Cultivating Minds Without Losing My Own

Cultivating Minds Without Losing My Own

One Teacher's Guide To Elementary School Survival

Realizing Childhood Dreams a Lesson in Setting and Achieving Goals

In this my 33rd year, I have achieved some of my childhood dreams that just a few short years ago would have seemed impossible.  I am marrying my best friend, my soul mate, an awesome guy.  I went back to school and actually forsee finishing this time.  I had an awesome year working with my "kids" at work, seeing progress, learning together.  I just bought my childhood dream car, a Jeep Wrangler!  (ok, as i child I did not envision it having 4 doors, but as a mother I see the practicality in that)  I finally feel that I am back on track both personally and professionally.  I have learned some lessons along the way.  Lessons I hope to share with my own children (both biological and the ones I borrow from year to year from the parents around town :) )


I will be the first to admit, my life has taken many twists and turns that I had sworn I would never make.  I swore I would never put my children through a divorce.  I swore I would never quit something once I started it (grad school).  I swore I would always make sound choices both professionally and personally.   While thse lofty oaths were admirable they were unrealistic.  I have learned not to swear to an oath anymore (however righteous or admirable it may be) but rather set and work towards goals instead.  Setting and working towards goals allows for flexibility in the path to achieving them.  It requires you to process check and adjust when necessary.  Swearing to an oath does not allow this flexibility therefore setting you up for failure from the get go.


Last September, my class and I set goals and displayed them in the hallway.  Each student was asked to set a goal for learning, for personal growth, and for fun.  We had a brainstorming session on how to set goals and created lists of example goals.  I really think they did an great job and many of my students saw their goals through to achievement.  This year, I plan on taking it a step further and having my students progress monitor themselves quarterly on where they stand in regards to thier goals.  I realized this is the missing step that needs to take place.  It is the difference between dreaming big and achieving big.  A dream is cast out almost wistfully whereas a goal needs to be set, coaxed, finessed, and often reworked to see success.  


An example of this is my new car.  It was a childhood dream of mine to own a jeep.  I cast it out there and let it flounder on its own for years.  I did nothing to work towards actually achieving it.  In fact, by not cultivating it and actually setting a goal with a plan to achieve it, I actually took myself further and further away from ever realizing this dream.  Meeting my fiance and learning many life lessons over the past few years has taught me that if you want something you need to set a goal, develop a plan, and see it through to actually get it.  Eric and I began talking about getting this car a few months ago.  We set a plan to see if a budget allowing for a second car payment would work, researched what we really needed vs. what we really wanted, and readjusted when necessary (did we really need all the bells and whistles or could we spare a few and save a bundle?) 


Going through this whole process we learned alot about each others style for saving, spending, and planning.  Setting goals and learning the process to achieve them is something we both feel we missed out on learning.  It is not something that was inherently taught to us as children.  It's one of those things that was assumed you learned.  How many of you remember being asked what is your life goal as a high school student?  Did anyone ever sit you down and help you create a plan allowing for process check points or times to reevaluate that goal?  My guess is no.    My goal is to teach goal setting this year.  To walk my students through the entire process.  From choosing a realistic yet challenging goal, setting a path, process checking progress, and hopefully the actualization of their success.  It needs to be taught and modeled for it is not something that just happens.  The dream of being a professional athlete, singer, actress (my classes favorite career choices) does not just happen.  I'm not saying it can't happen, but it takes work, setting goals, creating a path, and even more support to achieve than todays young children think.  So my goal is to teach them to dream big and set challenging goals that will get you there, but not to be afraid to adjust when necessary.


Surviving June

The end of the year is near and the trickiest part of teaching is upon us.  How do we deliver meaningful instruction when our students have checked out for the summer already?  I mean seriously how is math, reading, and writing to compete with pools, beaches, and baseball?!  Below are some of the techniques I have been using with success over the past few weeks.  Now is the time to beg, borrow, and steal all the great ideas we can get our hands on to survive the final stretch of the year and end it on an academic high.


Contact your local Department of Fish and Wildlife.  They are filled to the gills (no pun intended) with tadpoles and other creepy crawlies that they would love to share with your class.  Below is our tadpoles we are raising thanks to our Department of Fish and Wildlife and our Practicum Student from Rowan University, Mrs. Waterman.

Break out the messy yet fun science experiments that you haven't been able to get through.  Here are our lava lamps made with recycled bottles, vegetable oil, water, food coloring, and alka seltzer.  Fill bottle half way with oil then top off with water.  Once that settles (a lesson in and of itself) add 10-15 drops of food coloring and an quarter of a tab of alka seltzer and voila a lava lamp show lasting 30 seconds.  This can be repeated as often as you want by simply adding more alka seltzer!

The Olympics are this summer.  Why not pregame the event by hosting your own school olympics?  Line up some classes to compete with in a variety of track and field and team events.  Keep track of scores, graph wins and then you can tie all this fun into your math curriculum!


The month of June is a blessing and a curse.  We look forward to seeing our students' growth yet dread the inevitable lack of motivation that comes hand in hand with the end of the year.  Relish the final moments and successes of the year while sending it out with a bang!

To Test Prep or Not to Test Prep, That is the Question....

I am truly opening a can of worms with this post.  There are many educators with extremely strong feelings on both ends of this spectrum.  What is the goal of test prep instruction?  Is it teaching strategies?  Is it exposing students to high stress situations in hope to desensitize them?  These are the questions I struggle with at this point in the school year.  Part of me says that if I have done my job all year, taught to my state standards, followed my curriculum I should not have to break from routine to pound kids over the head with high stress situations and boring test strategy workbooks for a month.  On the other hand, I do believe I should expose my students to the testing situation (i.e. quiet for extended time, in seats, etc) prior to testing so that they are atleast familiar with the routine.  Add to this that there is talk of merit pay and using test scores to factor into determining that and you are left panicked.  If I don't test prep like crazy and they bomb the test, how will that play into my job security?  If I do test prep like crazy and they are burnt out and can't even focus or rush through, how will that effect me? 

I am beginning to think that they should just test the educators!!!!  Save themselves some time and just test us!  Let us stress and worry and sweat over answers in a timed setting and leave these poor kids alone!  Or better yet, why not just pre and post test them at the beginning of the year and judge them (and us) on growth and not just a pass/fail scale.  We have all had kids that we know won't pass at grade level.  Does that mean they have not grown throughout the year?  No!  Holding kids (especially those with known learning disabilities) to a grade level standard is obsurd.  How are we to expect a child who reads at a 1st or 2nd grade reading level to pass the 3rd, 4th or 5th grade test without anyone helping them read words they are unfamiliar with?  Education is an eternal process.  It is never ending.  Therefore, we should be looking for growth from the start to finish of each year and not just a one shot test. 

It's DONE!!!!!!

It is finally done!  My Wix website is finally at published status!  That last post about publishing got me motivated to finally finish what I started months ago.  Well,  that and the fact that I had already agreed to present said website at an educational conference this morning was motivation to finish.  Woo Hoo!  It feels good to reach that finishline.  Take a peek by clicking on my site button on the top of the page or by clicking the link below.  Next goal on my list- finishing my master's degree in Instructional Technology.  I actually made strides towards that one today as well.  While presenting at the From My Classroom to Yours at Richard Stockton College (my alma mater), I visited student records and looked into what it would take to rematriculate and finish.  Watch out!  I'm on a roll!


Cultivating Minds- The Website

Publishing- The Final Frontier

We teach writing everyday.  We ask students to complete work everyday.  So that means they publish work on a regular basis right?  Wrong!  How many times a year do you truly get students to take their work on that voyage to the final fronier of publishing?  3?  4?  If I am to be completely honest I would have to say around a half dozen for my class.  Not every piece of writing is meant for a published end.  Sometimes we all just need to write to experiment ro get something off our chests.   That being said, our students work very hard to create stories or essays and should have that experience of seeing it through to the end.  Publishing does not have to be the long and strenuous voyage that it once was.  It does not need to involve absolute perfection (they are children not pulitzer prize winners).  Published work has a new variety of forms.  Works can be narrated onto ipods and podcasted, put with illustrations in a power point digital story board, acted out and video taped and uploaded to YouTube, etc.  The possiblities are endless! 

I challenged myself to find a creative way for my kids to publish their work this passed week.  We have been working on the life cycle of a plant in science class.  We worked on creating a storybook to demonstrate the steps in the cycle.  This was most definitely a group effort.  Upon completion it looked good....not great.  Disappointed I went back to the drawing board.  I am a teacher who plays music non stop in class.  I need music as background music to center and calm me.  I noticed that my students have started to sing along without even realizing it.  Bring on my next light bulb moment! 

Ok, this next relevation may cause you to think less of me.  I am ok with that.  Upon seeing my kids sing along with Hey Jude, an aha moment struck.  I remembered an episode of Hannah Montana (yes, I really did just say Hannah Montana as in Miley Cyrus as in the Disney Channel- it's ok.  Take a moment to judge and/or laugh at my expense) during which Hannah composed a song about the bones of the body to remember them for a test.  Click on the link if you don't believe me!  I thought, why not compose a song about the life cycle of a plant?!   One bout of insomnia later and voila!  Take a peek at our YouTube sensation (woohoo up to 33 views!). 



And We Ask Why Our Students Act Out?!

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to watch the new Lorax movie not once but twice.  I can not rave enough about how wonderful an experience that was!  The first viewing (and by first, I mean we were the first people in our county!  Thanks to a whirlwind field trip planning extravaganzaa)  was with my class and the entire third thru fifth grades from my building.  Watching "my kids" react to the lessons learned in the movie was truly magical.  They GOT it!  We left jazzed to save the world one seed at a time.  Infact we are starting with our own classroom seedling garden this week.  On Saturday, I watched the movie with our three youngest children.  Their reaction was no less wonderful!  Infact they wanted to know when we could start sprucing up our garden and if we were going to plant some veggies this year too!  What a powerful, wonderful message!  That on person can make a difference with one small seed. 

Ok, so the title of this post is about students acting out....where am I going with this you may wonder.  Put on your seatbelts I'm about to jump on my soapbox and let it rip!   Prior to this truly magical cinematic experience we were "entertained" with the usual 15 minutes of previews.  During which, of course, the words coming from every child within earshot were, "oooooh!  Can we see that movie too?"  Every single movie preview incurred unnecessary violence.  Punching a minion just because it was blowing a party favor?  While I admit I too would love to personally strangle the creator of those annoying party favors that blow out into your face at children's birthday parties, do we really need to encourage our children to beat the crap out of each other everytime the feel annoyed?  Add that to another preview that showed pirates beating the crap out of each other and a small child's version of a horror film and I had an "aha" moment. 

How much time do our students spend watching tv shows and movies?  Chances are quite a bit.  So what are they constantly exposed to?  Violence for giggles.  Now before anyone comments that I need to loosen up, I will admit I too chuckle at these scenes.  But then again, I am not going to go around work on Monday smacking the back of coworkers heads, clocking them, tripping them, or in any other way causing anyone physical pain.  My students, on the other hand, haven't gained that self restraint yet.  And while it may be hilarious to watch a minion or any other ridiculous, inarticulate character beat another to a pulp, it is not appropriate behavior to model to our children.   

"It's just a movie, Carrie.  Chill out!  Take a break!  Relax! Remember what the Roadrunner did to the Coyote?"  True, cartoons of eras past also included violence.  There was a HUGE difference however- these characters were not using fists, but rather anvils.  Where in the world would we get an anvil to practice beating each other with?!  Today's characters use fists.  Something that our kids don't need any further encouragement in using! 


Hats of to the Creator of Hatted Cats

Happy Birthday Dr. Suess!  I am a wee bit early but that is ok.  I was afraid if I waited, my rhyme would fade away!   You are the minstral that gathers gaggles of giggles.  A master of whimsical, nonsensical squiggles.  Creator of Hatted Cats, colorful fishes, and counting feet.  Describer of places and characters we long to meet.  Wonderful Worlds await us as we crack your book.   Crammed with learning and leisure in each and every nook.  Oh the the magical, mythical places you take us as we read be it in the car, a plane, or even a bus towards greatness you lead.  Your words are enchanting, delightful, the best!  Lessons taught heads and tails above the rest!  Self esteem, recycling, awareness you preach- all while staying within a child's reach!  My hat's off to you oh master of word play!  We celbrate wisely on Read Across America Day!

Ok so Suess I am not.  Though you'll have to admire my shot!  Below is a link to a wise lesson to see.  From the dear Lorax who held the key.  Reduce, reuse, recycle and watch our world grow!  Teach your kids wisely to be in the know.  This world is on loan it is not our own!

Click the Pic above to be connected to The Lessons from The Lorax presentation designed for elementary classes


Using Technlogy To Enhance Not Entertain

We have all heard it.  "You need to use more live in the technology era.....get plugged in and relate better to your students.....lrn 2 read txt (learn to read text).....make lessons more enjoyable for more impact."  While I love technology and use it daily, it can be over done in a bad way at times.  Technology should be used to enhance the learning process, not replace it with entertaining, meaningless blurbs.  The tools we use need to still challenge students to interact more with thier own education not turn it in to episodic learning punctuated with messages from thier sponsers (aka the teacher).  I have just spent the better part of a week updating and downloading apps for our schools 80 Ipod touches that are used primarily during center time.  Let me tell you while the process in and of itself is time consuming it was nothing compared to the search I had to delve into to find meaningful, educational apps to purchase.  Wow!  It made me take a step back into mommy mode and think about all the "educational" apps my kids have downloaded.  How many are truly educational and how many are glorified video games?  We as educators and parents need to thoroughly look at the apps and gadgets we are purchasing to check for the skill vs. thrill factor.  That being said, I am so excited to be working with a staff that embraces technology and shares their finds with each other!  I have a wonderful co-teacher who has created awesome powerpoints that combine skill and thrill into one place.  As soon as I can I plan to link a few of her creations as well as a few of my own to this blog.  In the mean time, keep using great technology, but only to enhance already great lessons not replace them.  Teach on my friends!




Balancing Mommy Me and Teacher Me

This week I felt like a circus juggler.  It was one of those weeks when everything in the universe aligns perfectly to test how much you can handle.  Unfortunately I was tested not only as a teacher but also as a mommy.  Planning for the week I was so excited!  We are celebrating our 100th day of school tomorrow so I got to break into my creativity chest to plan fun and outside of the box activitites for my students.  I also got the opportunity to take my youngest on a field trip to the aquarium with her preschool class.  Woo Hoo!  Two fun days back to back!  This should have been an amazing week right?  Ha!  This is where things got interesting.... My older daughter developed a dental abcess.  Not cool.  This entailed an unplanned half day absence on my part to rush her to the dentist and then a follow up half day absence to have the tooth pulled.  Also it is Maren's, my youngest daughter, birthday tomorrow, so as I type this I am also baking cupcakes for her class.  To add to this stress of unplanned absence and rushing to and from dentists offices, I have a class that does not tolerate change well.  Substitute teachers do not normally fare well in my class.  In one way this lets me know that my students like me and miss me, but on the other hand it is a problem.  Life is messy and unplanned a lot (especially when you have a large family like Eric and I do).  One of my goals for myself for the remainder of this year is to develop a plan that works for when disaster strikes and I need to be home with one of my children and my other "kids" need to be with a substitute.  I am hoping with some help from my fellow staff and administrators as well as some "Twittersearch" (my own new word for research via Twitter) I can come up with some strategies that leave all the plates still spinning on ther sticks at the end of the day rather than feeling like they have crashed down around me. 


So Who's Ready for Spring?!

We got a glorious taste of Spring today!  Weather was beautiful, birds were chirping, and the sun was shining.  Perfect timing for a lesson on making predictions!  We researched Puxsutawney Phil and the history behind Groundhog's Day on the official Groundhog's Day website,  Which led us to making our own Phil like predictions about the outcome of tomorrow's big event.  Three quarters of my class is ready for Spring with the remaining quarter holding out hope for our first official snow day of the year.  Honestly after today's weather treat, going back to frigid temps would be nothing less then cruel and unusual.  Take a peak at our Puxsutawney Phil predictions and essays.  Special thanks to my returning best bud Becky for finding and printing out or essay hugging groundhogs to help us keep the whimsy in hopefully one of the last weeks of winter! 


It Takes a Village

 The quote I put on my website for this month is, “The first and most effective teacher in a child’s life is the parent.”  As a parent that is a scary thought!  I think to myself, am I teaching my kids what they need to know to be successful?  Will they turn out ok?  Oh no, if they eat cereal for dinner tonight have I ruined them for life?  Ok, maybe I am a tad bit neurotic, but the thought that my influence alone is the most lasting and effective on my own children is scary!  Tack on to that scary notion that I also impact the lives of my other 19 non-biological kids (aka your kids) and I am at times overwhelmed! This is why I have begun the blogging journey.  Parents need to "see" what is going on in our class.  Today's parents work full time.  They can't pop in to help out with parties or projects as much as in the good old days.  This forum plus my Twitter feed give me the opportunity to be in contact with parents when it is convenient for them.  I hate the look or tone of voice I hear when a parent starts to feel guilty that they didn't realize a project was due or that their child's grade is not where it should be.  We as parents beat ourselves up for things that at times are out of our control.  Through technology we can stay on top of our children't progress and address problems or concerns on an almost instantaneous basis.  Most school districts have students grades posted online as soon as the teachers input them.  I encourage all parents to do what they need to to get a log in and stay on top of there child's grades.  This will prevent end of marking period shocks to the system.  I encourage all teachers to create and maintain websites.  Many of us are parents too.  Maintaining an up to date website is a great way to prevent a barage of phone calls.  If parents can get the information needed from your site, it saves you hours of recommunicating the same information over and over.  It is the 21st century.  It not only takes a village to raise the child, it takes the World Wide Web! 

See what I'm up against?!  My youngest, Maren, challenging Mommy's boundaries with regards to individual fashion choices.




We are in the midst of the cabin fever-seasonal blues-driving each other insane portion of the school year,  otherwise known as January, February, and March.  There is just long enough of a wait until Spring Break to make it feel like forever, and Winter Break seems like an event from the distant past.  Toss in some questionable weather and viola-  you have a classroom full of stir crazy kids and a stressed out educational professional. (Yes I am glorifying our title.  If custodians can become sanitization specialists, then teachers can be hence forth known as educational professionals.)  What to do with this volcanic combination?  Yoga.  Not only does it qualify as 30 of our required 100 minutes of teacher provided physical education, but it serves as a lesson in stress management and self awareness.  I found an amazing dvd that the kids loved.  Bonus- I got in a yoga workout on the clock.  Extra bonus- I was able to order this dvd through using the points my class has accumulated by ordering books from thier monthly catelogues!  So to recap- stress relief, phys. ed requirement, workout on the clock, and FREE!  Namaste!



It's All About the Choices We Make

So I am sitting here thinking about my new years resolutions.  To eat better, excercise daily, and stay on top of things.  I am thinking that since I failed at at least 2 out of 3 of my resolutions thus far, the Chinese New Year is offering me a do over.  I can recommit to these goals.  I could name a thousand different reasons/excuses as to why I haven't been able to keep up with my resolutions during this month.  Any of them would be completely valid and reasonable.  In reality, however, it is all about the choices I have made this month.  I chose to eat the french fries for lunch and I chose to put off grading papers for a week.  This made me think about our problems with education today.  Too many people are choosing to ignore the basic problems- not enough value placed on good education, not enough parental and student buy in, too much money thrown at "magic" programs that are supposed to make it all better.  Really it all comes down to choices.  Students need to choose to be present and accounted for in thier educational journeys.  Parents need to choose to be involved and on top of things and not just the week report cards are sent out.  Those in charge need to examine what we have and how it is implemented before throwing money away on the new shinier programs out there.  We have great potential as a nation.  We need to make the choices, hard and committment demanding as they may be, to realize it.

A Reminder as to Why I Do This Everyday

What an amazing day!  Today was one of those days that reminded me as to why I LOVE my job!  Our school has adpoted the Classroom Instruction that Works model for instruction.  (more on this in another post)  I have made it my mission to incorperate as many strategies as possible in my instruction since it just makes sense.  So with that in mind, I challenged myself to create a meaningful MLK Jr. learning experience for my students.  JACKPOT!  We broke down the famous "I Have a Dream" speech then followed that up by incorperating music and movement by teaching my students how to sign the lyrics to Bob Marley's "One Love."  First of all let me tell you, I have never spent any time in a sign language class.  I learned these signs by raiding the internet.  Thank you for your beautiful video dictionary of American Sign Language signs. 

What an awesome experience. 

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