Monday, April 20, 2015

Learning vs Sleep

I just finished Student-Parent-Teacher conferences.  As in, got home about an hour ago.  I had 19 conferences to do, and 18 of them were absolutely wonderful.  I count that as a successful conference season!

Interestingly, there was a theme this time around.  It had something to do with motivation.  And learning.  And desire to accomplish something.  And though 2/3 of the conferences were finished on Friday, the theme still held strong.

Third graders are just learning how to push through challenges to achieve no matter what.  Or at least most of them are.  Some come into the year wanting to work hard and learn, and will do so at any expense (staying in the realm of positive, of course.)  They work hard to tackle challenges, they celebrate victories, and they trudge on even when the road is tough.

However, there are a few, there are always a few, that want to find the shortest path with the least road blocks.  Which is where my story comes to play.

Last week was one of those insane education weeks with more 12 hour days than not.  I love sleep just as much as I love learning, and last week, sleep was running short.  However.  I still dragged myself out of bed at 6:30 on Saturday morning so I could get in the car and on the road to EdCamp Lake Orion with a 7:30 kick off time.

I would have really preferred to be in bed.  I really, really, REALLY needed sleep.  Especially considering Saturday was going to be another long day and late night.   But I went anyway.  I would have preferred to not have an alarm screaming at me before the sun rose.  I would have preferred to stay in my warm bed, snuggled up with my puppy.  Cause I love sleep.

But I love to learn, too.  So I went.  And I learned.  And I loved it.

And in sharing that story with my students tonight, I hope that gives them one more example of how and why we put things we love ahead of other things sometimes.  Even if we don't want to.  Even if we'd prefer to sleep in on a Saturday.  It's worth it to keep our fire burning.

This group of Thinkers is full of fire.  They are burning bright.  I hope that they continue to do so, despite the mornings where sleep sounds better, because they are going to change the world...... they already have begun......

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I Heart Poetry

Probably stating the obvious when I say that April is poetry month.  I love poetry.  I love how it can help reluctant writers write.  I love reading Love That Dog to my class (written by the lovely Sharon Creech) and watching their faces as Jack transforms throughout the short, written-in-verse novel.

I don't love that I don't have time to fit in the poem of the week, a feature I so loved during my third grade years of the past.  I'd introduce the new poem on Monday and read it to the class.  We'd talk about what they noticed (always an interesting conversation!)  Tuesday, we'd read it chorally.  Wednesday, they'd get a copy on their desk and they'd read it to themselves for welcome work.  Thursday they'd do an activity with the poem for welcome work.  Friday was performance day, where the risk-takers could volunteer to read the poem to the class.  (FYI: by the end of the first semester, they were ALL risk-takers.)

I can't imagine why there isn't time in my schedule for that anymore.....

Not one to easily give up, I finally found a solution that isn't great, but is workable.  We don't get our weekly poems.  Sometimes we'll have one as part of reading or content, but that's usually rare, too.  The sign that says "Poem of the Week" is lonely, and I just don't want to take it down....


April being poetry month and all, every single morning of the month, the class walks in to a poem on their desk for welcome work.  They read it to themselves, to each other, do an activity on the back, and then if we have time, we'll take a few risk takers.  This means my kids will be exposed to approximately 20 poems.  That also means they'll be getting some bonus fluency practice.

And at the end of the year, as part of our celebration of learning, we're going to revisit those poems.  Call it performance art if you will, but my vision is that they will pull out their poetry binder, and in partners or teams, pick two poems to perform for the class.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this works.  Cause I know I want to see these pieces!

(Did I mention that about half the poems are songs?  Fun stuff!)

So far, all good, and they are loving poetry!

Monday, April 13, 2015

State Testing Guidelines?

State Test Protocol: Severe Weather
  1. Should a severe weather situation occur during testing, please remain calm. To display any kind of anxiety would be a testing irregularity and must be reported.  
  2. Please do not look out the window to watch for approaching tornadoes. You must monitor the students at all times. To do otherwise would be a testing irregularity and must be reported. 
  3. Should students notice an approaching tornado and begin to cry, please make every effort to protect their testing materials from the flow of tears and sinus drainage which may short out the technology that is already on it's last limb.
  4. Should a flying object come through your window during testing, please make every effort to ensure that it does not land on a student's test materials. Please make sure to soften the landing of the flying object so that it will not disturb the students while testing. 
  5. Should shards of glass from a broken window come flying into the room, have the students use their bodies to shield their testing materials so that they will not be damaged. Have plenty of gauze on hand to ensure that no one accidentally bleeds on the technology, causing a short. 
  6. Note that if technology shuts off mid-test, all work will be lost, and as technology is limited as it is, there is not time for your class to have an additional tech period to retake and finish any assessment.
  7. Should gale force winds ensue, please have everyone shove their test tools into their shirts….. being very careful not to break screens or accidentally shut off the tool.  See step 6. 
  8. If any student gets sucked into the vortex of the funnel cloud, please make sure they mark at least one answer before departing. And of course make sure they leave their test tools behind. You WILL have to account for those. 
  9. Should a funnel cloud pick you, the test administrator, up and take you flying over the rainbow, you will still be required to account for all of your testing materials when you land. So…..please take extra precautions. Remember…..once you have checked them out, they should never leave your hands.
  10. When rescue workers arrive to dig you out of the rubble, please make sure that they do not, at any time, look at or handle the testing materials. Once you have been treated for your injuries, you will still be responsible for checking your materials back in. Search dogs will not be allowed to sift through the rubble for lost tests, unless of course they have been through standardized test training and have signed off on the test administration document. 
  11. Please do not pray should a severe weather situation arise. Your priority is to actively monitor the test and a student might mark in the wrong section if you are praying instead of monitoring. I'm sure God will put war, world hunger, crime, and the presidential primaries on hold until after testing is over. He knows how important this test is. 

Updated for 2015 by @GetTeaching

Saturday, April 11, 2015


There is SO much political news plastering the country these days.  If you're not aware of all this stuff, I'm envious.   I'm happy to read about all the educators telling their stories, stepping out of the classroom, if only for 750 words, and sharing the reality of teaching, instead of the politically poisoned version.  And one thing has become very clear- there is a lot of fear in education.


I am very familiar with the concept of fear, believe me.  I'm afraid of my own shadow at times.  I'm afraid of getting lost in unfamiliar areas.  I'm afraid of eating foods that may trigger an allergic reaction to something I didn't know I was allergic to.  I'm afraid of disappointing those I care about.  I'm afraid of letting people down.  I'm afraid of losing the important things in my world.  Sometimes, I'm even still afraid of merging on to the expressway.

This is not mine! It's from
Post Secret, November 2014
I'm afraid of the fact that I have to make my third graders sit in front of a computer for nearly 10 hours over a three week period for mandatory standardized testing.  I'm afraid that I might miss a clue that'll help me better reach a student.  I'm afraid that one of my students - past, present, or future - will feel unsuccessful in my room.  I'm afraid I'll somehow fail my students.  I'm afraid the system is going to fail my students, and all students in the public schools.  This fear can keep me up at night.  This fear can make me ill.


I'm not afraid of teacher evaluations.  Not any more.  I know that I'm good at what I do.  I'm constantly learning, striving to find new ways to inspire my students.  I am not afraid to try new things in the classroom.  I love telling my class "I just learned about this, and I'm not sure how it's going to go, but we're going to give it a try anyway!"  I'm not afraid to take risks.  Sometimes the most powerful learning experiences come from the back forty.  I'm not afraid of feedback - that's often a catalyst for growth.  I'm not afraid to ask for help.  No one is an expert on everything, and while I might be fantastic in some areas, I will take all the help I can get in others.  No shame in asking for help at all.


I'm not afraid to let my students teach me.  Sometimes I learn more from them than I think they learn from me.  I'm not afraid to let my kids get messy.  Learning is messy.  Sometimes that means paper scraps and glue, other times that means conversations that make no sense, until they do.  I'm not afraid to hold my students accountable, even if it means spending some recess time with me reviewing whatever they need the bonus time on.  I'm not afraid to share.  If something new and engaging works, and someone else wants to give it a go?  Go for it, and let me know if you'd like some help.    I'm not afraid to go out on a limb for a student.  They need that extra opportunity to help peers?  Need a boost of confidence?  Go read with the kindergarteners.  Go help our second grade buddies.  I'm not afraid to fail.  There's a lot to learn from failures, no matter how scary they may seem.

In the classroom, I'm not afraid to be different.  Taking risks, thinking outside the box, trying new things, getting messy, being willing to fail??  All of those things bother me not one little bit in the classroom where 20 some pairs of eyes watch my every move.  I know that I'm doing right by those pairs of eyes.  I may make mistakes, and when I do, I admit it.  To my students.  I'm human.  They usually like to know that.


It lives in all of us.  Educators don't want to be judged on standardized test scores that measure only a momentary snapshot of a skill, which, by the way, only around 40% of students are expected to pass.  We don't want to be judged by evaluation systems where the elusive "highly effective" is so far out of reach it's comical.  We don't want to be judged by critics who haven't spent more than two hours in the classroom, and if left with a (small) class of 24 kids for an hour, wouldn't know which end was up.


We aren't fear-less.  I don't think anyone on the planet is truly fear-less.  You could say, in my classroom, I am quite fear-less.  But I've learned that in the classroom, I can live with less fears if I keep my heart on the goal - helping my students prepare to become citizens in the world they create - and less on those who are trying their hardest to prevent me, and all the other educators, from doing our jobs.

Monday, April 6, 2015


It's spring break here in Michigan, and today, it was Opening Day (capitalized because it is indeed a holiday!)  I love that the two coincided this year, as I was able to catch quite a bit of the game, and will be able to watch the rest of the games this week without worry of staying up too late.  (Boring, I know, but I'm in bed early most nights....)

Back to spring break.

Aside from not having to set an alarm, breaks are a great time to play.  So far I've played with my friend and her family at the Detroit Institute of Arts, with my niece both at home and at Saturday's Seder, with my twitter world (that I've been neglecting lately,) with my puppy pals on our day time walks, and today, with my Minecraft tutor.

He wouldn't necessarily consider himself a tutor, but he might.

We met a few months back, when I was just starting off with Minecraft in the classroom.  He offered his services then, yet I wasn't quite ready.  I didn't even know what to do, much less what to ask!  Fast forward four months, and I was ready.  I had my list of questions, and sent them to him ahead of time.

I arrived and he was working on some really neat projects in the back yard that involved power tools and wood.  Two fun things to play with in my mind!  He shared the projects that he's working on (American Ninja Warriors?) and then we headed in to the computer.

My goal was to learn how to build and use sticky pistons, circuits, and create different effects using light and sound with the circuits.  He was quite prepared - had multiple examples already set up in the world he created just for this lesson.  As he explained different things, more questions bubbled.  Overall, we spent almost 90 minutes exploring Minecraft.  I took about 4 pages of notes, too, so I can follow up when I'm playing on my own.

Let me tell you, I learned way more than I bargained for!  Like I said, I was hoping to learn about circuits and such, but I also learned about pressure plates, building songs with note blocks, different server commands, different "worlds" that can be joined.  I'm so glad it's break so I can continue to explore!

By the way.  I don't think I mentioned it yet, but my tutor?  He's 9.  He's almost 10, though.

Sometimes, when we sit down and listen to what are kids are becoming experts on, we find we learn a lot more than any test or paper would ever show...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

International Day of Trade

Every year, the fourth graders get to experience being business owners.  The culmination of their Unit of Study on Economics (which falls under the Transdisciplinary Theme of How We Organize Ourselves) has them opening a business for their peers.

I may not be in fourth grade this year, but it's still one of my favorite summative assessment experiences ever.  Most nine and ten year olds aren't terribly versed in finances.  At all.  And where I teach, most nine and ten year olds live a rather indulgent life.  But for a good six weeks or so, they become more aware, more careful, and more involved in the way the world works when it comes to money.

Aside from the awesome summative, there are two reasons that I really like sharing this unit's learning experiences with the kids.

First, it's very heavily supported by literature.  Good literature.  Mostly picture books, too, though there are novels used for book clubs as well.  I love reading aloud to my students.  I love being able to pause and leave them hanging (literally filling the room with "c'mon Ms. Diem, don't stop there!" cries.)  I also love watching the lightbulbs go off, almost like those little pop caps that explode when you throw them on the cement.  With this unit being in the theme of organization, those lightbulbs often relate to the fact that connections are everywhere.  EVERY.  WHERE.  The choice you make when picking out what you want for lunch does indeed connect to what the farmer grows, and so on and so on.

Second, it's one of the most real-worldly connected units we've got.  Yeah, sure, money always lends itself to real world, but this unit?  It leads the real world into the classroom, and not the other way around.  From watching T. Rowe Price commercials to determine how things are connected to each other, to simulations to experience market, command, and traditional economies, this unit brings the real experiences right into the room.  We all know that real world experiences make the most meaningful learning, right?  Right.

Anyway, this year's International Day of Trade (formerly, by the way, known as Market Day,) was another high energy experience.  It seems that every year, the classes get more and more creative with their products and services.  Third grade leads nicely into this unit, as they create a business plan for their summative assessment, and I love seeing how it all comes together in this fourth grade learning adventure!