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!


I've always shied away from New Year's Resolution, because I'm the girl that doesn't keep them and on January 2, I toss my hands in the air and say that it's all for naught. I want to make changes though, so I call them goals instead. I do SO MUCH better with goals, because I feel like you're allowed to fail a few times with goals.

I spent some time yesterday working on my goals for 2017:

1. Be more Christlike: this will include regular scripture study (not just on Sundays, thank you past self), all of church every week, and more meaningful prayers. I get into the habit of skating by, and I don't want to be that girl. I want to have a relationship with my Savior and Father in Heaven.

2. Save enough to move and for my family reunion coming up this year: my parents are coming home from their mission at the end of April, and I'll need a place by the end of July at the latest. I'll have to have money saved up to do that. I also need to rent a UHaul, because I have a house to move. We've also rented a sweet cabin in Island Park that we'll need to pay for.

3. Stay in better contact with my siblings: we all felt this towards the end of the year when we were discussing the future of our Christmas exchanges. Everyone wanted to stay in touch more, and so I have a goal to do just that. I want to make more phone calls, send more texts, send hand-written notes, and hopefully even make some in-person visits.

4. Exercise 4 days a week: a friend and I started this last year, but because of my meeting schedule and illness schedule (don't laugh, that's totally a thing), I didn't get very far. I need to change that this year. Not that I can change my meetings or illnesses, but I've decided I can still DO things. Starting out with 4 days a week isn't overwhelming and will have great benefits. Along with this, I need to work on eating better. I don't generally do the junk stuff, but I also don't eat a very balanced diet. I definitely don't get enough of certain vitamins and minerals, so I need to do better. I signed up for a meal planner to help with this.

5. Be a more active blogger: honestly, when I started this blog, I had delusions of grandeur and thought I was going to conquer the blogging world. 10 posts in a year just doesn't cut it. Yikes. I need to do better this year and get things really going. I want to post more about the books I'm reading in school and at home, the resources I've found or created, and the things I'm trying with my kiddos. My goal is one post per week.

That's it. 5 goals is doable, right?

18 November 2016

And then all is well...

I've been pretty sick for the last few weeks. Coughing uncontrollably at times, so congested that I can't breathe, worried about developing pneumonia. But I'm a teacher...we push through. We work on days when we should be home in bed. We try to push our bodies further and faster than anything else we've ever done. It's way more work to get things ready for a sub than it is to just show up and teach from your desk, writing instructions on a white board when you have no voice. And then it comes around to bite you. You start coughing up blood. Being so short of breath that you can hardly cross your room. Getting so dizzy that you're in danger of falling down in front of your kiddos.

That's where I've been. On the advice of friends, I decided to take Thursday and Friday off this week to try and start healing. I was just going to do Thursday, but was convinced that one day wasn't going to cut it. They were so right. Two days in to my forced break, I'm still coughing harder than I have in years, still very congested, and still dizzy. BUT. Two days of doing nothing but napping has done wonders for me. I still feel kind of awful, but not as bad as I did the rest of the week. Two more days of this just might make a difference.

Then this happened:

A student's mom emailed me last night and asked if I felt comfortable giving them my address. She said her son had made me something and wanted to give it to me so I'd feel better. In my community, I felt okay about that. They showed up a little after school got out today, with a Jamba Juice and a sweet homemade get well card. He told me at the door that he really doesn't like having substitutes because they're not me and he'd much rather have me. 

I may not be feeling a ton better physically, but I'm soaring emotionally. This is the reason that I keep doing what I do.

17 September 2016

Classroom reveal (finally...)

I finally got around to taking pictures in my classroom. School's only been in session for almost a month... But hey, when you break your foot two weeks before school starts, nothing else goes right for weeks.

Without further ado, here are some pictures of my room. I know you're all going to be SO JEALOUS of my carpeted walls.

I love hanging student work out in the hall. There really isn't a good place for it in the classroom.
This year, we have WANDerful work coming up!

My kids love seeing the Fat Lady every day when they get to school.
They love seeing their owls even more and knowing that they have ownership in our room.

When you walk in, this is what you see. I don't like desks, so we use tables.
It seems to work out just fine! I also have some flexible seating options for our
independent work time. I don't have the funds to go full flexible seating, but my
kids seem to be just fine with what we have. I have pillows, crate seats, bean bags,
and some fun chairs for them, plus lowered/raised desks. They can also sit on the floor
if they choose.

Our 'taking care of business' area. This is where our cleaning supplies,
orphaned crayons/colored pencils, pencil sharpeners, sharp/dull bins, and
some art supplies live. Also, the portraits that are necessary to any Harry Potter
room. Our behavior chart fits in well here too.

Moving along, we store notebooks and folders here in the back. I love having
color-coded everything so that there's no guessing on where a kid's things go.
They also love having our 'pet' owls in the room. The white one is Hedwig, of course.
We're still working on the others.
I also have my math and science anchor areas here. I made an anchor chart for the 8
math practice standards, and made it our "We Will" area. I don't like "I Can" statements,
because there's no indication that you WILL. Just that you CAN. So we WILL do these things.
I use our math practice posters as our daily focus. We work on many areas in a day, but
focus mostly on just one.
I also have a character trait clip chart. Our goal is to clip over from the behavior chart to the
character chart. Any kid who does earns 25 House Points. They LOVE this.

Another fun feature is our magnetic dart board. Kids have the option of
either earning House Points for moving up the behavior clip chart, or
throwing darts. It's about 50/50. They also love reading the Harry Potter
quotations on the closet door.
The little table is Madame Pomfrey. I have my band-aids there, along with
mints. If they're not feeling well, they know to go check with Madame Pomfrey
They keep their books in the cubbies, and our bean bags live behind it.

Lots of people were wondering about how I track our AR. I go by percentages
instead of points to track, and I use the number line here to do it. Each student
has a broomstick, and on Fridays, we move them to wherever they are
percentage-wise. I have little potion bottles up above with percentages
written on them, and change them out. This week, they needed to be to 10% of their
goal in order to reach it without having to struggle at the end. Next week, the next
cupboard over will have the 20% potion bottle. It's a GREAT way for them to manage
their own points.
This is also where we keep paper supplies, scratch paper, communal baskets, and
homework turn in baskets.

I love having a separate, color-coded basket for each House. My kids love it
too, because they never have to ask where they turn things in. It also makes it very
easy for me to tell who has turned it in and who hasn't.

These books are the ones that anyone can read, any time
we have free reading time. They're sorted according to genre,
and the bins and books are clearly labeled. This is the first
year that I've used this system, and I LOVE it. My kids are
so good at getting the books back where they go. They also really
like being able to look through a bin that interests them, rather
than having to go through shelf after shelf.

We also have a restricted section, where students have to
check books out. I will let any student try books in the restricted
section, regardless of their reading level. I figured that it would be
a good way to push them without seeming pushy about it. The kids
are pretty good at figuring out when a book is too hard or too easy,
so they go back and look for something else.
These books are all grade level 4.9 or higher, and they're all
labeled with AR information including point values, book level, and test number.
I also have my rock collection, which I inherited from my grandpa.
The kids really like looking at my rocks!

My favorite thing about this white board is the Fist to Five area. It's the
perfect way to do a quick formative assessment on student understanding.
I have the kids put their heads down, and then I ask them to give me their
fist to five. It's remarkable how honest they are when they know that only
I can see what they're putting up.
They also like knowing what's coming up in the week so that they feel
prepared. We have a voice level chart (which we're still working on, and
probably always will be), and we keep the week's vocabulary words up
so that we can go over them frequently.

On this side, meet Henry. The kids decided that he's all that's left of a kid
who didn't turn in his homework. Hah!
We also have a word wall, where we include the Word of the Week (which
always has a prefix/suffix, or a Latin/Greek root), and their Word Wizard
finds. The kids like coming up and looking through our words and using
them in their writing.
The parking lot is for questions that we just don't have enough time right then
to cover. Students are given a minute or so to write their questions in the parking
lot, and then when we have a free minute, we cover them. It's a fantastic way for
me to not forget!
We also have our Harry Potter Educational Decrees (all about turning in work, keeping
the room clean, and going to the bathroom at appropriate times), my favorite
class saying (Do it right or do it twice...your choice), and our points.
The kids love checking their House Points and the teacher vs. students scoreboard!

The kids also love tracking their points earned with the hourglasses.
Each gem is worth 10 points that they've earned throughout the week.
At the end of the month, we see which House has won the House Cup!
They also really like the flying keys, and from where they're at, they
can't see the fishing line that holds them up. They think I'm magical!

This is my area. I'm still in the process of getting some
things sorted out, but it's getting there. We used our
Sorting Hat for an actual sorting ceremony to put the kids
in their Houses. They LOVED wearing it!

No Harry Potter classroom is complete without a potions collection.
My students also bring me wands that they've made, and a friend
gave me Dumbledore's wand. I use them as pointers!

Closer view of my potions, and also the Tri-Wizard cup. A student brought
it to me last year from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Reading area, where we remind ourselves of our skill and strategy for the week,
and also our non-negotiable list. It's full of things like being grateful, pushing ourselves
to do better, trying more than once, etc.
We also have our House Elf Chores here. Each student has a job for the week.
The black and red box is our 'caught being good' box. Students can write notes
when they see someone doing something above and beyond, and then we read
them every few weeks. They like hearing all the good things they're doing!

As you leave our room, the last things you see are a few
more portraits (which change!), and our birthday area. The kids
really like having their birthdays listed for everyone to see! They made sure
I put mine on there too. :)

There you have it! I love my classroom, and my kiddos do too. They come up several times in the day to tell me something that they've seen in the room and are curious or excited about. I love that they're getting into Harry Potter! We're reading it aloud right now, and it's fun when they hear something that mirrors something that we have in the classroom.

I love being a teacher and getting to be so creative in my space!