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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fall Fun with the Virginia Teacher Bloggers


As sad as I am to see summer go, I must admit that autumn in Virginia is beautiful.  We are so fortunate to have four distinct seasons, each one with it's own beauty and benefits.

Autumn in central Virginia is usually still rather warm, with temps in the 70s and even the 80s some days.  My children wear shorts right on into November most years.  The nights cool down a bit and it's nice to sleep with the windows open.  No AC and no heat, just nice breezes blowing through open windows, frogs and critters singing throughout the night.


This weekend, all my boys and I will hit the pumpkin patch and bring home our jack-o-lantern fixin's.  Here are some pics from previous pumpkin trips:


*UPDATE*
We went to the pumpkin patch on Saturday morning!  
Here is this year's pic:)

And now to share a little pumpkin fun!
Word problems are so important for our kids.  They need to have daily opportunities to solve all different kinds of word problems.  And not just any old problem we come up with on the fly.  

Did you know there are four different types of word problems?  
And 11 subsets?  Take a look...

But who has time to come up with several new problems every day?  And to make sure all the different problem types are covered?  I do!!  And I am sharing a part of the new October Daily Word Problem packet.  I hope you can use it and if you like it, the whole 60 page packet is available on TpT HERE, as well as several other Daily Word Problem Packs.

Click the picture to get the freebie:)

And now on to the next stop in the hop for another Fun Fun Treat:)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Never Too Old For Paint And Glitter

When I was moved from first grade to fourth grade this year, someone said, "Well, no more fun stuff for you!"  All those fun games and crafts that we do in first grade replaced by study guides and test taking skills and note taking.  Ugg.

So, I decided early on that I could not survive that kind of boredom and I did not want to have that kind of classroom.  I packed up all the paints and brushes and glitter and moved them to fourth grade!

And you know what I discovered?  It is SO MUCH EASIER to use paint and glitter with fourth graders!  They can follow directions and not make a gigantic mess!  Then they clean everything up all by themselves at the end.  It's amazingly easy!

So today we explored the parts of a flower and pollination with glitter:)


After we labeled the flower parts and put them all together, we added pollen (glitter) to the anthers. We noticed how the glitter got on our hands and we transferred it to our desks and faces and chairs and everywhere.  We were pollinators!

We pollinated all the flowers and learned the parts of the flower in the process. 

We had a great time and they even worked through indoor recess to finish it!  The power of glitter. :)




Tomorrow - fractions and paper plates and stickers!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Take A Number and Get in the Crazy Line

Sunday morning.  10:05 am.
Mom and three handsome, smiling boys sitting nicely in the church pew, filled with the love of God and basking in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
"The Lord be with you."
"And also with you."

Rewind 10 minutes.

Sunday morning.  9:55 am.  
Mom and three disagreeable boys driving to church.
(Dad is conveniently home sick:)

Stop touching your brother!
No you may not take your iPod to church.
Joe!  That is not a church word!
Did you even brush your hair?
I said no name calling! God does not appreciate you calling your brother a butt face on the way to church!
Leave him alone!
Oh. My. God!  Stop that crap!  We are about to enter the House of the LORD!!

It's like driving around a circus full of monkeys.

But we leave the crazy in the car and when we get to that church door - we take a deep breath, put on a smile, and enter ready for what we came here for in the first place.  And at the end of the service, we are renewed and ready for the next battle.

Which will probably happen in the car on the way home.

I know you've been there.  It may not have been church - it may have been a trip to Grandma's or to the supermarket or cub scouts or whatever.  Inside the car, all the crazy in the universe descends upon your family and you start to wonder if the jail time would be worth duct taping them to the hood.

Then, you arrive, shout out the last threat of violence or loss of the xBox, leave the crazy in  the car and everyone pulls it together.
Ready to go.

As I reflected on all of this today, I realized two things.

1.  I do this everyday on the way to work.
I let go of my crazy.  (At least I try.)
My son's last minute 7a.m. panic "I have to print my homework right now and the printer won't work!"
Did I put a fruit in Joe's lunch?
I hope that insane administrator leaves me alone today.
I swear if I have to fill out one more data sheet, I'm going to...

I need to leave it in the car, take a deep breath, put a smile on my face, and enter that classroom ready.
My crazy will still be sitting there in the car waiting for me when I leave school.

2.  My students can't always do this.

Emotion rides in with my students every day - fear, worry, anger, hunger, aggravation, anxiety, excitement, silliness, confusion...
Only they don't leave it in the car.  They bring it in with them.
In all it's glory and splendor.

I feel pressured by the pace of the day, the pace of the curriculum, the drive to meet assessment scores, the urgency to move on.  
Pressured to ignore all that emotion spilling out all over the place and get ready for that danged test!

I need to stop.

Stop. Take a deep breath.

Take the time to acknowledge the feelings, to help them work through it, to be ready.

Breathe.

And all you legislators and administrators and educational  "experts" need to take a number and get in the crazy line.
Your cut scores and NCLB and rigor will have to wait until I sweep these emotions up off the floor and help some kids deal with some stuff.
My kids can't learn until they're ready.

And I am going to help them get ready.

  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

First Year Flashback


I am linking up with my friend Laurah from The ESOL Odyssey to take a look back at my very first year of teaching 20 years ago, and possibly pass along a few words of wisdom.

What age group and subject were you teaching?
I was teaching third grade at an inner city school right in the middle of the public housing projects. The kids were street wise, living in poverty, and immersed in a very violent and scary world. Driving to work, I would watch numerous drug deals in the neighborhood as the children walked to school. Shootings were so frequent, many children slept on the floor for safety, and I would have to put duct tape over the holes in the Plexiglas windows on some mornings. If we heard gunfire during the day, we would step away from the windows and keep on teaching. There were drugs, knives, used condoms, and all sorts of other fun things found on the playground. Parents sometimes would have physical fights in the school or on the sidewalk outside of school. The swat team was in my school on more than one occasion. When I started, I was the only white person in the entire building including students and staff. I was in absolute culture shock. But the community came to trust me and accept me (every single parent came to parent conferences that year!) and those teachers were wonderful to me – the young, fresh out of college, blonde haired white girl who had no business there. They took me under their wings and taught me to be the tough old bird I am today.

I am forever grateful for the five years of invaluable experience I received in that place and I carry those children in my prayers to this day.

What was your first classroom like?
My first classroom was not very big since the school was built in the 60’s – your basic cinderblock rectangle. The real story was under the classroom. The school was built on an old landfill so there was an issue with methane gas being released. There were vents outside the building but we also had methane detectors all over the building. We also had high levels of carbon dioxide. The school system’s grand solution to this problem? Open the windows.


Were you given supplies or materials?
I remember having most of what we needed. We had a computer lab which was a pretty big deal back then.  In the classroom, I had an overhead projector, a dot matrix printer and an Apple IIc that had a big 'ol floppy disc drive.  There were some textbooks and I made lots of games.  I think I was in complete survival mode and managed with what we had. The children brought nothing and every student in the school received free lunch.


What was the hardest part of your first year of teaching?
The children. Their lives were absolutely dreadful. They knew about things they shouldn’t know about. They lived in fear and hunger and want. I remember buying dozens of mittens and hats when it got cold and even a few pairs of shoes for some kids. It was heartbreaking.

What was the best part of your first year of teaching?
Survival. For some reason, probably ignorant youth, I had no fear. I was determined to make it work in that place and that is what I did.

What do you know now that you wish you knew that first year?
I am glad I did not know then what I know now. At this stage in the game, I have come to know the ugly truth behind the power and politics of education. Even though I have the ever-present optimism of a teacher, I also have a twinge of cynicism that comes with age and experience.
My teaching may not have been top of the line, but my younger self had only optimism and fearlessness. Hope and possibility. Not such a bad way to start out in this profession.

I just realized that I really have no magical words of wisdom to share with a new teacher. There is no right answer. Be grateful for the journey and lift up the children who are along for the ride.

If you would like to link up and share your first year memories, please click here!!

Monday, July 28, 2014

7 Ways Teens and Toddlers Are Exactly Alike



My thoughts today do not come from the teacher in me, they are mommy thoughts.   Although, I'm sure many teachers will be able to relate.

My youngest son is almost 5, so I was growing a bit nostalgic about the toddler years.  Those cute baby faces with big, rosy, squeezable cheeks,  the emerging independence, earth shattering excitement about a butterfly or a worm, and the sweet kisses freely given.  Ahhh, the good 'ol days...

Yes, I also remember the terribleness of those toddler years, the tantrums and "No!" and the exasperating dawdling.  But it was only a part of growing up.  That part is over now.

Then, my oldest boy turned 13.  

I know those of you who have teens, have raised teens, have taught teens, or even just seen teens in a mall are shaking your heads right now saying, "Bless your heart."  

The moment my sweet, intelligent, thoughtful, helpful, respectful, responsible 12 year old boy turned 13, all his brains drained right out of his ears.  Gone.  They were replaced by hormones, clinical level distractability, questionable sanity, and something that smells funny.   

Wait!  What!?  Where is my boy?  

Oh, look.  He's in there.  He's just been possessed by a toddler. 

Now, if your kids have not yet reached the teen years, I am sorry to have to tell you this, but toddlers and teenagers are exactly alike.  

Yes, that's right.  

You're going to go through the "Terrible Twos" all over again.  You have about a decade to get ready.

And if you're a middle school teacher, well... Bless Your Heart.

So since becoming a mother of a teenage boy, I have discovered several ways that teens and toddlers are alike:


  1. Temper tantrums:  “But I want to wear the blue shirt!”  A toddler might lay in the floor and kick, while the teenager slams a door, but essentially it’s the same thing.  Copious amounts of pouting, screaming and crying all around.
  2. Sleep:  They both sleep about 14 hours a day and get really cranky when they don’t get enough sleep.  At least teenagers don’t wake up at the butt crack of dawn.
  3. Talking:  Most of what they say makes absolutely no sense 80% of the time.  The other 20% of the time, they’re whining.
  4. Demanding:  They both demand we meet their needs immediately, and if we don’t – well - see #1 above.
  5. Listening to Reason:  "Don't do that - you will get hurt!"  falls on deaf ears for toddlers and teens.  And teens even have the nerve to say, "Nuh uh.  I know what I'm doing."  
  6. Decision Making:  No need for explanation here.  Actually, I would bet that toddler decision making trumps teenage decision making.
  7. The Mess:  Seriously.  The Mess.  And neither is very good at cleaning up.




I have two more boys who will serve their 'possessed by a toddler' teen years soon.  But I'm ready this time.
No, I don't have to get out baby gates and the time out chair.  This time around I'll need wifi passwords and phone privileges.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Embracing My Social Media Dorkiness

My latest journey into new ( to me ) social media has revealed two things:

1.  I am still a bit flummoxed by Twitter.
2.  I LOVE Instagram

Even though my 13 year old, steeped in social media, too cool for mom, son will not accept my request to follow him and will not follow me.
Me:  Why can't I follow you?
Son:  You just can't.
Me:  Are you posting stuff you don't want me to see?
Son:  Yes.  I mean, no.  Nothing inappropriate.  It's just...  Really, Mom.  It's just not ok for your mom to follow you.
Me:  Okay, I get that.  Why won't you follow me?
Son:  I don't know.  I guess I could.  I just...
Me:  You just don't want to see my teacher crap while you're looking at all the cool stuff your friends post.
Son:  Yes.  No.  I mean...   You know, kids don't really say 'cool' anymore, Mom.
Me:  What do they say?
Son:  I don't know.  Are we done?

But, I digress into the mysterious and inexplicable world of a teenager.  Back to Instagram.

I love Instagram.  It's like Facebook without the drama.  Pictures everywhere to feed my short, summer attention span.  Little peeks into other people's lives which either make me feel either incredibly inferior or greatly relieved when I look back into my own life.  Another time sucking internet hole.  I love instagram!

So I thought I would do a photo-a-day challenge to sort of jump into Instagram and get my feet wet.
But my 'cool' media specialist son says it's dumb and annoying I am a complete dork for doing it.

Well, I don't care!  I will revel in my dorkiness!  And I will take pictures of odd, random stuff for a month!  I will post it and hashtag it!  And I will join in solidarity with all the other moms of teens in the time honored tradition of embarrassing our children by doing 'mom stuff!"

#dorkymomoftheyearaward  #sillystuffteachersdoinsummer  #Iloveinstagram

I join Kacie from Managing and Motivating Math Minds in her Teachers of Summer Instagram Challenge
You can find Kacie here:  @mmmmkacietravis

Check out my summer teachery photo stuff and join in!
And leave your instagram link in the comments so I can follow you!


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Farewell, First Grade...

Fourth Grade.

I am not a 4th grade teacher.  I am a first grade teacher.

I have been a first grade teacher for 16 years.  It is in my blood and my brain and my bones.  I can spout off first grade standards after a full moon-holiday-Friday-before a break-pajama day-some kid didn't have his meds-day. While I clean up spilled milk, tie a shoe, and write a clinic pass. I've got the developmental intricacies of the six year old child down pat. Dear sweet mother of short vowel sounds, if I were a tattooed person, I'd probably have First grade tattooed on my first grade teachin' behind.

I am a first grade teacher, dang it!

Except that now I am not.  Now I am a first grade teacher who has been asked  told to teach fourth grade.

Fourth freaking grade, people!

I know many of you teach 4th grade, love 4th grade, and can't get enough of the fabulousness that is 4th grade.  I have the utmost respect and admiration for each of you (especially the ones who taught my boys:)
But I am not a fourth grade teacher.   (Remember all that first grade-got it all down-tattooed butt stuff? First grade teacher right here, folks.)

Now, I know what you're thinking.
Stop whining, you big, first grade baby.  At least you've got a job and you're certified for fourth grade so just suck it up, buttercup.

And you are right.


But, you see, I have only progressed to the second Stage of Grief.  Anger.  
(I quickly moved through stage one (denial) when I had to pack up sixteen years worth of first grade crap and drag it all home in cardboard liquor store boxes.)

Stage two is much more fun than stage one.  I have pretty much wallowed in stage two and it's working for me right now.

The third Stage of Grief is bargaining.  Well, I can just skip right over that useless mess because there's no one with whom to bargain.  The principal has spoken and that is that, apparently. 
I suppose I could bargain with God, but I kinda used up my three wishes on that full moon-holiday-Friday-before a break-pajama day-some kid didn't have his meds-day.  And it's pretty darn clear that my Guardian Angel has also been reassigned.  She's probably watching over some poor middle school teacher.

So anger it is for now.

Although, I did get  glimpse of Stage Four today.  Depression.

When I was moving some of my stuff into the fourth grade classroom, I happened across a math book.  A fourth grade math book.  It had decimals it, people.  DECIMALS!  And multiplication.  And long division.  Good lord, I can barely type that without breaking into hives.

Clearly depression is on the horizon for me if I can ever break free of stage two.

Now, I have heard all the lovely, supportive, uplifting, motivating bunch of crap (there's stage two rearing it's ugly head, again) encouragement that has been sent my way lately.

  • You might grow to love it:)
  • Your principal sees something in you that can't see.
  • Everything happens for a reason - it will all work out.
  • If you're a great teacher, it doesn't matter what grade you teach - you'll be great!

I sooo appreciate all the words of support and encouragement.  I really do. 
I'll come back and read them again when I reach Stage Five - Acceptance.  If I ever get there.  
That'll be the day that I am sprawled out in the tattoo parlor getting Maurice to figure out how to turn First Grade into a dragonfly fluttering across my backside.





Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I Kind of Am In It For the Money...

This is a bit of a rant, so be forewarned...

I am growing weary of seeing cutesy teachery sayings all over the internet that try to convince me my low pay is worth it.
You know, because of the kids.





Well, I gotta tell ya - I kinda am in it for the money.

I don't mean rock star money.

I mean a well educated professional with a ridiculous level of responsibility money.
I mean expected to keep children safe and possibly give up my own safety to do so money.

I'm not asking for much.  I have as much education as an attorney and at least as much responsibility.
I'm not even asking for that much money.

I'm just asking to make a living wage so I don't have to rob Peter to pay Paul every month.
Just normal living expenses, nothing extravagant.  You know, just food, shelter, basic clothing, possibly a little ice cream now and again.

And don't make me feel guilty when you do give me a raise and make it look like I'm stealing candy from a baby!
Don't tell me I shouldn't ask for more, because, really, it's for the children.

Why do folks find it so reprehensible to pay teachers an adequate wage?

Is it because there are so many of us?  If so many people are able to do it, it must not be that special?

Is it because everyone has been to school and it looks easy so it must be easy?

Is it because we put up with it and continue to work crazy long hours and do loads of extra work without demanding compensation?

Is it because simply screaming to the rooftops that we value children in our society doesn't really make it true?


Now, don't get me wrong - I do love my kids!  I take them home in my heart and in my head every single night.  They make me laugh and cringe and wonder and weep.  Helping kids learn is tons of fun and I will continue to teach because it is my career, my calling, my niche.
I love my job.
And my second job, which supplements the first job.

So, I won't be pinning the cute little sign that tells the world I don't value my job enough not to expect to be properly compensated for it.
I will not revel in the fact that I can work miracles with inadequate resources.
I will not use making a difference in children's lives as an excuse to accept low wages.

Because it is about the children.  Do we not value them enough to also value those who guide them, teach them, keep them safe?

Screaming to the rooftops that we value children in our society doesn't really make it true.
Sometimes you have to prove it.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Why We Didn't Take Our Math Test Today

There are some days that just defy all good sense, some days that go awry, and some days are like creepy crawly bugs - unpredictable and wiggly and a little funny looking.  


Missing part word problems are kinda hard.  We really have to think hard to figure those things out.  When we get it right and understand that math, our teacher gets pretty excited and sometimes she scoots around in that old, wooden rocking chair.  Sometimes a rung falls out of the bottom and she fixes it.  A lot.
And sometimes, (okay not sometimes - really just this once), the whole chair splits in half, collapses to the floor, and there is the teacher sitting in a pile of chair parts.


Some days you really discover where your brain is.  In a split second, when the adrenaline flows and your heart races and you discover that you are sprawled out in the floor in a pile of spindles and splintered wood, the first thing that comes to mind and flies out of your mouth is incredibly revealing.

 "I have a connection!!  I feel like Goldilocks!"

Thank goodness one of those naughty words didn't fly out.  I'm kind of fond of some of those words:)

No - the first place my teacher brain went was making a connection.  Those comprehension skills are so deeply embedded in my brain that they superceded naughty words!

I am Goldilocks!

 And they got it.  And we laughed.  And we didn't take our math test.
 But we sure know how to make a connection.  :)


Of course, after a wiggly, funny looking bug day happens, you can't just up and take a math test.
We'll save that for a plain ol' nobody laughs hysterically at the teacher for 20 minutes day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Double Trouble

Have you ever read Two of Everything by Lili Toy Hong?
It is a Chinese folktale about a little old woman and a little old man who find a magic pot that doubles anything you put inside - including the little old man and woman!  

And it is a terrific resource for teaching the doubles strategy in math.  Whatever goes in the pot gets doubled when it comes out!

Today we put a set of cubes into our magic pots 
and we pulled out double!

I found these cute little 'cauldrons' after Halloween last year and snapped up a handful of them - they were perfect for this!
This was a such a quick and easy activity!  No prep, no copies - we just recorded what we did in our math journals.  And you gotta love easy peasy on the first day back after winter break:)


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Re-establishing Routines and Procedures in January

Monday is staring me down.
Back to my classroom full of first graders.  Who have been out of school for 16 straight days.
Over two weeks of no structure, no expectations, no school rules!


So I'm going in like it's Day 1.  We're going to go over routines and procedures just like we did in September.  I  may take up a bit of time that first week back, but it will pay off in the long run:)



Here's how I teach procedures:
Model
Never assume they know anything.  Model exactly the behavior you want.
Observe and Share
I ask the kids the watch what I do and be ready to share what they noticed.   I model the procedure exactly how I want the kids to do it and let the kids tell what they saw.  They will tell all (or most) of the important components of the procedure.  It is so much more meaningful when they discover it for themselves instead of listening to the teacher tell them how.
I model it again and name each step while I do it. 
Practice
Now I ask a couple of volunteers to show the class the procedure.  Again, I ask the kids to watch and notice.  The kids will share what they saw. 
This time I ask a group of kids to model the procedure.  Repeat the noticings and sharings.  I do this until everyone has had a chance to model and share.
Now the whole class will practice the procedure and debrief with what they did correctly and where there were shortcomings.

I am also going to use some journal prompts and a mini book I made to help kids write and draw about our classroom procedures.  I have posted it to TpT as a paid product, but I am offering it for free through Sunday so we can all go back stress free on Monday:)

I hope you can use it!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Even Middle School Boys Notice!


I know there have been some vocal attacks on 'cute' in the online education community lately.  I think some of the opponents of 'cute' assume that cute and quality cannot coexist - that if teachers spend time and money creating a "cute" classroom- decorating, arranging, and organizing, then they must not spend any time or effort on creating quality planning and instruction.

Well, of course, this isn't true, and there are thousands of classrooms all over the world that prove quality instruction can take place in a beautiful space. And I truly feel that my students are better behaved and more relaxed when my classroom space is organized and attractive.  I am a firm believer that a tidy, organized space with a unified theme or color scheme has a wonderfully positive effect on classroom management and student behavior.

I have also heard some folks say that the kids don't notice anyway, they don't care, so why bother?  Well, if the kids don't care - I do:)  I have to spend most of our day in our classroom and I want it to be comfortable!

But, I decided to do a little informal survey anyway and I figured I couldn't find more apathetic test subjects than middle school boys, so I asked my two older boys (6th and 7th grade) what they thought.

They both said they appreciated it when their teachers took time to decorate their classrooms.  My 7th grader said a clean, put together classroom made him feel like the teacher wasn't going to waste any time looking for stuff and it showed that the teacher cared about her things.  The 6th grader said he felt calmer and happier in a space that was decorated nicely and wasn't too busy with lots of different colors and patterns and posters, etc.  They both said it helped them get to know their teacher better because they could usually get a feel for her style right away.

Wow.  I must say I was a bit shocked.  I thought they didn't care.
On the other hand, they have helped me clean and prepare my classroom every summer since they were young so they're not objective observers, I suppose.

And speaking of middle school...
I attended my sons' Back to School night last week and was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the 6th grade English class!  Just look at her lovely space-

The IB Learner Profile board

Waiting for fabulous student work...

Love the curtain to hide the clutter and wires:) 

The theme for the year - Change.
Isn't it beautiful?
And, yes, my son did notice and he did appreciate it:)
Not that he loves or appreciates the effort of his other teachers any less!

At any rate, I know it isn't for everyone, but I enjoy organizing and decorating my classroom space:)
I STILL don't have photos for my room tour yet, but here are a few photos I managed to snap...

Wish Garden
This is my "Wish Garden" that I put out during orientation, Back to School Night, and Parent/Teacher Conference night.  The cards are attached to pencils and stuck into a container full of rice.  The family just "picks" a flower with an item they want to donate and the child gets to keep the pencil:)

Click the pictures if you would like the template for the Wish Garden:)





Take A Break Station
This area continues to evolve and this is what I've come up with this year.


 
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