You Talked to Who????

Wow have things changed since I started teaching! I often take for granted the advances that have made my life more enjoyable in the classroom. Yesterday, I was hit full force with just awe. When I started my career, we had no computers at all. I think the secretary may have had one. Now, I carry everything I need either on my phone or my iPad. It would not be unusual to see me working on three devices at once. I did not have a phone in my classroom. I used to have to go to the office and wait for a line out (of which we had two). I didn’t think about it was just the way it was.

Yesterday, we Skyped Alaska. I am in Connecticut. Actually, we didn’t Skype. Because they are so remote, they facebook video chatted with us (thank goodness for the young teacher in Alaska who could walk me through that). Can you imagine?! Children from Alaska and children from Connecticut looking at each other and talking. Asking questions and finding out about each other. It was awesome!

We learned that yesterday in Alaska it was 7 degrees outside. Many of the children were wearing hats in the classroom. The coldest it has gotten in 50 degrees below zero. We also learned that they can get a foot of snow a day and they go to school no matter what. They laughed at us that we miss school if there is too much snow. There are 20 children in the third grade class and that was their entire town of grade three students. What hit my class was that it was 12:40 in CT and our new friends in Alaska had just gotten to school because it was 8:40 am there. Their students also asked in anyone hunted or trapped animals. They said their houses are usually made by hand and out of wood and trees.

I don’t know if my class totally understood how amazing this was. For them, Skyping has become something that we do. We definitely discussed it after. We talked about how their lives are different than ours and how wonderful is that that we get to see that first hand. We can read all about these states, but to actually talk to children from there..priceless!

I will forever be grateful for the technology that brings these fabulous programs to my students. My 21 year old, first year teacher self, could never have imagine in my wildest dreams what happened yesterday! So, I think my not 21 year old self is going to sit back and enjoy this moment..(until I find the next cool thing)


Push Even Harder

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend the Connecticut Reading Association’s Fall Conference.  It had an all star line up.  Dave Burgess, Jen Seravallo, Gravity Goldberg, and Nancy Boyles to name a few.  It was beyond difficult to even decide who to see as each presenter is rockstar.  My teaching buddy and I decided that we would watch Dave Burgess as the keynote and then go see another presenter to increase and diversify our learning.  For those of you who don’t know, Dave Burgess is single handedly revolutionizing professional development for teachers.  He is the writer of an amazing book called Teach Like a Pirate. But he didn’t stop there. He created his own publishing company where current teachers and adminstrators write books that are timely and practical.  All of the books are amazing (and I personally own about 10 of them).  They are written for teachers by teachers.  They are practical and doable.  They are on the cutting edge of what is best for kids.  I read Dave’s book a few years back and since then have been a loyal follower of anything that has Dave Burgess Publication on it.

Anyways, back to the conference.  We saw Dave walking around the conference, so I just had to meet him face to face.  After all, I had created the  Iwanicki Book Awards because of him! (Also see Here)  He was just as kind in person as I expected him to be and allowed me to gush and get a selfie.  (I am such a nerd) So, we went to the keynote. It was honestly nothing I had ever seen before.  He was dressed in a pirate outfit, ran around the room and talked a hundred miles a minute.  I was completely hooked! (Pardon the pun).  I started to take notes, but quickly put them away to be in the moment and just listen.  Dave’s keynote was about engaging kids, being creative and pushing limits.  He wasn’t just another presenter lecturing us on what to do.  He has talked the talk and walked the walk.  The hooks he discussed, he used in his classroom.   He pushed us as teachers to think outside the box and do our very best to engage kids.

We knew then that we had to hear more.  We had to get to his break out session.  However, I am a rule follower.  I don’t break the rules.  I think I had a mini heart attack even thinking about it!  But we did!  (My heart is still racing thinking about it). I kept looking around afraid that there wasn’t going to be enough chairs and the PD police would come in and take me away.  You laugh, but this is true story.  It is so hard living in my brain. However, I don’t regret it for a minute, even if I felt like one of those hippy protestors. (Seriously, what is wrong with me?)

His message is clear.  We need to engage kids.  We need to be creative.  We need to push ourselves.  This is not just another person telling us what to do.  In my mind he has street cred because it is what he does.  He would give us small little problems and then 90 seconds to come up with something creative.  It is amazing what you can do in 90 seconds. He also said what I believe is true, teaching this way smashes the core standards.  It also makes kids want to come to school and want to work.

I walked away from that energize and yet completely exhausted.  My brain was on fire and yet it was telling me to stop.  But, at lunch, my buddy and I came up with a better way to end the Global Read Aloud than we had originally planned.  I dropped a hook in my class the next day as teaser.  Then during lunch recess, I said to the kids, “I have a crazy idea, anyone want to stay in and see what happens?” I had about 9/16 kids stay in.

So, here is to keep improving, keep getting better, not sleeping through the night but engaging kids and showing them the magic of learning.

International Dot Day

September 15ish is International Dot Day.  What is exactly is that?  It is a day set aside to honor the amazing book the Dot by Peter Reynolds.  If you haven’t read it, you can watch it here The Dot  The Dot is a story about a Vashi who feels she cannot draw.  The message is to “Make a mark and see where it takes you.”  I am a big fan of Peter Reynolds’ books.  They are all fabulous with a great message in each.  While they are picture books, the lessons in each book apply to humans of all ages. The illustrations are just as amazing. Read just one and you will love them as much as I do.

International Dot Day was the first Global Project that I participated in (5 years ago) and it hooked me in a big way.  Over a million people participate in over 169 countries.  This whole day was the brainchild of teacher Terry Shay in 2009 and has grown to a wonderful day of creativity and exploration.  We have already read and discussed the book.  We marked down some of the countries that are participating on individual maps and looked how far they are from us on a globe.

On Friday, we will also be making our own mark by decorating a dot and using an app called Quiver to make it 3D.  We will be doing science activities with water dots (drops). We will be playing math games with dots (dice). We will also be having our first Mystery Skype of the year.  Finally, we will cap off our day by watching a live stream of Dot Day with Terry Shay and Peter Reynolds.  Isn’t technology fabulous?!

I love this day.  The Dot and Ish (another gem of Peter Reynolds) are wonderful books for adding to our growth mindset work we have been doing.  I am excited and I know I will be rocking dots on Friday.  What about you? IMG_0016.PNG

Embrace the struggle

The pile of stuff in the living room lets me know that summer is almost over.  This pile belongs to my daughter Krista and needs to go into her dorm apartment. She is packed and ready for Saturday.  I have been going into school for about a week now, but the pile is what really hits home.  Kelsey leaves on Tuesday for her teaching adventure to South Africa on Tuesday (she will blog about it). Summer is just about over.

I am excited for this new school year.  For the first time in 6 years, there is no change.  No new principal, no new grade, no new school or no new room.  There is comfort in no change.  I can dig deeper into the curriculum and I know where to challenge or modify it. I have the smallest class size that I have had ever.  With all the change that I have been through, if this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up!img_0008-3

This summer, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my practice and learning.  Being old  teaching for 30 29 years does that to you!  Staying fresh and current is what keeps me loving my job.  I read over 7 professional development books this summer.  The common theme that I heard was struggle.  Students need productive struggle.  If we are going to truly produce students that are ready for the workforce, they need to learn to struggle.  I learned that during this struggle, even if the answer is wrong, their brain will grow!  Scans of cab drivers in London show that their brain grew when they were studying to be a cab driver.  They need to know a crazy amount of streets in order to pass a test to become what is known as a black cab driver.  After they retired, studies showed that their brain size decreased; and not because of age, but because they were not using it like they used to.  So cool, right?!  What this shows is that IQ is not a fixed number.  We can actually change the number of our IQ and science backs that up! I always believe that hard work and grit will produce results and now science proves it!

So this year, I am going to try to be more thoughtful in productively challenging my students.  I am especially going to work on this in math.  I tend to show students how to get the answer, but I am going embrace allowing them to struggle and get a little frustrated.  After all, there brain will grow!


Blackout Poetry

I hoard books.  I have a problem.  I know I do.  Getting rid of books is very difficult for me.  You just never know if you will have a reader who needs THAT book!  So for me, it is always a struggle.  This year, I have been very lucky.  I have  received many brand spanking new books for my classroom library. I finally felt better getting rid of some of the old, worn out books and/or the books that were never read.  I set up an area in my classroom called retired books and my students could just take as many as they wanted.  I got rid of many of my books, but there were still many left.  What should I do?

Going with my theme of trying to make the end of the year as good as the beginning, I decided to give them to the students to do Blackout Poetry.  In blackout poetry, a reader skims any page.  Students are looking for words that stick out for them.  They then try to find words that go with that word to form a poem.  The rest of the words are then blacked out.

I gave a brief explanation from and showed them a few examples on google. Then set them off!

The pictures below were created in no more than 15 minutes (all the time we had).  If students create more tomorrow, I will post another blog.

In this example, the student highlighted the words and then made a base and part of a diamond to go with his poem.



This child was not completed yet, but you can see how her poem is turning out!


Students loved this activity and actually asked to take it out to it at recess!  Success!

Mystery Skype

After three years of begging asking, I was finally granted Skype capability in my classroom.  I could finally talk to classrooms around the world. I was allowed entry into the club of teachers who have their classrooms talk to each oxSWMapTAyR_1408329962664ther.  How cool is that?!  A Skype is one thing, but a Mystery Skype takes it to a whole new level.  In a Mystery Skype, you take turns with another class asking yes/no questions as you try to figure out where they are.  There was a whole lot of preparation on our end. Students had to learn geography.  They had to understand states, oceans, time zones and regions to name a few.  Then, my students had to learn to listen, really listen.  They had to use what the other class was saying; mark their maps and think about the most logical question to ask. That took hard work on both of our parts.

Here is an example of how a Skype will go:

Us: Are you East of the Mississippi River? Yes (They, they would cross out all of the states to the west of the Mississippi)

Then it would be the next class turn.

Us: Are you in the Northeast Region of the US? No (they would then cross out all of the states in the Northeast)

Questions would continue until only a few states were left.  Then normally one of the questions was do you border ________?  That would help narrow it down even more.  Then a student would ask if they are from the state of _________.

I think you get the hang of it.  We have done over a dozen of these and we have been able to see classes all across the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska (where the internet kept cutting in and out and class size was 9).  We have also Skyped a classroom in Quebec and my daughter on her trip to Spain.  We followed a Mystery Skype by the website GoNoodle in Germany.

My students have grown in so many ways through this.  They now have a better understanding of the state of Connecticut (where we live).  They know the oceans, Mississippi River, Great Lakes, Canada, Mexico and time zones.  They are getting an understanding of what state is where.  They have learned that kids are just kids no matter where they are in the United States.  We have marveled at some classes and their questioning and listening skills.  What I am most proud of is that they are learning to listen.  Really listen.  They are able to take what they hear, record that information and ask an intelligent question to obtain the answer.  That has been just priceless.