Friday, October 18, 2013

End of (Hypothetical) Quarter One Reflection, Passion Projects, Parent-Teacher Conferences, Some new Techy stuff.

We have semesters at our school, but if we had quarters, this would be the end of quarter one. It's been a while since I have blogged about school, so I thought I would sit down on fall break and hash out some reflections.

Let's start out with how my year is going so far. I am enjoying this year more than last year. My homeroom students have this "just-chillin"
mantra about them which I love. They work hard. They get their things done. They typically do it quietly without bothering others. Most importantly, I love how they embrace my weird humor. I find myself thanking them for their attitude, workmanship, cooperation, and like-ability in general.

My other class is the exact same, but with one glaring difference: They are noisy talkers. I love to have my students communicate with each other. Shoot, must things they do are with a partner or group. I have a two-heads-are-better-than-one mantra. But they are really struggling with an appropriate noise level when there are 31 of them in there. So I've been working on my management.

One of the biggest differences is that I have a new female partner-teacher. My former partner and I had been together for two years and were both guys. I wasn't too excited about the principal breaking us up after I heard about it at the end of the last year, since he is one of my best friends. It was out of my control so I guess I just got over it quickly. My new partner thinks I'm the weirdest person ever, but at the same time we really like working together. Every time our kids switch classes we have a great laugh-a-thon in the hallway.

All in all, I am loving this year. My personal attitude is high. I love coming to school each day. It's fun.

Going from this year to last year ...

Reality Slam -

My kids from last year did not test well on the ISTEP+ test. Why?  I'm not sure. I felt comfortable going into the test. I felt comfortable with what had been predicted. We had a LOT of internet/testing glitches from the testing company. Just google search ISTEP and Indiana DOE and you'll find a plethora of wonderful (sarcasm) stories. So anyway, I guess it is what it is and I can't change anything so I guess I must press on.

Which leads me into....

Parent-Teacher Conferences -

Every year, I have this hate, then love relationship with P/T conferences. The two weeks before hand I always get this sort of imaginary cloud over myself because of all the scheduling and rescheduling and the taking of my own personal family time. Then, I have the conferences. I don't do anything really special. I show them all their data (this will come into play later) and then we basically go over their own student self-evaluation and then just chat about things the student does well, things they need to work on and some strategies for attaining their goal. Nothing fancy, but I usually walk away feeling really well about them. I get to meet their parents/guardians, they tell me more in-depth about who they really are and it's truly enlightening to me. Anyway, I truly enjoyed talking to all my parents. Some of them, I get challenged by to do better. Some, I get patted on the back. Some, give me great information. Some, show me how tough life is for their sons/daughters and how school might not be the biggest concern for them at the moment because there are health concerns in their family at home. I think it's a matter of perspective.

Anyway, from the last paragraph, I mentioned that data was going to come into play. Well, here goes. During one of the conferences I had this exchange with a parent. (this isn't word for word, but it's somewhat of what I remember.)

Me: Here's Johnny's ISTEP scores from last year. (I go over them. He didn't do so well)
Mom: So what does this mean?
Me: Basically, in a simple manner, it means that he is not at what the state determines as 5th grade level in reading, math, or SS. Our goal is for Johnny to pass those tests at the end of this year although he'll be taking Science instead of SS.
Mom: So, even though he didn't pass the year before, he'll need to pass this year?
Me: That's the plan.
Mom: Why is it such a big deal?
Me: Our goal is for every student to be at grade level when they leave 6th grade.
Mom: Doesn't his score affect some of your things as well?
Me: Well, in all honestly, and the reality of it is, that it's a big deal to me because your son's performance on it affects my future evaluations and pay.
Mom: So my son has power over your pay.
Me: Yes. I have a class goal that I must attain and another goal that must be met as well. His score also plays into every other teacher's goal in the building because we get a building score as well.
Mom: And based off of this test is what a lot of funding and money from the state comes?
Me: Correct.
Mom: So, basically, everything is hanging on this ONE test for the principals, teachers, and everyone here?
Me: You got it.
Mom: So, there isn't much else that really matters in the long run and my kids are basically learning to take a test?
Me: (I shake my head in a way to acknowledge that her statement is correct.)
Mom: So, most of your teaching is geared toward passing ISTEP?
Me: I do my best to teach students in a way that is beneficial to them and so they get a more well-rounded, holistic education that doesn't center on the test, but the reality of it is that...
Mom: (cuts in) You would be dumb not to specifically teach to the test because so much is riding on it.
Me: (I shake my head in a way to acknowledge that her statement is correct.) Like I said earlier, my aim is to not teach to the test, but for my students to learn to love learning, not to necessarily learn to take a test.
Mom: Maybe I should look into homeschooling them.

We got off the subject of the testing after that and we talked about how she can now receive my class text messages through Remind101.

Parents aren't as dumb as the DoE thinks they are.

Moving on before I get a temper -

Passion Projects aka Genius Hour. 

It was developed based off of the Google Company's 20% time. It's a time they give their employees to work on new projects, whatever they want, as long as they are benefiting the company.

Layman's terms = a chance to investigate/research anything you deem worthy. You then must share your learning in one way or another. is one of the best informational sites. Especially the video on the homepage and the hourlong taped one from a conference. is the catch-all wiki for all things geniushour. Very informational.

#geniushour on twitter will lead to a bunch of links.

I'm doing the high-ability RTI group this year and wanted to try it out with them. Where I think they are going to learn more is on the reflection piece that I'm going to tie into it eventually.

This is what I made to introduce it to them using Powtoon. Pretty nifty little app/program.

This is an animoto video I made of them working the other day. 100% engaged and they are in charge of everything on their own. They decided their topic and the way they are going to research it and then present it.

I did a quick feedback survey yesterday (on paper, and I wish I did a Google Form). There is nothing that the students don't like. What they like most is the ability to investigate whatever interests them and isn't teacher picked. They are honest with their feedback with me. Some of the depth of their research and thinking is truly unbelievable and so thoughtful. Their discussions about things are "real" learning not some cookie cutter "ISTEPy" type regurgitation.  It made me feel like I was in the board room of some high rise building in NY while the students were hashing out what would make a good topic to investigate. I can't believe how well this has gone over. I love having the students take control of their learning. What I noticed was the hardest for them was the fact that they got to investigate anything they wanted. It was like they had this freedom, but didn't know what to do with it because they had never had anything like it before. Some of them were at a loss because it wasn't teacher-driven where teachers tell them things are either right or wrong. They have really made it their own and I can't wait to see their final products that they just share with the class. They will finish up by reflecting on their learning and how they can make it better the second time and applying their learning to the state standards (you know because cool learning has to have standards and all or it's not real learning. hehe)

New Techy Stuff I've Used This Year

Animoto - slideshows that rock. Example I made
Powtoon - Mini-animated videos. Example I made
Remind101 - Safe Texting service I use to send out news and homework recaps nightly.
Phoster - Phoster - you can make nice modern posters. See my last couple of posts for examples.
Instagram - My class one. I have begun using Instagram to communicate with students after school. I'll put up a song that I play with my guitar. A quick video. Something funny. I think it helps to bridge that gap between those students who don't see teachers as people, but only as teachers who don't leave the building. (I have a futon in my room and some have asked if I stay the night sometimes. Yeesh! Right?) Young middle school kids haven't gotten to facebook/twitter yet and this is their social media.
Twitter - My class one. I post homework to this daily through remind101. I also link up my instagram to it as well. Because most of my students don't have a twitter yet, it doesn't get much action.

Things I need to improve - 

Reading conferences with my kids. I said this was going to be one of my main goals and I'm not doing well with it yet. Time to step it up.
Differentiating some of my things for my high ability kiddos. They need more challenging things that makes them think over just more work.

That's it. Would love some thoughts, please.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Pride: We as One

I retweeted a tweet yesterday and got a question back.

I didn't think I could answer it in 140 characters, so I decided to blog about it.

When I collectively look at the youth of today, at least in my area, I see the brightest, smartest, most creative, most technologically advanced youth of all time. But through all of this, I also see so much self-indulgence. I see kids wearing the Nike and Under Armour shirts with sayings that basically say, "Bow Down and Worship Me. I Am the Best Thing This World has Ever Seen."

Some self-pride is good. It's needed. It builds confidence. Strengthens individuals. But. (you knew there was going to be a but.) Too much confidence leads to a feeling of awesomeness in which you can never do anything wrong. This includes things as simple as tripping and falling and as elaborate as failing out of a university. What I fear in all of this is the very moment when these students do make a mistake. If you see yourself as superhuman and then that moment happens when you find out that your flesh bleeds just like the rest of us, it's going to be a hard fall. When those mistakes happen, are the kids of today going to be able to get up and try again, or are they going to sulk in their own self-pity because the world owes them something because they are "all that?" Do they understand that mistakes are a part of life? That building something worthwhile takes time, commitment , and sacrifice?

Back to the original question that Alan asked- How to fight self-pride and independence in schools because @PastorMark said that Satan's primary motive is pride. I agree that Satan's number one goal is for us to think of ourselves as best, while shrinking Jesus to less and less. That's true in schools and out of schools. In offices. In factories. Everywhere. Satan wants us to put ourselves as high as we can. I had a conversation with a girl in one of my classes about Instagram. She said that her main goal was to have as many followers as possible. I didn't get the chance to ask her why. I'll put that on my to-do list. I'm interested in hearing her answer.

So, how do we combat that? We create independence with boundaries with help from mentors, more than likely adults, who shape lives.  I say adults because adults have a "big picture perspective." Their views encompass more. Mentors who know that life has ups. More importantly, that life has downs. Everything isn't honky-dory every fleeting moment of every day.  Mentors that show the youth how to get up from that hardship. To press on.  That hard work is still virtuous. That going on a reality show, winning, and making a million bucks is not hardly, even remotely, likely. At all. That humility is what drives relationships. Leaders need to create cultures of collaboration while celebrating the strengths of individuals and showing and modeling how those individual strengths propel ALL of us along. That no matter what, we are all connected. That WE is more important than Me. WE need to share our lives with others so that we hold each other up. Be a servant leader. Serve others. Be humble. Model all of these things. Turn selfish into selfless. We as One. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Classroom Posters

I used the app Phoster to create some posters for my room. I think it was easy to use and the posters are modern looking. Some school posters just look corny to me. Maybe it's my design background.

For my futon/couch area:
For my reading nook area:
iPad rules:
For my tech job person at the end of the day:
My "Can you throw this into the trash can rule sheet." :


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Are We Teaching Life?

So, I read this article today. In short, a college freshman at IU, fell down some stairs at a party. She was seriously hurt. No one called for help for at least 6 hours. She passed away. No one knows yet whether alcohol played a part in her death. There was alcohol at the party. Some blamed the "failure to notify" on being scared of the punishment for underage drinking.

Please don't misunderstand where I'm going with this. I feel horrible for this girl, her family, her friends, and everyone involved. It's just that this news story's focus is on the Lifeline Law. The Lifeline law is this:
The Lifeline Law provides immunity for the crimes of public intoxication, minor possession, minor consumption, and minor transportation alcohol to persons who reveal themselves to law enforcement while seeking medical assistance for a person suffering from an alcohol-related health emergency.
I think the law is good and let's people help others, but obviously the law was developed because there were emergencies that people weren't reporting. What's sad is that they had to create a law to offer immunity. To me this is teaching that it's ok to underage drink and party because if anything happens, we can call for help and nothing will happen to us. It seems like stories like this are becoming all too common. Are our youth not leaving home and going off to college with a learned responsibility-ness to understand what is beneficial and what is not? Are we doing our jobs to help educate students about the dangers of underage drinking? Forget underage drinking. Let's replace that last sentence with destructive decisions. Are we doing our jobs to help educate students about the dangers of destructive decisions? Are we doing enough to educate about unselfishness, accountability, responsibility, and humility instead of selfishness, independence with zero consequences, arrogance, and self-importance? Are we hammering home the don'ts, but not educating about the dos?

I've always been taught that nothing good happens after 11:00pm.

Please think about your actions. Please do that thinking before the action. I attended a basketball coaching conference a long time ago and Coach Don Meyer was the speaker. He hands these cards out to his players so that they can carry them in their wallets. Maybe you could carry one as well.


A great presentation by Coach Meyer is here as well -

I met Coach Meyer and we chatted about his book and life. He signed my copy. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

SS Interactive Notebooks on Culture

I plan on blogging about our Interactive Notebooks this year. Our first chapter will be in culture. We started with reading a handout on the 5 elements of culture. Then, we created mind maps of the five elements and added some personal "swag" to them.

Here's some samples.


Off to a Great Start

This last week was our first full week of class. We're off to a great start. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all of my students. My home room class is a little smaller this year, which I love. (I think classes should have a cap of 15 by the way.)

This was my tweet after leaving school on Friday.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pursue - My One Word for this Year is where I got the idea. Jon Gordon is a phenomenal author. I highly suggest reading his books.

The word. 


I found my One Word for this year. Some people do this at the new year in January. I choose to do it in the summer because my "years" tend to go from August to June because of school. I had it down to two words. Seek or Pursue. Then I spent a week at Camp Allendale with the 225 middle schoolers of Hazelwood Christian Church and Plainfield Christian Church. As Keith Parker headed up the week with the theme of "Pursue," it made the decision pretty easy. God pursues us. We pursue him. We screw up and become selfish. He is selfless. I want to be more like him. Decision made. Pursue. 

The logo.

I used the "s" in pursue as what I would consider a crossroads. It's life. It's the decisions I make on a daily basis. It's messy. It's curvy. It's filled of wrong choices and setbacks. It's anything but straight. In each decision I make, I make a choice of where I will head. I want to pursue Christ. This year, I want to be closer to Him. This year, I want my decisions to make Him draw closer to me.

The verse.

Matthew 6:33. "He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern." NLT. I like how the NLT words it. He is the provider of only of what I need over what I want. Pursue him. He's first. I am second. All of my decisions should be based on the Kingdom.

The picture.

A hiker in the woods. Pursuing whatever he is after. No one hikes without a destination and a guide. My destination is closer to who created me. My guide is who created me. The path is laid down.


Education wise - 

How does Pursue fit into my classroom? 

I think it goes as showing love through Christ to my students and fellow educators as much as possible. It's probably not What is Love from Night at the Roxbury . Ha.  


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

End of Year Student Survey

After my students took their last SRI test (a test that gives their current reading/lexile level) of the year, I used a Google form that I had made. I shared it with them all and asked them to fill it out for personal feedback for me. I told them to be honest as this would help me become a better teacher. I stole the idea from an article on Edutopia. I can't find the exact one. If I do sometime, I'll link it up. It consisted of three questions. Short and sweet. Not too long for the 6th grade attention span.

These are the three questions the form asked.

1. If you were the teacher in this class this year, what would you do the same or differently than I did? Please be specific.
2. Write 5 things that helped you learn this past year. Please be specific.
3. Write 5 things that made it hard for you to learn this past year. Please be specific.

These were their responses  - Here.  I changed some of the names if they used them to protect the innocent :)

I learned an enormous amount from the survey. I feel that I did a lot of things well this year. I also felt that it was too loud this year. The students agreed. I did have an extremely loud class. I'm not going to do a whole refection on it right now. Mainly because Game 3 of the NBA Finals is about to come on. I'm rooting for the Spurs by the way.

I'll take the feedback from my students who are in the room daily a little higher than administrators who occasionally come into my room. Not that I don't value my admin's feedback. I just think that my students' are more authentic because they see me "do-ma-thang" everyday.

I need to do this student survey at least every semester, if not more often. It gives me really good info.

I'm leaving you with a quote from Dick DeVenzio. A basketball coach. I have loved all of his books. I want to attend PGC one day.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Interactive Notebooks in Social Studies

Last summer, my colleagues and I stumbled upon interactive notebooks. It was odd because we each came together at an iPad training conference all of us were attending in our district and said, "Hey, you gotta check this out!" All three of us didn't know that the others had stumbled upon the same thing. Anyway, long story short, we decided to use interactive notebooks in social studies this year. We collaborated on them. KP did a lot more than I did. :) I really liked it. The students really liked it. Or at least the majority of them did. :)

We all somehow stumbled upon this and this, from and Mrs. Gannon's site of this all within the same week. We decided that we should do it. That was that.

For a nice overview see below or here for the nice Prezi presentation by Susan Rubin that gives a pretty good overview of them.

The year before, we basically did packets per unit. (The packets were borrowed/stolen/given/whatever from our fearless team leader, Kim P. Have I ever mentioned how much she took me under her wing? No. Well, I'm eternally grateful. Other people I'm eternally grateful to include Amy C., Chris D., Connie B., John D., and Sonna S.) I digress. The packets were good. A lot of the packet material found its way into the new Interactive Notebooks. We just thought that we got tired of rerunning the packets for the kids that lost them. So, our solution was the Interactive Notebook.

You can see from the Prezi above that the INB (they say ISN in the Prezi) is divided into sides. The right side is the input side. What I would consider the "teacher side." This is the side that anything the teacher goes over. Maybe it's notes, questions that  you must answer, essential vocab, chapter reviews, etc. Also, what others typically call it is the "Testable Material" side. Anything that is on the right side is fair game to be on a test/quiz. In other words: know it.

The left side is the output side. It's basically how students make sense of the right side. I typically call this the "student side." I also would consider it the "creative side" because the students create things to show their knowledge of the topic.

After doing it for a year some suggestions that I have come upon.

  1. I really like the composition notebooks over spiral bound notebooks. None of the pages fall out. 
  2. I'm going to put a data sheet in the front next year. That way all the students can keep track of all their grades as we go through them.
  3. I took a grade on the notebook after they took their test over that unit. All in all, if they do the notebook their test grades were always very high. Use can use the activities as exit slips as well. You can grade them daily. It makes it really easy to do informal assessments from yesterday's work as they are working on today's assignment. 
  4. Students don't really have any excuse to not understand a given topic because they will go over the material 4 times. All in different ways that hits on different learning styles. 
    1. They will probably read something (more than likely from their textbook)
    2. They will then respond to some of the important questions on the teacher side of their notebook. 
    3. They will then participate in a class discussion on the topic. 
    4. They will then complete an activity on the left side demonstrating their knowledge of the material. 
  5. Typically, we would do a lesson a day. (Chapter 7, Lesson 2) But, I think the students can do more. This was our first year doing it. We also switched to block scheduling. One day they are in SS, the next day in Science. So the students have 2 days to complete the work. You just have to plan accordingly. 
  6. I like glue sticks. Another teachers likes Elmers liquid glue. No matter what, you're going to need more than you think. 
  7. Cutting and gluing - I cut and glue the day's activity every day. Another teacher has her students cut everything out and glue everything for the whole unit on day one of the unit. Either way is fine. You just have to decide. 
  8. This can be used as a textbook for them to take with them as they progress through grades. 
  9. I used the same notebook for the entire year. It ended up being about 135 pages. 
  10. I make a notebook as well. I cut and then glue everything in. Actually, I tape mine in. It's a lot quicker that way. My notebook can be used for the absent students to look at. I don't fill mine out until after both of my classes have put them in. I will fill out the questions on the teacher side so that when we discuss in class they can check to make sure that they have the correct answer since it is "testable." 
  11. I run off everything I will need for an entire chapter before we begin. 
    1. So I can get my plans done.
    2. So I can put everything in my notebook. 
    3. So if a student wants wants to work ahead they can. 
    4. So if a student is going to be absent they can pick it up ahead of time. 
    5. So it just makes it easier and you're not rushing around trying to run something off the day that you're doing it. 
  12. Most of the sheets get shrunk down to accommodate going into the smaller than 8.5" x 11" standard. 
    1. 87% of the original seems to work well. 
    2. If you create something in Word just change your margins to your liking so that when they cut it out it fits in a composition notebook. 
    3. If you run a double sided page, like something you're going to have them read, and you shrink it, sometimes the front and backs don't line up when they cut it out. 
    4. You can run full-size front and back copies of things you want them to read. You just put a pocket into the notebook and fold the handout and put it in the pocket. 
  13. You'll want to have a place for your handouts to go for the absent students. I have a folder in the back of the room. After I have given the material to both of my classes, I put the extras in the folder. I typically run off extras just in case there is some traumatic event that happens like my dog ate my notebook sort of thing. I then never have to mess with that student who was absent. I just tell them to check the folder. If there is nothing in the folder, that means I have ran out. By that time, they'll probably just copy the assignment from my notebook or a friend's. My room is upstairs. The copier is downstairs. I can't get them another.
  14. Digital - I know a lot of this is paper and pencil. Some students created their pieces digitally and then glued/taped them into their books. I have four iPads and one laptop in my room. I had 32 students this past  year. That's not enough for everyone. If they are fortunate enough to have a device that can show me their learning in a different way than paper/pencil/colored pencils then that is fine. I would like to do all of this digitally, we just don't have the firepower currently. I also would like to use a lot of the apps instead. 
  15. Only have them use colored pencils/crayons for coloring. No markers. Markers seep through the pages. 
  16. What students put into their notebook, they usually get out. You reap what you sow. I know it's cliche, but it's true. 
  17. I'd like to get to the point where I model a lot of the creative sides and then second semester let the students decide however they want to show their thinking. 
  18. Some of the things we did creatively ended up going on the walls. Some of those included. 
    1. Invitations to a Roman Colosseum event. 
    2. The students had the choice to do one of these to represent a Roman Emperor
      1. Roman Emperor Report Cards
      2. Sensory Figures of a Roman Emperor
      3. Action Figures that they made of a Roman Emperor
  19. I like to get to the point where students are taking full ownership of the left side with little guidance from me. 
  20. Have fun with them. 
Hopefully, this has helped you get started and maybe consider using them. I have found them very beneficial. The students have as well. Leave your thoughts in the comments. 

Some Resources-
Just google them and you'll find a ton.
Just search for pins on pinterest and you'll find a ton.

Wiki that is chalk-full of great things -
PowerPoint  that is kid-friendly for explaining it to them.
Lots of examples for Left Side.
We got a lot of things from as well.

Some pics from some of my students' books.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Memories of the Year : Relationships

This is my first week off of school. I've gotten some time to rest up and spend with my family. I recently became a dad. :) Needless to say, having little Grayson around has really changed my thinking on some things and given me a new perspective on life. So, on to what this blog post is actually about.....

On the last day of school with my 6th graders, I had them first come up with their five greatest memories of the year on a piece of paper. Then, I had them narrow it down to their top memory. They had to get up in front of the class and tell everyone their favorite memory.

As I'm listening, I hear a theme developing. Some of it was subtle. Some of them were more direct. Some danced around it. Some just flat out said it. What was it, you ask?


Every single favorite memory was about relationships. Examples -

  • Meeting new friends
  • I was in the same class as my best friend even though I was told I wouldn't be. 
  • the time a girl got a zipper stuck in her teeth
  • Funny moments galore 
  • having a friend's shoulder to cry on when they needed it. 
  • letting us work in groups
  • culture fest (which was a game day that included lots of activities with fellow students)
  • and so on, and so on. 
There wasn't one person who said that doing the social studies country project, or language packets, or reading a specific novel, or interactive notebooks in SS, or you get the picture. None of their favorite memories had to do with "school" work. It was all about relationships and connections with other people. Within all of those relationships the "school" work happened. Or at least I hope it did. Hehe. (Sidenote - I did get feedback on my teaching from them as well. I'll blog it later.)

After they were all done, they asked me to present my favorite memory. As I fought back tears, I told them that it was this moment. The one they had just created. Mainly, I told them that I have loved seeing them grow this year and that I was incredibly happy to see that they have figured out one of the most important things in life. That life is about relationships. I was so happy that they had figured it out. I mean, do I really expect them to remember that the Moors defeated Germanic tribes in the area of Spain? 

When students,... (why am I limiting it to students) When all people understand that life is about relationships and connections, I can imagine a different worldly culture. One where they look to the best interests of others. One of just simply being nice to others. (Bullying comes to mind) One that seeks to not judge others, but to place yourself in another's shoes for a different perspective. 

I'm glad my students understand this. 

Some other blog posts in the near future I'm working on - Interactive Notebooks, Survey Results to Inform for Next Year, and possibly some others. 

A couple quotes to leave you with. Mostly from the book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect by John Maxwell. 

"No matter how much work you can do, no matter how engaging  your personality may be, you will not advance far in business if you cannot work through others." John Craig

"Maturity is the ability to see and act on behalf of others." John Maxwell from Everyone Communicates, Few Connect

"I believe that almost everything we become and all that we accomplish in life are the result of our interaction with others."  John Maxwell from Everyone Communicates, Few Connect

"I think the further along in life we get, the more aware we become of the importance of connecting with others." John Maxwell from Everyone Communicates, Few Connect

Friday, May 3, 2013

Rough Day......Or Not. Choices.

I had a rough day today.

I spent my recess duty trying to decipher who was responsible in a possible incident that happened in the lunch room during lunch between two students of mine. I was nowhere near the students during this time. The student comes and tells me what happened. (hopefully because they trust me) I thought I had the story straight. I informed those above me that needed to know. They were questioned by the assistant principal. None of the stories panned out as matching and things I was told wasn't told to the assistant principal. The eyewitnesses didn't have the same story. The assistant principal, who is in charge of discipline, made his ruling on the case. It basically resulted in a draw and some new seating arrangements. So, one student was probably telling me the correct story. I could probably trust one of the students more than the other. I talk about building trust. I use trust to motivate. Break the trust. You don't get as much freedom. Keep trust with me = we be jammin'. Break trust with me = you don't get to do much cool stuff like work in the hall, work with friends, work in small groups, sit together on the futon, choose your partner, etc, etc. So what if that student can't trust me now since what they told me was truth? Does having someone else in charge of discipline break trust with teachers? I don't know. Just something I'm pondering at the moment.

I then spent my prep time, 40 minutes, investigating a different altercation that happened at recess. I pulled kids out of their art class to question what happened. About 10 kids in all. I had conflicting stories galore. I had to interrupt another teacher's class to figure out this story. I also passed it off to the assistant principal.

At the end of the day, I asked a student to stop running in the halls as a whole herd of students were was going to the buses. I asked that student to go back and do it correctly. The student did it reluctantly while mouthing off to me. That student then started running again. I asked him to go back and do it correctly again. That student looked right at me. Waited a second and then said, "No!" I was furious. I raised my voice and made that student go back and do it correctly. I then escorted the student all the way to the bus as the student continued to not take responsibility and talk about the other students who were running, which I quickly pointed out as we looked around that there was not any other student running.  That student told me that I continued to ruin their life. I told the student that it was that student's choice to not follow rules/expectations and it had nothing to do with me. I was just enforcing the rules/expectations. The student mouthed off all the way to the buses. If I would have said that to my teachers growing up, I would have been punished accordingly. When I got home off the bus, I would have then been punished more by my loving parents.

Horrible day, right? Yes. It was bad. I hold my emotions in. I don't get too flustered with students. It takes me awhile to get my blood boiling, per se.  But I get the most frustrated when students do stupid things on purpose and they affect others around them that are being respectful and working hard. When they know that what they are doing is wrong and they continue to do it just for the sake of a laugh or to tick me off on purpose.  Their logic makes zero sense to me. I will tell them it doesn't make sense. I honestly, experience situations like today more often than not. So, that's at least every other day. The day before, I had a student tell me that him chewing gum was an accident. We have rules against gum in 6th grade. (Ask me why I don't allow gum and I'll tell you that the week my teaching partner and I did allow it, I stepped in it twice and another was ground into the carpet in my room.) He told me it was a complete accident that he was chewing gum and it wasn't his fault. Literally. He told me it was an accident. An accident. Is it acceptable for me to tell a student that what they just said is the stupidest thing that they could have said at that given moment? What's crossing the line in a situation like this? My mom and dad would have knocked my block off for being so "smart."

In the midst of the chaos that was happening today. I did find time to reflect and think about the great things that do happen.

  • Some students (the ones that do work and work hard) have finished a book called Crispin: The Cross of Lead. They have enjoyed the book. It's a Middle Ages historical fiction adventure. 
    • Side note - it did tick me off to see a student who isn't finished with the book not take anything home. I asked him if he had any homework to finish up with Crispin. He said no. I told him he needed to take his book home. He laughed and walked off. He lied to me. He isn't working hard. He will probably complain to me about his grade later on. I find it harder and harder to want to help these students. Does that sound bad? Of course it does. Do I literally waste all my energy and time trying to get students like this to at least try to do something? Sure. Is it worth it? Is it worth my sanity to go home exhausted every night? Are these the students that need it most? Of course. I can't do it for them though. There has to be a hint of initiative on their end doesn't there?
  • We reviewed dialogue during language arts today. It was great seeing that students had retained a lot of the information. 
  • I helped one student complete their SS country project bibliography in a one-on-one setting because he had already finished reading Crispin and wanted to start on it early. 
  • I read some of the responses about making connections to Crispin and loved reading them as it not only showed that they made great connections, but that they showed a great knowledge of Crispin as well. 
  • We talked about asking Fat (more deep) over Skinny (skimming the surface) questions while reading Crispin. I could see their thinking evolve from Skinny thinkers to Fat thinkers. 
  • We've been using Bloom's questions that they are generating to guide our discussions. I have them do a question from each level of Bloom. Wow! When given the opportunity to use the question starters as guides it has served us great purpose and eventually thinking. 
  • One student finished their Crispin packet and started working on their SS Interactive Notebook from yesterday. Yes!
  • One student finished their Crispin packet and started studying their vocab words for the test tomorrow. Yes!
  • I had 6 girls want me to fill out an evaluation for them because they are trying out for the cheer team next year. 
  • I heard my teaching partner did well on his observation meeting with the principal. 
  • I also lent my shoes to my teaching partner after school because he forgot his for track practice that he coaches. :) My team is great!
  • My team is great! After school, one of them came in and shared what they are doing with their country projects. 
    • I gave her what I was doing last week. Mutual sharing. Once again, I love my team. 
  • One of my students from last year stopped in to say hello. 
  • During social studies today, we read about the Crusades. We watched a video on knights today as well. They found a connection between the movie and the reading. 
  • One student made a connection between the SS textbook and Crispin. 
  • I chatted with the treasurer and secretary for a bit today. I normally do, but it was a good chat. 
  • I chatted with the counselors as we tried to accomplish the task of figuring out the above solutions to the drama in my room. 
  • The parent organization at our school donated a basketball to our room. The kids will love it. 
  • After school, I ran an open gym for basketball. I love coaching basketball. The best part about it is that all the kids are there to get better. They want to be there. It's something that they enjoy. We have fun. 
    • This is a little bit different than the classroom where some students don't want to be there at all. 
    • During the season, I also have a very effective form of discipline that can work wonders. It's called the bench. Sit there until you figure out how to play like the team needs. 
  • After middle school open gym, I went to the gas station because I had a low tire. The gas station has free air. Do you see that anywhere anymore?! What a great way to give to others in need. I bought a fountain drink as payment for the free air for my tire. 
  • I popped into the High School open gym. Chatted with some former players and caught up. Chatted with the JV coach about basketball and summer plans. I liked it.  
  • I took a back road home. Gets me in a good mood. 
  • Got home and my dad was mowing my yard. I hopped on his other mower and helped him finish. 
  • My mom watched my infant son this evening.
  • It was good to hang out together this evening after mowing. 
  • Tomorrow is Friday!
  • Many others I can't remember. 
So, while there is so much negativity in my room, there are shining lights. I don't give them enough attention. I   will try to pull them aside and tell them individually. 

See the positive. Be the light. Be a game changer. 

It's 1am. I need some sleep. It felt good to write.

I'm leaving you with a quote from John Wooden. 

"I will not like you all the same, but I will love you all the same. Each one will receive what is earned and deserved." 

And one from someone else

"You learn something from everyone you meet, even if it's what not to do."

I had a great day. 


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Retesting - Testing 1, 2, 3?

I recently gave a test over Rome in Social Studies. Both of my classes did not do well. The students practically had all the info that would be on the test. They had it all in their interactive notebooks. (Maybe a blog post about these over the summer.) The way I typically do my interactive notebooks is that there is a reading. Followed by some sort of questions that pertain to the reading (the right side of my notebooks). Then, the left side of the notebook is something creative where the students show their learning in some sort of an alternative assessment. Think creating invitations, report cards, sensory images, comics, historical markers, speeches, etc. The following class period, we go over their notebooks and hold a discussion. So, in all reality, the students get the information four times. It's given to them in multiple ways through the reading, the questions, the creation piece, and the discussion. Before the test, I give them a review guide that goes in their notebook. I go over it with them, to make sure they have the correct answers. After that, we play a review game. I send that review game out to them and their parents so they can study at home. The questions on the review game are the same as on the notebook review sheets so those students who don't have the Internet at home can still study.

The test is the following day. I'd say the review guide tells them 99% of what will be on the test.

If a student somehow bombs the test. I say somehow, because they have the answers to the test besides maybe an essay question that they should know the answer to anyway. I will write their grade on the test and then a note to come see me for a retest. No questions asked. They can take it again.

Most don't come. I had two come last time. So my question is, is it my responsibility to find them and make them take this retest that they don't care about, didn't take it serious the first time and won't the second or is it their responsibility to put forth some effort, study a little on their own, and come see me on their own?

These are the thoughts that circle through my head at a time like this. I really struggle with it.

Am I an ineffective teacher because I'm not forcing it to them to retest? Did I not set them up for success?  I'm pretty sure that I am. Am I teaching them a lesson in effort by letting them do it on their own? Is their self-motivation so low that a 30% is acceptable to them? My school has a somewhat 80% and lower needs to retest. While I do understand the need to for students to pass/master a topic (my district is moving to mastery learning), if a student has no desire to help himself/herself should that be a reflection on me? Can I make a kid study for things? Is it my fault? One of my favorite teachers when I was in high schools said that, "Students earn their grades. They are not given." What you reap is what you sow. Am I doing enough? Am I working hard enough for my students to be successful?

Let me have some feedback and thoughts on this please.

And some quotes just because I like quotes.

The worst thing that you can do for another person is the things they can and should do for themselves.  Abraham Lincoln

If you do not have the time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over. John Wooden

"Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming." Wooden


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Some Recent Thoughts

I started reading a read-aloud book to my class. It's called "Stand Tall" by Joan Bauer.
We're three chapters in. Not far, but enough to determine if we want to keep reading. I honestly didn't think the students were that into it. It has somewhat a funky style with lots of short sentences. The flow seems a little different most novels. It switches topics quickly. Anyway, because I didn't think they were that excited about it, I decided to ask them what they thought so far. Unanimous. They wanted me to keep going. Sometimes, I think that maybe students aren't listening or they don't really care. I was wrong. I was surprised in their thinking. Their emotionless faces were driving me to believe that their minds were wandering. Not focused. Out the window. I was reading them wrong.

Lesson learned : Let students get invested in their learning. They might surprise you. The connection they have to the book was greater than I imagined.


I have been using photo writing prompts this year a lot. We typically do them on Friday after our spelling/vocab tests. They enjoy them. Some, actually love them. It forces them to see a single image and construct meaning and elaborate on the image/prompt at hand. They turn something simple into a constructed/created response. We usually just share them at the end as most don't have right or wrong answers and are debatable. It leads to some deep discussions.

I used this site to start. I come up with my own occasionally as well.

Here is an example of one we did today.


I need to get over the fact that authentic written assessment/feedback from me to my students is the most beneficial to them. "Get over it" as in start doing more of it. My problem is that I don't want to do it because it takes longer to do. Too bad. So sad. It's better. I need to do it.

On a related note, I tend to ask questions in my written feedback. I sometimes have students that respond back and we get a nice dialogue going. Others could care less. But I do know that they had to at least read the question and think about it.


To me the most important thing I want my students to do is to think critically about a text. I feel that if they can do this it will serve them not only within the walls of a school, but as they progress in adults. I want my students to get to asking the "why" questions and the "what" questions. To think deeply. To question things. To investigate on their own.

I found these Bloom's Flip Books I'm using for my discussion of the book Crispin by Avi.


Another thing that I like to really discuss with my students is the theme of novels/books. When the book has gone back to the shelf, what is left? That is how I explain theme. The Take Away. How can you apply what the book was about to your life? The life-lesson. The best part about theme is that it's debatable at times. Everyone takes away something different from a book. When students truly understand the theme of a book, they get that it's not the color of shirt the main character wears, or what is the 8th word on page 87. They take the book with them even when it's still on the shelf.

I found these Bloom's Flip Books I'm using for my discussion of the book Crispin by Avi.


A quote I found today that I liked.

"There is a difference between impressing someone and influencing someone."

I think it's a humility thing. When you influence someone there is a transfer of power from one person to the next. You're saying, "Hey, this is so important that I want to share it with you so that you are benefitted as well."