems like ancient history, and no one cares! At least that was the song my 8th graders were singing this year. What if we could bring them there today? What if they could interact with the people and see their customs? Ok, we know we can't, but we can bring the Iditarod Dogsled Race to them!

Start the field trip off with a little geography overview, and add in a little math while you're there!
Under the "Curriculum" drop-down menu, you chose which direction to take this field trip. Learn how the Iditarod race route has been changed and shaped over time by selecting "Breaking the Trail." Help your History students connect their geography brain to their math brain by clicking "Fastest Team Ever." Or, you may want to help your students personally connect by discovering how people develop a connection to their homeland, by choosing "A Sense of Place."

Each of the pages under Curriculum will provide questions for discussion and extension activities, projects, or videos to help your students dive right into the subject.

2. STEM: Architecture and Design

Students of all ages constantly bemoan math, wondering, "When will I ever use this?" A virtual field trip into the world of various designers and architects quickly answers the question and may open students eyes to some interesting careers. 
You can organize this journey in a number of ways. I start off on the road, at This interactive website allows students to explore several careers, but it also provides teachers with tools to promote discussion and extend the experience with activities. Once you've "entered the building" you can decide whether to view videos (each are around 4-5 minutes, covering careers such as a cake designer, sculptor, architect, urban planner, and landscape architect), or try your hand at designing either your own park or environmental center. 

3. Geology: Explore the layers of the Grand Canyon

Our budding scientists either love geology or hate it, I haven't figured out why but there doesn't seem to be much middle ground. Bringin the layers of rock to life will help those disconnected students engage, if even only for a few minutes at a time. And being right there at the base of a 3,000 foot cliff will no doubt encourage your geology-loving students to dig deeper.
This interactive virtual tour offers 3 options. Each option includes pictures, video, and audio. The two guided tours also included quiz-like questions along the way.

DIY with Google Earth

There is a definite learning curve to using Google Earth to create your own virtual field trip. I already said I am just figuring this out, so I'm not quite there yet, I will absolutely share with allI learn along the way!

The first thing I've discovered is that it's really all about the story. The "tour guide" really has to have a definite plan, and be willing to spend some time recording ahead of time. A key component to setting up your virtual field trip is knowing where you want to "pin" your images. There's a tool that looks like the Pinterest pin (only it's yellow), and when you insert the pin you are given a box to label and describe the location. You can include as many images as you'd like at that location. 

Once you've added all of the locations, you can reorganize them into the desired order, and then start moving along the route. As you move along the route, you'll record your commentary (if you want to include it in the tour). As I was playing around with this, creating a field trip of a recent vacation I wanted to share with my extended family, I thought that this might be a great way to prepare for a lesson you really want to teach, but know you'll be unable to teach yourself. A homeschooling, tutoring momma has no need for sub plans, so if any of you have ever done this, or venture in this direction, I'd love to hear all about it!

Mrs. Russell's RoomELA BuffetKirsten's KaboodleAmy MezniCinnamon's ClassroomThe Room MomStudy All KnightBrittany WashburnInteractive Learning with Miss StefanyMeredith AndersonImage HTML map generator

Do you have a favorite virtual field trip you've used before, and plan to use again? Please share it with the rest of us in the comments below.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hidden Gems: A Fair Bear Share

I found this month's hidden gem in a little book called "A Fair Bear Share" by Stuart Murphy. Murphy weaves counting beyond ten, adding groups of ten, adding 2-digit numbers using place value, and making new groups of ten, all while telling a cute story that also teaches the value of working hard.

Mama Bear is known for her Blue Ribbon Blueberry pie, and her four cubs LOVE it! Mama promises to make the bears her famous pie if they work together to gather the needed ingredients. If they can get enough nuts, berries, and seeds, each will get their fair bear share! To teach a lesson to young readers, Murphy tells of a slacking off little bear not doing her share, which of course results in Mama not having enough ingredients to make the pie.

After a day of gathering ingredients, the cubs must count them up. They quickly find that pilling their hoards together and counting groups of ten is the fastest and simplest way to find the totals. They add up their groups and count by tens, then add up the remaining piles, to come to totals such as 37 and 28.

When the youngest cub realizes she must do her part for all to enjoy Mama's famous Blue Ribbon Blueberry Pie, she gets to work, and collects enough of each ingredient. BUT, the cubs must add her collection to theirs, and thus we find a new strategy of adding, making new tens!

Since I have several first and second graders who are working on these skills right now, it was a fantastic find to come across this little gem of a math mentor text! It even inspired me to create a follow up activity for my students. I decided I'd share a sample of it with you for free, the complete set is in my store now (and 50% off for the first 10 buyers)!

Click HERE to grab: A Fair Bear Share Math Center Free Sample

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Heart of a Tutor

If you are a tutor, you can most definitely agree with the statement, "Not much can compare to the heart of a tutor." Yes, it is true that to be an educator you have to have a heart for your students. But the more I connect with various educators around the world, the more I realize that there is something truly unique about the relationships tutors develop with their students, and that cannot go unrecognized any longer.
I've recently had an amazing discussion with a fellow tutor in the UK. It started out as a call for help amongst an educator's group we are both part of. She was at a crossroads with a student and unsure of which way to go. Without explicitly stating her desire, she explained the situation. (It was a real doozie for sure, and one only the strongest, bravest, and patient person could endure). The immediate reaction from our trusted colleagues was to run, throw in the towel, give up on the student.

I have to be honest for a moment, and say my initial response was similar. But I shared an experience I've had with a similar student, and the struggle I had in deciding to let the student go. It was painful, and I felt remorse and like a failure. But, in retrospect, the student/tutor partnership had long dissolved and the time, energy, and money were not being well spent. It is, unfortunately, a decision all tutors face at one point in their career.

I could tell, however, that this tutor wasn't at that point. The way she was defending her student, and giving us more of the story, told me there was more to be said. I invited her to a private conversation about the situation, and it came out that she really wasn't ready to let this student go. Yes there was a problem, and yes she needed to find a solution. But it was not time to let the student go. So we talked about ways she could motivated the student, reward her positive behavior, and work toward a goal.

We spent a good amount of time talking about a reward program I use, that many other tutors I've talked with use as well. It's not a behavior chart like you'd see in a classroom, and it's not a system of pluses and minuses you'd see on a progress report. It's just a simple way to to help our students focus on their positive behavior choices, define a goal and work toward it, and then get a little reward for achieving the goal. I wrote about it a while back, here.

We then talked about what counts as a reward, because let's face it, tutors are not at the top of the earnings chart of the education world. If classroom teachers are poor, tutors are dirt poor! We want to buy little trinkets and toys for our students to motivate their progress, but we simply can't eat away at all of our profits, someone has to pay the bills. We came up with several activities that could count as a reward: playing a game on the iPad, drawing, having a lesson outside, or a "fun" lesson of the student's choice.
The one take away from that discussion is this: it doesn't matter if you're a teacher, a counselor, a parent, or a student yourself, no one can really understand the heart of a tutor. As tutors, we live/work in isolation, it's nice to be able to talk with someone who shares our world. That conversation with a tutor halfway around the world made me feel like there was someone out there who shares the heart I have for my students.
grin emoticon

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The honeymoon is over!

I just noticed an interesting thing today. My new students just about always have the same time table. Apparently it's about 3-5 sessions, usually smack on 4 sessions. The time table usually looks something like this:

Session 1: Parents explain all of the negative things about their child, they give me an impression of the child that is often exact opposite of the student that sits in front of me. The student sitting across from me is typically excited to get to know me and show off all the things they can do.
Session 2: Parents ask how the trouble child is doing, to which I emphatically reply, "Excellent! He's ready to learn. She's cooperative."
Session 3: Parents bring homework to show how badly the student is doing, and express their concern over some sort of issue. The student I work with that day could be one of 2. 1)She's eager to learn, or show off what she's learned, showing me what they are working on in class, or expressing some problem she's overcome. . . 2) She is downright moody, complains of being bored, not wanting to tutor anymore, and/or expresses her concern over the "easy" work we're doing.
Session 4: This one's a doozy, typically, it's either #2 from session 3, or even worse. I've had students completely shut down, put their heads on the table and check out of our session. I've had the other extreme where it seemed the child would literally bounce off the wall. And then I've had those, these are really rare, who actually get nasty, just plain and simple, bad attitude.

When the honeymoon ends, I have mixed feelings. Even though I know it's coming, I'm never prepared. These kids are so good at fooling me for those first few beautiful sessions. I'm caught off guard. Then I start to wonder, is it me? Did I change something? Did I get to comfortable? What did I miss? With older students, sometimes I have to fight back a little resentment. I think, How dare he! I thought this kid really wanted to learn. I wonder if he's pulling these same tricks with his teachers at school, or with his basketball coach.

The good news in all of this, by session 6 or 7, we've found a middle ground. I'm not sure what keeps me going back to these kids, but something does. And I'm always happy I did. The end of the honeymoon almost always causes me to grow, as a human with patience for other humans, as an educator working with troubled students, and as a parent as I reflect on my own children. So, even though the end of the honeymoon is troubling and stressful, it still serves a purpose.

I'm really sorry if you came here looking for ways to avoid this conundrum. I truly don't believe they exist. But at least you know you are not alone! I'd really like to know if classroom teacher experience a similar thing. If you're a classroom teacher and notice a honeymoon period with your students, would you share about it in the comments section below?

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