Life in the Classroom: Making Connections! (Guest Entry)

My guest blogger this week is Beth Polhemus. She is a 13-year veteran teaching middle school math. She is an inspiration as a mentor and friend. Beth has a way of making everything seem positive and upbeat, even on a bad day. I love her teaching style because she has a way of teaching Christ-like values to students that do not see them on a regular basis.


            My name is Beth, and I teach 8th grade math.  I’m pretty sure anyone who has gone through education courses in college has heard some variation of the same advice:  helping students learn is all about making connections.  But what comes to mind when we hear that phrase?  After 13 years of experience, I’ve learned there’s much more to be said for making connections than just the material I’m teaching.  In fact, I would say that this phrase has been a constant theme of some of the more successful moments in my career as an educator.  We can connect new material to prior skills, of course.  Along with that, though, we can connect concepts to student interests and experience.  We can make connections with our students on a personal level.  (“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”-John C. Maxwell)  We can find a network of support from our fellow teachers who we connect with regularly to share ideas.  And we certainly want to make connections with parents.  I try to incorporate all of these different connections regularly in my classroom.  I find it helps challenge me to find new ideas, and it also helps me realize when my own ideas are maybe not the best (WHAT??!!).  Below are some examples of how each type of connection has helped make my classroom a better, more comfortable place for students to learn.


Think about a time when you have learned something new.  It doesn’t have to be in the classroom.  Why is it that you were able to learn so much or so quickly?  Most likely, it’s because you had a genuine interest.  In my world of teenagers, most 13- and 14-year-olds are not naturally excited by math.  So, I have to be creative about helping them make connections.  This is something I still work on all the time.  One way I engage is by using fun activities to introduce a concept.  For example:  When we study scatter plots, functions, and independent and dependent data, I do a musical activity with the students.  They listen to 10 different songs and give them a rating from 1-10.  Then we talk about the ways that their graph represents a function because no songs were repeated, how it shows no relationship as a scatter plot because there was no pattern to their ratings, etc.  The kids get a kick out of making fun of my musical taste, but it also helps illustrate a point that is sometimes hard to visualize.  Another example is when studying transformations on the coordinate plane.  Most students have been to the eye doctor and understand the concept of getting their eyes dilated, and thus can understand that a dilation changes a shape by size.  Or, I take my student athletes by surprise.  When I talk about translations and rotations (slides and turns), I shock them with my basketball knowledge.  I compare a rotation to a pivot:  a legal move with the ball.  I demonstrate, and then I compare a translation to a walk/travel.  I am picking up my feet.  It makes sense to them!  I am always looking for little things to help make connections in their mind for math concepts to things that are familiar to them.  I have also been known to rap, sing songs, and even do the electric slide when teaching about slope.


Students want to feel valued and appreciated.  As a teacher, I cannot demand respect or earn respect without also giving it in return.  So, I take the idea of making sure my students feel important very seriously.  Every year, as most teachers do, I have my students fill out an All About Me sheet on the first day.  The difference is, I read every single one AND make notes.  Then, throughout the year, I have a Guess Who? Wall outside my room.  I randomly pick anywhere from 5 to 10 students and put their info up on the wall.  I have a jar where students can place their guesses for about a week (sometimes longer if I’m being honest—I do get behind!).  Then, I reveal the answers and do a drawing.  The first correct answer I draw from the jar gets a homework pass.  This lets my students know I really do pay attention to their interests, and it lets them be the center of attention for their classmates during their time on the Guess Who? Wall as well.  I will never forget the year I had a student write down what I thought was going to be a very questionable song choice as their favorite song.  I was reading my forms and as I ran across his, I had to look up the song and its lyrics.  It was actually a really interesting song!  During some down time in class the next day, I happened to mention it to him that I liked it, and he looked at me with the most shocked look on his face.  First it was shock, but then it turned into a smile.  Priceless!  I also do a theme for every day of the week in my classroom.  My favorite is Math Joke Monday.  I post a cheesy math joke for my students while they do their bellringer.  One year, I got a book from a coworker called “Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks.”  I started using jokes from it instead of ones I found online or made up myself.  I had a student that year who was having a pretty rough time personally, but she absolutely loved my jokes.  She asked for that book for Valentine’s Day from her parents, and emailed me a picture of herself with the book.  Her dad told me she never liked math until she had me as a teacher, and that he had only ever seen her love a gift as much as that book on two other occasions.  Now, every year, I can count on having at least one or two students submit their own jokes.  I also have a Thought for Tuesday, where I share quotes or inspirational videos.  One of my favorites is Kid President.  I hand out a piece of paper to my students after I show the video and it says “REMEMBER:  Love is louder than hate.  You are important.  I am glad you are here.”  At the bottom is a space for them to fill in the blank, “I can contribute to the world because ________.”  It is not unusual for things I give students to get lost, left behind, thrown out, etc., but this yellow slip of paper usually hangs around visible:  in their binder cover, in their phone cover, in their wallet.  They really do need to feel valued!


These days, there are plenty of mandated opportunities for connecting with our coworkers.  Faculty meetings, vertical meetings, workshops, PLC’s, PLT’s,…But the type of connection I’m speaking of takes effort.  Is it hard to make time at the end of a long day to go and talk to someone about their day?  YES.  But, it’s necessary.  If you see a coworker has had a hard day, go check in on them.  You would want the same when it’s you!  Or, if you are stuck on an idea or lesson, ask!  There are so many great resources in your own building, it’s a shame to try to do everything on your own.


Finally, this is a no-brainer.  In a perfect world, we would all have angels in our classrooms who never need behavior intervention and they always do their homework and study hard and make good grades because we have epic, amazing teaching skills.  But we all know this is not the case.  Parents, especially of middle schoolers, are at the point where they want to be involved, and also want to make sure their students are getting the level of academic success they need to tackle the high school years.  A weekly or bi-weekly e-mail of classroom news works wonders!  In addition, I keep a detailed website.  It has a calendar of homework and test dates, as well as a section where notes can be found if a student is absent.  This has helped with so many questions about assignments!  And, on a side note, contacting home early before there is a problem can make all the difference in the world.  One year when I was feeling particularly motivated, I managed to find time to either e-mail or call the parents of every single one of my students within the first 2-3 weeks of school to introduce myself, give them some basic info, and say something positive about their child.  Some of the parents almost broke down in tears as it was obvious that this was not something that happened on a regular basis.  I’m sure it was rewarding for them, but even more so for me.  It gave me a different viewpoint of my students, and it helped me to be less nervous for that day when I did have to call home with a concern.  I can’t say I have succeeded in contacting every parent every year, but, I do still try to periodically pick a few students about whom to send home some positive news.  It always makes an impact!

I will embark on my 14th year of teaching this year, and I am excited about connecting with a new principal, some new coworkers, and of course new students and parents.  The most important thing is that I never stop learning, and striving to make my classroom a better place.  And for that, I rely on one of the most important connections of all:  the Internet!  There are TONS of helpful articles from teachers sharing ideas.  May we all be enriched and ready to go this school year!


Are We Hurting or Helping Our Students? (Commentary Entry)

Ok..touchy subject up ahead. You have been warned.

IEP’s, 504’s….these are generally set in place to help out struggling students that need a little something extra to succeed in the classroom. I, personally do not have a problem with that scenario. What I do have a problem with is the fact that many school districts, in fear of lawsuits, want to make sure the students pass, NO MATTER WHAT! Meaning, the teachers are told, “Make sure these students do not fail.” This is a problem. Are we not supposed to help our students become successful productive citizens? Are we not supposed to make sure they know and pass (legitimately) the same standards as the general education students? Then why is it ok to pass them when they have clearly not mastered the standards? In my experience, it appears to be a numbers game with the administration and it’s frustrating to teachers, at least the good ones that care! This past school year, my partner had given every opportunity in the world to help her struggling students, many of them with IEP’s. However, these students already learned, by 6th grade mind you, that they could do whatever that wanted and STILL PASS! So, what is the point of my job? What is the proper solution here?

I don’t think it is right, or fair, to anyone involved. I feel if the administration had more backbone many parents/guardians would get on board. I understand that many parents are not home to help their student and this is one of the many reasons why I think we need to work smarter in helping them to master the standards instead of letting them “just pass.”

What are your thoughts?

What Would Be the Best Integration Process? (Discussion Entry)

I have always been technology-minded in my teaching career. I enjoy working with it as well as instructing others on how to use/implement it.  My ideal job would be a Technology Integration Specialist for my district.

My question is this…for those teachers that began teaching without using much technology, what could I do to help ease them into the integration process without it becoming so overwhelming I end up losing them?

Required Reading for the Upcoming School Year (List Entry)

In the upcoming school year, Decatur City Schools has partnered with A+ College and Career Ready to help move our students forward for today’s post secondary environments. Due to this partnership, the curriculum line-up has changed as well as what novels will be read. The following is a list of books that will be read during the school year in 8th grade English Language Arts. You may purchase one on your own or use a copy that I will supply.

The Myth: Alice was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook. The Truth: Wonderland is real. Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss? parents. To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears. But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Yet he gets the story all wrong. Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts. (

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a novella by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson first published in 1886. The work is commonly known today as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or simply Jekyll & Hyde.] It is about a London lawyer named Gabriel John Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the evil Edward Hyde. The novella’s impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the very phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next (

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister. (

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a romantic comedy by William Shakespeare, suggested by “The Knight’s Tale” from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written around 1594 to 1596. It portrays the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors, their interactions with the Duke and Duchess of Athens, Theseus and Hippolyta, and with the fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest. The play is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world. (

Resources for the ELA Classroom! (Links Entry)

Since I have been a student at Boise State University and have been a part of the Educational Technology program I have been introduced to many different resources. There were a few I knew about but was not sure how to implement and others are completely brand new to me. So, for this blog entry, I would like to share with you a few resources I have found useful in teaching English Language Arts (6th grade).


Powtoons is a more energized tool to replace MS PowerPoint. It allows students to create movie-like presentations using animation, sound, or their own voice-overs.


Storyjumper is a tool I used when we studied autobiographies. I created a lesson where the students wrote their own. This website is free for creation but also allows for the parents to have publishing options.


CoolToolsforSchools is a resource I use that provides a one-stop for the many different types of Web 2.0 tools.

321 Free Tools for Teachers

This article is dated from 2013, but many of the tools still can be used or modified for today’s classroom.

Ice Breakers 

This website gives a few ideas on using mobile devices with Ice Breakers.

101 Web 2.0 Tools

This site provides more Web 2.0 tools to review for your classroom.

Teachers Pay Teachers

Teachers Pay Teachers is my go-to site when I need a lesson to help fill in a gap, or if I need something to help with my slower/faster learners. I love Teachers Pay Teachers!

So, as you can see there are many different types of tools that can be implemented or modified to help move your classroom to the 21st Century!

Introduction for EdTech 537

Hello! My name is Jaci (pronounced Jackie) Prance and I live in Decatur, AL.  I am currently working on my M.E.T degree from BSU and I hope to finish up this December (2017).  I will also be earning the certificate for Technology Integration Specialist.

In my teaching career, I just completed my fifth year teaching public school and my seventh year of teaching.  My undergraduate degree was earned at the University of North Alabama in Florence, AL. I am certified to teach Business/Marketing and English Language Arts 6-12.

This reason I signed up to take this course is that I have always felt it could be a useful tool for the classroom. I while ago I was involved in a PD session and part of it spoke about how blogs were being used. Even though I have always wanted to start a blog, I was never sure about how to actually implement it into my classrooms. This is why I chose to take this class, so I can discover the many different options and determine what would work best for me and students.

In my spare time (ha ha) I like to read, mainly romance novels but I am learning to appreciate other genres. I also have a great family (hubs and two kids,, 13 & 9) that keep me busy. During the summer we are either at Point Mallard Water Park, home of the 1st wave pool in the U.S., or we are in someone else’s pool!  lol

EdTech 533 YouTube for Educators Reflection

YouTube for Educators is an elective course I chose to take to meet the requirements for the MET program at Boise State University.  This course proved to be more challenging than I ever thought it would have been. I learn a lot and plan to implement as much as possible into my classrooms!  The following is my reflection on the course that I submitted as part of my final grade for the course. At the end is a link to my YouTube channel where my artifacts from this course can be found.

As the fall 2016 semester ends, I think back to what I have learned and gained from my EdTech 533 YouTube for Educators course. Overall, I loved this class and would not mind taking another one if possible. Dr. Snelson made it easy to follow in Moodle by having due dates stated in easy to find locations and by providing guidebooks for every lesson. For me, the guidebooks are what helped me get through this course. With the inclusion of video tutorials and step-by-step instructions Dr. Snelson was highly methodically in providing everything a student will need and/or encounter in the course.

In the final essay, the class was asked to answer a few questions. Here are the questions with my answers:

  • What were the three most important things I learned this semester?

The three most important things I learned this semester were:

Copy Rights – learning about how important it is to obey copyright laws in creating videos and how to find a license to determine if I could reuse it was one of the most beneficial things I will take away from this class. I have already begun incorporating it into my current classroom.

Video Captions – an educator I need to make sure that all of my students have the same opportunity to be able to understand and learn from any and all methods I use in my class. Providing captions is just a small thing to add to all videos to help ensure I reach each and every student.

Creating a playlist in YouTube – I absolutely love how I can find videos for a certain subject or lesson and curate them into a file that will house them together. I have already used this option several times in my current classroom.  In teaching Language Arts I can find videos for all parts of speeches, on fiction and nonfiction information, elements of a plot, etc. and share the list with my students as supplemental material or use them in class!

  • Has my opinion of YouTube in education changed or remained the same? Describe three or more specific examples.

The short answer to this question is Yes! Before this class, I could “kinda” see the relevance of YouTube, but due to some content not being suitable for some students I was highly hesitant to use. My opinion has changed because I can see how I can actually incorporate it into my classroom. A couple of examples would be to create a page for each class. This would create a space for the students to be able to upload their creations throughout the year in one location. Students would then be able to use a shareable link to possibly distribute to a bigger audience. Another example would be to pick out a video and stop it before it ends and have the students create a new ending based off of what was previously shown. A final example would be to use YouTube to compare and contrast two different dragon videos or to pick out traits of the characters.

  • What have I learned about media literacy and how will that information impact me as an educator? In your response, discuss three or more core competencies of media literacy: access, analyze, evaluate, reflect, or act.

What I have learned about media literacy is allowing for options in a classroom is key. In providing access to many types of media, the students can then analyze each option to determine what would work best for them. By giving the students the responsibility of evaluating the media it provides them the opportunity to think in a critical manner to help themselves be prosperous. Developing critical thinking skills in using all types of media is essential to being college and career ready.

  • In what specific ways will I use the projects, skills, or ideas from this course in my teaching or training? (If not currently a teacher how might you use what you have learned?)

I will be utilizing what I have learned in this course in many ways. I have already incorporated the short-form educational video in my classroom. My students recently had a biography project where they had to complete research on an author of their choice and then create a presentation on them. Many of my honor students chose to use Powtoons because of the animation ability it provided. I can absolutely see how my skills I gained with the mini documentary will and should come into play. Stressing the importance of being a good digital citizen by checking copyright licenses and practicing safe use strategies alone will be most beneficial to them.

I would like to incorporate the use of a Vlog, whether by me, in the form if a daily or weekly newsletter-like item, or by my students where they have to keep a vlog about their daily or weekly assignments (I am thinking more along the lines of a video journal). This will help accomplish many underlining items such as confidence in front of a camera and speaking and enunciating clearly.

Our media literacy assignment gave me several ideas on how to get my students to think in a more synthesized manner. By thinking outside the box I could use videos to help teach such things as characterization by having them identify indirect and direct from an excerpt from a movie; elements of a plot, have them fill in a plot diagram identifying where the different elements take place in a short video, and compare and contrast internal and external conflict.

  • Select at least three of the projects you created this semester and read the description of the related AECT standard. Then answer this question: How do these projects demonstrate my mastery of the AECT standards?

The mini-documentary and short-form educational video demonstrates my mastery of the AECT Standard 3 in Ethics because we had to provide attributions on items such as video footage, pictures, or text we did not create ourselves.  It showed how plagiarism can be very easy in video creation if one does not take the time to take the proper channels in ensuring sources were cited correctly.

Vlog with captions demonstrates my mastery of the AECT Standard 3 in Diversity of Learners because it was created with a certain level of students (6th graders) in mind and that was intended to be able to reach the many different ways a student can learn. It is an excellent method to use for those learners that are more visual and hands-on ordinated.

The media literacy assignment demonstrates my mastery of the AECT Standard 4 in Assessing/Evaluating because I had evaluated videos that would fit into my topic of study. In evaluating the videos I had to keep in mind my topic and key points I wanted to convey to my students but I also needed to keep my target audience in mind. Meaning, I needed to find videos that would keep my students focused whether it was through animation and/or music and pertained the correct content.

My EdTech 533 YouTube Channel

Sylvia Plath mini-documentary