What are some study hacks every student should know?

Over the years I’ve given students a lot of advice on how to get the most bang for their buck on studying. If I had to narrow it down to three of the most valuable is would be: Youtube, the theory of time spaced learning, and getting the right tools are three study hacks every student should know about.

1. Youtube/video tutorials. These are invaluable. If you just can’t recall what your math teacher said you can use Khan Academy, a free service put on Youtube and Google via a math teacher. He has received wide acclaim for these tutorials and I have used them widely with my students as well as with my own children when stumped doing their homework. Besides that, there are millions of freely shared videos on Youtube that you can access through trying a few simple combinations of keywords. There is one catch though, if you didnt pay attention in class, you have to py attention to the Youtube video. Nothing is automatic.

2. “Space it Out” The theory of time spaced learning

I wrote a longer article about this here. Whether you are learning or teaching, it’s important to not over stuff your brain. Studies have shown that the mind cannot absorb more than three things at a time. So, if you are writing, don’t make more than 3 main points or they will be wasted on over-fed minds. If you are looking to read and understand something, break it down into three or less main categories. Yellow pads are great for this. You’d do well to “space out” the time you have to study as well. The theory of time spaced learning got me through College Algebra at the junior college. I have always struggled with math and a teacher shared with the class about it. My life has been improved ever since! And this will also help you get some online jobs as well.

The theory goes like this: instead of studying to absorb new material over the course of an hour, break up your time into 15 minute increments. The data shows that memory is strongest when you start and stop a study time. Therefore, instead of having strong memories only twice in an hour, you will have them at the start and stop of each mini session. This equals more knowledge retained! Now this was great news to me, because I loved taking breaks from math!

When it comes to our brains, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!

3. Take the time to get the right tools. If you’ve ever failed at a household task because you stripped a screw, you know the value of the right screwdriver. Studying is the same way, it often requires tools to be done more effectively. If you are studying a foreign language, stop on the way home and get 3×5 cards for new words to study. If you need pencils, get hundreds and a reliable sharpener. Study a few times without them and you will remember what I told you. Write down the things that you need (even if they be healthy snacks) and have them ready the next time you study.

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Why to Have a Learning Objective

IAT_CL1_PX00768When you teach kids, a learning objective is like the train track you can’t deviate from.  It keeps you focused and keeps your students minds from wandering away from your education.  It’s like the old adage: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.”

An example of what happens without an objective is like when you are having coffee with a dear friend and your conversation juts and skips all over the place.  If you’re like me with my best friend, there is nothing linear about it.  In this context it makes perfect sense to not have an “objective.”  When you are teaching kids, on the other hand, a learning objective can get your class to 80% mastery (or higher) faster and more efficiently. Online lesson plans that have a learning objective are far more superior than those who don’t.

An example of a learning objective I do in fact is:

Today we will identify predicates in sentences.

We have a test coming up where they will be asked to do this.  That is called “backward mapping,” looking at the end assessment and then creating your objective based on what they will be tested on. While teaching materials have some value, a learning objective is a must.

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Why to Have a Learning Objective

IAT_CL1_PX00768When you teach kids, a learning objective is like the train track you can’t deviate from.  It keeps you focused and keeps your students minds from wandering away from your education.  It’s like the old adage: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.”

An example of what happens without an objective is like when you are having coffee with a dear friend and your conversation juts and skips all over the place.  If you’re like me with my best friend, there is nothing linear about it.  In this context it makes perfect sense to not have an “objective.”  When you are teaching kids, on the other hand, a learning objective can get your class to 80% mastery (or higher) faster and more efficiently. Online lesson plans that have a learning objective are far more superior than those who don’t.

An example of a learning objective I do in fact is:

Today we will identify predicates in sentences.

We have a test coming up where they will be asked to do this.  That is called “backward mapping,” looking at the end assessment and then creating your objective based on what they will be tested on. While teaching materials have some value, a learning objective is a must.

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Classroom Expectations – Take Your Time, do it Right

Classroom management and expectations are a teacher’s best friend or worst enemy.  It depends on how well a teacher conveys them to the kids. Research I’ve read shows that the beginning of the year is the best time to declare your classroom rules and expectations.  If you fail to get the point across at that time, you have exponentially less control in the classroom until year’s end. You might say it is the most crucial learning objective you’ll have.  Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations.  What they don’t all agree on however is how to do it.

I knew one teacher who believed in passing out a handout with the rules and not going over them.  I knew another who would would take the entire first week of the school year modeling, explaining, and getting the kids to act out every scenario imaginable.  He actually used puppets and the kids would “ad-lib” scenarios with him such as: “Hey, imagine the puppet is a kid outside and he says: ‘Your momma is ugly.’” The kids would horse around and make the puppets fight.  Then, that teacher would take the teaching opportunity to talk about how silly it is to fight over words. What he’s really doing is setting the stage for child discipline. I feel the second teacher had a much better approach. Believe it or not, puppets are excellent classroom management tools.

I don’t focus solely on behavior management the whole first week, but I use most of it to set the curriculum aside and teach rules and expectations.  I had kids the first week holding up crossed fingers and I had no idea why.  I found out their teacher last year used that as a signal to go to the restroom.  This is an example of why teachers should take time establishing new “grooves” of activity in the classroom.  There is something called the “affective filter” that hinders kids from feeling comfortable learning and taking risks in the classroom.  When the rules are unclear, an anxiety permeates the room.  This anxiety can keep kids from learning to their potential and cause all sorts of mayhem.

I don’t recommend an entire week of nothing but rules and expectations but I think at least half a week with time for followup is a must. You can look into the classroom management books on this one.

Last week I noticed on Thursday that my kids were still not quite sure how I check for understanding.  My method is different from many teachers as you may know if you’ve read my pieces on that.  To summarize it, I say the question, wait, and then call on a random non-volunteer.  This breaks with the traditional method of checking for understanding by forward questioning. I decided I would review and practice it until the kids were “awake” and answering when their number was called.  They eventually did get it and we are ready to start the year strong. When things like this work, I share them here as teacher tips.

Have you thought about your style of class management? Is there a way you could convey it more clearly at the beginning of the year?

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Inspiration for New Teachers: The Tortoise, the Hare, and Personal Bests

This post is dedicated to the new teaching degree students who are feeling the sting of our times in education. Don’t give up! Teachers, especially new ones, are under a lot of pressure sometimes to create the best walls, the best lesson plans, and the best APPEARANCE to the teaching “pack” around them. I remember when I was starting out back in the late nineties when I sometimes felt like all the veterans around me were like the “hare” and I felt like the slow moving tortoise. You know it’s an old fable but it stands up true today in our fast paced teaching career more than ever.  If you do the right things, consistently, and keep at it, you will finish the race strong. Those doing the work for education degrees shall have their “day in the sun.” Best of all, you will make a difference in the lives of children.

It seems sometimes that the fast running hares of the world are enjoying their developed speed all around us, but you can’t let that sway you from the road in front of you, however small. They were once like you and if you keep your resolve, you will be successful as they are at teaching. You may even be better at it. Like my high school track coach Mr. White used to say: “Don’t worry about Jamie Oman, you run your own race Riley and get a personal best!” Jamie Oman was a CIF champion runner, I was simply a point man for the team. Every time I “took a man” I felt pride and I carry that with me today.

Times are tough now in education. Stay strong, we need the best teachers to stay in the profession while thousands are quitting. On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best, stay focused on your own teacher evaluations and you will find much success.

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Backward Map Review – A Great Way to do Test Prep

With about 20 days left to the California Standards Test (CST), it is challenging how to spend your teaching tie. Of course, the free mind of a teacher can analyze similar tests and divine what to reteach. This is only a little useful. The best way to do test prep is to analyze the data of your assessments and then “backward map” reteaching the questions that 50% or less missed. This is when an item analysis report comes in handy.

I have my data and it’s magneted up on my white board. Every day for the past week and now into the next days before the standards test I have been teaching test prep and reteaching the concepts where it appears only less than 50% understood. When direct lessons are happening it feels like the best way to teach. Of course you can’s always teach this way. You need to apply yourself to solid, direct instruction and doing backward mapping will help your teaching be more relevant and of more value on the CST. If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold. (It works!)

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Avoiding Procrustes’ Bed

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If you haven’t heard the myth of Procrustes and his bed, it’s the story of a man who invited weary travelers to lay in his guest bed. Once in, if they were too tall he lopped off their feet and if too short, he’d stretch them to fit. Horrifying I know and yet aren’t we as educators often guilty of trying to get our students to “fit” the curriculum?

One really simple way to avoid this is to make a point and recognize the strengths of our underachievers. Those that don’t “fit” have other talents, why not put a spotlight on them more often. It’s difficult to regularly do this but if we don’t, we are guilty of the same horrors as Procrustes. I challenge you teachers to recognize students that don’t fit in the same paradigm of achievement as the mainstream. In doing so, you help make the world a much more dynamic and interesting place. What’s more? You save lives of those kids who don’t fit in the academic constraints assigned by politics.

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Team Tables Configuration

IMG_2544.JPGI’ve made a few significant changes to the way I run my classroom teams. I’ve added an element that is quite innovative, shared with me by teacher and Adelanto board candidate Carlos Mendoza. We had a great visit sipping Starbucks and telling teacher war stories when he suggested something unique with the help of a pencil and napkin. I started implementing it today. My classroom runs on the concept of competition. I have the kids seated at u shaped tables instead of desks. This is in hopes they will be more collaborative.

Each table is a team with a name. I award table points for everything. Carlos suggested a system where each seat has a name that matches the same position at other tables. At times I will award these seats together as a team. It’s simpler than it sounds and you can probably figure it out from the 3 photos on this post. I will report back more down reality road.

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