Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fun Review Tip: Envelope Swap

So part of the beauty of prepping for state testing is that I'm challenged to think of ways to make repetitive review less boring and more motivational. Enter the infamous Envelope Swap Game!

Here's how it works:
Sometimes I write the questions. Sometimes I cut apart old released test or practice tests.
There is one question in each envelope. Students have one minute to open the envelope and record their answer on an answer sheet and return the question to the envelope.
When the timer rings, students all pass envelopes in the direction that I explain at the beginning of the activity. They always pass to the same person--usually the person behind them.
This continues until everyone has filled in all answer blanks.
Then I flash the answers up on the old Smartboard, and, voila, students have just enjoyed answering and checking their own work.

I think this would work well for reviewing a unit or chapter, too. There are so many ways to modify or improve this. It also takes a lot less paper.

And this is my little tip/trick for today.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Inspired to Go With A Camp Theme

The count down to Ohio Achievement Assessments has begun. In just 12 school days (plus Spring Break) the official testing week will be here. In order to spice up the review and practice in our room we're doing a camp theme. Another teacher and I are sharing this, so kids spend part of the morning with her for Camp RAP (Reading Achievement Practice) and part of the morning with me for Camp MAP (Math Achievement Practice). The rest of the day we go about our normal curriculum. Here are some of the things we're doing:

  • We've divided into 2 group--the squirrels and the chipmunks.

  • Our time together is divided into 3 sections:

1. Campfire: Our work and review together time

2. Personal hike: Practice on your own time

3. Recreation: Games and fun ways to practice

While it takes a lot of time to pull all this together, and sometimes I feel like I'm just flying by the seat of my pants, it's much more interesting for me. I think this carries over to students. I expect that no matter what the outcome is, we will all be more content with a more interesting approach to practice. Maybe the test results will even show a bit of that!

Friday, March 25, 2011

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

So I've been reading this book for the past couple weeks. It came to me via my brother. He handed me a library copy, and he said he had purchased a copy for me, too. (It's hard to resist this sort of thing, even if you're uncertain!)

The title is 21st CENTURY SKILLS: LEARNING FOR LIFE IN OUR TIMES by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel. You can learn more about the whole concept here at Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

There's tons of stuff in cyberspace about this book. For example there is an NCTE skills map here, based on this book.

The thing that I'm so struck by is that the concepts and skills discussed in the book were sooo present in my class room in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Collaboration, creative problems solving, learning by doing, communication, real life learning, etc. Those types of things are so much more limited by specified curriculum and testing demands and so on.

I find this book both hopeful for the potential and discouraging for the current state of affairs.I find it all very frustrating. In my heart I know what and how to do it, but I feel like my hands are tied. Are we sacrificing something great on the alter of something good that can be easily measured by standardized tests? Did we take a step forward, only to take two (or three or four) steps back?

Do you ever feel this way?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Love This Brave Post

I just LOOOOOVVVVEEEED this post from Jen Lemen. It just oozes authenticity and real life and bravery and the struggle and the surrender.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Everyone Needs A Knight In Shining Armor

Do you have any dragons that need slaying?
What can you bravely put to rest today?
Is there a battle you can walk away from before becoming more battered or doing more harm?
Is there someone you can enlist for support so you can take brave action?

Sometimes it takes more courage to ask for help then to continue to battle alone.
Wishing you the strength and bravery you need for the task that is before you.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Inspired to Hear Your Heart

I read this great quote over the weekend. It was quoted by Michael Mayne in The Enduring Melody.

In his novel The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho tells a compelling
story about a young
boy who is learning to follow his heart. The boy travels
through the desert
alongside a man who is simply identified as "the
alchemist." As they journey the
boy engages in a conversation with his
heart. He learns that he, like everyone
else, has a treasure waiting for
him, and the heart's purpose is to encourage
him to seek that treasure. But
because people become preoccupied with so many
other things, they no longer
pay attention to their hearts. Only children, who
have yet to be so
distracted by life, have the ability to hear their hearts in a
clear way.
The boy learns from the alchemist that because of the pain of going
the heart will eventually stop telling people to follow their dreams.
boy pleads with his heart to never stop speaking to him. Should he begin to
wander away from his dreams, he wants his heart to sound the alarm and
promises that he will hear it and follow.
Are you listening to your heart today?
What distracts you?
What is your heart telling you?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Clip Chart Tip

I think there is some miraculous power in my clip chart! This is the first year I've used it. I got the idea here. And she got it here.

This year I needed to find a new behavior plan, because none of my wealth of resources seemed to work. Everything felt too time consuming or punitive or ineffective. And then along came the clip chart! If I were a gambler I would not have put my money on this little bit of paper, lamination, and clothespins to have a positive impact, but it has! I started it at the end of January.

I won't explain it all here, because you can check out the to links above where there are lots of suggestions, ideas, and thorough explanations. I just want to offer a testimonial--it works! I like the automatic feedback. I like that everyone starts the day in the middle of the chart and can work their way up or down. I like that every day is a fresh start. I like that kids basically manage themselves on the chart, and I spend less than 5 minutes a day on it.

If you feel frustrated or your old bag of tricks isn't working, check out the clip chart.

What goodies have you recently added to your bag of tricks?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuggets of Empowerment

Have you ever noticed how when we really start to look for something we can almost always find it? I'm completely in love with the color turquoise, and I'm seeing it in paint colors and headbands and in magazine photos and in jewelry and scarves. It's everywhere.

I think that's also true about what we think we need as we bravely move through our daily life. I believe that we can usually find what we seek. We find what we seek in relationships and media and in nature.

I've been looking for something physically small to remind me of some of life's brave big ideas. That's when I started making these little nuggets of empowerment. They each have one brave word. I can carry them around in my pocket, put them on my desk, and even share them with others. Some I tuck away to find at a future point in time.

What are you bravely seeking today?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another Organizing Tip: The Gray Box

I don't have words for what a big part of my teaching style and classroom the gray box is. It's a part of me as a brave teacher. If you can't tell from the photos, its' one of those portable hanging file boxes. It's the place where my students turn in everything--except a few things like unit tests. I've used it in grades 1-4.

Here's how it works for me:

~There is a labeled folder for every subject, plus a few more, like "Late Work."
~Students put their finished work in the folder--as they finish it.
~Sometimes I have students put the completed work in number order (alphabetical), and sometimes I do it. (I fantasize about individuals putting them into the folder in number order, but that hasn't happened, yet!)

Benefits for me:
~All completed work is in one spot until I'm ready to check it.
~It allows students to work at their own pace and turn in work when they're done.
~It's a consistent and automatic place for kids.

What do you do bravely at your job that just works for you?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Inspired by March Snow

It snowed last Friday--it was that wet, heavy, white stuff, and hello, it was March 11. We've had plenty of snow this winter. But here's the crazy thing--it was GORGEOUS! It looked like a postcard with snow clinging to everything.

I remember a photo my dad took sometime in the 60's. Every time I saw that slide I thought the snow was gorgeous. It was that kind of snow. I wondered if I would ever look down the street and see nonstop snow on every branch. It was that sort of day.

After school, we ate an early dinner, and the boys headed outside. If you don't find joy in the snowman turned snow bunny, then maybe you should take your pulse. It's even better because this is the first time the little boy was actually adding to rather than removing snow.

It was all quite pure--unblemished, uncomplicated, unsophisticated and simple. While I wasn't thinking that snow would inspire me in March, that beauty did just sneak up on me as a snow bunny and fill my heart with joy.

What's your unexpected inspiration today?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Brave Gifts of Heartbreak and Disappointment

I was reading Jen Lemen's blog. She is so eloquent and real. It's beautiful to witness and so comforting to sink into. She was writing about the gifts of heartbreak and disappointment, and then she asked us to respond.

Here's what I said:

Here’s what I think the gifts of heartbreak and dissappointment are: They are the kick in the pants that propel me forward into the the vast unknown–where I’ve feared to travel when life is comfortable–beyond the safety and the boundaries. They allow me to embrace dreams and hopes and pursue realities that I’m not even sure are possible. They clarify priorities and choices.

This is by far my most difficult teaching year ever–on many different fronts. At the same time I’m taking concrete steps to pursue dreams that I had put on the back burner when the sailing was smoother and teaching easier.

Again, I'm struck by the paradox of pain as purpose in life.

What are the gifts of heartbreak and disappointment for you?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Secret Mission Revealed

Create your own video slideshow at

So I told you I was going on a secret mission. My secret mission was a card drop. I left little turquoise cards anywhere and everywhere I went. They had little inspiring quotes and affirmations on them.

While this was a great experience that was full of simple surprises and unexpected turns, the most surprising part was what it did for me. I was so ENERGIZED--especially on a creative level. I had good strong clear ideas spilling out of me and into my spiral notebook all day long. It will take me several weeks to just enact the ideas I had.

I continue to be amazed and surprised by how giving to others affects me. I wrote about it here a few months ago. My secret mission once again reinforced this crazy concept that when we giving we receive so much in return. I'm already thinking about my next secret mission!

How does giving affect you?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Organizational Ideas on the Web

So organization is something I'm always trying to do more efficiently and effectively. I want more ready access to materials and resources. So I love what I found over at Growing Kinders--many teachers sharing organizational tips.

Here you can find some tips I've shared before. Also, some of the best and most inspiring stuff I've found is over at Cornerstone for Teachers, a website by Angela Powell Watson. I wrote about her book here.

I hope you find something useful, or even add your ideas to the list. What helps you be better organized?

Thursday, March 3, 2011


What is bringing you joy today?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Secret Mission

I'm going on a brave secret mission tomorrow! I am excited beyond belief and filled with hope. I'm also a little fearful. I've never done anything like this before. I'd be lying to say I have no expectations, but they are limited. I can't wait to share my experiences here.

Just the thought of this mission brings a subtle internal shift with me.

Have I generated some interest and curiosity in you? More will be revealed soon.

What are you doing that excites you about your brave life?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Power-FULL Kids

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while. Now is the time. I am sooo amazed by what kids can/will do when given the opportunity. The donation box above was created by 2 students in my class. In addition to a donation box they wrote school wide announcements, made posters, and set up a table outside the kitchen for donations.

Why? There are 2 students in our school this year with leukemia. You know how powerless you feel when you hear a child has cancer? Kids feel the same way. They also have that deep fear that something could happen to them, too. While we grown-ups have had that feeling so many times, we're often numb to it, kids aren't.

Kids are full of power and hope and a desire to make the world a better place. I love to see them run with these ideas. I wish to be an agent of empowerment for the kids who are full of this good stuff.

How do you empower those around you?