12 November 2017


I've spent the last month getting ready to move. I was living in my parents' house while they were out of the country, and it was time to move out after they got home. I spent a long time looking for an apartment (for some reason, buying a house was the wrong thing to do right now), and for one that would meet my needs. I was hoping to get into something in the $500-$600 range.

After researching and looking at several places, I decided to go back to the complex I lived in before I moved into my parents' home. It's more expensive, but with the amenities, it's worth it. I figured that the fees in the other places (and lack of amenities) would add up to about the same amount I'd pay in this place. So I bit the bullet and reserved an apartment - this time on the third floor!

Last weekend was the big move. Several men from my previous neighborhood showed up to help, and I was SO GRATEFUL for that. I couldn't have done it without them. It took a couple of hours because we had to get stuff in two locations, and then move it all to the third floor, but it went without a hitch. Nothing broke, and everything made it. Well, almost everything. I still can't find my favorite pitchers! The funny thing is, those pitchers nearly didn't make it in the last move! They were the last thing I found, and that was AFTER I'd bought replacements.

My mom spent two days this past week helping me unpack, and I'm so grateful for her help. We got my kitchen all put together, and most boxes unpacked. My library is all unpacked, but not organized yet. (Naturally I have a library...who would expect anything less?) I've still got unpacked boxes in my bedroom, but I haven't gotten to them yet. I've been SO SICK this week and have had a hard time finding any motivation to do anything at all. I can't stop coughing and I'm just...ugh. Not a fun time. Teacher immunity is an absolute MYTH I tell you.

All in all though, I'm glad I'm moved in and getting closer to being settled. Next week is Thanksgiving, and I have a few days off. I'll be glad for that, as a chance to relax and maybe even recover from this illness. I've got family coming, and I'm so excited!

05 October 2017

An Author to Consider...

Hello friends,
Today, I'd like to spotlight a favorite Christian historical romance author, Kristi Ann Hunter. I've read and loved all of her books. Each one features strong male and female leads, which I love. There isn't any bumbling idiot man (which I hate), and no damsel in distress (which I also hate). Both parties have things to overcome, and both parties work together to overcome them. 

I love the rich settings that Hunter creates, and I love the characters we meet. Everyone leaves me hoping for more interaction with them. I REALLY love the swoony heroes. They're alpha-ish males, in that they are strong, capable, and everything you'd expect from a romance hero. The 'ish' part is because they're also sensitive, caring, and loving. They actually care more about the lady than themselves. It's refreshing!

These books are clean, full of romance that one would actually WANT to emulate, and stories that I want to read over and over. They're that good. Try them out; you won't be disappointed!

Here's a list of Hunter's books:
A Lady of Esteem (Hawthorne House #.5 - novella)
A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House #1)
An Elegant Fa├žade Hawthorne House #2)
An Uncommon Courtship (Hawthorne House #3)
An Inconvenient Beauty (Hawthorne House #4)

Coming in 2018:
A Defense of Honor (Haven Manor #1)

04 October 2017

Catching Up

I always have the very best intentions when it comes to this blog. Then life happens and school happens and I just let it go. As one does.

Anyway, here's what's up: I'm in my third year of 4th grade (5th year teaching), and loving it. I have a great class this year. Lucky for me that they're good kids, because there are 29 of them! Yes, you read that right. 29. It's crazy in our classroom most days. How else could it be with that many warm bodies? Honestly. We work hard and we play hard, and we do pretty much everything in between. We're a little over a month in to the school year, and I can't believe how quickly it's gone by.

This year, I'm trying math and ELA rotations. With so many kids, it's absolutely impossible to keep them engaged in a whole group lesson. Instead of trying to fight it, we just break into small groups and rotate around. That way, I get to have more time with each kid and we can work on their levels. It's been amazing how well it works. I'm so glad that my teaching partner started doing it, because she inspired me to do it as well! I can take more time with certain groups and let other groups work on projects that'll challenge them and keep them engaged while the rest of us are working on other things. The change this has made in my classroom is amazing. Suddenly, the kids are invested in their learning and willing to take risks. They're asking questions they probably wouldn't have asked before. I don't know if I'll ever go back to full-on whole group teaching in math and ELA!

I've posted updated pictures of my classroom on the Classroom Tour page. My theme this year is Marvel Superheroes, and I've had a ton of fun with it. My kids love it, and so do I.

On a personal note, I've been working on taking time for myself. It's something I'm REALLY bad at, so it's been a major challenge. We're out for fall break right now, and I've determined that I'm going to really work at ME. I went to Las Vegas for the Depeche Mode concert (I'd left town before the shooting, thank goodness), and I've done a lot of reading. I'm going to be packing as well, since I'm moving in November. It'll be a good chance to get rid of stuff and condense my belongings.

Once again, I'm going to attempt to be more up to date on the blog, and keep things happening here. We'll see...

01 May 2017

Changes of plans and other stories

Once upon a time, there was a teacher who really wanted an adventure. She didn't have a lot of opportunity for adventure in Idaho, and felt like she was missing out on, well, life. Everything she did was done for others, and she was just plain exhausted. She decided to do something about it, so she started researching options in different states. Finally, she had her location. She was all set to leave Rexburg and head for the vastly different metropolis of Las Vegas. She prayed a lot and felt very strongly that this was the right thing to do, and that there were people who needed her down in Vegas. She made the arrangements with her current school, got certified in Nevada, and started applying for teaching jobs. It was kind of scary at first, because no one was calling her for interviews, and she was getting lots and lots of 'this position has been filled' emails. She started thinking that maybe it wasn't the right thing to do. Maybe she had misinterpreted answers to prayers. Maybe she just wanted this for herself. She started feeling like maybe she was being selfish, and that was a scary thought.

Finally, she made a few phone calls and sent out a few emails. She found out that HR had deactivated her application, and hadn't reactivated it when they said they would. The problem got fixed, and calls started pouring in. She headed down to St. George (Utah) for spring break, and decided that she'd just worry about everything when she got back to Idaho. Well, things changed. Three days and four job interviews later, she had four job offers on the table to choose from. Suddenly, things were hard again! How could she choose between all of these schools and grades? She was able to decline one without much thought, just because of the area the school was in. She wanted to make sure she was safe, and this area wasn't a good one. Then came the hard part: choosing between the remaining three schools. There was a second grade job and two third grade jobs that she could choose from. All of them sounded good! 

She was pretty sure that she was going to accept one of the third grade jobs, when she started thinking she'd better contact HR again to make sure the salary listed on the website was accurate. If it was, she'd be able to be in a really good financial position finally. She was hopeful. When she talked to HR though, the offered salary was $15,000 less than what had been posted. What a letdown! It just didn't seem right, so she asked again. Same answer. Turned out that for a teacher coming in from another district, they did a 'comparable' salary to what the teacher was already making. Well, that put her at the bottom of the ladder, and in a really bad position. She couldn't figure out how to make it all work, unless she chose to live in a really unsafe area with cheaper rents. That just wouldn't do.

After lots of prayer and counseling with her parents, she chose to remain at her Idaho school and stay in fourth grade. Immediately, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted. She still felt like the process she'd gone through was a valid one, and the right one, but it led somewhere completely different than she'd anticipated. Along the way, however, she really learned to listen to Heavenly Father, and to trust Him. She learned how He spoke to her and how to act on His plan for her. She learned that His plan really is better, and that He would take care of her. She felt at peace, with no regrets for having gone through the process. It was flattering to know that so many schools wanted her and felt she had something great to offer. It was also great for her to realize just how much her current school and community wanted her and felt like she had great things to offer. She wondered if maybe that was part of the lesson she needed to learn. She was grateful for the things she'd learned, and realized that all things have a purpose. She was going to make the best of the things to come.

So. That's my story from the last 6 months. It's been quite the ride, and I don't think the end is quite in sight. I can't say that I'm entirely happy with the results, but I also can't say that I'm super disappointed. Maybe the right word is a slight feeling of being letdown. Because it is something of a letdown. I was really looking forward to the adventures I was going to have, and to making a difference for a different demographic. I was looking forward to better financial security without having to take on a second job. I was looking forward to amazing concerts and cheaper airfare. I was looking forward to having people come to Vegas to visit ME, instead of being an afterthought on another trip.

I'm still not sure entirely what God's plan for me is, but I'm going to trust Him and realize that He has a great plan for me. I'm going to believe Him when He says that His plan for me is better than my plan. I just hope it includes some adventure...I'm ready for it!

04 February 2017

Back to the drawing board...

Sometimes you think that everything is going SO WELL, and then you look at your recent data and realize that it's NOT. You realize that whatever it is you're doing is not working for these kids, and so you go back to the drawing board.

My big issue has been in math. We're in our first year of a new math program (enVision 2.0), and it's so much harder than what we were using before (Saxon). It's a whole new math language, and a TON of reading. Think multi-step problems on almost every problem. I just gave a benchmark assessment, and I counted TWELVE steps to ONE problem. Yes, you read that correctly. It really requires a lot of critical thinking, and I don't think I've done a good enough job of getting my students to that point.

So, it's back to the drawing board for me. On my last assessment, I decided to try something new. I sent home a reteach study guide a week in advance, and also emailed it to the parents. I asked my kids to do one problem in each section per night. It wasn't a graded assignment, but I hoped that it would help them on the test. Two days before the test, we used that study guide to play review games. I put up envelopes with secret prizes in them, and every time a group won the 'race', they got to either choose an envelope or pick from the House Points jar.

The envelopes went FAST! I told the kids that maybe there weren't all positive rewards in them, and that they'd have to take a risk. There was only one risk among the envelopes, and the group who got it ended up getting something even better that canceled out the risk. The kids were all totally engaged and worked together to succeed. I had them use white boards for their answers and work, and each person in the group took a turn being the writer. Everyone had to participate for the answer to count. They LOVED it, and keep asking me when we're going to do it again. I let them know that we'll do it every time we have a test, and now they're asking me when they can have their next test. Hah!

The next day, which was the day before the test, I scaffolded a review test. I went through and underlined, circled, wrote in reminders, drew models, gave examples, and tried to show them what good work looked like. Everyone got a copy, and we worked the problems together. They were all feeling pretty good about it. On the test itself, I allowed them to use the scaffolded test as a tool. The test questions were different, but they followed the same patterns as the guide. Not everyone aced the test, but almost everyone passed it. The mistakes I saw were math fact mistakes, and a few 'didn't follow directions' mistakes. Most everyone was able to take what we'd done and apply it to their work. I was so pleased!

Now that I've restructured my tests, it's time to restructure my math lessons. Instead of trying to do whole-group/small-group lessons where everyone is working on the same thing at the same time, I'm going to try centers. I've divided my kids into four groups based on their needs, and have set up a rotation schedule. We'll have a 20-minute lesson for everyone, and then we'll break into groups. Each group gets a teacher table rotation, where I'll reteach for the groups who need more instruction, and scaffold understand for those who are starting to catch on. Everyone also gets a homework center, where they'll work on the day's assignment (some days, I'll allow them to work with a buddy); a games center, where they'll play math games related to the day's work; and a technology center, where they'll use MobyMax and/or Reflex Math to build their fact fluency.

I've started an after-school tutoring group as well. One of my kids decided that we need to call it "The Wonderful Miss S's Math Camp," so there's that. So cute! I have about 5-6 kids who stay on a regular basis for math camp, and it's making a difference. We study math models, fact fluency, different ways to say it, breaking apart word problems to see what's actually being asked, and a lot more. We try to work hard for 20 minutes, and then play a math game for 10 minutes. It's been successful so far; every kid who's come consistently improved their math test scores significantly.

I'm really hoping to see a big difference in how my kids view math, as well as how they perform on their daily work and assessments. I want them to have a paradigm shift, where they see that math isn't just work. Math can be fun and they can still learn things.

I spent the morning today making center cards to show the kids where they go for each rotation. I'm pretty excited to start this on Monday!

14 January 2017

Blurt Beans

I was browsing Instagram a couple of weeks ago, and came across a post about classroom management for chatty classes. I was hooked right there, because my class is CHATTY. There are some days when I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle to get them to stop talking out of turn and blurting things out. Lucky for me, they're also really sweet kids and not behavior problems. I mean, they're chatty, but they're totally not acting out. They just like to talk. I've been tearing my hair out, trying to find ways to channel that energy into more appropriate times and places.

The post I found (and which I cannot find again because I don't remember who posted it, and I wasn't smart enough to save it at the time) was a photo of a Teachers Pay Teachers product called 'Blurt Beans'. I visited the shop and read the description of the product. There were a lot of great ideas, but not a lot that I felt like my class would respond to. I decided to modify the idea to suit my needs.

I took one morning to introduce the concept, and my kids were intrigued. They'd never heard of blurt beans, and honestly didn't even understand that they had a problem with blurting. I know, half a year of NO TALKING WHEN I'M TALKING didn't settle. You can begin to see my frustration. I explained that I loved hearing them talk, but that I really needed them to do it appropriately. I promised them free talk time during the day, when they could talk about anything they wanted, as long as we kept things focused and on task during instruction and work time. (Here's something ironic: the first time I gave them free talk time, it was SILENT. WHAT.)

We spent that afternoon practicing. I'd be teaching, and any time someone blurted something out or was caught talking to a neighbor, I'd give them the blurt sign. I make the shape of a lowercase b and show the talker. The first afternoon was spent giggling every time someone got blurted. Then it started getting quieter as they realized just how often someone was getting blurted. I honestly don't think they really understood how bad it was.

The second day, I brought in a quart jar and a two-quart jar. I labeled the smaller jar "I Blurted," which they think is hilarious. The bigger jar is the prize jar. We took some time in the morning to talk about what types of rewards they'd like to work towards. I let them choose by voting. I was pleasantly surprised at the things they felt were worth working for.

That day, a lot of beans went into the blurt jar. A lot of beans went into the prize jar. Each day has been a little better than the previous day (usually). In fact, on Thursday, we didn't have a single bean go into the blurt jar! The kids were SO excited. Of course, Friday, everyone had to put a bean in the blurt jar because they couldn't line up without talking, even after being asked to try it again twice. It is what it is. We'll continue to get better, and before long, I think we'll be at our first reward.

Here are a couple closer looks at how we're doing:

This was on Thursday, before we all to put a bean in the jar.
It's fuller now.

We're making great progress towards our first reward!
If the blurt jar fills up, *I* get a prize, and it's going to be a fantastic treat that I'll have to eat at school, darn it.

I've really been amazed at how well this works. You wouldn't think fourth graders would be so excited about putting beans in a jar, but they are. Oh, they are. I love how excited they are about this. Now, when someone gets blurted, I can pretty much guarantee a couple of hours of really solid work time. It's awesome. The kids also love that they're getting more prize beans than blurt beans. It's been SO motivating for them. They're policing each other, and all I have to do is the blurt sign. If someone is in another class and gets blurted (yes, I allow my team teachers to blurt them, because it was necessary to keep things on task), the kids remind each other. They've been super honest and are trying so hard.

I occasionally slip a couple extra beans in the prize jar when I feel like they're being exceptionally quiet and really working hard. I make sure to let a couple of kids see me, and motion to them to keep it a secret. Naturally, when it comes to free talk time, word spreads like wildfire and I see the excitement in their eyes that they earned bonus beans. I love it.

Here are the logistics of the project:
1. Each kid gets 5 beans a day, no matter what happened the day before. They could have lost every single bean, but they still get their 5 new ones. I don't believe in carrying a hard day into the next day. I have random bags of dried beans, popcorn kernels, sunflower seeds, etc. that we use. The kids love seeing what types of "beans" we're using that day.

2. We keep them in small cups on the tables. The first day, I didn't have the cups and the beans were everywhere. The kids take their cups when they go to the other teachers for trades, because the other classes were messing with them.

3. Any beans found on the floor go into the blurt jar. My kids are SO protective of their beans, and the second they spot one on the floor, it's back in the their cup. I've told them that if they catch it before I do, they keep it.

4. If I catch them playing with their beans, they lose them. No one plays with their beans.

5. At the end of the day, all remaining beans go into the prize jar. I get asked at least 3 times per afternoon when it's time to put the beans in the jar. It's become one of their favorite parts of the day. Who knew?

6. As they reach the different levels on the prize jar, they earn that prize. They do not have to fill the jar the whole way to have a reward. They get it as their beans hit that level. I think this is way more motivating, because they can work towards small and large goals at the same time. They WANT to fill the entire jar, but they get rewarded along the way. It's a win-win for us all.

02 January 2017

Reading Challenges

I'm doing several reading challenges this year, based off of books that I know I'll be reading anyway. Hah. I've created 6 challenges for my Goodreads challenge group, and found one more on the web that I liked. It was for 2016, but go with it, okay?

If you're interested in joining my group, click HERE.

Here's the list of challenges I'm doing:
26 Books (see photo)
Finish the Series

If you're interested in joining any of them (or all of them!), head on over to the group and ask to join!