Monday, April 21, 2014

Passion Project: Fostering Creativity and Inquiry!

Hi, friends!  I have been trying to wrap my mind around how to implement passion projects in my classroom all year long, and I finally wrapped it up.  I am so excited to share the fruits of our labor just as soon as state testing is O-V-E-R.  (Soon!  Soon! Soon!  Can you tell I am a tad excited?!)  We are currently in the thick of our Test Prep Blitz... and at the very beginning stages of our Passion Projects.  I am already completely in awe of what my students are coming up with... and I can't wait to share it all with you.  In the meantime, I thought I'd go ahead and share how I'm approaching our newest project.

I LOVE the idea behind allowing my students to research topics that interest them, but I also wanted to create some guidelines and parameters to help them along while still allowing student choice and creativity.  I also knew I wasn't going to be able to pull of a true Genius Hour on a weekly basis without sacrificing things that I am currently not willing to sacrifice.  Approaching the passion project as a distinct project makes me happy and makes me feel like I reached a happy medium.  I also really tried to consider how to make this work for my population...with my age groups... to provide guidance without stifling creativity and ingenuity.  As you will see, I am approaching passion projects through the incorporation of choice boards. I am slightly obsessed with choice boards... if you haven't already gathered that from my current creations.  Ha!  The boards can be copied back to back to give students eleven suggestions, but technically the twelfth option allows them to create a “pupil proposal”, thus allowing students to negotiate another option with the teacher.  I have already discussed how I will need to be thoroughly convinced for the twelfth option to be approved though. This project will require some one-on-one teacher conferencing in the beginning, but I am super excited to see how it all pans out.  My students never cease to amaze me... especially when it comes to projects... so I am already excited!

Essentially, the project was created to allow students to independently research an area of interest, create a way to share their learning with the class, and foster life-long authentic learning.  I LOVE passion projects… and I LOVE the idea of using it as an independent study project for individual students as much as I love it for a whole group.  The possibilities are truly endless.  Happy Teaching!

Friday, April 18, 2014

GoNoodle: Brain Breaks Made Easy!

I remember when I took my first position as a third grade teacher...we were ALL about brain-friendly teaching that year.  As a collective whole, we were immersed in a book study called "The Art of Changing the Brain" by James E. Zull, and I served on a district committee that helped facilitate discussions with colleagues about how to integrate more brain-friendly lessons into our curricula. Although it was a very technical read full of neuro-scientific jargon, I loved it so much that I quickly devoured other books on the topic.  I really enjoyed "Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites", "Brain-Compatible Classrooms", and "Brain Rules".  Highly recommended!!! :)

Did you know that brains are hard-wired to crave certain things?  Novelty is just one example, and it makes perfect sense. Humans are natural explorers.  We are always trying to make sense of our environment and our life experiences.  We are curious... we problem-solve... and we have fun when we encounter something shiny and new.  Researchers have found that novelty causes a number of brain systems to become activated such as the the dopamine system.  Although, dopamine is typically thought of as the "feel good neurotransmitter", a growing body of evidence suggests that it's more like the “gimme more” neurotransmitter.  Dopamine also is very much involved in learning and memory, which occur in the brain through changes in the way that neurons connect to one another. From biological and survival standpoints, it makes sense that we would literally be hard-wired to pay attention to novelty over the mundane.  As teachers, we cannot ignore the fact that our brains crave novelty.  Instead, we must harness it and use it to our greatest advantage.  Of course, there are countless ways to engage students in the classroom using a little bit of novelty, but today, I just want to focus on brain breaks, because let's face it, they are magical. Pure MAGIC.

What is a brain break, you ask?  A brain break is a purposeful break during instruction that is intended, quite literally, to give your students brains a break.  :)  I have enjoyed a variety of brain breaks over the years.  I still love cross-over exercises because they activate both sides of the brain, but I also LOVE using videos that tie into our lessons.  I have become a pretty big fan of using School House Rocks videos and Flocabulary songs to drive home concepts we work on in class.  However, the FREE website GoNoodle has definitely become our go-to-source-for-brain-breaks.  Oh my word.  The kids are obsessed, and it's easy to see why!

Let's talk real talk.  First of all, as I mentioned, GoNoodle is a FREE resource.  Although it does give you the option to upgrade, the free version has a plethora of videos to enjoy!  I don't know about you, but I LOVE FREE QUALITY RESOURCES!  What teacher doesn't?  (Am I right?)  I love that the videos are so kid-friendly, and they allow kids to engage in short bursts of physical activity.  This gives them a "break", gets their blood and oxygen pumping, and helps them refocus on our classroom responsibilities.  Ultimately, it helps keep my kiddos focused, engaged, and motivated, and it only takes a few minutes each day.  The videos are perfect as transitions, as an energizer, or as a reward at the end of the day.  Personally, I really like that there are different kinds of brain breaks.  I can pick calming brain breaks that help prepare my students for concentration, I can choose energizing brain breaks to provide a controlled-outlet for extra wiggles, or I can choose focusing brain breaks, like stretching, that help my students refocus on the tasks at hand.  The other thing that my students enjoy is watching their classroom "Champs" grow and evolve as earn minutes.  They choose their own itty bitty baby Champ as a class, and they watch it mature until they max it out.  Then they have a chance to pick a new Champ and begin the process all over again.  It's amazing how excited my third AND fourth grade kiddos are about watching the Champ go into the "Transmogrifier".

My students have yet to find a video that they aren't crazy about.  They really enjoy the sports options... the Just Dance videos... and pretty much everything.  Literally.  Even some of the videos that are clearly silly and/or created for younger students have delighted my students.  They love quirky silly stuff,  and GoNoodle delivers in a big way. Today, we just watched "Ice Cream and Guacamole" for the first time, and it was an instant hit. My room was a dance party for three minutes before getting back to test prep business... and I am so glad they had a few minutes to just take a break... be KIDS... and dance their wiggles away. My students also love all of the videos compiled from popular movies.  They are some of the class favorites for sure. It's nice to have videos without ads and the extraneous information that sometimes litters the screen on YouTube.

Because I was planning on writing this post, I enlisted my students to help out by sharing what they enjoy about GoNoodle.  I had my third graders send messages using their Google Apps accounts, and I had my fourth graders write a more tangible letter.  Click on the scanned letter below to read some of the feedback I received from my students! :)

Now, make sure to sign up for a FREE GoNoodle Account!  I promise, you won't regret it. and your students will thank you!  Make your students brains happy today!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Teach Me and I Remember: Task Boards for 3rd Grade CCSS Reading Standards

You’ve probably already heard the saying, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” by Benjamin Franklin. Well, this lesson is aimed towards getting your students involved to optimize learning by allowing your students to synthesize the information learned in class and creating a “lesson” to present the information to the class. Through teaching, the students are able to show what they know and make more connections to solidify their learning. This is my third grade version.  It addresses all of the literature, informational text, and foundational skills at the third grade level.  I will definitely be working on a fourth grade set too since I teach dual grade levels, and I MAY add more grade levels depending on the amount of interest this generates, so if you want to see something like this for your grade level, just let me know in the comments.  Let's take a looksie, shall we?

Click on the photo to visit the third grade version of "Teach Me And I Remember" in my shop!

I love to use this activity as a partner lesson. Before breaking out to work, we take notes on the back of the board to outline what needs to be included specifically. For example, when teaching point of view, I went beyond the grade level standard to have them teach about the differences between first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient points of view. Using one board per standard and using the back for notes/specifics allows me to differentiate easily and avoid having umpteen million different boards. I like “SIMPLE”. I like MEANINGFUL. I like this lesson. A lot.

Each group selects one option from the task board, and begins to plan the lesson before presenting it to the class. This is always a HIT with the kids, and it’s a great formative assessment at a higher level of Blooms’ Taxonomy. A win-win situation, to say the least!

I have decided to keep the same tasks for each standard because I like to keep it simple. I don’t like to waste precious instructional time constantly teaching new procedures. I feel that the six choices included in this pack are fairly broad and have plenty of room for diversity and creativity within them. For example, if students choose to do a multi-media presentation, they can utilize PowerPoint, Pages, Prezi, Glogster, and various other apps such as My Story. A song can be a rap, a ballad, a new tune, a song to an old tune, etc. Creativity often thrives within a predictable structure because students know what the expectations are and are free to experiment and synthesize information in new and meaningful ways. If, however, you wish to have more specific boards or more variety, an editable blank template has been included for your convenience and customization.


 Here's an example of a few posters created by a pair.  I wish I would have snapped a lot more pictures, but we'll just go ahead and call this an epic fail.  :)  I was so enamored by the work they did that I forgot all about my camera.  Actually, I video taped several presentations, and I plan on uploading them to our private YouTube channel for parents.  I just can't post them here.  Bummer.

Here's a few snapshots of a presentation that some of my students made.  We use Google Drive, so they created presentations using that software and shared them with me instead of creating a PowerPoint and uploading it this time around.  That's okay with me!  I am just happy that they are working with technology!  I LOVE using Google apps with my kids.  It's been a game changer.

Since I had some kids working on iPads and some kids working on Chromebooks, some kids used Google to send their presentations to me for projection, and some kids used Reflector to sync our devices and display their iMovies or PowerPoints with the class.  Reflector is $12.99 a year, but it has a free trial if you want to try it before you buy it.  It is one of my favorite techy tools. You can simply sync up to show what's on a smart device like an iPad or an iPhone (if you photograph student work or the student-generated exit tickets in this file). Pure magic.

As you can see, this activity is a nice way to see what your students know about a particular standard, it allows them to be creative, they get to have student choice, and they reinforce the concepts for each other one more time.  LOVE.  While we were working on POV, I had my students write a reflection about our day in first or third person narration.  This was another great way to assess what they absorbed during our instructional time.  I just used blank paper, so it's nothing fancy, but I loved reading their responses.

Well, I suppose it's time to wrap this up and finish my grad school paper.  One more week and two research papers to go... then I start a new batch of classes.  I am learning a lot throughout the gifted endorsement coursework.  Mostly I am learning just how much I can juggle.  :)  Ha! If you happen to need entertainment at your child's birthday party, just let me know.  In the meantime, have a wonderful week, friends! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring Cleaning Sale!

Hey, friends!  This is just a quick post to let you know that everything in my store is 20% off through March 31st! Have a great weekend!  Hope it's warm and spring-like wherever you are.  We're expecting a few inches of snow AGAIN today.   I use the word "spring" lightly here. :) Nonetheless, enjoy the extra "spring" savings! 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Teaching with Chronic Migraines

This year, I was officially diagnosed with Chronic Migraines.  It's something I'd always suspected, and it's something that my family doctor, lady doctor, and chiropractor always alluded to, but I never really let the reality settle in until I finally went to a neurologist a few months ago.  That was after I landed myself in the emergency room.... hooked up to a morphine drip and went through a series of tests to rule out bleeding on the brain or tumors. I guess you could say it was time.

Looking back, I remember having bad headaches in high school, and I remember having tunnel vision and what I would later learn is just one manifestation of an "aura".  My migraines were so few and far between that I never really equated them with the term "migraine".  I just thought I had a really bad headache.  In college, my headaches worsened and became more frequent.   I coped with naps.  Lots of them.  I'd drag myself to class or cheerleading practice before pulling my blinds, curling up in my bed, and encasing my entire body (head to toe) with my comforter.  Sleeping always helped.

Once I started teaching, I learned how difficult it can be to function with a room full of little people when you have a migraine.  By year three, I was getting at least two migraines a week.  I was sent home a few times by my old principal because I the headaches caused me to throw up, and he caught wind of it.  Of course, then I had to drive home in the middle of the day with the sun shining directly in my face for thirty minutes.  It wasn't really all that helpful.  :)

Over the past few years, I have had more and more migraines.  This year has been a particularly challenging year.  I have had more bad days than good days.  Most days, I have a headache.  About 3-5 days a week, on average, are consumed by migraines.  Before I landed myself in the ER, I had a migraine for ten consecutive days.  I could barely even think straight at that point. Every noise grated on my nerves.  Even dim light caused me to squint.  I looked basically like a zombie around school.  Some of my more perceptive co-workers sympathetically patted me on the back and checked in on me periodically.  I was planning on just barreling on through until my aura (the flashes of light and tunnel vision I always experienced) changed suddenly.  I lost my eyesight in my right eye.  Completely.  Suddenly.  I reached up to touch my eye, and sure enough, it was open.  I couldn't see even an outline... not even a haze.  Just pitch black.  It lasted minutes... just long enough for me to begin to question if I would ever be able to see again.  Slowly but surely, I started to see light in the corners, and the black blotchiness slowly evaporated.  My sight came back.  I had another (even longer) episode after that.  It kind of freaked me out to be honest.

After going to the neurologist, I learned that I officially have chronic migraines.  So, what is a migraine exactly?  It's not the same thing as a headache.  Headaches can be caused by stress, sinus problems, etc.  A migraine is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by recurrent moderate to severe headaches often in association with a number of autonomic nervous system symptoms. Typically the headache affects one half of the head, is pulsating in nature, and lasting from 2 to 72 hours. Associated symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell. The pain is generally made worse by physical activity. Up to one-third of people with migraine headaches perceive an aura: a transient visual, sensory, language, or motor disturbance which signals that the headache will soon occur.  The auras actually changes the composition of the brain and cause lesions.  That's the really fun part.

My neurologist has informed me that this is not something that just goes away.  I will probably have them my entire life.  I'm on medicine to help me cope, but it's not a magic bullet.  I still have migraines.  A lot.   Even when I don't have a full-fledged migraine, I will have a headache more often than not.  I just haven't had any ten day marathons lately.  Thankfully! :)  Modern medicine is kind of an amazing thing.  I am slowly turning into the old lady with pill boxes.  ;)

I do still experience a complete loss of vision every now and then.  It's always in my right eye... and it usually signals a coming attack.  I've resigned myself  to the fact that this is my new normal.  Some days I force myself to squint at the computer screen with the brightness turned down as low as it can go.  Deadlines are deadlines, and nobody is going to give me a free pass because I am a chronic migraine sufferer.  So, I dig deep, I say a little prayer, and I try to do what I can.  Some days, I just have to lie down.  Some days, I just need to come home and sleep it off.  Some days it's really hard to smile and pretend that everything is just peachy when my kiddos start trickling into my room.  My new normal is just a little frustrating.  I'd love to feel great every day.  I'd love to be able to go out in the sun or be around my husband while he watches television without wanting to crawl out of my skin because it's so incredibly loud and unnerving to hear anything and everything.  I'd love to be able to think without feeling utterly DULL... and speak without forgetting my words or stumbling over what I am trying to say because I have bout of aphasia from my migraine.  The fact is, this is the hand I was dealt.  This is just the way it is. This is my new normal.

Because I have lost time here and there throughout the year to recuperate, I haven't been that great at responding to emails and keeping up with everything, including this blog.  I am on Spring Break this week, so I plan on catching up on any emails I still have sitting in my inbox.  I promise I'm not trying to be neglectful or aloof.  :)  Have a great day, friends.  Thanks for being understanding!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Shave 10% Off SDE National Events!

Well, I am officially on Spring Break, and I am finally catching my breath.  Life has been very busy with my final OTES evaluations, the end of the third nine-weeks, grad school assignments, and preparations for my first gig as an adjunct.  I am SO excited to have the opportunity to try out teaching at the college level before I make a formal decision to pursue my doctorate.  I THINK that's the direction I want to go, but I don't want to spend the money and invest five more years into school only to find out that my heart isn't in it.  So, this is perfect.  I will post more information when everything is officially posted since we're still working out the dates at the moment, but I am very excited to be working with such a wonderful small Christian university.  It's going to be a great experience!  I can already tell!  :) 

I did take some time to visit with fellow teacher bloggers today, and I am glad I did.  It's always nice to be able to meet the people behind the blogs and Instagram accounts that I follow, and it's always reassuring to talk with people who are passionate about education and kiddos.  We literally chatted for four hours over lunch... and I am pretty sure we could have talked all day.  Believe it or not, I failed to snap a single picture, so I snagged these from teaching buddies instead!  The lighting was a little uncooperative and my bangs were unruly, but I love the pictures anyway! Good times!

Amelia from Where the Wild Things Learn & Christina from Sugar & Spice.  Love them!
Here's a little snapshot from our table!  There were roughly twenty of us in attendance.

In other news, which is really the whole purpose for this post, I am excited to be able to offer you a discounted admission to any of the seven SDE summer events!  Use my VIP code of AN10 for a discount of 10% off registration at any of the 7 events!  Have a great weekend!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Wax Museums = Engagement!

I'm a little late to the party.  I've been pulling a LOT of late nighters lately, and I just haven't had the extra time or energy needed to blog effectively.  I hope you will forgive me. :)  I actually hosted our Wild Ones Wax Museum and Biography Wax Museum about a week ago, but time seriously got away from me when I started preparing for my third and final OTES evaluation on top of everything else.  If you follow me on Instagram, you probably already realize how long it has been.  Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.  Right?!

So, here's the scoop without further adieu.  My third graders researched animals, and my fourth graders researched famous Americans.  We wove our Internet inquiry into the class time, but it didn't dominate our lessons by any means.  I checked several books out of the library as well to give my kiddos a starting point.  When I started to realize how detailed the vast majority of the drafts were, I decided to forgo the memorized speech component this time around. I  would much rather have really detailed, thoughtful, well-crafted reports than short, sterile speeches any day of the week.  A few students wrote longer reports, then memorized condensed versions for the museum itself.  They honestly blew me away. I decided to give them more freedom this time around as well, so I had some kids creating tri-fold posters, PowerPoints, artifacts (like a phone, a homemade flag, and a picket sign), and some kids even brought in sound effects.  I think structure is a very important thing, but I also believe that if you give kids parameters, it's okay to let them be creative within that structure.  I never want to fall into the trap of doing all of the thinking for my students. Fostering creativity is SO important.

I really wish I could share every single picture (without the face covering so you could see all of the mustaches that graced their faces) and every single report.  If I didn't have to worry about my page loading slower than molasses and that pesky thing called bandwidth... I would.  I SO would.  I would totally immerse you in all 56 reports because without seeing them all, it's hard to show the depth of their work.  It's hard to show just how amazing they turned out.  The few pictures I'm adding to this post just don't do them justice.  Some things, you just have to experience in real life.  :)  This is definitely one of those things.  Fortunately, we had plenty of visitors that Friday.  We had ten different classes tour between the two grade levels, and my students were psyched.  One of my students even informed me that it was the "best day ever". Of course, that makes my teacher heart go pitter-pat.

Here's some of my  fourth grade crew!  Below you can see Ruby Bridges, Alexander Graham Bell, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Paul Revere, Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart.

Here's Annie Oakley, Abraham Lincoln, Betsy Ross, Sally Ride, Martin Luther King, Lance Armstrong, and  Harriet Tubman!

Here's a shot of Susan B. Anthony, Abe Lincoln (again), and a few informational displays!

Wait until you see these reports!  I seriously had a really hard time just picking a few to share.  I could have gotten really carried away with this part. As we near the end of the year, I am also in AWE of how much my second-year kiddos have grown.  It's been so neat seeing them grow over the course of two school years.  May is going to be hard on me.  There will be tears, no doubt.

Next up?!  The Wild Ones! :)  This was so much fun!  I really enjoyed seeing how my third grade kiddos morphed into critters.  In the photos below, you can see a scorpion, a koala, an elephant, and octopus, a kangaroo, an Arctic fox, an eagle, a long-necked tortoise, a jaguar, a tiger, a platypus, a coyote, a lion, and a sloth.  Everyone seriously looked adorable and so, so convincing!  ;)

If you're looking for an engaging and challenging way to immerse your students in report writing, this is seriously SO much fun!  It's one of my favorite lessons of all time. I really believe in giving students a creative outlet, as aforementioned, but I also believe in giving them an authentic audience.  When they know they will be sharing their work with others, the writing always reflects more hard work and critical thinking. My students exceeded my expectations to the Nth degree. You could even say they went "one extra degree".  (Wink, wink!)  I could not be any happier with the way it turned out, and hopefully my students came out of it with better writing skills, stronger research skills, and a memory that will endure for the rest of their lives.