November 16, 2011

Opening Doors with the Wednesday Walk

This morning, the focus of our Wednesday Walk was gratitude.  What are we grateful for?  How can be specific with our thankfulness?
As we walked, students penciled their ideas into Writer's Notebook's and appreciated their warm coats and heated school building as the chilly breeze reminded us that winter is drawing near.  But there was an amazing moment as we rounded the last corner almost back to the school doors.  An Instructional Assistant (paraprofessional), who was accompanying a student on our walk, stopped me and said, "Look at this!  These are all his ideas!" as she pointed to the full page.  This is a child with very specific needs and is not a typical student, he hasn't ever filled a page with ideas.  We both had tears in our eyes, amazed and humbled by this student's ability to grow beyond our expectations.
This is why we walk.  We walk to open the doors to imagination.  We walk to open the doors to possibilities.  We walk to break down the barriers and discover hidden potential.

November 14, 2011

I had this idea...

I have the best principal.  She nurtures my enthusiasm and responds to my "I had this idea..." emails with positive encouragement.  Which is how I came to host a TEDxYouthDay Viewing Party for the 4th grade members of our school Student Council.  My "I had this idea..." email about this event began with the purpose to empower and inspire students in their role as leaders.  The Student Council is a passionate group of about 40 students who are committed to making our school a better place and the ultimate learning environment.  After sharing a few TEDx talks with this group, they inspired me to give up a Saturday to come back to school and "Play, Learn, Build & Share."  Okay, and the speaker lineup for TEDYouth on 11/19 is pretty impressive and I knew this group of students would love it.

We have embraced the TEDxYouthDay theme Play, Learn, Build & Share and, in addition to watching the live webcasts, we have many student-led activities planned encompassing an array of crafts that include up-cycled bottle caps, friendship bracelets, knitting, origami recycling bins (how cool is that!?!), and tie-dye t-shirts to become our "official" Student Council t-shirts.  Students have also planned science experiments, a model rocket launch, and several musical performances.  We're going to take on The Marshmallow Challenge together and launch our Student Council blog to share with our school community and other school groups around the country.  

I firmly believe that when we take the time to empower youth and give children the opportunity to use their voice we are truly shaping the leaders of tomorrow, who will be prepared to tackle with creativity and innovation the unknown future that lies ahead.  Children can, and do, make a difference in our schools, communities, and our world.  Believe in them, give them the opportunity and they will be the change.

November 4, 2011

To class pet or not to class pet? That is the question.

From the first week of school, my class has been asking, more like pleading, for a class pet.  I cannot even begin to count the number of spelling sentences and Writer's Notebook entries written about the possibility of a gerbil or hamster, or the more unusual requests of a weasel, llama, or parrot named Bingo. 
My students make me smile and laugh with their wild suggestions, but they also inspire me with the passion and enthusiasm that fuels their very, very consistent request for a class pet.  
In the spirit of wondering "What if?" more often, I've begun to wonder "what if we did have a class pet?" It could be great inspiration for imagination and creative writing, lessons in responsibility, or it could be a huge source of distraction.  However, my students' persistence and assurances of responsibility have been chipping away at my firm stance of "no."
Suddenly... (I feel the need to explain that, according to Gooney Bird Greene, one of my students' favorite characters, including a "suddenly" in your story is a great way to add suspense.)  ... an answer to my dilemma became clear.  

Three sister guinea pigs in need of a loving home and lots of play time.  Yep, I think my 21 3rd graders can handle that.  Hopefully our adoption of "the girls" will be official early next week.  

In August I wrote briefly about the Design for Change model of Feel Imagine Do Share Continue.  My students felt strongly about including a class pet in our 3rd grade family and through their imagination and persistent actions they certainly changed my mind.  Stay tuned, because I have a feeling that there will be a lot of sharing about the adventures of 3 darling sister guinea pigs.  Realizing they have changed my mind was an incredibly empowering moment for my students and it's moments like these that become catalysts for action to continue seeking change in the future.  

Any suggestions for guinea pig care or class pet resources are welcomed.  :-) 

November 3, 2011

Inspired by Gratitude

November inspires thoughts of thankfulness and gratitude in a number of ways.  School-wide, we are focusing on the lifeskill of gratitude by writing letters to US military troops.  This activity is near and dear to my heart as my husband serves in the Army National Guard.  He and his fellow soldiers have endured deployments where letters from home were tremendous comfort and source of smiles.

In my search through TEDxYouth talks to share with the 4th grade Student Council group I facilitate, I came across this gem of a young woman who is an inspiration.   I admire her passion, patriotism, and commitment to the explosive moment that created her desire to reach out, and I am truly grateful for her initiative and action.  After showing this talk to the Student Council group this morning, one student's response was "Just, wow."  I agree.

As Veterans Day approaches next week, consider sharing this young woman's message with students, colleagues, friends, or family.  November 11, 2011 is more than just 11-11-11.  It's an opportunity to show gratitude and honor the servicemen and women who have served, past and present, to protect our freedom and ideals.

To connect you or your organization with soldiers actively serving or deployed overseas with the US Military, contact these trusted organizations:
Any Soldier
Adopt a Platoon 

November 2, 2011

Introducing Our Margin Mascot

Today we welcomed Mr. and Ms. Stick to our Writer's Notebooks.  Mr. Stick is our "margin mascot," an idea shared by Corbett  Harrison at the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Writing Fix website.  Students in my class love to draw, especially comics and cartoons, so Mr. Stick was a big hit today.  In addition to our new daily page writing strategy, students are going to include a Mr. Stick drawing to represent the emotion of the entry.  
We had a lot of fun learning how to draw Mr. Stick and using markers to add a little color to our margin mascot.  Here are a few examples from our daily pages today.

I was delighted with the variety of Mr. and Ms. Sticks that were added to notebooks today.  We took a few minutes and had a gallery walk so students could see one another's interpretations and purpose for Mr. Stick in their margins.   

Today my students felt a freedom and control when given the opportunity to add illustration to their notebooks.  I loved every moment and I can't wait to see how Mr. Stick adds even more personality to our Writer's Notebooks!

November 1, 2011

Daily Pages

I've had students use a composition notebook as a "writer's notebook" or "journal" for years, but it never seemed to have a focused purpose.  Then a few years ago I discovered Aimee Buckner's book Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer's Notebook.  Reading through Notebook Know-How, I was immediately drawn to the strategy-based writer's notebook lessons.  Since we use The Sister's CAFE reading strategies model for reading workshop, a strategies approach for writing has made good sense.

One of my favorite strategies from Buckner is the "daily page" to develop writing fluency.  It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like, students write a page a day.  This is not a new idea by any means, but if we're truly going to work with our writing they way that good writers do, my students need to be able to write a substantial entry and have many entries in their notebooks.

So today, I made a pact with my wonderful class of good writers.  We agreed that good writers write more to become better writers, and we all want to become better writers.  They're going to write their daily page each day and I am going to write a blog post each day.  After all, I need to be a good model for my students and this a great challenge for myself as well.

A few kids wondered why they had to write in their notebooks and couldn't they just write a blog post?  Valid question.  We talked about our state standardized test and that they would have a writing prompt and would have a specific amount of time to write an amazing knock-your-socks-off story.  My wonderful writers agreed that daily pages could be good practice.

Together, we set some guidelines for daily pages:

  • Write about any topic but stay on topic
  • Write with complete sentences, correct spelling and capitalization
  • Write varied sentence beginning and different types of sentences
  • Write red line to red line (margin to margin) and use all the lines, normal word spacing
  • Label each entry with the date and start/end times (we're calculating elapsed time)
  • Begin writing your entry at school, but it's okay to finish at home if needed
  • Have fun!
Each student signed our "Daily Pages Guidelines" and then began their first daily pages.  There is so much we can teach students about writing through the example of their own writing.  In her book, Aimee Buckner also uses the metaphor of "kneading the notebook."  While my students may feel that writing the daily page is a bit painful this week, it will get easier, the ideas will begin to flow, the conversations about writing will begin, and we will knead our notebooks in a recipe for wonderful writing.

Other favorite resources:
Choice Literacy - subscribe to The Big Fresh newsletter for practical and inspirational literacy ideas
The 2 Sisters -  Daily 5 and CAFE author's website
Writing Fix - the Northern Nevada Writing Project, sign up for the ning site and get an amazing monthly writing lesson delivered to your email inbox each month.

October 27, 2011

I Need an Intervention!

This afternoon I sat in my classroom, frustrated, staring at files and papers trying to plan for the coming weeks and generally becoming more and more disgruntled.  I began to fall victim to the trap of "do what I did before," but doing what I've always done just isn't the way I do things now.  My philosophy and pedagogy of what my teaching looks like has deeply changed and there's no turning back.  So, my conscience was citing me with offenses this afternoon and it all feels a bit like a rug being pulled out from under my feet.

I need an intervention from old files, cute clipart, and teacher resource books.

Student-centered learning is the goal.  This learning is not always "pretty."  Learning is the journey, the muddy pathway to reach the clearing, the rehearsal before the performance.  While I love the cute clipart at times, and I've had great ideas in years past that I enjoy revisiting with students, I feel convicted to qualify the planning and activities for how the learning takes place.  There is nothing "cookie-cutter" about my students, so there should be nothing "cookie-cutter" about the teaching and learning in our classroom.  Different paths lead to different adventures that may make all the difference.

Change is not easy, or clear, or pretty.  Changing my teaching practice does not come with a cute clipart decorated graphic organizer.  Change insists upon fidelity, perseverance, and whole lot of patience.

On August 1st, I referenced the lyrics from "Defying Gravity" from the musical Wicked.  I need a refresher:
"Too late for second guesses, to late to go back to sleep.  It's time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap.  It's time to try defying gravity..."

Instead of a rug being pulled out from under my feet, I think I'll try defying gravity...

October 20, 2011

Why I Write

The words ebb and flow in ripe tide currents
Changing the directions of my thoughts
Forcing their way to the shore of my fingertips

Ideas clamoring for attention,
Relentless and delightful in their pursuit.

Words written to discover a voice,
One of many, uniting together in crescendo, 


September 29, 2011

License to Blog

One of my favorite sessions from RSCON3 this summer featured blogging with students by Pernille Ripp.  Having only joined the blogosphere a few short months ago, I am by no means an expert, but I am enthusiastic and completely enamored with the conversation of blogging.  It didn't take much to convince me and by the end of Pernille's session, I was committed to blogging with my students.

Anticipation does wonders for motivation.  My students have been learning about blogs, commenting, reading other student blogs, and posting to our class blog all in the efforts of earning their (drumroll please)... License to Blog.  For a third grader, this is a big deal.

The big reveal was pretty low-key, my post to our class blog congratulating them on earning their license, was displayed on the screen.  But their reaction was priceless with shouts of joy, big smiles, jumping up and down, and the "yes!" fist-punches in the air.  I just about had tears of joy in my eyes.  It is elementary school, so I did make them an actual paper license (link to template coming soon!) which only added to their excitement.

I had my own moment of excitement tonight about my budding blog authors when I tweeted their first posts with #comments4kids and we had comments in a matter of minutes.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to those of you who take the time to comment on kids' blogs.  And yes, I fist-punched the air and did my "this is why I love Twitter" dance of joy.

Enthusiasm is contagious.  See for yourself in these new blog authors.

September 18, 2011

A Gratitude Celebration

This weekend I am celebrating.  There are so many things to be thankful for in my life, my career, my classroom.  In the spirit of gratitude, affirmation, and general "YIPPEE!" I am celebrating.
  • Why yes, I will be Expanding my Horizons at ISTE 2012 in San Diego because I have been awarded a grant to attend!  
  • My students have taken to blogging like bees to honey!  They are anxiously awaiting their official license to blog.  I am so inspired by their enthusiasm!
  • The Global Read Aloud officially begins tomorrow and I'm just thrilled to have connected with another school to connect on a virtual level through this very cool project.  
  • I completed a huge, time consuming, but very creative project this week, which ultimately was very fulfilling to my soul.  
As a new week begins, I am committed to reframing stress into gratitude, being open and active to change, trying a new way to integrate tech, beginning my presentation proposal for ISTE, and going to bed earlier (teachers really can't live on caffeine, unfortunately...).  

Food for thought: How could gratitude affect our classroom environments?

September 1, 2011

What if?

In my quest to transform my instructional practices, I made a commitment to take my class for a walk around our school grounds at least once a week.  This inspiration came from an article featured in "The Big Fresh" newsletter from Choice Literacy, The Benefits of Taking Students Outside to Inspire Writing.  Following in Stephen Hurley's footsteps, my 3rd graders and I set out on our "Wednesday Walk" each Wednesday morning.

Our first walk, we set a few expectations like focusing on our senses for observation, keeping up with the class, and leaving nature as we find it (or better!).  Last week, having our inaugural walk under our belts, we tromped in the opposite direction with a focus of observation to put our "think like a scientist" skills to work.  We stopped along the way to focus our senses and try to notice something new or interesting about our school setting.  The observations shared were great observations, but I really felt like there was an overall lack of enthusiasm for the Wednesday Walk.

This week, after a reading of Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, the focus for our walk struck me like Eva's ideas struck her: I wondered, "What if?"  What if we took our Writer's Notebooks with us on our walk?  After several minutes of an internal struggle about purpose of notebooks, control of what goes in the notebooks, and when the notebooks have been scheduled to go outside...  I finally realized I was waaaaaay too concerned about this decision, so with Writer's Notebooks in tow, we began our walk today, pausing here and there and wondering, "What if?"  

It was pure magic.  The ideas were practically tangible, scattered everywhere like treat filled Easter eggs there for the taking.  I watched in awe the imagination and wondering unleashed with a fury of pencils to notebooks.  A few of my students who might typically struggle with ideas were so engaged in their creativity and excited to share their ideas.

I learned a few valuable lessons today.  First, let go and let learning happen.  I had to get over my control to let this magical moment occur.  Second, there is time.  It is so easy to become overwhelmed with all there is to do and let the clock be a driving force.  No more!  I will fiercely guard the Wednesday Walk time each week.  The value in this experience has already become immeasurable and teacher and students alike can't wait for next week.  Third, it's a good thing to stop and wonder, "What if?"  Innovation, design, learning, and change are born out of wondering "What if?"  My students wondered, "what if it rained doughnuts?" "What if that plane landed on the soccer field and our whole class got on board and went to Florida?"  "What if there was a road right there [through the middle of the playground]?"  Suddenly they saw a whole new world of possibilities and ideas.  

What if we wondered "what if?" more often?  What if I teach with transparency, sharing openly and honestly with my colleagues, building and world-wide?  What if I challenge my students to see beyond the leaves of the trees, the mulch on the playground, the four walls of our classroom?   I wonder what innovation, design, change, and learning will be born out of wondering "what if?" this year.  

How do you wonder "what if?" with your students or about your teaching?

August 19, 2011

Share Like a Family

This morning in our Community Circle, we each shared something that made our week fabulous.  I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear as I listened to their comments about making new friends, getting to choose books from the classroom library, and being in this class.  This fall, I have a student teacher working me and when it was her turn to share, as deemed by the passing of the Koosh ball (many thanks to my dear hubby who uncovered this treasure), she commented that after only one week this class is already like a family.  

This idea of family stuck with my students as we put the finishing touches on our class contract.  While brainstorming buzz words to describe the kind of learning environment we want, one student wanted to add, "sharing and trusting" to our list.  This is the kind of thinking that makes teachers go weak in the knees!  I asked the student to explain what was meant by "sharing and trusting."  The explanation was that we should share if someone needed to borrow a pencil and share if someone had a good idea about something.  "Does trust go along with sharing, or is it its own category?" I asked.  The class felt that "sharing and trusting" should stay together because we needed to trust each other if we were going to share our thinking, writing, and ideas.  They worked in triads using the buzz words to write a phrase or statement about our learning environment.   As I moved from group to group, I was struck with how their statements were very serious, intentional, inspiring, and honest.  

So, what made my week fabulous?
"Sharing and Trusting: Where we share like a family, take risks with our learning, and trust each other with new ideas."  20 amazing, thoughtful, curious, innocent 3rd graders who completely humbled their teacher.

August 14, 2011

Inspiration has a Sense of Humor

Sometimes inspiration strikes in the oddest ways.  Music has a powerful effect on my creativity, and in this case, it became the vehicle of my latest inspiration strike.

Teachers Back to School Music Video

Yes, the school counselor and I wrote a parody song and made a music video, which we shared with the staff at our school on the first teacher day.  

Why take the time to do this the week before school starts?  Why dress so ridiculously?  Why post it to Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and this blog?  Why would an educator so passionate about learning, integrating technology, and educational reform do something so silly?

As the video played in a room full of teachers and school staff, each one of them could connect to some part of our goofy (yet fabulous) lyrics.  Together, we laughed, and laughed, and laughed with one another, a positive affirmation of what it takes to prepare for the start of school this year.  That four minutes brought our staff together in a shared experience that we will carry with us throughout the school year.   We were also reminded that through all the drastic changes and stresses, we have each other to lean on and laugh with.
At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.
Jean Houston 
When you laugh, "you're changing your brain chemistry, which causes the brain to produce a variety of chemicals that naturally make you feel better. It also stops producing the chemicals that make you feel anxious and tense," said Paul Antokolsky of a laughter therapy group.  Like a "brain break" for our students, this funny music video for teachers was the perfect release and recharge for the start of school.

With all of my collective new learning from the summer, I truly want to "be the change." To me, this means I must be transparent in my practices, ideas, resources, successes, and failures. I have to be willing to take risks and do what others may not be ready to do or try. This holds true with my students as well. I strive to create a safe and creative environment for students to be open to taking risks, and I feel compelled to live that model myself.

Making this video was completely hilarious and fun.  We laughed so hard that now there is a "kaleidoscope of new possibilities."  As it says in the credits, suggestions for future parodies welcome.

Have a dynamite year,
ShFresh (aka @ICETeacherSara)

August 9, 2011

The Gift of Gab

Last week my school held the annual Staff Retreat where we review logistics for the coming year, important changes and school-wide initiatives, and teachers share about summer professional development.  Naturally, I was among the teachers sharing about summer pd.  In fact, the morning of Day 2 of #RSCON3, I emailed my principal sharing all about #RSCON3 and asked to present at the staff retreat.  I may have also included the superintendent in on the email (it seemed like a good idea at the time...).  This is the email I sent on 7/30/11.
Dear Principal and Superintendent, "I've had an educational awakening of sorts this summer, which has led me to discover an amazing wealth of people, resources, ideas, and innovations online.  I've started a blog,  (shameless plug, I know), I'm creating a PLN comprised of educators all over the world, and I was even convinced to create a Twitter account.  Now you know where I'm coming from as I actually get to the point of my email.
This weekend is an online global event for education called Reform Symposium (RSCON3).  It began yesterday and I was able to participate in several sessions which were phenomenal.  You are both strong influences in my career as an educator because of your ideals, passions, encouragement, and leadership.  I think you would appreciate some of the topics being presented in the next two days of RSCON3 and I would like to share the links with you.
(links were included in email)
With the changes and struggles that education is facing in Indiana (and globally), it's been easy to feel limited and frustrated at times.  Through my journey of awakening this summer, those feelings have changed.  I feel empowered and capable to break down the walls of my classroom, redefine barriers, connect and create community in my classroom, school, and on a global scale.  Chuck Sandy presented last night and shared about the Design for Change initiative.  These five words are the essence of the movement: feel, imagine, do, share, continue.
Thank you for letting me share a little bit about my journey and the information about RSCON3 with you.  It kind of feels like I've hit the "educational jackpot" for inspiration, innovation, and community. "
I am so fortunate to work for a supportive administrator who encourages my enthusiasm, wild ideas, and said she wouldn't put a timer on me while I shared at retreat.

Back to the retreat...  #RSCON3 was such an inspiring event that I just had to share some of my favorite quotes, lightbulb moments, and themes.  So, I created a prezi (because I also wanted to share prezi).  This was my first Prezi and it's a bit rough around the edges, but once I got the hang of it, prezi was truly fun to use.  No link to this prezi, trust me, it really is rough...  The next prezi on my to-do list is the daunting task of my Parent Curriculum Night presentation.

Also, I had so many amazing links and resources I wanted to share with staff, but I felt flustered with how to provide this information in a format they could readily access.  I ended up creating an account on Diigo because of the feature to publish lists and links publicly and teachers could access the links from home or school.  I'm also working on creating a group for teachers at my school so we can collectively add and share the resources we find.

Our retreat was in the computer lab at school so I had teachers go to my Diigo site.  I did pass out one handout with the title "learning is changing" (thank you for that thought @chucksandy) and the web address for the Diigo site.  The rest of the page was blank for their own thoughts, ideas, and connections.   I shared a few specific links from my "Connect and Collaborate" list.  One in particular is Michael Graffin's post An Important Milestone - #RSCON3.  I really wanted to share the idea of a PLN with the staff and his reflective post was well worth sharing.  The post is so well published in many ways.  The images were an immediate hook, like the world map slide of attendees (yes, I was one of them!!) showing the international presence of educators, the response slide to "How do you Connect and Collaborate?" with so many different means and media, and the take-aways slide image which is so encouraging.  Plus, all the relevant links to the recordings and the actual slides from his "What the Heck is a PLN" are included.

And that's when I lost my audience.

Really, it was a great moment to realize that none of them were listening to me anymore.  They were viewing the presentation, exploring other lists on Diigo, and sharing their own favorite resources.  If their connecting and collaborating had been colors, I could have painted a masterpiece.  I just had to smile because suddenly in that moment it wasn't about what I had to share, it was about their exploring and learning.

P.S.  The superintendent sent a reply to my email on 8/2/11,
"Yo, Sara--  I like it when you're on fire for the work!  Bravo.  Have a great start and great year."
Three days after his reply to my email, he published his first post on a new blog.  Butterfly effect?  
You decide. 

August 1, 2011

Defying Gravity - My RSCON3 Transformation

"Something has changed within me, something is not the same.  I'm through with playing by the rules of someone else's game.  Too late for second guessing, too late to go back to sleep.  It's time I trust my instinct, close my eyes, and leap.  It's time to try defying gravity..."
 "Defying Gravity," Wicked, the musical

Attending the Reform Symposium Worldwide e-Conference has truly been life changing experience and probably the best professional development so far in my career.  The lyrics above came to mind as I realized that something within me really has changed and I am transforming as an educator.  Throughout the symposium I was amazed at the transparency of each presenter who so freely shared their experiences, knowledge, resources, ideas, inspiration, and encouragement.  As if someone has switched on a lightbulb, I have an entirely new understanding and enjoyment of collaboration, community, and Web 2.0 tools thanks to this event.  

Prior to RSCON3, I was not on Twitter.  It became glaringly clear to me after participating in my first two sessions that I was missing out, so @ICETeacherSara was born and my transformation as an educator had begun.  I hadn't joined Twitter because I thought I didn't need another social media tool.  However, in two days time I've come to realize that Twitter is an extraordinary, powerful, and essential tool for educators.  Many thanks to Shelly Terrell for unknowingly helping me learn this lesson! 

Each presenter had so much relevant information and many inspiring words of wisdom.  I look forward to posting more as I implement my new learning in my classroom (less than two weeks now!).  I would like to touch on one take-away thought that really stood out to me.  Chuck Sandy spoke about the Design for Change School Challenge initiative, whose mission can be summed up with five words:

Feel   Imagine   Do   Share   Continue

These five words have resonated loudly within my educator conscience.  This may become my new mantra  and challenge to myself as an educator and a challenge to my students.  Chuck Sandy also reminded us that Ghandi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."  Now more than ever in education, I feel this quote is a call to action to roll up my proverbial sleeves and take action on my new learning and inspiration.  

As I prepare for the new school year, I will rethink the four walls of my classroom and model what it means to be a global citizen.  I will learn (however painful and difficult it may be!) to give up some control and give my students ownership of their learning.  I will value individuality, create community, involve parents, embrace social learning and Web 2.0, and share my experiences and resources.  Above all, I will continue to be a passionate and enthusiastic educator of the children who are the present, here and now.  

July 25, 2011

Stage to Page?

My first love began in 3rd grade when my teachers, Mrs. Heller and Mrs. Stapleton, announced that our class would be performing the play "Santa Claus Takes a Vacation."  In that moment, my little 8-year-old self knew what I wanted more than anything:  to play the role of Mrs. Claus.

One by one, teachers called out the parts and students raised their hands to volunteer.  I remember vividly sitting on the rug, watching who had volunteered for each part, waiting eagerly to raise my hand.  Finally, finally after what seemed like an eternity, Mrs. Heller said, "And who would like to play the role of Mrs. Claus?"  I literally jumped up and my heart nearly burst as I shouted, "I do!"  Mrs. Heller and Mrs. Stapleton changed the direction of my life in that moment, they introduced me to the stage.  My love of the stage, performing, creating characters, letting go, and taking risks, all of these things are still very much a part of me today.

This week I have the privilege of directing an acting and improv camp for 4th - 6th graders.  It is always amazing to me to watch a group of 20 kids who barely know one another come together and share their creativity with such transparency.  On stage today I witnessed students overcoming fears to take risks and let go of restraint to be real and fearless.  It was exhilarating!

Then I had one of those light-bulb moments.  If these drama and improv games encourage such open thought and creativity for the stage, why couldn't these same games and exercises encourage the same open thought and creativity for my class with writing.  Ding!  Lightbulb.

In our first day of camp, we explored walking in different ways, like animals, through weather, unusual scenarios, and then move into walking to show an emotion.  When actors move on stage there is always a purpose, a motivation.  So we work quite a bit on motivation for emotions and movement.  Then we transition into pantomime scenes where the focus of the scene is not the action but the motivation, relationships, and beginning-middle-end.

All of this ties into creative writing (and part of me is wondering why I didn't make this observation sooner!).  I am very excited to incorporate improvisation games and exercises into my classroom to support our writing endeavors.  Students struggle with ideas for writing, desperately at times, and I think some of these games are a fantastic source for character development and plot.  It would also be fun to try a workshop environment to actually act out students' in progress writing as a tool for revision.

One of my favorite resources is Improv Ideas: A Book of Games and Lists.  Full of detailed directions and lists upon lists of ideas, places, emotions, objects, etc... this book is a tremendous resource to both the acting teacher and the classroom teacher with a flair for the dramatic.

Thank you Mrs. Heller and Mrs. Stapleton for the opportunity that has inspired me for a lifetime.
Break a leg!

July 15, 2011


One of my new favorite blogs to follow is Richard Byrne's Free Technology for Teachers.  The resources Byrne shares cover a broad spectrum of user difficulty, grade level usage, purpose, and curricular implications.  This week, besides the impressive list of resources shared (just check my starred items in Google Reader), Byrne asked We're Halfway Through the Summer, Have You Tried Anything New?

Why, yes Mr. Byrne, in fact I have tried something new.  With the realization that the first day of school is exactly one month from today, I'm going to take this opportunity to recap my new "tech-knowledge."

  • Lions and tigers and blogs, oh my!  Blogging is definitely a new adventure for me this summer.
  • - This is an extraordinary resource worthy of it's own post on ICE.T.  It's a simple way to break through the walls of your classroom and go global!  I created an account and within 48 hours I already had a connection with a 3rd grade class to correspond with about social studies for the coming school year.
  • Google Reader - Setting up a Google Reader account was easy, check out this video from Common Craft for details, then download the Google Reader App for your smart phone so you can stay up to date anywhere (or any other Reader for RSS feeds).
  • -  I am just tickled with Prezi, an exciting way to take slide show presentations to a whole new level.  I'm currently working on a prezi for my school's staff retreat.  The topic for this prezi?  I'll be sharing all of the amazing tech-ed resources I've discovered this summer.
  • eBook-o-rama -  My school is receiving a cart of Netbooks this year, thanks to our amazing PTO, and I discovered some great eBook resources as a way to integrate reading and technology.
    • Storyline Online- produced by the Screen Actors Guild, this site features famous actors reading children's books.  
    • RAZ Kids - This site is produced by Learning A-Z and features interactive leveled eBooks, just like its print counterpart, Reading A-Z.
    • Free eBooks - I've linked this site to the Youth section where there are many classic titles available.  Be aware that users can write and publish their own eBooks on this site and verify the author and contents when selecting texts for children.
    • Tumblebooks is a subscription service for schools and libraries, but it has an impressive catalog of eBooks for the elementary classroom.
  • Library of Congress Primary Resources Database - loaded with photos, maps, some video, and resources for specific state standards.  With my state's implementation of Common Core Standards, there are some new topics added to science and social studies and the Library Of Congress Primary Resources are a fantastic digital resource to add to the curriculum.
  • The Global Read-Aloud Project- My class is signed up and I'm just trying to decide how we'll share.  There is an Edmodo group for the Global Read-Aloud Project, which could be a fun way to respond, but I've never used it with students.  I'd love comments from teachers who have used Edmodo for their students.
So, yes, as you can see, I have tried something new.  But I think there will be more new tech to try, learn, and explore because Byrne's post also included a link to 77 Web Resources for Teachers to Explore This Summer.   I just can't help but think, "Jackpot!" when I see such tremendous resources.  I think this calls for a nice glass of iced tea and some serious surfing.  Cheers!

    July 12, 2011

    The Restless Days of Summer

    Most teachers I know gleefully count down the last days of school. Goodbye grading! See you next fall lesson planning! Have a great summer kiddos! Hellooooooo summer!

    I am often among this collegial count down, being more than ready to put aside the intensity of the school year and catch my breath, read for fun, and most importantly, spend time with my family.  But behind my exhilaration on that last day of school, dread is lurking.  What on earth am I going to do with myself now?

    Admittedly, I thrive on the intensity and the mental demands of the school year, plus I work wonders under pressure.  Sure, June is blissful with sleeping in, lunch dates, library visits, etc.  But as the summer wears on, lazy days begin to wear on my nerves and then the restlessness sets in.   

    This summer I decided to reframe my restlessness.  I could let it fester in the back of my mind, or I could be proactive and actually enjoy my summer.  I came across this quote while reading The Happiness Project and felt a resounding "Aha!" 

    Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.
    Thomas A. Edison 
    Progress.  Intentional growth and movement forward.  I'm not looking for a distraction but rather a focus for my mental energy and creativity.  So how am I intentionally growing as an educator during the summer?  

    Blog:  Simply putting my thoughts out here for the world to read (or not read as I don't know if I have any readers besides my immediate family- thanks hubby, mom, and dad) is a way to challenge myself to be articulate and share the resources that strike me with inspiration.

    Seek like minds: I'm going to be completely honest here.  A few weeks ago, I didn't even know what an RSS feed was, let alone how to search for and follow blogs with a resource like Google Reader.  *hangs head shamefully*  The experience of discovering like minded teachers, educators, and enthusiasts like myself, who want to share their resources, thoughts, and inspiration- this is an educational awakening.  Looking at the blog roll of a handful of my favorite blogs has led me to extraordinary people, and therefore Inspiring Collaboration and Enthusiasm in this Teacher.

    Read voraciously:  I actually teach "read voraciously" as a fluency and expanding vocabulary strategy to my students.  But it is just as appropriate for teachers.  I find that when I am actively engaged in a book (preferably a good one), I have so many more ideas and feel mentally invigorated.  

    Grow something:  Plants have always seemed like a good idea to me, but then something usually goes terribly wrong and they end up brown and crunchy as a result of my black thumb.  I have two houseplants that I've kept alive (my mother would say thanks to her tending when she comes to visit) for several years now.  Based on that minor success, last year I decided to plant a vegetable garden.  It was a first attempt and I had no idea what I was doing, but we were able to harvest several cucumbers, green beans, baby carrots, and lettuces.  But the broccoli plant never grew any broccoli and because of that, I kind of felt like a failure.
    This year my garden is flourishing and we have fresh vegetables ready to pick for dinner.  And guess what?  The broccoli plant has sprouted broccoli.  Such a simple success (and so completely out of my control) yet fulfilling at the same time.  

    Enjoy the journey:  Teachers love to quote the saying, "education is a journey, not a destination."  I've spent quite a few summers where my destination has been the first day of school.  Being a working mother, I sometimes feel like I am missing quite a bit.  So for me, this summer is a journey I intend on enjoying and relishing this time while my children are little.  

    Wishing you growth and progress,

    July 9, 2011

    Books & Nooks

    Summer break brings the promise of grading-free evenings devoted to reading.  Last month, I made the leap and bought a Nook Simple Touch e-reader.  Deciding on my first big Nook purchase wasn't as simple as I'd thought and I agonized for about two weeks.  My Nook wishlist had become quite expansive both in numbers and genre.  My final decision for my first official e-book: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  This one has been on my "To Read" list for quite some time, but the birth of my second child and my return to the classroom took over my time for reading.  Focusing on happiness feels like a great place to launch my summer reading.

    Following up The Happiness Project, I'm very excited to get into Sir Ken Robinson's Out of Our Minds.  It's not yet available on e-book, but I've got the hardback in hand.  My background is in the arts prior to becoming an educator and Sir Ken taps into my inner-artist and arts education advocate when he speaks about education and creativity.  This clip from RSAnimate Changing Education Paradigms made me laugh, nod in agreement, and stop and think.  I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

    Considering both my Nook acquisition and Sir Ken's points about educational reform and the purpose of education, I wonder how teachers are using e-readers, tablets (like iPad and its Android cousins), and Netbooks in their instruction.  Are the e-readers and tablets purposeful in the elementary classroom?  In such a literacy-driven curriculum, how do teachers incorporate this kind of technology with reading and writing?

    Your thoughts and comments are welcomed.  After all, it isn't ICE.T without the Collaboration.
    Now, off to read with a nice tall glass of iced tea.

    July 7, 2011

    Every Journey Begins with a Single Step

    The first step.  The first post.
    This must be what my students feel like when I give them that blank composition notebook the first week of school and explain it's their Writer's Notebook.  I get a variety of responses including (but not limited to) the blank "deer in headlights" stare, excitement followed by flipping through the blank pages, and then there's always a few with the "sigh of despair" at the realization I'm going to ask them to write.  I ask them, what's the most challenging part of writing?  What makes you "sigh with despair?"  The most common answer:  Getting started.  Writing that first sentence, or blog post, just taking that first, single step to begin the journey.

    A few years ago I had the privilege of participating in the CIESC Teacher Leadership Academy, an incredible two-year professional development program.  The motto of TLA recently came to mind as I began hoarding my blog roll of RSS feeds in Google Reader and categorizing my browser bookmarks into education related folders.
    "The responsibility of knowing is sharing."
    It's time to begin my journey of sharing with you.  All of you educators, teachers, and readers out there who are also on a journey to inspire, collaborate, and are enthusiastic about sharing your knowledge.

    I must give credit where credit is due and thank Shelly Terrell of Teacher Reboot Camp for being my inspiration to begin this blog.  Check out her post What will you learn this summer?  26 Professional Development Resources and you may find some sources for inspiration too.  I also recommend downloading a copy of Shelly's free The 30 Goals Challenge e-book.  The narratives and challenges are thought provoking both personally and professionally.  This post can be considered my response to the Goal #1 challenge!

    This is going to be quite an adventure.