July 27, 2014

My Beliefs on Education

I'm linking up with my good friend, The Primary Gal, to share my beliefs on education.  

When I think about what I believe are the important aspects of education, I have to reflect on how I have evolved as an educator over my eight years in the classroom.  I'm 100% sure that I would cringe if I walked into my classroom from eight years ago.  Not only was my room a hot mess, with no real organization system, no cute decorations, and a classroom management system that was all over the place, but my teaching has made a 180 degree shift.  I think back to my first year of teaching, and am so thankful for all I have learned over the years.

First year teachers:  Don't fret.  It gets so much better. :)

It's no secret that I adore my job.  I take that back:  The majority of days, I don't feel like it's a job.  I feel immensely blessed that I get to make a difference in the lives of children and families each and every day.  While teaching can be extremely stressful, 99% of the time it's not the kids who make it that way.  Government and district requirements and expectations, poverty, and peer stresses almost always are the culprits when it comes to making my head spin.

I'll say it again:  It's almost never the kids.

Even when it is the kids, you can get through to them.  They just want love, acceptance, and support.

I could keep going on this topic, but I will spare you my soapbox. :)

In education, I believe that there are five fundamental beliefs that define my stance on education.  

1.  It's all about the relationship.
My school has been reading Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller for our summer book study.  While this book isn't necessarily about the student/teacher relationship, it talks in depth about setting aside time to confer with each student often.  In doing this, teachers will always develop relationships with their students.

I love reading articles and blog posts about teaching.  Earlier this week, I came across this blog post from a parent's perspective.  Making your students and families feel special is so important.

I Don't Think Teachers Know What They Are Doing by Women With Worth

Over the years, I have developed relationships with families that have stood the test of time.  Some of my greatest friendships have developed because of having their children in my classroom.  At the beginning of this school year, I received a package in interoffice mail from the middle school.  A handful of sixth grade students had written heartfelt letters to someone who had impacted their lives.  As I sat there sobbing that these special students I had six years prior had written to me, I realized that the relationships don't end when they leave your classroom.  Make an investment in them, and they will always be part of your life.

2.  YOU are the best resource in your classroom.
I am not afraid to voice my opinion on curriculum choices the government pushes and districts adopt.  To be blunt, I despise textbooks.  It has taken time; I was once a teacher who used textbooks as the Bible of the classroom.  Over the years, as I gained confidence in my teaching, I have realized that I can teach my students 1000000000000 times better than a textbook.  With the technology tools available and a multitude of learning styles that need to be met, we can teach circles around any textbook.  Do I have a problem with using it as a resource?  No.  I use my textbooks at times (especially math) as a resource.  Do I follow it just as the teacher's edition tells me to?  I would rather eat dirt.

With the revolution of Teachers Pay Teachers and teaching blogs and websites, I am thrilled to see teachers everywhere breaking those barriers and finding the BEST resources to teach their students concepts and skills.  Keep on truckin', because you are doing amazing things!

3.  My best teaching happens when students are collaborating, communicating, and creating.
 While I wasn't in Vegas this summer, I did have the amazing opportunity to attend ISTE (International Society for Technology Education) in Atlanta, Georgia (Hotlanta, as my children have called it all summer).

Wouldn't you know, but the biggest takeaway from this conference had little to do with technology.  It had everything to do with giving students the chance to collaborate, communicate, and create.

I have touched on the Project-Based Learning that has happened in my classroom.  This year, I am expanding big time on PBL in my classroom.  I believe that students are invested in this type of learning.  While basic skills still need to be taught, the skills of working with other students, researching, the process of creating a product, and sharing their final product with an audience teaches them just as much if not more.  Students truly guide this type of learning.  It's amazing to sit back and watch these tiny little people take the reigns.  Allowing them to show their genius is the most refreshing thing I've encountered as an educator.

4.  Testing should guide instruction, not dominate it.
Let me preface this by saying I think assessment is necessary.  I assess my students daily, even if they have no clue they are being assessed.

However, I think requiring such high stakes testing at young ages is ridiculous.  I think our government has gotten so off track in mandating this or that in education, that they have forgotten who it truly effects:  Children.

Assessments contain valuable data that should guide our instruction.  We should use the data, but we shouldn't allow the assessments to dominate our teaching.

5.  Risk taking is always, always worth it.
Taking risks can be scary, especially when you have 20+ kiddos looking at you to find out what to do.   I hate to admit this, but I am the world's worst at keeping a lesson plan book.  Sure, I turn in weekly plans to my principal, but I can almost guarantee that at some point in the week, we will be totally off what I had planned to do.  Maybe a lesson flopped, showing me that my students need to learn the material a different way.  Maybe I found an even better lesson while surfing Pinterest the night before.  Maybe Cara Carroll or Deanna Jump just posted their new unit, and I just have to use it.

My point is that I'm not married to my plans for the week.  Plans change.  I'm always going to trust my gut when it comes to my students.

I ran across this on Pinterest a while back, and it instantly became my all-time favorite.

Don't be afraid to take risks.  Some of the best learning comes when you step out of the box.

Make sure to link up with The Primary Gal for your chance to win a $50 TPT gift card!

July 21, 2014

Monday Made It: And So It Begins...

I am having a very hard time coming to terms with the fact that school is going to start in two weeks. It seems like summer has literally flown by.  I feel like I haven't accomplished anything I intended to do, but I've definitely been busy.

See what I've been working on this week...

I spent all day Thursday in my classroom working on getting it all ready for a new class of precious five and six year olds.  I'm excited, but there is still so much to be done!

Here are some pictures of what I accomplished:

My new and improved letter line... I made the pennant banner last year and loved it, but my friend Jena made digital papers in the exact colors of my theme.  Naturally, I had to update it. :)

My number line... I love this too!  I have a thing for pennant banners. :)

My new and improved calendar wall... It is basically the same as what I've always done, but now in Jena's Lovin' Summer colors! :)

My class jobs board...  I am so excited for this!  I will add velcro under each job title and create name cards for each child when I get my class list!

I am anxious to get back into my classroom to finish up.  Although I accomplished a lot last week, there is so much left to do!

I have marked all of these items down in my TPT store.  Check them out!

Check it out in PRINT and D'NEALIAN versions! :)

Check it out in PRINT...

July 17, 2014

Guided Math--Chapter 8

Ahh... Assessment.

It's so important, yet the word is dreaded by so many...

In this chapter, Sammons discusses how assessment is more than just testing.  It's "evaluating students' progress, their understandings and misconceptions, their ability to solve problems and think critically, and their ability to apply their knowledge to new situations."  

One thing from this chapter that stuck out to me was the suggestion of the use of rubrics as a form of assessment in Guided Math.  I have never used rubrics in math, but after reading this chapter, I would like to explore that as an option for my classroom.

Really, isn't assessment vital to every subject?  We must assess in order to know where our students are academically.  

When I think of assessment, I don't always necessarily think of pencil and paper, students sitting with office folders up, assessments.  I think of how often I note how students understand a concept during a math game, or how well they master a skill during math stations.  

While I think formal assessment is important, I see the informal opportunities to be just as valuable.

My math assessments range from traditional to observational.  I give a test with each math topic, but I also give checklist-like assessments using ESGI.  

If you are a primary grades teacher and haven't used ESGI, you should really consider checking it out.  It's easy, inexpensive, and best of all, it cuts down on assessment time.  Prior to using ESGI, it took me days to get through these types of assessments.  Now, it takes a matter of minutes per child.  I can't imagine my classroom without it!

I also love using data folders with my students.  I've kept a data wall up in my classroom for some time now, but allowing students to become invested in the process is much more meaningful than a teacher just posting something on a wall.  I've been working on data folders for kindergarten for some time now, and I hope to have them posted in the next few days!

Enter here to win some great prizes!

Check out the rest of the posts on assessment below!

July 16, 2014

Christmas In July Indiana $1 Sale!

Can you believe it's already mid-July?  Here in Indiana, the words "Polar Vortex" have been in the news.  Seriously.  Again.  This time, we aren't dealing with double-digit negative temperatures, but we are experiencing spring/fall-like weather, which I love.  

I've been spending more and more time working in my classroom and at home on stuff for my classroom.  I can't believe it's that time already.

Anyway... To celebrate, some of my Hoosier friends and I are throwing our infamous $1 sales!  I have four products slashed to $1 for a limited time!

Here are the products from my store that will be on sale until Thursday:

This pack is full of literacy and math ideas for your community helpers unit.  It's perfect for beginning of the year kindergarten!

This sweet little letter line banner features pink, aqua, lime, and purple chevrons.  I just got it all ready to hang up in my own classroom, and let me tell you... It's precious.  

If you're into behavior management clip charts, this is the product for you!  Included in this pack is the clip chart itself, as well as corresponding monthly calendars to communicate daily behavior with parents.  In the past, this system has worked very well with my students.  The neutral clip art (from the AMAZING Melonheadz) and colors would go with any classroom theme.

I'm excited about this product!  We do spelling with our kindergarteners, and this pack just brings it all together.  This curriculum can get you through half a year of spelling instruction!

Make sure you check out some of the other fabulous products from my friends.  There are some great things going for a great price!

July 3, 2014

Guided Math Book Study: Math Workshop

This has been such a crazy/hectic week!  As you may have read, I spent a portion of the last week in Atlanta at ISTE 2014, and before that I was busy presenting at a couple of Indiana conferences.  It's been fun, but today I've been pretty much a zombie.  I can finally say, "Bring on summer!"

In this chapter, we are focusing on guided math in math workshop.  Sammons describes math workshop as review, math fact automaticity, math games, problem solving practice, investigations, math journals, computer use, and math related to other subjects.  

I loved this chapter, and I can't wait to share my responses with you!

Being organized is key to anything in your classroom.  To help me in organizing my math workshop time, I have found that the number one thing that I've struggled with is the organization of math manipulatives.  Over the years, I've tried various things, but the thing that works best for me is to assign each student a bag of manipulatives.  This has significantly reduced the wait time when using manipulatives during math workshop.  When students are done with their baggies, they are responsible for making sure each item returns to their bag.  

I also use a system for activity rotations similar to that in Debbie Diller's Math Work Stations.  Each group rotates based on the practice activity I have planned for them.  Students know where they are to go, and it helps me when working with my small groups.

Going 1:1 excites me for math workshop.  I think each student having an iPad will open the possibilities for my students.  I can't wait!

Math workshop is a great time for practicing skills taught in lessons.  I can focus on specific skills for students, as well as incorporate some FUN!  My kids love playing I have, who has, number bingo, and a fun place value game we play with pool noodles.  

They also love using the iPad for math games.  Some of my favorite apps are Todo Math, Teach Me Math, Math Bingo, Geoboards, and Counting Caterpillar.  We also use QR codes for scavenger hunts, or just go around the school and snap pictures for our scavenger hunts.  

We do math stations during this time.  Stations allow me to give students the chance to review key concepts.

Math workshop helps me promote all of my students' learning goals because it's a fantastic time for review and reinforcement.  It's by far my favorite part of math time.

Now, for a giveaway!  Enter below to win!

And take a few minutes to check out these blogs for further insight on math workshop!

July 2, 2014

My Reflections from ISTE 2014

For the last few days, I've been trying to figure out how I could possibly sum up the weekend I spent at ISTE 2014.  ISTE's (International Society for Technology in Education) annual conference is basically the biggest edTech conference known to man.  People come from all over (literally) to immerse themselves in all things technology.  My school district received a grant that allowed several teachers to attend this year.  Of course, I jumped on the chance to simply be among those lucky enough to go.  

I was not disappointed.

This year's conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia.  What a beautiful city!  I stayed about a mile away from the conference itself, and this was the view from my window.

Yes, we were that high up.  33rd floor to be exact.

I attended quite a few sessions on PBL, Genius Hour, and basic eLearning stuff.  In all of the sessions, one thing that stuck out to me was that nothing was really specific to technology, but instead to student creation.  

I've made it no secret that I believe students learn best when they make an investment in their learning.  They have to be passionate about what they are learning, whether it's letters and sounds, Worksheets are not an investment or engaging.  

If I had to have just one takeaway from this weekend, it would be that our students deserve this.  Technology is a fantastic tool in giving your students all of the resources they could possibly need to attain their goals, but technology is definitely not the end all, be all.  Good teaching is still the most important thing.  

In the Genius Hour session, Vickie Davis (@coolcatteacher) encouraged us to focus on three takeaways from the conference.  Here are my big three:

"The biggest shift for educators using technology is not skill set; it's mindset"--George Curous

I missed out on his session, but I'm an avid reader of Mr. Curous' blog.  This quote from his session (taken from Twitter) resonates with how I've felt about technology as of late.  It's not about the technology; it's a mindset change.  Technology is a tool that can enhance and transform your teaching.  Key words--YOUR TEACHING.  How can I best exude this to my colleagues?

"You are a genius, and the world needs your contribution."--Angela Maiers

I have written about my love of PBL before, but this year, I really want to expand on it.  I would love to give my students more opportunities to show their genius.  Even though they are five, they have passions and interests that need to be honored.  I hope I can do that for my students.

"Don't talk about it.  Be about it.  How is your want to?"-- Kevin Carroll

Of everything ISTE had to offer, Kevin Carroll's keynote on day two inspired me more than anything else I've encountered in a long time.  Carroll told his story of being abandoned by his mother at a young age and working his way through life, eventually working for major companies such as Nike, and having all kinds of crazy cool life experiences.  

In his keynote, he inspired me to make sure to work hard, play harder, and inspire hardest.  I choked up more than once in his keynote, and I'm not a cryer.  When school starts, I want to inspire those around me to give their students the very best experience they can.  I want them to realize they are the biggest asset to their classrooms, not the technology.  I want to encourage them to use the technology, of course, not because our district has invested time and money into it, but because that technology gives students experiences we could have never imagined at their age.  

My want to is strong.  My passion is ignited.  I am ready to get to it.

July 1, 2014

July Currently!

Seriously?  July?  It doesn't seem possible.  In the next two weeks, I will begin to work in my classroom again, even though it just feels like yesterday that I wrapped up the 2013-2014 school year.  Insanity, I tell you.

I'm linking up with Farley from Oh Boy 4th Grade! for this month's currently!

I've spent the most AMAZING week at ISTE.  In fact, I'm still here!  Today is the last day, and I have so much to share.  But this is a quick post, so keep a look out for more on my experience at ISTE.

I'm planning on doing absolutely nothing work related the rest of the week.  This summer has been filled with school stuff.  I'm not complaining one little bit, but man... I need a few days of nothing but summer fun! :)  

I hope your July is FANTASTIC! :)