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!). 



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