Tuesday, April 29, 2014

At least they're not lice...

I meant to post some of these last week.   We started our lifecycles unit with insects. My kid are seriously obsessed.   We have bugs everywhere in little jars and houses.   I am spending the majority of this week in PBL training,  so I am a little scared to see what is sharing our space when I return on Thursday.   As long as we don't have lice,   I guess I will be okay with it.  

I bought some ladybug larva. Of all the bugs I know, I like them best. They don't bite or sting,  and aren't especially creepy.   They don't stink or spray anything...major pluses in my book. I love how different they look as larva than adults. They are a great example of a complex lifecycle if your kids have already done the butterfly thing,  as mine have.  

We have had a quite a few days of no specials (no planning -gahhhr!),  so we planned two straight days of ladybug fun!   We worked with our bilingual pals and completed almost everything in my Ladybug Love packet. We were able to take a bunch of grades (science, ELA and math) for the end of the year. Serious bonus!

One part of the unit is researching their own insect.   They had so much fun.   They were so engaged and just kept going with it.   In fact,  on Friday I gave them some "fun Friday" time. I was fried,  so they could have pretty much taken advantage of the situation... I have Legos and computers and games with very loose education value... and they seriously made insects and insect projects.   EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.   Little weirdos!   I love them!

We all tried on my bee vision glasses.

And in an incredible stroke of ....luck?  I found this big bit of nastiness in my front yard.   The entire disgusting  interesting thing is here - from the eye scales to the tail... so we had a non insect example of molting to go along with the "ladybug poop" which is really our larva molts!   Springtime fun!

One of my friends posted that you can tell if the snake it venomous by looking at the tail.   Can you tell if this one is?
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Saturday, April 26, 2014

This seems to be very controversial and unpopular in my neck of the woods, what do you think?

This is not my school district,  but near where I live and teach.  This policy seems to be getting a lot of press and the opinions are flying.   It seems that most people in my area and the people running for our school board are very against this.   I don't think I am.

It seems the biggest argument that people are giving is that this is not "real life".   That kids will fail out of college and lose their jobs if they move into the the world with this work ethic.    I get that.   You have to get things done in the "real world".   There are definitely high expectations at the university level. I don't want my kids to fail out or be slackers any more than the next guy, in fact,  as a teacher, I probably give this more thought than most.   But,   I think by and large,  I am in favor of this policy.   Here's why.

I believe that school is not supposed to be a model of "real life" with shorter people.   I believe it is more like an apprentice program.   The place to LEARN the things that will one day help kids when they are adults.   I believe that is a truly complex mission.   It is not all about instant achievement. We scaffold our teaching, pulling away supports as new skills are learned.   It is about gaining skills throughout the process,   some content skills,  some work habits, some social skills.   But I don't necessarily believe that those occur for every person at the same time.   

From my reading,  I understand that there are two main ideas in this proposal:


I believe that academic area grades should reflect true content learning.   They should not be a reward or punishment or "alternative paycheck".  As an educator it is my RESPONSIBILITY to make sure that my students are mastering the CONTENT and SKILLS prescribed by the state (and common sense).  It is essential that parents and students know how well they are achieving those skills.   If I simply give a grade based on the time something is turned in,  rather than mastery of skills,  then the grade is not a measure of of true knowledge,  but rather a measure of time management.  

Now,  I also believe that time management is extraordinarily important.   I believe that it is something that we have a responsibility to teach with the same amount of passion we teach our content area,   but they are not one and same.  Some people will get this at the same time,  but others won't.   One of the arguments I am reading over and over is that if a report is turned in late at a job,   then the employee with lose said job.    This may be true.   In my experience,   it has not been.   I have had reasons over the years that I have turned in a report late.   For example,  this year my sweet father in law became very ill and passed away.   I had several reports that I turned in late or forgot about during this time period.  I was emotionally hurting and it affected my work negatively.   I was also physically absent from my job for a time.   But in my "real world",  I have a compassionate employer who understands this kind of thing and gave me some time to get things done.   She did not excuse the work or give me a pass,  but accepted my late reports with a hug and some understanding.   I guess she could have just said,  YOU FAIL and fired me,  but I have never experienced that kind of "real world" that people seem to be talking about on line.   I may just be very blessed,  but I tend to believe that the "real world" does occasionally make exceptions for late work and mistakes. 

Just as we do,  our students have reasons for turning in late work. We may or may not see them as valid,  but they are valid to them. They are doing the difficult work of growing up.   Some are dealing with incredibly difficult life circumstances,   some are over committed with other responsibilities,  some have no example of what that time management looks like because their parents are unemployed or have substance abuse problems or are just plain absent.   Some kids are just naturally slower than others or less able to manage their time.  Some don't comprehend the content in the assignment and need help that may or may not be available at home. They need help to develop these skills very intentionally.  What do we do FOR students if we just give them a zero and let it go?    Are we TEACHING them anything other than life is hard?   So many of our students have grown to accept and expect failure.   They don't have an expectation of success (much less college and a professional career),  they just cease to care.

So what if we TEACH these skills instead?   What if we expect that it is done NO MATTER WHAT?  Even if they can't get it there on Tuesday, we still believe that mastery is achievable and important and we push that student, and love that student, and assist that student until it happens?    Is that really going to make them a loser? Or it is going to build up their self confidence and hold them accountable for the work? I think we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.  What is our goal?  What should our goal be?  If they never do the work and simply fail, what has been accomplished?   What have they been taught?  


I believe that much of the debate around this stems from our core beliefs about why students fail.   If you believe that students fail because they are lazy and don't try, and should be punished,   then it makes sense that we would just give them the fail and move on.   But if we believe that all people learn differently and some more quickly or slowly than others,   then this new grading policy makes sense.   

If a student is struggling with algebra (I am tapping into my real life experience here),  then it is entirely possible that they are not even completely able to understand what they do not know yet.  They can take a test and be surprised at how poorly they do.  I have been there (I remember thinking I had studied well for a test and getting the test and thinking I was an idiot).  Should we then just record the failing grade (as punishment that the student didn't learn it), or should we let the student keep trying until they get it?  Which method is more likely to have all of our students reach mastery?

From what I understand,  it will be a choice in Denton ISD.  If a student wants to do better,  they are given the chance to keep working until they achieve their goals.   People against this seem to cite that it is similar to giving students rewards for losing, a trophy for participation.   I don't see this at all (and rewarding without reason is a practice I am very against).   If the student accepts the failing grade, then that is what is recorded,   but they use perseverance and keep plugging away at the skills tested,  then they will receive a grade based on that.    To me,  taking the test over and over again until they master it,  seems to be a far more desirable outcome than a straight up failure.  If they fail a college course, they can pay to retake it right?   I would much rather them do that then just quit.   Otherwise,  we have "punished them" for not getting the information in our time frame,  and while I guess that "teaches them" something... is it what we want to teach?   

Now this is a new philosophy of grading students, and it is entirely possible it will not work out.   But right now,   we are failing a LOT of kids.   Not all of our kids are college bound,  nor should be expect them to be.  Many of them will not go into the professional world. Some will choose another path.  In my opinion, that is not a tragedy. We need people who are passionate about in all walks of life.  In the end,  that is not our choice.   But I believe, as educators,  we need to give them every opportunity to be successful,  whatever that looks like.   I applaud this district for shifting paradigms and taking a chance.    I, for one, will be watching and cheering them on!

What do you think???  I think this conversation is important,  please join in!  

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Sometimes you just know....

Sometimes you just spiral through topics and sometimes you KNOW when it is time to review.   It became glaringly obvious that our kids needed another trip through r-controlled vowels when this soft shirt became rather something quite different....

SaRgent R brought his bossy self around and helped us make some words.   A dollar store army hat and vest turned our boring lesson into some fun!

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

And then, all of a sudden....MAGIC! Why PBL is amazing...

This year has been my first year as a Project Based Learning teacher.    Our district is beginning to implement this model of instruction throughout all grade levels and decided to first ask for volunteers. I volunteered last summer.   I have to admit when I started,   I did not completely understand what I was getting into.   It was WAY, WAY, WAY more labor intense then I was thinking.   We use the Engage model and there are a LOT of steps to the process.

One of my teammates and I have taken the journey together and there have been days along the way that we have been so damn discouraged we thought of giving up.  It was messy and disorganized.   We sometimes forgot steps along the way.  We were frustrated.  The kids were frustrated.   

Each group has a little "help" sign they stand up on their tables when they need help. There were days when all of the signs where up at once,  I was helping one group, Mariel was helping another and someone was tapping me on the back of the head with their help sign because we weren't fast enough.   Sometimes I wanted to throw the little help signs in the trash.   Sometimes I wanted to wear one around my neck.

It has taken an immense amount of planning,  reorganizing, restarting,  etc. to make it work.   Some of our final projects never actually came to be.    Some were crap.  BUT.... then Friday, without warning,  we noticed something amazing.    There was not one "help" sign up.   No one was complaining.   Everyone was fully engaged and KNEW EXACTLY WHAT TO DO.   It was freaking spectacular!   I seriously almost cried.   Our babies,   understood their objective,   researched and developed a project and used various types of technology to share their knowledge.   They made PowerPoints, and e-books (one was bilingual!),  they made Popplets and Puppet Shows and a video and THEY DID NOT NEED HELP. And they were AH-MAZING.   Seriously.   Every single project had every objective covered plus had the groups personality sprinkled throughout.  It, of course,  has been slowly happening all along,  but Friday it was completely and beautifully evident that the process and skills had taken hold.They were so proud and confident and EVERY single second of hard work that we have put in this year became so worth it.

I have learned so much this year.  

I have learned to talk less,  listen more.  I have learned that if I truly step  back and let the learning come from exploration,  it is so much deeper and more meaningful.    I have learned that the real work is in the process,  not the project.   The project is the icing on the cake, but cake is good without icing too.   I have learned to trust myself and trust my kids more than ever before.  Kids want to learn.   They are motivated by discovery.   They need this.   And in the end if we trust their process,  they will get where they need to get without kill and drill and a gazillion worksheets and practice tests.   I wish the "government" got this.  

I am going to soak up my last weeks with this fabulous class.  I am going to enjoy watching what else they can do.  And I am sure I am going to cry like a baby when they leave.  But, I am so looking forward starting this process all over again.   Knowing what is really possible,  starting with some experience behind me.    If you have considered PBL but were nervous to start,  just jump!  It is so worth it!

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pin It to Win It Giveaway!

I would love to give away a few copies of my Exploring Even and Odd Numbers Unit!   Just Pin It to Win It!

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Pairs, Teams and the Assembly Line!~

I am e-x-h-a-u-s-t-e-d but I wanted to post some pics of our day because it was a super fun one!

We are spiraling back through odd and even numbers.   We use Investigations in class so we are working on teams and pairs.   We took advantage of the beautiful weather and went outside today and made teams and pairs with different numbers.    It was a fun and easy way to show how odd plus odd equals even,   even plus even equals even and odd plus even equals odd.   They were able to talk about how "the odd man out" on each team could match up with the "odd man out" on the other team and no longer be out!   It actually led to some great conversations and some deeper understanding I believe!

We then did some some proving from my Exploring Odd and Even Packet.     I LOVE that one of my buddies wrote about how they INFERRED.   I love them!

We are also learning about Economics and the assembly line.   I bought this incredible packet on TPT by Amber Marker - we have had SOOOO much fun with it!


Today we made "trucks" out of graham crackers, frosting and candy.  Each student made their own first... and we put those in our "Custom" car lot.   Then we created assembly lines.   We realized that we could build trucks faster and better in our assembly lines because we were working together and each person because a "specialist" at their job!   Super fun lesson.   This packet is full of super fun ideas!   I highly recommend it!

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Visit from Loof Lirpa

Today was the beginning of STAAR testing for the big kids at our school,  so we had a lot of extra time on our hands today (no specials,  no lunch break),  so we made the best of it!   

I printed out copies of the Loof Lirpa "newspaper" article I wrote. (free and editable here - 

The kids were so excited!  Mariel (my teammate),  and I passed out carrots to all the kids and we practiced our Loof Lirpa calls.   Mariel and I could not make eye contact without laughing.    We immediately had one kiddo suspicious... but we played it off.   

We walked out into the yard and went on a wild bird search.

It was awesome!  They were so funny... 

A few of them started to mention they thought this might be similar to the "Tree Octopus" story (I use this when teaching digital citizenship, I will share more later), and some caught the author's name.   But several kids had definite sightings of the Loof Lirpa.    

We went in and wrote cinquain poems about this special bird.


Then I shared mine...

A few of my kids were bothered the bird wasn't named the Sloof Lirpa because they wanted it to say April Fools... but all in all it was super fun!
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