Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Waiting with Anticipation

"I'm waiting......." she said in a semi-sarcastic tone as she sat patiently with a large package on her lap, eagerly anticipating her next turn to open a Christmas present. The five-year-old daughter of my husband's cousin was trying to make her feelings known as she was waiting her turn to open another gift.

Around the living room, her much older teenage cousins took turns opening presents while her younger sister was happily distracted with a new toy.

Was she bored?  Probably not - plenty of toys, games, and art supplies were in opened packages surrounding her.

Was she impatient?  Somewhat, given that she was a very excited five year old with a pile of Christmas presents, not to mention she was in a room with eleven other adults and five teenagers involved in their own conversations and not rushing to open their gifts.

Still her voice cut through the air and made me stop and remember.....what awesome anticipation a young child has, not only for Christmas but for every day.

Sunday, December 21st celebration at Grandma E.'s house.
As children grow older, their patience level tends to rise to balance their anticipation. On the same evening, my sixteen year old daughter was "behind" a couple presents in the rotation and didn't even realize or mind it as she was enjoying the experience of watching everyone else discover their new gifts.

This experience made me wonder if, as teachers, we are misinterpreting what we classify to be boredom and impatience?

What will our students be anticipating as they return to our classrooms after their winter break? What will draw them in and keep their attention, or prompt them to ask for more? Will they be eagerly anticipating each day of class, opening new "gifts" of learning as they unwrap new ideas and skills?

Or, will they be saying, "I'm waiting......" as we carry on with our everyday routines and lessons?

Will their level of patience and self-control be sufficient, or are they sending us signals that they are anticipating a learning experience that will be one to be remembered when their parent asks, "What did you do today?"

Not every educational experience will match the joy of opening a gift at Christmas, but a classroom that regularly evokes the anticipation of a child will be the arena for awesome learning experiences.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are Your Lights On?

One thing I dislike about this time of year is that the sun sets early and darkness seems to trick my mind into thinking it is later in the evening than it is in reality.

Luckily, all but one of our family's vehicles have automatic lights, so driving in the darkness is not something I think about in terms of making sure my lights are on.

As I was driving my daughter to her small group meeting at church last night, we noticed a vehicle coming toward us without its lights on -- and it wasn't just the beginning of dusk -- it was nearly an hour after sunset. This not only surprised me, but gave me a sense of worry as well. 

The vehicle turned down the road we were turning on as well, so as soon as we were right behind it, I proceeded to flash my lights. As we stopped shortly after at a stoplight, I tried to signal again with lights and the honking of my horn, but to no avail. A short distance after the lights, we had to turn in another direction, and I was left with a feeling of nervousness. We continued on our journey, but my daughter and I kept talking about the vehicle without its lights on and we hoped that it would safely make it to its destination.

Many questions circled through my head as I considered what happened:

*Should I have dealt with the situation in a different way?
*Did the driver not understand my warning?
*What would happen as the driver continued down the dimly lit highway at 65 mph?
*Would another vehicle turn in front of this driver without realizing they were coming?
*Was it my responsibility to try to do more to help this driver understand their mistake?

As educators, we need to be asking ourselves and our colleagues, "Are your lights on?" 

What I mean by this is. . . . are we shining a light not only on what we are doing with our students, but also shining a light to lead the path for others?

Or, are we keeping the light to ourselves, dimly making our way down the twisting roads of education?

Are we noticing situations and warning signals that cause us to realize that our students or colleagues need a hand?

Or, are we blindly just "making" it through the day, oblivious to the flashing lights and honking horns that should alert us to an opportunity?

Before the lights of the classroom are turned off and the students head home for winter break, it might be a good time to check your lights.

This morning, I received this lovely lantern from one of
my fourth grade students. Coincidence maybe?

We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.  ~Evelyn Dunbar

Monday, December 1, 2014

Try Something New

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." ~Walt Disney

A curiosity for something new can keep our teaching fresh and our classrooms an unpredictable learning space. Instead of worrying too much about the end outcome, focus more on the process and the learning that will take place along the way.

I will be the first to claim I'm not an expert, but I'm definitely curious about many things and a fairly quick learner. I love trying new activities, "stealing" great resources from other teachers, and being a part of groups that are moving forward with their ideas.

I'm in the planning process for a big step forward in trying something new and the next two months will be interesting and exciting as all the details come together. Regardless of the outcome, a lot of fun and learning will be had along the way!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Inspired or Expired?

expired = no longer valid, typically after a fixed period of time, to come to an end.

For the second time this month, I accidentally used an ingredient from my kitchen cupboard that was clearly expired. I didn't pay attention, and it resulted in a failed meal. My mistake led to a scramble to try to put another acceptable meal on the table. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that it's time for an early spring cleaning in my kitchen. It's not something I want to repeat again.

My mistake reminded me of how I don't want my lessons to have a visible expiration date. I want to throw out the old ideas (ingredients) and spice up the good lessons (recipes) so the whole meal (learning experience) is deliciously awesome!

Moving from expired to inspired can only happen when you take out the trash. Consider these questions:
-Is what you're doing currently working for you, and more importantly, your students?
-Can a different experience replace an old tradition and still result in a learning opportunity?
-Is there a purpose to what you're choosing to do with the limited amount of time you have?
-Do students look forward to learning each day?

If not, why not?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

When "Yes" means "No"


As a mother and a teacher, I find myself saying "yes" more than "no."

That wasn't always the case. When my daughters were younger there were many times I had to say "no" because they didn't know how to make decisions beyond their immediate wants and wishes. When I was a new teacher, I said "no" a lot because I thought I could do everything myself. I also said "no" to my students because I wanted to keep the reins of control and in turn, be the keeper of the knowledge.

But, saying "yes" more often allows my children as well as my students to have the opportunity to start making their own choices. Saying "yes" also allows me to pass some of the control onto my children and students, giving them the responsibility for their own learning. Saying "yes" to new ideas, opportunities, and ways of doing things has given me a new perspective in the classroom.

....means No

A new dilemma has appeared though, and that is that oftentimes, when I say "yes" it means "no" something else.

I don't have more than 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. Every choice that I make is an opportunity taken or an opportunity missed. And it's not about regret as much as it is about making conscious choices and making my intentions true to myself.

I've become more aware that each time I say "yes" to a new idea or opportunity, I need to (and have to) say "no" to something else. Right now I think my "yes" side of the scale is unbalanced with the "no" side. Maybe that's true for many teachers and mothers.

I need to ask myself questions like these: What things have I been doing that I can let go of? How can I carve out more time for the important things? Which people do I want to say "yes" to, and will they respect my answer of "no" once in awhile?

This quote sums up where I would like to be as I grow into a better decision-maker, so I can continue to say "yes" but weigh out the "no" reasons critically. There are certainly a number of reasons to say "no," so when I do say "yes" I want it to be because I can commit to something I believe in and can still give time to the things in my life that are the most important.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box

Having a growth mindset means thinking outside of the box. A box is confining, a set space, a closed lid. And while it may bulge to a point, it can also bust and break. So why not just place yourself outside the box instead?

You're wondering what's inside here, right?
Thinking outside the box = creative ideas and solutions, embracing new opportunities, and a move toward growing and learning vs. staying in one place.

So the question I'm asking myself is ....can I embrace new challenges and stretch myself to try new things? And can I challenge my students to do the same?

YES!  (my next post will address my "issue" with saying yes so much....)


This year I have attempted to step outside the box and try taking more opportunities to be creative and see what happens. So far......

*My team and I have embarked on a 3-month collaborative project with an author, Jena Ball. Our students have read her book, engaged in multiple Google+ Hangouts, and integrated reading, writing, and art activities that will culminate in the production of a student newspaper and a visit to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa to present it next week. This has been a lot of work, yet a rewarding experience for both the students and the teachers.

*My class has been able to step outside their own box to pursue passions of their own during Genius Hour (also known as passion projects). I've never seen so much love for learning and working - the clock most certainly deceives us and the minutes fly by double-time!

One group of girls (my art-lovers) researched how to make homemade art projects. They created their own tie-dye paper and then made an iMovie to demonstrate the steps to the class.

Another pair of students learned about the planet, Uranus. They discovered that living on Uranus would be impossible for humans, so they created animal figures that had special adaptations made for living on Uranus and explained the unique qualities of each figure to the class.

A student interested in the concept of gravity demonstrated how gravity affects a variety of objects, made his own website to share with the class, and concluded by sharing a self-made Google form "quiz" to see if the class was listening to his presentation. It's amazing to see what students will do if given the chance!

*My students have taken the lead to be in charge of the classroom during Mystery Skype. They each have a job to do and my responsibility is to step out of the way and watch them go. It's been great to see how they interact with one another and refine each other's questions.

Students trying to figure out the mystery state (Wyoming).

*As a part of the Global Read Aloud (read more here), my class listened to "The 14th Goldfish" by Jennifer Holm. We collaborated with a small group of schools including students from Minnesota, Texas, and California. The teachers worked together to create discussion questions and the students interacted with one another using Padlet, Google Docs, and Tackk. It was a great learning experience.

14th Goldfish collaboration between students in multiple states

So what's next?

Just this weekend a group of 4th-5th grade teachers that have connected on Twitter was contacted by one of our group members, a 5th grade teacher in Illinois, looking for anyone that might be interested in a "mini-global-read-aloud" using a picture book and comprehension chat. It also happens to be a "big move" for her as she is planning to do it during her principal's formal observation. Good for her! Many of us jumped at the chance and last time I checked there are 9 classes that going to read "Smoky Night" by Eve Bunting and have a collaborative comprehension discussion on Twitter later this week. It will fit perfectly into my Unit 3 ELA plan of discussing story events & inferences this week!! (Interesting also how it may connect an event from 20+ years ago to similar happenings these days).

I'm also working on the details for my own "big move" out of the box ........ an after school club which will take place mid-second semester. I'm extremely excited, fairly nervous, and yet ready to take on this challenge because without taking the first step, I might never know what it could become. But seeing small pieces come together into something big is how puzzles are put together, right?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Time for an Update?

Is it time for an update in your classroom, personal life, or both?

Whether it's a haircut, room arrangement, phone upgrade, lesson idea, or recipe, an update could be just the thing that could give us a boost into a new and positive outlook on our current situation.

While heading to work on Monday morning, I listened to a cheerful morning Voxer message from my Iowa Educators Voxer group friend, Aaron Maurer (otherwise known as @coffeechugbooks --> find him here on Twitter and his blog).

He had been listening to a podcast on his early morning run and was describing to us how the speaker had this phrase, "We don't need to change -- we need to update." Aaron went on to describe how the word "change" sometimes unnecessarily has a negative connotation, especially when it comes to education. Updating, however, is more positive because it doesn't imply that what you're doing isn't working, but an increase in functionality would be nice!

This is what I've been thinking about all week. I've definitely made some changes this year, but I have also been able to identify many ongoing "updates" that continue to spin what I'm currently doing into a positive light. I'm not afraid of change, and am usually very open to changes (sometimes to a fault), but I am beginning to see how an update is a positive step towards, or twist on, what many educators fear -- change. So if you're facing a change, or trying to help someone through one, see if an update is what you're looking for instead!

Monday, October 27, 2014

I'm a Nerd

I'll admit it, and I'm okay with it. I'm a nerd.

I've always loved reading and always did well in school (except for freshman biology in college, but....).

I love learning and spend a lot of time seeking new ideas and trying new things.

That's why I jumped at the chance to attend nErDcamp Iowa last Saturday......and it was awesome.

Banner outside Southeast Elementary in Ankeny, Iowa
The Southeast teachers were great hosts!!
nErDcamp is similar to an EDCamp because it is an "unconference," meaning that it's the teachers that are in control of their own learning. Personalized PD, conversations about common topics, and making new connections with others is what it's all about. The difference between a nErDcamp and other EDCamps is the focus on literacy.

I arrived at the location and was greeted with smiles, welcomes, and a "swag bag!" It was full of books and other goodies that teachers love - such as bookmarks and a stress relief ball (definitely could have used that last week).

After walking into the library I was introduced to the "idea board" where attendees could choose topics for the 4 sessions. Then, I was offered some breakfast --- delicious! Coffee, water, donuts, breakfast casserole, and other goodies.

These teachers really knew how to throw a party --- and it was free! I can't believe there wasn't a bigger crowd.

Aren't these NERD balloons festive?
The neat thing about the nErDcamp is that we started out the day with a special guest speaker. We were honored to be able to listen to K-5 School Librarian John Schumacher from Naperville, Illinois, otherwise known as Mr. Schu (@MrSchuReads). 

Mr. Schu gave an amazing presentation about getting students connected to books and he inspired us all through his stories. He even gave out a countless number of free books. The book below, This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, was my prize for winning the Kahoot book trivia game.

This book smells awesome! (Mr. Schu told us about how he
has his students smell new books) Reminds me of a bookstore!
After the keynote, teachers chose sessions to attend. The sessions were great - lots of amazing ideas were shared. Many of the sessions have notes posted here: idea board.

The great thing about these sessions is that the "ROOM" was the
expert. No one had to get up and be the expert leader - we all shared alike.
I always have trouble making decisions, so having to choose between 3 equally amazing discussions each hour was hard. I enjoyed each session, took a lot of notes and learned some new things I'll be able to implement this year in my classroom. I really appreciated the fact that everyone was able to give & take ideas, whether it was in a larger group discussion or in a smaller conversation.

After lunch and before the afternoon session, we all anticipated the prize drawings. The table of prizes was displayed all day long and it was full of neat items -- books, candles, t-shirts, socks, mugs, website subscriptions, and much more.

nErDcampia prize table!
To my surprise, I was the first name drawn! I did have my name in the drawing a few times though - once for attending, one more for suggesting a session title, and a couple more times for taking and sharing notes at the sessions I attended. So, what did I choose when my name was drawn first?

Yay - a free registration to the 1:1 Institute in Des Moines in April.
Awesome prize for me as it is my first year 1:1 with Chromebooks!!
This was my second "edcamp" experience this fall and it was overall a great opportunity to learn more about something I was interested in -- and isn't that the true meaning of professional development? Seeking new ideas to help you grow professionally as an educator, and having a lot of fun doing it. 

That's a great way to spend my Saturday.

Even though it's nerd-ish.
I came home with a 1:1 Registration certificate, Newsela t-shirt,
9 books, and much more!
Now I'm looking forward to nErDCamp Iowa 2 next year! Join me! 

More info, tweets, and pictures can be found here:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Connect, Collect, Create ~ A Reflection of #ITEC14

The fall conference of the Iowa Technology Education Connection (ITEC) was held last week More information can be found at and for those that couldn't be in attendance, (and even for those of us that were there but couldn't be in a million places at once), many presenters shared their presentation materials at this link:

I was honored to be asked this fall to become a new member of my school's technology cadre. This is an area that I have a lot of passion for and hope to not only use my new knowledge & connections to create an even better learning environment for my students, but also to use it to encourage my colleagues to connect & share the wonderful things they are doing in their classrooms with a wider audience.

I could write pages and pages about my 3-day experience at ITEC. My dozen pictures and 15 pages of notes could probably prove that. But in this reflection I decided to focus on three key words: Connect, Collect, and Create.


My colleague, Kendra Carlson and I were
able to meet author Peter Reynolds.
* I was able to spend some quality time at the conference with my school and district colleagues. Spending time with colleagues outside of the school building is a great way to get to know each other better, share ideas, and enjoy one another's company for more than 25 minutes at lunch. We went to a few sessions together, but most of the sessions we attended were different so it will be great to share and compare new ideas. It was a pleasure to spend time with teachers from my own school including Kendra Carlson, Susan Moeller, and Maggie Knox. I was able to see many other teachers and leaders from my district (Southeast Polk) at the conference which was encouraging.  I hope we can continue moving toward more technology integration as well as positively branding and sharing the great things happening in our schools. 

Having some fun at the Panda Pix Photo booth!
I'm in the back with the pink hat and red heart glasses.
*I participated in a "Classrooms Gone Google" workshop on Sunday that was facilitated by Jamie Fath, our district technology integration coordinator & ITEC team member. Jamie was also kind enough to let me hang out with her for a couple extra hours & really gain an appreciation for the work of the ITEC team behind the scenes. Plus I had the chance to meet Monday's keynote speaker, Adam Bellow.

Some of the #iaedchat leaders and supporters
at Legends downtown Des Moines.
Photo credit: Jimmy Casas
*Reconnecting with people I've met on previous occasions as well as meeting so many of my PLN friends was definitely a highlight of the conference. Meeting the people you have communicated with on Twitter and Voxer in person helps take the connection to a new level. It was awesome to hang out at Legends downtown on Sunday evening with #iaedchat moderators Jimmy Casas, Matt Degner, and Devin Schoening along with Aaron Maurer, Leslie Pralle-Keehn, Timothy Scholze, Erin Olson, Shaelynn Farnsworth, and many others. We had some good discussions while trying to also pay attention to the actual Twitter chat online. Whether it's people you work with, people you've just met, people you've wanted to meet for awhile, and people you enjoy reconnecting with, nothing beats great conversation about common interests and dreams.


*ITEC was a chance for me to collect new ideas and strategies for becoming a more effective teacher. I have great new ideas for giving students more voice through passion projects and blogs, creating instead of just consuming, and using more technology to enhance the learning experience.

*I also collected new knowledge of how to help my students research, capture, and correctly give attribution to pictures and other media to use in their projects. Like many other ITEC attendees, I have a list of new extensions and apps that I'm taking the time to look through and choose for my class to use.

Devin Schoening shared this quote with us
in his "Let Kids Be Amazing" session.
*Besides collecting ideas, I also collected a sense of reassurance that the strategies I've implemented this year and the plans I'm gathering for the future are things that can positively impact my students.

*Collecting new names of people I can keep in touch with was also a highlight of the conference. Each new person I met or had the chance to have a conversation with on Twitter or in person will be a way for me to collect new ideas, get feedback on my own ideas, and learn from now and in the future.


*Many of the ITEC sessions and keynote speakers spoke of creating opportunities for students to be creative, show their strengths, and use their ideas to help others. In creating these opportunities, there is often risk involved: the risk of doing something wrong, the risk of push-back from others, the risk of making mistakes, and the risk of not putting in the effort to make the change a positive one and therefore reverting to old ineffective ways.

Playing with littleBits kits during Aaron Maurer's
"Tink Tank 2" session made me feel like a curious kid again.
*Creating a new path to change is sometimes not easy. It takes stepping out of your comfort zone. It takes support from others in your "corner." It takes time, and it even takes a realization that your "yes" to new things often means a "no" to other things. But change isn't something I'm afraid of.

*The ITEC conference helped to confirm a couple of things that I had been thinking about for awhile. My ideas are still in the planning stage but with some hard work, help from others, and a new way of thinking about learning, I think I may just be able to bring about a path to new change. 

Monday's keynote speaker, Adam Bellow,
was an inspiration to teachers wanting to
go down a new path!

Thank you to everyone who made this 
experience one to remember!

Monday, October 6, 2014

The 14th Goldfish #gra14

"A book is a dream that you hold in your hand." ~Neil Gaiman

One of my favorite parts of the school day is teacher read-aloud. I love how my class of 4th graders eagerly gathers around and anticipates what will be read next!

This year is the first year I'm participating in the Global Read Aloud. This project, created by Pernille Ripp, a Wisconsin teacher, is a 6-week project during which teachers from all over the world choose one of a list of books to share with their class. Teachers are also encouraged to make connections with other classes in the country and world and enlighten their students to the fact that kids just like them are reading and enjoying the same books! More information about the Global Read Aloud can be found here.

Starting today, October 6th, through November 14th, my class will be reading "The Fourteenth Goldfish" by Jenni Holm. It's a brand-new book (August 2014) and we're excited to read and have a collaborative question discussion using Google Docs with other classes from California, Texas, and Minnesota (and maybe more!). 

I was excited to win a copy of a signed book from the author, Jenni Holm, so that is just another neat aspect of reading a new book!

We started off the day with our read-aloud time and discussed what it might be like to stay young forever, or a "fountain of youth." We also watched this book trailer which was a neat way to "meet" the author and see how she came up with the book idea.

We LOVE goldfish! #gra14

We look forward to the next six weeks and all it has to offer. It will be fun to collaborate with the other classes and have some discussions about the book. It will also be great to see the connections we can make to science and to the concept of the impossible becoming possible!

My GRA t-shirt & autographed book!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Don't Hold Back

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

Day 30 ~ "What would you do as an educator if you weren't afraid?"

Time is short. Life changes quickly. Sometimes it takes a setback to make you stop and realize what's really important in life and in relationships.

The same can be said for education. My focus right now is relationships.

Our time with students is relatively short. Although some days seem long, I usually ask myself where the time is gone and why there's always never enough time to do all the great things I have planned!

In reflecting on the last 30 days of this blog challenge, I'm now faced with the question of, "What would you do as an educator if you weren't afraid?" 

I suppose everyone at some level has a fear of doing the wrong thing, saying something foolish, or not appearing to be as put-together as they would hope to be. I certainly consider myself a learner, not an expert, in many areas. However, if I wasn't "afraid" I probably would try to step out and try something new -- lead an EdCamp session, share more of my new knowledge of all-things "Twitter" or even express myself even more through my blog.

Not sure what is holding me back, except for my own confidence.

That's where my great friends come in and always seem to turn each smile, word, and idea into a vote of confidence which add up over time. Which brings me back to where I started -- focusing on relationships.

Time is short, and life changes quickly. Hold tight to what is most important, but don't be afraid to let go enough to allow yourself to try something new.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Twenty Years of Changes

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

Day 29 ~ "How have you changed as an educator?"

*This is a really wide-open reflective question!

"If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living."

This is my 20th year of teaching. I guess I would consider it a milestone. I couldn't have imagined how education has changed in 20 years, nor could I have envisioned how I would change in many ways as well.

I heard someone ask once, "Will you teach the same year __ times, or will you teach __ different years?" This question can really make you think and consider how you are changing, or if you're just doing the same motions over and over again without regard for your unique group of students. 

Early on in my teaching career I honestly thought I would get to the point where I had everything figured out and planned out, and therefore would end up with little to plan or do.

Imagine that!

Responding to changing student needs often means that flexibility is more important than long-term preparation and planning. A bigger vision and plan for the future is a great idea, but having every detail decided ahead of time, is not.

So each year is met with new ideas, new challenges, and new strategies to meet success in the classroom. It keeps things fresh, responsive, and - YES - sometimes stressful. Wanting to provide the best classroom climate, instruction, and assessment is a "dance" of sorts. 

The way I've changed as an educator over the last 20 years, is just being able to realize this and to embrace it. I've "let go" of many of the things I was trying too hard to do and instead started trying things, taking new risks, and trying to embrace he changes that keep knocking on my door.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Curriculum vs Technology

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

Day 28 ~ "Your thoughts: Should Technology drive the curriculum or vice versa?"

Curriculum is the cornerstone of what students need to know, learn, and be able to do during the course of their instruction in a class or during a school year. Although materials and instruction change depending on teacher, school, district, or state, all students have academic standards and objectives to meet based on the curriculum that is adopted for their grade level or course.

Technology is ever changing. New ideas, apps, websites, and devices are being developed and purchased for schools across the country. Some students are able to have easy access to technology, and others do not. Some students have technology access only at school, where other students have multiple devices between their home and school environments. Technology can allow students to be able to show what they know, learn, and are able to do in a multitude of ways. Therefore, technology is a way for students to learn as well as to show what they have learned in their curriculum.

If one has to drive the other, then curriculum would need to drive technology. Above all, teachers need a clear vision of where students need to be and options (including technology) for the ways to get them there successfully.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Holidays & Weekends

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

Day 27- "What role do holidays and weekends play in your teaching?"

My weekends are a chance to catch up on my to-do list (related to school & to home), plan ahead, relax, attend church, and spend time with family. All of these things help me in being able to focus on what is truly important as well as get things accomplished that may have been put aside during the busy week.

I always look forward to the weekends (and holidays too) because the pace is slower and there is more time to just "be." This helps me clear my mind and focus. Although the weekend doesn't last forever, it helps me prepare physically and mentally for the next week ahead so that I can use my energy to be the best teacher I can for my students, and more importantly, the best person I can be for my family and friends.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sites for Teaching Tips

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

Day 26 ~ "What are your 3 favorite go-to site for help/tips/resources in your teaching?"

Twitter ~ Definitely my #1 go-to site. This is where I connect with great educators across the country and globe. Great resources are being shared all the time. Help and tips can be found just by asking and starting conversations with people.

Blogs ~ Reading the blogs of educators that I've connected with online has been a great resource for me. The blogs I follow provide not only helpful tips and connections to resources, but they also provide inspiration and uplifting stories of those I admire in the education world.

Those are honestly the two sites that I use the most, and I definitely can spend a lot of time browsing all the great resources that are out there! But to round out my "3" choices....

Pinterest ~ I am not on Pinterest regularly, but do use it to browse ideas and find resources from a variety of sources. I also use it to find resources my colleagues and friends have categorized.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Student Collaboration

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

Day 25 - "The ideal collaboration between students- what would it look like?"

Collaboration between students looks like (and sounds like).....

....student partners and groupwork

....multiple students working toward the same goal

....learning in motion -- students may not be sitting still!

....give and take -- one student is not doing all of the thinking, learning, and doing

....discussions involving accountable talk between students

Ideally, student collaboration is a way for students to learn in a social way by using their strengths to contribute to the learning that is taking place. This requires a level of responsibility, trust, and persistence between students.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What's Hot?

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

"What's Hot, and What's Not?" is a phrase that I often hear in the field of education. In fact, just yesterday I received a magazine with a page highlighting the current "hot" and "not" topics in reading education. So today's reflective blogging challenge topic fits in nicely with the theme:
 ~ Day 24: "What learning trend captures your attention the most and why?"

I received an email today inviting me to a couple planning sessions for the upcoming Grading & Reporting Committee. This committee has been working on reviewing Standards Based Grading (SBG) and how it can be implemented into our school system.

This possibility of revamping our current grading and reporting system to a system that is based on standards and objectives and not focused on points, percentages, and letter grades is exciting to me. As a teacher and as a parent, I can say that I have always felt somewhat uncomfortable with the subjectivity that our current system has along with the negative effect that a few poor scores can do to a student's average.

I'm looking forward to being a part of a system change that is being studied and hopefully implemented soon. If students, teachers, parents, and the community are fully informed of the changes and their impact they may be pleasantly surprised at how SBG will give them better academic information about what is being learned in the classroom.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Community Connections

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

Day 23- "Write about 1 way that you "meaningfully" involve the community in your classroom, or write about 1 way you would like to bring that into your curriculum."

Currently, I am working on involving the community of my students' parents and families by connecting them with what we are doing in our classroom through tweets and pictures posted on Twitter. This happens almost daily on our classroom Twitter account. Not all parents are able to come in to the school during school hours, and this is a great opportunity to let them "see" what we are doing and have a chance to talk with their child about it at home that evening.

Another way I'm planning to involve the community in our classroom is to team up with the local ARL in a project with my teammates (Mrs. Carlson & Miss Campbell) as well as an author, Jena Ball, and co-producer, Marty Keltz, from the CritterKin series books. We will be reading one of Jena's books, "Lead with Your Heart" and doing some project based learning activities with the students. Our plan is to involve the ARL and their humane education department to help spread the word about their animal adoptions and the importance of caring and kindness to animals.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My PLN = My flock

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

Day 22: "What does your PLN look like? What does it do for your teaching?"

My PLN is.....

.....a group of educators that I lean on for support

.....a collection of minds that share ideas back and forth

.....a combination of team members I work with closely, educators that I have met, and educators that I've connected with online and other methods (Twitter, email, blogs, Voxer)

..... a great group of people that I try to offer help to and ideas as I see that I can fill a need

My PLN helps me be a better teacher by.....

..... providing me with ideas to use in my classroom

..... giving me educational and emotional support, inspiration, and confirmation of ideas/philosophies

..... connecting me with new and interesting ways to help my students learn and grow

..... pushing me to go forward with ideas that might have otherwise just stayed in my own mind

The power of a PLN is really what you make it to be. Surround yourself with great people that can help you learn and grow, and you'll find yourself wanting to do the same for them in return! Together as a "flock" of connected educators, you'll be able to reach what you might have previously thought unattainable.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Celebrations - International Dot Day!

Got Dots??
One of the reasons I love my Twitter PLN is that they are always sharing great ideas to use in the classroom. One of these great ideas I learned about this summer was "International Dot Day."

Based on the picture book, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, "Dot Day" is a celebration of what makes each student unique and the special ways they can "make their mark on the world."

Visit this Dot Day Website to learn more if you'd like to celebrate next year on September 15th-"ish". It's a great way to have students celebrate their strengths, hopes, dreams, and passions as well as reflect on how they can use them to make our world better. This Dot Day Handbook is a wonderful collection of Dot Day ideas.

We started with some "dot" donuts for breakfast.
While this was my first year to celebrate International Dot Day, I would say it was definitely a success. Here is how we celebrated on September 15, 2014:

Students gathered around a life-sized dot to choose
a section of the dot to make their own.
We have some creative students!
*We read the book and had a discussion about the story, how the main character changed, and how it can be a lesson for our own life.

*These  discussion cards helped us with a Think-Pair-Share activity we did with partners.

*We listened to this recording of the author, Peter H. Reynolds, discussing how he came up with the idea for the book. I think sharing how authors come up with ideas and what their vision is can be really eye-opening for students.
Singing "The Dot Song" (We did this at least a ten times!)

*The class loved learning "The Dot Song" written by Emily Dale in collaboration with Peter H. Reynolds. After practicing a few times, we invited our music teacher to come and listen to us sing it. Having a copy of the words and learning the song by using the "bouncing dot" video was helpful.

*Next we started creating some dots of our own, showing our creative side! The students each chose a dot (1 inch) of a certain color and created a picture around the dot. These turned out wonderful and it was great to see each student's creative side. We will be using these pictures on our blog as we write about our day and artwork.

A pink dot makes a great glue stick.
A black dot can be a dog's nose.

I love bubble gum, too.

We had fun doing a Skype chat with some 2nd graders (*somewhere* in the USA - which will be determined later once we Mystery Skype with them)! The students in each class took turns showing their dot creations and explaining something special about themselves. Then, we sang, "The Dot Song" together a couple of times. I had downloaded the music to my phone so we could hold the speaker up to the computer and hear it so we could sing along.

Singing "The Dot" song - Skype picture of our 2nd grade friends
Watch a short VINE here made by Mrs. Ladd during our song with her class!

A couple math activities we did involved dots as well. We drew circles and learned the parts of a circle for a geometry lesson - center, chord, radius, and diameter. We also used dot stickers to create multiplication arrays. We listed the fact families that related to each array we made. 

Multiplication & Division Fact Families with Dot Stickers
Students created a colorful dot using a coffee filter, markers, and a spray bottle of water. Students took their coffee filter and designed patterns and colors. Then, we sprayed it with water 3-4 times and laid them out to dry for a couple hours. We shared them, along with something special about ourselves, with a 4th grade class from California on Skype. Our next step was to write our name twice on our dot, cut them in half, and mail one of the halves to our 4th grade friends in California. We will be working with them during the Global Read Aloud next month, so that will be an opportunity to get to know them even better. This "friendship" dot, along with some trading cards that we made later in the week, will be a good reminder of how we can share our special characteristics with others.
Lining up to show & share our dots on Skype
Coffee filter dots - we will cut in half & mail to California!

Watching our Skype feed from California as our
4th grade friends share their dots.
We wanted to do an activity with a class in our own school as well, so we teamed up with a second grade class and colored dots. Then, we used the colAR app on the iPads to create a 3-D dot. This was a lot of fun and the students made some great looking dots. We have Chromebooks in our classroom, so this was a chance for my students to try something new using their friend's iPads. The time went really quickly and I think we left plenty of iPad screen shots of our work on the 2nd grade teacher's iPads!

2nd and 4th graders worked together coloring dots & using the iPad app.
The colAR app is awesome!

Some of my PLN friends with class Twitter accounts spent time during the day tweeting out pictures and messages of their students participating in Dot Day activities and showing/explaining to the world how their plan is in place to make their mark on the world.

It was a day of celebration, a day of new things, and a day to remember that we all have special things to share. Hope you will join us next year.

Bringing My Hobbies & Interests to the Classroom

(Part of @teachthought 30-day Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge) more info here.

Day 21 - "Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain."

As a teacher, I spend many hours at school and feel as if it is my "second" home. I believe a few students over the years have even thought I lived there. Since I do spend much of my daytime hours at school, it is a place I enjoy bringing my interests into action.

Music ~ I enjoy listening to music, as well as singing. I've been involved with singing groups both in school and in church growing up. I enjoy integrating music whenever possible, or just listening to it for relaxation.

Photography ~ Pictures can help tell a story, and are a great way to capture learning. I enjoy taking pictures both as a mother and a teacher. I have created scrapbooks of pictures of my family and friends. In school, pictures help me celebrate the great learning activities that we do and are a perfect way to share with parents the things we are doing in the classroom.

As I reflect on my own hobbies and interests that I bring into the classroom, it is a great reminder that students, too, need to have their interests and passions identified and reflected in the classroom as well. When students feel like their personality and passions are acknowledged and celebrated, their place in the classroom is confirmed.