Recent Posts

Posted in Uncategorized

Getting-to-Know-You Activity

Just wanted to share a simple beginning-of-the-year activity that is a true multi-tasker!

This activity can be adapted to any content area and accomplishes several goals:

  1. Reviews important content knowledge. (A graphic like a diagram or map works best!)
  2. Allows students to get to know their classmates at the beginning of the year.
  3. Sets you up with an easy way to pair students with partners throughout the year.

What you’ll need:

  • An unlabeled copy of the diagram or map you’d like to use for each student.  Think: A diagram of the parts of a cell, a diagram of the positions on a soccer field, or a map of the continents.  I like to insert lines where each label would be, like this:  download (2).png
  • Background music
  • Pens or pencils
  • A copy of the same unlabeled diagram/map to project on the board



  1. Pass out blank copies, instructing students NOT to fill in the empty spaces!  (Because, trust me, that’s the first thing they’ll try to do!)
  2. Have each student write his or her own name clearly at the top of the page.  They will be trading papers with partners, and will need to get their own paper back each time.
  3. Have students “wander the room” as you play music.  When the music stops, they are to partner up with the person nearest them.  Think “musical chairs” with partners!
  4. When you have made sure each student has a partner (or created a group of three, if you have an odd number), identify one item on the diagram by pointing it out on the board.  Then, tell students that this person will be their partner for that item. For example, on the map above, I might say, “This person is going to be your North America partner!”
  5. Have students trade papers and sign their own name neatly on the line for that item.  Return the paper to its owner.
  6. Repeat until all the items on the diagram have been assigned a partner.  Make sure they don’t get the same partner twice!
  7. Use the diagram to help students get to know each other.  For example, I might say, “Go find your Australia partner and ask them what superpower they would choose if they could have any superpower.”  This allows students to review the content of the diagram AND get to know each other in the process.
  8. Have students keep their partner sheet in their binder or folder and use it throughout the year when you need to quickly assign partners.  “For this assignment, you are going to work with your Africa partner!”


Helpful Tips:

  • Try to do this on a day when all students are in attendance.  If a student is absent, you will need to have a blank paper laid out on a desk for students to partner with and sign.  They can put it in their folder when they return.
  • Meeting new people can be tough!  Encourage students to look for someone they haven’t talked to before and be sure to mill around the room yourself to guide students toward a partner.  No one wants to be left without a partner every time!
  • As an alternative to the “free range” style of finding a partner, you could put students in concentric circles facing each other and simply have them rotate one person for each new partner until their paper is full.
  • Here are some great “Getting-to-know-you” conversation starters!
  1. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and what would you use it for?
  2. Describe your dream meal in detail!
  3. If you could spend a day with any one person, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you do?
  4. If you could go on vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?  
  5. Describe your perfect Saturday.
  6. What is one thing that really grosses you out?
  7. Describe the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you.
  8. What is your favorite or least favorite thing about school?
  9. Would you rather be wealthy and ugly or poor and attractive?

Happy Teaching!

Posted in Uncategorized

What my students hear…

It’s that time of year.  If you are a teacher, you know what I mean.  It’s the time of year when you know EXACTLY how many days…maybe even hours…of school are left before summer break begins.  You know how many more times you have recess or lunch duty, how many more Mondays are left, and how many more times you have to see “that” class.  Your athletic shorts, tank tops, and flip flops are stacked and ready to go at home and you can’t wait to stop wearing makeup, forget what day of the week it is, and pee whenever the urge strikes. The kids are done.  We’re done.  Summer needs to just hurry up and get here….NOW.  To help you through the last few days of crazy, here’s a little teacher humor.  Enjoy!

What I actually say… What my students must hear…
Can someone run this to the office for me? Who would like to win the lottery and have your three deepest wishes granted by a genie?
You have 10 minutes to get started on your homework. Pack up and take a nap.
Get out your notes. Dig through your backpack for a pencil.  Take a moment to unwrap the month-old piece of gum you find while doing this and then take as much time as possible walking to the trashcan to throw the wrapper away.  Return to your seat to retrieve the pencil and go sharpen it – loudly. Stop by your friend’s desk on the way back to your seat and then spend 2-3 minutes attempting to zip or unzip the backpack.  Wait for me to prompt you again before actually getting out said notes.
Quiet, please! Please, take your time and finish up the conversation you are currently having.  I too am deeply concerned about what your bestie is wearing to the mall this weekend.
Today we’re going to watch a movie… I brought popcorn and the entire first season of Sponge Bob!
…it’s a documentary… I hate you all, and my mission in life is to kill your happiness.
Write this down. Write down the first word or two of these notes, preferably in highlighter, and then draw an incredibly detailed doodle of a monster truck.
Please don’t bounce the balls in the hall. Balls.  Hehe!
I was out for a district meeting yesterday. I was secretly skipping school to play video games and hang out at the park with my friends yesterday.
I have bus duty. Poop!
Turn your paper into the turn-in tray when you are finished. When you are finished, please come back to my desk and stick your paper in my face to double check that I do, indeed, still want you to turn your paper into the turn- in tray.  Just in case.
Sit down. Find the most ridiculous place to sit – the floor, a bookshelf, your best friend’s lap – and sit there.  Grin directly at me until I notice and point out that you should actually sit in your assigned seat. Act annoyed at my lack of clarity.
The test will be multiple choice. I love you and my only goal in life is to make you happy.
Line up at the door. Quick!  Form teams with your best friends and try to escape into the hall.  If anyone tries to get to the hall before you…shove them.
Be on your best behavior as we walk down the hall….We don’t want to disturb the other classes. We are now going to see how many of us can jump up and touch the top of the door frames in the hallway.  Bonus points if you stop to make weird faces at other classrooms as we pass.
Posted in Uncategorized

Conquering Content Vocabulary…and a lifelong goal!

This.  Is.  So.  Cool.

There is a book listed on Amazon….that I wrote.  Like, you can go to right now and type in “Tornetto”…and something will actually pop up!


It’s called, “Conquering Content Vocabulary,” and it’s an instructional strategies book about teaching content specific vocabulary outside of the ELA classroom.  Not gonna lie.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been this proud of myself!

One of my current 7th graders came to me the other day and said, “I want to write a book.  You just did that, right?”

I said yes.

He looked at me excitedly and asked, “How?”

I’ve wanted to be a published author ever since I can remember, and I definitely saw a little bit of myself in his face that day.  I gave him some cliche advice about editing his manuscript carefully and submitting to lots of publishers.  But deep down, he got me thinking about everything I’ve learned about writing over the years…and what I really should have said if I had had the time to think about it.

  1. Be prepared for the long haul.  Publishing a book takes a LONG TIME.  If you can’t commit to a long term project, writing a book is NOT for you.
  2. Don’t wait until you have something to say…but don’t expect to get published until you do.  I’ve been writing since…well since I learned how!  But it wasn’t until I developed an expertise and some experience as a teacher that I had something I was truly passionate enough about to follow through.  
  3. Write in a style and voice that you love; Don’t try to be something you aren’t.  I always thought I would love to write dramatic young adult novels…turns out that shorter, humorous-but-helpful non-fiction is my absolute love!  Don’t beat yourself up if you find your prefered writing style isn’t what you thought it would be.
  4. But don’t be afraid to love more than one style!  Over the years, in addition to discovering how much I love to write non-fiction, I’ve also discovered that I love to write children’s books.  They seem totally different…but the wit, humor, and the challenge of “saying a lot with a little” are what draw me to both writing genres.  If I had never been brave enough to try, I would never have known.
  5. Create a system for taking notes and citing sources.  Stick to it.  This isn’t just the middle school teacher in me covering my bases….seriously.  No publisher will even look at you if you don’t know how to give credit, cite sources, and research.  If you don’t want to spend half of your time trying to remember where you wrote down that quote you wanted to use, stick to your system.
  6. Be patient.  Did I mention that publishing a book takes FOREVER?  
  7. Get feedback from people you trust to tell you the truth.  This is the most important thing you can do to improve your writing.  Being open to really hearing those people critique your writing will be way harder than you think.  Do it anyway.
  8. When all else fails – stop.  Walk away.  For days at a time if necessary.  It’s okay.
  9. Read it out loud.  I don’t care how weird you feel.  Before I submitted my final manuscript I sat in a corner of Panera for 3 hours and read my entire manuscript (quietly) aloud to myself.  I may have confused a few strangers…but I caught DOZENS of errors and made LOTS of improvements.  
  10. Take the chance.  Send in that sample chapter.  Write that book proposal.  Email that editor.  Just do it.  Click send before you talk yourself out of it.  You’ll never know if you don’t try!  (But be prepared to wait after you click send.  It took Scholastic two years to express an interest in my manuscript.  Like I said…patience!)

Oh…and last but not least…

11.  When you have been wrestling with a certain phrase or paragraph for hours…and you think you finally figured it out…and all you need to do it keep those perfect words in your head long enough to get them typed out…that’s when your kids will need their umpteenth cup of apple juice of the day.  It’s science.

I guess that last one might not apply to my seventh grade student…but…it needed to be said.  

Anyway, at the risk of sounding like I’m accepting an Emmy, I really am so thankful for the opportunity to share my teaching experience with others in this book!  My editor, Maria Chang, at Scholastic was amazing to work with, and I’m so excited to have had such a positive first experience in the world of publishing.  Here it is! If you teach middle school or know someone who does…I hope you check it out!  


Posted in Uncategorized

Stuck in the Middle

There are exactly 5 days left until Christmas break at the middle school where I work. For you non-educators out there, imagine the monkey cage at the zoo about five minutes before feeding time….and then imagine someone tosses in a case of  5-Hour Energy drinks.  

It’s kind of like that.  

This is the hardest time of the year to survive as a teacher, and therefore the peak season for teacher’s lounge complaints.  If you’ve ever listened to a group of middle school teachers commiserating about how incredibly immature…or irresponsible…or obnoxious…or just plain DUMB their students can be, then you know, it’s basically a weirdly competitive bidding war to see who is having the worst day.

Teacher #1: (slapping a stack of copies down on the table of the teacher’s lounge)   Oh my gosh….these kids are driving me insane!  Last period, about halfway through our notes, I noticed one of them hadn’t written down ANYTHING.  When I asked her why, she just looked at me with a confused, blank stare and said, ‘I lost my pencil.’  Lost.  Her.  Pencil.  There is a whole jar full of pencils 10 feet from her desk!  Arrrghh!

Teacher #2: (inspecting a 3-day-old donut they just scavenged from the break room)  Ha!  That’s nothing.  One of mine actually turned in his math homework written in yellow highlighter…HIGHLIGHTER!  I should make his parents pay for my Lasik surgery.

Teacher #3:  (shaking their head)  I’ll trade you!  Today one of mine asked if she could do her EUROPEAN research project on CANADA.  I give up!

Teacher #4:  (speeding through on their way to recess duty)  Yeah, well….at least they aren’t eating M&Ms they found on the floor like I caught one doing today.

Teacher #2:  (taking a bite of the donut and washing it down with cold coffee from a mug that hasn’t been washed since August)  Middle school kids will eat anything!  

Teacher #5: (walks in looking completely defeated)  One of my students just pointed to the “Name” line at the top of the paper and said, ‘I don’t get it.’  

Teacher #1: (throws copies in the air and walks away) I’m out!  

Teacher #2:  (laughs…and chokes on his donut)

There are always days – like yesterday when a student asked me if they could go to the library…and then came back and whispered, “Umm….What should I do in the library?” – when we teachers are each sure that no one can possibly understand the struggle.  But one of the nice things about education is that just when you think you have experienced the worst or weirdest – you are always sure to find someone whose horror stories trump your own – and make you feel a little better about your life choice to be a “professional educator.”  

Of course, there are also, thankfully, many days when the students themselves remind me of why I chose to make middle school my professional “home” in the first place!  Like the time I found this note written on my board on the last day of school:


Or the day a former student sent me this note:


For me, middle school, in all it’s infuriatingly immature glory,  is where I was meant to teach.  My 7th graders are ridiculous, awkward, emotional, silly, dramatic, sweet, hilarious, rude, forgetful, needy, smelly, stubborn little humans who can’t seem to figure out if they want to be children or adults.  In the span of one school day…or heck, one class period…they can make you want to laugh and cry, hug them and strangle them, retire and rewrite a brand new curriculum!  

And at the end of the day…when the Axe Body Spray has cleared…you usually end up somewhere in the MIDDLE!  (Pun intended!)

So to my fellow teachers out there, the next time you help open a jammed locker and find this:

1130170849aYes, that is 20 bags of “Hot Fries.”

Take a deep breath, try to laugh, and focus on the good days!  And for those of you who don’t teach, here is a clip from a recent video assignment that gives you a perfect little glimpse into the typical day of a middle school teacher.    This.  Is.  My.  Life.     

Hope it makes you smile!

Posted in Uncategorized

A Tale of Two Christmas Cards

Every year, about a month before Christmas, moms across the country start to feel the mounting pressure.   It’s time to design that perfect holiday photo card; the one that will be the envy of everyone in our address books.  We obsess  – sometimes for months in advance – over Pinterest boards full of elegant color schemes and creative photo poses.  We adjust our already overstretched budgets to make room for matching outfits and a professional photographer sitting fee.   We willingly bribe our children with candy, toys, cash…anything to get them to wear the clothes we bought, smile, and pretend to love each other for 30 minutes.  Then, we spend hours and hours online designing a card that can compete with our friend, Susie Supermom’s, masterpiece from last year.  All in the name of spreading a little holiday cheer!

This year, I am that mom.  After weeks spent coordinating outfits, I still went shopping the day before for matching tights, and we stopped at the gas station on our way to the photo shoot to buy Sour Patch Kids, which we used to bribe our 3-year-old for every “pretty” smile he gave us.  (Literally.  Have you ever seen the sea lion show at the zoo where they throw the sea lion a fish every time he does a trick?  It was just like that.  Except…Milo isn’t as well-trained as that sea lion.)  

We hadn’t had family pictures taken in years, and if I was going to go to all the trouble anyway, I was sure as heck gonna use those (hopefully) picture-perfect portraits on this year’s Christmas card.  (Coming soon to a mailbox near you!)  

But last year, as that 50% off coupon from Shutterfly taunted me from behind it’s refrigerator magnet, I just didn’t care anymore.  Maybe all that turkey at Thanksgiving had left me feeling lazy, and less than thrilled at the idea of being photographed.  Maybe I was exhausted from fighting the crowds on Black Friday.  Maybe the thought of wrestling my (then) 2-year-old into his dress clothes seemed like just enough to shrink my heart two sizes and turn me into the Grinch.  But whatever the reason, last year I decided to ditch the idea of the perfect family photo and have a little fun instead!  

I taped some wrapping paper to a wall in our basement, grabbed a few fun Christmas props from the local party store and asked Mike to figure out the rarely used timer on the camera.  Then, for about 30 minutes one Sunday afternoon, our family of four, wearing comfy jeans and Christmas t-shirts, huddled together making silly faces and swapping props for the camera.  There was no whining, no bribery (Well, maybe a little.  I mean, we were still dealing with a two-year-old…But do Pop-tarts really count as a bribe?).  No color-coordinating or extra hairspray involved, and by the time we were done, we were all exhausted…but laughing.  

Don’t get me wrong…as I looked through the dozens of photos we had taken, I still stressed a little over which shot hid my double chin and whether Tessa (my 7-year-old) was making her “creepy” smile or her sweet one, but in the end I knew that the imperfections in those photos wouldn’t be nearly as memorable as the fun we had had taking them.  

1207161017a  *Note the Poptart in Milo’s hand!  Sorry, not sorry!

The cards I finally created for Christmas 2016 were more fun and festive than any posed family photo card (including 2017) could be.  They were real; and they captured the true Christmas spirit.  Instead of a carefully choreographed family glamour shot, It felt nice knowing that our silly grins would bring a smile to people’s faces, and that I was sending out real holiday cheer…and getting a little bit back in the process!

So if you are out there wondering what to do about this year’s Christmas card, keep one thing in mind.  The purpose of a family photo is to capture a memory, not put on a show.  If you choose to have those professional pictures taken, like I did this year, good for you!  But do it for you, and try your best not to stress out about the details.  After all…the people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind.  And if you just don’t have it in you this year, that’s okay!  Post your season’s greetings on social media, send out handwritten notes to close family and friends, have a fun, family photo-booth like I did…..or just skip the whole thing and enjoy spending time catching up with the people you love!  

After all, that’s what this whole Christmas card thing is all about!

Posted in Uncategorized

Some Sunday Thoughts

Some Sunday Thoughts

By:  Mike Tornetto

As a Catholic, I’m not the most likely person to be quoting scripture, nor the first to jump for joy about the notion of attending Sunday mass.  But twice in the last few weeks I have been profoundly struck by the wisdom and relevance of two ancient passages in a 2017 context.

This Gospel Reading (Matthew 20:1-16) about “The Workers in the Vineyard” really struck me:

“My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  

I’m a teacher, and I work my butt off.  While I enjoy having at least part of my summers off, like much of America’s workforce, I often feel overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, and sometimes angry with those in my profession who underperform – those I perceive to be putting in the less time and effort than I believe they should.  I try to stay appreciative, I try to stay humble, but at low points, like most people in any profession, I struggle with the negative thinking described above.  

What I love about the reading from Matthew is that it reaches through the ages and sets me straight, gives me guidance, and calls me out on my own sense of entitlement. Whether you are a person of faith or not, the message is clear, relevant, and wise.  Drop your ego, stop worrying about others, and get back to work!  As “The Greatest Generation” would tell us, you are lucky to have a job!   You are blessed to be employed; you are blessed to have a job that allows you to meet your own and your families needs. You are blessed to be able to do that with a sense of pride and accomplishment.  We are not entitled to anything; we are blessed to earn what we can.  

As an American, I am blessed to live in a country where I have great opportunities for education and employment, and that is true for all of us – no matter what anyone tells you!  We have the freedom to express our beliefs and live in safety…no matter what anyone tells you!  We should not take those blessings as an entitlement; they are not a birthright.  They are a blessing from God, earned by those American’s that came before us.  Those that fought, died, and acted with wisdom, compassion, and courage on countless fronts, on countless occasions.  Our forefathers are not perfect…not one of them, but we are none-the-less blessed to have had them as our predecessors.

Today, so much of society has become so selfish and lost so much of its way.  We have all become so egocentric, so juvenile, so entitled…and that certainly includes myself. This morning I feel blessed to be reminded of the wisdom Matthew taught us 2000 years ago, and as a Catholic I know that I must continue to struggle to earn such blessings.


Posted in Uncategorized

Allowing in the Light

As most of you already know, I teach World Geography and have always been passionate about helping kids develop a better understanding of people from other places, cultures, and circumstances.

Just wanted to share an article of mine that was recently published in the educational magazine, Teaching Tolerance.  It talks about one of my favorite teaching projects…my World Geography Book Club!  This is year four (I think?), and we are still going and growing!

I couldn’t do it without my partner in crime, Brad Haertling, a.k.a. the Pedaling Pioneer, as well as the support of our sponsor, Southeast Health and our JMS Library!

Check it out!

 “Allowing in the Light”  By:  Chelsea Tornetto

Above Photo Credit:  Teaching Tolerance Magazine, Fall Issue, 2017
Posted in Uncategorized

An Open Letter to the Retail World from a Millennial Mom

Dear World of Retail:

I know there’s been a lot of talk lately about how the traditional world of retail is dying.  Shopping mall stalls stand empty, department stores struggle to survive, and Amazon is slowly taking over the known universe.  

It might be true.  

But women still love to shop.  Trust me.  It’s relaxing to wander the aisles of Target sipping my Starbucks and deciding between two throw pillows I don’t need.  It’s a social event when a friend and I meet up at the mall for lunch and a new pair of boots at Macy’s.  If you ask me, there’s another reason why we aren’t flocking to your doors.

We’re all freaking exhausted.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, my generation, the Millennials, passed up the Baby Boomers to become the biggest demographic in the U.S. with about 83 million people.  More of those families than ever before have both parents working full-time outside the home.  And lots of us are parents.  8 out of 10 babies born in 2015 were born to Millennials.  

And have you ever tried to take a kid shopping?  

It’s. Not. Fun.  

Forget sipping Starbucks – I’m too busy digging a leaky sippy cup out of my purse.  A casual stroll around the mall?  How about a mad dash to the nearest restroom because someone has to potty RIGHT NOW.  Honestly, sometimes…it’s just not worth it.

You want to get us offline and back to the stores?  Help us, help you.

Here are 5 things you could do for which all of us Millennial Moms would be eternally grateful:

1. Put in a drive thru.  Seriously.  Why does WalMart not have this yet?  Why doesn’t EVERY store?  You want to put a limit on how many or which items I can purchase through the window?  Fine.  I’m not talking about a week’s worth of groceries here.  Just let me swing by the window and send one of your employees to run and grab me a gallon of milk, a box of diapers…and maybe a king size Twix bar…without unloading a car seat.  Please.  

I know what you’re thinking, CEOs.  “But we want you to actually come all the way inside!  That way we can trick you into buying all kinds of crap you didn’t even know you wanted!”  Well, see, here’s the thing.  Because you are so dead set on that strategy, millions of us are signing up with online subscription programs that will deliver all the things we need right to our door on a weekly basis.  I personally haven’t caved yet, but every time I have to park a mile away and tow the kids across that parking lot and through that checkout line, I get a little bit closer.  I promise, if you put in a drive-thru, you will be my new favorite store, and the number of visits I make to pick up forgotten cupcake ingredients and toilet paper will more than make up for any impulse sales you would have made by forcing me to drag a grumpy toddler down the aisles.

2.  Get your shopping carts in gear.  Whatever genius invented this monstrosity deserves to push it around purgatory forever:  

Note:  This is not my kiddo!  This photo is from the blog “A Healthy Slice of Life.” But I bet she feels my pain about these stupid carts! 🙂 

I’m surprised it doesn’t beep loudly when I back it up…which I have to do a lot because it turns corners like a damn semi-truck.  And because it just wasn’t annoying enough, some idiot decided it needed seat belts.  The thing is literally 6 inches off the ground!  My child thinks those stupid straps are a game provided for his amusement.  “Buckle me!”  “Unbuckle me!”  “I want down!”  And if the kids aren’t playing with them, they’re fighting over them, or whining about them.  Only about 5% of the time are they actually wearing them.  I think I’ll take my chances on that dangerous six inch drop, thanks.

3.  Put in more potties.  Why does every mall or discount store in America have just one stinkin’ bathroom that’s tucked away in the farthest reaches of space and time? This is 2017.  We can’t install a few more restrooms and distribute them evenly in a shopping space?  Because you know the kids are going to wait until we are at the farthest point from said bathroom (probably navigating a tricky corner in my semi-truck) before they realize they need to go.  It’s science.  And while we’re on the subject, how about you put just one sink low enough for a 3-year-old to reach it?  Truth?  Sometimes we settle for hand sanitizer….or a Kleenex…rather than even attempt the death defying contortionist act it takes to lift him up with one arm while working the water and (usually empty) soap dispenser with the other.   (Maybe I’ll start a boycott until Target meets my bathroom demands! 😉  Too soon?)

4.  Get with the times.  Even the gas pump has a screen to entertain me while I pump my gas.  So does the table at Olive Garden or Applebees.  Want to get me shopping again?  Strap one of those puppies on every cart (maybe you could re-purpose those safety belts!) and load it up with games or videos for kids.  Sure, I could give them my phone…because I enjoy having it dropped every five seconds and looking down to see them deleting all my contacts with their sticky little fingers.  But help a mother out!  Better yet, take a page out of Ikea’s book and provide in-store childcare.  Those Swedes sure do know their millennials…and their meatballs.

5.  Remember your manners.  Yes, I know, you already open the door for me, and no, I’m not suggesting that you start sending me thank you notes after every visit.  I’m saying, train your employees to be a little bit more helpful.  I can’t remember the last time a retail employee asked if I’d like help getting my fully loaded semi-truck to my car.  The cart cowboy at Walmart the other day appeared out of nowhere and offered to take my cart to the nearest corral and I almost cried from gratitude.  (I didn’t because I was distracted by my 3-year-old who was about to run into traffic and my 7-year-old who wanted me to watch a new dance move she had just created in the produce section.)  My point is, maybe if your customer service was a little more Chik-fil-a and a little less…Charter…you might find that we come in more often…and have enough energy left when we get home to rave about you on Twitter!

6.  Convince me it’s worth it.  Even if you did take all the advice provided above, getting out and about with kids in tow is still exhausting.  If I’m going to do it, I need to be reasonably sure it’s going to be worth my effort.  So let me see what I’ll be getting.  I know this one is a long shot, but mommas, imagine if every store’s website was equipped with a 360° video of the aisles and displays.  Just like Google Earth – where you can navigate up and down the aisles as if you’re there.  So if I’m wondering if you carry that very specific doll my daughter wants for her birthday, but I don’t want to park and run inside five different stores (loading and unloading that car seat 10 times, by the way), I can check it out online first.  

Again, I know what you’re thinking.  Isn’t this really just “online shopping 2.0”?  Technically…yes.  But again – we millennial moms really do still WANT to shop in-store.  And lots of times I need something faster than even Amazon can get it to me, or I need to actually try it on or hold it in my hands.  And if I like what I see from my computer, I’d be happy to come in…and a MUCH happier customer, which means I’ll come back to you time and time again.  If I don’t like what I see…well…then I guess I’ll end up shopping online anyway…but it might be on your website…I’m already there using that awesome new 360° camera feature, after all!

The bottom line is, we millennials are busier and more exhausted than the Baby Boomers, and we have very little patience for all those old retail “tricks” designed to get and keep customers in your stores.   In fact…they kind of piss us off.  (You know…like how you put the milk way at the back?  We hate you.)  In a world where online shopping is always an easy alternative…you are going to have to give up on trying to manipulate us into spending more time and money per visit – and start focusing on making those visits so quick, easy, and enjoyable that we actually start looking forward to shopping again!  

Until then…just pray that our kids are in good moods and that we’re strong enough to ignore the siren song of Amazon Prime…

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run in to Walmart….there are just a couple things I need….

Anything I’ve left out?  Add your own “requests” for the world of retail in the comments below!  


Posted in From the Classroom

Memorization Matters: 3 Strategies That Work

Do me a favor, and if you haven’t already, watch this clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live!  

Pretty sad, right?  I mean, if I’m going to be nuked by someone I would at least like to know where that someone lives.  Unfortunately for the future of American democracy, a basic knowledge of global geography is becoming increasingly rare, and Jimmy Kimmel isn’t the only one who’s noticed.  

Check out this map published by the New York Times this past July.  It shows where 1,746 Americans thought North Korea was in a recent survey. (The blue dots represent every wrong guess…all 64% of them.)

A little bit better than the people in the video, but not enough to make me encourage the general public to go vote in the next election.    

So why are Americans so geographically challenged?

Is it because Americans are so egocentric that they don’t think the other countries of the world are worth learning about?  Probably.  😉

But I also think part of the reason is that educational trends over the past several decades have focused so much on graduating students who can analyze, evaluate, and think critically, we forgot that they first need something to think about.  Higher order thinking skills are great…but not if our kids can only apply them to generic questions like, “Would you rather go to the beach or the mountains on your next vacation, and why?” or “What are the qualities of a good friend?” We need our future adults to be be able to discuss and tackle real world issues of substance, and I think the world of education sometimes forgets that before they can do that, they need to have mastered some pretty basic content knowledge.

Of course, as teachers, common sense should tell us we HAVE to teach students to identify and define before we can push them to analyze and apply.  But because so many of the “experts” have made us feel bad about teaching those “low-level” skills, we don’t spend enough time doing it – and doing it well.

For example, in my earlier years as a teacher, I was involved in writing curriculum and trying to determine how much emphasis to put on which skills and what content.  In the course of that discussion our (then) instructional facilitator, who was known for reading, and quoting, every best-selling educational book that hit the shelves, argued that students didn’t need to spend time learning the locations of various countries, cities, etc. because, “They can just Google it.”  It took me a minute to realize she wasn’t being sarcastic.  

Do we really think that’s true?  Do we really believe that our generals are sitting out there “Googling” the distance from North Korea’s missile silos to Japan or our west coast?  Do we really think our diplomats are relying on “Bing” to tell them how close Seoul is to the North Korean border, and how that might impact South Korea’s words and actions?  

“But these kids aren’t generals or diplomats!” you say.  “They can learn that later if they need to…”

Well…if you believe they will live to be 18 and might someday cast a vote – they ALL need to!  The very point the map from the New York Times was trying to make, was that Americans who could identify North Korea on a map were more likely to prefer dipl omacy over military force.  Why?  Maybe it’s because they understood the huge population centers within range of North Korean missiles, or just how close North Korea is to its bully big brother, China.  The point is…knowledge of geography impacted their deeper understanding of the world around them, as it almost always does and should!

Besides, who has time to consult the internet for basic facts when you’re trying to win an argument with your brother-in-law over Thanksgiving dinner?  Who can realistically tear themselves away from their Facebook feed every time they need to fact check a “fake news” article?  Our students should be able to think on the fly, and actively evaluate information as they hear and see it – and a solid mental map is essential for them to do that…and to live lives of awareness and involvement.  Without it, they may not even know what questions to ask!

In short, we geography teachers don’t make kids memorize maps just for the sake of watching them sweat when we hand them a fifty question matching map quiz.  (Although, I’m not gonna lie…it’s fun!  Kind of my own personal version of that Jimmy Kimmel video…)  We do it because we recognize how important that knowledge is in pushing them to those higher levels of thinking.  (P.S. We’re not alone!  Check out this article from the New York Times!)

As a geography teacher, I have done my best to make sure students leave my classroom with the ability to think critically about current events around the world without having to first Google their locations.  And I promise you – memorization doesn’t have to be boring, and it is NOT a waste of time.  In addition, when done correctly, it definitely doesn’t have to look like a bunch of matching worksheets or endless stacks of flashcards. 

Instead, the key is to get students to engage with the content willingly (or even enthusiastically!), and to do so in a way that takes into consideration how the brain retains knowledge and stores information.

So, if you are looking for some new ways to help your students memorize, check out the strategies described below.  They were created to aid with map memorization and both Mike and I have been using them in our geography classrooms for years.  We hope they might become a regular addition to your classroom too!  

After all, these kids can’t go out and change the world…if they don’t know how to get there!

Map Factory

This one might wear out your copy machine, but it’s highly effective, and students love it!  It steals the idea of peer-editing from ELA and combines it with repetition – one of the best methods for helping the brain remember information.

Tell students you are turning the classroom into a factory for the day.  You are the factory owner and you are hiring all of them to help you mass produce accurate maps of whatever region you are studying.  

First, make sure all students have their own correct map with the items you want them to know clearly labelled.  I have my students color detailed maps on the first day of each unit, so we use these.  You could also provide them yourself, or use atlases.

Then, “hire” 3 or 4 students as “quality control” experts and have them sit together at a centrally located table.  Choose students who are attentive to detail and proficient at reading maps quickly.  (I choose the students who did the best job on their own colored maps from the beginning of the unit.)  Give each quality control expert a marker or red pen, and a correct set of maps.  

The rest of the students are the factory workers.  Each starts with one blank map and a set of correct maps.  Their job is simply to hand copy all the required places from their correct map to their blank one.  This is done in pencil or pen – no color.  Sounds simple – and it is!  

When they complete a map, they take it to the quality control table and one quality control expert checks it to see if all the required items are labelled correctly.  If not, they send the student back to their seat to make corrections.  (I tell my quality control folks not to give them any guidance the first time a classmate comes to the table, but to give them hints on what they are missing if they are still struggling on their second trip.)  If the map  is correct, quality control “pays” the worker.  I use a standard roll of carnival tickets and pay students 1 ticket per map completed.  At the end of the activity, I draw tickets and the winner or winners get a small prize.  You could also buy a big bag of cheap candy – Jolly Ranchers are always popular – and pay one piece per map – just buy a lot of candy!  You’d be shocked at how many maps a kid can make in one class period when properly motivated!

By the end of the hour, each student has either checked or completed anywhere from 5-15 maps…and most of them tell me they don’t even have to study for the quiz outside of class.  By the time they label their sixth or seventh map – they’ve got it – because they were actively engaged in trying to learn quickly.

I pay each quality control expert an average of the number of maps their classmates completed, and I collect all the completed maps each hour.  We count them up and see which hour can make the most – yet another element of competition that motivates them to work even harder.

The “factory” analogy and the idea that they are getting “paid” for their labor is fun for students and the repetition and peer editing are excellent ways to engrain the information in students’ heads.  (This activity also pretty much runs itself once the kids understand how it works, which means some down time for you!  Bonus!)

Inside-Outside Circles

Give each student a blank map of the region you are studying.  On the back, copy a simple two-column table with each country, land form, city, etc. listed on the left side.  Have students, individually, assign each place a letter (They don’t have to go in alphabetical order) and then mark each place on the map with the matching letter. Make sure they write neatly and as large as possible without making the map difficult to read.  

Once these are complete, clear desks and tables out of the way so you have a large, open area to work with.  Arrange students in a large circle facing inward towards each other.  Choose two players to step inside the circle.  (These two won’t need their maps, so I usually have them hold them behind their backs or leave them at their desks.)  

Place the two players opposite from each other within the circle, each facing one of the students in the outer circle.  Students standing in the outer circle hold their papers up with the map facing inward and name a letter.  (They may also choose to point it out on the map, if they wish.)  The inside student must identify which place the letter represents on the map.  If they guess correctly, they step to their right and are quizzed by the next student in the outer circle.  If they guess incorrectly, they are given another letter, until they get an answer correct.  The goal is for the two players inside the circle to race to see who can catch up to the other by answering the questions the quickest.  Whoever passes up/catches the other wins, and gets to choose their next challenger who switches places with the loser. Or for fun, let the loser pick their replacement (usually the kid that snickered at them the loudest!)

If you have a large group and want to make things interesting, you can always put three or four students inside the circle and require them to eliminate all their challengers to win the round.

The key to this one is making the maps large and neat enough for a frazzled student in a rush to read them.  If this becomes an issue you can always make the maps yourself and even laminate them to reuse year after year.

This isn’t quite as effective as Map Factory because only the students inside the circle are actively engaged in memorizing the map.  But students in the outside circle do tend to pay attention to the questions they ask and retain more than you might think.  And the element of “catching” your competitor is always fun!

Crack the Code

While this is less of a “game” – it works great as a class starter activity to get kids’ brains warmed up.  It’s also a quick and easy way to end the class, and asking students to decode a few words on paper would make a great ticket out the door.  

First, create a blank map of the region you are studying with a different letter to indicate each place.  (see below) Project it so all students can see it.  

To start, recite aloud a series of places, in order, so that their letters spell out a word.  For example, using the map below, I might call out “Asia, North America, Europe.”  Have students raise their hand if they think they know the word you spelled (SAT) and call on an individual student to guess each word.  

Memorization Matters

Students may have a piece of scratch paper in front of them to jot down the letters as they listen, and of course you can make this as competitive as you like!  Eventually, the students themselves will want to try spelling their own words aloud for the class to guess.  And when they really have the hang of it, you can let them sit with partners and spell words back and forth to each other.  Depending on the number of places on your map…this could get interesting!  (I’m also fairly certain older kids might push the boundaries when choosing which words to spell….good luck with that!)  If you have enough letters on your map and you’re feeling ambitious, you could even have them write a couple sentences in “code” for their partner to decipher!

With this activity, students are engaged by the challenge of mentally transcribing something familiar (letters), onto something unfamiliar (locations on the map), and the fun of trying to come up with ever more interesting words.  My students love it!

In Conclusion…

Now, forgive me if I sound like one of those “educational experts” I was poking fun at before…but remember….none of this does any good if you stop after that fifty question map quiz!  Memorizing maps is an important first step, but it’s just that – the first step.  Once you’ve laid that very important foundation, you can bring out the big guns – the current news articles, the in-depth documentaries, the in-class debates – all of which will reference the places students have learned, solidifying their geography knowledge even further and allowing them to analyze and evaluate to their little hearts’ content!

DOK 4…here we come!