Cramming It All In {w/ iTeachSTEM}

With growing class sizes, challenging standards, and increasing demands on our time, it's necessary to be a master of manipulating time. Cramming learning into every possible activity.
Teachers are experts at fitting a TON of content into every little minute of the day. We have to be. With growing class sizes, challenging standards, and increasing demands on our time, it's necessary to be a master of manipulating time. Cramming learning into every possible activity.

With that being said, I will admit. I struggle BIG TIME with this. I have sooooooooo many awesome ideas. I have sooooooooooo little time to teach each class. This leads to soooooooooooo much rushing throughout the day. My poor fifth graders hear me say, "We have so much to do and not enough time to do it!" almost every single day.
With growing class sizes, challenging standards, and increasing demands on our time, it's necessary to be a master of manipulating time. Cramming learning into every possible activity.
So what can a teacher do?
How can we compete with the increasing demands on our time without giving up what really matters? Teaching our students. Not just the content standards, but how to be responsible. Kind. Courageous. Honest. Caring. Adventurous. Trusting. Wise. Careful. The list really goes on and on and on.

I've found that the best way to squeeze more time out of the day is to be sure to set up specific routines early in the year. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I swear that as a new teacher ten years ago I had no CLUE how important this was. I actually assumed my 10-year-old students would kind of figure it out. HA!

Over the years I have tried so many strategies. And let's face it - there is NOT a one size fits all answer. As a fifth grade teacher who is responsible for instructing four class periods each day as well as lunch, recess, specials, assemblies, etc. I have had to be creative with my time. Here are three ways I have found to help "cram it all in" each day.

I know that a lot of teachers swear by "morning work" and I can totally see how this would be an awesome use of time. However, at my school students are provided with breakfast to eat in the classroom each morning and some students don't arrive until a few minutes before the bell rings. Also, since I only have my homeroom class for those 15-20 minutes, my other three classes would miss out on that morning work time - especially since I would want to use class time to review what had been done.
With growing class sizes, challenging standards, and increasing demands on our time, it's necessary to be a master of manipulating time. Cramming learning into every possible activity.
Since my schedule runs more like a middle school, with students rotating every 70 minutes, I find that doing a quick bell-ringer type activity works much better. Students are trained to answer various types of questions on their white boards (quickly) and flash their answers on my signal. This is a great way to start class since it gives students a moment to get organized and join in as soon as they are ready. It also allows me to assess their understanding of the subject matter before jumping into the lesson. (I kinda love that one student also wrote "Mrs. Coker is awesome" on her board.)
This year, a new law was passed in Tennessee. Students MUST be given a certain number of minutes of physical activity per day. Recess and PE are great, but we needed to add a bit more into each day. As a teacher who already struggles to "fit it all in", I wasn't too sure how I would be able to include more free movement each day. Don't get me wrong, I know the importance of physical activity and even agree with the idea of adding an extra recess each day. But HOW could I give up precious instructional time without falling behind quickly?
With growing class sizes, challenging standards, and increasing demands on our time, it's necessary to be a master of manipulating time. Cramming learning into every possible activity.
I decided to do some brain breaks throughout my lessons - especially on days when they are more "lecture intensive" and students are required to listen and take notes for the majority of the class. And you know what? I haven't been running out of time! Students seem to be better able to focus after a quick break. I still get through my lessons. And I am in compliance with the new law. Win-win-win!

If you teach older students like I do, you're probably thinking that so many of those cute little brain breaks all over Pinterest just wouldn't get your kiddos up and excited. Yeah. You're right. I tried a few and they flopped. Mostly my students wanted a chance to talk, walk about, giggle a bit, and stretch. But if I just gave them "free time" I would likely never get them refocused. So I use a lot of science "rap" songs from YouTube during my lessons. Students are allowed to dance, sing, or tap out a beat while the song is playing. BUT, when it finishes, they are responsible for answering some questions related to the content of the song. I love this compromise. If you teach science, feel free to check out this Pinterest board where I collect my favorite science (and a few math) songs.

Some days I just don't have a good song, so I grab my stack of brain break cards and challenge the students to something silly like writing their names on the air using the end of their nose. Not only does this get the kids laughing and relaxed, but it's so much fun watching them. (Teachers need a quick brain break too!)
With growing class sizes, challenging standards, and increasing demands on our time, it's necessary to be a master of manipulating time. Cramming learning into every possible activity.
If you're interested, check out my Brain Breaks for Bigger Kids on TpT. Or click on the picture above.
I used to dread "the timer" as a kid. My parents would set the kitchen timer when I refused to finish my dinner. (Sweet and sour chicken - the worst!) I would watch the timer count down while I tried to swallow one bite at a time. Somehow I would manage to get finished eating before the timer rang.
With growing class sizes, challenging standards, and increasing demands on our time, it's necessary to be a master of manipulating time. Cramming learning into every possible activity.
Now I LOVE my timer. I use it as much for me as for the kids. Let's face it. I get so caught up in an activity that I tend to lose complete track of time. I have been known to forget to take my students to lunch on occasion. Yikes! It's also a great way to teach students to budget their time wisely. As a teacher in the upper grades, I am stuck preparing students for those dreaded end-of-the-year standardized tests. Those tests are timed. And I'm not allowed to tell them to hurry up during the tests. So if I train them to be aware of the time and how much is remaining, I believe they will be better prepared for a timed assessment.

One of my teaching partners ordered this timer for everyone on our team a couple years ago, and I ADORE it. It's simple to use and very visual for kids. I display it on my document camera when I give my students a set amount of time to complete a task or exam.
With growing class sizes, challenging standards, and increasing demands on our time, it's necessary to be a master of manipulating time. Cramming learning into every possible activity.
Students have a very visual cue as to how much time is remaining. I still remind them when time is almost up, but this allows them to be a bit more independent. And saves me rushing students to lunch ten minutes late just because I was having too much fun discussing the process of photosynthesis.

We have a saying at our school:
"Every second, every minute, every hour of every day for every Pirate."
How do YOU make every bit of the school day count for YOUR students?

www.iteachstem.com

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