Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie

The Pedagogy of a Rural Educator


Twitter: A Terrific Tool for Teachers

In about a week I will be presenting at the South Dakota Science & Math Teacher’s Joint Conference. It is a great conference that I attend every year. This will be my first year presenting. After discovering the abundance of professional resources available on Twitter, I decided that I needed to share the great things I had found. I will be using this Haiku Deck to present, as well as some audience participation. I guess since you’ve been following my blog, you get a sneak peek! Enjoy!


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Make-Up Work: An Organizing Technique

“When the kids are away the teachers will play!” Wait, is that how that saying goes? As a teacher, I would disagree!! When students are gone, it makes it very difficult for teachers to stay up-to-date with them. It can sometimes be very challenging to keep up with who is gone, when, why, and what they need to do for make-up work. Many schools have a system in place, like make-up slips, that must be filled out by each teacher, and then returned to the office. This helps the student stay organized, but I usually forget who gave me one, what I wrote down, when it’s due, etc. So, I came up with my own organizational technique for make-up work.

If you haven’t started using Google Drive, you should! I love the numerous applications that it has! I won’t go into a lot about it today, but I’ll post about them some other day! Back to my make-up work organization, I created a Google form that I fill out every time a student gives me a make-up slip, or tells me they will be absent. Here is a screen-shot:

make-up work form

It isn’t too complicated, but it has the essential information. Once you fill in the Google form, it puts the information into a spreadsheet. I deleted my student’s names, but here is a screen-shot of what the out-put looks like:

make-up work response

As you can see, some lines are green, others are still black. I change the line to green when I get the work from the student. That way, I know that I don’t need to look for it any longer. If a student does not have the work done by the due date, they are put into the ICU system. That is the system we use in my district for missing work.

Do any others have ideas on how to organize make-up work for students?

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Substitutes: How to Plan

“It’s just more work to be gone!” If you ask a teacher why they don’t take sick days, or vacation days, they might respond this way. It’s true, sometimes,  it can be very difficult to decide what to leave for a sub. I spent a lot of time last summer thinking about and researching what to do when you must be out of your classroom for a day. There are lots of things to consider when leaving work for your students. I created this prezi for the REMAST (Rural Enhancement of Math And Science Education) conference this summer. I believe it has some very good tips for planning for your absence.

However,  there are times that you can’t plan ahead.  For this, I recommend having emergency substitute plans. I created a Substitute Teacher Binder this summer:

Binder cover

Binder cover

Within it, I have 8 sections:

  • Contact Information: Information on how to contact me and others in the school.
  • Daily Schedule: Listing of my day’s classes.
  • Technology: How to use the computer, projector, etc.
  • Class Rosters: List of students in each class.
  • Student Behavior Expectations: Class rules and procedures.
  • Today’s Lesson Plans: What the plans are today!
  • Report Form: A sheet for the substitute to fill out about the day.
  • Emergency Lesson Plans: Lesson plans that a substitute can use if I’m not able to make a plan for some reason.

I chose these sections after looking at many different posts and examples of substitute binders. If you have different needs, use different sections!

Does anyone have comments on how to plan for a substitute? Any teachers who have worked as a substitute have pointers for current teachers planning to be away? Please leave your comments below!

Thanks for reading!


What to do when “You are the Department”

If a small-school teacher asks a question of colleagues, whether it be through a list-serve, at a conference, or through a type of social network, the worst reply that can be given is this, “Ask your department head.” Our answer will always be “I’m the department!” In most small schools, teachers of each subject are typically the only one teaching that subject. For example, in my district (not just my school, but the entire district), I am the only chemistry teacher. I’m also the only physical science, advanced biology, etc. teacher. The math teacher covers physics (thankfully!), and there is a middle school science teacher, but that’s the end of the overlap.

This can be extremely challenging for a teacher. As a rural teacher, you must find people outside of your building or district that you can talk to and relate to. Sometimes, this is easy, as you might have previous relationships that were built from college or past positions. Sometimes, it can be very difficult to make these connections, and teachers can feel like they are secluded. Here are some places I have found that help make connections with others in your field:
1. Attend a local or state conference for your subject area. In South Dakota, we have great chapters of the National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA) & National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) that hold a joint conference every February. I haven’t missed it yet! Check to see if your state has something similar. Typically, the conferences are not very expensive, and if you talk to your administration, they might even pay for it!
2. Attend a nation-wide conference for your subject area. I was lucky enough to get a fellowship with NSTA last year for new science teachers. Through the program, I was given a free trip to the conference in San Antonio last April. It was a wonderful experience, and I met many science teachers from throughout the nation!
3. Join an organization for your subject area. I have been a member of the SDSTA for four years and NSTA for three. The NSTA is a wonderful source of material and information for science teachers. I’m sure there are more out there for other subject areas. In addition to the materials available on the website, the NSTA also has very active list-serves for different science disciplines. Information is sent through the list-serve, or you can ask questions of the people on the e-mail.
4. Turn to social media. I plan to do many posts about how I use social media as a great professional development tool. However, to begin with, I’ll just tell you that there are a lot of teachers on Twitter. I was amazed! When I was first introduced to Twitter, I thought it was a little silly and worthless. However, once I started following the right people, and learned about hashtags, I started to see why some teachers swear by it! To start with, check out this list: 50 Education Leaders Worth Following on Twitter. While there are many more out there, this might give you a good start. Additionally, if you are wondering what hashtags to check out look at this: Educational Hashtags. Finally, many teachers take part in twitter chats. These are times that many educators get together to talk about different subjects. This Google doc is a living document that adds and deletes the chats when it changes times: Weekly Twitter Chats.
I hope these ideas will help you begin to build a wonderful Professional Learning Network, even if you are the department at your school. I would love to hear ideas from other rural teachers about how they have made connections outside of their school or district! Please put those in the comments below.

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How to Plan Lessons in 10 Minutes a Day

If you read my last post, you can tell that I don’t have a lot of planning time for my 5 different classes a day. Most rural teachers are in the same situation. In this post I’ll share some of the techniques I’ve used to be able to plan appropriate, fun, engaging, and effective lessons, in about 10 minutes per class per day. I will never say that every lesson I teach is perfect, as sometimes I’m scrambling just to have a plan. However, I really try my hardest!

Tip 1: Be Organized

If you talk to my students and colleagues, they might say that my desk is full of papers, cluttered, disheveled even. However, it truly is organized, just in my own way! Most of my organization happens digitally. I plan lessons on my computer instead of a plan book. This makes it really easy to make adjustments, which is almost always necessary. To do this, I use Google Docs. I created a spreadsheet online so that I have access to my lesson plans on any device that can connect to the internet. I love this, because I don’t have to worry about bringing my computer or plan book home if I need to do some planning over the weekend. Additionally, Google Docs can be easily shared through e-mail. When my Special Education coordinator asked for a copy of my lesson plans, I just shared the spreadsheet with her. Then, if I make changes, they can instantly see them.

Here is a screenshot of my lesson planning spreadsheet:

print screen - planning

You can’t see Thursday and Friday, as they got pushed below the screen, but you get the idea! Some days I have more written down, some less. My first year I had a lot more, as I needed more information to make sure I fulfilled all the objectives of my day. Now, I don’t need as much information, as I have taught each unit before, and I can remember what I did in the past. If I have a new lesson, I might write a lot more!

Additionally, when you teach 5 different classes, you have a lot of papers to copy, grade, file, etc. I use multiple sets of stacking trays to keep all that organized. When students have papers to turn in, they go in the proper tray. That way, they are sorted and organized until I get the chance to go through them and get them put in the grade book. When I make copies for use in class, they go in the tray. When I have left-over copies (always a good idea for the kids that might loose their first copy!), I put them in the tray. It keeps me from having more piles on my desk, as I have enough already! I also used the following websites for their great ideas!

The School Supply Addict 

Tupelo Honey

Tip 2: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Ok, I know its a bit cliche, but its true! If someone created a great lesson, don’t be afraid to steal it (while always giving proper citation)! Sometimes, you will have to alter it to make it fit your classroom, students, and schedule, but at least you have a start! There are so many great organizations out there that have worked to created lesson plans just for you to use in your classroom. In my first two years, I found so many great websites that my bookmarks list was crazy long. I would find myself bookmarking something then forgetting about it until 2 months after it was useful. One way I have found to organize my websites more efficiently is Pinterest. My Pinterest page is a combination of personal and professional pins, but I have many, many of my favorite lesson ideas pinned on there. Also, it is a great place to find new ideas.

Tip 3: Don’t Get Stuck

It may seem like the easiest way to plan quickly would be to follow the same systematic approach to each class: bell work, correct yesterday’s assignment, lecture for 10-20 minutes, practice, give tomorrow’s assignment, repeat. This might work for a few days a week, but if you do it every day, you and your students will get bored quickly! It is always a good idea to mix-up the way material is presented in order to decrease your chances of burn-out. When you have only 10 minutes per class, you might not always have time to try-out each lesson on your own before using it in the classroom. However, if we try to get our students to take risks, not be afraid of failure, and just go for it, we need to do the same! Some lessons may end up being a huge flop. If that happens, you just learned a great lesson on how NOT to teach that content. I bought into the idea of taking risks and not being afraid of failure this summer. I can say that the best book I’ve read throughout my teaching career is Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. It really made me think about trying new things and breaking out of my comfort zone. Check out Dave’s website for more information about the book.


Do any other rural educators have tips on creating great lessons in limited time-frames? Please share your tips in the comments!

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A Day in the Life of a Rural Educator

After my first post, I thought it might be beneficial for me to introduce myself in more of a professional sense, as I will be writing about professional topics. So, here is a day in my life!

I always try to get to school early (before 7:30), in order to get ready for my day. Its nice to be able to make sure all my copies are done, material is planned, and I’ve got fresh coffee! Additionally, I tell students that this is a good time to contact me, as many of them have after-school activities.

My district has 8 periods in a day. I start out the day with my first section of Chemistry. I teach two sections, one with 7 students and one with 22. They are un-even because of scheduling conflicts, but that isn’t really a problem. After my students do their bell work, we dig into our day! After that, I have very little “down-time”. I continue with the sophomore class for biology second period, and two sections of physical science with the freshmen for third and fourth periods.

At this time, its about 11:40, and I get lunch! Because of the size of a small school, we don’t have multiple lunch periods or a very long lunch. All the students make it through the line and eat in about 20 minutes. Therefore, lunch is 22 minutes. If you have never eaten an entire meal in 22 minutes, you are not alone, I don’t know that I ever have either! Although it is short, I enjoy my time talking to other staff members.

After lunch, I have juniors for advanced biology (anatomy), my other section of chemistry with juniors and seniors, my prep hour, and finally environmental science. So, throughout the course of the day I teach 7 periods, 5 different subjects, and 4 different grade levels. I guess I can never say my day is boring!!!

Once the bell rings at 3:33 PM, I’m about shot. However, after another dose of caffeine (usually in the form of Mountain Dew), I’m ready for my after-school activities. In the fall, I coach volleyball. So, right after school I change into my work-out clothes and make my way to the gym to prepare for practice at 4:00. Practice goes until about 6 PM. On game nights, I have to be at the gym or bus by 4:30 or 5, and then get home sometime after 9:00. In the winter, I coach cheerleading! Again, I have after-school practices, and about 2 games a week. In the spring, I get a break!

As all teachers know, there are always committees to serve on, fundraisers to help out with, and other things that fall onto your plate. This all gets done in there sometime!

I hope you have enjoyed reading more about how I spend my days as a rural teacher. I know all the educators out there will say that there is really no such thing as a typical day when working with students. Some days are more challenging than others, but our job is to work through those days and grow as professionals and people.

So, to all the other rural educators, what would you call a “typical” day in your world? To educators in setting unlike mine, what would you say is different about your “typical” day?

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Me, Myself, and Rural Education


Hello! I was tagged by Misty White (@MadDawgMisty) to do a bloggers challenge. I was lucky enough to meet her through the world of twitter, and the culture of Teach Like a Pirate. I’ve been considering starting a blog for a little while, but haven’t had a real push to get going. This is just what I needed! (Thanks Misty!) Since I’m brand-new to blogging, I don’t even know that many bloggers or blogs. So, I’m going to skip steps 4 & 5 of this blogging challenge, for now. Here are the criteria:

The task: 1) Acknowledge the nominating blogger. 2) Share 11 facts about yourself. 3) Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you. 4) List 11 bloggers. 5) Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you. 

11 facts about myself:

1. I teach High School Sciences including biology, physical science, chemistry, advanced biology, environmental science, and scientific research and design.

2. In addition to my normal teaching duties, I coach volleyball and cheerleading.

3. I am a big fan of SDSU! (Not San Diego State, South Dakota State!) Go Jacks!!

4. I have 4-legged children. 2 dogs, Java and Jax and 1 cat, Mac.

5. My husband calls me an “old lady” because of my love of crochet and cats.

6. #1 addiction: Caffeine!

7. I am a huge fan of NFL football! I even had a fantasy football team this year, and got runner-up in my league!

8. Although it is terribly cold during the winter, I still love South Dakota. I have lived here my whole life, and I like visiting other places, but love that I get to come home to such a wonderful state!

9. In college, I was a member of the Pride of the Dakotas marching band. I love music!

10. I spend a lot of my free time researching and doing professional development. I love learning more about teaching!

11. My students describe me as: bubbly, the biggest nerd they know, and goofy.

11 questions from Misty:

1. Do you prefer hot or cold weather? I like right in the middle – about 65 F. But, if I had to choose really hot or really cold, I would say really cold, because you can always put on more clothes. . .
2. How many of the 50 states have you visited? 22
3. Where do you want to go for summer vacation? This summer, my husband and I are going to travel to Denver, Co.
4. Who is one person on twitter that you want to meet in person? I am super stoked to meet Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) this summer at the REMAST conference!
5. Why did you decide to answer this blog challenge? I’ve been considering starting a blog, and it was a good way to get going!
6. What is your dream job? I really love teaching, but I think my dream would be to teach about 1/2 time (so that I still get to interact with kids), and the other 1/2 organize professional development, have discussions with teachers, plan in-services, etc. I have really fallen in love with helping teachers be better (including myself)!
7. What is your favorite food? That’s a hard one! I honestly love pizza – almost any kind! I also really love bread!
8. What radio station is #1 on you pre-programmed stations? Hot 104.7 – the top 40 station out of Sioux Falls.
9. Where in the world is Carmen San Diego? I was never good at geography!!!
10. Have you ever been to Disney World? I’ve been to Disney Land, and Universal Studios (Harry Potter world was AMAZING!), but I’ve never been to Disney World.
11. What is your career goal as an educator? My #1 goal is that I can make a difference in the lives of students and the world of education.

Thanks again for the challenge, Misty! I will do steps 4 & 5 someday!

I hope this blog gives a look into the life of a rural teacher, as well as some resources for teachers in the same position as me! Enjoy!