Saturday, December 27, 2014

Being Reminded by My Annoyance

Ahhh... the Christmas Winter Break. Staying up late followed by closing the shades so we can sleep in the next morning, relishing in the fact that 5 AM will come and go and we will never know. I'm not sure about you and your family, but my family and I love the laziness of the Christmas Holidays. It wasn't until I caught myself becoming increasingly annoyed (...and often) that I realized while we were basking in the unstructured, late-morning routines, my son was missing some very crucial parts of his- and sadly, none of us realized it.

K's two main areas of struggles, as far as sensory processing go, are Vestibular and Proprioception. Our Vestibular system allows us to accurately use our vision, prepare our posture, maintain balance, plan our actions, move, calm ourselves, and regulate our behavior. When his is out of whack and his body feels he isn't receiving enough input, we notice he is on the go more. Not really running around, just aimlessly wandering around (usually touching things) or twirling in circles. At times, we notice him rocking as if in a rocking chair while he is totally oblivious. 

Our Proprioceptive systems deals with the receptors located in our muscles, tendons, and various connective tissues throughout our bodies. These receptors tell us where our bodies parts are located and positioned, how close we are in proximity to others, as well as objects, and how much force is needed to carry out our movement for the task at hand. When K's are lacking sensory input, we notice he seems more clumsy than usual, tends to knock things over or spill things easily, and doesn't seem to be aware of his surroundings as far as bumping into things, stepping on things, etc. 

As you can see, when a child is randomly and consistently twirling through your house, bumping into things, knocking items over on his way to the fridge, spilling the milk he is pouring, and then usually making some type of new mess trying to clean the first one.... it can become a bit exhausting. And so it was today that I found myself saying "Be careful", "Pick that up", "Go over there out of the way", "Stop twirling", "Blah, Blah, Blah" that I finally had a lightbulb moment. He isn't in his regular routine of a school day and so some of the automatically built-in self-helps have been missing. 

Example, usually he walks across campus for each class. He usually uses the walk as an opportunity to run his hand along the fence or brick building which helps with tactile stimulation. The backpack he carries is super heavy, which helps center him more and make his body more aware of its place. It is actually satiable to the Vestibular system. With school being out, none of these usual opportunities for sensory input have been available. [Some home remedies are using 10-pound ankle weights and/or brushing (as part of a sensory diet).]

So, at the end of the day he presents as a clumsy kid who doesn't pay attention to anything he does, makes a lot of messes, and randomly twirls through life without a care in the world, but that isn't what is truly going on inside. This is further proof to me that we (I) need to slow down some of my own assumptions and look deeper at the root of the problem. If this is true of my own children, how much more true is it of those I have the privilege to teach each day?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Marshmallow Challenge and What We Learned

I heard about The Marshmallow Challenge at Region 5 Edcamp last year and knew I wanted to do it! Honestly I got a little excited at the thought of shoving as many marshmallows in my mouth as I could while chanting "chubby bunny" like we used to at youth camp, but then I found out this was a different kind of Marshmallow Challenge. 

The Marshmallow Challenge was created by Tom Wujec as a team building exercise that allows the participants the opportunities in collaboration, innovation, and creativity. It was discovered, however, that students were much better at this activity for several reasons. Learn more about the official Marshmallow Challenge HERE or see Wujec's TED talk HERE

I used the Marshmallow Challenge as a team-building exercise the first week of school. It was a fun way to see how students worked within a group, but also what strengths and weaknesses they brought to the table that could be used during the school year. I was delightfully surprised by the amount of thought and creativity that went into the project, as well as simply working with others in a group setting. Below are a few of the pictures that captured the hard work, followed by what groups felt they did well and what they wish they would have done better and it's solution if there was one. 

So what about you? Please share your best in-class collaborative project your kids have done and the results. If your class participated in the Marshmallow Challenge, we would love to hear your students thoughts and ideas, what worked and what didn't, We followed the highs and lows of many classes via their Twitter feed! Always fun to see what others come up with.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

When a Connected Educator Unplugs

If you had asked me last year, I would have happily told you that I am a connected educator. I thrived on making new connections with fellow educators who I could bounce ideas off of; hear about new things that are working in education and things that aren’t. I searched for classes I could connect my fifth graders to, broadening our learning experience as a collective learning community. It was where I felt most comfortable as an educator. And when life handed me lemons (as life has a tendency to do)- it was no big deal. I’d make lemonade and blissfully move on while adding sugar and stirring. I had the year down pat and felt my students were learning so much.

But then seemingly overnight I found myself making connections and connecting less and less…. And oddly- it didn’t bother me. Once the new school year started, I not only connected less, I finally just unplugged.


Lights off. Game over.

“Why?” you may ask… (and I did! I asked myself that same question… A LOT). I really didn’t have an answer other than there were several pressing issues that needed more of my attention on a daily basis at this point in time, and… (how dare I even say this; it’s blasphemous) I needed a break.

The problem began, however, when I tried to resume my connectivity. I tried to use the same techniques I had done last year with this year’s new group of students. I anxiously awaited to same expectation and thrill of collaborating with other classes and students from various areas of the US, but instead was met with hesitation and apathy. Not only that, I have a different schedule this year making scheduling time to connect and meet-up problematic. Some days I felt like I was skimming the surface and didn’t know how to fit it all in, but knew it was worth it. Then frustration set in. Not only was I unplugged, but now I was frustrated and feeling hopeless. I felt like instead of lemons and lemonade, I was dealing with lots of lemon seeds with nothing to work with!

A few nights ago, I was thinking about my feelings of being stuck in a rut and wondered what advice I would give if a friend from my PLN was in this same predicament. I decided it all boils down to starting little. I needed to find one area to play with, experiment with, a willingness to try. I set up a Skype meeting with my friend Craig Yen from California. He and his class would meet with us to read a chapter from The Fourteenth Goldfish and discuss ideas from the book. Our students would verbally share their ideas via Skype, as well as use a backchannel for additional communication with one another. After our time together, my kids were excited, I was excited; the excitement of sharing our reading with others was present in the classroom again, and it felt good!

It was in this moment I realized that while I’ve been expecting the same outcome as last year, and dealing with problems the same as I would have last year, that’s not what being a 21st Century educator is about. It’s about flexibility, growing, and learning. It’s about realizing the learning comes first and everything else is extra to enhance that. It’s about realizing that instead of waiting to make lemonade, I’ve been given seeds and if I would plant them, they’d grow. It’s ultimately about being ok if this year doesn’t look identical to last year, because this year is its own- and that’s a good thing because with a little water and some TLC, this year might be the best I’ve ever experienced.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

2014 Life Lessons Learned this Summer

Ms. Angelou said it best; and for this summer- I am thankful for life. 

As my summer wraps up, I'm left to reflect on what I've learned- which is to being thankful for the moments we are given, each one of them. So these are my top 2014 Life Lessons learned this Summer:

Grow your zones of comfort; push your boundaries... Being scared to do something is ok... normal, even; but when that fear overpowers your will to step out of the boundaries you set for yourself, you begin to limit your own effectiveness, defeating your power of growth.

Celebrate the moments of life; even in death... The mom of one of our students unexpectedly died toward the beginning of the summer. My heart ached for this young man; losing his mom at such a young age. My son was also a classmate of his this school year, so we (my son and I) attended the funeral for his mother. It was a beautiful service, but also a reminder that the kids we serve are not only our kids from August through May. Our lives are forever intertwined, and our support for them is so much more than a regular 8-5 kind of job. 

Cherish each moment; live your day to its fullest... As stated above, we never know how much time we will be given and that is true for the young, as much as the old. This summer our school lost one of its rising 5th graders in a tragic accident. While I had not had the opportunity to teach this young girl, I had the privilege of hearing countless stories of how she loved life- loved laughing, fishing, going on adventures, and "wasn't afraid of anything." She was known for her vivacious smile and excitement for life. May we, too, celebrate each moment in the same way.

Relish new beginnings; they equal growth... I also had the awesome opportunity to attend the wedding of one of my friends, whom I teach with! I sincerely enjoyed seeing all of her planning and excitement fulfilled as her dreams came true. I'm reminded that we should also relish in new beginnings because this equals growth... and growth is good.

Take time for family and friends; your devices, tools, and resources will be waiting... At the end of the day I've tried to do my best with not being as "electronically" connected and instead "presently" connected during these summer months with my family and friends. What I've learned is that while there always seems to be an urgency and fast-paced sense to things in the Edtech realm, those things are still there, waiting, when you pick them back up. 

I hope that you're gearing back up for a great school year, but also hope that you've stopped long enough to enjoy your summer as well! 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Top 5 Magic Making Moments from ISTE 2014

Duplicating an amazing event is often impossible; so I attended this year's ISTE convention with high hopes, but was totally prepared to be somewhat disappointed. Last year's ISTE convention was phenomenal, and I felt like I'd discovered the secret wardrobe into a mystical world full of excitement, opportunity, and ideas... for all intents and purposes, it was my Narnia.

So for this year's ISTE, I had to be prepared. If you know me at all, it should come as no surprise that I bought a composition book (to appease my love affair with paper) and divided it into different sections. (Yes, I am well-aware there are many great apps and platforms for this... but the physical act of writing calms I go with it.) In my little ISTE Convention 2014 Book, I had a section with a quick sketched outline of the days I'd be there, along with any sessions I'd heard people talking about that sounded extremely interesting, as well as the BYOD sessions I'd pre-registered for ahead of time. 
Getting to hang out w/ friends from Twitter

After reading Holly Clark's (@HollyClarkEDU) "Must Have Guide to Networking at ISTE" I decided to suppress my inner lurker, break out of my introvert shell, and push my own zones of comfort. I made a list of several educators I actively follow on Twitter and/or personal blog that I would love to say hello to in person. Some names seemed more approachable than others, but I decided to take Holly's advice to heart and use it as a networking opportunity. I also added a section right after that with all of the names of people my class and I had collaborated with this school year, on the off-chance that some might be attending ISTE also. Surprisingly, I soon discovered that Karin Stadler (@ICT_Integrator) would be attending to present a poster session on her Traveling Rhino Project. I had recently received one of the little rhinos to hold him for safe keeping until school starts and was able to bring him with me to ISTE and arranged for us to meet up at the Meet and Greet. 

The remaining bulk of my book was left for taking notes, doodling while I listened, and quick lists in the margins when I had a brainstorm of ideas. 

I am excited to say I was pleased with my participation in this year's ISTE events. Stacy Hawthorne (@StacyHaw) reminded us that "the true magic happens outside of people's comfort zones" in her inspiring Ignite session, and with that- I was determined to make magic.

So- here are my Top 5 Magic Making Moments from ISTE 2014 with an emphasis on connecting with others:
    Susan & Anibal
  • Hack Education 2014- a type of "un"conference the day before ISTE officially starts where educators gather to discuss topics of interest. The entire day is made up of networking and discussions- both in large groups and smaller groups. And even though I didn't arrive to Atlanta until after 1 PM, I still managed to push myself beyond my little box of comfort and attend. While there I officially met Timonius Downing (@techmonius). During EdCamp Home 2.0, I ended up in a GHO session with Timonius about gamification, but 5 minutes into the call, my server crashed and I lost the call. I was also able to have an impromptu visit with Susan Bearden (@s_bearden) and Anibal Pacheco (@anibalpachecolt). I learned about Susan's new app (TweechMe) to help new Twitter users navigate the platform and get better connected. (Which is AWESOME! Highly recommend.) But we also chatted about life, with Anibal sharing how he got into the ed-tech field to begin with. 
  • #CoffeeCue with Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) at SIX in the morning. (Yes- the time DOES matter. I am NOT a morning person, but decided Alice would be worth it.) We discussed ideas for getting buy-in from reluctant/defiant students. Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) suggested finding technologies the students are already using as a foot in the door with a low-risk assignment as a starting point. (On a total side note- if you haven't seen her history videos, check them out! Wowzers! Check out her YouTube channel- historyteachers.) So happy I met her, along with the Amazing Keeler. I have so much respect and admiration for her. It was great to be in a learning environment with all of the CoffeeCue peeps.
Kristen Magyar (@mrsmagyar)
  • Attended a social gathering sponsored by Class Dojo where I met many awesome educators and/or people working in the edtech field. I learned more about additional tools and resources I have available to me through my MS Office365 subscription and also had some questions answered. I learned about 81Dash, a collaborative back-channel that provides teachers more options to truly be in control of a room that he/she creates for use with students created by Carlos Fernandez (@fernandezc4) who will go out of his way to find solutions and is also certified as a Microsoft Innovative Educator- which was very helpful for me since my district is rolling out M365 with all of the MS tools this year.
Rodney Turner (@techyturner) One & Only
  • I was brave enough to leave my introvert shell in the hall while I mingled and chatted with Twitter peeps as if they were long-lost friends, as well as make new ones. And while there were times I wanted to be the strange lurker in the background, I found being social isn't as awkward as I sometimes feel it may be. 
  • And my #1 Magic Moment would be the underlying theme I found interwoven in all of the sessions I attended- my voice matters and what I share with my students matters. Bringing this to the classroom is vital because students need to know they are heard. My students need to know the world expects their contribution, and it is my job to fuel that desire; that belief that their "learning is bigger than adult agendas." (Quotes from #YouMatter panel session & also the session on #Genius Hour.) It sets the stage for an epic learning adventure in the school year ahead and sets the bar high (in my opinion). While this pushes me to rethink some routine activities and look at rearranging how I do some things, it also pushes me beyond my comfort zone... but that's ok... because I'm making magic. 
Relationships, Collaboration, Being Brave, Sharing, Learning... Epic.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Top Ten Things I Learned from My iPadpalooza Experience

We often tell our students or our own children that everything will work out ok... "be brave"... "don't worry so much".... (and my all-time fav) "just do your ________"... Yep- see! you can fill in the blank because, as adults, we say it often. We can say these things with such certainty because, being the ever-wise and worldly beings that we are, we know that truthfully there is very little that can be so earthshaking that it alters the world as we know it. But what happens when the roles are reversed and we're the ones who are looking at what we feel is impossible? That's the situation I found myself in recently.
My dear friend Daisy suggested that I submit a proposal to present at iPadpalooza this year. I honestly had no idea that speakers submitted proposals to present their material to share with others at various conferences. It was 11:00 at night when I ventured onto the site and submitted the proposal on a whim. And it was with crazy excitement, followed by sheer terror that I read the email saying my proposal had been accepted.
Over the weeks leading up to iPadpalooza, my anxiety mounted. My nerves swelled. My brain almost went *poof* just thinking about standing in front of people I didn't know sharing ideas from the classroom. "Well, why would you volunteer to talk about something you're too afraid to talk about?" my (sometimes too opinionated) daughter wondered. I explained that sharing ideas with other teachers actually excited me, and that I'd submitted the proposal to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself; but that if I was being honest, I was really scared. It was at this moment that my son chimed in with, "It's going to be fine, Mom. Just do your best. That's all they can ask for. You're worrying too much. That's what you always tell us." I wanted to shout, "YES BUT THIS IS A REEAAAALLLLLL PROBLEM! WITH REAL ANXIETY AND FEARS!" Instead I just told him he was absolutely right and that I was sure it would be just fine. 
So, with that, I give you my Top 10 Things I Learned at iPadpalooza:
#10: Food trucks are truly all they are touted to be.... and then some. Chilantro (Korean+Mexican Fusion) was the bomb! 
#9: the Belkin people showed me how to utilize the Stage app, which I've had for a year but never used because I didn't really realize all that it could do. And as an added bonus- the upgrade to Stage Pro was free that day! Ba-zinga! 
#8: I've considered purchasing one Sphero to tinker with in class, but wanted to know more. Luckily one of the challenges for the APPmazing Race was using a Sphero! 
#7: Daisy Marino (@daisyray215) shared lots of resources her students made using the Aurasma app and gave lesson ideas for class projects. Participants were also able to create an account and taught how to navigate the app if needed. I jotted down several ideas for lessons this school year! (Thanks, Daisy! :)) 
#6: I learned Carl Hooker (@mrhooker) and his Eanes ISD team are hands-down phenomenal! The conference was a pleasure to attend and ran smoothly with tons of opportunity for learning, sharing, and networking.
#5: Note to self: Must intentionally incorporate more coding apps into my students learning. While yes- I teach reading/language arts, the coding apps we checked out in Mark Montgomery's (@mmontgomery3) session had many tie-ins to problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration that I could see them easily lending themselves to the ELA classroom. See for yourself. Check out Cargo-bot, Lightbot (was several of my students favorite from last year), Fix the Factory (could see a tie-in with story-telling with this one; AND also available in GooglePlay store), Daisy the Dinosaur, and Move the Turtle
#4: My district subscribes to Discovery Education and while I utilize the videos available, there are a TON of resources and items available that I'm clearly not taking advantage of. In the session titled "Content to Creation" we learned about Builder Tools, specifically, Board Builder. 
#3: Kids are just plain amazing! We attended iPadpalooza's Youth Film Festival hosted at the Alamo Drafthouse which is an awesome movie venue all by itself, but stick the iPadpalooza team, kids who created the films all using IOS devices, and the presenters to watch and vote and it equals an AMAZING opportunity. As a kid I can't imagine seeing something I helped create on the big screen with popcorn and soda and a crowd of a hundred. Whaaaatttt?!!!!! Awesome.   
#2: It's ok to be scared. Fear and uncertainty in ourselves can push us to be better than we thought possible. And even though we think we might puke, we rarely do. (Always an added bonus, right?)


..... and the NUMBER 1 thing I learned through my experience at iPadpalooza:
When anyone looks to me for encouragement in something they think is impossible, I will be more specific in what strengths I see in them that I believe will help them nail it. I will no longer give the blanket, "It's going to be fine!" statement. (While I am still quite certain that it will be, that individual needs more feedback, to see what I see in them, to know they are awesome and WHY.) My daughter actually calmed my fears some the day before I left. "I know you're afraid. But you're going to do good. You talk all the time about this stuff. You get really excited, too, like we all know what you're talking about even when we don't. So see, just play like we're there and you're just talking away to us and you'll be ok." (Sometimes her opinions are spot on!)

Make plans now to attend next year's awesomeness! Ipadpalooza 2015 will be held June 23-15, 2015!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ipadpalooza Presentation #iplza14 "Blogging, Tweeting, Collaborating- Oh My!"

Monday, May 26, 2014

On the Fence About Reading Logs... but Why I Lean Toward "Like"

Over the last year I have read many books and blog posts concerning Reading Logs... most of which frown upon this practice; so I found myself torn as I decided to try them out amidst all the negative hype. The Reading Log I decided to try simply has the title of the book students are reading and a place for parents to initial. There are no columns for "start page" or "end page" or "how much time you read." I just basically wanted a "what are you reading?" page that was turned in once a week for me to check...but still... I almost felt as if I was doing something counterintuitive to the kind of reading teacher I wanted to be. And while no- I was NOT trying to be the Reading Police, and YES- I DO want to encourage a wide variety of reading, I felt implementing a read log could be multifaceted for several things I was needing:

  • Student accountability for what they were really reading: Even though we regularly share book titles with one another, discuss books, look at book trailers, and call dibs on the next book we want to read from our friend, I found that sometimes students were reluctant to share. Many times it was the voracious readers who clamoured for a few seconds to share a great new find; which is awesome for sparking excitement and a general reading buzz in the room- I love seeing the excitement these students can generate with their enthusiasm, however I wanted to know what the kid who rarely shared was reading... and why. As a mom of Struggling Developing Readers (thank you, Donalyn Miller for the term), my own kids are often reluctant to share what we read simply because of book level. For a reader who struggles with fluency and/or comprehension, nightly reading can be difficult and daunting. So I can't expect that these same students would turn around and celebrate that in front of their peers.
The Reality: What I found was when given the option of writing it down, often students shared exactly what they were reading, even if it wasn't a coveted library book. I started seeing things like "Bible," "Helped mom plan some meals- we read recipes," "Spiderman comic," "Biscuit and Friends," "Minecraft Handbook" etc.... I LOVED it. It gave me a true inside peek into their reading world that they might not otherwise share in an out-loud classroom setting. It also allowed me to see that many of them understood themselves as readers even when reading for a multitude of purposes and variety of print. It also allowed me to see who was continuing to struggle finding the "just right" book, who tended to "shoot for the moon" in terms of what he/she would realistically read, and gave me an opportunity to set some reading goals with these students to not only help them with goal setting themselves, but also provided some accountability on their part as a reader in a reading class.

  • A common place for exchange of ideas about reading:  I wanted students and I to have an official common place to share tidbits about the books they were reading, progress, ideas, "next read" suggestions and the reading log provided that place. I found that when I reviewed the reading logs over the weekend, I had more time to consider the student and title he/she was reading. I was able to jot down ideas or questions I had in the margins or on the back. It allowed me time to write a note of encouragement or the opportunity to make myself a note that a conference with the student was needed. 
The Reality: This truly evolved into my favorite part. Many students would leave little notes about their next read or whether I had read the book myself. I found myself jotting down several titles that I saw popping up a great deal on my own "Must Read" list! But for some, it was just a safe place to leave little messages. "Worst day ever" was written one week on one log. I responded "Oh no! I hate to hear that. What happened?" The student shared with me his parents had given his dog away with no warning. Since this student was the perpetually happy-go-lucky kid who never shared anything negative in his life- I was happy he felt that his reading log was a safe spot to share- even when it had nothing to do with reading. 

  • An additional way to communicate with parents on the reading lives of their child: I wanted a way to document what a student was reading from their (the student's) perspective, but also a way to use that data for goal-setting, parent meetings, and possible data for RTI meetings. There seemed to be a needed element to realistically put the parents in the mix of the reading lives of my students. I know for me, personally, when my kids were in the lower grades a nightly reading log was expected to be filled in with title, time read, and signature- nightly- no exceptions (at least... in my mind there weren't any); and while there were many a night we were coming in late from some activity or another, me grumbling because we still had to read (GUILTY!)... reading was still seen as a priority. We read even when we were busy, even when we didn't want to, even when we had other things to do. It was expected, so it's what we did. While I realize that I teach a wide variety of students with differing backgrounds and home-lives and not every student will have a parent so involved enough to jot their initials or signature 2 or 3 times a week as a check-in point for their child, it does provide me with 1. knowledge of that and provides an avenue to work with that student on helping him/her in their own goal-setting but 2. allows the reading life of my kids to be shared with their parents and gives us a starting point when discussing the child's progress, fluency, comprehension, etc. 
The reality: Yes- I know that sometimes the initial on the reading log is from the student and not the parent. And yes- sometimes there is the student who consistently loses it...EVERY.WEEK... and yes- sometimes I know the information the student is providing isn't really what's going on during independent reading at night... but that's ok. It is still a starting point and provides a foot in the door when brainstorming with parents possible books/strategies we could try. Do they always work? Nope. Are parents always available and involved? Not always. Are there times when I read something on how horrible Reading Logs are and why teachers should NOT do them and wonder what in the world I've done... at times. But all of that is ok. I really feel like the good outweighs the negative; it provides a jumping-off point for figuring out the real reading-lives of my kids, as well as helping me know what they enjoy/like/tend to lean on as far as style/genre, and technically provides an opportunity and expectation that the parent is just as involved and a part of this process as myself and the student.  

So while I sometimes find myself on the Reading Log fence looking at both sides, I lean (and usually fall off) on the "like" side... and have some additional ideas for making it even more of a positive experience for next year. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What's Your One Word?

Each year at our Back-to-School Celebration for our campus we are always challenged and inspired to dream big for the upcoming school year. This year our principal at the time, Mrs. Dickerson, asked us to think of one word that we hoped to embody this school year. One word that meant something to us. One word that evoked emotion and "umph" for a better lack of word. 

I thought a great deal about my word. If you know me well, you know I tend to live in the future... always thinking ahead to what tomorrow will hold- even though everyone, even the Lord, tells me NOT to do this. That being said, the moment of today is often missed and while I enjoy the moment of NOW, I don't always embrace it as I should. Sometimes I am already thinking ahead to "if this...then that" scenarios and trying to trouble shoot. I guess I am a problem solver by nature. So my word for this year became "Enjoy."

To me, Enjoy meant to enjoy the moment. To live in the present, to embrace what life throws at you and enjoy the moment of it- good or bad. I carefully drew my word out neatly and creatively on the index cards we were given and turned it in. Happy that the mission was accomplished, and I could check it off my list. 

Several weeks later the words we made were put upon the wall in the hallway leading to the teacher's lounge.... all there to remind us of our own personal hope for the school year. There to scream at us as we pass by each day. There to sing to us when we are weary and tattered from a rough day. So, it comes as no surprise that I've still been thinking about my word "Enjoy" (and yes, I capitalized it because I wanted it to have authority). 

While "Enjoy" is a perfectly fine word, I can't say with 100% confidence it is one I have embraced all school year. Instead, a  new word surfaced, and surprisingly I am really ok with it. In fact, I love it. The word you ask?--- MESSY.

Earlier this year, I had an epiphany about this word in my life and what it meant to me. I realized in my personal life that while I want desperately to solve the problems I face before I even know them, it isn't always realistic. So sadly, I am in many ways setting myself up for failure. There is nothing wrong with Enjoy but in order to Enjoy, you must first realize it will be Messy and be ok with that; at peace with it. 

Life is messy and so is teaching. While I would love to be 100% organized and efficient, the fact is no teacher is 100% prepared for the wild-card that will be thrown their way that morning. Each day is a new day with (for me) 63 different variables and factors (and then add in my own 2 kids- 65). Each day- as prepared as I am to teach X, sometimes Y throws a curve-ball. We talk a great deal about teacher flexibility, and I'm very flexible, but being ok and happy with it can sometimes be more of a challenge... especially for someone crazy enough to think she can look ahead and fix problems before they appear. 

So- I officially declare my new word as- Messy. I embrace it. I realize that statistically many times learning is just that- messy. As idyllic as I'd like it to be- it's just not me. Messy suits me more anyway. And... I think I enjoy that.

So... we only have a short time to go this school year, but what would your word be for these last few weeks with your kids? What ever it is- Embrace it. Work it. Enjoy it. Feel free to declare your word in the comments! I would love to hear it!! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Global Read Aloud- Full Circle Game Changer

Have you thought about what your game-changer has been this school year? 

Last summer I stumbled upon the ISTE convention not really knowing at all what I was in store for, but was hooked immediately. The people, the ideas, the sessions, the tweets, the blogs... this frenzied, super-charged mix of excitement and passion- all in the name of education. I listened to numerous speakers and leaders in our field talk about global collaboration- to think beyond the four walls of your school. I started to think about what this meant for me as a 5th grade teacher in a small Texas town and how I could bring this idea into my ELA classroom. Enter stage right- The Global Read Aloud

Several fellow ELA teachers I followed and learn from on Twitter mentioned #GRA so I decided to check it out. Totally unsure what it even entailed or if I would be able to really pull off this idea of connecting globally with other classes, I jumped off my side of the mountain (metaphorically speaking, of course... have you been to southeast Texas?) and took the plunge. I signed my classes up to participate. 

The idea is simple: one book (Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper), read aloud
Skype w/ Mrs. Ariss' class
according to the predetermined schedule, and options to connect with other classes- however you choose. Once I got over my fears of messing this up, we actually made many connections using various methods. We used Edmodo to visit with several classes in California, we created a Google Document that we then shared a link to- using our class Twitter account that other classes used to share their perspectives and thoughts. We received feedback from classes in Ohio, Iowa, Canada, and even Australia. This allowed for the difference in time changes and schedules, but still provided a place to exchange ideas and a running dialogue about the story we were reading. We used Skype with Today's Meet to interact with a class in Canada, as well as California. We participated in chats on Twitter, and even watched an interview with the author of the book we read on Google Hangouts- Live on Air!

While all of this 'busting down the walls' and 'thinking outside our school' was great- we began to think how this affects us- here- in our own school. This awesome novel made us think so much about the needs of others and pushed us so far out of our comfort zone in understanding that despite the differences of others- especially through all of the dynamic conversations and connections we made, we began to think about what we could do to help those with physical limitations at our own school. 

Stay & Play receives a grant
Enter stage left- Stay and Play. Our school nurse, Mrs. Meadows- a wise woman in the medical field with a heart to help others, began an effort in grant writing for a recreational area created with students' with special needs in mind, but inclusive for all to play on here at our campus last school year. You see- our "playground" is a bare, open field with no equipment; which works fine if you're able-bodied, but doesn't always work for those needing more defined limits and certain encompassing equipment. Stay and Play is being built one fully-funded stage at a time. My students and I began asking questions- to learn more, to understand what it would take, and why it was needed. We began to have honest conversations about what we could do. We had a parent share with us about life as a parent of a student with special needs. My students asked thoughtful questions- full of respect and genuine concern. 

About the same time, I saw a link on Twitter to a story of a courageous man named Rick Hohn, who also has cerebral palsy- the same as the main character in the book we read for Global Read Aloud. Through a simple Tweet requesting to contact him, we were able to connect with him, and he agreed to Skype with one of my classes. We learned so much through this remarkable man! He shared his own childhood story, the obstacles he had overcome, and the obstacles he continues to face. He shared the technology he uses to communicate with the world around him- including his communication device and chair. He gave of his time and energy, and left us inspired and wanting to DO something.   

I'm excited to say, we've become more aware of those we can include and help out right here at home, as well as break out of our comfort zone to meet and work with others in new and innovative ways using technology. My own role with Stay and Play has grown as I share with others the positive effects I've seen in my own kids by participating in Global Read Aloud. The narrative of the novel was powerful, but the involvement and emotion it evoked from my kids when working with others around the globe was greater. I'm always quick when asked "what made you become involved with Stay and Play?" to credit Global Read Aloud for many reasons. 

  • I learned it's ok to connect with others in new and innovative ways- we tweaked what didn't work and expanded the things that worked well.
  • I started pushing my students to try to come up with solutions to real world-problems by asking "what can I do now to help?"
  • Reminded myself often that moving beyond problems with multiple-choice answers is ok (for many reasons)...
  • Left me as a better, more connected educator with multiple ways to connect with others- and the courage to do so!
So, back to my original question, what's been your game-changer this school year and how has it impacted the lives of others? I hope what ever it was- it has stretched your comfort zones, stretched your thinking, and pushed you beyond your four walls to see yourself as unstoppable. Live loud- be the change!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fluency Finder- Great App (IOS) for Rdg Data

Since I'm always on the lookout for great apps to make my life a little less hectic as a reading teacher, I was excited when Fluency Finder was suggested by a Twitter friend. I was excited to try it out. With Fluency Finder, you're able to probe a large number of students in a smaller amount of time due to the fact that the app does most of the work for you. I found it to be very user friendly and easy to operate. The directions for using the app are short, simple, and to the point. I know many teachers are asked to monitor their entire classes' progress throughout the school year, and with this app, you would be able to with less worry that it will take multiple days to do, plus I liked the fact that the data is all in the same place and accessible anytime you need it. 

While I'm fortunate enough that our classes are progress monitored by our Accelerated Reading Instructors, I do still work with small groups of students who are actively trying to improve their fluency. I used Fluency Finder with them to supplement my data. The process is very easy. 

When the app is launched, you easily add your students by name and grade.

You can print the passages from their website ( that your students will use to read. A suggestion is to print on card stock so they'll be more sturdy and reusable. 

Choose the passage on app so you can follow along. (Reading levels range from 1.2 to 8.8, which is another thing that makes the app valuable. Regardless of student ability, this app is applicable and can be used.)

When the student begins reading, you push 'start' on the app and the timer begins. 

As you follow along, there is a '-' (minus) and '+' (plus) sign below the passage; if a student has an error, you push the minus sign. If the word is self-corrected, you can push the plus sign to add it back to their score.

Once the student has finished the passage, you end timer and move on to "Finish Assessment"

The part I liked the most, besides being user friendly and easy to use, was the fact that the app takes comprehension into consideration. Let's be honest- reading isn't reading if a student doesn't understand what they are reading. So the app gives you general questions about the passage for the student to answer. 

Once you're done, the app then shows you the results data and that data is then kept on the device for each student you have enrolled. 

Definitely an easy and quick way to monitor student progress, have usable data to make decisions on student progress, and also consider actual comprehension of what was read. You can find more HERE

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Are you Doing It? #reg5chat

You can do it on the couch.
You can do it on your phone.
You can do it in the car*.
You can do it while you gaze at stars.

You can do it before bed.
“You can do it! Yes!” I said.
You can do it- this Thursday.
8-9 without delay.
Region 5 to Zimbabwe.

Are you doing it?

*(passenger side only)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Making Appointments- a collaboration strategy

Autonomy and collaboration are two buzz words you hear often right now in the realms of education chatter. And for those days when collaboration means within our own classroom, it seems like this is the day autonomy needs to be focused on the most. I can take the same two students and match them up to work as partners, who would have normally joined up anyway- but there is something about the teacher doing the matching that often times sets things on a bad foot right away. I noticed this when school first started. I would watch the groups and partners gather in clusters when I simply said for them to partner up- versus watching their reactions when I actually called them out, putting them in very similar groupings. There is something to be said for students feeling like they have a say in who they work with. I guess we are no different as adults.

I saw a strategy at a workshop last year called "Making Appointments" that I envisioned as a complete train wreck, but one day last year, I threw caution to the wind, and we tried; and I have been using this strategy since then.

  • Students quickly draw a picture of a clock with the 12, 3, 6, and 9 hours only. 
  • Once you give the go-ahead for the class to make their appointments, they will meander around the classroom asking their classmates if they
    are available for a 12 O'clock appointment, a 6 O'clock appointment, and so on. 
  • Once two students decide they are both free for a certain time slot, they each write down the student's name they'll be meeting with at that time on their appointment clock. 
  • Once a student is booked (no more appointment times available), he/she is seated with their appointment clock face down on the desk which signals to other students he/she is booked and no longer taking any more appointments.
While this process may seem lengthy and complicated, it really isn't and after you explain it to the students and give them the opportunity to practice "scheduling appointments" once, you are pretty much set for the remainder of the year. I usually set my timer for 2-3 minutes and that is literally how quickly we get the process done.

The awesome thing about making appointments, is that you can then tell students to partner up with their (pick one) 3 o'clock appointments and then later change it up by meeting with a different time...

The element of having someone left out or getting their feelings hurt isn't there, and the students still feel like they have some choice in the matter. It also gives you the ability to change partners around tactically if you see that one appointment time gives a mix that could cause some disruption/distraction due to student partners.

All in all I think it is a win-win for everyone. Students get to work with someone they have chosen, it tends to cause a variety of student partners with more of a mix of students who wouldn't necessarily work with one another otherwise, and is quick and easy once you practice a couple of times. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mom of a Sped Student: Impossible vs. Reality

Soon it will be annual ARD time and since I teach 5th grade, for many students, it will be the first time anyone has ever asked the special needs students what they plan to do with their life upon graduation from High School. For many- having no initial idea as to why they are being called upon to a meeting of many teachers, other professionals, and their parents (as friendly and supportive as these faces may be)—I would think it could be a little intimidating. And yet… it is always my favorite part of an ARD. I love seeing the expression on their faces as they grapple with the fact that someone is asking them their plans of a future… to be prosperous… and full of possibility. It’s almost as if in that tiny moment of time- you see the student’s recognition that their life, their future-- is being validated; bursting with possibility.The part that comes next is the part I have always feared. Not as a teacher, but as a mom knowing that one day I would be asked the same question next- “What are your hopes and goals for your child’s future upon graduation?”

I believe every child needs consistent and encouraging affirmation in the hopes and dreams that are held dear- especially in those who learn differently than his/her peers… but there is also a fine line between pushing a child toward his/her goals and realistically looking at the talents and abilities a child has to see if the career goals are attainable. Notice I said fine line. I say this because often this is where I struggle as a teacher-mom. This is the part where I could put up a super-mom, super-teacher, Edu-awesome fa├žade and tell you anyone can achieve any dream and goal they place before themselves and it just takes grit, determination, and perseverance (and lots of encouragement, affirmation, and love) to achieve any goal…. But this is my own blog I am posting to, and well… I’m trying my best to be real and honest. My authentic mom-side who lives in the real world seeing the requirements of today’s needed skill sets in this 21st Century we live in sometimes doubts… and worries. Don’t misunderstand me- I DO believe all of the things mentioned above, but then the other half of my brain takes stock of all of the struggles we deal with when the curriculum is modified, much less ALL of it and at a much higher level of rigor. (I loathe that word, by the way.)

Luckily, I have had the honor and privilege of having many great examples and mentors to learn from, but one is most special because I've had the opportunity to see this young man grow, learn, develop, and dream through middle school, college, earning his degree from college, through the job hunting phase of life, to finally holding down a very lucrative job as a CAD draftsman. However-- I am still just an outsider… looking in. But this is what I saw:

A mom who relentlessly pushed (and sometimes pulled) her son through every course he ever took. Even in middle school. At the time, I taught 4th grade writing and was asked if I would tutor this young man, we will call him Perry, in preparation for the upcoming state assessment for writing when he was in the 7th grade. While it wasn't always easy, he was always giving of his time and his best and did so—because it was expected; and he knew it. I saw a mom who made it her mission to be an assistant to her son- his external memory. When he forgot about a test, a task, an assignment- she was there and study aids were created, hours devoted to preparing and studying. When he didn't know the material- she would work with him until he did. She was his greatest advocate and if anyone (teacher or not) said that Perry wouldn’t be able to do something or an accommodation couldn't be done- she was quickly there to prove otherwise; always professional, yet mama-bear fierce. I especially watched as graduation loomed and she began making preparations for college- attending meetings to find out what were allowable accommodations, looking at schedules and classes- always attending meetings with advisors-- with her son, preparing HIM for these meetings and giving him the tools to lead them, but also being the backup- always on standby. I watched as he moved into the dorms at a community college- not too far, but definitely not at home. I watched as she taught him how to live and cohabitate even with someone he didn’t otherwise know. I watched her share his honors, grades, and accomplishments throughout his college career, and I watched his graduation.When the time came- the time for the real world and a real career- I watched her set up meetings with an advisor to help prepare Perry for the hiring phase and walk him through the interviewing process. I took part in playing the part of a potential firm calling for an interview so he would have some experience dealing with that phone call- that first opportunity to make an impression to a potential employer. I watched as this mom gave her son every tool he could ever need… and many he had no clue he would ever use- in order to provide him what he needed to be successful.

I’m happy to say that Perry is a successful CAD Draftsman with a firm making his own money and being a contributing member to society. He attends many volunteer events throughout the community with his parents, attends church with his father, and is quick to give you a hug and ask you how you've been.

It makes me proud… and full of hope.

It gives me the encouragement I need as a mom to see that it will take a ton of work on my part to help prepare my child for the future, and yes- I will have to be prepared to go above and beyond what I might otherwise initially think to do, but Perry’s mom also taught me a lot about expectations. She never expected that Perry would do less or be less than any of his able-bodied peers. If they gave 100%- she pushed Perry to give 110%. At times, she was relentless. At times, I’m sure she probably seemed pushy. At times, I'm sure she was seen as unrealistic in some of her expectations for her son- but becoming anything less than what she believed he could accomplish was not an option. Perry and his mom taught me something- to dream that anything is possible, and truly believe it.   *I would like to add that Perry has two fabulous parents that have gotten him to the point where he is, but because Perry’s mom is a teacher- I have had the opportunity to see Perry’s adventure through her, but would also like to definitely give credit to Mr. Perry because he, too, is a stand-up guy!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Idea: Using QR Codes with Report Cards

Third Six Week's Video

Earlier this year Angela Moses (@MoTechChef) showed me an Animoto video she made and sent to her parents for the six weeks showing various lessons and highlights for that six week period. I was impressed, to say the least. I thought it was an awesome way to keep parents involved in their child's learning and also provides an avenue for students to explain what they've learned to their parent. Not sure about you, but I often get the, "Mmmm... not much" or "I don't know" answers when I ask how my own kids' day was or what they learned that day in school. 

School Logo with QR Code Placeholder
So Angela inspired me to utilize my student pictures taken during the six weeks and turn it into a video. The method of how I share this video with parents came as a solution to a problem with lost report card envelopes. Each year I spend time and effort  personalizing each report card envelope with the student's picture, information, clipart, etc. and often the envelopes tend to be lost rather quickly. So I decided I would make the envelopes more interactive by using a QR Code (printed onto a label) that links to our uploaded video and placed on the report card envelope as a way to share our learning, as well as making the report card envelopes more meaningful (and hopefully more important to return). 

Final Product

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Eye on the Prize: An Object Lesson in Action

After reading a friend and peer's blog post (read Brenda Jones' blog here) about inspiring her students to be passionate, it reminded me of an object lesson I did once when I worked with youth ministry that is very much relevant to the classroom. 

Using an extra large piece of construction paper, make a list of all of the things you must do in one day. (Don't forget to add "teach" to your ever-expanding list of duties and expectations!)

After you're done, roll up this piece of construction paper lengthwise (think wrapping paper)... and place a piece of tape to keep it rolled up nicely.

Next, in thinking about your job, school, duties, reasons you became an educator, etc. take a paper plate and write the one MOST important aspect of your job (hint: the KIDS!) onto this paper plate.

Finally, take the paper roll (the one with ALLL of the things you do and are responsible for) and balance it in the palm of one hand with the paper plate on top without dropping either. 
See illustration:

Ok, you get the idea.

If you actually do the activity, you quickly learn that your ability to balance solely depends on your focus. If you focus on the rolled up paper tubing or your hand, everything becomes unbalanced and topples over. You only have steady, balanced ease when you focus on the paper plate sitting on top.

(In case you missed that- it was my lightbulb moment.) This activity illustrates an all too familiar problem many teachers face. We get so caught up in the other "stuff." You know... all of the skills that we're expected to teach and students are supposed to absorb and apply, reports to fill out, meeting to attend, collaboration with our peers, planning stellar lessons, and don't forget about occasionally playing the role of: referee, conflict mediator, parent, nurse, encourager, ........ the list could go on. You know it well. When we focus on that "stuff" we begin to lose sight of the most important thing- the kids. Each one in our class this school year for a reason. However, when we shift the focus and don't worry so much about all of the stuff we are balancing, and instead shift our focus on the kids (a.k.a. balancing paper plate)- we are able to skillfully maintain balance and control. I wish I had a trick for making some of the to-do lists that never seem to go away to disappear, but I don't. Our work load may forever be full, but as long as we have our eyes on the prize- each unique in his or her own ways- we do better than just manage... we balance.