Do you want or need a "RESTART" button for your STEM classroom? Whether your students have pushed your classroom expectations to the point of no return or you just want to change things up, these 5 suggestions will help you achieve a new classroom vibe. You are going to repeat most of these steps for 2 weeks, and they start the moment your students walk through your classroom door. You can implement these suggestions at any time: after break, midweek, on a Monday, or whenever you need that restart button.
1. New Seating.
Rearrange your seating into teams of 4 (if you can) and hand your students a newly assigned seat when they walk through the door. The seating needs to be purposeful. Team up students so that you have an outgoing student (class clown or distracted student works well here), a shy student, a strong student, and a struggling student or as close to this as you can get. A new seat will do wonders for some students. I change my seating chart every 2-4 weeks.
2. Do Now.
Have the students complete a timed "Do Now" that requires a short, easy read, a written answer to an open-end question, and a model build. You can use play-doh for the model. They key is to get them engaged and motivated to sit down and work. The timer starts before they walk in, so I would set a timer for 12 minutes and design the Do Now to take 5 minutes for the average student to complete. The model is last because students are likely to continue to enhance their model until the timer goes off. I allow freedom to work with a partner or entire table if all team members are present at the same time. Students will know where to go, what to do, and will have the option of working with a partner. Most of the time, the students will choose to work alone. I have no idea why. I think they get engrossed in the simple "Do Now' and look forward to the model. Either way, this Do Now model has always worked for me with all types of students. Don't knock it before you try it! Do Now happens every day.
3. 1-2-3 Magic Discipline.
I adapted this from Dr. Tom Phelan's book 1-2-3 Magic. Here's how this works. You need a "break time" desk that is removed from any team. When a student misbehaves, you say "That's 1 for [insert behavior]" then say NOTHING else. I mean NOTHING. Do not address the behavior. If the student repeats the behavior at any time during that class period or continues the behavior for another 5 seconds after the first warning you say, "That's 2" and nothing else. If the student continues the behavior for another 5 seconds or repeats the inappropriate behavior during that class period you say "That's 3, you need a break" and you move the student to the break time desk for 5 minutes. You do not say anything else concerning the behavior nor do you address it in any way. The student just sits in the break time desk. When 5 minutes is up, you discreetly excuse the student back to his/her desk. Again, no addressing the incident. Ignore the student while he/she is in break time unless the student progresses to behavior that admin needs to address. If the student acts silly while taking a break, no worries. Just continue as normal. The key is not to do any more talking or explaining than the script I provided and definitely no negotiating. If the student spends his or her break time acting like a fool just ignore the behavior and proceed on as if nothing is happening. By the end of the day, I would also email or call the parent and let them know what happened as a courtesy to the parent and a way to record the behavior. Use this method every day with every student and within 2 weeks your kids will stop the annoying behavior. Whining, refusing to listen, and talking while I explain all fall into the discipline category as do the more obvious discipline issues. Be sure you explain the system to your kids before you implement 1-2-3 Magic, so they know what's going on. Perseverance is the key. Keep at it for at least 2 weeks before you give up on it and remember to stick to the script. No explanations or negotiations. Read the book if you have time. It works for 3-year-olds and for ages 14-18. Warning: it takes kids around 2 weeks to adjust.
4. New Project, New Form.
Introduce the students to a new project, requiring a new form to be completed during class time only. You can either assign the form or have them choose. Examples of forms are Animoto, Voice Thread, Creaza, Poster, Model, Comic Book, and PowerPoint. Only allow the students to work on the project during class, so they have to communicate with one another and work together to solve a problem. You are establishing a collaborative, cooperative classroom. The marshmallow toothpick challenge and aluminum foil boat challenge are engaging and inexpensive. You can adapt these challenges for any grade level too. For instance, using marshmallows, you can teach macromolecules. Using a foil boat, you can include properties of water or the physics behind the boat shape. The goal is to reinstate a classroom vibe where students are working, learning, and effectively communicating with one another and you. Google the topics if you aren't familiar with the challenges.
5. Student Reflection.
No matter what, reserve 5 minutes plus at the end of the class period for student reflection. Ideas for student reflection:
A. Team discusses answers to 2 open-ended questions.
B. Individuals write answers to 2-4 questions.
C. Independent quiz either formal or informal.
Your goal is to establish reflection as a norm in your classroom. You want your students to settle down and think about what they learned or accomplished with you that day. This will help them appreciate your class time and respect your class as an environment where learning and progression are occurring.
6. Time Everything.
Buy yourself a simple, beeping timer, and time all of your activities. Make a schedule that includes flex time. Make sure the timer beeps loudly because time will inevitably slip away when you get distracted. Give time warnings as well, so students stay motivated but not stressed. Your goal is to designate time and importance to every activity every hour. I find the timer extremely motivating. When you time your activities, you are also motivated to plan a class period full of changing activities versus teaching the same thing for 30-90 minutes. 90 minutes for me might look like
12 mins- Do Now (only takes 8 class minutes because time starts before students enter the room)
3 mins- flex time to discuss answers and clean up
10 mins- teacher explanation of a topic
3 mins- flex time to answer questions
15 mins- student activity
5 mins- project intro
25 mins- work on project
5 mins- flex time for clean up and questions
8 mins- student activity or finish any activities from the day student's weren't able to finish or correct.
8 mins- reflection
You need to follow your time schedule as closely as possible. I write the schedule on the board for my students excluding time and flex time activities, so they know exactly what is going to happen that day but I have the freedom to adjust the time allotment if needed. The fewer surprises, the better student participation. When the timer beeps, students know its times up. They will also understand very quickly that another timed segment of class will start, so they need to stay alert and "in the know". Notice I provide 8 minutes at the end of class for students to wrap up anything they didn't get to finish. You may or may not need this extra flex time, so plan a student activity if your kiddos don't need it.
Now you are armed with 6 techniques for pressing that restart button. Expect your student to resist for at most 2 weeks. I promise after 2 weeks your classroom will be running like a well-oiled STEM machine with very little discipline problems and lots of innovation, excitement, and motivation. The first day is going to be rough, so is the second, but by day 3 they will understand the expectation and will be eager to step into your classroom and see what's happening that day.