Kindness Coin

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Ben's Bells Kindness CoinAt some point last year at a Google Innovator event I was given one of these. I liked the idea of passing along a note to recognize kindness in others.

I recently ran across it again and incorporated it into my classroom. I introduced the idea to my students telling them that when they saw someone being kind, it could be passed along to that person.

Fortunately, my students have really taken to the idea. Each day I see this being placed on someone’s desk. I love that my students do it without making a big deal about it. At one point it was missing for a few days. One of the students asked where it was and what happened to it. I reminded them to keep it going and it showed back up later that day.

A little kindness going a long way!

Size Matters

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Yesterday, Friday, I had 5 students absent. When everyone is present, we have 26 students in our class. They are an awesome group of kiddos. I’m really enjoying them, but when I had 21 yesterday in class, it was so nice!

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Let me explain. First of all, it had nothing to do with which students were absent. It had everything to do with the number of students physically present. I know 26 isn’t a bad number to have (last year I had 31 – THAT was too many). However, 21 students made it so much easier to squash undesired behaviors before the student had a chance to fully commit to the behavior. It allowed me to target individual needs more effectively. Don’t get me wrong, we had some name calling and general playing around but it was easier to manage.

So when school officials, politicians, or policymakers say that handling 31 is the same as handling 21, they clearly have either never been in the classroom (as a teacher) or have been out of it for far too long. There is a difference. I felt so much more productive and impactful than I have in a long time. I felt as if I really was making a difference and reaching all students.

If you are in a position to make a difference in your community, I urge you to do so. Go to school board meetings or talk to teachers. Because in the end, size really does matter!

And yes, I will be happy to see all 26 of them Monday morning!

Classroom Podcast

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I have decided that we should start a classroom podcast. I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to bring the real world to my classroom. Each year, my students become more and more consumed by their devices and apps. Most of what they do is consume, text, or snap; very little creation occurs. I want to help change this and show my students that you can produce more than just YouTube videos. They all want to be YouTubers…

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So why Podcasting? Well, it’s not something most, or any, of my students are familiar with. They all know about YouTube, but there is so much more to the creative world than becoming a YouTuber. I began by having my students listen to a podcast: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. Warning, this is addictive! This is a well-done podcast that the kids, and I, really got in to. I only had my kiddos listen to Season 1 – and bonus, we Sketchnoted each episode. However, I wanted to hear the rest and listened to it on my own. I was not disappointed!

After listening to Season 1 of Mars Patel, I proposed the idea to my class. They seemed up for it. We talked about what we could do. At first, they wanted to do one like that of Mars Patel, but I felt that might be too ambitious for our first go at it. I encouraged them to do stand-alone episodes. They came up with the idea of focusing on the history of our school and town. I was in!

As a class, we posed questions about our town and school that we could research and report out on. Now, I have a group of students who are taking one question at a time and doing the research. We have reached out to school and community leaders to interview. They will begin interviewing leaders soon. They already have questions ready for our school leaders for one episode.

I’m not sure how it’s all going to turn out. I honestly don’t know what I’m doing and am learning right along with my students. Once we publish an episode, I’ll share far and wide!

My Word – 2019

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My word for 2019Another year means another word! This year I chose ‘Do‘. It seems simple enough but packed with so much meaning.

For me, this will help me to follow through and DO what I intend. I have a habit of becoming overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of me. This leads to anxiety, which leads to me shutting down and ignoring everything. Yeah, that’s not working so well.

As they say, I’ll need a plan. I have one. I need to list my tasks (I hate writing things down) and prioritize. It will also include me DOing things that scare me and take me out of my comfort zone. The loss of control on that coupled with all the negative ‘what if’s’ generally keep me from taking drastic actions. I need to learn to trust that everything will work out -it always does.

So this year, I will DO more!

Fail Forward

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Today ended the first week of the 2018-19 school year. For the most part, it was a great success. I had fun, the kids had fun, and it was low pressure. I did have the option to give a reading test this week, but I thought, “Who wants to take a test the first week of school?” And honestly, it won’t do any harm to wait until next week (but that’s another blog post altogether).

Along with all of this week’s successes, I did have a few failures. The biggest one was when I, ambitiously, decided that we would do two mini-reports (created by Jon Corippo). I thought two short articles on cats would be doable for a quick mini-report in one day…done as a group…Oh, how wrong I was.

I quickly realized while reading the first article with the class that it wasn’t going as planned. And for some insane reason, I powered on with the second article. What? Yeah, not sure what I was thinking (well, clearly I wasn’t thinking!). I did, however, extend the cat mini-report for a second day and scrap the dog report for next week. I also realized that I need to work up to two articles.

So…Next week we will read one article on dogs. We will take notes together. Together we will begin writing our mini-reports. I will have them do a portion of it on their own. Yeah, I’m learning. All it takes is one painful mistake for me to remember where to start. THEN, the exciting part is watching how far they will grow!

Pinterest Classroom

It’s summer and I”m doing what most teachers do; reflecting, researching, and preparing for the upcoming school year. Yeah, I know it’s still June, it’s what I do. Recently, I joined a teacher Facebook group. It’s great. Teachers are asking questions, looking for ideas, gathering resources, and the like. Then there was a run on teachers asking about classroom themes and names. This got me thinking.

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You see, I don’t ‘pimp out’ my room with a theme or a cutesy name. I never have. I’d like to say that it’s because of some philosophical reason but sadly, it boils down to sheer laziness. I mean, that’s a lot of extra work. I”m am definitely NOT the type of person who is all on board with creating more work for myself. And so seeing all these teachers being enthusiastic about themes and names (i.e. Ms. N’s RockStars) had me reevaluating my thoughts on the subject.

I came to the conclusion that I’m STILL not going to do that. Why? a lot of the same reasons: I don’t create extra work for myself. But looking at it deeper, why would I want to? Personally, I like to focus my creativity on lessons. I rarely do the same lesson twice. I don’t reinvent the wheel each year, I tweak or change up lessons based on latest research, tools, and needs of my students.

I’m not creating a ‘Pinterest Classroom’; it doesn’t help my students. It might make me feel good to have a cutesy room and others might look at it and think it’s cute too, but that’s not my job. My goal is to help my students learn and succeed. That’s not to say that I don’t try to create an organized classroom; I do. I try to create a safe, calming, relaxing, and a caring classroom. So if your looking for a cute ‘Pinterest’ classroom with a fun name; my classroom isn’t for you. If you’re looking for innovative lessons with successes and failures; look no further.

Stop Peddling Your Product

Warning: this is going to be a bit ranty.

Dear Everyone,

I am a teacher. Maybe you have seen in the news lately that many fellow educators across the nation are protesting. One item on the protest list is a living wage. Ya know, pay us what we are actually worth. Treat us like the professionals that we are – that would be another item on the list. And this is where I’m going to focus: treat me like a professional. Stop allowing merchants to peddle their product during my workday.

pexels-photo-823301.jpegTo the merchants – be they insurance, savings plans, ‘bookman’, or whoever – STOP PEDDLING YOUR PRODUCTS TO ME! Now, some of them I can choose to ignore. If I don’t want the cutesy items the ‘bookman’ is selling I don’t buy it. If the insurance man is in my lounge, I don’t have to engage in conversations with him. However, I ask do you go to doctors’ offices and ask to sit in their break room to sell life insurance? Do you go to other local businesses to talk about the great supplemental insurance you can provide? Look, I get it. You need to make a living. You share your knowledge with us and that’s fine, but there must be a better way than exploiting a teacher’s kind nature.

To the districts – STOP ALLOWING THESE PEOPLE TO PEDDLE THEIR PRODUCT ON ME DURING SCHOOL HOURS! This was never more apparent than this past week. Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. For the most part, it was awesome! Our PTO treated us like RockStars! Thank you, PTO! Then there was our mandatory staff meeting. The one with an insurance person trying to sell me supplemental insurance. Yes, you read that right, during Teacher Appreciation Week I had a MANDATORY sales pitch to attend. Really? Okay, there was one moment worth remembering the sales pitch. That moment where the person openly stated that he/she has your back. If your doctor won’t write that doctor’s note for your insurance, no problem “I will…”.

Yeah, I’m still a little irked by the whole situation. But knowing that someone is willing to write fake doctor’s notes for me made it a little bit better.

What the Tests Don’t Show

I have a student this year that I am in awe of. I want to be like her when I grow up. She is a true testament to growth-mindset. She is my go-to person for most tech questions. She is the rare 5th-grader who uses technology in meaningful ways in her spare time. My student, L, is a role model to both students and adults.

pexels-photo-733856.jpegYes, I realize I’m waxing on about L and here’s why. L has run our school’s daily news all year – which is a news broadcast. She films, edits, and most recently, been in front of the camera. When I’m having issues with a computer/tablet she’s the first person I consult and she usually has the solution. She uses her phone as if it were a mini computer: downloading Google Classroom, working on assignments at home, using Raz-Kids, and other programs to help her succeed. She has helped her family to download and set up educational apps (on their phones) to help them be connected to Class Dojo and learn a new language. She ‘texts’ me via Google Hangouts (her school account) to ask school-related questions or just tell me that she’ll be out the next day.

I’m sure you’re thinking that’s impressive for a 5th-grader, but not swoon-worthy. THIS is where her story begins to show how amazing she is. If we only look at her statistics – test scores, socioeconomic status, home language, etc – we would miss everything!

L is a second (maybe third) language learner. Her family speaks a dialect from the Oaxaca region in Mexico and Spanish. She qualifies for free/reduced lunch.  She was hit by a car last year while riding her bike (no helmet) and still suffers from some brain swelling which has impacted her memory, vision (not drastically), and headaches. She continues to go to the doctor for her injuries. L has an IEP for learning differences. The IEP was in place before the accident. See, you’re impressed now, aren’t you?

So, while some tests can help guide us, they don’t measure the most important things about our students. They don’t tell their stories and it’s those stories that truly help us connect with our students and serve their needs. Without the personal relationships we build with our students, how could we ever build them up? How could we see their potential and set them on a path to success? How could we do our jobs? If only the test-crazy people would understand that a child is so much more than a silly test.

I Am a Lazy Teacher

Yes, you heard me correctly; I am a lazy teacher. Or so that’s how I feel. Being a 5th-grade self-inclusion teacher is hard. Now, I have nothing to compare this to, so I’m not saying that my job is harder than anyone else’s. I’m just saying that my job is hard. And I get lazy. I’m really hoping I’m not the only one.

So what do I mean by lazy? Well, there are days – more when it’s closer to a break – that I pull out the curriculum and do what’s next in the TE. I barely modify it, if at all. See, lazy. I hate this, but sometimes I’m tired and it takes a lot of energy to come up with engaging lessons for all areas of the day. I love Hyperdocs, Hypermaps, Breakouts, Ditch the Textbook philosophy, and all things engaging. But sometimes being an island in your own school/district is hard.

I want to BE the Rockstar my students think I am!

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So, this is why I am vowing to come back from break with more gusto, enthusiasm, and most importantly, engaging lessons for the students. They deserve it! I’m finally going to start that 50 states lesson I thought up last summer, we are going to read The Mouse & the Motorcycle by Beverly Clearly and the unit will include Flipgrid discussions. Science Camp is also scheduled for later in the week. And Math. I just received my copy of Jo Boaler’s new book: Mindset Mathematics Grade 5. It’s the perfect time to revisit certain concepts that they are struggling with.

No more lazy teacher! My students deserve better. I am capable of better. I will do better!

Notes & Voice Typing

pexels-photo-355988.jpegMy students constantly amaze me. They come up with great ideas and are innovators in their own right. Not only do I enjoy hearing their thoughts and ideas, often times we implement them in our classroom. I also feel fortunate enough that my students feel comfortable enough to share their ideas with me; knowing they will be taken seriously and not ridiculed.

Recently, one of my resource students (one with an IEP for both reading and math) created her own accommodation. We have been reading Tuck Everlasting and using a Hyperdoc to help guide us. While discussing one of the slides in the Hyperdoc, I noticed that the student had written some notes in the ‘Speaker Notes’ section. I found this interesting. It also made me a bit giddy as she was taking full advantage of our discussions. I privately talked to her about taking notes to tell her how impressed I was with her choice. She then revealed that she put on ‘Voice Typing’ during the conversation in order to capture everything that was said. Not going to lie, THIS really impressed me. Honestly, not sure I would have thought to do something like this.

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Later, I shared with the class what the student had done. Expressing how I felt it was a good use of technology, but shared with them my expectation that if they used this strategy, it is to be used as a means of note taking and all responses should be in their own words.

The next day, we were discussing the events that took place at Lexington and Concord – studying the American Revolution. At one point a group of students had ‘bug eyes’, began giggling, and pointing to their computer screens. I walked over to find out what was so entertaining. Sure enough, someone in their group had turned on ‘Voice Typing’ to capture the information. All I thought was, “Go kiddos!”