Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Field Day Fun!

Today I did a few important things on my checklist at school. I passed out their Pittsburgh field trip shirts:
Our field trip shirt for the year! Order from www.spreadshirt.com
I also have two major events happening in the next week: field day and banana split party! We signed up for the banana split party first. I ask the kids to all donate an item to the party and I provide the ice cream. In past years I would buy gallons of ice cream and scoop it out, then my partner teacher and I had a brilliant idea...Dixie Cups! We just pop those guys out into a bowl and the kids add the toppings. So much easier and less mess all around. I send home this reminder for both the kids and their parents:

They are really excited, and just wait until you see some of their creations! The other activity that got them pumped for the end of the year was our Field Day Team Reveal. Our team always does a field day at the end of the year, a little fun competition for the kids. We try to mix up students from all homerooms so that they get a chance to hangout one last time, and we also mix them up based on athletic interest/ability so that we don't have one powerhouse team. 

The kids are grouped into teams and given a color, on Field Day they are to wear their team color and are encouraged to have a good time and to be good sports. Here is our example schedule, you can see we start nice and early and break at lunch time. Beats the heat most years, and we are planning to give them Ritas Ice for a special treat at the end of their activities this time.

I am just as excited as the kids, I LOVE running the 4-square station. And yes, I do have a way to keep track of points :) How do you spend the remaining days of the school year? Do you do anything like field day? I'd love to hear your ideas! I hope that you find time to appreciate how far your students have come, even a small reward is something for them to remember.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day everyone. I hope that you are able to find some rest today. For me this weekend usually marks a weekend of travel, being busy, a wedding or two, and some cook outs. We are rarely at home. This year we are blessed to have been able to stay in town and I'm so excited to attend some of the holiday activities that go on.

One of the events I wish I could participate is the 4 mile run around Boalsburg that happens today, it's such a good turn out of adults and kids. A few of my students will be running in it today. Unfortunately I have a cold, a deep coughing kind of cold. You know, the kind that makes it impossible to teach well because you feel like you're coughing up a lung..yep, awesomeness. Of course that kind of takes running out of the picture as well.

That's okay because I get to spend the day with the family. We are going to attend an essay reading this afternoon at the Boalsburg Museum. My students participated in a writing contest and two of them placed! It's a small way to teach my students about Memorial Day. This year the prompt was very challenging, they had to think of ways that their families could help keep our country strong and proud. A vague topic for any writer. We started by brainstorming ideas that they had about our country, what activities or traditions made us strong. We also looked up information about Memorial Day, how it used to be celebrated, and how they could connect that to their ideas. Each student then wrote an essay (300 words max) to submit to the contest.

How do you teach about Memorial Day? I hope that your day is filled with family and fun, but also a time to remember those who served. I'm off to get another cup of coffee, I hope that you have a wonderful day. And if you see your students out and about today, give them a big hello!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

77 Days - A Reflection

My gym - the one I mentioned in the stress post, had an amazing challenge. They call it the 77 Challenge, you have 77 days to make a major change/difference in your life. It's a weight loss goal but it also accounts for healthy eating and you get caliper measurements (you know, the ones that pinch like crazy!).

77 Days ago I weighed in. The day that I weighed in I was just coming off of a stomach bug, so that probably wasn't the best choice in days. Regardless I have some fun before pictures from that day. Since I weigh out today I thought I'd reflect a bit on the whole experience. 

Thinking back it was clear to see that I wasn't 100% committed. With a husband, 3 year old, job, busy schedule (of all the year this was the busiest 77 days I've experienced!) it was challenging to do the healthy eating part. The exercise half was easy, I do that anyway! I did not meet  my personal weight loss goal but that's fine, I'm walking into the gym this morning a different person because:
  • My eating habits have changed, and not only myself but my entire family now eats better and with more awareness.
  • I have even more energy throughout the day because of more consistent workouts and also the better eating
  • I have a thyroid problem and my levels are normal for the first time in 3 years (woo hoo), which doesn't mean I'm off meds for it but that I don't have to keep going in for the blood work
  • I'm wearing sizes that I haven't worn since my wedding day, woot! (which means the gym should give us gift cards for clothing stores since all of my clothes are attractively baggy now!)

I am not entirely where I want to be but I have made a big change, one that I want to continue with even after my weigh out later this morning. This is such a great experience and one that I can use in my classroom when I teach my students about goal setting. Being a part of this gym has taught me so much about myself, about healthy eating, and about how to talk to others about making positive lifestyle changes. If this teaching thing doesn't work out, doing what the trainers at my gym do every day seems pretty interesting! 

I hope that you have a place locally that can encourage you this way. If you don't please talk to me, I'd be happy to share more about what I learned. Have a beautiful Memorial Day weekend, I'll be listening to some students read their award winning essays, I hope yours will be just as fun!

Friday, May 24, 2013

End of Year Video!

It's the time to start looking back through pictures of the year. What memories we made together, the good, the bad, the funny! This year our building asked each team (we have 2 teams per grade) to come up with a creative way to show what the kids had memories of from the year. The original idea was to shoot some video and then our tech folks would put it together. I took lead for my team and we decided to do still photos instead.

We'll include all of the kids on the team this way, they'll be in groups of 2 or 3 with their friends and holding a sign. Music in the background. You get the idea. It's emotional looking at the memories they came up with. I sometimes forget that it's not the same for kids, what's important. For teachers, we are so curriculum focused, pushing, planning, grading. For the kids it's the activities, the small things, the memory making things. Field trips, silly songs, surprises. I hope that each of my students will walk away from their 6th grade year with at least one thing that they hold on to. That one thing that made their year special. How do you celebrate the end of the year with your kids?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Coffee Date!

Today is one of my 'long planning' days. It just works out in my schedule that I have a planning period, followed by another planning period, at the end of the day. I love my schedule! My entire team has plans to get out, enjoy the weather, and drink some coffee. We have the cutest little coffee shop down the street and we are going to get some much needed caffeine before we hit the grade books and plan books (because trust me, we still have A LOT to do!).

These impromptu moments remind me how much I appreciate the people I work with. They truly are an outstanding group of people. Teaching middle school students can be one of the most stressful jobs, there is so much drama on top of the rest of the difficulties. My team is filled with mentors for me, people I can go to for different situations and needs. I hope that you have at least one person in your building that you look to for support. If you don't, please talk to me, I'm happy to help in any way that I can, even if we are in different places. We can't do this alone!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Stress & the End of the Year

How are you all doing? Are you hanging in there? With the countdown in full swing it is really easy to be overwhelmed and stressed out. I always feel like my plan periods are filled with good intentions, but my to-do list never seems to get any smaller. How do you handle the stress of wrapping up the year?

One of the things that I have recently become passionate about doing for me, (yes I actually found a way to get some me time!) is going to the gym. Yes, it has to happen at zero-dark-thirty (otherwise known as 5:00am) but it is the only time that I don't feel the burden of my other 'hats' of mom, wife, and teacher. I can actually focus on me.

My gym that I found here is amazing. For anyone who is local here is a link:

I started going last April to their outdoor boot camp. I was originally only going to go for the 5-week program but ended up staying all summer and then moving into their indoor program in the fall. I love it, okay I hate it sometimes, but mostly I love it because it's fun and different and it energizes me. I feel like sweating my butt off (hopefully literally!) makes me a better teacher because when I am healthy and take care of myself I tend to stress less. That doesn't mean I'm a perfect teacher, I would never say that! But it does keep me more grounded. And now I ponder how I could incorporate bootcamp into my classroom..okay, I kid..but wouldn't that be something? No pencil...10 burpees haha. 

My biggest areas of stress at this point seem to come from trying to wrap up loose ends, finish big projects, and work with parents who have expectations of how the remaining few days should go for their child. Trying to accommodate that, plus have meetings, grading, report cards, a field trip, and more sometimes seems overwhelming. But at the end of it I know I'll look back and remember the good things from this year. Which is exactly what my students did today! We are making a movie about our memories, I'll update you with more information once we solidfy our plans!  Happy Monday everyone.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reading in 6th - part 3

Reading 'Speed Dating' Books - choices for my students
It finally feels like summer around here and for me that means trying to help my students make some summer reading plans. Tomorrow we will be kicking off one of my favorite activities (I actually did a version of this during my practicum for my masters degree). Reading 'Speed Dating.'

My students are prone to judging books by their cover, and truthfully so am I. This is my way of making them actually read the book to make sure they like it, or not, before falling into their preconceived assumptions. Here's how I run the 'dates' in my 42 minute reading class period:

  • Students sit down at a book and have a copy of their note taking form with them (usually just a copy of a table with two columns, one for book title/author, and one for notes)
  • I set my online timer (I like http://www.online-stopwatch.com/bomb-countdown/ because you get some great timers that count both up and down) and give them 2 minutes with the book - to really get to know it!
  • When the timer goes off students have 1 minute to write some notes about the book, what they like, don't like, etc.
  • They move when their minute is up and start again!
I have 18 students in my reading class period tomorrow so I pulled 18 books that I feel most of them would appreciate, and books that I am pretty sure they haven't read before. I have a classroom collection that I choose from but my school library also has some amazing titles that I would borrow if I needed a wider range.

As a follow-up the next day during reading we will be discussing which titles jumped out of them and the titles that they want to add to a summer reading list that they will be creating. I can't wait to hear what some of my readers have to say.

I hope that you find some time to read something that you enjoy today, and don't forget to be the anchor and truth that your students need.

My munchkin wearing my Dr. Seuss Day hat :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Reading in 6th - part 2

This morning I had to announce to my class that our normal reading time would be cancelled so that we could help our IT teacher out with a Google Earth presentation. You should have heard the moans! My class has really grown as readers since the beginning of the school year. I contribute that to a variety of different things:

  • Freedom to choose books
  • Daily discussions
  • Book Talks
  • Library visits
  • Maturing into more engaging books
Of all of those, I think that the daily discussions that we've had, and setting our routine in the room, have been the most beneficial. This year I decided, after some training in the summer, to give the CAFE idea by 'The Sisters' a try in my classroom. It wasn't easy but it wasn't entirely life consuming either. I'll certainly use it again next year with a few modifications. If you haven't checked out their materials yet you should visit their site (*Disclaimer: I am discussing and reviewing this on my own, they are not paying me to do this):

At the beginning of the year we spend about two months learning how to read in the classroom. You would be surprised at how differently the students went through elementary reading before coming to me! I created some handouts that the students put in their 5-subject notebooks to keep for the year. Here are examples of what we used:

The kids certainly had their favorites! Comment below if you want to know any specific activities that I tried this past year. I'm hoping to involve my intern in planning some reading activities in the fall as well and will share those as we create them.

Happy Wednesday everyone, you are a light to each student you interact with today!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Reading in 6th - part 1

Wow, what cold weather we have in my state right now! I can hardly believe that it's already May. I hope that everyone is keeping sane during the end, we are on our countdown (20 more days) so staying motivated can be challenging.

This week I am focusing on what resources and activities have worked well in my 6th grade classroom. I'm happy to share ideas with you and if you have questions about how to implement anything please just ask.

*Disclaimer: Any books or resources that I discuss have been used in my classroom. I am not being paid to promote them or review them.

If you're like me, teaching mini lessons to students can sometimes feel redundant. Okay, I'll say it..boring. At this point in the year I typically don't teach as  many mini lessons near the end of the year but I wanted to revisit skills with my students before shipping them off to 7th grade (I think their teachers will thank me...maybe!).

In order to keep the students interested I taught a great lesson that a colleague of mine shared. It uses a fantastic book by Jon Scieszka (his homepage is below!) called Henry P. Baloney

The book is about an adorable alien who is late for school one too many times. He has to give his teacher an excuse or he will be in BIG trouble. The best part is, the words in the book are not all English so it's the perfect book to teach context clues

I teach it by reading the book once (slowly) and the kids record their guess about each word, without seeing the illustrations  Then we discuss what we think the words mean. I then read it a second time and they can keep or change their guess (still no illustrations). The third time they get to see the pictures and we talk about the correct answers (the key is in the book). 

The kids loved it and we had such a great discussion about how they can use this in the future. They felt it would be helpful when reading nonfiction text because sometimes those words simply 'feel alien' to them! 

Don't forget to find small ways to enjoy the remaining days with your students. You are a blessing to them and they have a lot of unfamiliar territory coming up soon (summer, camps, new teacher next year, etc) so a little anxiety from them is normal. Be their constant in these remaining days!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fun Friday - Motivating Students (and teachers!)

Ah...summer. We teachers can appreciate this time more than most. But don't break out your swimsuit yet. We still have a few weeks to go (those of you who are almost done, I'm jealous!). With the countdown happening and students ready to get out, how do you keep your students motivated? (I would honestly love to hear what you do, leave me a comment!).

This year my kiddos needed a little extra encouragement. We sat down and created this:

The kids came up with the entire agreement during a sit-down meeting. Our goal is to focus and encourage those who are doing well, and it's working! This week's reward was a picnic lunch (our school has a courtyard) but with the spring time rain where we are it was decided that a classroom lunch plus movie (The Lion King) would be perfect. 76% of my kiddos were successful this week. The assistant principal liked the idea because it reinforces good behavior, plus it will motivate some of the less than perfect behaviors that we see at this time of the year. Next week we will work towards a kickball game and maybe another lunch to finish our movie.

And finally, a Mother's Day moment. Once the kiddos enter middle school it seems like the cute projects go away and kids are left on their own to remember events like Mother's Day...hello, amazing mom's out there, should be easy right? Ha! So I encourage my students to do a simple gift, a gift of writing! (please refer to post #1 when I said that I'm not a writer to appreciate my overplanning of this event). It's a simple project that takes them two writing periods. They write a poem or a letter to their mom, or another woman in their family that is important (aunt, guardian, grandmother, etc). We print them in color and the kiddos are charged with delivering them during the weekend. It's small but I hope meaningful! And on that note, a bit of encouragement for you my readers (I'm assuming there are a few of you...maybe...sometimes) from my Dayspring Daybrightener calendar:

You are a gift to this big world of ours. God knew we'd need you. God knew you'd dazzle us all. Deidra Riggs

Go forth on this Mother's Day weekend and be dazzling! 

(calendars and more can be found at Dayspring.com - they are a great company, I'm promoting them on my own, they have great things!)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Loving God's Children in the Tough Times

Isn't it funny how we learn to deal with our less than perfect moments? You may not realize it, but as an adults, whatever age you are as you read this, you've come a long way. Do you remember what life was like in middle school? Awkward phases, hormones making you out of control, braces, the opposite gender? It's no wonder that people say it takes a 'special person' to teach this age. It does, and I find that most of my colleagues had some major memorable experience during middle school  (good or bad) that lead them to love on these kids like none other.

Is it easy? No way! But is it fun? Every day :)

I write this post as I watch my students struggle through their final standardized test of the school year. We started together in late August and by September they already took their first of three tests called MAP. My district is using the data to determine growth, but also to see how our curriculum is functioning. Is it fair to the kids? Not at all. Who wants to waste two days on reading and math tests? But does it show us a lot? It truly does. I have no idea how they are doing on this test (at least not until I walk around gathering their final scores in a few minutes) but I already see improvements. I see the student who had a panic attack during our first one, now confident and working hard. I see my non-reader, analyzing and absorbing the words on her screen. I see my learning support students trying their best. Sometimes the improvement is seen in the scores, and other times it is the small life lessons that they've discovered.

So how do I get through this marathon season with the students? Now that they want to give up, give in, play outside, be anywhere but here? I pray for them. I laugh with them. I bribe them (ha, actually they do have a few special deals with me). And I just try to love on them the best that I can, on my good days and my own grumpy days.
Fun Friday Reward of the Week - Picnic Lunch!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I'm not a writer. I'll start with that. Teaching writing is actually the subject that I feel is my weakest area. Sentence structure, grammar, all of it...beyond difficult. But here I am, writing on a blog. You may ask "why?" That question would have a few parts:

  • I hope to encourage new teachers, and any teacher really through my blog. My goal is to be encouraging and positive. I love sharing ideas, helping others through unexpected challenges, and talking about my experiences in the classroom. I am hoping this is platform for that.
  • With the understanding that teachers are multifaceted creatures, I aim to use this blog to show that side of our career. I am a teacher, but I am also a wife, mother, Christian, wanna-be-runner, and gym rat in the making. Many lessons I learn in other areas of my life cross into my teaching, and vice versa.
  • Reading blogs of other teachers has encouraged me, but finding blogs of middle school teachers, and specifically the rare bread of 6th grade teachers (not quite elementary but not quite middle) has been tricky. I hope to be a voice for those of us who are learning about this delicate and difficult age. 

Now that I have my goals in place, how about a little about me. Well, as you've probably guessed by now I am a sixth grade teacher. 2013-2014 will be my 7th year (what!!) of teaching this age. At my middle school we are a 6-8th grade building, however our 6th grade are not departmentalized (that means I teach everything, everyday!). In 2013-2014 I will also be working with my first intern (our student teachers are with us for the entire school year) so I'm looking forward to sharing my learning experiences through that adventure.

I am a mom to lively, rambunctious, and stubborn 3 year old who keeps me on my toes every day. I am the wife, heading into my 7th anniversary, of a Godly computer software engineer who is incredibly talented at anything he sets his mind too (including but not limited to his job and playing the bass guitar). I am a Christian, something that in pubic education can be something of a challenge. I love my new Bible Study on Twitter (#hellomornings) and my Facebook group through (in)courage.me. I work out at an amazing gym every morning at 5:30am - hey, it's the mom/full time work thing, when else will I find time! And I have an amazing extended family.

I hope that this blog will be an encouragement to those that need it. I welcome comments, however please keep them positive. What I share is my personal experiences, my personal life, and with that in mind I ask for your respect as a reader and as a colleague. Best, and happy reading!

My loves