15 Easy DIY Holiday Projects for the Classroom

The holidays are a-knocking, and your students likely need some distraction from sugar highs and thoughts of vacation dancing in their heads. Check out these 15 cheap and easy DIY holiday projects you can start and finish in your last days before winter break.

1. Bring some sparkle to your classroom with macaroni snowflakes. They can be hung from hooks with fishing wire or made into ornaments for the kids to take home.

diy macaroni snowflake

Detailed directions and image via Katy Elliot

2. Make a JOY banner with felt, scissors, and a glue gun. This makes a great backdrop for a holiday photo booth, too.

diy joy banner

Via Etsy and includes a pre-sewn kit with self-adhesive felt stickers for application.

3. Celebrate the festival of lights with colorful menorahs made of construction or wrapping paper and glue.

hannukah project

Via Pinterest

4. Transform your bulletin board into a game of pin-the-nose-on-the-reindeer. The kids can help cut out the shapes and take turns trying to pin their noses on the reindeer.

diy reindeer

Via Buzzfeed

5. Some inexpensive and delicious-smelling cinnamon sticks make great starters for trees, stars, and other holiday décor.

cinnamon sticks project classroom

Via Paper & Stitch

6. Felt snowflakes are a snap for older students.

diy felt snowflake

Detailed directions, image via paper[bullet]

7. Turn leftover cans into tin can snowmen with some wire, ribbon, paint, and felt balls.

diy tin can snowman

Via Pinterest

8. Collect pine cones for your kids to decorate with simple everyday materials. These sugar snowy pinecones require just egg whites and some sugar.

diy sugar pinecone

Via Whole Living

9. Students can make garlands out of just about anything. Here’s one example with colorful pompoms.

holiday garland school

Via Paper & Stitch

10. You can never have too many pinecone crafts for kids if you ask TeacherPop. This one gets really festive with globs of glitter.

diy pinecone activity school

Detailed directions, image via Activity Village

11. This penguin mask is perfect for wee ones. Bonus: It’s not holiday-specific. You can save this one for January when the mercury dips.


Detailed directions, image via Activity Village

12. Make a pasta necklace in traditional Kwanzaa colors with some dried ziti, paint, and shoelaces or string.

kwanzaa necklace

Via Activity Village

13. Felt can get pricey (see #7). Here are more snowflakes, made out of coffee filters, and easy for young kids to make.

diy paper snowflakes coffee filter

Detailed directions, image via The Pink Couch

14. Fuzzy white pom poms are a cinch to make, but word to the wise: snowball fights.

snowball craft diy

Detailed directions, image via Talk Crafty

15. Everybody loves a snow globe. Make a 2-D version with your students with super simple materials like a plastic plate, some cotton balls, construction paper, and markers.

snowglobe diy school

Via Pinterest

Happy, crafty holidays!

By |December 12th, 2014|DIY, Teaching Tips|0 Comments|

Teachers, It’s Time to Get Your Code On


Once again, it’s that time of year to geek out—Computer Science Education Week! Computers are so much a part of our everyday lives, but did you know that fewer schools teach computer science today than 10 years ago? That’s crazy!

Well, the fine folks at Code.org and a handful of esteemed public figures (ahem, President Obama) are working to change that sad stat. This week, they are hosting the Hour of Code, a program chock full of hour-long tutorials empowering teachers of all subjects to introduce their students to computer science—and how to build technology, not just use it.


Last year, 15 million students participated in the Hour of Code. Almost half of all participants were girls, 8% were black, and 14% were Hispanic. Computer science students on average are only 18% female, 3% black, and 8% Hispanic. Help us keep closing that gap!

Check out the Hour of Code’s How-To Guide  to get started.

Don’t forget to tweet your plans @TeachForAmerica using the hashtag #HourOfCode. Happy coding!

Why I Choose Kindness in the Classroom


Like so many other first-year teachers, the range of emotions I go through in a day rivals that of the most passionate sports fan during a close game. I’ll feel joy, elation, and ease one minute, and soon after swing all the way to disappointment, frustration, and sometimes anger. The roller coaster of emotions that I experience is exhausting. Yet, the good and the bad keep me up at night as I go over and over in my mind the events of the day.

I seek inspiration and guidance from any possible source to calm my mind. These sources usually send one of two messages:

Haters gonna hate. Get rid of the things in your life that make you feel bad. You deserve more. This sentiment does not help my situation. I can’t brush off an 11 year old like you would that guy you thought you hit it off with but never texted you back.

You will face adversities. Choose to be gentle and calm. Treat others how you want to be treated. YES, thank you. When there are 30 children yelling, running, dropping papers, and losing pencils, it’s very easy to act on the desire to yell as loudly as possible. But this reaction is ineffective.

The few times I have significantly raised my voice, it stunned the class into silence for about two minutes, and then chaos resumed. Not only do 11 year olds seek acceptance from their peers, but they also seek acceptance from anywhere and anyone. When I yell or ask ineffective rhetorical questions (“Did you really just start a conversation after the directions were to be silent??”), it only serves to feed my negative feelings and strike a blow to the self-worth and self-image of the student. If a teacher had done that to me when I was 11, I would have been mortified!

After some self-reflection, I realized that I was not always consciously choosing to conduct myself in the way I want to and the way I want my students to behave. If I don’t set an example, how can I expect them to treat each other with patience, understanding and gentleness?

Since I have been intentionally striving to choose kindness, I have noticed my students feel more comfortable, positive, and supported. They seem more relaxed, they smile more, and they have started to self-regulate their behavior. Clear, concise directions delivered gently and with patience reset the culture in my classroom back to one of love, support, and growth. I also sleep better at night.

 Paige Sanduski is a Teach For America corps member in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Stories From Native Students

It’s Native Heritage Month! Celebrate by turning an ear to the voices of our native students across the country.

We’ve compiled thirteen autobiographical poems by some of TFA’s Native Hawaiian, Navajo, and Lakota students involved in our student voices initiative, the Poet Warriors Project. Enjoy the teaser excerpts, click to read the full poems on the Poet Warriors site, print and share these stories with your students, and if you’re interested in publishing your classes with the Poet Warriors Project, find out more here!

1. “I don’t act like a Navajo
But on the inside of me, there is a true blood of Dine girl” -Odessa Begay


2. “He is struggling to get loose
The starry black night being splashed
With the color orange yellow

Painted like a painted canvas.” -Te-Mya Running Hawk


3. “A little girl waking
up with her family on a ranch.
A pink house full with a stove
and wood. Cooking blue corn mush
with my light in their eyes” 
-Talia Garmendez


4. “Seen evolution
Through an old man’s eyes
Sometimes I feel that it’s disguise
No one notices

The tide rolling in” -Cloe Parks


5. “I remember my brother well” -Sheridan James


6. “The mesas are golden,
And the landscape is orange.
The sun sees our Navajo Nation reservation.” 
-Lain Johnson


7. “As I look at the bright beautiful sunset in the reservation,
I see the bright sun go down
I hear the chirping and the laughter of
Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and cousins.” 
-Michael Toldeo

8. “When she walks
And a Gary Stewart song is on,
It matches here.
When she was young,
She use to go to the Rez dances,
And used to dance with all
The cowboys” -Selvina Pletero


9. “When they came
They took our land.
They took aloha.
They took the queen.” -Shayla


10. “I remember
When I used to watch her weave
small rectangular Navajo rugs
I remember
When she laughed so hard that she cried” -Nathania Tom


11. “My dad believes I could do anything in my life
And get out of the reservation.” -Dallason Davis


12. “I don’t know any other place that I would like to be
I am not ashamed about where I come from” -Alec Lewis

1313. “The Navajo Reservation, it has brown flat land
And in the distance, red mesas.
While I sit in the old tower I see a stampede of brown, white, and black
-Taneika Ashley


Photos by Poet Warriors creator, Emily Southerton.  Photography taken while collecting poems from Teach For America students in Kailua Kona, HI, the Navajo Nation in Crownpoint, NM, and on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Kyle, SD.

Power Struggles: Adults As Learners and Role Models


Derek is in the hallway during class time and is wearing his hat (a violation of the dress code policy). Mr. Smith sees Derek from a far hall. Although he’s never had Derek in class, he has frequently addressed Derek’s insistence on wearing a hat. As Derek passes by two other adults, Mr. Smith calls out to him, demanding that he take the hat off immediately. Derek ignores him and keeps walking. Mr. Smith calls out again, this time louder, and includes a threat (“You’ll go to the office…”). Derek stops and proceeds to challenge Mr. Smith about how “He’s the only person who ever says anything”, “My teacher lets me”, etc. Mr. Smith now physically moves in front of Derek. Their verbal exchange becomes increasingly heated and culminates in Mr. Smith demanding that Derek go to the office and writes him up for defiance.

power struggle

(Photo Credit: Lindsey Lachanche)

This is a typical scenario that occurs in schools every day. If you were Mr. Smith’s supervisor, you could perceive it as a simple disciplinary referral for violating the dress code or you could see it as a power struggle that negatively contributes to your school culture. These brief interactions between adults and children matter in how adults effectively communicate and enforce rules to the students. It’s in these fleeting moments that school culture is reinforced and the authority of adults is either respected and affirmed or resented. In this situation, the adult has contributed to a school atmosphere based on power struggles—not a culture of personal responsibility and dignity.

In schools, our conversations about bullying and social justice often focus on student behavior but the focus should also be on how adults treat each other and the students. The most effective leaders reflect on how they react to these challenges, improve their responses, and then guide other adults how to transform potential power struggles between students and adults into positive interactions. One common way student and adult dignity is compromised is through power struggles like the hat scenario above.

That leads us to what to do about it? Essential to your success is to coach your team and your students about power struggles. It’s important that both groups see your commitment to eliminating power struggles by helping everyone learn better options.

Leading the Learning: Supporting Adults and Students as they Learn to Eliminate Power Struggles

Part One of this article is a lesson designed for your entire school team because every adult who has contact with students, either positively or negatively, shapes the learning environment and school experience. If at all possible, include bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria staff, and your school’s resource officer. Part Two of this article is a tool you can use to address power struggles with your students.

Part One: Leading the Learning with Your School Team – Understanding the Adult Role in the Power Struggle

As the leader and person in authority, coaching the staff is essential. It’s more effective to address the topic in small groups (departments, PLCs, etc) but certainly if your only opportunity is to address the whole school team please do so. Note that I use the following terms in our lesson plan template: Opener, Pre-assessment, Learning, Practice, Formative assessment. You would change my language to match the language used by your team in their instructional plans. This is your opportunity to model those same expectations you’ve set for your team.

Opener/Setting the Stage
First and foremost, it is critical to remind your school team that it takes two for a power struggle to occur. The student cannot have a power struggle on his/her own. When someone engages in a power struggle it is because they want to prove they have authority or that another person doesn’t have power over them in front of others. Both participants want the other person to back down and a power struggle becomes a battle when someone says, “I won. He/she backed off.” It often has less to do with the content of the conflict than the dynamics between the people.

In addition, both participants quickly become aware of any audience – other students and faculty members who witness the situation. Once the power struggle begins, and an audience is present, the problem expands to “saving face” in front of others. Both participants may try to pull others into the conflict in an effort to intimidate the other person to acquiesce, which further heightens the likelihood that the situation will quickly escalate.

It’s likely that you have team members who believe that their title alone and/or the fact that they are adults should be enough to demand young people’s immediate acknowledgment and agreement to follow any direction or command. In my experience, adults with this mindset are the most volatile and are more likely to contribute to a negative school culture. Their need to “teach” the student to respect adults in the moment overpowers any sense of self-control. In this scenario, the adult will likely use a loud voice, an intimidating posture, and escalate the situation. If the adult finds him/herself engaging in a power struggle for the purpose of exhibiting control, then no one wins. If the adult finds him/herself engaging in a power struggle because he/she is frustrated with repeatedly addressing the same issue over and over again, then no one wins. If the adult finds him/herself engaging in a power struggle because he/she is the adult and kids should listen, then no one wins. It’s especially important to clearly articulate how the adult loses.

The adult loses when there are colleagues present who see the interaction and now are less likely to approach the adult because of his/her perceived unwillingness to work through conflict. The adult loses when student observers, perhaps kids who have a positive rapport in class with the adult, now see him/her in a different light – as someone willing to strip a student of his/her dignity. This new realization will follow into the classroom.

Not all adults will agree this is a problem or area of concern because they believe that students should comply. Some of your team members may be notorious for engaging in power struggles with other faculty or students and won’t see themselves as a part of the problem. There are two ways to approach these folks.

First, it helps to engage these folks by using the notion “Have you or someone you know been in this situation with a student?” or “Even if you feel you rarely or never get into power struggles with students, it’s likely you’ve witnessed someone else doing this, right?” By wording it this way, adults are less likely to get defensive. Also, when you use an example of your own, you are respectful in doing so.

Second, convey the idea that we don’t want kids to learn to comply with people just because they have more power. If we teach this, we send kids mixed messages. On one hand we teach kids to think for themselves and then on the other we say things like, “Do what I say and don’t question me.” If we want critically thinking brains we have to allow kids to push back—respectfully. The kid who complies with an adult is the same kid developing the same behavior pattern to comply with a peer who is doing something unethical etc. This is an opportunity to teach kids how to stand up for their beliefs in a respectful way.

It’s important to acknowledge that you know this happens at your school, but reinforce that you know all of your team members want to improve and certainly never knowingly engage in a power struggle to be hurtful. This approach makes it clear that you know what happens in your school while also maintaining everyone’s dignity – something else that you must always strive to model as the school leader.

In the Opener, specifically discuss the reasons (your motivation and goals) you want the team to discuss power struggles. Begin by sharing a personal experience and then ask your team members to talk about their experiences with power struggles in pairs or triads to get them warmed up around the topic. Participants will probably agree that power struggles result in someone feeling a loss or lack of control or respect. With equal importance is effectively communicating these feelings of loss or lack of control will negatively impact the student learning environment.

Pre-assessment: Scenario
Ask for a volunteer to share a past power struggle that didn’t end up well. In other words the adult felt that both parties walked away feeling disrespected and viewing the other person negatively. Be prepared, as always, to provide an example of your own as a starting point for those folks who feel they cannot come up with one or share the scenario from above. Give the team time to discuss the scenario in small groups, focusing on any portions they feel could be modified for a better outcome. Ask the team to keep the scenario in mind for discussion after the learning.

The Learning
As always, be sure to start with the why? Why is it important to minimize power struggles in our school? Make it clear to your team that these negative feelings become the basis for a negative school culture. There is plenty of research that correlates a negative school culture to poor student achievement, lower teacher retention, and a general lack of community. If an adult is likely to engage in a power struggle with a student, they are also more likely to be confrontational with colleagues. This, of course, directly impacts teaching and learning. Finally, a negative school culture is more likely to result in a generally unsafe school. Students who do not feel positively about their school are much more likely to break rules and make poor choices that can result in unsafe situations. It’s important for your team to understand that a positive school culture is critical to student success and safety.

Share the following recommendations on how to avoid power struggles. Ultimately, that is our goal. No one wins in a power struggle and the goal is to eliminate these struggles and, thereby, avoid the negative feelings associated with power struggles. To that end, we have to work toward increasing our capacity to not allow conflict to result in a power struggle. Here are some ideas on how to do this:

1)    Offer choices: Yes, it seems simple but even 18 year old seniors respond more positively to choices then demands.

2)    Avoid negative words: No one wants to hear “No!”, “You can’t.”, “Stop!”, “Do _____ or else…”, etc. These words can’t always be avoided (especially when safety risks exist) but we can be thoughtful about not making them our “go to” words.

3)    Show understanding: adults don’t always agree with the rules either and yet we follow them anyway because we understand the root cause or reason. Share your personal sentiment and then why you follow the rule anyway. Be as specific as possible. Sharing your personal perspective demonstrates both respect and trust for the student. You might also explain why the rules exists. Only do so, however, if you are 100% of your explanation. Making something up as you go can cause more damage than good in this situation. If you don’t know the background of a rule, acknowledge that and demonstrate a willingness to find out the information and circle back to the student to discuss it.

4)    Delay your interaction: If a student does something that immediately makes you angry/frustrated/annoyed, etc (again, short of a safety issue or anyone being at risk), don’t immediately engage. We all know that going into a conversation with those emotions only makes the situation worse. Even if the student does what you ask, they are obeying but not respecting you as an authority and they won’t internalize the rule (they’ll just do it again when the adult is out of sight). This dynamic also makes it much more likely that you will have contributed to having a negative effect on the student’s ability to learn in his/her next class. Think of it this way, no teacher appreciates when a student walks into their classroom angry and hostile because of an interaction they just had with another adult (even when the adult is justified).

As an example, let’s go back to our initial scenario. In that case, instead of approaching Derek in the moment, Mr. Smith could indicate he sees the hat (perhaps by pointing to his head) and say “Derek, I’ll touch base with you later about the school dress code.” In doing so, Mr. Smith acknowledges for Derek and others that he sees the infraction and intends to address it later in a private manner. School leader note – this is a good time to determine two or three key things your team will agree to as the go to statements for handling conflict with students. An important learning experience is to have staff members share statements/actions that they find work productively with students as well as those that don’t. Once the brainstorming is complete, be concrete about which three statements will be used by all team members.

5)    In particularly challenging situations, be prepared to walk away. If you have tried other options (like those offered in numbers 1-4) and the student is adamant about engaging in the power struggle state, “I feel like we are headed toward a power struggle and, frankly, I’m not interested in going down that road. We both lose in that scenario and I don’t want this to be negative. I’ll let your counselor/administrator know we talked and perhaps the three of us can touch base together to work this out for the future.” In this instance you are preserving the possibility of a relationship with the student while also letting him/her know that you are holding him/her to the expectation (which also sends a positive message – you know they’re intelligent enough to get it done). Walking away in this manner is not a loss of power. It models for the student that sometimes the best resolution is one that is delayed until emotions calm down.

6)    Long-term picture, address those issues that are repeated problems as a school team. The ugly truth is that the majority of schools constantly deal with the small stuff (hats, short skirts, tardiness, etc) and detest the time that is devoted to these trivial topics. That’s not to say that being on time to class is not critical. It is to say that in the mind of the student these small issues are absolutely trivial and we are unlikely to make them see it otherwise. The most effective course of action is to harness the power of your school leaders – students, teacher, parents, etc – to address the issue(s) head on versus fighting the battle every day with the same small group of students.

The Practice
Once you have thoroughly explored these ways to avoid power struggles, put the group into pairs and have them go back to their original scenario (either their own or the one provided by you) and re-enact it using one or more of these methods. They can either talk through how to modify the scenario, do a role play of the scenario, or you could have them write about it first and then share it with their partner.

As a final practice, ask for a couple of volunteers to share their before/after scenarios and allow the larger group to provide feedback. You may want to have members of your school leadership team prepared to go first.

Formative Assessment
Offer each team member an index card and ask him/her to indicate which of the methods discussed today will be one that he/she will try to use in a future instance of conflict with a student. On the back, ask each member to write one more suggestion to add to our list of methods to avoid power struggles. Compile this additional list and send out to your team after this session.

Part Two: Leading the Learning with Your Students – Coaching your Student to Avoid Power Struggles

For my high school students, when I set the tone about expectations in the beginning of the school year, I always gave them advice about how to handle conflicts with faculty—especially conflicts where they thought they were treated unfairly or disrespectfully. Just like with adults, this is best done in small groups (Advisory is a great setting). If that is not possible, consider a video lesson incorporating both your leadership team and student leaders. Here are three strategies to teach students:

1)    Most struggles arise over a breach of school rules – so follow the rules and you’re good. And remember, we do recognize that some of the rules may not make sense to you or are inconsistently applied. If you don’t like a rule, we have a process for having it reviewed for potential change.

2)    Know yourself and your ability to deal with conflict. If you know the person talking to you is someone with whom you don’t see eye to eye, agree to their request and then go talk to a trusted adult about the problem. That adult will work with you (and an administrator/counselor if that will help) to find a solution.

3)    Understand your body language and the body language of others. If you feel yourself exhibiting signs that can be construed as disrespectful, then that is a good time to back off, end the conversation politely, and go seek assistance from another adult.

My message was simple, if you engage in a power struggle with an adult you will lose; translated you will likely end up with a consequence for insubordination (technically both people lose but I wanted kids to see it was a no win situation in hopes that we would avoid the power struggle all together). The better option is to resist the power struggle and seek out support to resolve the issue.

I ultimately gave our kids this out – when an adult in our school asks you to do something (short of do something you feel is ethically or morally wrong or could cause harm) do it. If you feel the adult treated you disrespectfully or that the situation was unjust or unfair, talk to someone you trust later and we will work through it together.

A Final Thought
Regardless of the outcome, a culture where power struggles are permitted to persist is a culture where students begin to learn the lesson that they always lose. Gone unaddressed, power struggles send the message that students can and will be targeted. The result – students begin to feel they have nothing to lose and are more likely to engage adults disrespectfully; discipline referrals increase, school safety decreases and a cycle of a negative school culture is bred or continued. As the school leader, you have the moral responsibility to tackle the issue; and, with this article, you have some tools with which to start the conversation.

By |November 12th, 2014|Teaching Tips|0 Comments|

5 Ways to Bring Climate Activism into the Classroom


(Photo Credit: Dave Gingrich)

In the near future, climate realities will affect the livelihoods, health, and happiness of our nation’s students.

I am an apprentice at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and I study Climate and Society at Columbia University. I am also a 2012 Greater New Orleans alum, and miss the joy of being with students every day. Through both my research and experience in the classroom, I’ve come to believe that our teachers must prepare students to adapt to the impending climate changes, and more importantly, to step forward as leaders in this world.

With this in mind, I have drafted 5 concrete and no-fail ways you can bring climate activism into your classroom and prepare your students for our changing society.

1. Take small steps to create a more sustainable classroom.

There are many low-hanging fruits you and your students can go after to easily reduce your classroom’s carbon footprint. For example, preference technology over printing, allow students to wear jackets instead of using unnecessary amounts of heating, use natural light or ask administration to switch to LED light bulbs. These are all simple ways to create a lower-carbon classroom environment.

2. Get kids involved.

Teaching students about ecofriendly systems will help them contribute in a more sustainable way to the small steps your class is taking together. Many people don’t know the difference between items that can be recycled and items that must be trashed. This is just one example of a simple barrier that could confront your students’ ability to participate in climate solutions. Combat this by having students create a sign to show the differences between various types of recyclables or come up with a slogan that helps them remember.

3. Explicitly teach the “why” of energy conservation methods.

Make sure to back up all of your classes’ hard work by informing your students about the facts associated with worldwide climate change. NASA’s climate literacy pamphlet breaks down the issue of climate change in understandable terms. Other resources can supplement this information source (Bell Museum has a cool and informative animation), so students really understand the carbon cycle and how humans have altered it.

4. Incorporate environmental themes into classroom units.

There are many authors who deal explicitly with topics that help us realize why it is important to maintain the integrity and beauty of natural systems. Some powerful examples of works centered on these themes include Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers Edition. Additionally, you can introduce students to environmental leaders such as Van Jones and Lisa P. Jackson through literature.

5. Celebrate students’ use of sustainable practices at school and at home.

Have students make monthly goals to become better at eco-friendly practices, and invite them to work on these at home as well. Find ways to celebrate their carbon-saving lifestyles in and out of the classroom.


To read more about climate change and the future of our world, click here.

Six Tips for Fostering Grit in our Youngest Learners

“We will be kindergarten readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and learners!” was the rallying cry of my pre-kindergarten classroom, as we began our morning meeting each day. A growing body of knowledge shows us that grounding students in literacy, math, science, and social studies makes them more than just kindergarten-ready – it prepares them for long-term school and life success. So does another essential trait which doesn’t fit neatly into any one subject area: grit.

Grit is a measure of a person’s determination, persistence, and self-control. Grit is what will keep your students from accepting failure, big or small, and from letting it hold them back. Some might think it has no place in describing three, four, and five year-olds, but the reality is that early childhood classrooms provide the perfect context for building these skills in children, the foundation for which begins at birth.

Today, grit will help kids in your classroom finish that puzzle (determination and persistence), cooperate in imaginary play with their classmates, and play simple board games (self-control). This sets the groundwork for a lifelong ability to pursue challenging long-term goals. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research, grit can also contribute to better grades and, in the long-term, contribute to higher earnings and a more positive view of their own life.IMG_2459

Teachers play a critical role in developing grit, and preschool/Pre-K teachers can do many things to help kids get “grittier.” Here are six things you can do:

  1. Get familiar with your state’s early learning standards. Many of the skills that underlie grit and self-control are right there in your state’s early learning standards/guidelines (each state calls theirs something unique!). Look for domain names like cognitive development, social & emotional development, general knowledge, or cognition. Becoming familiar with these standards will help you become a more intentional teacher.
  1. Keep the small promises you make to your students. Research shows that dependable adults help foster better self-control. Make sure that you’re keeping those small promises; when you say “I’ll be right back,” “I’m going to go grab the crayons for you,” “You can go back to finishing building that right after lunch,” do it to show that you follow through on your word. Have time in your daily schedule where you’re available to move around and work with students individually.
  1. Have children develop plans before heading to centers. Prior to letting students choose their centers (the independent learning stations you’ll see in early childhood classrooms) have students make a plan for what they’ll do in their center of choice. This might be having students choose their first center and “writing” down what they’ll do in that center prior to starting play. This will help children focus and sustain attention on the task they’ve planned and feel more autonomy over their own learning. A great model for planning for play is used in the High Scope curriculum.
  1. Get creative with sorting activities. Believe it or not, asking children to sort cards first by shape and then asking them to switch the sorting rule to sort the same cards by color is a sign of self-control. When children are asked to do something that might not be their natural instinct, their brain is forced to develop a certain level of self-control. Switching up the way you ask children to sort is just one way to develop flexibility and control within the brain.
  1. Point out when students persist. When you see students building something in the blocks center over and over or attempting to get their drawing just right, narrate what you saw: “I see your tower kept falling over, but you used smaller blocks on top and didn’t give up building” or “I saw you start your writing a few different times and you kept going to finish your drawing even though you looked frustrated!” Praise children’s effort instead of the outcome. Of course, young children might reach peak frustration and need to step away from a task for a bit and letting children know that taking a step back is OK is part of helping develop their persistence.IMG_1682
  1. Model these skills yourself! As you’ll soon see, your students notice your actions and hang on your every word. When you express frustration with a task, but persist in completing it and, if you do fail at a task, show your students how you can reflect on the problem and try again. I know when I planned a science experiment that didn’t work, I was embarrassed to fail in front of my students, but together we wrote down what went wrong and I brought new supplies to have a successful experiment the next day.

Though I wasn’t familiar with the word “grit” at the time, creating an environment in my classroom which fostered its various aspects helped ensure that the 20 children in my classroom, all in school for the first time, went from shyly entering through the door to becoming autonomous learners who were deeply engaged in the learning opportunities at hand. By implementing some of these tips, and identifying opportunities for expanding upon these ideas, you’ll see growth in all skill areas for students. Early childhood educators have long had a hand in proving that school-readiness goes beyond the typical academic subjects, and your kindergarten-ready readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and learners will be on your way to showing this from day one!

Sara Mickelson is an education specialist focused on early learning at the Rhode Island Department of Education and a Houston ’09 alumnus

5 Ways To Introduce Technology To Your Classroom Without Enough Technology

(Photo Credit: Blair Mishleau)

As the technology specialist at a school, I’m constantly running into issues (our computers haven’t arrived yet, the tech staff doesn’t have time to install them, my lab is being used for NWEA testing, etc.).

But, never fear. There are a lot of ways to get nerdy with kids without needing a laptop for everyone. Here are my tips – I’d love to hear some more, if you have them, in the comments!

1.)   Code.org. Live it. Love it. Code it.
This site is getting really well-known, but there’s a nice little niche that not everyone might know about. There are loads of “paper” activities that can teach little kiddos how to make a “program” and much more. It’s especially great as a primer before letting students use computers.

(Pro-tip: If you have even intermittent access to 3-10 computers, do stations. Have students who have mastered the paper activities move onto computers!)

2.)   Paper Keyboards.
This concept blew my mind. I thought kids would be like “Bro. Paper keyboards?” But they were more like, “Bro!! My own paper keyboard!!” The secret? Sell it like a used car salesman. My pitch: “Guys. Today you are getting your very own keyboard! You get to use it every week for the next few months. You need to make it your own. Spend the next 10 minutes decorating it!”

This is particularly awesome as you can have them draw on it and color specific keys. For example: we circle “home row” so they know where it is. We can practice it to death so they are ready when they get real computers (see #1!)

3.)   Get friendly with your co-workers.
I mean, this is generally good advice. But you most-likely have some computers in your building. They may be somewhat sad and decrepit, but I betchya you have some. Can you ask the teacher across the hall to borrow her two classroom computers for a week if, in exchange, she can borrow yours the next? Heck, bake some cookies. Do breakfast duty. You can work wonders with team work.

4.)   Videos.
If you have a projector, you can educate kids a whole lot on technology with simple videos. Start with the very term technology. Do you even know what it means, really? There are loads and loads of videos that can build kids’ wonder and excitement about tech, and built up their technical vocabulary. All of this matters, and is so often overlooked by “Oooooh, Shiny iPad!”

5.)  Donors. Choose.
See back to tip #1. You really only need 3-10 comptuers to get started with station work. Get 5 super-cheap ChromeBooks (or netbooks, if you must) through DonorsChoose. Yes, they have limited functionality. But they can word process, run lots of apps, and easily run typing programs and other such awesome stuff.