Monday, December 31, 2012

Presidential Bingo Giveaway

Presidential Bingo is done! (and it isn't your typical Bingo game either)

I will be giving away five free copies of the game to my followers. This game is designed for about 3rd to 7th graders. If you would like one just leave a comment then e-mail me at cateodonnell28 at I will send out five copies (if I have more than five comments I will randomly pick five winners) on Wednesday when I get back to school.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Candy Rewards

Okay - I know that we aren't supposed to use extrinsic rewards in classrooms (at least not very often). But I was reading How Children Succeed more today and it described another study that was very interesting. Children were given an IQ test and then grouped into high, medium and low IQ groups. These groups were then split in two (experimental and control groups) and given the IQ test again. The experimental groups received an M n' M for every question they got right.

The high and medium IQ groups showed no difference between test scores with and without the treat. However, the low IQ group jumped from an average score of 79 to an average score of 97 with the treat. This showed that the students needed extra motivation to try their hardest - something they aren't always going to get in the real world which means their IQs will often look like 79 instead of 97.

My thought was that I could use treats to jump start my students' motivation. Of course I do have some students that are motivated without treats, but I do have a big group that just seem to be killing time at school. I know that their skills are not at the level they should be which makes school so much harder. This causes them to not try as hard which makes school even harder and they are just stuck in a bad cycle.

I was thinking that I would keep a lot of wrapped candies (like individual Starbursts) with me while we review everything we covered for the day and maybe even for a review of what we covered the day before. At first I could use the treats as a reward for every question I asked. Slowly, I would use them less and less frequently until the students are answering and trying because they want to feel successful.

This is just one of my many plans to help my students rise above the expectations everyone has of them. More to come!

Ringing in the New Year Giveaway

The Happy Teacher is having a giveaway with over 70 prizes including a gift card to Starbucks!

Stop by and enter!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rich Kid - Poor Kid

I am in the middle of reading How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. It is pretty amazing so far - it really is a lot of common sense, but common sense that has been proven by scientific studies.

I am about 1/3 of the way through (according to my kindle) and the book is discussing the issues affluent children have in school/life. This discussion is particular to middle and high school students, but I am sure that it applies to other grades as well. Psychologists have found that affluent children have higher rates of alcohol and drug use and depression than their poor counterparts.

The book theorized that this is because parents of affluent children are more permissive of this behavior (as a group) and help their children get out of trouble so often that dangerous behavior just continues and escalates.

However, the book also asserts that the key factor in depression and dangerous behavior in both rich and poor kids is absent parents or parents that fail to connect with their children.

I read this and I thought, of course that is a problem!

I realize that some parents have to work and can't be with their kids every day after school, but this doesn't have to prevent someone from being an involved parent. My mom worked my entire life and my sister and I had to go to daycare from about 6am to 6pm, but I never doubted how much my mother cared about me and my life. I knew that I was important to my mom, and whenever she could be there, she was. This was a wonderful gift.

I don't want to sound to preachy - but I don't think that we are going to fix the education system in this country until we have every child growing up in a home where he knows how important and how loved he is. That is what we should be talking about when we say "No Child Left Behind".

I would love it if we had "school" for parents. New mothers could bring in their babies and get the support and information they need to be nurturing influences. Parents could be empowered to change their children's lives, and families could learn together.

I think that every parent and every child would benefit from more support, and then maybe achievement and test scores would go up and drop out rates would go down.

Your Kids Can Be Too Young to Talk About Smoking

Have you ever seen the commercial with the mom talking to her baby about not smoking? Well, I love that commercial for some weird reason...

I did talk to my kids about not smoking when they were babies - I think we both got a lot out of those conversations. No one in our immediate family smokes and we live in a smoke-free neighborhood as well. Whenever we are near someone smoking it totally bothers my kids, which is fine with me.

However, I am afraid that at some point they may decide to try smoking.

We were in the car on the way to school (both of my oldest daughters are in preschool) and I thought it would be a good time to talk about smoking again. They already have tumultuous relationships with their friends and I wanted to reinforce the idea that a real friend won't care if you don't want to try smoking.

I launch into this big talk about peer pressure and smoking. The girls are agreeing and offering ideas of what to do/say if someone tries to get them to smoke. About five minutes in my youngest daughter says, "You should never play with matches."

That is when I realized that while I was talking about cigarettes, they were talking about starting fires. They had just had a fire safety day in school and they thought I was talking about a friend who wanted to start fires that were "smoking".

Not the lesson I was aiming for, but still an important one :).

Friday, December 21, 2012

Adorable "Little Kid" Blogs

I enjoy teaching middle school and the older elementary kids, but I will say I am a little jealous of all the adorable things I see from the K-2 teachers. Here is a blog I saw today that is just too cute not to share! (I will add more as I see them :).)

Sea of Knowledge
Being Inspired

So Proud of My Students!

I posted earlier about the difficulty my students have had learning about the theory of evolution. It is a really complicated concept to understand - there are plenty of adults who don't fully understand it. Realizing that my students were not ready to do their best on a test I pushed it back from Friday to the Tuesday before we got out for break.

On Tuesday my kids came in from their other classes where they watched movies and had little parties. Needless to say they were quite disappointed that we were still having the test. However, once their initial complaining was completed (a necessary step in middle school), they did awesome! This was not an easy test - it was 8 short essay questions.

I wasn't trying to be mean, I just wanted to give them as much opportunity to score well on the standards - multiple choice and matching don't tell me much about what they know about the standards we are covering.

I expected many of the kids to race through as fast as they could, like they usually do. Not on Tuesday. Every kid in the classroom worked diligently until they completely finished the test. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. You could actually see the wheels turning in their minds as they worked.

I have two theories as to why they worked so hard on this test. First, we had a very successful review session the day before during which we talked about how the different ideas fit together - I think this helped them understand the topic (instead of memorizing facts which they still want to do instead of thinking and understanding). Second, the past few tests they have taken have had the shortest possible answers to my questions - a few words where I was expecting a paragraph. I realized that I needed to tell them exactly what I wanted so I put sentence suggestions on each question. I told the kids these were not requirements, but I wouldn't be able to give anyone full credit for less than the minimum sentence suggestion because they wouldn't be able to get all of the information covered in less than that. Walking around I saw kids going way above my suggested sentences and that was awesome.

I haven't looked at the tests yet - too busy getting ready for Christmas - but I am so proud of my students for working so hard. I don't care how much trouble a student has with a subject, I will work until they get it, as long as they are working too. So, no matter how high or low their test scores - my class was successful on this test.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Concept Mapping

My class was studying evolution last week. We had started with genetics the week before and I was really working to help them connect all the ideas to see that we weren't studying two different topics, but two different parts of one topic. Well, they were supposed to take a test on evolution on Friday, but they just weren't ready. I spent a lot of time over the weekend thinking about how I could help them put all of these different ideas together.

The entire 7th grade science team focused on graphic organizers to cover this specific section of the textbook, but the kids just weren't understanding that this technique was supposed to help them understand the material. I decided to show them just how helpful a graphic organizer can be by creating a concept map of genetics and evolution. I started out with sexual and asexual reproduction and mutations (the place we started two weeks ago) and as we moved through to different concepts I made sure to explain the concept and how it fit in the big picture. It was so great to look up and see understanding on faces for the first time! (Of course there were still some lost looks...)

A concept map is a great tool, but I don't think it would have been helpful any earlier. In order to connect ideas the kids have to have a place to start. It would be an interesting idea to teach based on the concept map from the beginning - give kids a complete map with the big ideas on it. They could see how things were connected and that might help them understand each idea better...

This is something I have to think about this break. I will be mapping out my lessons for "Natural Disasters" and I think giving them the big picture first might help. Of course I have kids that might get overwhelmed by this and not use it as a helpful tool...

I personally love graphic organizers - this is literally how I think in my head. I am constantly making connections between what I am learning (because I am always learning something new) and what I already know. It is amazing how much good information I have gotten from tv shows over the years :) - I am always thinking back to random episodes of Saved by the Bell or FRIENDS or whatever!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Too Many Mistakes!

So, I have been changing one of my products on TpT around lately and I am so embarrassed by the number of mistakes I have found! I know that the seasoned members of TpT always recommend having someone else look at your stuff before posting, but I thought I was doing pretty good. Turns out that the constant interruptions I get while I work are having a negative effect on my work!

Well, good news is I can upload the new corrected format and my customers will get something great - which they definitely deserve!

I wish that I could work for a few uninterrupted hours every day, but with three kids under five that just isn't really an option. Maybe I could go to the library for a while after my husband gets homes from work...

If anyone out there has advice for how to work with little ones in the house, please share!

Someday I would love to make enough money to have my husband stay home with the kids while I work - a big dream on a teacher's salary :). But that really won't happen if I can't get in time to work now!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Independent Science Lessons and Blog Hop!

It is a sad fact in my classroom, but most of my students are not reading at grade level. This has been caused by years of sliding through classes. Our school district enforces "social promotion" so no one is held back. Well, I don't know how many of you read science textbooks, but they are not the easiest material to process. There is new vocabulary, difficult concepts, and lots of math interspersed throughout the book. Imagine trying to read this when you aren't even reading at grade level!

To help my students understand the information, I have begun creating independent lessons that students can use instead of the textbook. These lessons have a mix of text and graphics to help illustrate the big ideas of a topic. I do my best to write them at about a 5th grade level so they are accessible to most of my students. I also use lists to help organize students' progress through the lesson so it is easier to stay on task.

So far I have created the lessons for the major components of our study of the human body. I have many of these for sale at my store. Today I am offering three of my independent lessons as a prize for one commentor on this post. Share a topic you wish you had an independent lesson for, a strategy you have used with struggling readers in your middle school classroom, or anything else!

Good luck to everyone! I can't wait to read your comments!

This post is not just a chance to show off my independent lessons - it is also part of a blog hop for middle school and high school teachers. Continue on to the next blog at Night Light Lessons! If you ended up here without seeing the earlier blogs, you can go back to the beginning at Teaching High School Math.


Tragedy in Connecticut

Like everyone else I am completely horrified about the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut this morning. It is so awful it doesn't even seem real, but I know that it is very real for the families of the victims. A little piece of my heart will be forever broken for the parents whose children were taken from them.

While I watched the news nonstop this morning, desperate to make sense of this tragedy and crying, I have made the decision that I am done with it. Not for the children or the families, but the spectacle it has already become. I completely understand people wanting to know what happened, but I have decided that I know enough. I will continue to mourn for the families affected, but I can't process anymore of the horror. This is something I have to do to continue to function.

I am so thankful for my own children today and made sure to give them extra love and attention after school.

I will continue to pray for the children and adults who lost their lives today and the families left behind. I will also be sure to take extra care of the children in my life, both at school and at home. Being a little more patient and a little more willing to have fun in the moment will be my memorial to the victims. It will be my way of showing evil that it will never win.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

100 Follower Giveaway

The giveaway is here! There are three different giveaways to enter. The prizes are listed above the entry forms.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck!

My First 100 Follower Giveaway Information!

How exciting! I am just nine people away from 100 followers for my TpT store! To celebrate I am having a giveaway. I would like to thank all of the wonderful sellers who have contributed to make the giveaway even better:

 Wow! That is a long list!

I am using rafflecopter to run the giveaway so there are lots of things that you can do to enter :). The giveaway will run until December 18th and you can enter as many times as you would like. Now, how about a look at the prizes...

Here are the prizes from me:

There will be three different giveaways to enter! Good luck!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Great Product for an Even Better Cause

This month Teaching in Blue Jeans is starting a new program at her store called Of the Month. Every month she will pick one of her products and donate all of the proceeds of that product to a specific charity. This month she is donating to Go Ministries who will be providing meals to students at a school in Guatemala - you can read all about it at her blog (linked above).

The product for this month is called "Go Elf Yourself" and it is super cute - it was all over pinterest a while ago. I even sent the link to my daughters' teacher because that would be a pretty cool art project to take home!

Anyway, this is a great program and I encourage you to visit Teaching in Blue Jeans blog and store to help her help others!

Success in Secondary Linky Party

There aren't a lot of secondary teachers at TpT right now (well, compared to elementary teachers) and we need to stick together! :)

Thank you to Success in Secondary for hosting this awesome linky party!

Here is one free item from my store that would be helpful in a secondary classroom:

And here are two paid items that would be equally helpful :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Published Author!

Okay, self-published :).

I just put a young adult novel I wrote on Amazon. It is geared toward girls in 5th through 8th grade, but it will appeal to other ages as well - I know I like it.

It is all about fairy tales, princesses, and dragons, but with a fresh take. Honestly, the reason I started writing it was because I was worried about all of the books I was reading my daughters. All the princesses seemed to care about was finding a prince! I wanted to give my daughters a story about a princess who didn't need or want a prince to rescue her.

The result is a story that I really love. Plus, I had so much fun writing it!


Communicating with Parents

Communicating with parents is one of the most important parts of being a teacher. I can also be one of the most dreaded.

I, myself, have stared at the phone, getting up the courage to call a parent. The days of holding teachers in the utmost respect are gone, and I have often found myself getting blamed for a students' bad behavior.

I once had a parent tell me that it was my fault her daughter was cheating on a test because my test was too hard!

With all of this in mind, I keep slogging away, trying to keep the lines of communication open. This can be especially difficult in a school where parents don't have e-mail. It is so easy to type out a quick e-mail and shoot it off - this is my favorite way to give a kid a pat on the back. Since most of my e-mails are positive I don't have the issues with tone that can come from other e-mails (who hasn't had that problem?!).

Plus, I have the added issue of having parents who don't speak English.

With all of these complications it would be so easy to throw up my hands and not think about it, but I owe it to my students to keep trying.

I only spend an hour a day with these kids - I need the support of their families. Plus, I want the kids to know that I care about them and will do everything I can to help them be successful. For this reason my parent-student conferences are always focused on creating a plan or coming up with strategies to do better. No one wants to be lectured at and it doesn't do any good (I was lectured to a lot as a teenager and it didn't affect my behavior at all).

All of these things are swirling in my head this week as I have a parent conference every day after school! This post was supposed to be about all of my ideas about communicating with parents and it turned into my own little pep talk :). All of the parents I have worked with have been super supportive and that has been a pleasant surprise.

I also found out that several of the kids I am meeting with are good friends outside of school (and so are their parents). I think this will make the conferences even more helpful because we will all be on the same page.

Anyway - just a few random thoughts on a subject weighing heavily on my mind right now - parent communication.