Thursday, October 23, 2014

A lesson in caring

So this post is not meant to be a tear jerker...but it will probably end up that way, at least for me.   This post is meant to be an inspiration to others to find time to spread some love, because it matters.  This post is meant to educate others, because I've learned some things in the past few months.

To help you understand, I need to flash back a few months.  At the beginning of the summer, my mom started coughing...a lot.  She went in for an x-ray & they said she had pneumonia.  She did what she was supposed to do, and the coughing went away.  Then it came back.  She went back in and they found a small mass on her left lung.  I don't know about you, but when I hear "mass on the lung", I automatically assume lung cancer.  The doctors thought that would be strange, because my mom has never been a smoker.

Three biopsies later, and she found out it is NOT lung cancer...this should be good news, right?  Nope, not so much.  It turns out that my mom has Stage 4 internal melanoma.  Yeah, as in melanoma the skin cancer.  This is where the education part comes in.  My mom has never been diagnosed with melanoma, so how the heck did she get it on her insides.  The doctors don't know.  They think it may have come in through her eyes.

The silver lining of all this is that the cancer has not spread anywhere.  It could have been so much worse.

I want to take a minute to try to explain how amazing my mom truly is.  She has always, since day 1, been supportive and encouraged me to be happy with myself, just the way I am.  She has always been a firm believer in the fact that our differences don't make us weak, they make us amazing.  She is, and always will be, my role model for being a strong woman.  She's pretty much a rockstar in my eyes (and I know I'm not alone).  And lastly, she is a fighter...and cancer is going to be her toughest fight yet.  She is now undergoing chemotherapy.

So fast forward to 2 weeks ago.  One of my very best friends, Julie Hughes, also happens to be my daugther's 2nd grade teacher, and she started something called "Thoughtful Thursday".  Every Thursday her class picks someone who needs a little pick me up and writes them letters, draws them pictures, etc.  She got the idea from her friend Laura Doran, and I'm so glad she did!  Last week they chose my mom.  I was very excited when she told me because my mom is totally sappy & I knew she would absolutely LOVE it!

Yesterday my mom got her package delivered and she was super touched by the thought.  I don't know if she'd want me to admit it, but I'm pretty sure she cried.  It was a pick me up that she needed and so (dare I say it) thoughtful.

Here are some snapshots of some of the sweet!

So my whole point of this LOOOOONG post is to encourage you to spread some kindness.  Take a minute out of your day and let someone know that you care for them, appreciate them, whatever.  It means a lot and takes so little.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Before the Craziness Begins

Like many of you, my students will be coming back this week.  I spent awhile in my room this weekend revamping my bulletin boards and trying to create a nice workspace for the kiddos.

The first shot is a panoramic from the front of my room, looking at the back.

One thing you need to know about my district is that we are the Knights (and our colors are black & gold).  This year we have taken on the motto, "Protect the Castle."  To me, that means we need to do whatever we can to have pride in our school.  I'm transferring that into my classroom via our social contract.  I explain our social contract as how we treat each other.  Last year, when I introduced the social contract, I had my students split into 4 groups & each group was given a different question:

1) How do you want to be treated by your teacher?
2) How do you think your teacher wants to be treated?
3) How do you want to be treated by your classmates?
4) How do you want to be treated when you disagree?

We then compile our answers & sign it.  The signatures will go on white paper inside the castle, the ideas will be written along the outside of the castle on paper.

On the other side of the back of my room is my math board.  I've written extensively about how I'm going to run my math workshop, but if you want more information, please check it out here and here.

In this picture you can also see a shot of my super organized bookshelf (heavy sarcasm) and another workspace option.  I also have a lamp in the front & back of my room.  I'm not a big fan of the fluorescent lighting, and tend to use other lamps instead.

The next shot is a panoramic taken from the back of my room.  Notice there are 3 tables & 3 groups of desks.  This year I'm going to give my students a chance to decide where they want to sit (desk vs. table).

My school has developed a slogan that we all get behind.  The slogan is "Be the Best You!"  In the word BEST, each letter stands for something:
Be a leader

On our "best" board I'm going to put anchor charts & rubrics that we develop together.

The other board in that corner is going revolve around growth mindset.  During our pre-school PD we learned and discussed growth mindset and grit.  My plan is to explicitly teach both of those topics to my students this year.  I'm sure I'll have more blog posts about that as the year progresses.

In the front of the room is my reading nook with my Grandpa's old chair that literally has the stuffing coming out of it, but it is too comfy to throw away.

We'll be using the Daily 5 this year to help teach different reading strategies.  This bulletin board will develop as the year p progresses

While my room isn't perfect, and I'd love to do some more creative things with my classroom space, unfortunately I have a very limited budget.  Until Steelcase decides they want to redecorate my room for me, this will have to do!

Here's to another awesome year, everyone!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Getting Ready for the Year!

Like pretty much every teacher I know, I've spent some time this summer working on stuff for next year.  There are always things that I want to try during the year, but it doesn't always work out because of time constraints.

Next year my school is starting our "Journey to Excellence" (J2X), which is our version of the RISC (Re-Inventing Schools Coalition) model.  In a very brief overview, J2X means that Kenowa is moving the standards based grading.  This isn't anything new or revolutionary, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.  The part of J2X that I think is really going to make an impact on students is the fact that students will no longer move on if they don't pass a standard.  Every student will have a list of standards they need to master (80% of better) for them to progress from Kindergarten to 12th grade.  To say this is hard for us to envision is an understatement, but we did a lot of work last year regarding rubrics, expectations, assessements, etc., and I think we're starting to see how it might work.  Next year we are starting with math K-8, and 9-12 will pick it up the following couple years.

In preparation for the year, I started to compile all of the 5th grade documents in 2 spots.  First, we have a google folder that is shared with the entire 5th grade. It is divided by unit.  Each unit has all the rubrics for the student and teacher, different ideas for hands on activities, pictures, assessments, links to videos, etc.  I also started compiling things into a folder so I could easily reference them.  I took some pictures of the folder for unit 1 & put them below.

Before getting into that, I want to explain the stations I use during math, as I'll reference them in a second.  I use the acronym MATH to guide our stations (each one lasts 15-20 minutes)
M - meet with the teacher
A - at your seat
T - technology
H - hands on

This is the first page in the binder.  I found some math posters on TpT.  If they pertain to a particular learning goal, then I put them in that tab, if they pertain to the whole unit, it is in the front.  Since the whole 1st unit is on fractions, I put this at the beginning of the binder.

This is a snapshot of the tabs in my binder: 

 * Matrices * Homework Packets  * Assessments * LG 1 (learning goal) - LG 8 * Inquiry Project * Technology

The matrices are our rubrics.  I have the "student matrix" in this tab.  It ha all the learning goals for the unit on one handy page.  The students will all have one of these, and it is where they will track their mastery.

The next tab is our "homework" packets.  Since I flip my math class, the "homework" packets are what they do during the "at your seat" part of their math centers.  The other 5th grade teachers use this packet for homework.

Assessments come next.  In this secion I have our pretest, 2 versions of the end of the unit test, and the study guide.  They are all labeled according to learning goal.  This is one area that I hope to change.  Personal opinion: I don't think paper pencil tests are always the best way for students to show that they understand a concept.  I am a strong believer in giving students a choice in proving their knowledge.  At this point, the assessments are what they are, and I'm working with them.

After assessments comes the learning goals.  Behind each learning goal is a teacher matrix.  What's the difference between the teacher and student version? The student version has all the learning goals on one page.  The teacher has all the students on one page, but each learning goal is it's own separate page.  Eight learning goals means eight matrices.  Behind the matrix is any activities that might be used during the hands-on station.  The pictures below are what you'd find in the learning goal about finding equivalent fractions.


The next section is an inquiry project.  I like to try to do these at the beginning and end of the unit, but realistically that doesn't always happen.  The inquiry project is a real world application of the topics in the unit.  

The final section has to do with technology based games or videos that correspond with each learning goal. The google doc has direct links to all the sites.  Eventually, I'll put a link on my class website to each unit, breaking it down by learning goal and having links right there...I'm not there yet ;)

So there you have it, there is still a lot of work to be done, but there is something about having things in order that makes me happy :)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Flipcon14 = 2 days of awesome

I got home yesterday from FlipCon14, a conference for educators interested in flipped learning.  I'd been wanting to go for the last 3 years, but haven't been able to make it happen until this year.  I'm going to attempt to summarize my experience, but it was a LOT to process.  Before we even left, I created a bingo board of flipclass people that I wanted to meet.  I shared it with all the attendees, and many people were caught taking selfies with the people on the board throughout the was super fun!

Monday Night
After a 6.5 hour car ride to Pittsburgh, which was way more fun than expected due to my driving companions David & Doug, we arrived in Mars, PA.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that I was bouncing in my seat like a kid seeing Disney for the first time.  After checking into our hotel, we headed to the reception and the fun began.  I got to meet so many of my Twitter friends that I had never met in person.  I had so much fun having face to face conversations with my tweeps!!!
Andrew, Cheryl, Crystal, Lindsay & myself on the bus ride to Mars...what an amazing PLN I have!
Then we loaded up on a bus to downtown Mars, where they literally shut down the entire main street for us (granted, Mars is a small town, but still it was pretty awesome!).

Tuesday marked the first official day of the conference, and the morning (after a great keynote by Molly Schroeder) was spent networking with other educators in your field.  I was able to connect with other elementary teachers, which I've wanted to do for quite some time.  In the afternoon I went to Cheryl Morris & Andrew Thomasson's session on creativity.  I learned about some cool new tools, like Kahoot and Grammerly. We played an intense game of rock, paper, scissors, and I learned about the why puppets are an awesome addition to any classroom.  My big takeaway was reaffirming what I already believe about students needing to be able to showcase their knowledge in a variety of ways, and that the traditional school setting is slowly killing the creativity in our students.  

During lunch, all of the authors Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Learning, signed the book for anyone who wanted us to.  First off, it was so beyond exciting to see my chapter (written 2 years ago), finally in print.  Secondly, signing books was so weird...there is no other word to describe it.  

See, there's my chapter!!!
All attending authors signing books.

Tuesday Night
We went to Carnegie Science Museum on Tuesday night for dinner and fun.  It was an amazing time! Some of my highlights were: building things out of giant blue blocks, going to the planetarium for the first time in years, and of course dancing...Lindsay Cole, you've got some sweet moves.

Lindsay Cole, (my dancing partner for the evening).
Planetarium selfie

Collaborative effort on the blue blocks #bettertogether
Wednesday, David Fouch and I presented at 8:30 on the power of collaboration.  We didn't have huge attendance numbers because there was a giant storm the night before, knocking down power lines & making most attendees late.  That being said, the conversation we had during our session was great, and we even got to hear insights from 2 educators I highly admire (via google hangout), Karl Lindgren-Streicher & Dan Spencer).

Telling my story.
The part of the conference I was most nervous about came at 11:00.  The authors of the new book all had 5 minutes to "tell a story" about how flipped learning has impacted students.  Not only was this the only session in that time slot, but it was also being streamed live to all the virtual attendees...literally hundreds of people.  Of course, I was last, so I had to sit through 5 other amazing people telling their stories.  When it was my turn, I took the stage & talked about a student I had this year.  She had an extremely difficult year at home, bouncing around foster homes.  I really connected with her, and was so sad to see her leave in June.  On the last day of school she didn't want to give me a hug, but I understood.  For her, I was her only consistent adult figure, and now I was leaving too.  I was surprised later that day when I received an email from her. She very eloquently thanked me for being her mom this year, and letting me know that she would make me proud.

So, not only was I nervous, I knew that trying to verbalize this story was going to be a challenge.  After explaining her background, Jon asked me about the email.  All I could get out was that she thanked me for being her mom.  I couldn't say more or I would've started crying.  Thank goodness I didn't have to talk after that because I was spent.

My final session I attended was having courage to fail...another awesome session led by Cheryl Morris & Lindsay Cole.  This really hit home with me because when I started flipping my class, I could have failed miserably, luckily that didn't happen.  I certainly had my share of failures, but the key was that I learned from them, and used to them to make me better.

The last thing we did before heading home was find out where Flipcon15 was going to be...I'm not kidding when I say that my Michigan buddies & I were obnoxiously celebratory when we found it out would be held in East Lansing in 2015.  I am already looking forward to next year and all the connections I will make at my next Flipcon experience.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

My first Cardboard Challenge...7 months late

Last October I was perusing Twitter and I noticed a lot of people talking about a "Cardboard Challenge".  I had no idea what it was about, but obviously it peaked my interest.  I investigated further and found out that it was based on this kid, Caine, who built an arcade in his garage out of cardboard.  From there, it snowballed into a movement of creativity.  As my students are well aware, I like to use them as guinea pigs for new things I find, and this was no exception. That being said, I was sad to see that I missed the actual "day", but I tucked the idea away in my head for future use.

Fastforward to Spring Break time when I decided to make this idea into a reality.  We started saving all the cardboard boxes from our cafeteria & storing them in my room.  Side note: Holy crap! That was a lot of boxes and I am SO glad to have them out of my room.  I didn't tell the students why, I let them ask me.  When they began noticing the giant pile forming in our side room they finally asked, "why" and I said, "there for the Cardboard Challenge." And that was all I said.  They wanted more details but I wouldn't give them.  Then a few weeks ago I asked them to start bringing in duct tape for the challenge.  Again they started asking me questions, again I didn't tell them.  Finally, about a week before, I showed them the video about Caine's Arcade and the Cardboard Challenge. The excitement grew and grew while the video was playing. 

Then I explained the rules:
1) No weapons
2) Must be school appropriate
3) You may work alone, in pairs, or in groups (max 4)
3) Impress me

After my experience this year, I will add a rule #4: no quitting if it doesn't work out.

The kids did awesome! We went to the gym so they had a ton of room and they had 2 hours to build.  Then other classes came down and took a tour of the projects.  

Things that didn't go child got very frustrated that her house would stay standing. She took a break, but did come back in. While she was out, several other students tried to help her out, but her house ended up becoming a bear

I had a few (very few) who thought rolling the duct tape across the floor was a better idea than building. I might have to make a rule #5: appropriate use of duct tape

Everything else was smooth sailing! I even had one incredibly helpful student )who is also very shy and didn't want to show off his project) and he helped me recycle the rest of the unused boxes while they were showcasing their projects to the school.

Overall, it was an incredible experience, and you could feel the creativity bursting out of the gym.  We will definitely do it again next year, only next year we'll shoot for October and maybe expand it to both 5th grade classes.  Below are some pictures that show off their hard work.