448050911201448 Tips for Setting the Tone during Hectic Holidays- Middle School | Polka Dots and Protons - Interactive Science Notebooks & More

My goal is to make interactive science notebooks engaging for 5th grade and middle school science students while improving science test scores. NGSS expert, teacher, tpt author, mom, & widow

Tips for Setting the Tone during Hectic Holidays- Middle School

I love teaching and I love holidays but...I don't love teaching during or on holidays. I'm not the Grinch I promise. I am learning how to make it work and this year I had a great day on Fri., Dec. 21. I can't believe we were still in school that late. It is really hard as a mom to be working that late in the month. I will include all of the reasons it is hard later in the post, but first I want to give tips I learned that made Fri., Dec. 21 a great day in spite of my fierce desire to be home enjoying the time before Christmas. These notes and experiences are from my day with 6th grade science classes.

Tip 1: Set the Tone

I really, really, really wanted to be at home having a Norman Rockwell like time preparing for Christmas. Cookies baking, candle burning, cozy fire... I'm sure you can picture the scene.

This wasn't to be. Presents aren't wrapped. Candy for stockings hasn't been bought. The neighbors haven't received homemade treats. Meals aren't planned. I could go on and on about what still needs to be done. So, I'm at work with the students I love who are super antsy for their Christmas break. I want it calm and Christmasy and can't handle another day of kids sucking on candy canes bouncing in their seats. I...just...can't!

My husband suggested the Netflix crackling fire. I could do this! I also turned off half of the lights and put on one of my favorite Christmas songs ("Where Are You Christmas?" from the Grinch, sung by Faith Hill). (I mean, "Where ARE YOU Christmas???!!! I'm at work!)

Fire going- check. Lights low- check. Great song on- check.

I met the students at the door and let them know we are having a cozy day like we were already at home. I asked them to please come in quietly. One group did but my second group didn't. (I sent my 2nd period class back out to try it again. I'm like that.)

Tip 2: Make it Enjoyable for You

Playing my favorite Christmas songs helps me get through the day and keeps me happy. I played songs from the Grinch, Amy Grant's "I Need a Silent Night," and songs by the Trans Siberian Orchestra. Happy teacher = Happy classroom

Tip 3: Character Building

This tip goes hand in hand with setting the tone. I also set the tone by telling my students about my 19 year old son's recent email from Ubay, Philippines. Feel free to share this picture and story.

Cool thought of the week:
This is just a thought I had and I want to share it with you guys just cause I guess it helped me and it might help you.
This week was really humbling. 
While watching children playing with stones or trash as toys, I realized that I've taken a lot of things for granted. There's kids here in Ubay that play with trash because they have no other toys; their houses have no beds, just a bamboo floor, sometimes just dirt; they never have enough clothes, so the government provides uniforms so they have nice clothes for school; and they never have enough food. Yet somehow the families here are happy.
I remember getting a telescope awhile ago for Christmas. It was awesome, but after a couple months it sat on the shelf. The telescope wasn't alone in it's solitary confinement, there were a lot of things I wanted 'so bad' but after I got it, I set my sights on something else. It never was enough.
I remember trying to convince my parents that they should sell the Xterra and buy a different car because I wanted to look cooler at school. If a family here has a car, they're upper class.
I don't regret always wanting more, I just regret not being thankful for what I had. I guess it's just too bad it took me a few months in a jungle island in the Philippines to realize it.
Thanks mom and dad for all the stuff I took for granted.
Anyway, it was an awesome week.
Looking forward to Christmas!
See you later,
Elder Priest

We then had a great class discussion on how much we like presents but what really matters. Students shared kind things their families have done to help others. We talked about how kindness can be a smile or inviting someone to play with you or eat lunch with you.

Another great way to set the tone and encourage good character is through a story. A Christmas story I like to share is the Christmas truce or World War I. Here is a link to a picture book called Silent Night, Holy Night. My copy has a CD with the book read by Walter Cronkite. 

Tip 4: Food Does Not Always Equal Fun

Food is messy so less is more. For 30 kids, 2 bags of chips, 1-2 two liter bottles of soda, some cookies and donut holes and that is plenty. I do a big reminder of clean up after yourself and only take one until everyone has had some. Those who brought items get to eat first.

Maintenance is happy to bring a large trash bag since our extra trash won't fit in our little classroom trash cans. I hang the bag on a drawer. Remember that less is sometimes better. Check with other teachers if you teach middle school to see if others are having a party. Students don't need multiple periods with junk food. They think they do, but they don't. One of my classes had a party in another period so we skipped the food. The other didn't so we had some treats.

Tip 5: Keep Them Engaged (probably not a movie)

Movies can be great. I students are watching a movie in another period, it will be hard to keep them engaged for another movie. I had a back of plan of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas or Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas (Gift of the Magi). No back up plan was needed but it is always good to have one.

Instead, we had a science party. This sounds complicated, but it isn't. I teach 2-6 science so my students have been doing these for years. (In 2-5, classes can earn points. The 2 classes with the most points at the end of the trimester get a science party.)

What is a science party you ask? It is where I put items out on each table for students to use/explore. I have six tables in class that each have six chairs. I can put out different items depending on the class's interests. Here is a sample of what I put out:
Table 1: Ozobots, scratch paper, and markers
Tables 2 & 3: Six computers and head phones at each table for coding on Code.org. We did Dance Party. Click Here. Students had to be on Code.org.
Table 4: Drawing- white paper, markers, and colored pencils
Table 5: Snap Circuit electricity kits
Table 6: Digital microscopes, shells, and rocks

Other items I have put out in the past are: Squishy Circuits and Play Dough, my best science books, and magnet sets

Rules for the Science Party: No running and you must be sitting in a chair. You can change what you are doing at any time, just clean up first.

It was so wonderful to see the students engaged in exploring and I was happy with my "fire" and favorite Christmas songs. I left plenty of time to have the students completely clean up, wipe down tables, and put up chairs. They loved it so much, many of them (6th graders) thanked me on their way out. Yes, preteens actually thanked me. Now, I could head home for that Norman Rockwell Christmas.