Posted in Christian education, educational leadership, elementary math, elementary science, KCK, learning, reflection, relocation, teaching

The End or the Beginning?

The state of Kansas with its beautiful natural prairies, green trees, rolling hills (yes), friendly and relaxed people, and the ever-present teacher shortage gave me quite a surprise when I applied for my certification.  But I think it affirms the reason I am here in the first place, and it will end up changing my life as an educator for the better.

I did not want my teacher friends who only subscribe to my teacher blog to miss this one!

See my reflection on my “life” blog here

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Posted in educational leadership, elementary math, elementary science, learning, reflection, stay at home mom, teachers pay teachers, teaching

Mind Change (not exactly a “mindshift”)

A girl has a right to change her mind…so the blog is back in business. Those toilets can wait.

I am really trying to get this Teachers Pay Teachers gig to take off, and it is waaaaaaay harder than I thought (whiny voice).  The most successful Teacher Authors have blogs that go with their products and really cute stuff.  I REALLY put a TON of effort into the things I already posted.  Like 5-6 hours for a short lesson or even just a thinking map! I have been watching videos and reading posts on how to market my stuff.  And one thing I am going to have to do is actually market! This part is kind of stressing me out. I am not good at making things cute or convincing anyone to buy anything.

But I am pretty good at writing. And I am REALLY good at connecting with others. And as long as no one is mean to me in the comments, I am really good following up with people or helping out.  So I think I still have some skills here…

I am pretty sure I can give this a go again–posting my teacher wisdom and resources here.  I might even learn how to make it (ugh) cute.  But probably not with the ever-present chevron, flowing script letters, or those ubiquitous stick figure kids with the big heads. Gotta be me.

Well, don’t miss my (rather colorful) comments on life on my for real blog but stick with me here for lots of teacher biz, just like in the old days.

Oh, here is my uber-outstanding TpT store.  Oh my gosh, please follow me. You could help me get to TEN FOLLOWERS!

 

 

Posted in elementary math, elementary science, learning, teaching

The Necessity of a Wonder Wall

Kids today…

What are they thinkin’?

Well, they are thinkin’ a lot. And often.  And I don’t know if you have really talked to one lately, but if you can stop them from talking about Fortnite, they are pretty amazing creatures.

Educators, please, please, for this reason: don’t skip out on a wonder wall.

Kids are filled with so much wonder.  So much positivity and hope.  They are fully convinced that they can change the world.  My students and I spend time on the IUCN red list, and every time we do one of my kids is ready to ship off to Madagascar to save a frog.  They would too if they could.  And I’d let them (I’d go too. Contract shmontract)

The thing is somewhere along the way this changes.  These are not kids that expect you to hand them anything, these guys want to help EVERYONE and wonder about EVERYTHING.  When we are learning together and someone asks an off-the-wall but not-to-be-funny sort of question, I have a choice.  I can acknowledge her thinking or dismiss it.  “Hmm…good question, you should look that up…” (DISMISSED!) or “That’s interesting, but we can talk about that later…” (Nope. DISMISSED!)

That’s where this comes in. Make it a part of your classroom culture.  Let them wonder.  “Ooo! Good question…put that on the wonder wall!” (That is important to me. Let’s keep it.) The student who really wants to know will write the question on a sticky note for all to see. The one who was messing around won’t.  The whole community now has interest piqued. This becomes our question. In upper grades, let a kid research and report back.  I would write some answers, stick them back up and spend a couple of minutes going over the answers.  This took maybe five minutes, but the value! Oh my goodness! And to make it, I just put the words “I wonder” on a piece of chart paper and laminated it!  Since I buy so many school supplies, I have plenty of Super Stickies for the job.  The question is still there, literally hanging out, until it is answered.  Not forgotten.

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*original poster buried with                 school things*                Just like this. Well, maybe not just like this. My guy looks weird.

Kids today believe they can change the world.  They are hopeful. They want to soak up knowledge and wonder about everything.  Yes, they ask why.  Yes, they get you off topic.  Yes, some of those questions may be weird or nothing you were even talking about.  But none of those questions, or the kids, are dismissed.  If you want to create an environment of wonder and curiosity, don’t dismiss–let those questions fly (to the sticky notes).

Posted in reflection, teaching

Whale Tails and My Place in This World

“So the first time ever, I was disappointed by test scores.  Don’t get me wrong…the Loudest Class isn’t perfect.  Great test scores are not why I teach. This one hurt though.”

I found this today in my drafts from 2015.  I wonder what I was so hurt about.  And I wonder about that title.  I don’t even know what test we were doing or who was in my class. I don’t know about you but when I look back all of the years run together. I mean, I think sometimes that my son (with me last year in 5th) is in the same class as one of my old kids who is graduating next year.

I wish I could sit with myself as I typed this a few years ago and figure out why it was hurtful.  I would reach out….and slap me in the back of the head.

Look at me now, I forgot about that dumb score.  That’s not just because I am old. That kid who is graduating?  She wrote me a few months back! A real one with stamps and everything! She remembered that I was crazy and that we liked the same books.  She remembered that I came to school on a scooter when I had a broken foot and that I wouldn’t let her eat skittles because she’d be too hyper.  And she was crazy like me–she probably failed whatever test I was crying over.

Nothing mentioned about that test.

So relax.  Focus on what kids will remember. Don’t cry over spilled test scores.  And don’t give your writing weird titles.

Posted in educational leadership, elementary math, learning, reflection, teaching

Making a Math Class Kids Will Love, Part 2: Goal Setting (and Collaboration)

Making a (1)

I finally did it! I unlocked the magic behind SMART goals. And, hey, it only took me, like, a school year and a little more 🙂 We started goal setting as a school-wide focus a couple of years ago, and I just couldn’t figure it out with my 4th graders (see my post about that struggle).  I tried. I read. I read lots. I tried something else.  I collaborated. But nothing seemed to stick.

Enter my brilliant friends, Monica Maynor and Shayla Johnston, who (somewhere between the two of them) came up with an easy to follow progress monitoring sheet perfect for the kids to use and reflect upon themselves. Monica had the idea of having the students record their pre-test scores on a bar graph on the front of the page. Later, we take the exact test as a post-assessment, and the kids mark this test right beside it.  They are then able to see in bold colors or pencil scratches the gains they made during the module.  We teach through the use of Learning Targets and on this sheet there is a spot for each lesson and a short reflection on why they met or did not meet the day’s target. Perfect, right? All that was missing was some goal setting in the little box that remained.

So we discussed our goals. With the momentum of our newly organized goal setting sheet, I knew exactly where to go…

“I want to be a better mathematician.” Me, too! But…how will you do that or decide that you are?

“I want to get better (or faster) at multiplication (division/subtraction/addition).” Me, too! But…how will you do that or decide that you did?

“I want to be the best in the world at math!” Me, too! But…that’s not my only job, nor is it yours! Think that’s doable?

Time for a quick lesson on SMART goals!  We talked about SMART and ran all of the above (and a few more) through the test! They helped me with a few of my own goals such as getting into grad school and running another 5k. They loved it. We turned each of our goals into something…

Specific: We always have a number. 7/12 learning targets, increase post score by 40 points.

Measurable: Kids can see if they’ve done it or not.

Attainable: Goal is to gain, not make a 100…not everyone will. Especially if one started with an 18. Bringing that up 60 points to a 78 shows tremendous learning!

Relevant: Keeping in mind the idea: how is this important to my future success as a 4th grader? In middle and high school?  Why do I need this in the first place?

Timely: “By the end of this module…”

After we wrote, we did a “whip around” quickly sharing our goals out, helping to fix any that are missing an element of SMART, in particular the S, M, and the T.  We are on our third module, about to begin our fourth tomorrow, and we’ll follow the same procedure, checking in to make sure we have a SMART goal in this way. Many sound the same, but we are all working on the same work, so that is to be expected. Besides, save the uniqueness for the celebrations when we end the module!
My kids now understand how and why they met their goals or know they still need help. When I am ready to form small groups for tiered instruction, I use these goal setting sheets and their reflections to guide me. This, sometimes more than a post-test, tells me how well they comprehended the module.

This level of voice in their reflections is starting to come through stronger as we move into the fourth module.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring. They’d never know to have this conversation had they not set a goal and had it to reflect upon. It only took me a year, a couple of good friends, and a lot of collaboration to figure out how to do set SMART goals that work for kids, but learning takes time, even for us big kids!

Posted in educational leadership, elementary math, elementary science, reflection, teaching

Making a Math Class Kids Will Love–Part 1: Talk

 

Making a

Until I was 27 I hated math.  Yes, I know I am a math teacher and a self-proclaimed “mathemagician”, but it’s totally true.  When I ask on the first day of school, “Who really loves math?”, I see 3-4 kids raise their hands (enthusiastically).  In the others I see fear, sadness, disappointment, a challenge, and I see myself.  An awesome article written by one of my favorite mathematicians attests to the fact that failing at math is different feeling like you are bad at something else. I make a promise on the first day of school. “By the time that you leave, you will LOVE math! A bold promise, and I need help.  That’s where YOU come in!”  They are baffled.

How do we change this fear of failure in the math class?  My first step is to let down the walls and share.  Nothing helps more with fear than facing it, right? Check out this TED talk by my favorite astronaut (now) on this planet.

This sharing brings a whole new set of challenges.  How do you say, “Whew, this answer is WRONG!” in a way that will empower your friend?  How do you let them know that they totally read the question incorrectly and spent 20 minutes barking up the wrong tree?  What do you do when someone tells you that your hard work, as we always say, “that you put your heart into”, is just not cutting it?  What do you do when your partner does nothing? (every group I was ever in during my school days…) How do you address it without being bossy?

Each year within the first three days, I have the kids write down all of the things they hate hearing from a partner.  When we read them aloud most kids are shocked that anyone would say those things.  But when I ask, all nod, they’ve been the one saying them.  I ask, “Why do we talk this way? Is it because we are mean?  I don’t think so…”

“I want my partner to get the answer right, too.”

“Sometimes their work makes me think of other work, and I realize that we both have the wrong answer!”

“I want to help, but sometimes I am the one who has the wrong answer. What do I even say?”

“I know some of the right things to say, but it’s not enough.”

We generate questions to ask our partners instead of tell them.  They start with “I” instead of “you” and use the word “help” a LOT.  “I am confused on this part, can you show me what you did?”  We talk about how to be the best model for our peers, what it looks like and doesn’t look like. We talk about specific, not general questions.  “This is confusing” is replaced with “I don’t understand ____, can you help?” We talk about how when you try to use strategies, you ALWAYS bring something to the discussion.  I use a problem solved last year (wrong answer) and the kids discuss what he would have brought for them to talk about.  We discuss strategies, not answers, and how focusing on the strategies focuses on the thinking rather than the answer.  We want to question and make our partners think thus building our learning community in strength and knowledge.  We are in the boat together, I tell them.  What you say matters.

And of course, we discuss part of Golden Rule…how would I want this said to me?  If you can’t think of the “right” question or way to say it, just go with your gut.  I listen for what they actually say and ask them to repeat aloud what their partner said that “helps them grow as a mathematician” (or scientist!)  I collect the language on an anchor chart so that they can reference it, and they write what they like or use in their journals.  It’s no miracle, just talking and celebrating.  Well, two things I do best 🙂

Not everything is perfect.  I had to talk to a student about making fun of another student’s work, and I simply asked him “Does this support our learning environment?” and he immediately knew. Of course they need reminders, they are humans. But this partnership is something amazing which holds the kids accountable in different ways, releasing me from having to manage group behavior and tattling all year. WE establish what WE want to happen, and only WE can get there.

No one is going to love math, or school for that matter, simply because their teacher is nice to them.  From day one, the words we use and the way we treat each other establish the culture of mistake making, challenging, and thinking deeply, all in a safe environment.  This is a team effort. My kids will love math this year.  I know this is true, but it doesn’t happen because of me.   It happens because of the way that they pull each other along and spur each other to greatness.  That conversation happens every second in a math (and science!) class that kids love!

Posted in Christian education, educational leadership, reflection, teaching

Hoping in 2015

The year begins today…PD in action with lots of happy faces, hugs, and so much thinking that I think I need another summer break 🙂 Then our beautiful principal gives the question and 10 minutes to reflect: what hopes we have for our kids in 2015-2016?  We have all been thinking all summer about plans and analyzing data, but our hopes we have for them? Wow, that is one of my favorite words like EVER. That’s something I can really get excited about…

So what do I hope?

I hope they are as ready as I am.

I hope they are brave when I am not.

I hope they push me to learn more.

I hope they listen to each other.

I hope they feel loved.

I hope they catch my enthusiasm for learning.

I hope they have fun.

I hope they laugh a lot.

I hope they are kind.

I hope they look back at this year and remember that I made them feel like a million bucks.

Honestly, I can’t say much more than this…my hopes for myself are summed up above.  If I can do all of this for a student, I am doing all I need to do as an educator!

Posted in educational leadership, teaching

Surrounded by Smarties (but not the candy)

I spent the last few days in AWE of my colleagues. I have always known I was working with some very intelligent people, but to be back with them sharing what they know after they have spent their summers preparing, I just have to say I am beyond impressed. And I was reflecting a little, NOT during class, of course!
Last month we met as a leadership team to discuss our problem of practice and goals for the new school year. Our focus centered around “connected impact”. Our forward thinking Assistant Superintendent had some really good illustrations to prove the point–we really don’t need a new book, binder, or program…what we need to solve any problem, issue, or conflict is the connections we have. There is SO much experience, intelligence, and knowledge just down the hall, across the district, or in our PLNs.
“Connected” teachers know this. We reach out and ask for what we need. We share what we have without that old fear that someone probably already knows…right? But what are we doing to reach those who are not connected? Do they know they have something to lend to the community? Do they understand how much they are needed? As teacher leaders it is important that we encourage each other, “spur each other on” with this idea.

My humble friends who believe they have nothing to teach another, watch the video I show to my students each year, “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others”.  Such a perfect way to say it…you have knowledge someone needs.

Everyone has something to share and lend to the conversation. We are surrounded by smarties! It is our job to encourage others to see their influence and get connected to make an impact with other educators maybe they never knew they even had.

I am proud of my friends who presented this summer, and I can’t wait to see the influence we will all have as purposefully and personally connected educators.