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.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Curating Student Work

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

Day 20: "How do you or your students curate student work?"

In the past, I used to post a lot of work in the hallways. I'm not sure why I don't do this as often anymore, but it may be due to the fact that a lot of the work that we do isn't necessarily printed or presented in an art-gallery style.

Here are a few new ways that I'm curating and sharing student work:

     We have a class Kidblog account, and I've paid for the upgrade to allow students more choices in personalizing their blog page. Students are able to post their reflections, ideas, and comments. Later this year, they will also post some of their stories and writing pieces. Just this last week I was able to figure out a way for students to add in photos from Google Drive. I uploaded pictures of their work and now they will be able to write about it and insert a picture to put on their blog. Sharing beyond the classroom is an excellent way to showcase student work and make it available to an authentic audience.

     Simply a collection of work that I collect to help me reflect on student growth or to review when grading time is near. I will often make copies to collect in a portfolio so students can still take home their work with feedback/grade in a timely fashion. Portfolios are often something I will share at conferences or parent meetings. I don't just hoard all of their work and send it home at the end of the school year!

*Class Books
     Last year I started taking student writing projects and creating a class book. This allows students to share their writing with the rest of the class and add the book to our library for reading during the year. This year, the class books will be able to serve as a model when this year's students do similar projects.

Each of these methods allows me to not only look closely at student work, but celebrate it by sharing it as well.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Student Reflections

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

Day 19: "Name 3 powerful ways that students can reflect on their learning. Discuss the one you use the most."

When students reflect on their learning, teachers can have a better idea of the level of student understanding that has taken place. Providing time for students to reflect allows them the opportunity to focus on what was learned, how it is important, and what they still might need to know or learn.

It's not enough to just teach a lesson, we must allow students to reflect on their learning.
Here are 3 ways I have students reflect on their learning. I use all of them for different reasons and in different ways:

1) Socrative ~ This allows me to ask students questions, provide them a chance to respond to a prompt or idea, and monitor their thinking and understanding during or after a lesson. I like the different options available and also appreciate the data it can provide. I often download the spreadsheet of student responses to check for understanding.

2) TodaysMeet ~ This allows for online discussion to take place. My students can reflect on their learning while also reading the messages their classmates post. They can go back and forth, add more information, ask questions to one another, and adjust their thinking. I like how I can interact with them as well, and then print off a transcript to analyze later.

3) Exit Tickets ~ (the paper ones) While the two ideas listed above are a form of "exit ticket" in a way, a small slip of paper or an index card can do the trick as well. With little preparation, I can have students make a list of ideas, write questions they still have, or summarize what they learned. I can collect these and sort them in different ways according to what I might be hoping to learn from my students' responses.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Teaching Metaphor

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

Day 18: "Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy."

Teaching is a high-speed roller coaster.

Let me explain........

If you've ever been on a roller coaster before (especially the ones that do loops, fast turns, and use high speeds) you know that there is some mental preparation before the rider approaches the roller coaster.

In education, you need the academic background as well as the mental preparation needed ahead of time to be able to deal with situations that come with your position and your daily work with students.

As you get closer to the front of the line and decide which roller coaster car to ride in, your heart may start to beat faster and you start to get excited and nervous about the upcoming ride.

In teaching, as the first week of school gets closer, you often feel the same feelings of excitement and nervousness about the students that will walk into your class on the first day. You anticipate the many great things that will take place in your classroom.

When it's your turn to take your seat in the roller coaster, sometimes you get the feeling that you should have taken the "chicken exit."

As a teacher, we all have days where we second guess ourselves and wonder if we are really making the right decisions. Often, we don't see the progress we expected, we wonder if our students are going to meet their goals, and we wish we could give more than the 100% we're already giving.

Next the roller coaster lurches forward, and you're in for the ride of your life. Before you know it, you're launched into a twist-turning, stomach dropping, thrilling upside-down race to the finish.

In teaching, once the school year begins, it's a journey of twists and turns through lessons, activities, trips, assessments, and experiences that lead to learning and understanding. It's a ride filled with passion and excitement, but often has some bumps along the way. There are always moments to remember.

When the roller coaster finally comes to an end and you exit the ride, you may feel a little dizzy and relieved. But more often than not, you take a moment to catch your breath before getting back in line again for another ride!

The journey of teaching is full-speed ahead until the very last day. It's exhausting, yet rewarding, and leaves us with the feeling of accomplishment and pride to see our students grow so much during the course of the year. As we exit the school and the "ride" is over for the summer, we can't help but imagine what the next year will bring.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Issues in Education

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

Day 17: "What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?"

There are many issues in education that affect our staff, students, curriculum, funding, environment, resources, and more.

I believe one of the most challenging issues in education is assessment and grading

Assessment in some forms is necessary to determine the current status of students' learning and to make decisions about what they need to be able to do or learn next. However, there can be a "tipping point" where the number of assessments given and the high-stakes environment it often creates outweighs the information the assessment provides to the teacher. More time could be focused on planning, instruction, and providing for individual needs in the classroom instead of using an ever-increasing amount of instructional time to assess.

Grading is a way for students, parents, and teachers to be aware of student progress. However, grading can become very subjective if teachers are determining which assignments to grade, how many points to include, and what they consider to be proficient. A letter grade or even a score is sometimes not enough for the students, parents, or even teachers to really know and understand exactly what each student is able to. This can cause inconsistencies across teachers, classrooms, schools, and districts.

While assessment and grading will probably continue to be an issue of debate in many schools and districts, I hope to help move forward in bringing these issues to a new level of change and innovation. Learning more about standards-based grading will most likely help move educators in the direction of more meaningful assessment and grading.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Teacher with Superpowers

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

Day 16:  "If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?"

Staff t-shirts this year ~ "D" for our school name

It's difficult to pick a superpower, but I think the one that is most pressing on my heart right now would be the ability to heal.

Think super-duper band-aid.

This ability to heal would be helpful in the classroom as it would allow me to fix not only the skills that my students are struggling with, but also the hurt feelings that often come when students realize their world isn't always perfect.

Since I don't envision being able to acquire this superpower, I will have to just do what is within my own powers as a caring teacher to support students in developing their skills as well as strategies to persevere when times get tough.

In the meantime, I can always dream of superpowers that I wish I had.........reading minds........being in multiple places at one time...........making things appear or disappear in an instant...........and especially making time stand still. :)

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Strengths

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

Day 15: "Name three strengths you have as an educator."

Sometimes as educators we are constantly focused on fixing the things that don't work in our classroom that we tend to forget to focus on the positive and celebrate the strengths. I think that is also true when it comes to ourselves -- it's often easy to focus on your weaknesses and wish that you were better at this or that instead of remembering your strengths and using them more often.

These are areas where I think I have strengths~

1) Flexibility
As a teacher, wife, and mom, there are many times where I am juggling life and dealing with its twists and turns as it happens. I believe that I have the strength of flexibility to adapt to different situations, change things on the spot, develop new ideas, and adjust time or pace needed for lessons.

2) Open to Change/New Ideas
I love learning more, trying new things in the classroom, and changing things up! One example of this is some of the new technology tools that I'm trying this year. Another example is the amazing and incredible connections I have made with educators all over the country by using Twitter. I have received a great deal of new ideas and ways of thinking by learning from these new connections.

3) Caring Attitude
This is probably the strength I think is most important. I have an attitude of caring - for my family, students, and colleagues. I think this helps me connect with others and believe in the idea that we can all help each other.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Feedback for Learning

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

Day 14: "What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?"

Feedback for learning is a response (either verbal or written) to students to help them understand if they are on the right track with their learning.

"OK" was the feedback from my teacher after spending hours on a booklet
of "ABC's of School" rhyming phrases. I kept this for years because I knew
it was much more than just "OK."

I have been guilty of leaving ineffective feedback at times -- a star, sticker, an "ok," a letter grade, or a score. I guess I would call it busy teacher guilt.

However, there also have been many other times where I have given the best feedback in the form of a mini-conference. Telling the student in person and explaining in detail what they did well and what they could do to improve the skill/task next time. Or even taking the time to explain/reteach and giving them another chance to try it.

Another thing I'm working on this year is having students give feedback to one another through "accountable talk stems" in partner and group work as well as "meaningful comments" with our blog posts.

As I reflect on feedback, I know that it is an area that I could work on by being more specific as well as timely.

This is a great resource and provides many suggestions for giving timely, positive, and effective feedback to students:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Classroom EdTech Tools

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

Day 13 challenge: "Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness."

Using technology in the classroom is one of my biggest goals this year. Over the last handful of years, the classroom has seen a shift in technology use from something only the teacher uses and manages to something the students can use to learn, create, and share.

Some of the top EdTech tools that I use in the classroom are a combination of websites and apps that make teaching and learning more interactive, engaging, and fun.

1) GAFE - Google apps are useful even more this year since we are 1:1 with Chromebooks. My students can access, create, and share documents, presentations, email and more.

2) KidBlog - My students are enjoying their own special blog to share more about themselves, their experiences, and their writing with their classmates, families, and friends.

3) TodaysMeet - Students can respond to prompts, topics of discussion, and more as they write short messages and read what their classmates have written. We have even sent out a link to our discussion so parents can join in.

4) Twitter - Besides having a personal account which I have used to grow my PLN of amazing educators I learn from everyday, I have also created a class account which I have used to connect my classes with other students across the country and to tweet out pictures and updates of what we're doing daily in class. It's a great way for parents to see what we're doing and have a few topics of conversation to discuss each evening. A few of my students even participated in a "student chat" about starting out the school year and building community. It was fun to sit with them and watch them see our tweets "favorited" and decide what we wanted to tweet to the various questions that were posed. 

5) Socrative - This tool has been helpful in gaining formative assessment information. The students have found it easy to use, and I appreciate the easy feedback information it gives me. This is one tool I think I will use even more this year than I did last year.

6) Skype - I'm very excited to use Skype in addition to Google+ Hangouts to connect with other classrooms around the country & world this year. I already have plans in place to use Skype to make learning come "alive" in my classroom.

I enjoy trying new EdTech tools and will most likely have many more this year to try and to add to my go-to list. As new technologies are invented, educators will most likely find a way to use them effectively in the classroom.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Next Five Years

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

Day 12 ~ "How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?"

Five years is quite a long time. Five years ago, I didn't have my Master's Degree and didn't have any technology in my room except for my large desktop computer and a projector. To look five years into the future is somewhat like gazing into a crystal ball.

As I think about how my teaching may change over the next five years, I believe these may be true:

*Using technology in new ways, not to just replace traditional paper/pencil activities.

*More collaboration and team-teaching among classroom teachers, coaches, and specialists.

*A larger focus on personalization of learning to meet student needs.

*A shift from using traditional grades & percentages to standard-based grading.

Change is inevitable and is also sometimes unexpected. But change leads to greater ideas that can strengthen education and lead to personal growth. I hope to be not just in the middle of it, but leading the way.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Favorite Part of the Day

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

Day 11 Challenge ~ What's your favorite part of the school day, and why?

My favorite part of the day in 4th grade is teacher read-aloud time.

A new favorite read-aloud spot
Teacher read-aloud time is my favorite part of the school day because I love reading and I love sharing it with my students.

It's a chance for us to just BE. To listen, to reflect, to take a journey in a book, and to explore an author's thoughts is what we can do during teacher read-aloud time.

It's an opportunity for me to do think-alouds, point out important things that I notice, introduce new words, and question the students about their thoughts.

Our first chapter book this year is Wonder by R. J. Palacio. The students love this story so far and are very engaged and interested. Our principal walked in this morning just as we were ready to start reading and one of my students did a wonderful job of summarizing the key ideas and theme of the story to our principal, who hadn't heard of the book.  This particular story is also a way for us to spring into action with our Kindness theme this year. We've talked about how to be kind to each other in class as well as spreading the kindness.

I love this time because it allows me to show my love of reading and share important topics through the stories that are shared.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Facts, Hopes, & Wishes

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

A 5-4-3-2-1 sequence of interesting tid-bits ~

5 Random Facts About Me:
* I don't enjoy driving downtown, but I'll do it if I have to.
* I still remember my best friend's home phone number from elementary school.
* My alarm is set for 4:48 am most weekdays, and I don't enjoy that. :(
* I enjoyed meeting several current and past Olympic swimmers at the U.S. Olympic Trials for Swimming in the summer of 2012.
4 things from my bucket list:
* Run another 5K 
* Visit a big city that I haven't been to before (don't get away much)
* Attend a national education conference on teaching or technology
* Learn some Spanish
3 things that I hope for this year, as a “person” or an educator:
* I hope I can remain positive despite any challenges that might come my way this year.
* I hope that I'm able to increase my students' awareness of technology tools as well as ways to show kindness.
* I hope that my daughters succeed in both their academic & athletic goals this year.
2 things that have made me laugh or cry as an educator:
* I've laughed at the many random things my students have asked or said. 
* I've cried at the deaths of former students. It's never easy to realize the fact or picture the face of a  child from my classroom that is no longer alive.
1 thing I wish more people knew about me:
* Deep inside I sometimes say "no" but end up saying "yes" aloud. :)

As I'm reflecting on this post, I'll have to admit this was the hardest one to write so far. I'm not used to sharing things that I don't normally share. But it was just another step in reflecting on myself and my teaching.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Big Accomplishment

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

Day 9: "Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care)."

It's difficult to choose something that is both a big accomplishment and is something no one knows about. That's because I'm pretty good at sharing, at least when it comes to the good stuff. :)

Therefore, I'll choose something that some may know about me, but may not know why.

Master's Degree in Elementary Reading - 2012

For many years I had excuses for why I didn't pursue my Master's Degree:

*I had just graduated - who wants to go back to school?

*I had young children - I wanted to spend my free time playing with them.

*My husband traveled a lot - so I couldn't go to night classes, and Saturdays he was often gone to football games.

After seeing many of my colleagues finish their Master's Degree, and after running out of logical excuses for why I couldn't do it myself, I decided it was time.

A representative had recently visited my school from Grand Canyon University, and I saw it as an opportunity to take the plunge, and try an online degree.

*Needing a new, reliable laptop computer
*Time - hardly any breaks!

What helped me make the decision:
*The money spent would be recovered within a few years given the pay increase with a Master's.
*I could do my work on my own time (after school, evenings, on the weekends).
*I wouldn't need to travel for any classes or graduation.
*I could finish 8 eight-week courses in 15 months.

I started the journey in December 2010 and finished in March 2012. This 15-month journey was non-stop 8 classes of 8 weeks each. Assignments & discussion prompts/replies were due each week, with each course having 1-2 culminating projects and at least 1 or more group projects.  Only time off was 2 weeks at Christmas 2010 and 2 weeks at Christmas 2011.

Even with the time and money challenges, I felt like it was one of the best accomplishments I have undertaken. It took self-discipline, time management, creative solutions, and stepping out of my comfort zone. In the end, I believe it has made me a better teacher and given me confidence that I can take on big challenges.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What's in Your Desk Drawer?

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

Day 8: "What's in your desk drawer, and what can you infer from its contents?"

As I looked through my desk drawers on a visit over to school this weekend, I found the typical desk contents that most teachers wouldn't think to write a blog post about.

And then, I found what I was looking for ...... and more.

Let's start with the common, expected, teacher-type desk materials. From this list, I can infer that I'm a fairly organized person with many supplies at hand.

* Paper clips
* Pens
* Markers
* Timer
* Highlighters
* Clips
* Pencils
* Thank You Notes & Envelopes
* Gum
* Lanyard & whistle
* Keys
* Stickers

Then, more importantly, I found what I was looking for: a few folders of papers, cards, photographs, and other items from the last 19 years of teaching.

It's what my principal calls the "Atta-boy" file, or in my case the "Atta-girl" file. The collection of positive moments that help you remember why you're a teacher. The photos that help you piece together a time gone by. The drawings, misspelled notes, and handmade items that you cannot possibly think of throwing away.

I was amazed at what I had forgotten in these 3 folders:

*Photographs & items from when I did my student-teaching at the elementary school I had attended
*Notes and pictures from my first year teaching special education and gifted classes
*Multitudes of pictures ranging from field trips, newspaper clippings, baby showers, bulletin boards, and student picture-day exchanges
*Thank you notes from students and parents
*Coloring pages from my own daughters
*A few examples of my favorite things from when I was in elementary school and realized that I wanted to be a teacher

It's great to look through these memories and remember that the collection of them have made me into the teacher I am today.

"The ABC's of School", a rainbow poem, and my desk nametag from at least 30 years ago

One of my favorite pictures of my daughters from over 10 years ago, and their artwork

Notes from my first year students ('95-'96), and a note from my mom when I finished my Masters in 2012

A picture with a former student at her high school graduation party (2011), and her picture from 4th grade.