Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Including all students in the classroom...

Hey blog, it's been a while. I feel like I've been saying that a lot lately.  There have been so many posts that I've wanted to write- but life beckons and calls me away.  Today, though... there is something weighing on me that I want to really challenge you to think about.

We're in holiday season and hitting the end of the quarters at schools all around the U.S..  We're nearing winter break and with the coming of winter break, out come the holiday activities!  Now, I don't want you to get me wrong- holiday activities can be great.  My issues come for in these 2 events:

1. We only do activities that relate to Christmas (or the non-religious Christmas-even just how many celebrate here in America).  Elves, Letters to Santa, gifts, the Grinch and all of those things we see with the commercial form of Christmas.

This gives kids the impression that everyone celebrates Christmas and that no other traditions or celebrations matter.  It tells them that Christmas is the most important because that's what "we" celebrate when in fact, there are so many other people who have other holiday traditions.  It gives Christmas a sort of "superiority" to all other holiday traditions and as teachers, our job is to teach diversity and how to include everyone.  We want our students to be citizens of the world.

2. When we have students who cannot participate because they do not celebrate these holidays and we find other things for them to do.

Many people will find alternative activities for those specific students to do during the times when the rest of the class is doing these holiday activities.  Teachers have even mentioned sending that specific student to another classroom during their "Grinch Day" or "Polar Express Day" or any other holiday centered day.  What does this say to our students?  When they ask where that student is going, how do you respond? I believe what students see is:

  • He is different.
  • She does not celebrate holidays like we do, therefore she is not included in our classroom during this day.
  • His beliefs are not as important as everyone else.
  • She is not as special as us because she can't participate.
I truly believe that is not the message you are trying to send, but when we disinclude kids in activities because of their beliefs (or anything else) , that's exactly the message we are giving our students. 

Now, I am not here to shame anybody- I promise.  We are all human beings....teachers...trying to do the best we can for our students.  I just beg you to please ask yourself these questions.

What am I accomplishing with this activity that I cannot accomplish with something else that includes this student?  How would I feel if I was this student who was asked to complete a different activity than everyone else or was removed from the room because I celebrate different (or not at all) than everyone else? What am I teaching my students by not including even just 1 student in our room? Is this the message I want my students to understand?

And remember: all of our students are equally important and should be representing in our classrooms as so. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Habits of Math Teachers that Value Productive Struggle

Today, we were fortunate enough to attend the Triangle High 5 Elementary Math Summit at SAS World Headquarters!

 Not only did we get to attend, but we were even asked to present! It was exciting to share our knowledge with teachers across the Triangle about how to engage students in productive struggle...and even though we didn't finish, we hope session goers left with an idea or two.

Anyway, one of the activities we did in our session focused on habits of teachers that value productive struggle.    As session goers filtered in, we asked them to take colored dots and place them on posters that showed a habit that they themselves have used in their math class or they've seen used in their schools/county. These habits came from an article we read on the Mind Research website.  You can find that article here.

We asked those attending our session to think about, "Why/How does this practice prevent our students from growing as effective problem solvers who can persevere through problems?" and "What habits can we replace these with that would better foster a productive struggle classroom?"

Everyone had fantastic ideas and we started a few really great conversations.

While we know that sometimes changing our own mindset can be difficult, time consuming, and stressful; we also know how important this is for our student's success.  When we shift our old habits and mindsets, we create classrooms that foster a culture of learning through struggle and mistakes, students are more open to being "math people," and we witness our students being able to work through challenging tasks without getting frustrated or throwing in the towel.  We create more effective, efficient problem solvers who are overall, more confident in themselves as mathematicians.

After we shared, we pulled up a great graphic that is on the bottom of same article mentioned above. It focuses on the 8 Habits of Math Teachers Who VALUE Productive Struggle and help us understand exactly HOW we can change our habits and mindsets to promote this type of learning environment in our classroom.  While, again, changing our mindset is certainly a struggle in itself.  In the long run, our struggle, to help students struggle, can only help them make tremendous gains as they develop a math and problem solving mindset!

Thank you to Triangle High 5 for the fantastic summit today and for allowing us to share one of our passions!  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Choosing Good Fit Books

It's been a whole week in the land of 3rd grade for the 2016-2017 school year.  The first week was CRAZY and I'm already behind.  Go figure.   I was supposed to do this lesson last week...Unforseen, air problems that caused us to have to move classrooms prevented me from doing so... SO, here I am sharing it with you today! :)

I love using "big" words with my kids to build their vocabulary.  If I don't get a hand raised at some point during the day asking me what a word meant... I know I need to step up my game.  The other day,  I said "genre" and they had NO idea what I meant... Holy canoli, we have some work to do.

Today was choosing books that are going to help us grow as readers.  We first analyzed the reading profiles of 3 students: 1 who read 100 easy books last year, 1 who read 3 really hard ones, and one that read 42 that were sometimes a little tricky but they could figure out what the author was trying to say.  The kids discussed with a partner who they thought was going to grow the most.  Nobody said the 100 book kid - I was pretty surprised, a few said the 3 book kid, but we fixed that one pretty quick. Most said the 42 books and they had great reasons why!

Then we compared choosing books to riding a bike.

I'll let the anchor chart talk for itself.  Notice the uphill bike sweating, ha.

Hope you got an idea or two! I'll be back with some more ideas as I begin my 5th year with this new group of sweet, sweet 3rd graders.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

We Feel Better When We're Learning - Song Share!

Before I share this new song, I just need to get this off my chest...


Oh em gee.  I cannot even believe it.  Didn't we just end like...yesterday? No 6 weeks ago? Ay.

Excited. Scared. Butterflies.

It's sad knowing I won't have the same kids that I had for the last 2 years but so exciting to know I have a bunch of new kids ready and anticipating their #bestyearever.  Send me your energy, I'm gonna need it!  I imagine this will be me tomorrow afternoon...

Onto the reason for this post--

Every year I love to have a sort of "theme song" for the year.  Last year was Best Year of Our Lives.  You can find that post here.  I LOVED that song and so did my kids.  Everytime we were listening to music and the real American Authors song came on, they'd sing our song and remind me how much they loved it.  It was and always will be our song.

This year, we needed a new song...and so I began brainstorming and one day it hit me when I was dancing with my class to Meghan Trainor's, "Better When I'm Dancing".  That's when,  "Better When We're Learning" was born!

Here are the lyrics. If you click one of the pictures, it will take you to a file that you can download.

And here is my horrible, no yes, that's what I meant...horrible recording of it :).  Sorry the music is so loud.  That's probably a good thing. It's drowns out my non-Meghan Trainorlike voice.  Hope you enjoy and that maybe you'll sing with your class!

Font Credit: Hello Fonts
Background Credit: Roxie's Creations
Border Credit: Graphics from the Pond

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Welcome Letter!

Believe it or not, I am just 2 weeks away from teacher work week and 3 weeks away from the start of the new school year. It's hard to believe.  It feels like we just ended... although teaching reading camp for the last 3 weeks doesn't exactly help in the rest, rejuvenate, and energizer department either.

Anyway, I like to come by and share my welcome letter each day.  I really feel that it's so important to create a great first impression on my students to get them excited about our year together.  This year I decided to create my "theme" around my letter is centered around that.  Hope you enjoy it and it gives you some ideas!

I'll stop by soon to share pictures of my room.  I'm hoping to blog a little more this year - let's see how that goes, ha!

Side note: Justin creates our headers with graphics we purchase- he's super graphic designsy and stuff (Yes I made that word up) and I love him for it!


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

10 Reasons teaching ROCKS

1. Unexpected hugs from that kid.


2. The funny things our kids say and do.  

Because seriously, who else can tell you that a kid looked them up and down, head to toe, and then asked if you were having a mid-life crisis at the age of 26 because you are wearing green pants?

Oh and also that when you are pregnant you should not eat Mexican food because it's spicy and it will make the baby explode out.

Or when you tell a kid that he was a small baby because he was premature and he responds by saying, "Yeah, I know I'm mature, I'm the most mature one in here!"

Or you put on a song to sing about the water cycle and a kid covers their ears and screeches "Ooohh, my ears are bleeeding."

I could go on for pages.


3. It's one of the few professions where dressing in character is completely and totally acceptable.  

4. Seriously huge, undestroyable bladders. You won't see us doing "the dance".

5. You always have flair pens laying around.  In you purse. In your coat pocket. Behind your ear. In the car.  You never know when you'll need those suckers.  

6. Immune system of a beast 

7. Weekends and breaks- cause we earned them, dang it.

8. Pinterest counts as professional development... or wait, maybe it doesn't.

9. When you're a teacher, you always have craft supplies on hand.

10. Principal Gerry Brooks

Why else does teaching rock? 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Standing for Change in the most Challenging Moments

Happy MLKjr day, everyone! A day that we remember the amazing contributions and changes that were brought about by the help of a man who refused to stand aside and allow injustice to happen before his very eyes.  Today, I'm stopping by because I'm joining in a blog link-up in hopes of bringing attention and hopefully relief to some deplorable conditions that the teachers and children of Detroit Schools work and learn in.  Each blogger is choosing a favorite MLKjr quote and interpreting it in a way that address the current crisis in schools in the city.

I have a lot of favorite MLKjr quotes but this one really spoke to me in relation to this situation:

I think this quote spoke to me because, as teachers, we deal with much controversy and challenge.  Whether it has to do with CC Standards, standardized testing, the fact that we are trained professionals, pay- whether fair or unfair... and this is no exception.  The children and teachers of Detroit need us to help their voice be heard, to help them shine light on the deplorable conditions they are surrounded by in their schools everyday.  Those who do not work in Detroit, those without the uncomfort or inconvenience of working in these schools, cannot knowingly stand to the side and say "Well, it's not my school so I don't have to worry about it."  We as teachers must stand together and feel the pain these kids and teachers feel going to work in this incredibly unsafe building and we must unite for change.

Borrowed from  Rainbow City Learning: Please let the teachers of Detroit know that you stand with them and will continue to stand with them. Look for and use the hashtags: #supportDPSteachers and #dpsteachersfight back. Search for photos, articles, and videos of Detroit Public Schools online. I promise you'll be shocked at what you learn. Sign the petition .
Write letters, send letters to the editor of your local paper, or whatever you can to add your voice. The sea is so wide and their boat is so small. (paraphrased from Marion Wright Edelman, of The Children's Defense Fund) It's your boat too.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Creating Magic: House Sorting Ceremony

"Ms. G. I was sleeping and then, I just...woke up and remembered- we are sorting into our houses today!

Those were the words from one of my students as he walked in this morning.  I had created excitement around this day ALL week.  I was even awarding pre-points that they were going to add to their score once they got sorted.  If you build something up, whether it's a flop or not, I tell ya- the kids will eat it up.

So what are the houses?

Back in October, I was lucky enough to attend the 2 day teacher training at The Ron Clark Academy.  It was amazing.  I really wish I could go back but unfortunately, I had to pay for all of the travel/hotel rooms and that got expensive (I got a PD grant through Donor's Choose to cover the cost of the training).  Maybe one day I'll be able to go back for their tacky prom night.

I took away SO many things from the academy- one of them being their houses.  It may sound familiar if you know anything about Harry Potter!  At The Ron Clark Academy- when the kids come in as 5th graders, they get to spin the big wheel to get sorted into a house, are rushed up the stairs, thrown down the electric blue slide, and welcomed into the house that they'll spend the next few years being a part of.  The houses are competing for 2 very simple things.  1. The winning house gets to have the end of year banquet decorated in their color and everyone wears that house color. 2. Bragging rights for the next year.

I was already sold, but the fact that I'd only have to buy some colored decorations was a bonus!

At The Ron Clark Academy, they have 4 houses.  Justin is good at all that graphic design stuff and he made signs for 3 of the same 4 houses they use at RCA, so I stuck with those 3.

Here are our 3 houses:

Side note: Go Blue! 

This year, my kids are majorly into Harry Potter, so they were stoked about the whole idea.  They even asked if we had a magic sorting hat.  While we didn't have a magic hat, we did have "magic" balloons!  

This afternoon, we talked about each of the houses, what they stand for, and how the whole thing worked.  They, we turned off the lights, turned on the disco ball (Yes we have a totally awesome disco ball), blared some music, and popped some balloons!  This is the playlist I created for our ceremony:


After they figured out what house they were going to be a part of, everyone cheered them on, we snapped a picture, and celebrated! Kids were chanting their house name as classmates popped their balloons. Is.i.bin.di - is.i.bin.di.... REVEUR, REVEUR!! - C'mon Amistad!  They were loving it!

After everyone was sorted, we had a little 5 minute dance party. Did I ever mention how much this group likes to boogie? Yeah- the whip and nae nae? They never get sick of it.

Last- they got to write their name and stick it on their house poster.  I love the one girl who wrote "Roar like a lion!" to represent her new house, Isibindi.  

Right before we left, they added their points that they've earned all week and Isibindi is already in the lead!  

I can't wait to see where the rest of this house adventure takes us.  My hope is that by the 2017-2018 school year, I can get my whole school on board, but I'd love to start it even earlier! Send me your positive vibes! :)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I hate the term "fast finishers"

Hate is a strong word.

I don't hate many things.

But when people use the term "Fast Finishers," I want to CRINGE and do this...



So let me tell you why I cannot stand when I hear people say, "Oh, you can use this for your fast finishers!" *eye roll*

1. When I hear it, I think of kids being forced to do EXTRA work - the regular classwork that is far too easy for them, plus another task, worksheet, or whatever it is, that practices the same exact thing.  Maybe the numbers are bigger or there's a challenge to it. But it's still EXTRA work.  Why do they get punished for understanding the content quicker than other students?

2. It implies that I do not know how to differentiate for my students.  If I am a good teacher, I know my students and I can give them all tasks, appropriate to their level, that practice the same content.  Some tasks will be easier for those kids who take to things a little slower while other tasks will provide that challenge for my high kids.  No extra work- just challenging work for everyone.

3. I do not have "fast finishers" in my classroom.  If you are wondering why, See #1 and #2.

I don't want you to misunderstand this post.  I do, sometimes, have students who may finish a task more quickly than other students.  However, I do not give them extra work to do.  Instead, they do things like- practice their fast facts, choose a math practice station, or help a friend (because what better to know they really understand than watching them really teach and help someone else how to do it!)  If I'm challenging them appropriately, they should not need to have extra challenge work, because they already had it.

And, actually, if I'm really being honest, I really don't have a lot of times when I have students that are done before everyone else.  In fact, we rarely finish anything (mostly in math) because the tasks and problems that we do have so much extension to them that goes beyond what the kids really need to know, that by the time my lower kids finish with practicing the curriculum part of the task, my higher kids still aren't finished with the extension part of the task.  Maybe that's creating bad habits, but then the kids have some really meaningful work to do at home and they love it!

Now, this works for me and I understand it doesn't work for everyone - and that's TOTALLY OK.  That does not make me or you any better or worse of a teacher.  You may have required curriculum or other reasons why you have students that might finish quickly, but I just know that all the wonderful teachers out there aren't giving their high kids extra work in an effort to challenge them - because I'm so envious of so many of you and I know how awesome you are! & Thank you for that!

Maybe it's just the term that makes me cringe like nails on a chalkboard...

Just say no to "Fast Finishers"

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Project that was never meant to be...

Have you ever had one of these...

A project, that you never even thought of... that you didn't even have the time for... that was never planned and fit into your schedule, and it just...




Then you feel like this...

Yeah, I love those.

Recently, I was reading The One and Only Ivan with my 3rd graders.  I really like LOVE this book!  The discussions we have are just amazing.

Well, anyway- they were SUPER into this book, as suspected and then the Literacy Coach at my school sent me a link to a petition about a 55 year old elephant living in captivity and performing for those that visit the park.  The petition was to free MoMo so that she could live the rest of her life happily without having to put on a show for people.


Yup- and that's when our Elephant project was born. Exactly 1 week before we started it.

The question for this project was, "Should elephants be held in captivity and trained to entertain visitors?"

My kids worked in groups to research, and read books, and watch videos, and research...  There was SO much content in this unit.  Reading non-fiction, finding the main idea, comparing and contrasting information, forming an opinion, writing a persuasive article, and we even incorporated some other cool technology by making a Public Service Announcement.  That's not even including things like: collaborating, working as a team, etc. Every single group came to the conclusion that elephants should not be trained to perform and entertain us.  I tried to play devils advocate but they weren't buying it.  That's OK.

They were SO engaged in this entire project.  Every single day, y'all, no joke- they walked into the room asking, "Ms. G, are we going to work on our elephant project today?!"

Uh.. YES!!

To help them stay on the right track for their articles, I ended up modifying another graphic organizer I found that another teacher made, in order to fit with our elephant theme... so I don't want to share those graphic organizers, but as soon as I can remember where the heck I found the other teacher-authors - I will link it here.  Here are a few pictures to give you an idea...

At the end of our unit, we invited parents, other teachers, our principal, assistant principal, and a few other people to come listen to us present about the reasons exactly why we should not support things like the circus.  The students each shared their articles and shared their video.

It was such an amazing project- all for something that was never even thought of in the first place.  It was timely, relevant, integrated the real world, and they felt like they were REALLY making a difference!

Now I call that a win.

I thought you might like to read their articles and watch their videos, so please enjoy them below! Each article is 2 pages long.  If you feel like you want to leave us some comments on our work, you can use the Padlet at the bottom too!

Hope you enjoy! And please, "Help Save the Elephants!"