Power of Intention

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As 2016 has begun, I haven’t had a lot of time to sit and reflect about the past year and moving forward.  Overall, things are going well.  Many big changes happened in the second half of 2015-started a new job, moved apartments, started living with my boyfriend, and got a puppy!  At the close of 2015, I was on vacation, and when I returned home, I started work right away so there wasn’t a lot of time to stop and just think!  The One Word movement has gotten bigger, but I felt motivated by Athleta’s Power of Intention event.

Last Saturday, I attended Athleta’s event.  It was a yoga class, which always talk about setting an intention.  We focused on breathing, stretching, and meditating, and through this practice could personally set an intention for the coming year.  As a yogi, I think about what intention I want at the beginning of class; with so much floating around in my brain, this can be a challenge at times to let go and focus on one thing, to just breathe.

That is why for 2016 I am setting my intention to Enjoy the Moment and Stay in the Present.  I am busy with school and other activities; there are always thoughts running through my head.  I plan ahead and like to know what is going on.  But if I constantly think about what is happening next, I can’t enjoy what is happening now.  I get overwhelmed and stressed and don’t appreciate all the positives that do exist.  If I focus on what I am doing in the present, not what comes next, I will enjoy myself and what is going on around me more.
Cheers to a great 2016!

Yoga: Letting Go and Trying Something New

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Last week, I went to yoga expecting my normal class.  To my surprise, class was cancelled due to an arm balance and inversion workshop.  Since I was there, I decided to go for it, with a little hesitation.  I’ve gained strength doing yoga, but still struggle with balances and being comfortable being upside down.  As I walked into the crowded room, I assumed I’d be the only one who couldn’t do a headstand.

Luckily, the workshop started off slowly with warmups and more basic postures.  I decided to give everything a try because what did I have to lose?!  As the workshop continued and the instructor demonstrated inversions and more advanced positions, I realized others were giving the same looks of bewilderment and I was not alone in beginning inversions.  Everyone gave her best effort, with some falling and laughter along the way.

By the end of the workshop, I had done a pike headstand independently, and a full headstand and handstand with someone spotting me.  I’m capable of doing it, I just need to figure out where my body should be independently to balance.  I was proud of my efforts.

As a new school is about to begin, I think of bringing this same mindset to my new role.  As a special education teacher, I’ll be working with a variety of students at different ability levels.  They will need to learn new skills and be supported along the way.  They will be given modifications, not to make things easier, but to help them be successful at their level.  As time goes on, they will be given challenges as well.  This will allow them to grow, learn, and build self-confidence.  Then, hopefully, they will feel balanced and proud of their efforts as well.

The Three Pigs and Big Bad Wolf

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To end the school year, I wanted to do something fun to help keep my students motivated and engaged during the last few weeks. From Twitter, I saw that @missmac100 had done a project based on the 3 Little Pigs and Big Bad Wolf with her second graders. This project included a real-life application and incorporated different subject areas. I read her blog posts about the project and started a discussion with her as I began planning. I met with the Instructional Coach to figure out how to tackle this task. We looked at the standards I needed to include to end the year and how the different aspects of the project met the standards. I also researched on Pinterest, and found other versions of the project. I took all these ideas and modified them to best fit the needs of my students and the time frame we had.

 

First, I read different versions of the 3 Little Pigs to my students. They looked forward to the books! After each story, we created a story map about what happened, and they began noticing the differences in characters, building materials, and endings. We also were able to discuss whose point of view the story was written from. After reading multiple stories, students compared and contrasted two versions and also wrote their own story!

I also introduced the topic of architecture to the students. We brainstormed questions to research that would help us build a strong house. We also discussed, researched, and modeled different architectural structures, such as columns, domes, bridges, and arches.

After, students formed groups and started brainstorming and creating a blueprint of their house design. They were not happy when I told them their budget was $600 after they saw the price of the materials!! They added up the cost of their materials, being careful not to go over, and drew their design before purchasing materials from me. While building, I let them return or trade materials, as long as they had not been used.

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Once students finished their houses, we tested them using the Big Bad Hairdryer. Students were quite nervous, but cheered when their house survived! Amazingly, none of the houses fell apart! One blew off the table, but that didn’t count! I was going to give them additional money to revise their house, but that turned out to not be needed.

 

We then moved on to the next part of the project. We talked about advertising and how to sell your house. Students needed to create real estate ads and posters why other Pigs should buy their house. They continued working in their groups to create these. We talked about descriptive and persuasive language to be the best sellers.

 

 

Finally, students presented their posters. They then chose which house they would buy and one.

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Phew! This project took the last few weeks of school, but it was definitely worth it.   Students were engaged and excited to build. They needed to work together and share ideas in a small group, which wasn’t always easy, and problem solve when things didn’t go as expected or they went over budget. These skills are just as important as the reading, writing, math, and science standards that this project entailed. I’m proud how this project turned out and hope it is something the students remember for a long time.

Morning Meetings

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As we progressed through the school year, I needed a way to continue building a classroom community. My chatty group of second graders needed an outlet to share with one another, rather than blurt out during activities, and continue practicing being respectful listeners.

I talked with some people who did a morning meeting, used the Morning Meeting Book as a reference, and developed my own twist. I use the Morning Meeting to set up a positive tone to each day and review our classroom expectations.

We start each day either greeting each other “Hello” in another language or sharing a sentence about our favorite activity over the week or one thing we did over the weekend. Then, I go over the schedule for the day, noting any changes. Third, we usually do some type of quick ELA warm up before beginning our reading instruction. Sometimes we get into a bigger discussion about events going on at school or activities we are doing in the classroom.

Since starting Morning Meeting about 2 months ago, I have noticed positive changes in my second graders. They look forward to our meeting to share and talk with one another. The first time we did a “Hello” around the circle, students were laughing because it was silly greeting each other. Students are willing to help each other when different languages are difficult. There are still laughs and excitement when someone is so focused on the greeting that he forgets his friend’s name or someone did something very exciting or similar over the weekend.

Outside of our meeting, students are really improving at working together and supporting each other. When a student was struggling with solving a math problem on his white board, a couple other students went over to explain and help him through the steps. When a student came back to school with a retainer, others came over to her because they wanted to see it and make sure she was okay. They’ve grown so much this year and are really getting better at helping each other and working together to problem solve.

Stepping back and watching these interactions makes teaching this group is so rewarding.

I’m the Gingerbread Man!

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IMG_1025As Winter Break approached, I knew I needed to incorporate activities that engaged my students.  Since I have multiple versions of The Gingerbread Man, I decided to read a few, have the students compare and contrast versions, and incorporate writing activities.  This was seen as fun by the students (they looked forward to a new story each day) and incorporated learning standards as well!

I started by reading the original Gingerbread Man so we knew the basic story.  After reading the story, we created a short summary.  We then read 4 other versions, and I had more stories available for students to read during independent reading time; I also gave them access to QR codes to listen to stories on their iPads (this was definitely a hit).  After reading each story, we summarized each.  This allowed us to begin comparing and contrasting the characters, setting, and plot.

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After reading the different stories, students worked with a partner to compare and contrast 2 different versions of The Gingerbread Man.  They worked hard, used the books to check details, and came up with great ideas!  Additionally, they wrote a letter to the Gingerbread Man giving him advice how to prevent being eaten.  This was challenging for some to take the perspective of another character.  Finally, students had the chance to write their own version of a Gingerbread Man story.  They were very creative coming up with characters and setting.  It’s fun stepping back and watching the students be excited about their learning!

Overall, I would say this unit was a success.  Next time, I’m going to have more copies of the books accessible for students to read and use for text evidence during the activities.  It’s fun to do something different for a change of pace for both me and the students.  I have different versions of more fairy tales and folktales I hope to share with them later in the year!

A Breath of Fresh Air

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As the year turns to 2015, it’s a perfect time to reflect on everything that has happened over the past year.  For me, there have been many positive changes, both personally and professionally.  As I have adjusted to my new role (well not so new anymore) as a second grade teacher, I’ve worked to find a balance between my work and professional life.  After spending the last school year not in the main teaching role, I’ve realized again why I love teaching and being in the classroom.  I love being the teacher, leading the students, helping them discover and learn new things.  While there are times I joke I’m tired of hearing my name, at the same time, I love it because it means the students want to share their ideas or need my help.

Getting back into the classroom has been a whirlwind-setting it up, getting to know my students and other staff members, learning the curriculum, gathering resources.  It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now and the endless piles of work; I always feel like there’s something more I could or should be doing.

At the same time, I need to take a step back and realize how much I’ve done and how much my students have already learned.  If I had to pick a one word for 2015 it would be “breathe”.  When I hold my breath, I don’t enjoy the moment; I’m too stressed about what else I have to do.  Winter break has allowed me to relax and rejuvenate.  I fresh energy to begin the school year again.  Yes, there’s still things I need to learn and things I want to change to make things run smoother in the classroom and continue energizing the students, but by staying in the moment, we’ll all be more relaxed.

While at yoga, the instructor put it perfectly:

“When you focus on the past, you are depressed.  When you focus on the future, you’re anxious about what’s to come”  Being in the present is bliss.  Living in the moment brings happiness”

Here’s to a 2015 where I breathe and enjoy the ride.  

Happy New Year!

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

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turtleThis past weekend I ran my second Zooma Run 10K Race. Since I started running a few years ago, I’ve mostly ran 5K races. Last year, I challenged myself to run the inaugural Zooma 10K Chicago because I was intrigued by the idea of a woman’s race and the benefits offered. I had a great weekend, so I knew I wanted to sign up for the race again this year.

Last year, my training was cut short due to a knee injury. I was glad to just finish the race, and knew I would be in pain afterwards. This year, I started increasing my running duration then slowly my mileage earlier on in hopes of being able to run all 6.2 miles. This was working well until my knees starting hurting again about 3 weeks before the race. I was frustrated with being injured and having to halt my training since it hurt to only walk. My goal was again to finish the race and take care of myself.

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On race morning, I was up before the sun and had a beautiful view of the sun rise over the lake. I was excited for the race to begin, warmed up, and headed to the start line. I knew if I ran at a steady tempo, I would be able to run longer before stopping. I created a playlist of songs that I knew would motivate me while running. As I started running, I just enjoyed the feeling and beautiful view of the city. While running, as things got more challenging and I got tired, I give myself pep talks: “Keep going”, “You Can Do It”. I feel like the turtle in The Tortoise and The Hare-“Slow and Steady Wins the Race”. I gave myself a pat on the back at each mile mark. It was helpful that Zooma put inspirational signs and jokes throughout the race: If Athletes get Athlete’s Foot, what do Astronauts get? Mistletoe. Why do runners run early in the morning? They get it out of the way before their body realizes what they’re doing. And my favorite, “Nothing is Impossible, the Word Itself Says “I’m Possible” by Audrey Hepburn.

By reminding myself to go slow and steady, I was able to push myself and run longer and farther than I thought possible. I ran 5 miles before stopping for a short walk and water break, and then continued for the last mile. I was not expecting to run 6 miles nor end the race with little knee pain. Not only that, but I set a Personal Record by running a faster time than I did last year. Immense pride and relief in myself doesn’t do justice to what I was actually feeling.

This is a reminder, especially as the school year is about to begin, that Slow and Steady Really Does Win the Race. We all set goals and work at our own pace to achieve them. NO matter what is the pace, we can accomplish anything we set our mind to.

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World’s Fair

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After teaching about different countries for 3 weeks, I turn the reins over to the kids.  They get to pick a country of their choice to research and teach the others, and we have a World’s Fair on the last day.  Some students choose their cultural country, and this year they went World Cup crazy!  Students take complete ownership with this project as I step back to watch the magic happen.

First we spend some time researching in the computer lab.  We talk about research skills, what information to look for, and I give them some websites to get started with.  I provide support during research and help finding information.  Then, I give them work time to create a project-poster, activity or whatever else they want to do.

It’s amazing how invested these kids become in their projects.  They use the class time to research and work, but they also go home and continue working.  Some students asked their parents for help with research, made crafts or activities at home, or brought in materials to use during class.  This year, the students went all out-bringing in soccer equipment, a cricket bat, posterboard, creating the game Pin the Tail on the Sheep, and building a diorama of cricket.  The kids were also very supportive of each other while presenting, helping one of the kid’s read his notes or listening quietly while a shy girl shared her project.  It is so rewarding to step back, watch them create, and be invested and excited about their work.  I love hearing, “I don’t want summer school to end!” This goes to show, kids really can do anything.

Pin the Tail on the Sheep-Scotland

Pin the Tail on the Sheep-Scotland

Poster about Belgium

Poster about Belgium

Playing Cricket-India

Playing Cricket-India

Stacking dolls in Russia

Stacking dolls in Russia

Diorama of Cricket-Australia

Diorama of Cricket-Australia

Mexican Restaurants-Student Initiative

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Kids never cease to surprise and amaze me.  One of the favorite projects of the summer in my Around the World class is visiting Mexico and designing their own restaurant.  Students love coming up with a name, creating a menu, and designing the restaurant by drawing it or building a 3-d  model.  This is my fourth year doing this project, yet the first where the students have created interactive restaurants.

A group of students asked if they could move desks to create their restaurant, and I said “sure”.  Then they started creating “food” and money.  The other group worked on creating multiple menus.  As the day wound down, the restaurants were still being built and were closed for business.  I told them we could continue the next day.

As the students arrived the next day off the bus, they got started right away to set up their restaurants-before class officially began!  Students who had created other restaurants joined forces with the main groups.  They got set up and opened for business.  They each had specific jobs-manager, chef, cashier-and visited each other’s restaurants to eat.  I had the pleasure of being served at both Expreso, where I ate nachos and a quesadilla, and El Espana Buffet, where I had chips and salsa and a taco.  Some students switched their employment and they all worked together.  These students are in different grades (most entering 2nd-3rd) and go to different schools (there are 4 elementary schools in the district) but have found new friendships this summer.

I sat back and enjoyed watching them create and have fun.  I also wonder how I can bring the same amount of energy and excitement to the school year.  What do you do in your classroom that gives students the opportunity to explore and learn?

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Traveling Around the World

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Last week was one of my favorite weeks in my Traveling Around the World summer school class.  Not only do we visit some of my favorite countries, but we also do some of my favorite projects.  It’s really a chance for the students to be original and creative with no boundaries.  it’s interesting to step back and watch what they do given no restrictions or requirements.  Some struggle with that much open-endedness while others take off and thrive.

We start the week off in England, where we build a famous double decker bus.

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Next, we go to Italy and discuss Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.  The students have to draw like Michelangelo.  Unfortunately the bottom of the desks aren’t smooth, so students are able to flip and rearrange the desks to draw.  The room becomes a “mess” of desks and the students are laughing while drawing because they never get to do that at school.  We end the day making and enjoying mini pizzas, a favorite Italian food.

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The third day, we visit France, spending most of our time at the Louvre in Paris.  After discussing the different exhibits in the museum, students then have to make a 3-d piece to go inside the museum.  They are given a variety of materials, such as construction paper, ribbon, pipe cleaners, toilet paper rolls, and buttons, to create their masterpieces.  When they were finished, we took a gallery walk around the room so students could share and explain their artwork.

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To end the week, we visited Greece, where we discussed the Olympics and Greek mythology.  Students then wrote their own myths.

It was a very fun week for both the students and myself.  It is a great reminder of how creative and imaginative students are.  That is an art I don’t want to get lost.

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