Sunday, November 22, 2015

Student Researchers

Dear Readers,

I have been asked about my implementation of an extremely modified "Genius Hour". I decided to make it my blog topic this week! I hope you enjoy!

Getting Started

My journey started over the summer when I read Pure Genius by Don Wettrick. 

It opened my mind to the idea of giving students freedom to research their interests and what is important to them. I spent the summer engaging in chats and gathering as much information as possible about this innovative concept! A huge thank you to @JoyKirr and @JayBilly2 for their amazing help and resources. Their encouragement and support really inspired me to jump in and try it.

Student Interest Surveys

My first step was to distribute student interest surveys. In Colleen Cruz's book, The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, she has a section regarding pop culture interest surveys. I included questions pertaining to social media, music, movies, etc. in addition to the "traditional" questions usually asked about school, reading and writing. It allowed me to see the whole child, not just academically, but socially as well. Thank you Colleen for the idea!

Gathering Materials

My next step was gathering informational texts and resources on a variety of topics based on the student interest surveys I had distributed. I went to the local library and checked out books on any topic imaginable from sports to gaming to Star Wars to science to history. 

First Class

Joy Kirr gave me the idea to start with a read aloud. She recommended the following book. It was a fantastic, quick, 5 minute share that "jump started" students' thinking. 

I then gave the students an entire class period (40 minutes) to browse the materials and jot down notes. (They have notebooks and folders dedicated to this learning time.) The level of student engagement was incredible. They spent the entire 40 minutes engrossed in reading and writing. It was a memorable class. The power of choice.

Second Class

As we moved into the next class, I wanted the students to start gathering and sharing ideas. I still allowed them to browse resources, but this time we started formulating questions on chart paper. 

Afterwards, I did some reflecting as a teacher as I read over their questions. A few generalizations I realized were some of them were:
  • personal opinions and could not be researched
  • extremely broad
  • could be answered with a yes or no
  • could be revised and modified to be research based questions  

Just a few areas of interest were: Star Wars, oceans, astronomy, turf fields, NFL team selection process, foster care system, etc.

Third Class

The students watched a video and then submitted a proposal to me. (This is taken from the document I created, it is very modified, the original document had guiding questions and "hints".)
  • “The Time You Have in Jellybeans”. (Link:   
  • After watching the video, I want you to brainstorm some topics that you love and others that really bother you. You may complete this in the chart below. You need 3 ideas in each column.
  • Write down the question you would like to research! The sky's the limit.
Where are we now?

Due to modified schedules, vacation days, etc. we have had to take a mini-break from our research time. However, I am planning on re-implementing it in December.

Benefits of Implementing this Time

I am excited to revisit the questions students had submitted to me. The process has allowed me to build relationships and rapport with my students that otherwise may not have happened. It has allowed me to get to know them in a different way than purely academic. 

It has also provided me the opportunity to gather evidence of students' comfort level and background knowledge in formulating research questions that are meaningful to them and their lives. If we are creating risk-takers, problem-solvers, innovators and future world collaborators, they need to have the skills and strategies necessary to question, research, present and challenge ideas, problems and solutions. 

The best part? It does not feel like something "extra". It seamlessly complemented our first unit and will continue to for the remainder of the year.

I look forward to continuing the journey with them!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Letter of Appreciation to My Students

Dear Readers,

Early last week, someone shared some devastating news with me. It made me reflect on life and how anything can change in a moment's notice. I had been dropping anchors for approximately two weeks and received tremendously, positive feedback from my students. 

As a result, I wrote this letter to my 8th grade Language & Literature Class. I wanted to express my appreciation and respect for them, not only as my students, but as individuals who will grow up to be tomorrow's leaders, innovators, problem solvers, etc.

Sadly, just five days after writing this letter, the tragedy in Paris occurred.  It has made me once again realize how important communication with those around us is. Tell your students and/or staff how important they are, how much you appreciate them and what they bring to your life. We never know what tomorrow may bring so we must cherish today.


Letter to my Students 

Dear 8th Graders,

I wanted to take a moment to tell you that I appreciate each and every one of you.

  • You make me laugh.
  • You brighten my days.
  • You teach me something new almost every day.
  • You have wonderful ideas.
  • You all have your own unique gifts and talents that make you YOU.
  • You can grow up to be ANYTHING you want to be. Reach for the stars!

It is a joy being your teacher!

Ms. Gross
Full Red Gerber Daisy | Flickr

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Making Memorable Moments in Middle School 

Dear Readers,

Ever since I read Dave Burgess' Teach Like  a Pirate, I have thought about how to create experiences for students. As I go through my daily routine that question is always at the front of my mind. Here are some (hopefully) memorable moments I have helped create for students. Enjoy!


As I stood and watched the students pile 1,000 socks into the corner of the library, the thought crossed my mind to jump into them, just like a pile of crunchy fall leaves.....they were calling me. I waited until they had a nice tall pile and did exactly that. I dove into the pile of socks and flailing my arms sent them flying everyone. The looks of the students' faces was priceless. I doubt they will forget that moment. (I did help them pick up the socks.)

Ghosts at Ms. Gross' Classroom Door

It was 10th period, the bell was about to ring and I hear knocking at my classroom door. The students who had stayed after with me just looked at me and I knew it was two of my 8th graders. I decided to play a little trick on them. I quietly went through the storage room that connects my room to the one next door and walked out so I was behind them in the hallway. Let's just say, when they turned around and saw me, absolute comedy! The look of surprise was priceless! 

Bubble Wrap Fun

Who doesn't love popping bubble wrap? Beth Hauf introduced me to the idea of using The Book of Awesome for read aloud. Who can read about the fun of popping bubble wrap and NOT be able to do it? My students (and I) enjoyed the selection....... and the bubble wrap.

LEAD like a Pirate

Shelly Burgess and Beth Hauf have helped me take my "compliment cards" to an entirely new level. I started taking their LEAD LAP challenges for administrators and it has become part of my day. I even carry a clipboard with templates in case I see something really outstanding! I started with the "A" challenge and dropped them to all my 8th grade language and literacy students. Then I took the idea to my homebase. One student exclaimed, "Thanks! Ms. Gross." when she saw what it was. Moving into week two I took on the "N" challenge. I dropped them to my 8th grade Language and Literature class while they were working on their journalism writing. It was an excellent and DIFFERENT way of giving feedback. One students excitedly said when she found one on her desk, "Is this one of those anchors?" In hearing about the "C" challenge I can happily say I do this every day. Thank you Shelly and Beth for encouraging me to "step up my game"!

These are just a few of the amazing moments I have had over the past few weeks. Thank you to my PLN for pushing me to think outside the box and try news things. Thank you to my students for making my job so enjoyable.