Saturday, April 27, 2013

End of the Year - Blog Hop

Welcome to the Calming the Chaos Blog Hop hosted by 2peasandadog.
All of us bloggers have come together to share our top tips for making the last month of school run smoothly. Visit each of our blogs to learn something new and catch a freebie or two!
Happy Hopping
I definitely have a love/hate relationship with the end of the school year. Of course I love the sunny weather and who can't use a break by June?! However, I hate how the academic push ends in May. Ideally, I would have my kids working hard and learning new things until the very last day of school. (I know, I am such a mean teacher!)

Unfortunately, with standardized testing happening in early May, kids (and some teachers) don't see the point in working hard into June.

I have been reading a really interesting book called Crazy Like a Fox about a principal who took over a failing charter school in California. In order to get his struggling students to achieve he used a lot of new policies and procedures - some more controversial than others.

I was really excited about one of his ideas in particular. His teachers got an entire year of academics into the space between September and state testing. This was beneficial to the kids because they had seen every topic that would appear on the state test.

After the state test the school didn't slow down at all. Instead, they began the work for the next year. As a kid I would have been so excited about becoming a 6th grader (or 7th grader etc...) early.

I won't be using this idea this year because I am teaching 7th grade science (no state test and no clear differentiation between 7th grade and 8th grade work), but if I am lucky enough to get into an elementary classroom next year this is definitely something I will try to integrate.
Blog Hop Participants
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Friday, April 26, 2013

Powerful Math Manipulatives

I am a very lucky mom! My daughters both love all things school (except the nap required at their preschool). My youngest daughter, 3, especially loves math. Math is like dessert to her. I have actually said the words, "You may only do math after you have picked up your toys."

We have used a variety of manipulatives to help both of my daughters understand math. My husband started "jelly bean math" when they were very young - maybe that is why they love math so much :).

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about what makes us love things like Disneyland and Cirque du Soleil so much. I have decided that, for me, it has to do with the attention to detail. The creators of these entities immerse their customers in an entire perfect world. This is the kind of detail that I want for my own classroom and lessons - at least a goal.

With this in mind I made some very cute math manipulatives for my daughters. Instead of just using whatever I could find laying around (something I have done many times) I really invested in something that would be visually appealing and representative of the world I want them to experience while learning.

It has worked out quite well. Watch the video below of my youngest daughter, Natalie doing some addition.

In addition to being great for math, we also use these manipulatives for early word practice. I will upload a video when my daughters are in the mood to be filmed again :).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Totally Unrelated to School - Child Modeling

I am posting this because when I went looking for information on going on an audition for child modeling I couldn't find anything helpful. Also, I know that people have strong opinions on child modeling - this is not a post on the pros and cons of child modeling.

My oldest daughter has been signed up with a modeling agency since she was about 9 months old. She was an adorable baby (of course - every baby is adorable) and she had a very sweet temperament that made taking cute pictures easy. We signed up with an agency that did not require any money upfront and that did not require professional head shots. (Zero investment on our part.)

For five years I have continually updated her "portfolio" - sending in new pictures as she changed. Not once in this time did we even get a call for an audition.

Well, finally we did! She was invited to audition for a local clothing company in Seattle. We lived in Seattle when we signed her up with the agency and have since moved to Vancouver. We decided to go for it and make the long drive (and spend a little time with grandma and grandpa).

The problem was - I had no idea what to expect. I was completely clueless as what to do and what to tell my daughter to do. So, for any parents who just got the call for their child's first audition here is what happened next...

I dressed my daughter in a brand new sundress with shoes that were relatively new looking (I did read about the importance of good shoes on a blog about child modeling auditions). Overall, she was looking her very best. Although she was wearing no make-up or jewelry (something required by the company).

At the audition I was surprised to see that most of the other kids were just in jeans and t-shirts. They weren't concerned about what they were wearing because most of the pictures were being taken of the kids wearing the sample clothes (lots of moms pulling clothes on and off their kids). I don't think that this is the case with some auditions, but this is what happened for us.

My daughter tried on about 20 different outfits. Each time she got something on she would stand in line for a turn with the photographer. She would then stand in front of a white sheet backdrop and smile (just like a school picture).

When she had tried on everything in her size they excused us to leave.

At the request of the agency we brought "head shots" (8x10s of her school picture copied at Kinkos) and a "resume" (a list of the classes she had taken - ballet and gymnastics). We did notice that many of the kids had professional photos and long resumes, but I didn't get the impression that it was that important.

I hope that this was helpful - I hate not knowing what to expect in a new situation.

I will say that my daughter had a lot of fun and she is still young enough to not really understand (or care) about getting the job or not. To her, today was a crazy game of dress-up and that is just fine with me :).

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Product - Review Video

My new product is a little different. It is a video (using PowerPoint) to help students independently review the rock cycle. I have had many students in my class that just don't understand the rock cycle, but I can't keep reteaching a handful of kids while the rest wait around.

The beauty of the video is that they can watch it anywhere. I have quite a few students with limited access to technology other than a phone and this video plays beautifully on a phone.

I even included two versions of a quiz on the rock cycle to help teachers continue to assess student learning about the rock cycle.

This format is new for me so I am excited and anxious about it!

The video and quiz set are free on TpT for 24 hours so snap it up and let me know what you think.

Friday, April 12, 2013

First post on iPhone

I am sad to say that I wasn't that surprised by the cheating scandal to come out of Atlanta. It seems that any time a school district makes amazing progress a scandal is sure to follow.

My question is why. Why can't we seem to figure out how to educate our children?

I know a lot of people are talking about the evils of high stakes standardized testing, but I really don't think low test scores are the problem - they are just a symptom.

I realize that as a teacher I am supposed to hate state testing, but I don't. I realize that it may not be the best way to assess all students, but it does give us a picture of how are students are progressing. A kid that knows their stuff will do fine on a state test ( I do realize there are some people who are just bad test takers, but I do believe they are the exception and their data should be easy to spot.)

I do not believe schools and teachers should be expected to get every student passing a standardized test. That just doesn't make sense when kids are coming in and out of classrooms so often (I have had at least 15 changes to my class roster in the past five months alone) standardized tests work for showing how much progress a student has made in a year, but if you have been the child's teacher for a month how can you be held responsible for an entire year?

2nd Grade Common Core: Language

I am working on a new Common Core set - 2nd grade language. I have already listed the first piece on TpT (Collective Nouns).

I don't know about you, but I like to have everything ready to go to teach and assess a standard. With these products you get several different types of practice and  two different assessments to measure student learning.

These would be especially helpful in states currently adopting Common Core since (at least at my school) we are moving to Common Core, but don't have any materials designed around the standards yet.

First three comments get Collective Nouns free! (Although it is based on a 2nd grade standard it would be helpful in older grades as well - even middle school students need some practice with collective nouns.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Awesome Lesson Today!

I had the best class today! We did my workshop lesson on landforms and everything went perfectly. I had all of the students engaged and excited about the topic. (I even had some kids ready to fight over our discussion of how certain landforms formed. - Fighting is not good, but it was great to see them so passionate about science!)

This lesson (and the other workshop lessons we have been doing) have gone exactly as I pictured when I created them. The idea is that I give the kids the basic information during the mini-lesson then I have them do something with it during the workshop time.

In this lesson we went over the pertinent vocabulary together then I gave them nine color foldables showing pictures of different landforms (two important things: (1) color is expensive, but it is worth it here and (2) if you can, cut out the foldables before class or you will lose them as they cut them out and chat with their friends). They then had to use a list we created together to determine what each landform was called.

The next step was to categorize the landforms by how they are formed (tectonic activty and deposition (building up) or weathering and erosion (tearing down)). This was were it got quite heated in our classroom.

Some of my normal troublemakers in class were my most passionate debaters today. I think this is because the lesson was very tactile - moving pieces around etc... and the information was accessible to them. They didn't have to find the information in the book and then classify it.

I realize that reading is very important, but sometimes it blocks my struggling students from accessing the material. I do have many workshop lessons that involve reading, but I try to chunk the readings so the kids aren't dealing with more than one idea at a time. (I will post how these lessons go later.)

Anyway, to celebrate my success I am making my Landforms Workshop Lesson free on TpT and TN all night long - yep, today was that amazing! (Okay, TN wouldn't let me list it for free without completely relisting the product so I changed the price to $.25.) I will run a giveaway too or, if you really want it free, just head over to TpT.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Free for Today - "4 Types of Fossils"

 Get my latest product, 4 Types of Fossils, completely free today! Just click on the title to visit the dropbox location with the link to the .pdf and .pptx files. Enjoy! (If you need more Earth History materials visit my store at Teachers pay Teachers or Teacher's Notebook.)

Mother's Day Linky Party

One of our fabulous sellers on TpT is having a baby any day! Being a TpT seller, of course her first thing on the list is throw a linky party :). So far there are lots of Mother's Day activities there, but I posted by Kindergarten Common Core Set (practice for almost every single kindergarten common core standard).

Click the picture to visit the Linky Party! (Plus, there is still time to link up!)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Workshop Model

My school uses the workshop model in classes. We also have a problem of practice that states that the students will be doing the majority of the reading, writing and speaking in class.

Well, this is great in theory, but what if your kids aren't ready for it? I have some kids who can't really read the textbook. They can read it, but they don't understand it. I had a meeting with my principal about this fact - that my kids can't function independently yet and I think we came up with some good solutions.

Instead of running one workshop per period (like most of the other classes in the school) - I will start running two short workshops. This way I can focus on one simple idea for each workshop and give the kids a little bit of time to work with that idea independently, but cut down on the amount of independent reading they have to do during the workshop time. We will still be reading, but when you have a tiny section planned and do some of it together in a mini-lesson it doesn't seem as daunting to my struggling readers. It is also easier for them because all of the reading will be on one topic instead of a few different topics that require them to mentally shift gears.

I have also come up with the idea of assessing my students after each mini-lesson. Just a short quiz that should take less than five minutes. The important part of this is that students will know how they are doing on a subject right away. Once students have a good picture of how they are performing they might be more motivated to work harder or go back and relearn material they didn't understand before a test. I know some kids won't do this, but I do think some will.

The bottom line is that this kids need to learn how to be students. I am hoping these changes will help them figure that out so they can be successful in all of their classes. I do think that these kids who struggle would do a lot better in a self-contained classroom. The consistency and structure would help them a lot since it seems like they lose their minds every time the bell to switch classes rings.

Do you have an idea to help kids learn how to be students? Please share!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mapping the Human Brain

President Obama announced earlier this week that he wanted to spend 100 million dollars to begin mapping the human brain. This money would just get the project started - it would take millions more dollars and most likely decades to complete the project. That is because there are approximately 100 billion nerve cells in the brain - that is as many stars as there are in the Milky Way Galaxy. In addition to all of the cells there are all of the connections between them - over 1 trillion connections. One brain cell can have as many as 10,00o connections.

Our brains are amazing and probably hold a lot of information that would be helpful to know, but part of the problem is that scientists don't know exactly what they are looking for yet. That is what happens when we explore new things.

Crazy Like a Fox?

Today I just finished reading Ben Chavis' book, Crazy Like a Fox. It describes how he, as principal, took the failing charter school (American Indian Charter School) and turned it into the top charter school in California.

It was a really fun book to read. I am always interesting in hearing about what is working in education and based on test scores, what Chavis was doing was working. Not all of his methods were politically correct or even popular, but he was able to get results.

American Indian Charter School is a middle school - which we all know is a tough time for kids.

Here are some things that I really liked about Chavis' educational model...

He used self-contained classrooms so that the same teacher taught every subject. I really like this idea because (1) you become a family as a class, (2) you don't waste time moving kids around from room to room, (3) kids can't get away with a lot of the junk they pull at other schools because the same teacher is always watching them, and (4) I love all of the subjects equally and I would love to be able to explore them with my students.

He corrected student behavior with logical consequences. For example, giving detentions (more school) when students were late to school or skipped school. It has never made sense to me that we punish kids by keeping them out of school. I also liked that he would have students do manual labor. Everyone helped out a little bit to keep the school clean and tidy, but those students who didn't want to work on academics were given manual labor to do - the kinds of jobs they would have if they didn't get a good education. The kids figured out pretty fast that it is a lot easier to sit in a desk and work than mop floors and clean toilets.

He created a culture at the school that accepted nothing less than excellence. There are too many excuses today in education - bad parents, not enough time, not enough money... I really like that at AICS no excuses were made - everyone just got to work.

I was about to make a list of things I didn't like about the school, but there was really only one thing I didn't like at that is the public humiliation. Yes, Chavis advocates humiliating students to get results if that is what it takes. Maybe I am a soft-hearted liberal (like the ones who run so many failing schools), but I just couldn't humiliate a kid. I feel so much empathy for them - I remember what I life was like at 13. I was so insecure without someone berating me.

Of course I do come from a middle class white family with lots of parental support. Chavis makes the point to say that humiliation works with the minority student he works with in Oakland. This could be a cultural thing. Plus, if I tried everything I could to get a student to stop being a fool then I would rather humiliate them than see them get killed doing something stupid...

Anyway, as I said I just finished reading this book today. After finishing it I went online to find out more about the school and educational model. (Chavis opened three more schools using the same American Indian Model of Education.) What do I find? Just a couple of weeks ago the Oakland school board decided to close three of the AIM schools.

The decision to close the schools was based on alleged financial impropriety by Ben Chavis. He paid himself, his wife, and companies he owned significant amounts of the school's money. He is also currently a landlord for one of the schools.

I didn't get a lot of details about what was wrong with these transactions, although hiring your wife as a "consultant" does seem a bit fishy to me.

What hit me was that many schools and educators that have amazing results, like American Indian Charter School, end up scandalized. I don't have to think too far back to remember Michelle Rhee and the cheating scandal that followed her from Washington D.C. Are these people really unethical or are they targeted because they are so successful despite going against traditional educational institutions? Maybe both.

It would just be nice, for once, to have an educational leader who finds a way to educate students effectively without any baggage. Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Teachers pay Teachers for Parents?

I am wondering if anyone has tried marketing some of their products to parents. I know that some products just don't make sense to market to parents, but some would be very helpful to parents and kids.

I wanted to test this theory out so I am putting some of my products on Amazon as "books". I realize that they are perhaps priced high as books (my novel is selling for just 99 cents right now), but I didn't want to have a lower price than on TpT or Teacher's Notebook.

If you have marketed to families I would love to hear what you tried and how it worked.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Mini Workshops

I had a very productive talk with my principal last week about designing mini workshops for my students. I have a very interesting class that gets "lost" easily. They have made amazing progress, but use me as a crutch - so if I am not there they don't work.

The idea behind these mini workshops, at least as I understand it, is to teach just one concept at a time. So I will be introducing information to the students in steps. When they work they will only be working around one idea. The ideas will build on each other and we will end up in the same place as the other science classes at the end of the unit.

I really like this idea. I think it will help some of my students who lack confidence in their abilities. I also have a class with a lot of weak readers so focusing on one idea at a time will significantly decrease the amount of reading they will have to do at one time to access the material.

Another issue I am currently dealing with in my class is absenteeism. This was especially bad the week before Spring Break. Kids use being absent as an excuse not to do work (one of their many excuses for not doing work). Well, I don't have time to go back and reteach every time a person is absent. I have started using Edmodo to give quizzes so that students can take them from home if necessary. I have also started posting what we are doing in class every day and an alternate assignment for any students who are absent.

I have wrapped all of these ideas into my latest products. These are lessons that I am writing anyway for my own classes, but I was so excited I just had to share them. Everything you need to teach these very simple one idea lessons is included in the product. I even include a reading passage and question set for re-teaching students who don't pass the included assessments or for students who are absent and missed the workshop in class.

Available at Teachers pay Teachers


Available at Teacher's Notebook