Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Reflections-The Best Year Yet

     This summer, I have been lucky enough to attend multiple professional development events and to read some great professional books. All of the reading and reflecting has my head spinning with the possibilities in my classroom this next school year. I have been reminded this summer of the vision I have for a truly student-directed learning environment in my class.  I also have been inspired by truly excellent ideas for innovation in education such as flipped learning, genius hour, and gamification. Now, I need to begin to synthesize my learning and to decide what to focus on for the coming school year. There are some beliefs that I know I need to adhere to when thinking about my classroom:

  • Classroom culture is the single most important thing. It is imperative to spend the time needed to teach students to respond to each other with kindness and to give them opportunities to collaborate with each of their classmates. 
  • Students should be leading the learning. I want them to be setting goals and keeping track of their own learning and communicating that with their parents. 
  • The classroom is OUR classroom. Involving students in setting it up and establishing some of the routines is important to me. 
  • The workshop model is what works best for me and what I think is best for students. 
  • READING is essential. Read aloud and independent reading need to happen every single day. 
  • Encouraging a growth mindset is also imperative to helping students succeed
  • Involving families in our learning is important. I want parents to have a place to go to see what we are doing each day in our classroom. I want them to feel like they are part of our learning. I want them to truly understand the standard-based report cards they receive each trimester. 
When I picked up Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz, I expected to get a few good ideas from the book. I didn't expect to be reading the perfect book for my professional journey. I want my classroom to look like Mr. Solarz' classroom. I want my students to be able to feel the ownership that it seems like his students feel. I know that I will be going back to that book again and again as I consider how I will start the school year and what procedures and routines I want to establish. One of the absolute musts in my book will be establishing the student jobs that I know will make our classroom function more smoothly. I love the idea of the students who have the specific job of reminding other students to complete morning duties. I also love the idea of having a student who is responsible for getting the Smart Board up and running if I haven't already done so. I am also thinking that it would be good to have a student responsible for picking the GoNoodle brain breaks and navigating there when it is time for those breaks. I also loved his ideas for how to handle the end of the day. I will definitely be doing something similar this year. 

I also know that I need to establish a Genius Hour in my classroom. I want my students to have the opportunity to explore and learn for the sake of learning. I think this is one of the most important lessons we can give students. I still am working on thinking about how to make this work in 4th grade. When I was switching and had multiple classes for shorter amounts of time, it was easy to figure out 20% of the time. We spent one class a week on Genius Hour. With 4th grade, I am with them for so much more time. I am pretty sure that I want to establish a time every day or every other day to work on projects. I also want to encourage maker space type projects and working on challenges to solve problems. I don't know whether to create a separate time for that or to include it in my Genius Hour time. Perhaps we could do Genius Hour projects four days a week and then have a challenge problem on the fifth day. My biggest issue is how to have students record their work and set goals. I think it would be good to have them decide on the standards that they are working on and to assess themselves on those standards. 

I know I also want to use flipped learning in some way in my classroom this year. I don't yet know how I will use this idea. I also am really interested in gamification. I think I could perhaps connect the game to ClassDojo in some way. The issue that I have is that it will promote some competition among my students, which is counterproductive to the collaborative classroom culture. These are two innovative ideas that are still bouncing around in my head. The trick this year is going to be to take small steps and not to leap into too many big changes at once. 

Looking back over the reflections thus far, I see the need to carefully plan the first weeks of school so that I will be focusing on those things that are most important to me. I need to make sure that I have thought through everything and am absolutely prepared for the beginning of the school year. You would think after 15 years that this would be easier to do. I am determined to make this the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER! 

What are your ideas for the new school year? Are there things that you are considering adding into your curriculum for the year? Do you have routines that you deem to be crucial to creating a collaborative culture? I would love to hear your feedback and ideas in the comments!

Monday, July 20, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? July 20

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? --From Picture Books to YA is a weekly meme started by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This is a chance for bloggers to recap their week of reading and share their plans for the next reading adventures they will take. Visit the host blogs for a list of great blogs participating in this meme and a whole bunch of titles to add to your to-read lists.

Books I Finished This Week:

I enjoyed The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick as much as I enjoyed The Silver Linings Playbook. I have to admit that I have a weird issue with narrators like this. The book is really well written and many people would give it a rave review, but there is just something off for me (this is the case with The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night as well). I did like how the resolution of the book turned out. It definitely was a good ending and I am glad I read this one. I would recommend it to adults. 

I can understand how this book won the Pura Belpre award. I was riveted from the start. I felt so awful for the protagonist, Piddy, who was bullied from the first day at her new school. What was so awful was the way that things spiraled out of her control and she hadn't done a thing wrong. I highly recommend this book for high school and up. 

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is an amazing book. It absolutely would be a great one to recommend to all Harry Potter fans. These two authors are amazing fantasy authors and they hit this one out of the park. I can't wait to read more of this Magisterium series! I highly recommend this one to grades 5 and up. 

Books I am Currently Reading:

I am reading Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike. I am also listening to Rebecca thanks to a free audiobook download from Sync audiobooks. I also have started reading Day by Day for ideas about writing workshop. I also started Flipping 2.0. 

What's Next? 
I have Unsnared and Stella By Starlight on my shelf from the library. I also got a few pages into A God In Ruins and need to get back to that book. I have an entire small bookshelf of titles from my classroom that I want to get to. I also might like to pick up The Martian. We'll see! 

What are you reading this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? July 13

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? --From Picture Books to YA is a weekly meme started by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This is a chance for bloggers to recap their week of reading and share their plans for the next reading adventures they will take. Visit the host blogs for a list of great blogs participating in this meme and a whole bunch of titles to add to your to-read lists.

I have been in California visiting my sister and her family this week. That means tons of cuddles with the 2-year-old and 3-week-old nieces. That does not leave much time for reading or writing...and at night when I do have time I am exhausted. However, I did manage to get in some quality reading time this week and finished some excellent reads!

Books Finished this Week:

Olivia Takes Ballet is a cute story featuring Olivia. I did not realize when I bought this one for my niece that it was not written by the original author of Olivia books. It was still a hit.

Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus was another big hit in this household. It is a favorite song and so quickly became a favorite book.

I am so glad I bought Firebird by Misty Copeland. It is a gorgeous book and will be an excellent one to share with my students. I think that this dancer is such an inspiration and I will be highlighting her story this year at school. This picture book is a perfect way to share the idea of working hard to accomplish big goals.

This is another picture book that I am glad I purchased. I will love sharing it with my students early in the year when we are focusing on growth mindset.

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta was a really great thriller. I had this one on my Kindle because I think this author is amazing. When I saw the ALA tweets and realized that this one had been on the Alex award list this year, I got reading right away. I don't know how I missed that. Suffice it to say, I completely agree that young adults would love this book. I am a big mystery fan and this one had all the makings of a great mystery book. I highly recommend this book to high schoolers and adults who love a good thriller.

I went to the library specifically to look for The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough when I saw the author Gae Polisner gushing over the book. She compared it to The Book Thief, which is one of my all-time favorite books, so I had to check it out. The praise was well-deserved. This book is beautifully written and resonates with you long after you finish reading. I also am now in love with this author after reading her post on Gae's Friday Feedback post for Teachers Write. I highly recommend this book for high school and up.

You know how sometimes a book comes along with just the right message at just the right time? This book was one of those books for me. In Learn Like a Pirate, Paul Solarz outlines his methods to create a collaborative class environment that is student-led. Five years ago, I had a classroom like that. Then, I switched grade levels to middle school and did not have the same class all day long. I sort of lost my mojo. Last year was the first year back in elementary school for me and I sort of envisioned that my class would function the same way it had years ago, but I forgot how much work is needed to get it there. I loved this book because it gave me some really concrete ideas of how to achieve what I want to achieve in empowering students to lead their own learning. I loved the reflection questions at the end of every chapter. I will absolutely be coming back to this book over and over again to help myself refine my vision for the school year.

Books I am Currently Reading:

I am still reading The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. I am also still listening to Rebecca. 

What's Next?

   I have no idea what I will choose to pick up next. It will depend on my mood.

What are you reading this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Monday, July 6, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? July 6

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? --From Picture Books to YA is a weekly meme started by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This is a chance for bloggers to recap their week of reading and share their plans for the next reading adventures they will take. Visit the host blogs for a list of great blogs participating in this meme and a whole bunch of titles to add to your to-read lists.

Books I Finished This Week:

Reawakened by Colleen Houck was a fun adventure. I got this one from NetGalley. It is similar to the Tiger's Curse series in that I was a little annoyed by the character's teenage thoughts. However, the character is a teenager and I think her writing would appeal to teen readers. This one was a fun trip to Egypt. I would definitely recommend this one to teenagers and adults who are fans of her other series.

Cold War on Maplewood Street by Gayle Rosengren will be coming out in August. This is a really well done historical fiction book about the feeling in the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the author's note the author says that she was surprised that so many people didn't really know about this time in our history because it was so vivid in her own memory. I have to admit that I am one of those people who was ignorant of that tense time in history. I loved how this book made this history accessible for young people while at the same time really letting the reader know how scary it was to be living here at that moment in history. I highly recommend this book for grades 4 and up. 

This book is another one that I got from NetGalley.  These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly was one of those books that grabbed me and I could not put it down. I should have been doing many things in preparation for my trip, but instead I was reading for hours. The book had the perfect combination of my favorite things. It was a mystery set in a victorian period with a strong female protagonist and just a little bit of romance. So good! I highly recommend it to grades 8 and up. I know now (if I didn't before) that I need to look for other books by this author. 

The Living by Matt DeLaPena is a very thrilling read. It was the perfect book to be reading as I travelled because it really captured my attention and kept me busy as I spent what felt like endless hours flying across the country. One thing that you need to know about this book is that it is the first in a series. Don't expect a huge amount of resolution at the end of the book. It is also quite difficult to read at points since it really is talking about surviving a Tsunami while on the ocean. There are a few graphic scenes. I highly recommend this book to high schoolers and adults. I know I will be looking for the second one in this series very soon.  

Books I am Currently Reading:

I am reading Learn Like a Pirate and am totally inspired by this book to work on making my classroom much more student-centered. I feel like the book is reminding me of the things that I used to do and want to get back to doing. It is going slow for me because I am taking the time to reflect and write down ideas as I read. I also have started to read a bunch of other books. I am a few pages into A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick, Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta, and The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. I don't know why I am feeling so scattered, but I am sure I will settle on one soon. I am visiting family this week so I have a lot less time for reading. 

What's Next?

I will probably not start any other books this week. I will be reading lots of picture books this week with my niece. 

What are you reading this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Celebrate: July 4th

It's Saturday and that means it is time to reflect on the week and celebrate things both big and small. Join our community and celebrate this week by linking up or just stopping by the host Ruth Ayres' blog to read others' celebrations.

This week was full of celebrations--big and little. 

Monday, my husband left for Spain to go visit his parents. I decided not to go with him this year, and it is hard. However, my celebration is that he had a safe flight. I also love the modern conveniences of being able to use the internet to communicate. We are able to use FaceTime to communicate and he doesn't seem so far away.  

Tuesday, I had a meeting with my book club. I was so excited that we continued to meet for the summer. I continue to celebrate the fact that I took a chance and sent out a message and now I have a fun time with colleagues to look forward to each month.  Some of the teachers in this book club have been encouraged to start reading more which I am so glad about. 

Also on Tuesday, I had a massive fangirl moment. I wrote a Slice of Life post about seeing Dave Burgess speak. Then I shared the post on Twitter. Dave Burgess commented on my post! He also shared the link to my blog post and I had a lot more traffic to my blog. I was flipping out!  

Wednesday, I decided to walk to a local restaurant for lunch and then to the public library in my neighborhood. It was a pleasant day and I enjoyed the walk through the park. I saw so many kids and moms. I enjoyed my solitary walk and a delicious lunch. 

Thursday, I lost myself in a good book. I had packing and cleaning to do. I should have mowed the lawn before leaving town, but I sat and read. It was amazing. I love that I can have these kind of moments in the summertime with minimal guilt. 

Friday, I had two smooth flights with a nice layover in Phoenix. I arrived at noon and had a great day with my mom, my sister, and her family. 

Lastly, let me say Happy 4th of July! I am especially excited for this holiday this year because I traveled out to California to spend some time with my sister, her husband, and my two nieces. I am overlapping for a few days with my mother visiting them as well. It is so fun to spend this holiday with my family. When my grandparents were alive, the 4th of July was one of two times that we gathered the entire extended family for a party. It is nice to enjoy a holiday BBQ together this year. My older niece is 2 years old and she is such a busy toddler. It is so fun to spend time with her. The other one is 2 weeks old. Cuddling with a newborn is a special time. 

What do you have to celebrate this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments! 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What is Patio PD? Reflections on my first experience

    A few weeks ago, I was cruising on Twitter and saw some tweets that caught my eye.  I had recently started following Jason Bretzmann (@jbretzmann) after attending one of his sessions at Summer Spark. Jason was tweeting out reminders about #patiopd. Hmmm, I thought. I wonder what that is. Then, I followed the link and found out that patio pd is exactly what it sounded like. Jason invites educators to come join him and Kenneth Bosch (@kennybosch) on his patio to have conversations and to learn about flipping classrooms and anything else teachers might like to know. It is a fabulous idea, right? If you want more information, you can find it here:

    I quickly made a plan to get to the first session. I even convinced my husband Ramon, who just finished his second year teaching, to come with me. We had a wonderful time. The best part of the experience for me was sharing it with my husband. I had not been able to convince him in the past to attend edcamp with me. I didn't convince him to come to Summer Spark with me. Somehow, this format was less intimidating or something and he came along. Woo-hoo! He loved hearing ideas from other educators and finally understood what I have been talking about for years...this kind of collaboration is energizing and inspiring. I love that he also was able to help a few teachers to set up their Google classroom accounts and to be the expert for that part of the time. I will have a lot more success in the future when I am trying to get him to come with me to PD opportunities.

     So, you ask, what actually went on at this session of Patio PD? Well, I am glad you asked. First, Jason and Kenneth took time to describe what flipping a classroom means. They each told about how they implement this concept in their own classrooms. This conversation morphed into a discussion about passion time/genius hour/20% time. We talked about different models for genius hour and how it is implemented in different classrooms and subject areas. A shout-out was given to Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) and her amazing LiveBinder all about genius hour. I shared a little bit about how I have implemented this idea, both in middle school ELA classes and in 4th grade. Our discussion really got people thinking about what this would mean in their own classrooms.

     Another thread of conversation at our Patio PD was the discussion of implementing Fantasy GeoPolitics in middle school. This is a really cool resource for any Social Studies teachers out there. Since I teach 4th grade, I am not sure this will be something I can do in my classroom, but I think it would be a fabulous way to bring current events to a middle school or high school class. This is an activity similar to fantasy football or baseball. The students do a draft and get countries throughout the world. They then get points based on mentions in world news for the country they drafted. I am sure students would really love it. To find out more about this amazing resource you can go here:

    One other fabulous website that we looked at is Kahoot I have never used this website, but I was glad to be able to ask my questions about this fun site. I think both my husband and I will be using it this year.

    Then, the coolest part of our session was playing with the cool tech toys. We looked at a lot of fun tools that would have varying uses in classrooms. Of course, now I really want to buy all of these great tools. Here is what we got to play with:

 Swivl --I had heard of and even priced this tool in the past. It would be excellent for making a teaching video for any of the many reasons that people might do this. I think a tool like this would be fantastic to have in the classroom. The demonstration and conversation focused mostly on being able to make videos for flipping. We also talked about how videos are great artifacts for evidence in the Educator Effectiveness evaluation process in Wisconsin. I also think this would be a great tool for videotaping student groups during a time like literature circles.

Osmo -- This is a fun game accessory that works with iPads. Students can manipulate things on the table and the iPad reads what they are doing. It would be so much fun to come up with games for students to do as stations or small group work. Right now, on the website, there is a buy one, give one promotion. When you buy an Osmo, the company gives one to a classroom in the USA of your choice. What a great deal!

Sphero -- I want to do a lot more with coding in my classroom this year. Sphero is a great tool for helping students to be motivated to do this. I would love to have multiples of this tool. Oh, how I wish there were funds for one of those classroom packs!

Catchbox -- This is a microphone that is in a protective, cushy box that can be thrown. Oh, the possibilities for this fun technology. I am imagining class meetings, great presentations that everyone can hear, and even better days for my voice. Time to drum up some funds.


As we wrapped up our day together, we did have a discussion about how to afford these types of tools in our classrooms. We suggested that DonorsChoose would be a wonderful resource for helping us to be able to get some awesome technology.

    Overall, our time at Patio PD was well spent. Ramon and I left energized and still talking about all the great ideas we heard. My mind is spinning with all sorts of new ideas about technology and how to continue with passion projects this year. I know Ramon is also really interested in doing Genius Hour in his AP Spanish Language and Culture class. I am excited to get to more sessions to hear the great ideas and collaborate with these great teachers! If you are nearby, you should definitely join us for Patio PD!