Posts

Showing posts from December, 2016

Closure: A Difference A Day Makes

Closure is a concept we as humans often equate with the end of something. The horrible break-up we went through in high school or college, we just needed closure and it was all alright. Even closing the door on something meaning to be done with it. Most often we do not take it to the next level and believe that closure is a connection between one concept or event and the next. We expect at the end of the day that what ever we taught needs a finality. The unit keeps going, the vocabulary is interwoven into the next lesson but we deep down inside feel there needs to be a clear delineation or transition between ideas. When in fact closure is a bridge, a path that leads to many unique directions that our students can follow.

If a student is truly intrigued and curious about the concept they will take a different course then a student who is merely complacent or a different student who is a reluctant learner. It is our job as a teacher to get the paths aligned with the right student. More …

Free Flow Writing, Reflection and Rotation Learning in Science

Writing can be focused on a particular topic for instance: Genetics, traits, selective breeding, humans in space. All of these being the upcoming topics in my classroom. But when writing is based on a predetermined topic the freedom and creativity of thought can be stifled. This I know from experience of not my own writing but also the assignments of my students. I try to keep the writing more open-ended leaving room for the imagination but often in science even doing this, creates a sort of vacuum where students are still trapped by the scientific principles that surround the topic. I have been enjoying family this holiday but always, as with any teacher, in the back of my mind I have been strategizing and planning my next unit. The scaffolding is there but the layers need further design.

Time constraints caused my team to push back two mini-units into January: Work and humans in space. We decided to combine the two and rather than have each teacher teach it, we divided the topic int…

Using Theme to Make Connections in Science

Theme, a term used in ELA and sometimes Social Studies but not very often in science. In science, we use unit, topic, idea, concept but rarely theme. The bigger picture, large scale, even scope but theme? The underlying message or meaning behind something is often unidentified. But to me theme is as much a part of science as it is any other subject. For instance the theme or meaning behind almost any scientific concept, chaos vs. equilibrium, static vs. consistency, change vs, stagnancy, and evolution vs devolution just to name a few. When we bring these larger themes into science and discuss them intricately with our students they make the connections between concepts on their own.

Write these, and the other larger scientific themes on the board at the beginning of the year and throughout the year have them write down where the unit or topic fits. Eventually they will see that no scientific concept is isolated but that they overflow and intertwine. They discover that Biology, Astrono…

The Princess Mentality: The Barriers Smashed by Carrie Fisher

Growing up in the 1970's was not always a time of strong willed, confident, and opinionated female characters. Disney princesses sang about their troubles and always got their prince in the end. They rarely had to fight for a cause, defend themselves, or were allowed to speak their minds. The first princess I recognized not as a damsel in distress but as a force to be reckoned with was Princess Leia from Star Wars. In walks Luke, Han and Chewbacca expecting her to swoon and fall into their arms with gratitude, instead she simply, says "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?" Sass at the get go. She revitalized the role of princess into one of, I am a woman and I can take care of myself.

At the beginning of the movie, Luke purchases R2-D2 and comes across the infamous video of Leia, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." At first as an audience member you are, go Luke save the princess, she needs your help. But it is revealed very quickly…

What Can You Learn from Mickey Mouse?

I was watching a Mickey Mouse Club House video with my son. Of course Disney is all about family values and friendship and love. But I started watching it and truly listened to the deeper meaning behind the episodes. It is a cute show for sure. A lot of overcoming adversity and working through problems. Then we ventured into the other room and he started playing with his various sized Tsum Tsum plushies of Mickey Mouse. I started asking him about size and dimension (he is six). How big are Mickey's ears? Why are they so much bigger on the larger sized compared to his body and so much smaller with the medium sized one? We actually got out a measuring tape and measured the circumference of the ears. The ears you would think would be comparable to the length and width of the body but they weren't. It was a fun way to introduce him to ratios.

Then I got to thinking what else can you learn from Mickey Mouse? So we went back and watched Steam Boat Willie cartoons and compared them w…

Board Game Heaven

If you have ever read one of my blogs your know that I am all about hands-on, non-technology and interactive learning being balanced with the technology. Kinesthetic and tactile as well as immersive virtual reality. This Christmas all my children received their wishes of video games etc. but also at least one board game or tactile games as well: marbles, Ticket to Ride, or various card games. My family on holidays especially is all about putting down anything that requires your isolation and diving into a world of Charades, Uno, Cranium and every other board game you can name. So last night, being Christmas we all did just that. The whole group, even my 7 year old played Uno and Ticket to Ride.

Board games are a fantastic way to let loose, laugh and get to know each other even better. It is an easy way to model sportsmanship, losing with dignity, and cheering other teams on, even when you are competing against them. We play board games as a family at home but when you add my daughter …

Christmas Day

Starbucks is a treat we get on Christmas Eve. Most of the time we get up to the window and the person in front of us has paid it forward. I pay it forward too, only a few times the car behind me had like 50.00 in coffee so I paid it forward by what my order would have cost. Today my daughter was the driver and when she went to hand them my phone, my gold account is on my phone, yes I get a lot of Starbucks, it had already been paid. She was so dumb founded she said thank you and pulled forward in the line only to realize maybe we should have paid it forward too. I told her no worries it happens sometimes and maybe we can pay it forward in a different way. With Starbucks it is common place lets go do it somewhere else.

Going through a drive-thru where it may not be a a purchase of a treat without any financial strain to one of necessity, where it is food for the family. So we went to Albertsons and after getting our gallon of milk and log for the fireplace, we paid for the cart of groc…

A Higher Elevation Conundrum

I have been in Albuquerque, 5000 ft above sea level for a week. I went to Santa Fe, 7,198 ft above sea level. I live in Houston which is essentially sea level. Can I feel a difference? Absolutely, Usually I can feel it in El Paso as you begin the incline. Thinner air, drier air, less dense oxygen molecules. It takes me about a week to adjust fully and within the first week my family generally gets a cold or flu. The air pressure is 30% lower at sea level, Houston, so it is no wonder my family struggles a bit when we first arrive here. This lower pressure making it harder for the oxygen molecules to pass through our lung membranes. For me with asthma and allergies it makes it even more difficult. But I try to take it easy for the first few days while my lungs are learning how to take in less with faster breaths.

Last summer seemed less of a struggle then this winter. Dry heat versus dry cold. Not much difference I know but it certainly feels harder to breath when the brisk air is makin…

A Park Above

Image
http://aparkabove.org/

Their Mission Statement: To promote a safe, clean and FREE park, where the inclusive play equipment is accessible to ALL children, ALL ages of ALL abilities.

The park was originally designed because a mother of an adult with autism did not have an interactive park where her child could play and swing and slide. She talked with other mothers with children with disabilities and discovered the city did not have a park where children in wheelchairs had the same opportunities to swing and play as other children. Thus A Park Above was born. It is an amazing park filled with large arm chair and wheelchair swings, large 4 person teeter totters, wide slides large enough for adults and even an area sponsored by Intel full of musical toys.

The hills are covered in a spongy, astro-turf material perfect for sliding. The friction makes it more like a slippery slope rather then a hill. Children were rolling down it and even pushing each other down, it looked like a snow sled hill…

Meow Wolf An Adventure in The Surreal

Image
Last summer I visited a new museum in Santa Fe called Meow Wolf. It is sponsored by George R.R, Martin, The Game of Thrones author likes to help with is local arts programs. It is a museum like any other. It is great for kids, colorful, interactive, mesmerizing but it is also for adults an intriguing back story for the House of Eternal Return. It has newspapers, mail in the mail box, video clips on the televisions, hidden clues for adults to follow the intricate story line. It is a really fun experience. This time I decided to take my children. The three older boys ventured off on their own while I took my 6 year old around. He just played of course but it was an hour and a half of pure joy as he entered a refrigerator and ended up in a fish tank, He also climbed a staircase and ended up back in a 1920's black and white room, walked down a Japanese street, played music on dinosaur bones and mushrooms even entered a spaceship, Star Trek style. It was so much fun seeing it a second …

A Day With Science

Image
The Albuquerque Children's Science Museum was so much fun. We wandered and learned about physics, light, sound, water, mechanics, even art. The kids played puzzles, had a battle with giant foam blocks, created images for a video game, and had fun with bubbles. It was the first time in a long time that they had no electronics but simple played, as children, and interacted, as brothers. It was an amazing site. Step away from the isolation of computers and into the realm of family and laughter. A great day indeed.










The Most Inopportune Moment

Higher elevation, we just traveled from sea level to 5000 ft above. The first day is always adjusting to the thinner air and breathing becomes normalized. Usually I also get a cold too. So yes, coughing and malaise today. Trying to sleep it off but lots to do, a little more shopping, hanging with family and enjoying the brisk Albuquerque weather. The holidays are a time for charity and reflection. We have gathered items and are delivering it to a Women's Shelter. My children are taking it in and seeing first hand that even the simplest of generosity can change someones day. Letting them choose which items they want to donate, they are each purchasing a gift for someone at the shelter as well as donating toys my grandson has outgrown.

We had a family discussion of how we struggle in a one-income household and while we do eat and have a home many do not. Even at the holidays many people are homeless and need every donation to be able to have a Christmas at all. But during this momen…

Holiday Shopping

Amazon, Amazon, Amazon. my usual go to for holiday gifts. Think Geek another source for great gifts. But you have to order early. This year I did utilize both but a few minor things needed to be purchased...(duh...duh...duh)... (creepy music) in person, in a store. I am claustrophobic so this was not a happy moment for me. But alas, in I went to various department stores and shops. They were crowded and stuffy and I do not wish that stress on anyone. But alas I am done now with all my shopping and can relax and spend time playing board games, RPG, and watching some awesome movies with my family.

My children want 3 DS XL good luck. I for the first time in many years have been so busy that I put my Christmas shopping off until the end. So Walmart, Target both sold out. Venturing on Amazon, sold out. Finally to Game Stop, only one, need two. Ugh! But thankfully some Pokemon plushies and cards later I seem to have gotten most things purchased for my children. Only my husband left. Now com…

Excellence: It Can Be Achieved With Motivation

Spending 13 hours in a car with 4 boys can be exhausting, but also enlightening if you pretend you aren't listening and eavesdrop on their conversations. My children are inquisitive by nature and are always talking about the latest this or that. How this superhero is written in the comic book and then depicted differently on screen. You Tube channels they watch, podcasts they listen too, it is a veritable smorgasbord of conversation. They debate the best type of video game even the most integral character to a given film or television program. I find it fascinating to hear their conversations.

In school my children get pretty good grades. My 18 year old excellent grades, all Honors and AP classes, straight A's. I have always pushed education to the forefront of their values, however more so than education, thinking for oneself, makings one's own decisions and then living with them, and accepting that they will be average at some things and excel in others. To chose somethi…

Two Weeks OFF: Blogs About Family and The Holidays

Image
These next two weeks seeing as we are on vacation I will write about my experiences and time off with my family in New Mexico. I will pick back up with my educational blogging in January when we return to school. since this is a blog about teaching and motherhood I feel this is an important topic to write about.

The ground had a light dusting of snow. This was mesmerizing both to my son Alex, 6 and my grandson Max 2. Max's play yard glistened in the morning glare of the son. The doors opened and the two of them bolted out adorning coats, mittens and scarves. The first time the two of them have been able to play outside together. It is a beautiful site. Romping and giggling. The holidays have officially begun, trip over and nestling by the fire, hot cocoa in hand. Family, all my children and my grandchild in one place. This is the best time of the year.




A Drive to New Mexico

Vacation. A long awaited time of the year when families either pile in the car or stand in long holiday lines at the airport. In my case, 4 boys, my husband and me in a minivan, Albuquerque bound. It takes between 13-14 hours and much of that time is travelling across a vast, open, sparse, west Texas. It amazes me every time I travel this area how vast and how empty this part of Texas is and how long it takes to cross it. The speed limit going from 85 down to 35 in a split second as you enter a remote, rural town in the middle of nowhere. Many believe to be speed traps. It does keep you hyper vigilant though.

The holidays a time of family and relaxation for the most part. As much as travelling can be cumbersome and exhausting it is easier for me in the long run rather than to have them come to me. Two stressful days of travelling versus a week or two of constant stress trying to entertain and feed guests. So the travelling is welcomed. My kids are quite adjusted to road trips and we s…

Short-Cuts: A Great Way to Review and Condense Notes

Image
Every Sunday when I lived in Atlanta I read the comics and at the end there was an educational segment called a Short-cut. I loved them because they were colorful and educational and I had my children read them too. Then I decided that not only reading them could be beneficial for my students but creating them could be fun too. So every year since I first discovered them I have had my students create them as a review. At first they are hesitant but after they create their first one of the year, they always ask if they can create them for a test review or extra-credit.
This is a simple way for students to be engaged, artistic and a bit quirky with the campy titles and characters telling jokes. Students have fun and really get into making them. Students have a rubric and instructions as to what to include, the first one however is not as in depth in order for them to get comfortable with making them. After the first one they must include: 1- A catchy title 2- word search 18 words 3- Th…

Quiz Bowl: You May Not Win But You Should Always Have Fun

Image
This last Saturday, here at my school, there was a quiz bowl competition. There were 29 teams. This selection of teams consisted of novices but most were experienced teams who have attended nationals and many who have won. So the competition was a fierce one. I decided to make sure that all my students attended at least one competition so we took 6 teams of 4. Our strongest players paired up with some of our less strong players. At the time this seemed a good strategy.  I was told as many teams possible to try and get another team qualified for nationals, we have one already. But alas, this was not a successful strategy. We had two teams make the top 16, or finals. These two teams tied for 9th place out of 29 teams. Not bad at all. But as a team they were very disappointed.

The next tournament is February 11th, I will take three teams of my strongest players. A different strategy. We will see how that plays out. I told my team every time you play you gain experience. This is very comp…

What Generosity Can Do?

It is one thing to donate a gift or collect canned food. Both being of the utmost importance especially around the holidays, where it is a simple gesture to ensure a long lasting memory. But when something happens unexpectedly, unbeknownst to you, it is humbling, a bit embarrassing, but the most amazing, compassionate gesture you can imagine. Word of mouth, a community coming together to offer support and genuine love and sense of family. It can be bewildering and overwhelming when it is happening around you and you have no idea how to respond. When parents and students align and the unimaginable occurs. This is generosity at its best because it comes unsolicited and unity of community makes it all possible.

As educators we talk a lot about building a positive school culture and at times of struggle or despair that is when the true colors of a school are shining. A time when all families are treated with respect and together help those in need. I do not like to think of it as charity,…

Blog 365 My Personal Quest for a Year of Blog Posts

This is my 123 blog post. 123 days of consecutive posts. I joined Blog 365 last summer and on August 24th my journey began. I have kept my pace and written every day. Often tired after a long day, sometimes writing two posts when I have a sudden burst of inspiration. But every day I have written and posted. Writing has brought me focus. It has forced me to reflect in a way I have never done before. Not many read my posts but the few that do have inspired me to keep my focus on education, as it is an education blog for the most part. They have also made me determined to be creative and open-minded keeping my students at the forefront of my reflection. I have come up with many new ideas by simply writing. After 123 days I am even more inspired to keep going. To reach my goals of putting the last period in my blog post on August 24, 2017. But to continue my journey after that because writing has become a passion for me, personal, and reflective.

Ideas often flow onto the blank white canv…

The Importance of Student-Teacher Relationships

A new teacher asked me the other day, "What do you think is the most important aspect of teaching?" I responded, "Hands down building strong relationships with students. Not sarcastic, humorous friendships but relationships built on trust, respect, love, a definite hierarchy but also the humor and humility that comes along with being a teacher." Once the discipline and behavior management is in place the laughter and fun will come naturally. You can't force students to like you but if you are genuine, honest and compassionate and create a safe, energetic, authentic learning environment your students will not only like you they will love you.

The classroom needs to be a community, equal voices in the design and implementation of the lessons. Students should have a say in how they learn. The curriculum might be set but the environment in which it is delivered needs to be accessible and student-driven. If it is, the behavior management will be minimal because the …

How Do We Create an Enriching Environment: With Grit but Without More Work?

An amazing article in Edutopia, Using Webb's Depth of Knowledge to Increase Rigor, by Gerald Aungst, really solidified for me the notion that rigor and grit could mean more work if we as teachers do not plan accordningly. When I was setting up my student-centered classroom I knew I wanted no homework. I knew I wanted an enriching atmosphere with challenging activities and authentic learning experiences. What I didn't know was how to truly create a higher-order thinking environment without more work involved. How to take great ideas step them up a level without making them longer assignments. These are the strategies I have determined work best for me.

The verb does not determine the level, just because we ask them to describe does not mean it is a higher order question. Cognitive effort does not come from a verb but from the levels of the task involved in reaching the end. When there is not a single path but various sources and paths that need to be traversed to gather and com…

Can We Teach Students How To Provoke Their Own Learning?

What happens when we are provoked? Something in our minds doesn't make sense. There is a gap in our knowledge that challenges us to think about things in a new way. When something is provocative we are stimulated by the content or image. Our curiosity gets the better of us. We are driven to discover more about it or reflect about what we have experienced. We seek answers to the questions that have been posed by the new knowledge. Why is our curiosity peaked? When we as humans do not know something, when we feel we should know it, we have an emotional need to figure it out. A desire to resolve the discrepancy, to answer the unknown. Can we draw this emotion out from others? Can we spark this need in our students?

How can we set up a classroom where students provoke their own learning? Ask a question and do not answer it. Do not quell their curiosity by answering the question for them. Open-ended questions can push students forward throughout the week. For example, Is the human body…

Tackling Tough Challenges: Reinforcing the Importance of Determination and Grit

A student-centered classroom, are they real? Can there be a place in a junior high setting where 12-13 year old's can truly take charge of their classroom? Yes. I am here to say yes. Are there tough challenges? At the beginning of the year, many. But after a few weeks, the routine is set, the community rules are written, students have gotten into the norms of the classroom and yes they naturally become leaders and the classroom transforms itself into a flexible, student driven cohort. A few reminders here and there but most days my classroom runs like a fine oiled machine.

Can there be grit and rigor in a classroom where students have choices in demonstration of knowledge? Will students take the easy way out? Will they opt to create and design something simple rather than engineering with complexity? I am here to tell you no they will not take the simple route, when given options and a voice they will more often than not take the more challenging path. They actually enjoy the rigo…

A Day That Will Live in Infamy: Teaching About Tragic Events and How to Learn From Them

December 7, 1941 a day that if you mention it to most students they will not know its relevance. September 11, 2001 has become a date more relevant to most of our students. It is important for students to understand and analyze the past to recognize and interpret future events that will impact their lives. How do we make connections between past and present, tragedy and progress, beliefs and consequences while remaining focused on our curriculum? Most teachers will say, "I am not a History teacher, that is not relevant to my curriculum." I am a science teacher and I believe that it is critical to touch on these events and how they are related to where we are today, technologically, socially, and emotionally.

Pearl Harbor, how can this be related to a Life Science classroom? As with any tragedy, what comes from the ashes of sorrow is innovation and design to make what happened never happen again. Also out of necessity comes advancements in medicine, engineering and technology…

Fierce Conversations: Teaching The Challenge of Honest Dialogue

Everyone wants to be heard. Our voices recognized. Our beliefs validated. Students seek acceptance through dialogue and collaboration. When they have deep seeded roots in their beliefs and truths then they will defend them, even with adversity present. In the classroom many teachers shy away from situations where students may disagree. They fear opposition and argument. But debate and honest, respectful disagreement is a learning tool that is necessary. Where else will students learn to listen, keep their judgments to themselves while challenging others to a verbal duel? To understand that opinion is personal and the desire to force it on others is wrong? This type of discussion is relevant and appropriate especially when it is driven by evidence rather than opinion.

Fierce conversations, honest and relevant, can cause frustration and even anger. As adults these discussions can cause resentment and shame. This is why as teachers we need to model how to give constructive, meaningful fe…

Analyzing Your Mistakes: Get The Lesson

The other day I heard another teacher say "These students are victims of excellence." At first I was perplexed by this statement but after reflection it made sense to me. Often this drive to be perfect is internal, leading students to base academic success on grades. It can also be external, parents pushing their children to be the best athlete, the best musician, the best writer or artist. Parents and students are often afraid of mediocrity and being average. There is nothing wrong with being within the average most people are. But this idea of having to be the top 3% is infectious. Often leading to detrimental effects.

Mistakes as teachers know are learning experiences. They are a source of understanding but students and often parents see them as failures. The more opportunities teachers provide for students to fail the better off students will be emotionally. Students need to see that persistence can lead to overcoming adversity and challenges but not always. Sometimes no…

Constructive Conflict: A Divergent Learning Strategy

Teaching divergent thinking can be challenging but the reward is enormous for students as well as teachers. It creates an atmosphere of trust, respect, and humility based on honesty, critical thinking and problem-solving. Divergence is a method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. This fosters independence in our students. It builds confidence, curiosity, and engagement in the classroom. The greatest gift teachers can give their students is the ability to teach and believe in themselves.  

In the learning process divergent thinking often comes with conflict. But when this conflict is purposeful, relevant, and focused it leads to constructive debate. While divergent thinking leads the learner down many paths in search of many possible outcomes, convergent thinking follows a particular set of logical steps to arrive at one solution. Together they lead to a more balanced way of thinking. Often there is only one correct answer, however the journey to conclu…

The Emotional Side of Teaching: How Can We Process the Stress?

I can be very emotional as a person. In general though I put on a brave face when it comes to pain, discomfort or stress. I internalize the heartache, uncertainty, and doubt. I tend to withdraw into my classroom to process the days events, feeling beat up and isolated at times from those around me. This in turn causes anxiety and stress. I am an outside the box thinker, I take risks, I try new things, I stir the pot. This in turn causes resentment and judgment from others. This I internalize and cry alone about rather than facing it head on. This is the case I believe for most of us. Enduring the emotional roller-coaster that is education.

Confrontation is what locks the door behind me keeping me at arms length from other teachers. I offer my suggestions, often louder than other to be heard, to be met with resentment and judgment. How can we balance this need to belong and be accepted with our unwavering need to do what is best for our students? I know that there will be naysayers I p…

Using Games to Enhance Student Engagement: Jenga and Taboo

Games are fun, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly, Jenga, Taboo, even Operation. But games are also educational as we know. Can we integrate them into the classroom with a purpose? Can they be used for more than a time filler or reward? How can we make these board games both informational, engaging, and content based? We all have reluctant learners or maybe a few apathetic students. How do we grab their attention? Can we create relevant, meaningful lessons that they will find more important than their phones? How can we use inexpensive toys and the imagination to bring every student into the lesson and get them excited about learning?

There are online versions of Family Feud and Jeopardy you can customize for a review. But I fond that board games are more engaging because students haven't played them in awhile and they get the memory factor. How can these games have purpose? Well the obvious ones are Monopoly or risk in a social Studies classroom. Operation in a science clas…

Socratic Seminars: How They Can be Used to Model Collaboration, Patience, and Respect

I have read many an article on Socratic Seminars, watched videos of how successful they can be and I have even had discussions or fish bowl talks that are similar to Socratic Seminars. But, I really wanted to have one that followed all the guidelines and rules of a true version. While at CAST in San Antonio last month I decided to attend a course and see if they are feasible and worthwhile. Instead of having us talk about them we actually had one, actually there were so many of us in the class that we needed two to be happening simultaneously. This seems out of reach but actually many of my classes are large and when I conducted my Edcamp we had three happening simultaneously and at first it was noisy, but they did settle into it and it ended up being very rewarding.

Guidelines and rules check. Organization and format check. Now for a topic. Rather than having a quick one on the last three body systems, no time, and unnecessary, I thought about it a lot and decided to have a longer on…