In need of classroom discipline strategies
April 14, 2019 11:33 AM   Subscribe

What types of classroom managements strategies can I use for an after -school program? Unique challenges inside (I'm not an educator filter/so the perspective of teachers might help?)

My background is in the biological sciences, but not really education. I managed to land a part-time position teaching "enrichment" programs after school focusing on biology topics.

The kids are very young (grades 3-5). Ideally, I will cover at least some biology material with them. Most classes will include some dissection.

Here are my challenges:
-The kids have been in school all day and some are tired/hungry.
- I have taught in other settings (i.e., highschool) and in those conditions, I can call parents etc. This is not that situation at all - no contact with parents and the parents (or the school) are paying for the kids to be there.
-Really wide range of interest/attention.

So far - I give them a few worksheets but it is hard to get them to pay attention. They are absolutely motivated to dissect, but my concern is they will learn nothing if that is all we do (plus, with the smell etc - we can't do that for 2 hours).

I'm looking for any strategies to keep them on task. Because they really are intensely focused on the dissection and "who gets to do it first" etc. I have thought about offering a reward of a name drawn from a hat from those who finish a worksheet etc. but I'm not sure if this is a strategy that will work against students (those who are quiet or don't understand, etc.)

Any strategies would be helpful. HALP.

I'm just looking for ideas to get me through 2 months so that this does not turn into a miserable experience for me.
posted by wonder twin powers activate form of a sock puppet to Education (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"who gets to do it first"

Is there no way at all for multiple samples to be available, for groups to work on? One kid up front with the teacher sucks, no matter what it is.

Groups working can set up their own dynamic, this can be a part of the process - who gets to cut, who will be data collector, etc.

Be honest and let them in behind the curtain, make the responsibility for fun and effective learnign a joint task. Reflection and critical thinking is good for young minds!

"Some of you seem bored doing the worksheets, do you know another way we can do this to make it more interesting?"
"What is the most interesting part of this class for you?"
"What would you like to do more / less of in this class?"
posted by Meatbomb at 11:50 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]

Since it's enrichment and not a defined curriculum, I'd stick with hands-on activities and skip the worksheets. The goal is to get them even more interested in the subject rather than learning anything specific. Talk about stuff while they work, but if most of them ignore you it's fine; the ones who are really interested will hear you.

And before you start, give them a snack and some time on the playground if they don't get any at the end of the school day.
posted by metasarah at 12:09 PM on April 14 [6 favorites]

Providing feedback to a query asked to help with the condition of the class(es):

Is there no way at all for multiple samples to be available, for groups to work on?

In my ideal universe, there would be (and when I've taught university students, it is 1 to 2 samples per person.

But for this program, the budget is very limited. On some of the days, I only have 1-2 samples - I *might* supplement it more with my own money, but there is still only so much I can get.
posted by wonder twin powers activate form of a sock puppet at 12:14 PM on April 14

How long does each class period last? How many kids are in the class?
posted by fancyoats at 12:18 PM on April 14

How much control do you have of your curriculum? Does it have to involve two hours (!) of worksheets and dissection every time? That seems like a difficult row to hoe, particularly with this age group, but I can't even imagine most adults happily settling down to a stack of anything worksheets immediately after work and before going home.

If that's what you're stuck with, maybe don't try to keep them in their seats for more than half an hour or so. Regular breaks or opportunities to move around will help.

If that's not what you're stuck with, in addition to regular breaks, maybe do videos, slideshows, handling sturdy/safe native specimens (seashells, tree branches, rocks), etc. Sharing photos and stories of your fieldwork or other career experiences might be super engaging.
posted by bagel at 12:31 PM on April 14 [8 favorites]

how much control do you have over the curriculum? I’d see if you can have a few “dissection days” when every 2-3 kids get a sample, and supplement with other hands on activities like growing plants, comparing leaves, dissecting (gathered) flowers, etc, coloring anatomy sheets. Minimize worksheets as much as possible—this is a great chance to get these kids excited about the natural world by doing hands on stuff. If they don’t remember what xylem is but are stoked to tell their parents about looking at leaves under a microscope, you’ve done your job.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 12:33 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]

If you have any control over your curriculum, there are great resources for age appropriate environmental education out there:
Project Wet
Project Wild
Project Learning Tree
posted by hydropsyche at 12:37 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]

Answering of the additional queries in hopes of specific recommendations:

How long does each class period last? How many kids are in the class?

Depending on the specific class - 1.5 hours to 1.75 hours; 12 students

How much control do you have of your curriculum?

I am supposed to follow a few sentence description of the several week class (from a published catalog...)- one of the classes is anatomy dissection class, so the expectation would be ...dissections for one of the particular classes. For the second class that does not technically require dissection - they did seem to be excited by that part in particular/extremely excited (I personally have always been excited by this, too, so I'm hoping this part) - but I'm absolutely open to all suggestions for what else I can do in that time...
posted by wonder twin powers activate form of a sock puppet at 12:49 PM on April 14

If they have devices, you could mix up the worksheets with some of the online quiz and vocabulary games (Quizlet, Kahoot, Peardeck Flashcard Factory, etc.) or add in some movement by having them do relay races to label things, or the game where they each have a label (a vocabulary word, for instance) on their forehead and have to wander around and ask each other questions to figure out which one they have. They could draw and label diagrams (of a cell, or of what they're going to dissect) with sidewalk chalk outside, or play playground games that model concepts you want to teach. If you can at all, try to provide a snack.
posted by abeja bicicleta at 12:58 PM on April 14

Reading what you've written, it seems you don't have discipline problems (as per your title) so much as you are not being set up for success: your time of day, long session duration, lack of materials, and hungry/tired kids are all adding up to a tough situation.

Kids this age (and frankly students of any age) who are hungry and tired should really have those needs addressed first. Can you get the school to ask parents to pack a snack for the kids that they will eat at the beginning of your program? Or if it's a low income setting, maybe the school can provide snacks?

At the beginning of your session, (best case scenario, after the kids have eaten something), start each day with a lesson on the body. This is your time to get the kids up and moving around. Focus on a body part or body system and pair that with some kind of movement for 10-15 minutes or so. This should reenergize them for a little while at least.

With kids this age, you should be switching structured activities every 15 minutes at the absolute minimum. Developmentally, most 8 or 9 year olds do not have a long attention span, and you are in the challenging situation of having them at the end of the day when they are tired and hungry and have even less attention span available.

Ditch the worksheets, or save them for the end, to reinforce concepts after they have done some project-based or experiential learning.

Here is a set of grade-appropriate resources, links, and lesson plan ideas. Grade 3--Grade 4--Grade 5. What I like about these is that they are place-specific; they make use of things the kids see around them every day and help them relate to their environment. You can adapt the ideas for things that more closely match where you are.

Also, consider providing "stations" where the kids can move around and explore different concepts. This is more unstructured and you can set up the stations and then have some kind of signal to let the kids know it's time to change after a set period of time (10-15 minutes). You would circulate among the stations and guide the kids as needed. Ideally you would develop a set of easy set-up stations that can be packed away and transported in (eg) Rubbermaid tubs and get set up at the beginning of each session so the kids have multiple class periods to experience them. This cuts down on the planning you need to do for each class period, as well.

Good luck--I think you are in a tough position but I think if you change your approach you will be able to make it more enjoyable for you and for them!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:59 PM on April 14 [16 favorites]

Can you dissect an orange, an apple, a banana? That is, do they have snacks? Can you get outside? Have access to a playground, a field, a creek? For a 2 hour program, I'd get them fed and outside for the first hour, then off some science for the second hour.

If dissection is interesting but too constrained, maybe similarly hands-on tasks would satisfy the urge to get messy without the resource constraints:
- go dig in the ground and find 5 different kinds of worms and bugs.
- find 5 different kinds of grasses.
- 5 different tree barks, off fallen sticks.
- 5 different color rocks (geo, not bio, but still science).

I wouldn't force any kid to participate. Naps are important, too.

Maybe start an aquarium? A terrarium? A greenhouse?

They are biology themselves. Living, breathing organisms. Explore that: how does your eye work? Why can we eat pineapples but not pinecones? Why do we have so many bones in our bodies?
posted by at at 1:01 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]

Get the book The First Days of School by Harry Wong. It is written for new classroom teachers (subject agnostic), so you'll have to mentally find and replace and maybe skip some stuff, but this is the classic of elementary school classroom management.

My son attends an after school program (not academic, just extended care) and the first thing they do with those kids is feed them, and the expectation is that they sit calmly and have their snacks. This is super important. If they're coming to you hungry and over stimulated, they need a reset button. Kids also need frequent breaks. Several short mini lessons is better than one long lesson.

Think about your objectives and work backwards from there. What two or three things do you want these kids to actually be able to know how to do when they leave your class every day? Use that to drive your lesson planning. And I think you're going to have to get crafty. Pin the chambers of the heart on the giant frog cut-out crafty. (Now turn the frog upside down, can they still do it? Can they do it on a human? Teams? Points?)
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:04 PM on April 14 [6 favorites]

Yes to everything soren_lorensen is saying...sometimes people who are subject experts but don't have a lot of teaching experience/pedagogical background feel like their main job is to impart as much knowledge as possible, but actually it is to figure out a limited set of things you want the students to take away (learning outcomes) and figure out how to accomplish that. Especially with younger kids or lower level learners, less is more! And to the untrained or inexperienced observer, it can seem like craft activities are a "waste of time" (yes, I have heard this complaint from people who are not teachers) but in reality, a well planned craft based activity that has links to the learning outcomes can cement knowledge more firmly in learners' brains, because you are reinforcing the information in a way that is enjoyable to them.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:10 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]

I once took a science education class (as a teacher) wherein we dissected small squid the instructor had purchased through a seafood distributor. Then we fried up the edible parts and ate them. It was super fun and quite memorable.
posted by carterk at 1:28 PM on April 14

Yes to the idea of stations or centers. Kids today do not get enough time to do things like cut, tape and glue, you could also do "recycle" projects with cardboard and other household recycling goods. You could set up a listening station (my colleague added kid friendly podcasts to our Library Virtual Learning Commons. Scroll to the bottom). Have a table with related books on the topic. Have a writing center (if you add envelopes and other letter items, and have basic questions, kids will take it seriously.) There are things that might seem lame- like coloring pages or cutting and gluing, but kids really love this sort of thing.

If this is taking place in a specific school, the more you can find out about what the rules are in school, to reinforce in your program, the better off you might be. Many schools have basic rules- at mine they are be Safe, be respectable, be responsible. Any troublesome behavior fits under these rules (and sometimes all three at once) and kids get called out when they break a rule. Also, decide on a system to get everyone's attention, and use it each time with the expectation that children stop what they are doing and listen to you. I use- if you can hear my voice clap once, if you can hear my voice clap twice, if you can hear my voice clap three times- after the third time everyone's eyes are on me. Some teachers in my school use a chime. I also will shut off the lights if things are totally out of hand.

Know too that there is generally a bit of chaos that comes from working with elementary aged children, try to implement systems and structures to fix some of this. Specific end times, with a warning before clean up time- I do a lego club after school in my school library- kids have a snack first, then they build with lego. 20 minutes before the end of the program, I give a warning that we will start to clean up in 10 minutes, then I give a five minute warning, and then a minute warning.
posted by momochan at 1:39 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Please forgive me if any of this has been repeated.

What if you focus on scientific method? Asking a question, doing some research, formulating a hypothesis, and running tests to prove or disprove? Make your class inquiry based, and let them figure out what question to ask.

Another tactic I have seen recently, but have yet to do myself, is an escape room. These can be simple web based, one correct answer leads to another clue, etc. or paper and pencil in a packet. You could also set something up in the room with sticky notes hidden.

Lapbooks are a little more hands on, force the students to do the work, and are a little less boring than a worksheet.

Teachers pay teachers has a lot of free resources that could help you.
posted by Sequined Ballet Flats at 5:02 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]

I understand the kinds of restrictions you're facing (especially budget!) But are you at all able to push for resources to do anything beyond the classroom? Because doing things just in class is gonna get pretty old real fast.

It sounds to me like you're looking for ways to refocus your students' attention, rather than actually disciplining them. They're already engaged on the lesson, just focussing on the wrong things like whose turn it is to dissect.

Some ideas:
1. All lessons should ideally have an end point that students work towards, rather than "let's do these activities because". What do you want students to be able to do by the end of the lesson? Bonus if the objective is inquiry-based, as noted above - either the students come up with their own questions, or there is a problem they solve. Extra bonus if the objective allows for different interpretations/answers so that students all feel like they have some ownership over the knowledge. This allows students to have their own individual focus.

2. If you can take them outdoors, even in the schoolyard or whatever, can you get them to practise observation skills? Take pictures, sketch, annotate etc. Have prizes for best diagrams.

3. Have them do research on their own on an inquiry question of their own choosing (within limits set by you, if you feel it's necessary). They can then present their new knowledge to the class, who can then ask questions. You can even frame it as a biology conference with different experts coming together to share knowledge (solve a mystery?)

The idea is to get them all moving and hands on because it's the end of the day and they're tired and these are the only types of activities that'll hold their short attention spans. Only you know the profile of your students so some of these might work better than others on your students. But anyway hope that helps.
posted by satoshi at 6:29 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Is there an informal science educator network in your state? I attended the Informal Science Educator Association of Texas’s conference and learned a ton about how different strategies really help in after school settings rather than traditional classroom settings.

I’d also recommend the book The Science Club Handbook; the author has management techniques AND club plans, which definitely take budget into consideration.
posted by itsamermaid at 5:33 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

Similar to the "First Days of School" take a look at Teach Like a Champion which comes with videos. It also has an active blog. Fantastic stuff the technique of being in front of young students in a way that focuses on academic rigor.

Kids (and adults) work better with routine. Knowing what to expect relieves anxiety (which is energy that needs to be spent somehow).

What is the first thing kids do when they enter your space? You need to define the answer to that question rather than leave it up to the creativity of your students.

Is it greet you with a smile? Is it retrieve an activity paper from a counter as they walk in and begin to work on it? Is it be the first to identify a secret change in the classroom that day or understand a riddle?

momochan above has related suggestions.
posted by jander03 at 11:12 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

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