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.
  • ePals.com - 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).
  • Prezi.com -  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.