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expired = no longer valid, typically after a fixed period of time, to come to an end.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