Sunday, March 30, 2014

Playing catch up!

It is not a secret that I have been behind on blogging. The events and details of this half of the year are keeping me incredibly busy!
I am slowly catching up on things here and there. I am embarrassed to say that I am even just catching up on some emails. I spend a lot of time on my school email, try to keep up with the home email- mostly clearing out the trash, then add in a gmail account that sorts things in random ways. 
As I sorted through my gmail account, I discovered that Angela from Southern Fried Teaching had nominated me for the Liebster Award. I was honored and embarrassed all at once. Embarrassed because I had not responded. 
Recently I also received some sweet emails about the Sunshine Award too. (I am working on that post too!)
So here I am. drowning in the duties of life, and some lovely blogger friends were bestowing kindness on me and I was not even aware! 
Liebster is a German word that means beloved, cute, lovely, dearest, and welcome. The Liebster Award is an award for new blogs, and I am so grateful that I got it!
Thank you to Angela for taking the time to nominate me! If you are unfamiliar with Angela's blog, check it out. She has some great posts and pictures highlighting her adventures while teaching abroad in Korea. 

Here are the rules:
1. Link back to the blog that nominated me
2. Nominate 5-11 blogs with fewer than 200 followers
3. Answer the questions posted for me by my nominator
4. Share 11 random facts about myself
5. Contact my nominees and let them know that I nominated them

Here are the questions from Angela for me:
1. What is one of your favorite teaching memories? I have one class that was truly sweet and I loved the entire year. We read together so much and their love of reading really touched me. When it was time to decorate the room for our year end celebration, I had 3 girls show up on the weekend to help me decorate. I was touched. Their little sisters come and hug me every single day, their smile let's me know that their sisters adored me as much as I adored them!
2. What is your favorite school lunch? I pack my lunch daily. School lunches are not for me! I eat lots of leftovers for lunch. 
3. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Spare time? I do not really have any with a full-time job and 3 young boys. I love to sew and take photographs. I am very behind on me time! 
4. What song gets you up and going and puts a smile on your face? Happy. I cannot resist dancing to it, even in my classroom. 
5. If you had to give any advice to a new teacher, what would you say? Reflect and grow; you will make mistakes, but you will also become a great teacher if you learn from them. 
6. What is a simple review activity that you do in your classroom? We play ZAP. They answer questions in teams and then pick point cards when they answer correctly. The kids love it. 
7. What is the best teacher gift you have ever received? A parent made a collage of all of my students, had them write notes on the back of the huge frame from IKEA {heart}, and wrote a top 10 about me David Letterman Style. The frame broke, but I still have it. Those kiddos are now in high school.
8. What is one piece of advice you really wish you could give to parents? Support their teacher! If the teacher assigns homework, work with your child to complete it, if you have questions ask the teacher. The more you know about what they are doing and the more you require them to complete their work, the stronger signal you are sending to them that school is important and following through is an important aspect of life!
9. What do you love about blogging? All of the great tips I can learn and all of the great friends I am making!
10. How do bring laughter into the classroom? I use lots of puns. I am viewed as a very serious person, so I have to make a point to laugh with my kids. 
11. What is your favorite book to read to your students? I have 3: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Wonder by RJ. Polaccio, and Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

Here are 11 random facts about me:
1. Teaching is my second job, I started in social work. Teaching is way better!
2. I check the date on milk before I drink it. One bad experience is all it takes, this habit goes back to 1st grade!
3. I auditioned for Teen Jeopardy when I was in HS. I did not make it past the initial test, but my mom and I had a blast in Boston. 
4. I was a teacher's pet. 
5. My mom called me bah lady as I grew up. Everyday when I haul a school bag, a lunch bag, and my workout clothes in from my car I think of that name. 
6. My mom also called me grandma when I was little, I had a grown-up soul in my little body. After talking with some teacher friends we think many teachers might have that in common. 
7. I was inspired by my uncle to start blogging. He blogs and  is the only family member who knows I blog. 
8. I was hired at my school then received a call that I could not have my job (certification technicality), I called HR - got my job back, worked for a year at that school, then was displaced, then went back the next year. I have been there ever since. 
9. My high school class was larger than my college class. At the time, my high school was one of the largest in the country.
10. I am a klutz! I broke my foot walking back to my car after a picnic with my husband and two oldest sons. My sons were 2 1/2 and 6 months old at the time. Nothing like having your oldest push your youngest in a stroller while you hobble on crutches. Crutches and teaching are hard! My students would argue about who was going to get to push me around the building in the rolling chair. My students never tipped me out of the chair, but a co-worker did. 
11.  While growing up, I had long-distance friends whose Dad put a wire tap on the phone and their mom read all of the mail I sent them and they sent me. When I was a little older my mom told me about the snooping, and the things that she knew because of the wire tap and the mail snooping. Talk about rocking your view of life, trust, and friends! I am no longer friends with them. 

I now have the honor in nominating some bloggers for the very same honor. 
If you are a 3rd grade teacher you may really enjoy Third Grade BROWN-ies. She shares her plans and provides great insight in to assessments. 

Another great blog you might enjoy is Keep Calm and Hoot On. She provides insight on her classroom and her adventures as a mom.

Here are my 11 questions for my nominees:
1. If you were not a teacher, what job would you have?
2. What mistake do you most remember from your first teaching assignment and what did you learn from it?
3. Did you know someone at your school before you started there?
4. What is your favorite subject and/or topic to teach?
5. What do you do to de-stress?
6. What is your favorite Spring Break vacation?
7. Do you want to be an administrator one day?
8. Who was your favorite teacher as a child and why were they your favorite?
9. What is one piece of advice you would give to a student teacher?
10. What is your favorite game to play with students?
11. What is the worst gift you ever received? 

Thanks again to Angela for the nomination and the opportunity to share more about myself with the blogging world.
Thanks for reading and being a part of my life!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Math Madness: Spark Student Motivation

   March and April are tough months for teachers because of the looming {dreaded} standardized tests that are in the near future. Teachers start worrying about how the kids will do, and the kids stress about taking tests. Not fun for either party! Testing is not a party nor is preparing for testing. 

    This year has been a little more stressful because our district extended our school days, due to all the lost snow days,  by 30 minutes daily. Our school decided those extra 30 minutes would be for test preparation, with the primary focus on reading and math. I know some teachers secretly wanted an extra 30 minutes of recess, and I wanted 30 minutes to catch up in science and social studies. Well, what's a teacher to do?
   Extra test preparation time has its benefits, and if you plan for it well you can make the best of the situation. Catch up in science by reading or writing about a science concept. Read a fantastic article highlighting a topic you have not taught in social studies yet. Kill two birds by reading the social studies passage with reading skills in mind, then ask them to look back for evidence on a social studies concept. Or better yet, make the review in to a game so the kids forget that you are working. With this approach to the longer day, it has become a little more manageable and the time flies. 
   Playing games and making review fun is always a motivation for students. Not only have I used this approach in the last part of my day, I am capitalizing on this approach to motivate the kids during math class.
   To inspire and motivate my students to work harder, they are competing in a Math Madness competition. I am using the awesome Basketball Madness packet from Diane at Fifth in the Middle

   Each page is differentiated with three different levels of problems. Students can earn 1 point, 2 points, or 3 points depending on the problems they complete correctly. There are a total of 6 sheets that are all based on math skills including operations and algebraic thinking, number and operations in base ten, fractions, and measurement. 
  The sheets follow the basketball theme so they are most definitely a winner in the minds of my athletes. 

   The amount of problems is not overwhelming either so there are very few complaints about it being too much. I have granted mine a choice of how many they complete, which also cuts back on some of the whining. Instead what you hear in my room when they are working on their sheets is pencils racing across the page and the wheels spinning in their heads. Because they are working, my smile glows and I do a little happy dance! 
  No, I have not sprinkled some magic dust nor threatened them, instead I motivated them with choice, a prize, and competition. And, it is working! {Swoosh!}
  I knew I wanted to display the results, but was uncertain of how. If I went with a basketball tourney bracket, like the March Madness bracket, I would have had kids out in the first round, then their effort would have dwindled. Instead, I made a chart with each round, their names to the side, and I post the points earned daily. From that group the top score(ers) earn a red star, then from that I pick a random winner to earn a yellow star. The red star indicates that they won that round, and the yellow that they earned at least the minimum and are the random winner.

  To become eligible for the yellow star they have to earn at least 6 points. Each day I have my son pull a paper from the eligible papers. 
  I do not give prizes out very often, so it is a big deal when I offer one. They can earn coupons that are good for 5 bonus points on a math assignment, get an answer to a test question for free, or pick out a snack. 
  I have allowed them to make a choice on each page as to which problems they complete. They know that points are important so many are trying to complete the whole page. Some start with the 3 point problems and work their way down. Some quickly solve the 1 pointers and work their way up. I set a time limit of 13 minutes. 
  The math sheets have become my morning warm up activity. They have been the perfect motivator for my kids to get started right away. They do not want to waste their time; time equals opportunity to earn points. They are striving to complete the whole page instead of avoiding the work. 
  The sheets are also eye opening for me. I am able to assess which skills we {desperately} need to review. You may not be able to see all the details, but round 2 resulted in low scores. The simple skills of rounding, expanded form, and written form are weak. We did those at the beginning of the year, and many seem to have forgotten what to do. Round 3 was multiplication. With the time limit, it was harder for them to complete the whole page, but many were also making careless errors that we can remedy through a discussion and daily review. Luckily we are about to dive in to volume and I always reteach multiplication with decimals during that unit, now I know that I will really have to emphasize that skill. 
  The packet includes an answer key making it quick to check, a definite bonus for me. My students check that board every morning. I wait to post until they leave so they are not distracted during the rest of the day. One boy even asked me if I had scored his paper, minutes after finishing, I guess he was really motivated. 
 To celebrate the perfect scores I am posting those sheets next to the results. 

  At the end of the madness, I am going to have the students review finding the mean of a data set, and add their mean score to the chart. They will then compete in a paper basketball shooting contest. They will receive 1 sheet of paper that equals their mean score, they can then shoot it in the {trash} basket. 
  This packet is truly a winner! My students are working hard - score! They are striving to do better - three-point score! Having fun while reviewing is always a score! Add in the bonus point of being able to quickly pick out the penalties in their work. 
  I may have lost the tourney bracket I selected this season, but I am winning in my math class with this Math Madness! 
  If you are looking for a way to motivate your math students, check out this packet at Fifth in the Middle. It is on sale this weekend (3/29-3/30/2014). If you are looking for other ways to motivate your students, check out the links at Head Over Heels for Teaching

Hope you have a fantastic Saturday! 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Teaching is Never an Easy Job

A post is long overdue. I have been absent from my blog simply because life has become hectic and chaotic. 
School, also known as work, as has consumed me and taken over my life. If I have time to sit in front of the computer I have been working on planning lessons, creating activities, and grading assignments. 
Unfortunately it has effected the amount of time I have been at home, so I have been trying to work less at home while my kiddos are awake. It is unfair to them how tired I have been because of work, but we are trying to make the most of our time. Seriously, how can I resist mommy time with this cutie? 

Aside from our district lengthening our school days to make up for the 7 snow days, a few things are happening in my classroom that are incredibly stressful and keeping me really busy. 
I am thrilled to report that I am seeing the light at the end of the RTI tunnel for one child. It is a relief to know that I will be able to send this student off to middle school with a plan in place to help them.  It has taken a village, but we have finally made some progress!
On the other hand, I had a horrible experience recently and felt incredible despair. Nothing like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I have done my best to pull in help from elsewhere, but time will only tell. What helped me through that? I knew that I was surrounded by a team that was in agreement, believed in what I did, and pulled together to make the best of an awful situation. 
Being a teacher is never an easy job. Nope, never. Sure, some years progress smoothly and you see tons of rainbows. But even during those years, it is not a complete paradise. Some years are plain out challenging. Those are the years that you dig deep and work hard, day in and day out hoping to see success. During those years the acknowledgements about your efforts may also be non-existent. 
That is the funny thing about teaching, you work hard without the expectation of praise or a raise.  You do it for the right reason, for the benefit of the kids. 
Well, as you can guess, I am having one of those years.The funny thing is this year I really love my job. It has been difficult. I wish I could work less and carry less stress with me. That just isn't reality.  
Recently something made me stop to reflect upon how I feel. Instead of feeling like I should give up, I had an overwhelming feeling that I was where I was supposed to be, I felt that I was accomplishing things despite the bumpy path. I was able to recognize the little praises that were being tossed in front of me. The simple thank you from a parent, the smile and pat from an administrator, the hug from a teammate, the "ooh I love it" from a co-worker, the excitement in a child's voice about sharing something they learned and couldn't wait to tell me. Although gold and higher pay would be nice, those other things were enough to keep me going. That metaphorical silver lining was enough to keep me moving. 
I love watching the kids learn, love the connections I make with them, and I love where I teach. I have amazing friends at school. Without them, I would be ready to toss in the towel. They keep me going and inspire me to do my best. 
These feelings took a while to congeal. I have had them before, but perhaps my maturity helped me see it more. Or maybe I needed to see it more this year because it has been a tough journey. 
Recognizing all of this has helped me become more at peace with the difficulties of the job. Accepting that the stress will always be there and learning how to conquer the stress instead of the stress conquering me is an essential part to finding peace. Reflection built my confidence, helping me see what I am doing well and what I can improve upon, then knowing that I can make those changes. 
I hope that you are also feeling that sense of accomplishment and the inner peace to inspire you to keep going. Take some time to reflect and find those silver linings.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tried it Tuesday Stitch Fix & Pencils

It has been a whirlwind few weeks. I have been running on fumes, burning the midnight oil, burning the candle at both ends. You name the idiom and I am probably the epitome of it! 
Tomorrow is a big day for my class. Tomorrow is the 5th grade state writing test. It is a big deal, because where I work it is still promotional. Not all counties require them to pass, but my county does. We feel the pressure and take it seriously. 
My performance as a teacher is judged according to how the students do. Part of our school evaluation is based on how they perform. High stakes doesn't even seem strong enough a term. 
While I have been working hard to prepare my kiddos for the writing test, I have not been writing beyond my classroom. Instead I was preparing for our last hurrah writing celebration and swimming through the sea of other activities the school year and life have thrown my way! 
No, I haven't been eating bon-bons with my feet perched upon an ottoman.Instead I have been....

  • Completing winter parent teacher conferences.
  • Helping devise a plan for the extra 30 minutes a day that were tacked on to our schedules in order to make up the snow days. 7 snow days is a lot to make up!
  • Surviving parent conference week with my 3 boys while my hubby was on the other side of the country for a work conference.
  • Prepping for Saturday school to prepare for the week long state test that are 6 weeks away.
  • Helping out teammates who are dealing with family crises. 
  • Guiding my struggling student teacher through the realities of education. 
  • Starting a new sport season with my boys (flag football for the oldest and youngest).
  • Trying to finish up a few products for my TpT store. 
  • Attempting to remain sane during this crazy time of year. 
Seeing as this is not my first year teaching nor my first year in 5th, I think I have rolled with the punches pretty well. I am not panicking. Using what I know from previous students, I know my class is ready. A few might struggle, a few will definitely shine. In the long run, I know that I have done my job. My team has done a fabulous job together to get our kids to this day. We will conquer this test!  

I am linking up today with Holly for Tried It Tuesday. I have peeked at a few posts, and they are fantastic! I highly recommend that you check them out. 

I have read a plethora of reviews about the pencil sharpener from Classroom Friendly Supplies. They were enticing and yet, I could not break down and order one. I tried to win one on many occasions. Then I discovered that a friend had one in her classroom, so I tested hers out. I really liked it. She said I could use it any time, but did she really want me hanging out in her room daily with a batch of pencils?  
My son happened to be in her class and he told me how great the sharpener works. I decided it was time to act. Unfortunately snow and ice thwarted the delivery, and I did not get it as fast as I wanted. 
When it arrived, my husband decided to check it out and see why I was so excited. He liked it. The boys all played with it before I got a chance to really test it out. 
 My youngest son loves it so much that he questioned why I took it to school. Yes, it is easy enough for a 4 year old!
In my classroom I keep the sharpener up, I do not want it to be broken. I will happily sharpen for the kids when they need it. I often sharpen a stash and swap out their dull ones. 
It works so well on their pencils. Produces sharp points and does not eat up their pencils like my electric sharpener. 
I mentioned the writing test, well guess what? I really am ready. Look what I did tonight...

I tried it. I like it. I approve it! If you are skeptical like me, you might wonder if it is really worth it. It is! 

I also have been reading about Stitch Fix. I decided to give that a try too. I received my first fix today and I am glad I tried it out. 
I really liked the styles of clothing they sent me. Many things I might not stop and try if I went shopping on my own, but all things I really liked. 
I am not super fashionable, but I like nice looking things. I tend to go for cheaper things, and with limited "me" time shopping is low on my list of things that I get to do. 
Here are some pictures of things they sent me...
Skinny jeans, White sweater, Striped top, Blue blazer, and chevron infinity scarf.

Love the dots on this. Too bad my muscular arms did not squeeze in easily! This was the only item that did not fit. 

Chevron infinity scarf. I liked it a lot, but chose ti send it back. It was bulky on my neck thus not super flattering. Since I did not love the way it fit, I could not justify the price.  
I love that I could keep as much as I wanted. The discount for keeping all 5 items would have been nice, but I was not in love with the white sweater and my arms did not love the blazer. THe white sweater was a little too see-through for teaching 5th graders. Even with a camisole or tank top I would have felt self-conscious. 
I would never try on or buy skinny jeans. I am not a skinny girl and tend to hide my muscular thighs. But man, they were so comfortable and they made me feel good. So I splurged and am keeping the jeans. It is jeans week so I am going to proudly wear them on Thursday. I need to push myself out of my comfort zone and be comfortable with my body. 
I love the striped top. I am going to wear that tomorrow with some slacks. We cannot wear jeans on testing days, but I cannot wait until Thursday to wear my other "fix."
Here is a bad selfie in the striped top...
Think I might need to get a cute red beaded necklace to accessorize this top. until then, I think my turquoise necklace will do. 
If you are looking for something to do for yourself or want to try out something, I recommend trying it, click here. I used a referral code by another buyer and they got a $25 credit toward their next fix. Since I bought some of the items in my shipment, the $20 styling fee was applied to my cost, worth it for a little personal shopping. The other great part is the other items get shipped back at no additional cost to me. 

I am hoping that after tomorrow I will feel a little less crazy, and be able to keep up with blogging a little more regularly. Stay well and keep smiling as you make your way through the hectic testing season!