Running in the Summer #sol17

It’s hot

Even at 7:15 in the morning

It’s hot

I can get about a mile in

Before the sweat starts

Dripping in my eyes

It’s hot

It’s humid

The cruelest joke of Mother Nature

The coolest time of day

Is also the most humid

It’s hot

Darting from shady spot to shady spot

Avoiding the bright sunny spots

Feeling the heat coming up from the pavement

It’s hot

The sun is in my eyes

I feel it on my head

On my skin

It’s hot

The rain last night

Has made my trails unmanageable

So for today

I have to run

Away from the shady trees

And summer leaves

And cool, dark patches

Of wooded trails

It’s hot

Surprisingly Finding Our Way

Last night, my husband and I got back from ten days in Germany. We visited a friend of mine from college whom I haven’t seen in about three years and lives in Munich. One of the most ridiculous experiences of this trip was trying to go to dinner at my friend’s house.

There are a couple of problems right off the bat:

  1. We didn’t know his address, so we couldn’t ask someone for directions.
  2. We didn’t have wifi (or cellular service), so we couldn’t text my friend with useful information like “we are late” or “we are lost” or “help!”.

Funnily enough, we have already been to his house, but seeing as how he took us on the metro all the way there the last time, our sense of direction is a little shaky.

We remembered the metro stop and got there. Whew. We came out of the station and looked around; nothing looked familiar. So we picked a direction and started walking, because what else are we going to do. Luckily, we found ourselves in front of the grocery store we went to the last time. We stood around in front of it for awhile when–all of a sudden–we realized we took an underground passage next (it’s been right in front of us the whole time, of course).

At this point we realized that this whole experience was ridiculous because (obviously) we were going to end up running out of familiar landmarks or wandering around an unfamiliar neighborhood. But we were feeling bolstered by two correct choices in a row, so we carried on! When we get out from the underground passage, my husband recognized the fire department we walked by because my friend said that it was the second largest fire station in the city. When we go to the corner, we saw another familiar building and were about to cross the street when we notice someone barreling towards us on a bicycle (this is not that uncommon in Germany–people bike everywhere and there are bike lanes on every sidewalk). As he got closer, we notice that it is my friend’s boyfriend! Our savior! He found us, and we were even going in the right direction!

Moral of the story: Get directions, or at least an address, before wandering around in a foreign country.

ISTE 2017 Slice

I am currently alone.  Now this might not seem so bizarre, but I’m here at ISTE 2017 in San Antonio, Texas where there are over 20,000 other people. This little corner I found is like a little bit of heaven right now. My brain is pretty full, so I’m going to do a quick self-check using my five senses.

Right now…

I see an empty space with lot s of tall windows and no other people!

I hear faint voices and music around the corner from people I cannot see.

I feel tired from walking around all day.

I taste a dry mouth that needs some water.

I touch this squishy chair I am sitting in, all alone.

Not a bad place to be in right now. Time for water and the slow walk back to my car for the ride home.

Want to see what I’ve been up to the last three days? Check out my top ten for day 1, day 2, and day 3.  They’re short and funny, with lots of links and images.

A Year in Review

I wrapped up my 6th year of teaching on Friday. It was, as usual, a bittersweet day. I love my class and will miss them a lot next year, but I always look forward to a summer full of professional development, travel, reading, and recharging by myself and with my friends and family. As I am now in day two of Official Summer Vacation, I thought it might be good to do a little reflecting on the year as a whole and see what I want to do differently next year. This was my first year in 5th grade, and I will be teaching 5th grade again next year.

Reading in my classroom was a success this year. My students loved to read, and I was able to introduce to them so many amazing books through our daily read aloud. I would have loved to give them more independent reading time, but I was able to give them about 15 minutes every day.  We practiced a lot of reading skills during our independent reading and read aloud times, so they had authentic practice with literary features such as tone, theme, main idea, author’s purpose, and figurative language. Also, I did book clubs this year using a variety of different formats, and by the end of the year, I finally found a format that seemed to work well for everyone. Next year, I want to do more with independent reading time, including more consistent reading conferences and more writing about their reading.

Math was another success this year. I started a self-paced classroom, and while there were some challenges with it, overall, I loved it, and so did most of my students.  My students were able to work through the material as quickly or as slowly as they needed to, and I only had one student not complete the curriculum by the end of the year; the rest of the class finished early enough to review learning from the whole year and/or complete some student-led inquiry projects. Next year, I want to start each class with a modeled word problem; word problems always seem to be tricky for my students, and I want them to see a lot of different types of problems over the course of the year. I also want to include more review throughout the year; since our curriculum isn’t really spiraled, they tend to learn it once and then forget it. We have cumulative assessments that I am thinking about using in place of traditional end of the unit assessments. Also, I have some “math minute” resources that could be useful to get in additional, spiraled review, even though I probably won’t time it.

My students made good progress in writing this year, but I would say that in general, it is a weakness at our school.  My schedule is very tight, and there are some days where I didn’t have writing instruction. Next year, I am going to make daily writing instruction a priority; I also need to include more grammar in my writing conferences and/or mini-lessons.  I am planning on reading this book when it comes out in August, and I am hoping it prepare me with additional explicit writing strategies to bring to my students when school starts.

Finally, I need to do better with executive functions next year. We didn’t clean out folders or backpacks often enough, and I know that they got messy this year.  I was just lucky that my students this year were more or less on top of their own stuff.

Just some things to think about as I head into my summer vacation. Now, time to hit the pool!

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5th Grade Top Ten

We are in the home stretch! Two more weeks until the end of the year.  This is bittersweet for me since I love my class…but I also love summer.  I thought it would be fun to talk a walk down memory lane and think about all of the good things that happened this year, my first year as a fifth grade teacher.

In no particular order:

  1. Exhibition. My students did such an amazing job with creating their student-created units and presenting them to the school and their parents. It was a lot of work, but completely worth it. My students were so engaged throughout the entire unit, and they loved it.
  2. Read aloud. We read aloud some fantastic books this year, from a wide variety of genres. It is one of our favorite times of the day, and we have great conversations about these books and characters.
  3. Science experiments. My students love science experiments, and they are very engaged with every experiment. They want science all day, every day.
  4. Just talking with my students. Whether during Morning Meeting or recess or art time, it was always nice to get to talk to my students. They are so interesting and easy to talk to.  We talk about big and small things, and they always make me laugh.
  5. Skits. My class was very theatrical. They loved doing skits; any content area, any topic, they were game.  They could turn anything into a skit, and they were so funny.
  6. The Puberty Talk. They got their first puberty talk this year at school, and they were so nervous about it.  It was hilarious to watch them squirm as they learned about their changing bodies. When it was over, they realized it wasn’t so bad after all. The talk wasn’t too bad anyway; the changes, well they are scary.
  7. Sports Day. As the oldest students in the school, they really stepped up and helped the younger students with the activities we did that day. It was fun to spend the day outside with them and watch them be leaders.
  8. Yearbook club. I could always count on my 5th graders to do great work on their yearbook pages. And they were always so patient in helping the other students with their pages. They remembered how to do things on the yearbook software that I didn’t even remember from week to week.
  9. Collaboration in math. They work in partners in math and have really learned a lot from each other. There is something special about having a peer explain something when the teacher’s explanation didn’t cut it. I heard such great conversations about math this year.
  10. Middle school jitters. As the end of the year draw nears, my students are very nervous about going to middle school. Since we are a small private school, they are scattering to many different schools next year. There is so excitement, but also a lot of apprehension. I have answered many questions about middle school life. They’ll be great in middle school, but the unknown can be scary.

All in all, I would say that it’s been one of my best years as a teacher.

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Student-Led Conferences

Today was my first experience with student-led conferences.  It is an entirely unique experience seeing my students interact with another adult about their learning. I love seeing how the parents engage with their children and talk to them about their work and what they have learned this year.  It shows me how much my students have learned this year (a lot!) and how they talk about their knowledge with their parents.  It’s fun to see all of my students’ work in one place–their portfolio–and have them be able to show it off to their parents. My students sound so mature when they talk about their portfolios.  It makes me very proud of them and all that they have achieved this year.

Today, I had a special circumstance: I have a set of triplets in my class, and today, their mom came in to check out their portfolios. She sat with each of them individually and was very engaged with all of their discussions. Even though she saw a lot of the same information–they are in the same class with me after all–she was never bored or disengaged with them. Each student got his own special praise and recognition for his own personal achievements.  It was so sweet and genuine.  I’m not a parent, so I don’t really understand this kind of love, but I enjoy watching it second-hand.

Student-led conferences: A good reminder that we are working with little people that are very special to their parents.  slice-of-life_individual

Book Clubs! Book Clubs! Book Clubs!

A new unit means new book clubs! I love book clubs for many reasons. My class this year also loves to read (all of them, which is amazing), so book clubs are even more fun than usual. I love hearing my students talk about books.  I love listening to my students read and talk about great books.  I love seeing my students read books that they wouldn’t normally read on their own.  I love reading my students’ questions and reflections on the books.   I love seeing these books through my students’ eyes and experiences and interests.

This unit, we are talking about human rights through the immigration, refugees, race, and poverty (all topics that relevant to current events).  We are reading books that feature a protagonist dealing with one of those issues: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (immigration after the Vietnam War), Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (poverty during the Dust Bowl), Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (race during the Civil Rights era), and The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney (refugees from the Darfur crisis).  They started reading the books together with their groups yesterday, and then they also read part of the book for homework.

This is a different set-up than I usually use for book clubs.  I usually follow the “whole novels for the whole class” approach written about by Ariel Sacks.  In this method, students read the whole book, then we talk about it in whole class discussions.  We did this with our last book, since the whole class wanted to read it, but for this one, I wanted there to be a lot of different books being read.  This time, as they read, they get to have mini-discussions every day about what they are reading as they are reading it.  I still am having my students respond to the text using post-it notes (another Ariel Sacks strategy), but instead of looking back at what you read three nights ago, you get to look at what you read last night and talk about it now.  It’s fun to see them read together and talk together about these books that deal with difficult topics in manageable ways.  Plus, there’s a little history involved with all of these books, so bonus!  I am really looking forward to the discussions into which I will be able to eavesdrop over the next several weeks as these books take us to the end of the year.

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Science Fun

I love science. I never get to do enough science, and I am always happy when I do it.  Moral of the story: I need to do more science.  Yesterday was no exception.  I did a science lesson about choosing where to dig a well (from Mystery Science, which I also love) using evidence.  I was so impressed with the level of discussion that I heard from my students, including a heavy usage of evidence to support their reasons and explanations.  Despite the fact that this lesson wasn’t “hands-on” (aka nothing exploded), the class was engaged from the beginning of the activity to the end.

Mystery Science lessons start with a question (our question was: When you turn on the faucet, where does the water come from?).  There is always a situation that Doug (the narrator/creator) explains to students using video.  Throughout this background information, there are opportunities for students to stop and discuss what they are thinking and wondering about.  Even my 5th grade students find these lessons interesting, even if Doug is a little silly (I think they like that too).

Then, there is a task for the students to complete.  Yesterday, they were pioneers, wanting to build a new town, but they didn’t have a readily-available source of water.  They had to talk to the mapmaker, naturalist, and miner to get information on the landforms, plants, and rocks in a variety of sites.  Then, they had to evaluate the effectiveness of six different locations in which to build a town; they chose the best one using the evidence and had to defend their choice. Science, evidence-based decision-making, rocks, plants, landforms, writing, discussion: this lesson had it all.

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Middle School Worries

We are in the final stretch of school for my fifth grade students; there are fewer than six weeks left in the year.  My students are starting to get anxious about transitioning to middle school.  Since we are a small, private school, there are about five different schools my 13 students will be heading to in the fall.  This makes the transition even more difficult for them because most of them won’t have even one friendly face in 6th grade. So, their apprehension is understandable.

In order to help open the door for discussion, I am reading to them a book of poems about middle school called Swimming Upstream by Kristine O’Connell George.  As a graduate/survivor of middle school, I find these poems funny and nostalgic, but they present some very real concerns for my students: lockers, changing clothes for gym, new friends, picking classes, new teachers.  Not only do we get to talk about poetry and literary devices, we also get to talk about middle school.

After I read today, I had them write down some questions they have about middle school for me, and they were so sweet.  They wanted to know if it was going to be hard, if the teachers were going to be nice, if there were going to be bullies.  I love this class so much, and I am truly going to miss them next year; I wish I could go with them all to middle school.  Since I can’t do that, I will answer their questions and try to get them calm (and maybe even excited!) about moving on to 6th grade.  As much as it melts my heart when they say that they want to come back to 5th grade next year (#proudteacher), I know they will eventually like 6th grade.

Spread the Love

It’s so easy to forget about all of the things that people do to make a school run smoothly.  I had noticed that our front desk person/nurse/errand runner/lunch helper seemed a bit down lately, so I thought of a way to cheer her up a little.  I had my students practice a little appreciation.  I had some postcards that said “Thank you!” on the front of them, and my students wrote little thank you notes to members of staff around the school.  I told them that I had our nurse in mind, but they didn’t have to write a note to her necessarily.  The only rule I gave is that it had to be someone who didn’t have her own class (I figure classroom teachers get already love from their students), but the specialists teachers and any administration were acceptable for this mini-project.  As usual, my students rose to the occasion, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, take a look at what they had to say:IMG_4285IMG_4286

We are reading Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and we just read the part where Leo and Stargirl (the protagonists) were talking about getting credit when you do something nice.  We had a discussion about it, and I decided that we should give a little credit to the many people around our school.  I definitely want to do this again!  They were enthusiastic about it as well.  Everyone likes to spread some love!