Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Sale - 20% Off at TpT

I wanted to celebrate Spring and this wonderful weather in the Northwest so everything in my store at TpT is 20% off! Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mr. Parr is Awesome!

Someone pinned Mr. Parr's song/video on the different types of rocks on Pinterest a couple of weeks ago. I saved it because we were about to start a unit on rocks. It is so awesome - perfect for kids because it is fun and includes all the information they have been learning.

Anyway, I just checked out his You Tube channel and he has songs on tons of different science topics. Plus, if you need something and can't find it you can send him your notes on a topic and he will try to make a song for you! That is incredible!

I really wish I was talented and creative like this, but I'm just not. Lucky for my kids, I look on Pinterest a lot :).

Thank you, Mr. Parr!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Kindergarten Common Core Math - Newest Product

My newest product is up!

This is a product I designed especially for my own adorable (most of the time) daughters. We are working on kindergarten math at home, but we have raced through the book I bought for them. When I went to get another book I was shocked that it was $30 at the teacher store!

I decided to try my hand at making the worksheets for them and it was actually pretty fun. I have always been a little bit afraid of working with the really little kids (except my own), but I may be reconsidering...

Anyway - the product has 50 worksheets that cover most of the kindergarten common core math standards. I even included an answer page for each worksheet so that kids could check their own work. The preview has a few of the worksheets as a sampling of what you will get for your money.

I will also be giving away copies to the first three comments on my Facebook post about the new product. (I would do it here, but then people have to leave e-mail addresses and it just gets complicated. On Facebook I can just send it in a message.)

It is also up at Teacher's Notebook.

Close Readings

Today we had another class in a series of professional development classes aimed at preparing us for the transition to common core. This one was on close readings.

The idea behind close readings is that students read the text more than once and really focus on what the author is trying to say. This would include looking at specific word choices, sentence structure, text details, etc... In this way the students interact very deeply with the text.

It was a very interesting lesson and I really enjoyed talking about the sample text with my small group.

The next part of the lesson was a little more frustrating. We were sent into our PLCs to create a close reading lesson using a text for one of our classes. Now, I don't know about your science textbooks, but ours are definitely lacking the "meat" that is necessary for a productive close read. That leaves supplemental texts, but none of the other teachers in my PLC had any supplemental texts. We were a little bit stuck. (I realize we could have easily started searching online, but it is a long story - don't get me started.)

So, for any middle school (or high school) teachers out there. What supplemental texts do you use in your classroom? We are studying rocks/Earth history right now, but any topic would be helpful.

Where do you find really good science writing?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lap Books and Foldables

Now here is something I am a little bit embarrassed to admit. Until today I did not understand the appeal of foldables at all. I thought it was just a gimmick for elementary teachers - not something I would ever use in my middle school classroom. (As everyone knows middle schoolers are basically grown ups and remember everything I say during class perfectly because they understand how important it is.)

Well, that all changed today. I needed a fairly simple lab to run a lab practical for my students so I was browsing on TpT. I found a perfect lab (Lab Tomato Race Student Design), but it was only $1! I definitely would have paid $3 for it. Anyway, I needed to get over the $3 mark in order to get the lab so I was browsing for products relating to rocks and minerals (our next topic).

I happened across Rocks and Minerals Lap Books and Foldables by Life on the Fourth Floor and I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. She even has a link to her product that describes how to make Lap Books and Foldables which was really helpful as well.

Now I am addicted to making foldables :) (Yes, addictions can come on within just an hour or two of first exposure.) I really think that my students are going to be more engaged in class and they might actually go back through their notebooks if they are full of these fun foldables.

I was already planning on doing more pasting into our notebooks (their handwriting is for the most part awful) and I think this will add even more fun to the process.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Unmotivated Students

Today was a really hard day. We have a big test coming up - the last one of the trimester - so I set aside a big chunk of time for kids to review for the test. I gave them a couple of worksheets to use as a guide and then split them up into teams. At the end of the class we were going to have a team game for points and prizes. I thought this would motivate them to work hard and make sure they really knew the material (you know, prizes or the big test they have on Friday).

Did it work? Not at all. As soon as kids finished the worksheet they immediately began wandering around the room, talking to friends, etc... I was constantly redirecting students, but it was like playing whack-a-mole. I told them today that this obviously wasn't working and we would do something much less fun tomorrow.

My frustration is that I can't will these kids into succeeding. I am doing everything I can think of to show them that they are smart and capable, and they are doing everything to show me that they could care less about school.

What I hate most of all is that when I have a day like today it totally affects my own sweet children at home. I feel worn out by the day and have no more patience. This puts my kids on edge and before you know it someone is crying.

I have been researching how to motivate unmotivated kids and all of the ideas sound good on paper, but implementing them in my classroom seems impossible. Maybe this is because I am not a good enough teacher, but I have 27 kids in my class and probably 20 of them are on a 504 plan for some version of ADD. If I am not literally standing over some of these kids they start making trouble.

They have gotten much better. If I give them an assignment that is doable for them they will sit and work on it, but the minute they feel they have some choice they always choose to disrupt others. This includes any assignments with the tiniest bit of freedom or choice.

Today was one of the few days I have really fantasized about quitting and never having to see my class again...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

State Testing Resources

State testing is just around the corner (at least in Washington State) and I thought it would be a good time to start compiling resources to help prepare students for the test. One of the reasons I have so many reading passages in my TpT store is that I can never find enough quality reading passages (let alone reading passages with appropriate question types) to give my students the kind of practice they need. (In addition to helping with the state testing these passages also help to teach reading comprehension which is difficult even for middle schoolers.)

Have you developed something that is helpful in prepping students for state testing? If so, please share it here!

Thank you in advance!

The Preschool Investment

While some experts are lauding President Obama's decision to push universal preschool (starting with children living at double the poverty line or less), others question his assertion that there will be a $7 savings for every $1 spent.

It is true that studies on the subject aren't as conclusive as they first appear. Some of the problems come from the long-term tracking a study like this requires. One study tracked preschool participants until they were 40 years old! There is also the question of what is causing the savings these studies show. It is impossible to completely control for all other factors when dealing with people living in the real world.

Finally, some of the trials were not completely randomized. There may have been many reasons for this. Many preschool programs funded by the state require extensive parental involvement - this would lead specific types of parents to enroll their children in the program. This creates the question of why the children show greater success later in life. Was it the preschool, their involved parents, a combination of both, or something else all together?

At this point it cannot be stated with 100% confidence that preschool programs show a 700% return on the investment. Does this mean we should hold off on universal preschool until we do have the data to prove that they will get this large return? I don't know about you, but that seems pretty ridiculous to me. Even if the preschool programs only produce a $2 savings for every $1 spent - that is a good return on our money. Not to mention the higher quality of life it would bring to both the children in the preschool and the members of the surrounding communities.

What I found most interesting about the Wall Street Journal article on the subject (Economists Study Early Education by The Numbers Guy) was that the program with the highest annual rate of return (of the four programs included in the article) was not actually a preschool program. The only program that yielded an annual rate of return of over 20% was one that involved a nurse making home visits to children and their parents from birth to either two or three years old.

This fact illustrates a few things that I strongly believe. First, parents need help. Especially parents who didn't have strong role models growing up. I believe that I did have strong role models, but parenting is still one of the most difficult and frustrating things I have ever done. There are times I just want to scream at my kids. Or lock them out of my room and just stay in bed all day. I do not do these things because I know how harmful they can be. If I had a parent who treated me this way as a child, would I do the same things to my children?

Programs involving home visits with trained nurses are able to break this cycle (in many cases) because they empower parents to make better decisions regarding their children. I believe that every parent desperately wants their own children to be happy and successful, but she (or he) may just not know how to do this. Having help from a professional bridges this gap.

I also believe that there is no one answer to breaking the costly cycle of poverty. The example of the home visits from the nurses shows that children and parents, especially low income children and parents, need support throughout children. Relatively inexpensive programs should be run both before and after preschool.

As a teacher I realize how important I am to my students' futures. While they are in school I am happy to serve as part of a support system. I realize that my job is much bigger than teaching them scientific principles. However, the school day is only 6.5 hours long. I only see my students for a little over an hour a day.

This is just not enough time to give them the support that they need. A strong after school program with passionate adults would fill an important gap for many of the students at my school and my others across the nation. I don't think it matters if a program is academic, athletic, or centered around the arts because the most important skills kids learn from these programs are life skills like discipline, working with others, and respect for both others and themselves.

I often fantasize about opening up a center where newly pregnant mothers can come and learn about prenatal nutrition and how their babies are developing. Families would return when their babies are born and learn how to engage their babies for maximum developmental benefits. Preschool and other classes would be held for older children. Tutors, coaches, and other experts would hold lessons in the center. Eventually kids would get help choosing and applying to their first jobs and college. For their entire life cycle as a parent, individuals could come to the center whenever they needed support. Fully screened volunteers would be available to hold the baby with colic so the mother or father could get a few minutes of much needed relief. Parents could talk to each other about their struggles and realize that they aren't alone.

The problem with this center is that it would never generate any money... but think of the adults it would create.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hiring a House Cleaner! :)

So, you may have noticed that I haven't been good about posting lately. Things have just been crazy - not crazy like anything big is happening, but crazy like I don't have a minute to sit down with all our normal stuff.

Well, this morning as I am cleaning the kitchen my husband says - why don't we just hire someone to do that? I was floored, my husband is not a man who likes to pay for extras like a house cleaner. I think that he is seeing the benefits of TpT and would rather I spend my extra time working on this instead of scrubbing the kitchen floor. (Now, I know he could scrub the floor for me instead of paying someone, but he isn't that crazy!)

I am off to look into a house cleaner now! Very exciting!