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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!

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:
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...


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!