Monday, January 21, 2013

24th Best Seller in Washington State

Okay, just had to share my excitement for a moment! Just found out how to see all Washington state TpT sellers ranked by amount sold. I am #24 out of 397! Very exciting :).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thank You Gift

Thank you for reading this blog and being patients with all my ramblings (see post below this one). As a thank you I would like to share my newest product: 3 Minute History Lessons - Explorers. Just e-mail me at cateodonnell28 at gmail and I will send you a copy!

Have I Seemed Grumpy Lately?

Looking back on my posts I feel like I come across as really grumpy. I think this is because I am so worn down lately. I am responsible for getting all three of my children up (well, the one year old gets up on his own at about 6:30) and ready for school. We have to leave by 8:00am in order to make it on time which means I have about 45 minutes to get everyone dressed, fed, and somewhat presentable. There have been more than a few days that the last task didn't quite get done.:)

Both my daughters are in preschool at our local Catholic school. It is a great program, very academically enriching, but it is just feeling like a lot right now. My youngest daughter is three - is it really necessary to have her in school all day at three??

We also have the added issue that they are required to wear socks every day. This shouldn't be a big deal, but at our house it is. My oldest daughter throws a fit every morning about wearing the socks. Not a little fit; huge kicking and screaming. I end up dragging her to the car crying most mornings.

After rushing to get the girls to school I then have to take my son to his daycare/school before I head off to work. Thankfully I only teach part-time right now because this would be impossible to do every morning if I didn't.

After I get done with school I race to my daughters' school and pick them up from after school care. It takes about fifteen minutes to get them out to the car and loaded up (they don't want to leave their friends). We then drive to my son's daycare and pick him up.

This is exhausting - every - single - day.

So, I had my last sock fight on Friday - I decided I just couldn't take it anymore. My son's daycare does have a preschool/kindergarten program. It isn't as school-like as the program the girls are in now, but it is significantly cheaper. We could save over $600 a month - which would be huge since I am not working that much. The girls are trying it out next week. If they hate it we will definitely keep them where they are, but if they are okay with it... well, we aren't sure what the right thing to do is.

I would like to move them for several reasons...
1. they don't require kids to wear socks
2. I can bring the girls at any point throughout the day and they will still work with them on academics in addition to playtime
3. I would only have to go to one place to pick up and drop off
4. $600 a month

It seems like it would be an easy choice, but I don't want to make this decision based on what I want/need. I really want to do what is best for my children. So, any ideas? What would you do in this situation? I really need advice because I am definitely obsessing!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Best Source of Public Domain Pictures

Okay, this wasn't my discovery. Another TpT seller shared it several weeks ago, but I can't remember who to give them credit. Anyway, it is amazing with lots and lots of public domain pictures that you can use in your products for free. This is especially helpful for history products.

I would definitely recommend bookmarking this site :).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When the Work is Too Hard (But Shouldn't Be)

I have noticed a pattern in my class. The behavior of many of my students changes with the difficulty of the assignment. If the assignment is too easy they think it isn't important and mess around. If the assignment if too difficult they don't want to even try and mess around. It is only when an assignment is perfectly matched to their abilities that they will get into that great work mode that every teacher strives for in her classroom.

While I realize this fact and do my best to work with it to help my students have productive time in my classroom, it also drives me crazy!

Today we were working on creating graphs from a data table. We have been practicing this all week, but this was the first large set of data they were using (20 points). It wasn't supposed to be a difficult assignment because (1) we have been practicing all week and (2) they are in 7th grade, they should know how to plot points from a graph.

Well, it was really hard for a lot of them and they were desperately trying to give up, but I wouldn't let them. I was a lot more stern that I usually have to be and I actually made one boy cry (I took the scraps of paper he was playing with), but eventually they started working on their own.

While I was proud of them sticking to it, I was frustrated that all of their motivation has to come from me - this is exhausting for me and I won't always be there to help them so I want them to learn to do it on their own.

A big theme of our school year is "struggle" so this issue weighs heavily on my mind every day in class as I scold, encourage, and beg my students to try. Good thing I get to go home to three adorable kiddos to help me refresh my batteries every day! As I told my teaching partners, I don't know any four year old who isn't intrinsically motivated to try new things :).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Moms Have Super Powers

Last week I finished How Children Succeed, and now I am on to Brain Rules for Baby (or Babies - can't remember right now). I love John Medina, the author of the Brain Rules books! I was lucky enough to see him speak and it was amazing. If you ever have the opportunity to see him, I highly recommend it!

Anyway, I am reading Brain Rules for Baby mostly to understand what my own children's brains are doing right now. The first chapter was on pregnancy and I skimmed it, trying to ignore all of the things I could have done better. The next chapter was on relationships, as in the relationship between husband and wife.

It turns out that your relationship with your spouse is very, very, very, very important to the brain health of your child in his first months and years. It is also true that a marriage has incredible strain put on it after having a child.

I did know both of these things before in a hypothetical kind of way, but Medina has a way of showing the science behind it.

Anyway, this weekend I have been really irritated with my husband. He seemed content to sit around and watch football all weekend and then got cranky at me for being on the computer all of the time. (I would like to say here that I am always on the computer because I am trying to create for TpT so we can have a little extra income since I am only working part-time.)

I read a little of the relationship chapter and realized that I needed to make up with him fast for our darling little children's brains.

I also learned that our major source of arguments is disturbingly common - an unequal distribution of labor. It drives me crazy that, even though I only work part-time, I am ridiculously busy from 7am to 8pm and he comes home from work "so tired" at 6pm that he has to collapse in front of the tv for a little bit before he can sit down to eat the dinner that magically appears at the table every night. (Can you tell I am still a little riled about this?!)

My husband thinks that he does almost the same amount of work as I do, but he has no idea. Okay - I guess I am a little to upset right now, but the point the book made was that this unequal distribution of labor occurs all over the country and it is one of the biggest stresses on a marriage. There are lots of studies and facts to back this up and if I wasn't exhausted I would go through them point by point now.

Instead, I am going to say goodnight and hand the book over to my husband with a few of the sections highlighted for easy reading :).

What Are You Doing This Week? (Jan. 14th - 21st)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wall Street Journal Article - Good Teachers are Important

The Gate's Foundation has spent three years (and a lot of money) to prove that good teachers do help students improve (at least on tests). The study used a combination of test results and observations to rank 1,600 of the 3,000 teachers in the study. The next year students were randomly assigned to teachers. It turned out that not only did the students of the highest rated teachers perform the best on standardized tests, but they also scored better on tests that measured higher level thinking.

Some critics have said that the study is flawed and that test scores are not a good measure of teacher effectiveness. Jay P. Green, a professor at the University of Arkansas, even said that observations of teachers are not a reliable indicator of teacher quality.

Now, I am sorry, but are you kidding me, Professor Green? If you can't determine who is an effective teacher by watching them teach, then you are a moron.

There have definitely been times in my career as a teacher that I have thought that I wasn't making a difference. No matter how hard I tried to help students I didn't think that they were improving enough and there was nothing I could do about it. After all, so much of what kids learn comes from their homes. How to pay attention, how to try hard, etc... My first year teaching I was terrified that I was going to be judged by my students' test scores.

But I kept trying. Every day I spent with my students I gave 110%. I couldn't control what happened while my students were at home, but I could control what we did in the classroom.

When our test scores came back the next September, my kids had all shown improvement - dramatic improvement.

I was at a small school so there was only one class of students. These kids had (for the most part) the same family life as the year before, the same friends as the year before and the same life circumstances as the year before. The one thing that had changed was their teacher.

I realize this post sounds like I am saying that I am an amazing teacher and that is why the scores went up so much. This is not the point I am trying to make at all. I made lots of mistakes that first year (I still make lots of mistakes). But I kept trying and was willing to do whatever it took to help my students.

That is what made the difference in my opinion. I wasn't trying to stick to a specific curriculum map or teaching method. Instead, I planned everything around what I saw from my students. If they were having trouble with a particular concept we would keep working with it until they understood it. If one student struggled with something I would work with that one student after school or during recess.

Anyway, I thought that this was an interesting article - although I didn't need a three year study to believe that good teachers help students improve test scores.

Read the article here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Liebster Blog Award

Liebster Blog Award

The Liebster Blog Award is an award for new bloggers. It is a great way to get some exposure for all of us who feel (sometimes) like we are writing to ourselves. Here are the instructions for any nominated blogs...

  1. link back to the blog that nominated you 
  2. post 11 random things about yourself
  3. answer the 11 questions posted by the nominator (scroll to the bottom of the post)
  4. create 11 questions for the people you nominate
  5. choose 11 other blogs with less than 200 followers and link to them on this post

Thank you so much to Science in the City for nominating me!

11 Random Things About Myself
    1. I have never lived more than three hours from where I was born.
    2. I played basketball in college - even though I wasn't very good I was chosen to be on the team because of my great attitude.

    3. My husband played basketball in college - he was the star of the men's team.

    4. I could eat pizza all day every day, but my oldest daughter hates pizza so I don't get it very often.

    5. My dream job would be professional reader. It would require me to read lots of different books.

    6. I was planning on being a doctor, and even went to medical school before realizing that I was in the wrong field.

    7. I have three children 5 and under.

    8. When I was in first grade my teacher wrote on my report card that I had a tendency to get the whole class excited about new projects - unfortunately very few of my ideas were on her lesson plan.

    9. I was a lifeguard for most of college and high school, but I can't stand to put my face in the water while I swim.

    10. The street I live on is full of kids. I feel a little bit like I am in a tv show because it is unreal how much fun this whole neighborhood is.

    11. I was 100% convinced that my blog would only be up for a month before I gave up.

11 Questions from The Liebster Blog Award
  • How long have you been teaching and what grade do you currently teach?
I have been teaching for three years. I am currently teaching only part-time as a middle school science teacher (7th grade).

  • What advice would you give a brand new teacher?
My advice for a new teacher would be to relax and keep trying their best. There will be days you feel overwhelmed and incompetent, but as long as you keep trying you will be making a difference. (May I mention that I am still a quite new teacher?!)

My advice for all teachers, even though you didn't ask, is to remember that every kid in your classroom is somebody's baby. Even when they are awful, treat them the way you would want your baby to be treated.

  • What made you decide to enter the blogging world?
I guess I am just really self-centered. Plus, I have loved being on Teachers pay Teachers so much that I wanted to do more to connect with other teachers.

  • Which blog do you really love to read?
I jump around so much! I don't read one blog regularly, but I regularly read lots of blogs.

  • If you could visit any place in the world where would you go and why?
Disneyland! I know it is so sad that this is my dream vacation, but it is. We just took our daughters for our oldest's 5th birthday and if my husband would have okay'd it I would never have come back. I even started sending him Disney job postings!

  • What pets do you have? (If you don't have any - what pets would you really LOVE to have?)
We have one cat named Colby. I got her when I was still in college because my little chihuahua was sleeping all day while I was in class and then keeping me up all night. Colby was her buddy to play with during the day.

PS - Don't ever, ever get a dog before you are settled down with a house of your own. What was I thinking????

  • When you were a child what was your favorite book? What is your favorite children's book today?
I was an avid reader even as a kid - I would be grounded from reading when I got in trouble. My favorite book for a long time was Harriet the Spy. My favorite kids book now is probably Ballet Shoes.

  • Do you speak any other languages? If so, which ones?
I took Spanish through college, but it is pretty rough now.

  • What is one item you can't live without?
My computer!

  • If you look up from your computer right now what do you see?
Toys and my son playing happily.

  • What is your favorite charity?
Kiva - the organization that allows people to make microloans to people without access to other financing. I am currently loaning money to a woman in Samoa!

11 Other Questions From Science in the City
  • What grades and subject(s) do you teach?
7th grade science

  • What made you decide to be a teacher?
Watching my oldest daughter explore and learn as a baby. Watching the process is a little addicting.
  • How long have you been teaching?
About 3 years
  • What type of district do you teach in (large/small, urban, suburban, rural)?
Large suburban
  • What do you think is your strength (or your favorite part) of teaching?
My strength and favorite part of teaching is trying new things to reach my students. I am constantly evaluating their progress and trying to come up with something to help them achieve more. I want all of my students motivated and prepared to go to college someday.
  • What part(s) are your weakness or do you dislike?
Staff meetings! I love collaboration, but staff meetings can be pretty boring sometimes - plus, have you noticed how much teachers talk when they should be paying attention to the speaker?! That is very distracting :).
  • What blogs do you really like?
I should probably make a list at some point...
  • What are you most proud of?
My success of TpT. It isn't anything amazing yet, but every quarter I am having more success and I love it!
  • What hobby do you enjoy?
Right now I take care of the kids, go to work, and work on Teachers pay Teachers. I used to be a more interesting person...

However, my husband and I have been watching Everest: Beyond the Limit, and while I would never climb Mt. Everest (too dangerous), I am planning on climbing Mt. St. Helen's and Mt. Adams this summer.
  • What is the strangest food you have ever eaten?
Nothing, I do not mess with my food :).
  • Why did you start blogging?
I had a lot to say about teaching and my husband was getting irritated.

Here are 11 questions for my nominees...
1. What is your funniest school/kid story?
2. If you weren't a teacher, what would you be doing?
3. If you won the lottery, would you keep teaching?
4. What was the last thing you bought on Teachers pay Teachers?
5. What was the last thing you sold on Teachers pay Teachers?
6. Do you use standards based grading in your school/classroom? Do you like it?
7. If you could tell Congress/President Obama one thing that needed to be changed in our education system, what would it be?
8. What is your favorite show on tv right now?
9. What are your plans for this summer?
10. What are your plans for Spring Break?
11. Who is your hero?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Middle School Products Linky Party

Welcome to my first linky party! Enjoy these products created especially for that wonderful period in everyone's life... middle school.

Please leave a comment if you use one of the products in the linky party and it is especially helpful.

Using Other Teacher's Lesson Plans

So right now I only teach one class a day - terrible time to find a job in a new district around here. Anyway, being the one odd man out, I try really hard to follow what the other teachers are doing. However, I find that many of these lessons are the ones that are the biggest disasters in my room.

It makes me wonder, are these lessons failing because I am not as invested in them, or are they failing because they just aren't great lessons?

Today I followed the "assigned" lesson and had the kids work on a concept map of catastrophic events. It was a pretty open-ended assignment that asked kids to organize what they already knew about catastrophic events. Let me just say - the assignment was a catastrophic event! The kids started misspelling words on our big chart on purpose or putting things up more than once because they thought it was so funny.

I was furious and called the activity in the middle of it. Instead, we veered off and had a really interesting debate about the government paying for large natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. I saw so much more learning going on during the debate.

I do appreciate the value of a concept map, but I don't think my kids are ready to just be handed a blank piece of paper - they don't understand relationships between concepts yet. I probably should have walked them through a concept map, but I didn't feel like that was the spirit of the assignment as I understood it...

Do you have this issue with lessons from other teachers? What do you do? I know that the schools around here are really pushing uniformity so that all of the classrooms are learning the same material and being assessed in the same ways. I really like to shape my classroom depending on the talents, abilities, and moods of my classes - can I do this and stay uniform?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Struggle in the Classroom

Our school has been focused a lot on struggle within the classroom. Kids are only really learning when they are struggling. However, there is a spectrum of struggle. If work is too easy kids won't be invested, and if work it too hard, they won't be invested either.

One problem that we have discovered with struggle, is that (in general) kids in the United States don't like to struggle. They shut down very quickly and stop trying. This is in comparison to students in China and Japan (among other countries).

We read an interesting article that suggested that this difference is because of a culturally difference in understanding what it means to be "smart". Parents in the United States tend to enforce the idea that people are either smart or dumb. Smart people have an easy time understanding things and dumb people struggle. Conversely, parents in Asian cultures pride hard work. The harder a child works, the "smarter" he or she is.

Well, I got a front row seat to witness what happens when students in my class are given an assignment that is too hard. I gave them some practice on identifying variables within a hypothesis. This is something they have been practicing for years, but they just don't understand it.

The day before my students had been amazing, working hard and engaged in the lesson. The day of the variable practice that class was gone. They were all having a really hard time focusing and were constantly off task.

Reflecting on the day that evening I realized that when my kids find an assignment out of their reach, they give up very quickly. If I can give them assignments that challenge them, but not too much, they will work really hard.

While I wish that they would try with every assignment I give them, I realize that this is just not the case for this class yet. I will have to be very careful about what I assign in the future...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First Day Back - Principal Visit

I have to say again how proud I am of my kids. They were awesome today - a couple of reminders about classroom behavior, but nothing major. (I was especially proud when I heard other teachers complaining about how wild their students were today.)

Anyway, my kids were working hard on a reading assignment when my principal came in for a drop-in observation (nothing official, but still makes me a little nervous). She talked with a lot of kids and asked them all about what they were doing etc... The kids did great!

I stopped by the Principal's office after school to get feedback on the visit. Here is the thing - I love getting feedback (good comments make me feel great and constructive feedback helps me improve) but I always get so nervous when I don't know what someone is thinking. Well, my principal definitely agreed that they had all been wholly engaged in the class! I have been smiling all afternoon!

This was a really tough class and we have all been working really hard to figure each other out, and I feel like we are finally there. It feels great and I can't wait to get back to school tomorrow. This is saying something since just a few months ago I was ready to quit :).

On a side note, today the lesson that the kids were totally engaged in was from the Earth Science Daybook, which is paired with the Sciencesaurus book. If you haven't seen these resources I encourage you to look them up - they have great short reading passages that are interesting to the kids. I started using them on a tip from our science coach and the kids really like them - obviously!