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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Having Fun with Parents

One of the most difficult things to do while teaching our students, is to also have our parents involved. This is difficult for all of us for a number of reasons. As difficult as this is, I try my best to keep parents involved whenever possible.
This past week, my Principal allowed me to have a whole day dedicated to family traditions. The parents were allowed to come in at whatever time that was available to them.  They would help their child explain a special tradition that their family would do around the Holiday season.
When I first had the idea, other teachers were skeptical.  They were not sure how successful the day would be with parents coming in and out. Not to mention that I was not giving the parents a certain time limit to stay. I told everyone "the more the merrier!"

So how did the day go?

I can't say enough how GREAT the entire day was!!! The kids loved their parents their, the parents loved seeing their kids in school, and everyone loved sharing about their families!! We had pictures, ornaments, recipes, Italian fruit cake (baked for us to share), Menorah's, dreidels (enough for the kids to play with), reindeer food (everyone made some), latkes (cooked for us to try), decorations, and we even had a parent share a gingerbread house making kit for EVERY student in my room!!
I posted some of our pictures on our class wiki space.  I received so many "thank you's" from the parents. They had just as much fun as the kids!
Now it's your turn... please share a wonderful idea that you had to keep parents involved!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I have often said that the best way to teach our students is to teach/lead by example.  I love being able to come into school and tell my students how much I enjoy a class that I am taking. Last night we were lucky enough to Skype with Ginger Lewman, Kevin and Michelle Honeycutt!! I was excited to talk to my kids this morning for a lot of reasons;  one being that I have never Skyped! The biggest reason that I was so excited was who we were able to Skype! Keep in mind my students are only 7years old.  When they see how excited their teacher is to learn, I hope that I can make them feel that same excitement!
We were asking our trio of experts about PBL: Project Based Learning.  It was so amazing to have three motivating and innovative teachers answer our questions.  Personally, I love the idea of PBL.  I have tried little projects in the past that the kids have loved.  These are the projects that Kevin Honeycutt would call the ones that aren't "time vampires."  I liked that term because it's a simple phrase to show that you can do a project with the kids that is fun, and they are learning yet doesn't take up a lot of unnecessary time.
I think the biggest lesson that I was able to walk away with last night was that PBL will start to eliminate the question "why do we need to know this?"  In PBL, the students are 'caught' up in finding the answer to their big question that they forget they are doing math, writing, SS, and/or science. 
I have mentioned head fakes in a previous post.  I think that PBL is the ultimate head fake! Not only will the students be learning one subject, they will be learning about multiple subjects AND learning how to use proper resources on their own!  The kids will actually know how to be independent! Something that we all have been striving for our kids to learn!
So are you asking the same question we did? How do you assess? Easy! You talk with your students! You reinforce as you make them discuss what they are doing, again and again. By working with your students on a project, you will know what your students are learning! The best part, is the publishing part of PBL. Every project or assignment needs a culminating activity.  Well, this is the best assessment yet! What if your students can give you more than just a regular poster? What if they can give you a recorded diolague on a Voicethread, or a video on Animoto?  These are just a couple of the best example that your students can give you that they are learning!
Please share your thoughts and comments!

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Great Time to Give Thanks

I have decided that with all the negativity against education these days, to break up the monotony and talk about the reasons I am so grateful to be in this profession. The order in which I list them is in no specific order...
  •  Parents: Okay, why do I love my job and say 'parents' first?  We have all had very difficult parents. I'm sure we have also had the wide variety of parents. Every parent from "not my kid" to "I think my son/daughter is a genius."  How I like to look at these situations is that we all have a common goal; making sure their child has a what s/he needs in the proper environment to gain the most. I have reminded parents of this common goal when they are more focused on the means than the end. So far, with some help from coworkers, this has been successful... and I am grateful.
  • My coworkers: I can't say enough about the people I work with. I have been a LT for 6 years, and have been in every building. I am very grateful to be in a district with a wide range of teaching strategies and methodologies, yet we all still work as a team! We all have our own philosophies on teaching, which makes us all unique. However, we are all willing to listen to coworker speak about their own philosophy, as well as new ideas! Moreover, with the professional relationships that I have been able to build over these 6 years, I have no problem calling a coworker from anywhere to ask for help. Which leads into the next reason to be grateful...
  • WASD: With out me being blessed to be working in this district for the past 6 years, I would not have built these relationships. I am so lucky to be a part of such a 'student based' district. I have been able to grow and learn so much from being a part of this district!
  • My students: I am so thankful to have such a wonderful group a students. Not only this year, but every year. Of course, I may have difficulties throughout the year... but that is part of what makes me, and all teacher, life long learners. As much as I may have taught my students every year, they have been able to teach me in return.
And for all of this, I am truly grateful.
Please, share what you are grateful for...!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Head Fakes

If you have read "The Last Lecture" then you know about the title of this blog. As teachers, we do head fakes all the time. "What is a head fake?" you ask.  Well, the best response I can give is to watch or read the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  However, my answer is that when you are teaching the kids topic 'A' but what they are really learning about is topic "B."

I will explain further...
First of all... I am going to say that The Last Lecture is one of the most motivating and inspirational books I have read.  I keep this book in my classroom at all times. I couldn't tell you how many times I have looked back and referenced Randy Pausch.

So, as teachers we always try to have our students engaged in a lesson. Right? Otherwise, they are playing with their pencil boxes or fidgeting with anything and everything. But what happens when you have then at your fingertips? What is the difference between the lesson that is engaging and not? We need to teach our students with what they think is 'fun!'  That is a head fake!

I have been trying to incorporate 21'st Century Learning in my lessons. The best way that I could do that is to teach the students media and technology while teaching them math, reading, writing, etc...

I teach 2nd grade.  Would you believe that they now how to blog?! Ask yourself; what is blogging?  To an adult, blogging is just sharing your educated opinion on various subjects. However, to a student (in which how you teach this) blogging is shared writing, which we have been teaching for years! Many times we have asked students to read another students writing and comment constructively... BLOGGING! The website that I use for students is safe and secure (  The parents are thrilled and the kids love it! Isn't that what we want?

Okay, so maybe you're asking, "do they write on paper?" Of course! I make sure that my kids write all week! They get on the computer for 'blogging' during center time, or 'ketup' time. Believe it or not, my kids and parents love this so much that they do it home VOLUNTARILY!

So when do I find time to teach my students this program and all it's benefits?  During a writing lesson, math, reading, social studies... I incorporate the media with the lesson!!! What kind of media did you have growing up? A projector? If so, the you knew how to use a projector with transparencies by the time you were in 2nd grade.  That's what we need to start teaching our students! Media that they will need to know how to use and well!

These are the best head fakes you can do for your kids! They think they are learning new technology or media, but what they are really learning is reading, writing, math, etc...

Please share your thoughts and comments... I would love to know them!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Test. Test. Test UGH!

To get right to the point... I am getting so frustrated over all the testing we need to do that I don't think there is any other way to start this blog other than saying "UUGGHGGHHHH!"
Okay, so that wasn't the most professional way to start off, I apologize.  I feel like has every year goes by, more and more tests are added!  How do these tests really help our kids? How are they helping us as teachers?  I know that my kids and I are doing a great job by the look of excitement on their faces when they see me, or the curiosity when I talk about something new, or the pride they show when I say something as simple as "Good Job!" 
To give you a little more background, right now I'm teaching 2nd grade.  Every Friday (yes, EVERY) all 1st and 2nd grade teachers need to set this day aside to test, test and test (summative assess.). In my opinion, this is one more day of experimenting with new ideas and innovation LOST! We do so much testing, when is the teaching? Yes, we have four other days of the week... but those four are teaching to the tests for Friday! If this pattern continues of  too much testing, what will happen to our kids' outlook on education? Will they still want to learn? What will their thoughts be about school? I fear the worst.
I agree with Mike Soskil that we need to take a serious look at how we teach and start to make changes. He makes great points about testing and changing our methods as teachers.  Besides the obvious change of less testing, we need to bring more technology and social media into to the classroom! As a long term substitute, I have been trying to take chances with incorporating new technology and social media into my classroom.  Social media for 2nd graders? They love it! It is risky to be trying these new ideas as a LT, as well as in a situation where many other teachers are afraid of what may happen with using this technology. 
Our students are going to learn this technology faster and (probably) better.  So why not incorporate it in our lessons?  If we try shelter them from the inevitable, then it will just become a power struggle... what happens when you tell a child/teenager not to do something- THEY DO IT! Would we rather teaching our kids the correct way to enjoy and reap the benefits of this media, or allow their friends to help them figure it out?
I don't know about you, but I would rather have my students love coming to school and teach using media/tools that were developed by some brilliant people.
Please share your thoughts!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bad Rap

Maybe I'm showing my age - or lack there of... but I don't understand where, how and why some professions really started to get a bad reputation?
Think about how many times in a week, or even a month, you hear something negative about a profession that does positive for the community? Of course since I am a teacher I am disturbed over all of the bad press that teachers get (when they do so much good!), but I am also concerned about the other professions that also do very well for communities... Such as; fire departements, police departments, ambulance departments,..
The part that really breaks my heart the most about all of this bad publicity, is if you look at all of these areas they are all either average (to under) paid if not VOLUNTEER!
As a teacher, I see how much our district gives back to the community. However, I rarely see any of this in our news. We give to charities, food pantries, do raffles to benefit local families... and the list goes on! Why does the news not have time to report any of this? Yet, they will broadcast every hour on the hour about any discrepancy in a school district!
Let's go beyond education... let's look at our very brave fire fire fighters and police departments. I know that every township has to have their own budget (another discussion), but why should people lives be at risk in order for {fill in the blank here}.  I do NOT believe that anyones' life, safety, mind is worth the risk over anything else!
Please inform me of your opinions and facts. I am only 33 and I will admit that I am naive when it comes to certain things... this being one of them.  When, where, why, how did this all start? Why are these professions the first ones on the chopping block, yet the most important? Please help me to understand more about how politics can do so much damage? Is it politics? Where does the problem(s) really lie? When should we just stop pointing fingers and start fixing?
Please comment and let me know your thoughts!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Read Alouds

There is one question that ELEM teachers come across a lot... "is this book age appropriate?" 
In my opinion and experience, you can make just about any children's read aloud age appropriate. Notice I said "just about."
For example, there is a wonderful book called Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold that I read to a 2nd grade class. I read this for the first time while in college, during student teaching, and one of my professors was adamant that this lesson would not do well. Now, I am not usually outspoken when it comes to authority. However, I felt strongly.  The biggest part of this process was that I wanted to see if I was in a middle of a lesson that wasn't working, how can I fix it on the spot? I knew that there would be times in my career that this would happen, and I needed to know then how to react. Well, the kids loved it! Yes, I did agree that there were some concepts that were over the kids' heads.  The way I set up the lesson, they were able to use their imaginations, and do the graphic organizers as well as the 'Think, Pair, Share' activity. The lesson was a success!
I am a believer that it is all in how you can utilize these wonderful materials!
Another example, is when I was working with older kids. Now, you would normally think that The Three Little Pigs is too 'young' of a book for 12 year olds, right? Well, what if you were teaching 'How to resolve a problem,' or 'compare and contrast,' or even teaching the students how to form a case for a mock trial? I read The Three Little Pigs and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by  Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith to my students.  Then I had them come up with a defense for each side.  They had to prove their case to myself and the class. These two books led to a fantastic lesson that lasted a few days!


So to sum things up... the next time you need to teach something difficult to your students, maybe look back to something simple like children read alouds!

What lessons worked for you that you thought wouldn't work?

In Real Life I'm a Teacher, but I Play as a Substitute

For my first blog, I wanted to write about something that has been on my mind for 6 years now.  There seems to be a huge stigma related to the word/title of "substitute." It seems that once (some) people hear 'that' word they immediately think the following: incompetent, no degree, can't handle a class, etc...
Now, keep in mind I am not trying to make a blanket statement and say that everyone thinks this way.  However, I have been a substitute for 6 years. Some of the treatment and comments that I have received are very surprising.  What 'some' don't realize is that substitutes have a degree and are educated the same as real life teachers.  I don't mean to be coming off as facetious, but just some of the comments I have had, even recently are; "when will you be a real teacher?", "...well she's just a sub..."

Okay - now that the negative is said... the positive part is that I have been just  a sub in an outstanding district! The support that I (and other substitutes) have been given is phenomenal! Our administrators do a fantastic job of speaking highly to and about their teachers/substitutes. I could not have asked to be part of a better district.
On another bright note, being a substitute for 6 years has been the best experience of my life! I have been able to make professional relationships, be in numerous educational settings, and explore other teaching styles. As much as I would love to have a contract, I look back on these 6 years as a very positive learning adventure! I have been Kindergarten twice, 1st Grade twice, 1st, 3rd,4th, & 5th Grade Science, and now 2nd Grade! Those are just my long terms... when I was a day to day sub, I was anywhere between K-8! Some days were harder than others, but that's the excitement and learning aspect. 
So, to sum everything up... although some may think negatively about substitutes or not as highly as a 'real' teacher... I love every benefit I have of Playing as a Substitute, but being a Teacher in Real Life!