Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Post Vacation Blues

I was a little MIA last week as I visited West Palm Beach with my mom as a sort of Last Fling for the summer!  It was a wonderful time!  Now that I'm back home, though, I'm a little bit sad.  I miss being able to scamper around and do what I want when I want.  I mean, within a short amount of time being home our car over heated, my dog was sick, and our policeman neighbor told us that someone could have been peeping in our house.  Needless to say, reality set in pretty quick.  But, if you're headed to WPB anytime soon or just want to live vicariously, check out what we did!

We visited Sloan's Ice Cream parlor located in the City Place of WPB.  The ice cream was fabulous - all homemade and unique.  My fav's - Chocolate Chip Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough & Sloan's Dark Chocolate.  I consider myself an ice cream connoisseur though I didn't try anything fancy like their Coffee Ice Cream with Krispy Kreme's.  

The coolest part?  Their bathroom!  The bathroom has a glass wall.  When you lock the door - it freezes out in solid white!  How cool is that?   
Then I got to live out my CSI: Miami fantasies by going on an alligator air boat tour in the Everglades and visiting South Beach.  
Air boat tour = amazing.
Alligators = amazing.
South Beach= eh.  Who cares.

The best part was obviously yelling "YOWWWWW" like I was part of the CSI: Miami theme song...

Lastly, we beached it up.  Went to West Palm Beach and South Beach in Miami.  I didn't get any pics of the beaches because I didn't want to bring my phone with me but here is a pretty sweet dressed up palm tree.  

The best part of the beach trip?  Well here's a little story for you.

1.  Night before I ask a local what are the "must-do's" in WPB.  He says paddle-boarding.  I love paddle-boarding in Lake Michigan but am a little weary of shark-infested waters, I tell him.  He says I should be as sharks are migrating and there are "thousands of them up and down the coast right now." <- his words, not mine.
2.  Swimming in the ocean maybe 20 feet away from shore, the waters start to get dark.
3.  Everyone in the ocean starts sprinting out screaming.
4.  Everyone on the beach starts sprinting towards the ocean (and us) with cameras pointing.
5.  School of manatees swim up and by us MAYBE 5 feet away.

Obviously this was amazing but wayyyy cooler after I realized they were manatees and got over the fear of being attacked by sharks!

This isn't all we did.  We did quite a bit of shopping, ate at some amazing restaurants, and went to stand up at the Improv Comedy Club.  All of this makes me think, why stop having adventures when the school year starts? Adventure doesn't need to be limited to summer time vacations.  We can do it in the classroom and in our spare time.  With that being said, I'm going to start creating a adventure list of sorts to accomplish this year with my students.  Any suggestions to get me started?  I'll be posting about it soon so stay posted!

Friday, August 15, 2014

To Journal or Not To Journal?

I always had a problem with having to journal when I was a student.  I never knew what to write about.  Worse, I never understood what the point was.

This perception carried over when I started teaching.  I had the impression that having my students journal was simply busy work.  It was something that I could have them do while I was taking attendance, passing out papers, or talking to students individually.

Boy was I wrong.  Journaling can be an excellent tool for your students - 
IF it is set up right!

This summer while I was teaching summer school, I started to implement journals as part of the daily routine.  But my students weren't only writing about what they would do if they had $1 million.  They weren't only writing about which 3 books they would take with them if they were on a deserted island...

Yes this was my elementary understanding of journal prompts.

Instead, they were writing about their past experiences in writing classes. They were journaling about what part of the writing process was the easiest for them.  Which was the toughest for them.  Journaling became a reflective part of the learning process that was essential to their learning.  

Better yet, their final exam turned into a reflection of their overall growth in the semester.  They were able to look back through old journal entries and see where and how they were struggling.  They were able to scan through their challenges and triumphs.  

Reflective Collage Essay & Journal Prompts

I compiled a list of 14 Journal Prompts along with the Reflective Collage Essay for you to try out in your classroom.  You can utilize these prompts every day in class for 3 weeks or have them done once a week for an extended-writing project.  Either way, they promote reflection in the writing classroom.  

I don't know about your experiences with journals before.  But I do know that journaling has been a way for my students to truly reflect, both short- and long-term, in ways that I hadn't seen them do before in my classroom.  Try them out and let me hear how it goes!  I look forward to reading your reflections of their reflections!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's In My Bag?

One of my favorite Beauty Guru YouTube tags is "What's in My Bag?"!  I love to see what my favorite YouTubers are carting around with them on a daily basis.  So why not take a look at what a teacher carries around with them everyday?  As schools start up again this week, I thought I'd give you a look into what I'm currently carrying in my bag.  

So here's my new bag.  It's my first Vera Bradley and I LOVE IT (thanks Mommba)! My meetings started up this week and I already had tons of compliments.  I got mine at the outlet mall but here is the closest I could find! The bag itself has two outside pockets and plenty of inside pockets. It's great because I have compartments for my pens/pencils/dry erase markers, phone, and any other random items.  Also, my favorite feature is the clip on key ring!  That way I don't have to worry about my keys falling out!
Inside of my bag I have a binder, agenda, notebooks, books, etc.  Here's a closer look...

Teacher Binder:  This binder has tabs for the classes that I teach and the classes that I take.  I love that the dividers have pockets for me to quickly file away extra handouts or newspaper/magazine clippings I've read that may be useful for class!  I use the front pocket to house urgent paperwork.  That way I don't forget it because it's always the first thing that I see.
Agenda, Portfolio, & Notebooks:  This is my new agenda from Office Max.  I love this one because it's the Week-at-a-Glance style and is set up hourly. The older I get, I find that I have more and more appointments.  I have way more scheduling to do.  Stay tuned for a post on how to use hourly planners as a teacher!  Then I have my portfolio.  This bad boy is from when I visited MIT. LOVE it!  In it I just have notebook paper and resumes.  Hey, you never know when you'll need to pass out a resume!  Lastly, a notebook.  I'm always taking notes in meetings.  I carry one 5-subject notebook: 3 sections for the classes I take, 1 section for the class I teach, and 1 section for programs that I am a part of.
Random Books:  Lastly I have a collection of random books.  I don't teach out of one particular book.  I usually utilize a collection of readings from various books.  At the moment, I am carrying around books for some research I am doing on Onomastics.  You'll also see there a notepad for leaving friends notes when I miss them.  Love that too!  I believe this is from Target, but it was a gift from my Sister-in-Law.

So that's what's in my bag right now.  What's in your bag?  What am I missing?  Tweet me or comment down below!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

3 Lessons from Pole Dancing

Warning!  Super weird post coming your way.

Yesterday I took a fitness pole dancing class with a girlfriend of mine.  To be quite honest, I was a little bit nervous coming in.  It was something that was completely outside of my comfort zone... not to mention I have zero upper body strength.  

After paying, my friend and I walked into the fitness room that was scattered with poles.  All of the lights were off except for one purple light in the corner of the room.  The instructor started by telling us to "Let loose and let our hair down.  No one is here to judge anyone else."  The class started off a bit awkward for me.  I'm not used to sexily prancing around a room and then swinging around a stripper pole.  But as time went on (it was a 75-minute class!), I became loose and we all started to forget that the rest of us were there.

Yes.  This is an education blog.  
Yes.  I'm writing about pole dancing.

What's the connection?!  I learned quite a few lessons from my pole dancing class that can be applied to my teaching career.  I know.  It's weird.  But here it goes.

  1. Be open to new experiences.  It's so easy for us to get wrapped up in doing the same old, same old.  We know what works for us and we know what works well.  But don't let that stop you from trying something new. Whether it's a new activity to teach, facilitating a discussion in a different way, or entirely flipping your classroom, be open to new experiences.  It will teach you a lot about the way your students learn and the way you deal with the unexpected.
  2. Don't be afraid to look like a fool.  Like I said, the beginning of the pole dancing class was a little intimidating.  2 of the girls in there had been taking classes for weeks and could do upside-down tricks.  But I pushed through anyways.  Yes, I totally looked like a fool at first.  But that's okay.  We have to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable because only through these experiences can we grow.  If you try something new in your class and it's a total failure, that's okay.  What's important is how you handle it at the time and how you reflect on it to improve later. 
  3. We are all more capable than we realize, and so are our students.  I have no upper body strength.  I don't say that sarcastically but seriously. The only exercise I'm doing right now is running to train for a 15K I signed up for. I always thought that if I had to pull myself up from the side of a building I would be able to - after this class, though, I'm not quite sure.  But during the class I learned that I was able to do a few tricks that I didn't think I would have the capability to do.  We all were! All it took with the right instruction and encouragement.  Our instructor was kind and a good listener.  When we struggled, she was able to watch our technique, diagnose the problem, and set us on the straight and narrow.  We need to remember that for ourselves but also for how we interact with our students when they're struggling.  
Yes, I know it's a weird experience to talk about and relate to teaching but it's all very true.  I think it's quite possible that I can learn a lot from my pole dancing teacher in regard to how I teach my own students.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Reflection in the Classroom

As teachers, we know how important it is to reflect.  We reflect every time a lesson goes good, bad, terrible, or horrendous.  But how often do we have our students reflect?

Typically we set aside time for our students to reflect after they've written an essay, right?  This is usually part of the peer review process where they think about what they did well in their essay and the areas that they struggled in.

But what if I told you that our students should be reflecting all of the time?!

What if I told you that having our students reflect before our units would enable them to succeed?

It's true.  Having students reflect on their past experiences, what they expect out of a situation, or what they hope to get out of a learning experience teaches them to frame the learning process in a different light.  It also allows them to buy into the learning. If they have already invested time and energy into reflecting on the unit before it begins, chances are they will be more engaged throughout the unit.  

I suggest that you start the school year and every major unit off with reflection. Remember, reflection doesn't end when you call time.  It is something that students should be readdressing throughout the learning process. When "problems" come up, have students look back at their expectations.  Have them imagine what they were thinking then and how they would've expected to handle these "problems".  After the unit, have them look back at their reflections to see how accurate they were.  In what ways?  There should be a constant cycle of reflection during the learning process.

Reflective Window Frames

To make your life a little bit easier, I created Reflective Window Frames. These window frames are set up to have students reflect on what they want out of their teachers, partners, and group members.  Better yet, they're Copy & Go.  No work required! 

Print 'em off and hand 'em out! 

Monday, August 4, 2014

New (School) Year - New You

I've been thinking a lot lately about life goals.  In fact, I think about goals in most of my spare time.  The only thing I can do to stop thinking about the future is to hang out with a friend or binge on The Good Wife.  But thinking about goals isn't a bad thing.  Actually, with back to school quickly approaching, I think it's a good thing!

Why wait until New Year's Eve to set goals for ourselves?

With a new school year beginning, we have a fresh start.  We have an opportunity to start anew and to make progress in so many different areas of our lives.

If you're in education, you've probably heard of SMART goals.

SMART Goals are an excellent way for you to reach realistic goals in a certain amount of time.  If you are interested in learning more about SMART goals, check out Adam Sicinski's post.  He offers a ton of valuable information!

I'm more concerned with us Brownbaggers setting goals for multiple areas of our lives.  Clustering our goals.  It's so easy for us to be focused on helping our students, growing as teachers, and collaborating with others in our field. This is great!  But, teaching should not be our entire lives.  Simply said, it's just not healthy. 

Instead, we should have lives that are enriched in various areas.  Spending a considerable amount of time in these areas will help us to feel more fulfilled and positive.  

So I'm going to show you what I am doing in hopes that you might be inspired to do it too!  Here are the 6 areas that I plan to set goals in.  Before I set my goals, I'm going to ask myself a few questions and reflect on what's going on in my life.  After all, reflection is the mark of a true teacher, right?  Only after I spend time reflecting will I then set goals.

Goal-Setting Areas & Questions to Reflect On:
  • Spirituality:  How is my spiritual life? How often am I reading my Bible? Attending church? What relationships do I have that are centered around the love for Jesus Christ? In what ways am I volunteering my time?
  • Family: How often do I spend quality time with my family members? In what ways do I communicate with my family (text, email, phone call, in person, etc.)? Am I okay with that?
  • Friends: How often do I spend quality time with my friends? In what ways do I communicate with my friends (text, email, phone call, in person, etc.)? Am I okay with that? Am I open to new friendships? Do I make an effort?
  • Hobbies: What is my favorite way to spend my free time? How often do I make time to do that activity? What new hobbies have I always wanted to try but haven't had the courage to do so?
  • Work: Based on my actions, how do I think my co-workers view me? How can I make myself more valuable at work? What professional development can I do to serve others better?
  • Fitness: What is my current fitness routine? What challenges can I put on myself? 
It's important that when I reflect on these areas of my life, that I am extremely honest with myself.  Without honesty, I won't be able to improve myself.  From that point, I can move onto setting my goals.  While I won't share my reflections with you (for sake of time and it may be a little awkward), I will share my finalized goals.
  • Spirituality:  Join a small group.  Serve 1x/month in the community outreach starting in August/Sept.
  • Family: Pick up the phone and call my family members (immediate and extended).
  • Friends: Let new friendships emerge by getting contact information, making plans, and sticking to them.
  • Hobbies: Try a Paint Nite class with my friends.
  • Work: Finish reading Creating Magic.  Set and stick to specific times to work on certain projects.
  • Fitness: Run the Hot Chocolate 15K in November.
Some people might ask, why do you need to write your goals down?  It's a valid question.  Really, you don't need to write your goals down.  But I would argue that taking the time to write them down forces you to think more about what you want out of life.  What you expect from yourself, what you want to add to the lives of others, and what you desire from your family and friends. Better yet, publishing them publicly gives you accountability to stick with it. Remember that these aren't set in stone. Reevaluate monthly. Your desires might change and that's okay. It's important to be intentional though. After all, writing without a sharpened pencil is pointless.

So what goals do you have Brownbaggers?  Comment below!  I'd love to hear what you have going on.  Let's keep each other accountable.