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Write your own rules

I decided to turn the tables on my 8th grade students this year.  Instead of reading to them the rules of my room, I told them the job was theirs.  You should have seen their faces!

As you know, safety in the classroom is most important for me.  In fact, rule number one has always been: this is a safe space.

But, as I began to think about the annual first-week-of-school routine of reading the rules and practicing class routines, I wondered how safe students felt.  Consider the jolt that is back-to-school (routine, uniform, new material, new teachers, etc., etc.).  Add to that a catalog of rules specific to each class/teacher/cafeteria, and safety isn’t the word I’d use to describe that.

I thought about another belief I have about children: they always rise to the occasion.  Give them responsibility and they will do a good job.  Treat them like they are mature and they will respond maturely.

To begin my relationship with my students with the expectation that they didn’t intuitively know how to behave and how to prioritize their education, would not provide a safe opportunity for them to showcase their maturity. 

So, I changed my strategy.  I had my students write their own rules.

Guess what?  They out-did anything I could have come up with:

Our Principles

1. Keep it loyal & honest; be trustworthy

We are teammates, family and friends.  We show our loyalty and commitment to one another by being honest.  We work honestly, speak truthfully and act loyally.

2. Be responsible

Being responsible means being prepared for class and doing your homework.  It means leaving a place cleaner than you found it.  It means taking responsibility for your learning and asking for help when you need it.  If something comes up we take responsibility and discuss those circumstances with the teacher.

We know there are no excuses in the game of life.

3. Be relentless

Never give up.  Never give up.  Never give up.

4. Be self-critical

At the end of the day the winner will be the one who was the most self-critical.  Who identified his own weaknesses and every opportunity for improvement.  The winner will be the one who didn’t stop working until all of those weaknesses were strengths and until each of his skills improved.

There’s always room for improvement.

5. Respect one another.

Respect is the foundation of good relationships.  Without good relationships with one another we won’t be able to get through the difficult challenges we will face in 8th grade and beyond.  We respect the chance to learn each day.  We respect one another’s needs, ideas, questions, words and space.  We listen when others speak.  We encourage.

We respect these principles.

If you are interested in having your students write their own rules, sign up for my email subscription.  I’ll be sending out the lesson plan this week.  And, in case you are wondering, yes, it’s CCSS-alinged :)



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Lesson Plan: Growth Mindset

Students love to learn about themselves.  In this lesson students peer into their brains to better understand its incredible capacity to keep learning.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D.’s research has challenged the beliefs of many that there are limits to learning, ability and expertise.  Dweck’s reserach shows us that the brain is not static, it can grow and learn continually.  More importantly, her research shows how empowering it is for students to believe in their ability to grow their brains.

This lesson and its resources will help you introduce your students to their brains and its incredible abilities.

The Lesson Plan: Growth Mindset Lesson Plan

Materials you’ll need:

Let me know how it goes!



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Lesson Plan: Does Meditation Make us Happier?

To continue the exploration of the role meditation can play in attaining happier, fuller lives, today I have a lesson plan which puts students in the role of both subject and scientist.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” 

Today, the students get involved.

This lesson is a randomly controlled experiment which uses qualitative and quantitative data to answer the question: Does meditation make us happier?

Divide the class into three groups:

  • An open meditation group (OM)
  • A focused attention group (FA)
  • A control group (C)

The OM group will practice mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness is generally understood as focusing on the present moment.  It emphasizes stillness of mind and eliminating concerns about future and past events.  OM students should be coached to focus on breathing and clearing their heads.

The FA group will practice focused meditation.  They will choose an idea, thought or goal and will spend their meditation period emphasizing that one idea in their mind.  FA students should be coached on visualization techniques centered around their chosen thought or goal.

The control group is so important and integral to the value of any experiment.  These students may not feel as though they are doing anything, because they are asked to carry on as they normally would.  In other words, they will deliberately not meditate.  Explain to these guys that without them the study can’t happen!

All groups will collect data.  Students will be given these mood trackers akin to a punch card at a coffee shop.  They should track their mood – happy vs. sad – at integrals predetermined by you (for example: when they wake up and when they go to bed).  These cards represent qualitative data.

Meanwhile, they will collect quantitative data by measuring their blood pressure.  Work with your students to teach them how to take their blood pressure and decide as a class when the most informative time for measurement would be (hint: align this with post-meditation sessions for maximum effect).

This lesson is ripe for teaching the power of comparing different types of data, discussing the importance and necessity of having control subjects, and for practicing techniques for taking longitudinal data.  I recommend a week of data collection.  From there, graphing can be practiced and students can analyze data sets and outliers.

For younger kiddos, the qualitative data cards can serve as an excellent introduction to measuring and can initiate self-exploration of feelings and how they change based on what we are doing.  Additionally, here are suggestions from Edutopia on establishing a routine for quiet time.

Full lesson plan: Does meditation make us happier?

Have fun.  Good luck!


– AK



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A quick trick to promote fluency

In order to truly incorporate a new word into your vocabulary, you must encounter it twenty times.  And, not just any twenty, twenty iterations in context.  To fluently use a word you must witness it used fluently.  (No, flash cards won’t help!)

Many vocabulary terms students will have come from historical references or literature.  These are great sources because they provide the first encounter with the word in context.  However, it can be very difficult to provide a subsequent 19 exposures to the word in context.  A few years ago I shadowed a teacher who had figured out a brilliant solution.

This teacher had provided her English class with a list of vocabulary terms which were sourced from the text they were reading.  From there, she did something different.
She offered students two bonus points for using the words during class discussions.  An unaware bystander, I realized this only after hearing a student comment in class.  When she casually slipped a vocabulary term into her answer, her classmates raised two fingers.  This was the signal that she had earned her two points.  Her classmates were excited for her.

This quick trick is brilliant for a few reasons:

  1. It encourages students to use new words in context.
  2. It encourages classmates to listen for new words used in context by their classmates, which provides them a chance to get closer to 20 exposures.
  3. It is an alternate assessment strategy for students who may struggle with traditional vocabulary testing.
  4. It’s fun.

In our case, it gets even better.  Using vocabulary terms that describe how we feel makes us vulnerable.  By providing incentive for the use of these words – by offering points for their usage – teachers can take a little of that vulnerability away.


– AK


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