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Quick Thought Thursday: Passing the Teaching Test

In the secondary setting, we are often left to our own vices in our classrooms until the end of January.  It is then we start hearing more and more about year end assessments and state mandates for student success.  Our faculty meetings become filled with statistics, and committees are formed to plan out the incentives for those who give "good faith effort."  And life as we knew it comes to a screeching halt.

For years I argued that I taught and tested what needed to be taught and tested in my classroom.  I argued that I knew my students without completing charts or graphs on each question they missed.  I argued that I knew my subject matter, and that I knew how to teach!  But in the end, as testing has continued to take over our classrooms, I lost.  So now, we plan for student success.  And if we didn't start that planning in August (which makes more sense), it starts to hit home in January.

In reality, those who are true teachers are already doing everything they need to do to help our students do their best on the end of year assessments.  We pre-teach, pre-assess, teach, review, formatively assess, reteach, review, summatively assess, and evaluate.   We work daylight to dark to prepare multi-disciplinary, differentiated, rigorous lessons.  And we empty our own purses to see that our students have what they need to work toward success from where they are in their own lives.

But there's something missing here.  

Truth.  Reality.  Relevance.

Those tests - they do NOT matter.  What matters is that our students are prepared for life.  Life includes meeting deadlines (unit tests and project due dates).  It includes rejection (poor grades and editing of papers).  It includes competition (not everyone is at the top of the class).  More importantly, life is about finding things that you love and enjoying them passionately.

So, as you head toward testing season, I have one piece of advice for you...
Teach what you love with passion.
What you love, they may come to love.
And the truth is... none of us loves a test!

Happy Teaching!

Tuesday Travels: Underwater Exploration

As we moved up the California coast last year, Steve was insistent on spending a few days in Monterey.  He had been in the area while in the Navy 20 years earlier, and he desperately wanted to visit some of his favorite places.


Our first stop was checking in at the Monterey Naval Base Campground, Monterey Pines, which sits right on the edge of a beautiful golf course.  Everything about this Naval Base was beautiful, and it had a sense that it was preserved from decades ago.  Most impressive, though, was the Naval Postgraduate Academy Building, which used to be the Del Monte Hotel.  Lush greens and a well landscaped lawn surrounded the building, and Navy guys (like my hubby) graced the building in full dress uniform, bringing in a touch of elegance.


The next morning, we headed straight to Steve's chosen destination, the Monterey Aquarium which sits right at the tip of the peninsula into the Pacific Ocean.  While I am usually less than enthusiastic about Science stuff, I was so intrigued by all of the displays in this amazing place.  The underwater life was simply the most colorful display I'd ever seen, and I was in love from the moment we walked in the doors.  Add to that, the otters that were outside gathering for a feeding, and the possibility that whales could be passing by along their ocean route, and I was in awe.  Meanwhile, Steve took hundreds of pictures as we went from exhibit to exhibit, working our way through all of the underwater world.


Images available in my TpT Store in the Images by Luck Category.

Downtown Monterey is also an incredible experience.  The walk from the Aquarium and through Cannery Row is filled with "beachy little stores, pizza parlors, and ice cream shops!  And then the 17 Mile Drive is breath-taking with immaculately manicured golf courses and incredible ocean views.

At night, we went to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner, and had such a hard time picking a place to eat.  The wharf is filled with seaside restaurants, each offering a taste of Clam Chowder as you pass, making it impossible to make an easy decision.  Meanwhile, music performers (and other displays) make the wharf a must see stop when visiting the area.


We ended up eating at a (very) small restaurant overlooking the bay.  The back wall was a large window, and the moon came up as we were eating, shining brightly in full form for us to see.  But then my attention was diverted as I was served my mean - a dungeoness crab with it's shell (and eyes) still intact.  While the crab was delicious, I think I prefer my food served in a less "alive" manner!


On our last morning, we decided to try to play 9 holes of golf.  While playing is physically challenging for Steve now, it is mentally frustrating for me.  I am not that good to start, so any little problem can throw me way off my game.  So, what do I do on the 2nd hole (right in front of the clubhouse)?  I hit it right into the sand.  Now, keep in mind that I was tired from our late night out, and I am a natural red-head, through and through.  That sand never had a chance... And my display of frustration (embarrassing, in retrospect) was a great show for the Groundskeeper, who usually reprimands such behavior, but instead got a good laugh from my flustered, and eventually angry, swings into the sand.  As we checked out, he came up to Steve, telling him how he just stood back and laughed as I "put out more sand than he's ever seen, and [he] wasn't going anywhere near that!"  Oh my!  Time to move on!

Overall, Monterey was amazing.  The peninsula is simply untouched by the rush and chaos of the larger California cities and it's natural contribution is beyond words.  Just don't go without a shovel!

Happy Travels!

Monday Mapping: Planning the Previews

The older I get, the less I am interested in reading things I do not consider relevant to my life.  I LOVE reading, but I do not like wasting my time, and much of what is produced these days is just that: a waste!  Students are the same way.  They do not want to read what they do not consider relevant.  So, how can we get them involved in our lessons?  

Plan the previews!

Do you have trouble getting class started or starting off your lesson effectively? These ideas will help you with a fresh start and will keep your students engaged and ready to learn!  My favorite was the 4th one! #teaching #bellringers #classroom #starters

It is instinct for teachers to make sure their lesson is grounded in solid content.  We struggle to find the perfect resources and to make sure our students will be engaged in the lessons.  Unfortunately, we often forget to introduce the lessons in a way that will draw our students in, helping them to find the relevancy and the value.

How can you preview your lessons better?

Think about each lesson as if its an upcoming box office movie.  You've spent millions, maybe billions, to produce this lesson that you feel is valuable enough to fill your very precious class time.  Now, you need the movie trailer to get their attention and hook them into the great storyline that is to follow.

Here are just a few ideas:
  1. Create a movie (lesson) trailer!  Add romance, suspense, music, mystery.  Turn the volume up high as students are entering the classroom, and then bring the lesson on.
  2. Make them mad!  Use images, stories, or experiential exercises to make it real for the students.  Once you have them angry, the rest is easy.
  3. Make them sad!  Involve the senses and let them find empathy in the lessons your classroom has to offer.  Don't sugar coat history, and allow your students to express their emotions.
  4. Remind them of reality!  Bring up their past and attach your lesson to their lives.  Making it real to them makes it real for them.
  5. Use multimedia!  Find games, cell phone quizzes, significant songs (Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire") to get their attention and interest in the topic at hand.
My favorites?  So many, but here are the easiest ones to describe!
  • Setting up my classroom like a speakeasy from the Roaring 20s: Prancing in my flapper dress, my Jazz blaring from the radio, and my dancing shoes ready to sport the Charleston, my students were hooked before the bell. 
  • Quietly reading (very) short survivor stories from Hiroshima as images of the Atomic bomb destruction flash on the screen behind me.
  • Flash headlines from recent newspapers involving acts of hate or hate crimes.  Show pictures of the perpetrators or the victims.  In between, flash the words "Hutus" and "Tutsis."
  • Start off class by rearranging the classroom.  Have the students move the desks here and there, reducing their personal space with each transition.  Collect pens, pencils or other personal items you "like" from students as you push them further and further into a corner, explaining that you need and deserve more space.
  • Turn the classroom into a human game board.  As students enter, they become a pawn on the board and must earn their way to their desks with correct answers to review questions that also lead to the next lesson.
Of course, you have to follow up the amazing preview with an incredible lesson.  But once they're hooked, the lesson comes so much easier!  See lessons for the above previews here:
Do you have trouble getting class started or starting off your lesson effectively? These ideas will help you with a fresh start and will keep your students engaged and ready to learn!  My favorite was the 4th one! #teaching #bellringers #classroom #starters

Happy Teaching!

Quick Thought Thursday: A Hot Tub Conversation on American Education

When you are living life on the road in a motorhome, the one thing you do not have is a bath tub, and the shower just doesn't do the trick for sore muscles after spending the day out on my bike or walking the parks.  So, off to the the hot tub I go!


When I go to the resort hot tub, I sit and listen.  It's a challenge for me, since I am the natural teacher, and my first instinct is always to share my two cents.  But, over the past three years of living in RV resorts, I've learned that I cannot teach anything to the (mostly) seniors in the bubbling water.  My words are worthless because I am too young (ha ha ha) to know and understand anything about the world.  You would think this would be frustrating for me, but instead I find it humorous, and my hubby and I simply sit, listen, and share looks, understanding each other's thoughts and often rolling our eyes for emphasis. 

And then the two men, close to my own age if not younger, stepped into the tub, and the conversation took to the state of education.  After some typical complaining, the discussion turned into a list of what students really need...

Reading

Basic Math

And Choices

Oh, and there is no need for Social Studies.  "Kids don't care about history, so there is no point in wasting their time with those classes."

"Yeah, what do they learn in those classes that are valuable anyway?'

"Nothing.  They need to look to the future, not be learning dates and names of presidents."

"Well, they should know their rights, but they can learn that by living."

My urge to speak was desperate.  Citizenship, Geography, Responsibility, Appreciation for the Rights and Freedoms they have now... Or, simply to learn the skills they need to be better learners and better citizens in any situation.  But I stay quiet.

"Money is just wasted with so many of the classes they are required to take now."

"If they just gave the kids more choices, they would behave better, too."

Good point on that last one! Stay quiet.

"They have the right to get a good education, and they are just not getting it anymore."

"Someone needs to teach these teachers what the kids really need."

They laugh.

Why do they have those rights?  How do they have those rights?  What have others done to guarantee the rights we have today?  And by all means, create an academic program that adequately prepares our kids for the future.  No, no need for Social Studies classes anymore.  After all, don't you already have everything you want, deserve, and NEED? (sarcasm)

The water is, all of a sudden, too hot for me to tolerate.  And the air is suffocating.  I'm out.  But before I go, I just can't be quiet...

"Kids learn, first, from their parents.  Ignorance can be educated, but only when it has a chance."

Happy Thinking!


Tuesday Travels: Sand in My Toes

About this time last year, we headed west.  It was not our first time visiting the West Coast, but this was our first time spending such a large amount of time in the Pacific Time Zone and being able to take in all the sites.  Over the 10 months we were traveling, we met so many incredible people, saw so many amazing places, and shared so many breath-taking experiences.  But, one place always comes back to mind, especially when I am stuck inside on a cool, rainy day!


Oceana is right on the ocean in the middle of California's Western coastline, just south of San Luis Obispo (The Happiest Place on Earth) and north of Santa Maria.  We stayed at Pacific Dunes RV Resort, and once we pulled in, I knew my feet would be buried in the sand for the length of our stay! 


Outside my window, the view was amazing.  In the distance was the blue of the ocean meeting the blue of the sky, and in between stood mound after mound of sand, looking like a desert of sandy mountains spanning for miles.  And the sand was warm and soft, feeling as though it was melting as it seeped between your toes as you walked over the vast surface.






We walked the dunes and the beaches day after day of our trip.  The sun was graciously bright, and the waves crashing into the coast sang a song so beautiful, I could listen to it over and over.  Oh, and the adventure was incredible as we climbed each huge dune, only to step slightly forward at the top to begin a casual slide that would take us to the very bottom of the valley below.  And then we'd climb the next...



The beach was also one of the most amazing I'd ever seen.  The sand dollars and starfish were everywhere, and little streams formed in the sand as the waves crashed ashore.  We spent one afternoon collecting shells to send home to our grandbaby, and the rest of our time was spent walking in the foam at the water's edge.


So now, when I'm cold or blue on a dreary day, Pacific Dunes is my daydream.

Amazing, simply amazing.

Happy Travels!

Monday Mapping: Making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Significant

Celebrating holidays with students can be a tricky task.  When the holiday is dedicated to someone who led a movement, and died as a result of his activism, what tone should be set for the day?  More importantly, MLK's role in the Civil Rights Movement (and others) should be addressed for its significance, rather than simply celebrated on empty terms.  What was the true impact?  Why do we have a day dedicated to him and his efforts in American history?  What should be done in his honor?

Above image from my

Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes Analysis Task Card Activity Set.


And think about this as you plan your classes for this day...

What will be taught about MLK, JR. 50 years from now?  What will be remembered?  The same questions can be asked about every individual, every event, every movement.

I can only hope that history will be recorded in a way that will not only document the efforts of the entire movement and all its participants, but also the spirit of these people and those who preceded and followed them.  The true leaders in America are not, and have never been, the ones sitting in nice, clean, temperature-controlled offices passing legislation.  The true leaders are those in the streets, those in the factories, those on the battlefields who have been willing to risk their lives for the sake of a cause.

Resources to help you plan your day are available HERE in my TpT Store.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. (and all other activists in American history) Day!


Quick Thought Thursday: Scavenger Hunt Bonus

I have never been one to offer random bonus points to my students.  Assignments were always valuable in my eyes, and I did not want to dismiss any lesson for the sake of a boost.  However, I recently had a discussion with a friend about a struggle many students have with the new standards, and my mind started wondering.  Maybe, just this once... offering bonus points could be valuable.


Recognizing informational text is a challenge to students.  I'm not sure why this is the case, but it may be as simple as their over-thinking when it's really a simple thing!

With that in mind, help them see how simple it is to find informational text around their homes, in their neighborhoods, or in the community at large.  Offer bonus points for those who scavenge for samples over a week-long period.  At 1 point per piece, allow students the chance to earn up to 10 or 20 or 100 participation points or homework points for their efforts.  Have the students share their samples, explaining the resource and its possible uses, extending the lesson and its value even further.

Just imagine the resources that could come into your classroom.  Just imagine the lessons that could be learned from them!

Happy Thinking!

Out of the Deep Freeze: My D.C. Inspiration

On our most recent trip to Washington, D.C. we spent a great deal of time walking around the monuments.  While I had visited most of the monuments before, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was new to me, and as we walked through, took pictures, and read all of the provided information, I was so inspired to create. 
And then...

All of my ideas went into the Deep Freeze!

With so many other projects on my To-Do List, I simply did not have time to pull up the images and notes I took on creating an awesome MLK resource until over winter break.  And then I suffered brain freeze.  After 2 days of staring at the pictures and reading and re-reading my notes, I finally remembered what I wanted to do with the materials... I wanted to use the quotes for a great analysis activity!
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Quotes-Analysis-Task-Card-Activity-Set-MLK-Day-1618724
So, here it is: My Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes Analysis Task Card Activity Set uses the greatest quotes from the Civil Rights Leader and our D.C. trip images to encourage analysis, evaluation, and application of the informational text.  After the analysis of the 14 quotes from the Memorial, students are provided a number of options for comparing tone, examining topics, or addressing current events through the words of the great leader.

And the timing couldn't be more perfect for this activity to come out of the Deep Freeze.  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is coming up on January 19th AND the ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures are throwing an Out of the Deep Freeze Linky!

Be sure to take a look at all my MLK activities, and definitely hop through the Linky to find other great resources for your classroom this semester!



Happy Teaching!

Tuesday Travels: Home, Sweet Home Ohio

I was born and raised in Southern Ohio in the suburbs of Cincinnati.  By no means am I a city girl; I was raised playing in cornfields, investigating creek beds, fishing on river banks, and visiting neighbors along my street.  Still, I longed to be a city girl and I took advantage of every opportunity to visit Cincy from as young as I can remember.


When we travel north now, it must go through my hometown.  It doesn't matter if it is out of the way, but our first stop is always Chester's Pizza in Hamilton, Ohio.  I grew up having this amazing, mouth-watering pizza every Friday night.  It was a family tradition, and it remains one of my favorite places to visit as we travel the country.


But Ohio is not just about the pizza.  It's also home to one of my favorite museums, the Union Terminal Museums.  As you walk into the entrance, the entire history of the region is above you in colorful murals that set atop the pathway to the original terminals for the train station that was a hub for the growing region.

Also in downtown is so much to see and do.  The Fireman's Museum is just cool, there are a number of theaters and art museums, and the Riverfront is often home to festivals and other events.  But the stadiums are the amazing features that shadow the river, and home to two nation teams, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cincinnati Bengals.  Attending the Red's games was a great treat for me as a child every time I earned all As on my report card!  Of course, that was back when the Big Red Machine was blazing the bases and Red Hot Smokies were served as the top treat.


Not too far from the Ohio River and downtown Cincinnati is the Cincinnati Zoo.  It's been a favorite for me since my childhood, but is still a wonderful way to spend a day.  Even more appealing to me now as an adult are the winding streets and original architecture of the houses in this quaint neighborhood.

And then we travel further north into hills and across the farm fields, sometimes seeing Amish at work, boaters floating along rivers, or farmers in their fields. In the center of the state, Columbus stands proud, and COSI is a must-do stop for children young and old.


But for my home state, that's it!  I've never been to the Northeast corner where I hear there is so much more to see and do... That's on the list for one of the stops this summer!

Happy Travels!

Monday Mapping: Mapping Out Informational Texts

Students in upper levels are now required to read informational texts as part of state and national standards, yet many have never been taught the foundational standards for understanding those resources.  With the new semester just beginning, start with a mini-lesson on addressing these foundations.
Students in upper levels are now required to read informational texts as part of state and national standards, yet many have never been taught the foundational standards for understanding those resources.  With the new semester just beginning, start with this mini-lesson on addressing these foundations. #teaching #informationaltexts #middleschool
  1. Define key terms and organizational structures/terms for reading informational texts:
    • Preface/introduction
    • Table of contents
    • Glossary
    • Index
    • Appendix
  2. Explain informational text features:
    • Titles, headings, subheadings
    • Sidebars
    • Captions
    • Font changes (bold, italics, highlighting)
    • Author notes
  3. Discuss graphic features and their uses/significance:
    • Charts, graphs, diagrams
    • Illustrations or photographs
    • Labels, Insets
    • Timelines 
    • Maps
  4. Introduce the ideas of bias and perspective:
    • Identification of bias
    • Value of multiple perspectives
    • Influence/Impact of perspective or bias
Helping students master these basics will help them to not only excel in school, but also in other ventures outside of the academic setting where informational text is standard.

Need a great activity to review Geography basics and address informational text skills?  Take a look at my Geography Skills Review from my TpT Store!

Students in upper levels are now required to read informational texts as part of state and national standards, yet many have never been taught the foundational standards for understanding those resources.  With the new semester just beginning, start with this mini-lesson on addressing these foundations. #teaching #informationaltexts #middleschool

Happy Teaching!

Quick Thought Thursday: The Homeschool Phenomenon

Two and a half years ago, my husband and I became full-time RVers.  We have traveled the United States and Canada, visited site after site, and met tons of people.  We've also encountered many younger RVers, most traveling as families who homeschool their children.  Each year, the number of full-time homeschool families grows dramatically as more and more parents become angry at changing American education policies.  I call this growth The Homeschool Phenomenon. 


We are currently in Orlando, Florida where many of these families are meeting up for winter.  Over the time we've been here, I've worked very hard to interact with the families to learn all I can about their travels and their studies.  What I've found is both inspiring and sad.

Most of these families are doing it right.  They travel to visit historic sites, investigate locations, plan out travel costs and mileage, and perform science experiments at their campsites.  A large majority supplement their travel lessons with online programs (very similar to textbook studies) from which their children can earn credits, just as if enrolled in a public high school.  Most of the older children can tell you their plans for their future, sharing dreams of college or study abroad.  And we all agree, there is so much to learn on the road.


And then there are the few...

A few have taken on the mantra of unschooling, but only in literal name and not in intended practice.  Even unschooling, in its purest form, requires parental involvement and interaction.  It can be a very effective tool for natural learning.  These few families are not providing any instruction for their children at all, and more importantly, provide no supervision or guidance, not only in learning, but in daily life.  The children play, from daylight until after dark, and sadly, skills are not learned, basics are not practiced, and potential is slipping away.

Having homeschooled my own daughter for a couple years of her academic career, I am a huge proponent for homeschooling.  However, I an NOT in support of what I am seeing in this current phenomenon.  I am saddened, frustrated, and angry.  I am upset that these children are falling through the cracks, and at the hands of their own parents. 

More importantly, I am upset at myself.  Being a teacher to the bone, and always an advocate for the care of children, I am most upset that I can do nothing about it.

Happy Thinking!

Tuesday Travels: Where It All Started

For most of my adult life, I lived and taught in central Kentucky.  Sharing my time between Frankfort and Lexington, I was surrounded by history and the hustle and bustle of big city (well, they think it's a big city!) life.  Ironically, when living there, I seldom took advantage of all the region had to offer.  Only after traveling most of the United States and Canada over the past 2 years have I realized that each and every location has something significant to share.

With traveling full time, we use central Kentucky as our starting and stopping points for all other travels.  Our daughter and grand-daughter are there, and both growing up way too fast, so we tend to stay a month with each visit, spending time together and seeing the sites we never took time to explore before.

What's there to do at our home base?  Let me tell you!

Kentucky was the earliest frontier outside the 13 colonies and home to Daniel Boone's Wilderness Trail and the Ft. Harrod settlement, Whitehall Mansion, Lincoln's Birthplace, and so much more.  It is also surrounded by the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in the east and the Lands Between the Lakes in the west.  And if you like horses, they are everywhere from Churchill Downs Race Track in Louisville to the KY Horse Park in Georgetown.  And just a day's drive through central KY will take you past horse farm after horse farm with the amazing creatures running through bluegrass pastures and hanging out in the incredible barns (many much larger and more fancy than most homes).

If you are more into attractions, you can check out Corvettes at the Corvette Museum or travel below ground in the many caves, including Mammoth Caves just north of Bowling Green.  In the same region, you can step into Australia for the day at a really neat park, Kentucky Down Under, where you can see kangaroos, groom sheep, and perch with the birds.

And I must mention, despite my desire to ignore, the many sporting events that are not only prominent, but required for survival, for so many Kentuckians.  Be very careful during football and basketball season to wear either red or blue, depending on your proximity to the major cities and their rival teams.

So, what is my favorite thing to do when we are in Kentucky?  It's tough to choose, because I love both the lakes all around the state and the trails, especially at Natural Bridge.  But I have to admit my absolute favorite place to be in the state (other than being with my family) is traveling on I-75 North as you come over the top of the hill overlooking my original home... Ohio!  It is simply an amazing view!

Happy Travels!

Monday Mapping: Planning for 2nd Semester

Mapping is a very important skill in my life.  I map EVERYTHING!  I map out our travels (Mapquest is my best friend!), I map out my day, and I always mapped out my lessons, units, and semesters for the most simplified and complete planning of my classroom instruction.


Curriculum mapping can be as simplified or as detailed as you want, but it can help you to know where you are headed, what you have to cover, and how you plan to do it all in the little time you have available.  You can create your own, or use a template, but either way, cater it to what you need for your classroom and your students.

Here are a few images/ideas to get you started:



And here is a basic curriculum map template available FREE in my TpT Store!

Tips and Ideas for curriculum mapping to make unit and lesson planning easier in the secondary classroom. A great read for back to school or starting the new semester. #curriculummap #lessonplanning

Happy Mapping!

Quick Thought Thursday: New Year New Format!

I don't do New Year's resolutions!  There's no point anymore.  After 45 years of life, I've learned that IF I'm going to do something, I just do it.  If I'm going to make a needed change, it's done.  
But then again... 
What's a better time to start something fresh than on January 1st?

To freshen things up, and to respond to requests from my loyalist readers, I am going to follow a posting format this year.  It's simple.  It's complete.  And it's more organized than what I've done in the past.

Here we go!

Monday Mapping will focus on everything classroom.  I hope to address current issues,  present valuable resources, and suggest interactive or reliable strategies to help engage students and keep them learning.

Travel Tuesdays will help us document our travels across this continent and (hopefully) beyond.  Having crossed the country this past year, we have so many pictures and stories to share.  More importantly, we have great lessons we've learned that may help you, too!

And finally, Quick Thought Thursdays will address anything I want to address!  It will be my open forum to step up on my soapbox and share my thoughts and opinions on everything from educational policy to homeschooling to the rights and wrongs of society today.

I hope you will check in and read each post, and please share your thoughts and comments, too!

Happy Mapping!  Happy Travels!  And, of course, Happy Thinking!