As the school year starts winding down, so too can our spirits plummet with the ever-growing deadlines and the unavoidable, state testing! If you feel burdened right now, you are in good company–insert bummed out face emoji. There is so much pressure for you to perform, for your students to test well and show growth, and for you, TEACHER, to maintain high-interest level, engaging teaching. And if we are feeling pressure, chances are high our students are, too.
So what do you love that is G rated? How can you use it in the classroom to keep everyone energized, especially you, TEACHER?
I love baseball! More than baseball, I love the KC Royals! I grew up watching George Brett play at Kauffman Stadium, and now I watch my team on my MLB package (it’s always my favorite Mother’s Day gift)! Spring Training, Opening Day, practice drills, coaching, All Stars; these themes go perfectly with gearing up for state tests, setting goals, reviewing weak areas, gaining confidence, and building team spirit. It blows the doors wide open for academic and social emotional learning in an environment full of fun! Yes, FUN! Just because it’s the most serious part of the year does not mean we should all be walking around with slumped shoulders! We need to combat this with FUN!
Don’t get me wrong, fun doesn’t mean fluff, but creating a new little world inside of your regular classroom can help make the challenges feel less challenging and more…joyous? Yes! Joyous! I turned my classroom into a baseball diamond. I borrowed bases from my colleague in Physical Education, and turned the tables around in more of a baseball diamond shape. I modified the rules of baseball so that none of my students would be sitting without practice. I call my games “Decimal Baseball” when reviewing decimal place value, multiplication, and division. I am calling my language arts session “Comprehension Catch!” I made up a chant! I yell, “We play” and the students yell back, “To Win!” Then I yell, “We win!” and they respond, “When we grow!” We practice till it’s perfect! Students who have mastered the skills we are practicing become the pitchers & base coaches. I have a student who is the umpire, making sure everyone is “safe” or “out!” Another student leads cheers! Every batter gets three chances, and I’m there to help the struggling students. Even my most shy students are excited for their turn to bat. We have a space reserved for players “on deck” so the game keeps going. Students have a practice page or dry erase board to show work. The energy is high, and I’m losing my voice from cheering!
The students are divided into two teams, the Unicorns and Ninjas–they made up the names. I wear my Bo Jackson KC Royals jersey, my KC Royals hat and a whistle. I know I’m in Texas Rangers territory (the other teachers always remind me of this), but my love for the Royals can’t be squelched because I no longer live in Missouri. Students now call me “Coach Mac” and when they try to quit or sass me, they drop and give me 20! This creates laughter! While a batter is working on a problem, or the pitcher is thinking of a question, we do the wave, special claps, or cheers. All the things I learned as a kid playing softball. I’m not especially creative or rich, but these moments are priceless. Oh, there is a scoreboard, and there is a roster!
Everyone has a number and nickname. Some parents dropped off concession items in the way of chips and water bottles. My students are out of their seats! They’re cheering for each other! They’re asking for help. And many times, I’m just the facilitator aka “Coach”.
It’s been a fun first week with my “All STAARS” (in Texas, the state test is called “STAAR”), and I’m looking forward to next week, too. We even call our state test the “All STAAR Championship” and our goal is to show growth! We don’t talk about passing or failing. Our competition is our last year’s selves and we want to show how much we’ve grown this past year. I’m teaching my kids to learn to change their mindset so they don’t dread what’s coming next.
How can you make this last stretch of school the greatest yet? Doesn’t that sound better than just surviving the last two to three months? If we feel energized and positive, we give our students a hope that they can be confident and happy even while facing the testing giant. I didn’t spend any money on changing my environment. Everything I’m using I already had, so don’t let a paycheck hold you back!! And I’ve never been super artsy/creative, so that’s why it’s my passion that leads the way for the magic. I’m more in tune with my students. Through written reflections this past month, I learned what they were hoping to have these last eleven weeks of school, and I’m doing my best to make as many of those things happen.
I would love to hear how other educators are thriving in the hardest part of the home stretch! Please share your ideas because we can really help each other!