Showing posts from March, 2017

Taking the Leap: A Mindful Journey to A Mindful Chat

As a child, I was always shy, introverted to the extreme. This caused other children to believe as they put it that I was "a weirdo, strange, a freak." They often taunted me, throwing spit balls in my hair, knocking books out of my hand, blocking my path to my locker, snickering and pointing. It is odd to look back on it now. It replays in my head much like a John Hughes movie. A typical 80's teenage angst film about the "underdog" or "odd man out" however mine did not end with a Simple Minds song, mine continued through grade school and at every one of the eight Catholic schools I attended over my elementary school life. I never defended myself, just took it because as the authority figures would say at my school, "toughen up, kids will be kids." They would tell me that their school only had well-behaved, polite, respectful children and that I had to be doing something to cause them to treat me unfairly." Yes, unfairly. Bullying was NO…

Ed Camps: How They Can Ignite Student Interest and Curiosity

In my mind the best way to collaborate and learn is through a great open-minded, fluid conversation with my colleagues and peers. I learn best when the atmosphere is flexible and friendly but also very engaging and hands-on. Earlier in the year I decided to have an Edcamp in my classroom about the human body and the processes of our body systems. It went really well but it was confined to one classroom with a single class. I wanted to go bigger, I wanted to get all of 7th grade-science classes at least- to mingle and learn with each other. Have them teach and inspire one another. So my team worked together to design and implement Edcamp Ecosystems this year. Today and tomorrow all science classes are rotating on their own at their own individual pace between the four science classrooms: aquatic biomes, desert & tundra, grasslands, and three types of forests: coniferous, deciduous and tropical rain forest.

Each student was given a template of each biome with facts/characteristics t…

Being Mindful in A Busy World

I read once in an article this very insightful analogy: Think of yourself as a plant that may need more or less water, sun, or fertilizer. We wouldn't blame a plant for wilting because it wasn't being watered, or droop if it wasn't being fed and nurtured. We also can't blame ourselves if we feel emotionally drained if we have been sitting in fluorescent lit rooms all day, haven't had time for our afternoon snack. If we are then maybe we need to spend more time in the sunlight, soaking up the warmth. When we have time to relax with family and friends and find a balance between work and leisure we are healthier and more focused. How can we be mindful and find calm amidst our hustle and bustle of daily life. Yoga and meditation can be the answer for some but there are simpler strategies, quicker action plans that can be utilized in line at the supermarket, in between classes, and even on the car ride home.

To find ourselves we often have to swim against the current of…

Being Present and Invested: How Can We Get our Students to Commit?

Being present means feeling connected. Feeling connected means finding relevance, interest, and solidarity with those around you. Listen with intent not to simply wait for your turn to speak. How do we get this purposeful and immediate focus with our students. As teachers, we try to make lessons engaging and interesting even a bit edgy and surprising but even this may not get the true focus we are expecting from our students. We can sing and dance, tell jokes, laugh but even then the glassy eyes and distant expression may still be present on some students. We can not make them focus. We can not make them mindful. All we can do is provide them with strategies to help them teach themselves how to focus and stay focus, making sure they get what they need every day to be successful.

Mindfulness is not about changing any experience or even what is happening around you but simply it is how you choose to respond and interact with the experience. Your intention on what you expect to learn fro…

Mindful. Flexible Seating: A Calm Place to Learn

Flexible classrooms give students a choice in what kind of learning space works best for them, and helps them to work collaboratively, communicate, and engage in critical thinking. Mindful learning environments provide a harmonious space where students feel empowered and comfortable to learn. By designing a classroom using furniture that fits student’ bodies; materials that suit their developmental capabilities, interests, and learning styles; uncluttered areas where they can work alone or with classmates —these are the building blocks of a space that welcomes children and supports their learning. This mindful design provides stability for students who may struggle academically with ADD/ADHD and for those learn better in a non-traditional atmosphere.

A major objective of  a mindful classroom is to provide alternative and flexible seating for students. To design a well-organized classroom sends a clear and positive message to students: This room was created for you, with your specific …

Designing A Deciduous and Tropical Rain Forest: A Classroom EdCamp

What better way for students to get fully emerged in an edcamp then to design the venue. We have 4 7th grade science classrooms and each classroom is being set up to look like a different set of biomes/ecosystems. 1 classroom is deserts and tundra-basic dry extremes, another classroom is the aquatic biomes: freshwater/rivers, ponds/steams and oceans/coral reefs etc. The 3rd class is all the various grasslands including Savannah, and my room is the forests: coniferous, deciduous and rain forest. Students are designing and creating on their own entirely. The walls and cupboards are covered and trees, flowers, bushes etc. are becoming to dominate the classroom. I will post some pictures here-the beginning pictures and then tomorrow I will post the finished pictures. Students will have two full class periods to create the biomes.

Thursday and Friday of this week, students will be running an edcamp. Each classroom will have ecosystem representatives to stay in the room and share informatio…

Rubik's Cubes...who knew they could be so fun? Part 2

A follow up post- at the end of the day my students, 7 total won every award in their division. They were to as a team solve 25 cubes, a times event. We came in 1st place with 3 minutes 29 seconds next in line was nearly six minutes. They also played solo rounds. They took 1st place with 27 seconds to solve, 2nd place with 34 seconds to solve and 3rd place with 46 seconds to solve. They also beat the scores of everyone in the high school division. I claim no responsibility here, I haven't solved one since 1984. I was merely a mentor and provided a venue- it was all them. 1- 11 year old and 6- 12 year old's all competitive and eager to win. It was so much fun.

Rubik's Cube Competition: Who Knew A Cube Could Be So Much Fun?

When I was a child, 1980's the Rubik's Cube debuted. I remember at that time only the standard cube was released and the world was striving to solve it as quick as possible. I played it for hours and hours only solving it once or twice by shear accident. Then I basically gave up. My sister tried for a bit, then removed all the stickers trying to show her prowess but we knew the stickers were off kilter, so it was more embarrassing then victorious. But after the initial craze died out my newly stickered Rubik's Cube ended up at the bottom of my toy chest.

Now the Rubik's Cube has had a huge resurgence with fast-paced competitions and speed challenges. In the halls, at the end of class several kids in each of my classes are speed challenging each other with the cubes. I am amazed at how fast and efficient they solve them. Quickest I have seen about 45 seconds. Now they also have every color, size and shape imaginable. Even round ones. Very cool. So I asked around. Were t…

Mindful Design: Does Your Classroom Tell A Story?: Transforming Uninspiring into Hyperbole.

Last year I wrote and received a grant for standing desks in my classroom. They are now an integral part of the flexible, communal seating arrangement in my classroom. Currently I am writing another grant for Hokki stools, Stationary Balls, Yoga Mats, and giant pillows to further create a mindful learning environment. Does your classroom tell a story? That was a question I read the other day in an article in Edutopia. This question has been sitting on my mind ever since. Looking around my room I see that it does have personality, it does scream "there is learning going on in here" with a makerspace, plants & dirt, various style tables but a "story"? That I am not so sure of. The Katy Education Foundation ventured in my classroom today to video the success of the standing desks, they wanted to see how well their grant money was spent but also to see the impact of flexible seating on a junior high classroom.

Does my classroom tell a story? Not yet. How do I redes…

Strategies to Help Our Students Reflectively and Critically Think

Reflective and Critical  thinking, writing, and speaking have been defined in various ways:

Critical thinkingis used to describe: "... the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome...thinking that is purposeful, reasoned and goal directed - the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions when the thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the particular context and type of thinking task. Critical thinking is sometimes called directed thinking because it focuses on a desired outcome." Halpern (1996).

Reflective thinkingis a part of the critical thinking process referring specifically to the processes of analyzing and making judgments about what has happened. Making sense of an activity or lesson either verbally or written. Dewey (1933) suggests that reflective thinking is an active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or…

The Power of the Right Question: Provoking Problem-Solving and Ponderance

Often, a teacher is in their lecture zone, asking questions and waiting responses. These questions may be deep and meaningful but still very much from the perspective of the teacher. What if we put this roe of question writing for quizzes and assignments at least in to the hands of our students? What is we empowered them to design assessments driven by discussion and debate rather than multiple-choice and short answer questions. This style of questioning, state exams etc. is necessary for practice for the "real-world examinations" but self-driven, personal questioning is just as important because when you can train yourself to ask the right questions you can discover the answers to almost anything.

When I start a unit I always begin with the broad, over-arching concept. That is the framework from which all of the student-centered activities and learning experiences derive from. I let my students research and delve into the topic through discussion questions and short video c…

TEAMS: A Test of Engineering, Aptitude, Mathematics and Science Competition

Today after-school after writing a STEAM essay, taking a multitude of practice tests, and model building my three teams are finally ready for the on-site afternoon of building and test taking. TEAMS is a competition designed to engage students in engineering and to show them how math and science are used to make tangible difference in the world. This competition provides career resources and experiences often found in traditional learning environments: brain storming, design, tinkering, collaboration and implementation.

This competition TSA: TEAMS changes yearly. Focused on a particular theme each year allows for original academic and innovative concepts to be integrated into challenging design builds. This year the theme is Engineering and the Environment. The topics for research were: alternative energy sources, solar-powered cars, smart-houses and transportation safety mechanisms. Each of my teams chose a different topic on which to research and write an essay. This essay was submi…

Mindful Speech: Speaking to Yourself

Mindful listening requires one to take a step back, close their thoughts to any other sound but the sound of the voice that is speaking to them. Mindful speaking allows us to have an inner conversation. Constructive self-talk is something most people are familiar with. We give ourselves pep talks and moments of clarity. When we are sad we cry and tell ourselves it is going to be okay. Can we direct our personal discussions to be more fruitful and fulfilling? Here are some easy steps:

-notice what is happening, why you are upset, scared, frustrated
-recognize your self-talk as merely words and disregard the meaning, because if you are in a negative mood the conversation will not be productive
-refocus your words on something neutral so you can see the situation from a different position
-choose positive verbs, repeat these positive words until they roll off the tongue and make you see a solution
-write your intentions: I intend to stay on task, I intend to stay positive, I intend to le…

Mindfulness Inside and Outside the Classroom

Greet the day- At home before I even step foot out of bed, I greet the day. Deep my eyes..welcome in the smells and sounds of the morning rush in my house. I think about my day, plan my route in my classroom from the key turning in the lock: objectives and outcomes on board, tools and models on tables, music quietly turned on, then lights on. With the emergency lights my room is never truly dark. So I take some time in the dim light before my students arrive.  After my room is set, I sit on my yoga mat, quiet and breathing, welcoming the education that I will surround myself with. Being mindful before I get in the hustle and bustle of the day helps my energy get focused and my mind in sync with my actions.

Inside the classroom, I take a moment every class period to simply listen and observe. When I listen I do so conspicuously so my students feel free to openly discuss and share ideas. But I learn a lot from simply listening. What I get from my students in our …

Mindful Games: Activities to Teach Mindfulness in the Classroom

My mantra I use in my class "Breathe, eyes closed, hear your blood flow, heart beat, mind seek, the quiet. Open your eyes and see the path, the goal of the day, and travel forward." Breathing and focusing mind and body may seem silly, but after a few weeks of doing this with my students for just a minute a day, their awareness and attention has become more focused and personal. They are using this strategy more and more. There are other simple techniques I have been incorporating slowly but surely into my classroom as well: riddles, how you see it, mindful eating, and noticing gaps, all of which I gained insight about in the book Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything by Deborah Schoeberlein David and Suki Sheth PH.D.

Riddles are quick easy way to get students deeply focused and engaged, at least 12 year old's. They do love to figure things out and decipher clues. An example I used, science based of course is: Who eats a lot of …

Mindful Teaching: Seeing the Calm in the Organized Chaos of the Classroom

Attention and awareness are both dynamic and fluid which means if we focus and build on them we can shape them into a balanced, well-oiled machine. In a classroom, there are various levels of attention and awareness and we as teachers, as much as we try to engage and connect with every student all the time, we simply can't. Due to the fact that every child learns at their own pace, are aware of different aspects of their learning styles, and many have issues with attention. So as a teacher, we need to be able to set the course and design lessons that allow for these variances to combine, into a directional force, albeit a wide one. So how do we get students to gain insight to both their own awareness and attention? How do we get them to jump into the rapids, life jacket or not, and let the flow carry them down the river on discovery?

Organized chaos is what a science classroom, needs to be. Students up and about, stations or labs set up around the room, plants growing, experiments…

Should We Stop Giving Homework? : A Compulsory Conundrum

Whether or not to assign homework ah, there's the rub. In my school alone there are various opinions on the matter. Should it be compulsory, a choice, or by circumstance? Many teachers I know give it to give it. "They need homework to help review and prepare for the next day," giving it nightly out of habit or will power I am unsure. While some never give homework, believing it is a chore unnecessary to the educational process. Most however, as far as I have observed is that homework is only given if necessary, meaning classwork is not complete, or assignments assigned over a week long period giving students days to complete. However, nightly homework as much as it appears to be declining in some circles is very much a part of most students lives.

A study from Duke University states that homework offered a benefit to test scores but after digging deeper into the data discovered that this was the case with excessive homework and very stressed out students. How do we raise…

Happy Birthday Alexander: My Last 7 Year Old

His blonde hair is curly but only in the back
Blue eye wide as he stumbles into my bedroom
He waits, putting his head on my pillow
I open one eye and smile at him "7 years old"
It is weird to think he will be my last 7 year old
The last of 5 children

I try to think back to my 7th birthday....blank
I wonder if he will remember his
"Can we"...he says quietly trying not to wake my sleeping, snoring husband
"Not yet, it is 6:30 in the morning, but soon baby." he crawls into bed
An action I still appreciate as the hugs are getting sparse
"I am 7 years old mommy, I feel bigger now."
I smile

Disney store....Tsum Tsum's in hand
Giant chocolate chip cookie
Chicken nuggets and a milk
his favorite
Cupcakes and verse

A birthday is like a day of wishes, getting just about everything you want
as a child
at least it feels that way
7 years old, one of the first you remember
I think back to my 7th, now remembering
Grandparents, doll, vanilla …

How Can I Instill A Growth Mindset in My Children, Even on Vacation?

We all have both a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. The moment we stress over failure or refuse to jump in and try something new our fixed mindset is in charge. But when we let loose, look for new opportunities to grow and just plain have fun out comes our growth mindset full of spontaneity and discovery. My children are like most teenagers, techno-geeks. If they aren't playing a video game they are watching someone else play, or watching you tube videos. It is a challenge to get all three of my teenagers off of the devices and into the real world. Vacations are tough because after the long drive, where they are fully immersed in the video realm, I have to draw them back over to reality. They are however not in a fixed mindset, they are looking for hidden clues, new paths to venture in these myriad of first person interactive games. Constantly taking-risks and trying again. Getting a new live every time they find a magical staff, healing herb or secret stash.

How can I keep thi…

Cinnamon, Cinnabon, Cineplex

Everyone has a food or spice that they consider "comfort food," mine is cinnamon. I love the smell, I spray it on my Christmas tree, put it in my cookies (Snookerdoodles) and put it in my coffee. I love Cinnabon, rarely, as it is indulgence but today Cinnamon Machiato, Cinnabon and a movie. Logan. My first relaxing day in Albuquerque and I just want to chill, get comfortable, and watch Hugh Jackman kick some ass. The over-sized seats are plush with adjustable arm rests and cup holders. Sound, THX, check. Screen, really big, check. Company, my daughter, son-in-law and husband, check. Adult day out. Rarely do I have the time to simply do nothing, choose to go somewhere without having to rush somewhere right after. Lights dim and here comes the building....slow...growing hum....T....H.....X.... now it begins.

Perception and Reality: A Frame of Mind

These two ideals: perception and reality live in tandem inside of us all the time. Each of us seeing the world around us in unique ways. Perceiving events uniquely. Hearing words and interpreting them individuality shaping our schema and ethos daily. We think we are in sync with others only to find we are slightly off the beaten track. We say what we feel or what we mean and hold back others. We seek attention and acceptance at times but also require solitude and to "fly under the radar." Perception, what we think we see. Reality, what is actually there. Does it actually matter? If it does not change the outcome can perception be good enough?

Watching my children interact, seeing them react to the same problem, the same dilemma and responding in very different ways. For instance, a cup of spilled milk on the kitchen floor: my oldest, look what you did you are going to have to clean that mess up. Its a huge mess. Actually it is a small cup of milk, barely a mess, a single pap…

Spring Break: Respite, Repose, Recharge

It is spring break, finally, a week to step away and regain my balance and peacefulness. The calm before the storm. Testing season begins when we return. But that needs to be a million miles away from my mind right now. A busy competition season coming to an end all except for two. National Science Bowl taking 2nd, 5th and 6th out of 32 teams. My student making the state level for National Geographic Geography Bee. Two of my teams making nationals for Texas Quiz Bowl Alliance. My Future City team taking 4th place in regionals out of 30 teams. After 8 competitions I only have 4 left. This very much sitting in the back of my mind. But right here right now I am letting all of this go because I truly need a total break from school and competitions, at least for a week.

A respite, a jaunt to Albuquerque to visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandson. A vacation not of relaxation, not with my 7 year old son and 2 year old grandson, but a respite. Escaping my neighborhood which keeps my const…

March Madness: Relevance in the Classroom

Using brackets and a head to head tournament about anything in science may seem impossible. But during March I love to find opportunities to do so. to bring the main topic of conversation of many students into the classroom. Bringing March Madness, relevance into my classroom. First I set up a giant bracket on the wall. Leaving the spaces vacant. Then depending on the unit, I provide merely the topic and then let students decide what "competitions" occur. This year I decided to do food webs and competition within habitats. Students just finished creating their biomes in a bottle so this fit right in to the conversation. To inject some March Madness into my science lessons, I have my students use their knowledge of the food chain to fill out a tournament bracket with head-to-head battles between various animals in their chosen ecosystem. They do this by making a special bracketfeaturing animals they have been studying. I use Desert, Aquatic, Rain Forest, and Tundra/Taiga much…

Terrariums: Creating A Personal Biome

Students love to play in the dirt. Take ownership and plant seeds to see how they germinate. Take care of their biome. Every year I do this project my students absolutely love it. It is hands-on and incorporates, plants and biomes, abiotic and biotic factors, photosynthesis and respiration and experimentation and design. They are beautiful but they are also informational: objects for data collection and graphing. Student have to measure their growth and observe any changes they see over these next few weeks. Some students want to go aquatic and bring in fish and tadpoles. Either way it is a great interactive, long-term observational activity teaching students responsibility. They must maintain it and collect data. They must document their findings and write a conclusion. Plus after six weeks we get to fill up our outside garden with beautiful plants and flowers.

Inquiry and Experimental Design: An Investigation Continues

Inquiry-based learning has five essential features that apply across all grade levels. Each feature should be present at some time over the course of a series of lessons. The first feature is that students need to begin with a question that can be answered in a scientific way. Sometimes, questions will develop from something the students observe and suggest. Other times, the teacher provides the question. Either way, students must be able to investigate the questions in a developmentally appropriate way in a junior high classroom. For my class all I said was Tropisms: do they happen? Each group chose a tropism and designed their own experimental design project. These projects are long-term and will probably take about 4-6 weeks to complete. Each day they will come in and collect data and make observations.

 Secondly students rely on evidence in attempting to answer the question. In our case, this evidence is coming from designing and conducting an investigation; tropism experimental d…