Building Your School’s Likeability

www.mrsfenger.wordpress.comSo, this summer, my goal has been to increase the school district’s likeability on  I have used several strategies which seem to be somewhat successful:

First, I specifically posted a request for people to like the page.  I also invited friends from my contacts to like the page.  My hope is that alumni will like the page and be able to keep up with happenings in the district.   I also hope that people in the community will be more aware of positives that are happening.

Second, I started a series of features about teachers in the district.  I sent a list of questions to various teachers with a request to send me the answers, along with a picture.  The list of questions is here:

Facebook Bio Questions for teachers

This feature has been very popular.  It’s gotten the most likes and comments of any of our posts.  Parents have commented how much they appreciate the chance to get to know their child’s teacher before school starts (and their child also likes it!)  It’s been fun to see what teachers’ answers are, too!

The third thing I started this summer was a Throwback Thursday post.  I’ve posted pictures from old yearbooks and asking people to post their own oldies.  People seem to really enjoy these posts, too.

Fourth, I asked people to finish the sentence: the best thing about our school is: _______

www.mrsfenger.wordpress.comFinally, I added a chance for people to take a trip down Memory Lane:  I asked people to comment with their favorite memories of elementary school, then middle school, then high school.  This has brought up some fun memories and it’s also been wonderful to see what people remember about their school days years later.  Something to keep in mind when planning that oh, so wonderful grammar lesson (which could be forgotten oh, so quickly!)


Democracy Needs an Educated Citizenry

We need schools


We keep hearing that public education is broken.  That schools are no longer doing a good job.  That we need to stop sending taxpayer dollars to the schools.  People seem to think if we cut off the money, schools will improve.

I think there’s more to it than that.  I think we, as a people, need to decide what it is we want schools to do.  Clearly, public schools are seen as effective.  Everything anyone wants to see changed in our society is pushed onto the schools.  Want your child to be nicer?  Lobby the school district to put in more character education.  Want children to know about storm safety?  Send storm safety coloring books to their schools.  Concerned about bullying?  Pass legislation that schools need to develop lesson plans to stop bullies.

Given the obvious belief that public education can change lives, shouldn’t we be more supportive?

Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”  Without education, people cannot make informed decisions about their government.  We need students to see the value in education each and every day.  That way, they will grow up to be informed voters.

Thanks to our public schools, we have incredible inventions – like the computer, the iPod, the cell phone and more.  Thanks to our public schools, we’ve been able to cure diseases.  Thanks to our public schools, our children grow up to be productive members of society.

If we want schools to continue to create a vital citizenry, shouldn’t we be willing to support it, both monetarily and socially?

Genius Day Part 2

Well, we had a Genius Day at school about a month ago.  It went so well!  The students had been asking about having one all trimester, and the Monday before Thanksgiving seemed like a good day for it.  It was the end of a trimester, we had two days of school that week, and we were planning to hold our Read-a-thon on Tuesday.

After spending time doing our planning with the kids (more on that in a bit), the day arrived.  In addition to the 6th graders who were learning, studying and experimenting, we had some 7th and 8th graders who were using the opportunity to film a documentary about Genius Day.  During our intervention/extension period each morning, these students participate in filmmaking.  This seemed like the perfect extension of their learning, so I encouraged them to make a plan, then film and edit their work.  You can see the results here:

In order to prepare our students, we had them fill out several charts and questionnaires.

By having students think through their individual characteristics and ideas, we could help guide them to a successful project.  This avoids students ending up with too ambitious a project (like one idea that required a welder!) or too limited a project (like the cliched baking soda and vinegar volcano).  Often, it is a matter of guiding them to take that idea and either tweak it or revise it to be something more line with what they can and should accomplish in the time allotted.  We plan to hold one at the end of each trimester.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do in the future, now that they had a chance to see it in action!

Do you do a Genius Hour or Genius Day with your students?

Reading Street Powerpoints

6th Grade

Power Points for Reading Street 6th Grade

In the interest of sharing what I’ve done (and hoping that readers out there will tell me what they’ve done!) I’ve uploaded my powerpoints to Google Drive.  I use the powerpoints each day.  They’ve been really handy when someone needs to take over for me for a few minutes, or if I have a substitute.  They also work well when a student is absent – the student can read over the powerpoint and get an idea of what we covered that day.  My plan for the fall is to try recording the presentations as I teach them and post them on the class website.  That will give students a better picture of what they missed (or allow them to watch a class again).

Here are the powerpoints for Unit 1.

Unit 1 Week 1

Unit 1 Week 2

Unit 1 Week 3

Unit 1 Week 4

Unit 1 Week 5

Unit 1 Week 6

Let me know what you do with Reading Street.  I’m still learning how to go about teaching it, so any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated!  (My dad, a teacher for 30 years, always said it takes three years to get good at a new curriculum, so I’ve got two more years of this!)

Team Meetings

team meetingAt my building, we believe strongly in making students feel a part of something.  To achieve that goal, we are all part of teams.  My team of two teachers holds monthly meetings with the students to recognize achievements and participate in a teambuilder.


Each month, we select a student from each homeroom to receive an award in each subject.  We keep track of these students on a chart to avoid choosing the same students repeatedly.  Birthdays and students who were “all done” all month are also recognized.  Finally, we award the coveted “Team” award to one student from each homeroom.

The team meeting begins with birthdays.  Students who have a birthday during that month are called up in front where we sing to them.  Then, they are given a card and a small treat.  (Because students at this age are always shy about coming up in front, I announce the birthdays by informing the students that we always start our team meetings with a healthy dose of humiliation.  They think that’s hilarious).

After birthdays, math, science, reading, writing and social studies awards are handed out.  We usually reference something during the month that the students have done to earn the award.  (We do keep it pretty general – just for ease of giving out the awards every month.  For instance, we might mention that these students worked really hard on their personal narrative in writing class).

Next, those students who have been part of the All Done Club all month (see my post about the All Done Club earlier in this blog).  Students in this group also receive a paper award.

Finally, we call up the two students who earned the coveted Team award.  This year, we’re the Titanic Team, so our Team award will reflect that.  We review the types of things that earn this award and then applaud those two students.

The chart that we keep track of student awards on helps us make sure every students gets recognized sometime during the year.  Even the most challenging students, at some time, do something worth recognizing.  We believe it’s important to hold the awards to a high standard, but we also believe every student is worthy of recognition for something they have done well.

Once we’ve recognized our students, we move into the teambuilding activity.  True confession time: most of our activities involve completing the task without talking because it means the classroom doesn’t get too noisy.  It is highly entertaining to see our normally talkative students try to work with a group without talking.  It certainly ups the challenge!

Some teambuilding activities we’ve done in the past include:

  • building the tallest tower using only 10 pieces of construction paper and 10 paper clips
  • spelling out words by forming the letters with their bodies
  • generating the most words from a teacher stated word (like Thanksgiving)
  • playing kickball – homeroom vs homeroom
  • human knot
  • creating Valentines for the Valentines for Vets program

The students love having the team meetings and look forward to them each month.  For just 30 minutes once a month, they are well worth the effort.  We generally do the first Thursday of the month, and the students keep track and ask about it every month!

What do you do to help students stay connected?  I’d love to steal (I mean respectfully borrow!) your ideas!

Fundraisers for Field Trips

How we raise funds for field trips

How we raise funds for field trips

Ah, field trips.  I do love taking my students out of the classroom!  The adventure, the break from routine, the hands-on activities, the bus ride.  It’s all good!  The downside is the cost.  Our 6th grade team has found some ways to make it easier to take our students on field trips.

We take about 6 field trips each year.  Some are free.  For instance, there is an ecology festival for Earth Day in downtown Lansing that is free.  The only cost for us is the bus to get there.  We also go downtown for a scavenger hunt – the students invade the businesses with a question they need answered (we okay it with the business owners in advance!).  I have attached the worksheet that students use so you can see what I mean.

Scavenger hunt

We also take the students to a nature preserve that our district owns, since that is a free trip, too.  At the end of the year, we have a picnic at the beach which has a minimal cost.

Our other trips are a bit more costly: the science center, the Imax movie theater, scuba diving.  However, all of our students are able to participate because we hold several fundraisers for our trips.

At the beginning of the year, we decide which trips we are going to take and add up the cost of all of them, adding a few dollars so we can cover students who can’t afford to pay for the trip.  Then, we let parents know what the total cost will be and that we will be fundraising.  Parents who prefer, can simply write a check to cover all of the field trips up front, or they can pay as we get ready to take each trip.  Other parents can use the fundraiser to help cover the cost.

What fundraisers do we use?  Not the usual candy bars and candles.  I have attached the note we give to parents about our field trip plans.

6th Grade Field Trips 2012

Instead, we hold a read-a-thon the day before Thanksgiving.  In honor of Children’s Book Week, we give students the opportunity to collect pledges for their reading time. I always counsel my students to ask their grandparents first.  Grandparents tend to pledge high, which sets the tone for other donors.  🙂  When the day comes, students can bring in blankets, pillows and snacks.  We have a few guest readers, but the day is mostly for finding a comfy spot to read.  Whether students have collected pledges or not, they are still expected to read.

In the spring, we hold a second fundraiser – a walk-a-thon.  Again, students can collect pledges for walking laps at the high school track.  We go up there the afternoon before Spring Break and walk laps.  We have a playlist of music for the loudspeaker and add in some fun themes like a Spartan lap (Spartan fans, only) and a Wolverine lap (Wolverine fans, only), along with a train lap – make a train with your friends and a dance lap – dance while you walk the track.  We also do a girls’ lap, during which time the boys gather in the end zone for a granola bar and bottle of water, then a boys’ lap, so the girls get their snack.  While we do these theme laps, we use music paired specially for it – Boys of Summer for the boys’ lap, Girls Just Want to Have Fun for the girls’ lap, you get the idea.

The kids enjoy participating in both fundraisers, and parents enjoy the chance to have their child earn the money for their field trips.  This allows us to offer field trips to our students, while also keeping the cost in line with the current economy.  Plus, we enjoy participating in the fundraisers, too!

Starting a Book Club

Our after school program has started a parent child book club.  The idea behind the club is to give students an opportunity to read with their parent and help the parents with some reading strategies they can use at home.

For our first book, we chose IFunny by James Patterson.  We decided to go with a humorous book because it draws students in.  This particular novel is geared towards middle school, but interest and reading level.  It’s about a boy in a wheelchair who wants to break into stand up comedy.

Worth reading!

Worth reading!

What’s great about Patterson’s books is that they have lots of things going on.  Not only does he have the comedy routine challenges, the wheelchair challenges and generally being a middle school student (which is always challenging!) but he is living with his aunt and uncle and the biggest bully in school is his cousin.  There are a number of scenes with the bully going after him, but he handles all of it with poise and charm.

For the first meeting, we put together a powerpoint of pictures of scenes from New York City.  Since our students live in a small, rural town in Michigan, they don’t have much experience with big cities.  Our tallest building is the grain elevator at 2 stories.  🙂  By giving them some background on the setting, we made it easier for them to visualize what they were reading.

New York City sites

The second meeting will include some youtube videos of old-time stand up comedians: Groucho Marx, Abbott and Costello, and Victor Borge.  Some of these people are mentioned in the book, so giving them an idea of who they are and what they were like will help them better understand the reading.

In addition to discussing the book and its ideas, we order in a pizza to share.  There’s something about food that makes everyone more comfortable.  It feels more like a party and less like a class.

As we go forward, in our next few meetings, we’ll do some read alouds to demonstrate to parents that kids are never to old to enjoy being read to.  We’ll also try out our own stand up comedy and see how we do.  We’ll finish with a trip to a bookstore to learn strategies to choose a book you would enjoy.

I really believe that a lot of reading is about enjoying the book, so the main focus in our book club has been how to find a book you like to read.  Once a student wants to read, half the battle is over.

Do you hold any sort of book club for your parents/students?  If so, I’d love to know what you read, what you do and how it goes.  We’re just starting, so we’re still figuring things out!