Monday, April 6, 2015

Why We Need to Be Prepared in Order to Be Flexible in the Classroom

Did you have a good Monday?  I had a good Monday.  We always want to have good days, but it is even better when a Monday is a good day because...well, it is Monday.

I am generally a very organized person, and I try to be very prepared.  When I am organized and prepared, I feel better.  I feel calm and confident, ready to tackle what may come my way.  When I am less prepared, I am stressed and more likely to frazzle.  (Is frazzle a word?)  As a full-time teacher and doctoral student, I do not need to add extra reasons to my life to be stressed.

This weekend on Saturday, I remembered at 3pm I needed to go to the library this weekend.  Of course, the library would be closed on Easter.  So that meant I needed to go on Saturday right then before they closed.  I made it to the libraries (plural) because you know the stacks of books I wanted existed across two locations to get everything I wanted.  (Note: For next year to be more prepared I am going to make lists of all the books I want for specific activities and then I can just request all those books be delivered to the library I want ahead of time. So next year I will be more prepared.)

Anyway, I got all the books I wanted.  I decided to take them all up to school on Saturday so I wouldn't have to deal with them Monday morning.  Then today, I got to work about 15 minutes earlier than I needed to. You sometimes forget what a difference 10-15 minutes can make.  I got a lot done this morning and was confidently ready to go. Now, I often try to have everything copied by Friday for the next week anyway.  However, just getting to work a few minutes early on a Monday still just allowed me to have a few minutes of quiet to set the right intention for the day.

The rest of the day continued in the same fashion.  I accomplished a lot.  My students accomplished a lot.  I was able to get several big assignments graded. I gave my students important feedback they needed.  We started a group project this week that the students were enjoying.  Often as teachers if we take the time to be feel confident...then our students feed off of that.  If we have a good day, they usually have a good day.  If we start out frazzled, then they are more likely to be less productive that day. We set the tone in our classroom.

Tonight at my Implementation and Evaluation of Curriculum class, we also were discussing a study that looked at differences between effective and less effective teachers for improving student performance.  One of the factors that made the biggest difference was the instructional planning of the teacher.  How well do you plan?  How prepared are you?  I often have said some of the best classroom moments I have experienced is when I was inspired by my students' ideas and questions, and we had an impromptu discussion or impromptu activity. However, I feel confident to be be inspired...when I am prepared...when I have planned well.

How prepared are you?  How confident did you feel today?  How well did you plan your day?  Does it make a difference in how you set the tone for your classroom?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fun Activities to Review the Moon Phases

Well, I hope you are experiencing some warm weather where you are.  The month of March was so incredibly busy for me it just flew by.

This week I decided to go back and do some review activities in Science with my 7th graders.  We had finished up a unit not long ago on the moon and space.  Even after the test, some of my students were still confused on rotation versus revolution, the moon phases, how the moon interacts with the tides, and the different eclipses.

We began by watching Flocabulary's Confessions of a Planet.  They were equally intrigued and mock horrified with the video.  It was a good way to begin the discussion, though.

I first had us complete some foldables from this Space Interactive Notebook file I had bought last year.  We compared and contrasted revolution and rotation.  Then, we labeled the different moon phases and put them in the correct order.

We used these two websites to help us look up the moon phases and review:

Today we did the activity where you make the moon phases out of Oreos.  Edible labs are always better! I know this is an activity often done with younger students, but I found this great set of lab directions as a freebie from Addie Williams.

It has a great set of procedures and really good questions for them to answer at the end.  It took the activity from just being an activity to truly being more of a lab.

Overall, it was a good week in Science and we got to have some fun reviewing and reteaching. How is your week going?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Inside Recess is Evil

Don't you love winter?  Long days of cold wetness with children stuck inside.  Days of energy multiplying and patience dwindling. I believe inside recess is an evil invention made to torture teachers.  #justsaying

I teach middle school now, so honestly my students don't really go to recess anymore.   However, the same thoughts apply.  Over the last week, the energy level and the chattiness has multiplied exponentially.  Just in time for my pre-algebra students to do their unit on exponents, too. Now, energy levels and chattiness always go up right before spring break, but days and days of cold and no sunshine make it worse.

I know there are all sorts of great ways to get your students up and moving this time of year.  Great ways to harness their energy. This is not that post. I have used those strategies.  Today I just feel like saying I prefer sunshine to helpful inside strategies.

Next week is Spring Break, and yet tonight in North Texas we are anticipating "wintry mix." We had spring in January and February and then winter showed up just in time for spring break.  Go away, Winter!  I want sunshine and vitamin D.  I am sure I might complain later when it is 105 in Dallas in July. I know I need to be grateful for all of the precipitation that is good for my foundation,  but I just don't feel grateful on the inside. Right now I want sunshine.

So that's it.  No words of wisdom or great ideas to share.  I just wanted to say I am ready for sun and flowers and spring.

I hope you are having a wonderful week, and that inside recess makes you feel rainbows and unicorns and sunshine and not tired and tortured and worn out.  I guess that is why we have spring break.  Not for the kids...for the teachers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Curriculum Camp

This past weekend I had the opportunity to present a paper I had written at a graduate student led conference at LSU called Curriculum Camp.  I spoke on using dystopian literature with adolescents to explore concepts of giftedness.

It was unlike any conference I had ever been to.  It was small and intimate, filled with graduate students and their ideas. Graduate students shared papers they had written, research they were doing, and ideas from their dissertations. Just about each session tackled thought-provoking and challenging issues. I took a lot of notes of thoughts, questions, and ideas I walked away with.  I have a large list of curriculum theorists and their ideas I want to read more about.

One of the themes I caught throughout the conference was this idea of being comfortable with the uncomfortable.  We live in a world that is surrounded by the politically correct.  We spend hours molding ourselves into boxes, trying to be so many things at once.  I joke about it, but one of things I am highly uncomfortable with is other people's emotions.  I am not even comfortable with my own emotions, so I am highly uncomfortable with other people's emotions.  This is why I have to teach above grade 4.  Grade 3 and below includes way too many tears.  Tears terrify me. I can relate to the quote below. I usually refused to give in to expressing emotion because I felt I had to be strong.

Source: Pinterest

This idea of being comfortable with the uncomfortable is a theme in my life I have been wrestling with all year.  You can see where I blogged about this at Balancing the Backpack in September. It also got me thinking about my students.  How do I help them embrace ambiguity?  We need to inspire students to be creative and critical thinkers.  However, we often frame their learning experiences around questions that have right and wrong answers.  How do we open them to the possibilities?  How do we help them to see how big the world is?  How many ways of seeing there are...

I was reviewing through some old lesson plans and I found one of my weekly reading responses from a World Literature class I took during my Masters.  The themes matched up well to my current thoughts.

Thoughts on Ambiguity from 2010

How does one become comfortable with ambiguity in a text? Should ambiguity just be defined as the act of being uncertain and unclear? What other elements exist in the concept of ambiguity? If the path is unclear, do we stand at the edge of the unknown and gaze upon it waiting for clarity to strike us? Or is it better to venture forth into uncertainty with confidence? We have to decide if our goal is to reach the destination, or if we really just want to experience the journey. In asking myself how I become comfortable with ambiguity, I feel the need to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of ambiguity, essentially wanting to make the notion of ambiguity less ambiguous. Maybe becoming comfortable with ambiguity is not the idea of understanding ambiguity but embracing it. Does everything in life need to be broken down and categorized? At the same time, it is the nature of the ambiguous that makes it so intriguing and makes us want to analyze it deeper. Are we inherently attracted to things that are ambiguous, and it is the events and duties of our everyday life that have forced us to try and compartmentalize the world into easily understood categories? 

As an elementary teacher, I find it fascinating to see how children view the world. They abhor the monotonous and thrive on creativity, anything that stimulates their imagination. I have seen firsthand the difference age makes on the acceptance of uncertainty. You can give a prompt to a fourth or fifth grader and while they may still seek to ensure that they understand the directions or the questions asked, they will enter into the assignment with confidence of their own ability to analyze and imagine. They are sure of their world and their ability to perceive it. Many of my sixth grade students will hesitate to finish an assignment or answer a question unless someone can provide them confirmation that is accurate and complete. I am finding the need to instill in my older students what seems to come naturally to my students only a year younger, that they need to trust their own ability to analyze and verbalize their thoughts. If younger children can embrace the ambiguous, what along the way has caused us to create our own roadblocks? Is it as simple as wanting others to like us, being afraid of making a mistake, a reinforced need to be correct, overwhelming availability of possible answers to every question, or just the pressures of everyday life? If we are to become comfortable with ambiguity in an ever-increasingly complex world, we need to shed our adult-learned hesitations and approach the uncertain with the imagination and confidence of a child. We can make sense of the uncertain path only by jumping into it with the confidence that we may never find all the answers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Form for Checking and Reflection on Grades - Freebie

We all can dispute the value of grading and what to grade and how to grade and when to grade. At the end of the day though, most of us take grades and hand out report cards or progress reports on some regular basis.  Many schools use some type of online system to track grades, and often parents and students have a way to check their grades.  I have used Engrade the last couple years. It is fairly easy to use and students and parents can have access to check grades. I have been reminding students and parents the last few weeks to check student grades and check to see if they have any missing assignments to get turned in since our grading period ends soon.  With my students being 7th and 8th graders, I think they are old enough to find out what they missed if they were sick and to remember to turn assignments in when they are done.

I decided to make a form they all are going to have to fill out this week.  Despite my reminders, many of my students have not checked their grades and are going to be surprised if their grades are lower than they realized. This time of the year it is easy to have a lot of students with various missing assignments due to cold and flue season. So I am going to make them fill out a form to record their current grade and whether they have any missing assignments.  They also will have to fill out a separate form to track any missing assignments for any class for which they had missing assignments.

You can get a free copy HERE. How do you help hold your students responsible for taking ownership of their grades and getting everything turned in.

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Monday. What are you reading? #imwayr 2/16/15

I got the flu for Valentine's Day.  What did you get?

I don't recommend the flu, but it did give me an excuse to alternate between sleeping, reading, and watching movies this weekend.  Anyone else admit to watching the Twilight marathon? #notashamed
I did squeeze in some necessary homework as well.  It comes with the territory of being a graduate student.

Today is Monday, so I am going to link up with Book Journeys and Unleashing Readers to share what I have been reading lately.

Adult Fiction Reads

This weekend I finished Dragonfly in Amber and started Voyager.

So far I am enjoying the Outlander series.  I have always loved historical fiction.  I will say I enjoy the series, but at times the books do seem overly long.  Some parts of the plot feel unnecessary or feel like they drag on a bit longer than they should, but overall still entertaining.

Audio Books I am Reading

I spend way too much time in the car, so audio books help keep me sane.  Audible is my friend. This past week, I started Scarlet after finishing Cinder.

I love the idea of a fractured fairy tale for teens.  I felt so inspired by the idea of a science fiction fairy tale that my 8th graders are writing their own version of a fairy tale set in a science fiction setting in class. We just finished Ender's Game, so science fiction has been on the brain.

Teen Fiction I am Reading on My Own

I have been reading The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.

It is a lovely satire that will make you laugh out loud.  Some girls at a a girl's finishing school find themselves in a predicament when their headmistress and her brother fall over dead at dinner.  They decide to hide the deaths, so they don't have to be sent home.  Still reading it currently, but I intend to read parts of it to my students later in the year before we read Taming of the Shrew.  I think it will make for a fun discussion of satire.

Read Alouds to My Students

We read the first few chapters of Ruby Red and my students were loving it. Ruby Red is very funny, so it really does translate very well to audio or as a read aloud.  I considered reading the whole book, but I really want to introduce them to different books every couple weeks. I want to expose them to different books to hopefully get them to want to pick up some books on their own to read for pleasure.

This past week we just started The Testing.  The Testing is a great dystopian teen fiction read that is not as well known yet, so not many have read it yet.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

You might be a Teacher and a Graduate Student If...

You might be a Teacher and a Graduate Student If...

Source: Pinterest

  1. You can't remember the day of the week.
  1. Your alarm is an evil monster who hates you.
  1. You ask your students what day of the week it is instead of the other way around.
  1. Your best work comes when you are too tired to care.
  1. You have a different bag for each part of your life. 
  1. You make grocery lists in class in the margins of your notes to capitalize on your time. 
  1. You have favorite pens and pencils that are the only ones you will use.
  1. You spend way too much at Starbucks.
  1. Your barista knows your order without you saying anything or they comment "Ooooh, something new today" when you try something new. 
  1. Your favorite phrase to say throughout the day is "Sanity is overrated."

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