Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hi, my name is Leslie and I am a CONTROL FREAK.

I am.  I think that's the first step to recovery... admittance.  I am a total control freak, and I wonder if most teachers are.  Yesterday it hit me full force... literally... I slapped my forehead.  I couldn't believe how much of a control freak I have been.  Now don't get me wrong, there are definite advantages to my controlling side, but lately I have noticed the faults.

Too bad I cant make a nice graphic organizer on my blog.  I'd totally make a Venn diagram organizing the advantages and disadvantages of my control freak side.  That's pretty psycho I must say... organizing it... ugh.... lol...

I started wondering why am I like this?  Why do I get SO FRUSTRATED when my expectations are not met?  I have found that in the past 2 years, I have been given much to be responsible for; thus having to control things to make sure my responsibilities are met. 

“With great power comes great responsibility.” 
-Stan Les's Spiderman

When someone has been given much, he has much power and much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. 

I don't know about you... but I don't know anything more powerful than given the responsibility of shaping young minds, guiding their character, and instilling values you hope and pray they will carry on throughout their lives

Spring has sprung in my school and my classroom, and as much as I have been awaiting this wonderful season, it also means that my students go craaaaazy.  This process causes their teacher to pull the reins on her controlling ways.   I've got to learn to let things go.  The main lesson in the classroom is that the students are engaged in their learning, and they ARE LEARNING.  Not me stifling their creativity and telling them HOW I would do it.  It's so hard to relinquish control especially when I want things done a certain way.  

I mean I have EVERYTHING labeled in my room.  I have set to the routine so soundly.  I do not detour from the structure of my classroom (at least I try to avoid it as much as possible.) However lately, I have thought, as nice as it is to have a plan in place for each and everything imaginable, I am not in control. PERIOD.    Only God is.  

So when my plan is deviated, and my students see my face of frustration (especially if I have planned forever), they witness a person who can't handle losing control.  That is not the person I want to be.  I want them to see someone who is prepared and organized, but knows how to roll with the punches.  It's hard to do that graciously.  

So as I breathe over my spring break, and rejuvenate, I will be praying for GRACE to be in me.  For me to give kindness, love and not flying off the handle (like I tend to do) at my students when things don't go just the way I want, would be such a great testimony to my Christian faith.  It's so hard sometimes.  To extend grace is definitely not my first's AAAGHHH!!! Why cant you just do what I told you to do the first 3 times I said it!!!!  I wonder if that is how God looked at the Israelites in the Old Testament, or how Jesus looks at me sometimes.  But I am pretty sure He just smiles and shakes His head and laughs at my antics, and sends His Spirit to me to say, "Now Leslie.  Is that really how you want to handle this situation? These kids are God's children too."

Yep.  How can I get frustrated so easily with His creations?  It's hard to remember that too.  It is not my first thought either...more like thought 127.... not good....

I know this is a constant growing process for me.  God's plan for me has always seemed to revolve around the concept of me giving up control and trusting Him completely.  So easy to say, so difficult to do for a control freak like myself.  But the first step is admittance.  Now onto step 2. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Go SPEED Racer: Exploring Speed

Last year I wrote a post called Go Speed Racer... it's all about engaging students when beginning a unit on graphing and calculating speed.   

Okay, so you have their attention, but how on earth can you really explore speed...from the fast to the slow or even better... stopped.  How is that graphed?  As I did the engage and watched my students hypothesize about the hare's graph (see link above if completely lost), hardly anyone drew a flat line for his time stopped under the tree.  This lesson hits completely what a stopped object looks like in a graph WITHOUT you telling them.  Isn't that the most fun part!??!  Watching all their little light bulbs go off as they begin to reason the answer to why  things are they way they are?!?!  It's my fave.  

First things first, make some of these...
Number cards counting by two... put on card stock and hot glue a metal washer on the back.  The added weight helps.  A student will drop these on the heel of the walker every 2 seconds. 
Timekeeper Card... he or she starts the timer and counts every 2 seconds.
4 different walker cards.  These kids need to walk a certain way for 20 seconds.
Up close and personal... this card is the one I made a video on.  Yeah... my video is totally NOT HD quality. 
 The last tool you need is a handy dandy trundle wheel.  So cool... the kids think you have new toys for them to play with... it clicks and everything.  And who has 30 meter sticks in their supply closet??? Lucky! Not me. 
so much easier than using 30 meter sticks or a 30m measuring tape
You need a BIG open space.  I would recommend a beautiful sunny day on the sidewalk or bus ramp... but I live in Texas where you just have to wait 10 minutes and the weather will change. NO. LIE.  Today it rained this morning and at lunch... by 1pm there was not a cloud in the crystal clear blue sky.  Ahhh Texas....I digress.  We used the auditorium which worked PERFECTLY. 

I always let each group do a little practice run just to know how to do the activity before doing it "for real".  I made a high quality video of the activity in action here:
Oscar worthy I know.  What you can do with an IPhone 3GS... and if my husband takes my upgrade again.... I will have to retaliate.  I'm thinking of throwing his PS3 Battlefield game out with the trash.  Hmmm...

Once the students have done part one... its obviously time for part two!  hahahaha I just literally LOLed.  Anyway.   Part 2 is all about measuring with the trundle wheel and recording the data on a chart labeled with time(seconds)- counting by 2, and distance(meters)- using decimals (1 meter 23 cm = 1.23m).  Sometimes my kids are so amazed when math or language arts ties in perfectly with science.  It makes me happy.

You can have all 4 walkers "walk this way" or however you want them to... you can even play Aerosmith while doing this activity.... maybe when they are trying to make their graphs... on second thought see if you can find just it in instrumental on Pandora... Aerosmith folk maybe?
  • One walker walked slowly at a constant pace.
  • Another student walked at a quick pace for the entire 20 seconds.
  • Next, a student went slow for 8 seconds, then sped up til 16 seconds and speed walked til 20 sec. 
  • The fourth walker is in the Academy Award video for Action Films above. :)
With a class of 20, every student was able to participate in someway. Love that.   Tomorrow... we GRAPH!!!

Happy Racing!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Homework.... a NECESSARY evil... and a PEP TALK

Homework is evil.  You have to assign something...make copies... only for students to lose it... or not do it... or only put 5 seconds worth of effort into the assignment... then you have to check... who did what... who did NOT do it... track who does and doesn't do it consistently (see homework binder post)... somehow give a consequence to those who did not do the homework... check it the next day.... did I already say check the homework??? Writing all this makes me want to run for the hills.  I'm sure you're thinking of leaving this post. Please don't.

But homework is beyond necessary.  Education is pushing "college readiness," into each and every classroom.  The best way for students to become ready for college is to become great at time management.  If we, as teachers, do not give homework (aka: opportunities to become time managers), how can we expect students to be ready for high school, much less college? 

I know the questions and concerns.  The reasons as to not give homework beyond the list written in the 1st paragraph
  • What about help at home?  Too much help?  Not enough?
  • What if the parents teach them a different way?  I'd rather the students not be confused.
  • I hate grading/ checking homework!
  • I don't have enough copies/textbooks to send home.
  • _____________________ insert reason here.
I know. I've been there too.  I have not given homework for many reasons.  However, I started questioning why do we give homework beyond the generic answer of  "practice".  Practice what?  Math problems? Reading strategies?  What are we really wanting students to practice in the long run? Then I asked myself a question:
 "How did homework help me?"

That question is what made me view homework in  a different light.  Yes.   I was that weird kid who forced her brothers to play school rather than house or dolls.  I had cut out hearts on my wall with "I love school."  Yeah.  I know. Being a teacher was a calling on my life from a young age.  I grew up in suburbia in a school district that I was blessed beyond belief to learn in.  Even so, I recall having homework EVERY night.  EVERY. NIGHT. For at least 1-2 hours. By the time I was in high school, I was making straight A's and traveling with the varsity basketball 2-3 times per week and still had to complete homework.  In college, I took 15-18 hours per semester and made great grades without feeling stressed and yes... I did have a nice social life.  In the summer, I took 18 hours and worked full time so I could move off campus.  I am not trying to boast, but I am saying this to support the fact that having a steady homework routine.... time management.... high school and college were a breeze.  A nice spring breeze, that I miss all the time.  Ahhhhhh....

However...the homework routine started in elementary school.

In today's society, in the 3 different school districts I have worked for, homework is nothing compared to "back in my day" (I don't think I am that old... and I never thought I would use the term "back in my day" at the age of 31....ugh).  My first year teaching,  a grade level teacher I worked with told me she never sent math homework home because there weren't enough consistent parents to help.  Kids would fall behind and be ashamed the next day for not doing their homework, so she didn't assign it.

I understand all that and I am sorry I am kinda venting.   I love my blog readers. 

However, when are we going to place the responsibility in the student's hands?  When does learning become their responsibility and not the parents?  It takes forever for habits to form, and it is much easier at a young age when routines can be put into place.  It's much harder to start a homework routine at the age of 12... now they are involved in a million other things.  But if we as teachers never send homework, or give time in class for them to do it instead of at home, how can we expect students to learn how to study at home on their own, or do their assignments?  How are we creating life-long learners if we cant teach them how to teach themselves at home?

I told my students this week that I was doing them a disservice.  I wasn't giving them the opportunities to become good time managers.  I wasn't giving them the opportunity to become responsible and learn how to balance their tasks.  I don't want them to think of me as being mean by assigning more homework, but I don't want them to ever think that they can do everything at school or at their job.  They have to spend time outside of their job in order to become really great at it. 

In the words of Kid President..."This is our time... We were made to be awesome... Let's get out there.... It's everybody's duty to give the world a reason to dance."

Teachers help make the students become awesome.... we just have to give them the opportunity. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lab: What is Energy??

I. LOVE. TEACHING.  Love it... Love it... love it.  I can't wait for tomorrow where my students get to become a newscast in the Amazon Rainforest; however, today I had such a great time teaching them about energy.  The best is peaking their interest.   As I have said before, I use the 5 E model when teaching science.  Today was our Engage and Explore lesson on forms of energy.

So how do you engage a bunch of kids on energy?  

Get yourself a beaker of colored water, double pan balance, rock and a flashlight.

Place rock on balance which moves down (proved it has mass)
Place rock in beaker which the water will rise (water displacement and proves rock has volume)
Ask what that means about the rock? (It is matter.)
Ask: what about light? and turn off the lights.
Shine light on balance, then in the beaker.... both don't move (proves light is not matter)... some kids are actually surprised by this.  Its these moments where I know bulbs will be lighting up as to understanding the simple things we take for granted.
Ask:  If light is not matter, then what is it?  JOURNAL TIME (7-10 minutes using good vocabulary)

So after writing, I asked them, did anyone think they knew what light was if it was not matter?  In each class, someone said energy.... (hear all the others say, "oooooh yeah....." ) Does anyone know any other forms of energy?  Now its time to explore 4 different stations of energy. 

First the students put a 4 door foldable in their journal... I know ... I know... this picture shows a completed lab and not the beginning one, but you can see the foldable.  I am trying to focus more on asking the students why they think something happened rather than what happened. 
On the front flaps, they had to draw and label a diagram of the completed station.  Underneath the flap on the lines of their journal, they had to write why they thought whatever happened, happened.  (I hate it when words do this in a sentence, the double repetition- it leads to major confusion... mostly by me because I cant wrap my head around the repetition... next time Ill find another word rather than repeat it)

Station One.... (Thermal Energy...but students have not yet discovered the term)
Hot water, cold water, sugar cubes and 2 cups.

You know its doing magic in the classroom when you watch sugar dissolve.  Bringing understanding to life's everyday simplicity makes you one cool teacher....

Station Two.... (Mechanical Energy)
Rubber ball and ping pong ball (same size), meter stick
Here's our 2nd YouTube Video!!!! I am feeling so techie....

Although she is technically wrong... I am impressed that she is considering gravity as a reason. 

Station Three (Electricity)
Styrofoam pieces, cut pieces of paper, inflated balloon and a piece of wool (it didn't work for us, so we rubbed the balloons on our heads which worked really well)
The set up
One of our most beloved Spec Ed aides... she let the kids rub the balloon on her sweater when the wool cloth wouldn't work.  They love her so much and so do I!

vigorously rubbing the balloon

How high can the balloon be away from the items and still make them move? WHY??
Future artist.... not the best speller... good thing I'm grading on content and not spelling :)

Station Four (Chemical Energy.... but they really are witnessing a chemical change)
Colored water, bleach, pipette, cup, graduated cylinder, waste water bucket, and GOGGLES!

5 drops should do the trick... try 20.... maybe I shouldn't have used red??

Whew!!! I know, I know.... it's a lot... but it happened so fast... 10-11 minutes per station was more than enough time to get their work done.  Thursday we will be reading on different forms of energy and completing a foldable on it... Here's what I did last year... I know... you're probably thinking, "Good grief!!! Does this chick ever stop taking pictures?!?!"  Yeah I know... what can I say... I'm a visual learner :)


So I am off to the Rain forest Newscast Conference tomorrow and back to energy learning on Thursday.  I cant believe I have blogged this much this month!!!! Can you?!?!?!  Happy teaching!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mexico City Bus Tour

Who doesn't like to take field trips?? Out of the country is even better:)   And like most teachers... budget cuts are having a significant impact on our field trips. 

But with TCI... you can take field trips in your classroom to places all over the world.  It's even better when you make your classroom into a bus, or a plane or a train.  I know... who has time for that?  However, I guarantee if you take that little extra time, and get pumped up about your trip, the kids will remember the lesson forever.  Isn't that what we all want?  To make such an impact that the kids remember you and this lesson forever?  That's how I want to be remembered, anyway. 

Beth Newingham (awesome master teacher) has written about how she uses Social Studies Alive in her 3rd grade classroom. You can check out that post here.  She does a whole United States Tour... so cool.

In 6th grade, we went to Mexico City to check out the culture, history, neighborhoods and environment of today.   I pushed all the tables to the walls and set the chairs in groups of 3 with an aisle down the middle.  Who they sat next to on the bus, was their group when they went to the bus station.   Definitely looked like a bus and the kids were pretty stoked about the classroom looking different.  

Are you on the bus?
The bus... and 2 bus stations.  The students worked in groups of 2-3 at each bus station.

So in order to get on the bus, the kids needed a ticket.  So I made them and handed the tickets to them as they came through the door that you see opened in the picture above.  TCI had a worksheet (no ticket or postcards) but it looked pretty boring.  I had some time one night so I got to creating... Just made the ticket and postcards in word using the TCI printout as a guide. 
Students used the reading and their ticket to help them write their postcards
Students had parts of their tickets that needed to be filled out while they were on the tour.  After each tour, we would get off the bus and go to the "bus station" where there was a reading pertaining to that specific tour (history, culture, environment and neighborhoods).
Reading on Mexico City culture.
After students read the information at the bus stop, they would fill out their ticket, and write a postcard to someone about what they learned about Mexico City's____________ (culture, history, environment, neighborhood).  Every station had the same reading, it just allowed me to make smaller groups.  By the end of the tour, each student wrote 4 postcards. 

The kids did an amazing job on writing their postcards.  I could hear their voice and they were able to be creative.  The language arts teacher and I collaborated and she was able to take a grade on their sentence structure and letter writing techniques.  I graded for content. 
A finished postcard on Mexico City's culture... dont you love how he wrote to a "Dear member of family"  SMH...

Another culture postcard

It was pretty amazing and best of all, the students remember what they learned even after the unit.  I actually was reviewed by my principal during this lesson, and although he didn't want any "dramatics" or anything out of the ordinary, the lesson would have been so much weaker if I kept my classroom the way it was with the tables.  It's always worth it to make learning come alive.

Soon to come.... A Rainforest Conference in Brazil.  (Yeah... the kids become newscasters.... another great reason to watch CNN Student News)

Happy Traveling!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

LAB: It's a Roller Coaster kinda World ...

It definitely was in my classroom today.  We built roller coasters to demonstrate our knowledge of potential and kinetic energy in science.
I teach science using the 5 E's (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate)'s perfect if I actually got to teach science each and everyday, but I don't.  I have to use an A/B schedule to teach science and social studies, but I can usually get all the E's done by the end of the week. 
Here is what this lesson looked like... I'll include a few videos and pics of their awesome work throughout. 
Engage:  I showed my kids one of these awesome things...Newton Balls.  Don't we all have one stashed somewhere in the house?

We observed its stillness and I said that it had potential energy.  Then we discussed what potential meant.  I told them that I know they have heard that word before, "You have all the potential in the world to make straight A's."  After a little prodding, they decided it meant ability.  I was proud of that word...ability.  How can I increase its potential? (move the ball on the end)  You get the point....
Then we drew it in our journal and took some notes. (KWL chart and definitions)

Explore:  Then I showed them this little video about potential and kinetic energy conversion on a roller coaster.  We drew it in our journal, colored our coaster where it showed potential and kinetic energy, and they had to write a paragraph explaining how potential and kinetic energy are related on the roller coaster.

Explain:  Reading.  Sometimes it's dreaded, but not really in my class.  I think this is for 2 reasons. 
1-- The textbook we use, Gateways to Science, does not ramble or give endless amounts of over information.  It tells exactly what the kids need to know at their level  2-- The students know that this is not the main way we learn science.  We learn by doing and reinforce with reading.   They answered a couple of questions in their journal explaining how when a cat jumps off the refrigerator the energy transforms.

Elaborate:  My favorite part of the day! I told the kids they were going to make 2 different roller coasters.  The first had to have 2 hills and the second had to have a loop and a hill.  They had to use about 5 feet of clear plastic tubing (find at Lowes) and masking tape to make their roller coaster.  They would use a BB (find at Walmart) as the coaster and it would have to make it through the tube to the end. 


Loads of trial and error, readjusting and learning as they built.  Loved it.  Check out our video from one of my groups today :)

Evaluate:  Usually falls on a Friday... which is fine with me... Fridays are usually my quiz days.  Yes I teach 6th grade and still have Friday test days.  I'm sorry,but I just find this easier.  I like starting new units/lessons on Mondays and having 2 extra days to grade without the constant "Have you graded my quiz yet?" banter.  Ummm do they realize that I don't live at the school and I have a life... or rather...try to have a life outside of the classroom???  No.... the answer to this rhetorical question is no... if they did realize, they wouldn't look at you crazily when they spot you in Walmart.

 Have fun riding roller coaster without paying the theme park price :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

ToonDoo... the MOST AMAZING site. EVER. Yes EVER.

Have you seen it???  Toondoo???  Talk about awesome.  In the great words of Phil Robertson, it makes me and my students "happy, happy, happy."  They have fun learning and I have a blast watching them depict what they learned in a cartoon form.  Not to mention it's the top 4 letter word that make teachers crane their necks when they hear it.  Yes it is....

All you need is a user name and email address.  And you get to make fun cartoons like the one I made above.  And they have all SORTS of templates, pics, and emotion-cons.  And it's free.  And don't you hate it when your students start all their sentences with "and"?  But I am using it for voice purposes so I guess I will let myself slide.  Hmmmm I digress.....

So this fan-tab-u-lous site was brought to my attention as I was teaching command and market economies.  I know, I know.... You're like, "What?!?! Command and market economies??? That sounds so B-O-R-I-N-G.  How did you make that fun???"  Well, it wasn't my idea... but I wish it was.  

I have a subscription to TCI which is the leader in Interactive Notebooking-  they were one of the firsts to pioneer interactive notebooks, but now it's gone digital as well.  Anyways, its how I teach World Cultures, and part of my TEKS is to teach my 6th graders about command and market systems. If you want to check out my love-post for TCI just click this link.  So.... on my TCI lesson plan, there was a link to toondoo, and it suggested to do a compare and contrast cartoon using 2 panels.  I gave my students a rubric and 2 days in the computer lab.  However, before we went to the lab, we did a long demo in class together just playing on the site and making a mock cartoon. 
This was an example I did with my 3rd period class before we went to the computer lab.  We only did a command economy.
   That night about 30% of my students went home and made their own accounts and I made each of them a school account.  It was that wonderful 4 letter word... FREE.

So here are some of the results.... drum roll please.... I cant roll my r's so I can never do drum rolls... se la vi.... 

 Pretty cool huh?  I cant begin to tell you how much the kids taught me during this too.  Hope this helps you turn one of those concepts that can be so boring, into an engaging fun experience for you but more importantly your kids (ie.. students... but you know their your kids...)

Happy Teaching!