Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In It For the Long Haul

When you enter the doors of Jasztalville, I am not just your teacher for the duration of one year. Beyond the 180 days I instruct and inspire you, I hope I can be an invaluable resource, confidant, and advocate who helps you to succeed beyond measure. I hope to be a part of your mosaic, your network. If you ever have a question regarding academics, you can always come to me because I will exert my best to have a wise answer.

The students I have taught over the years have impacted my life in tremendous ways, inspiring me to be stronger and more innovative. Since tomorrow is the first of May, I have my students for only one more month-- and while this summer will be a time of immense production and exploration, the young people I have gotten to know since August will become "former students". This year progressed faster than I believe any other ever has, and beautiful memories have been made, but this chapter will soon be coming to an end. I hope when I write my words of inspiration for my students at the end of the school year that I convey I will ALWAYS be their "fan".

Let me state this publicly. This has nothing to do with any one student I have ever taught-- though this has happened on plenty of occasions (when I was a fourth grade teacher and I had students in fifth grade, and even now as a fifth grade teacher with former students in middle school... or at a public place). It hurts in ways beyond imaginable when I see a former student anywhere-- and I am ignored. It pretty much gives off this message-- "You imparted knowledge to me for 180 days, and now I don't even know who you are anymore." (Though... I bet that's not the message. It's like this...) I mistakenly did this to one of my favorite teachers of all time when I was in high school; I ran into my eighth grade history teacher at the movies and completely ignored him because I didn't know what to say. He still remains a profound influence in my life, and I wish that day I would have struck up a conversation with him because he exerted so much effort in making my experience in his history class incredible. He organized a wonderful, memorable "Saturday field trip"; it was to the Don CeSar Hotel and downtown St. Petersburg to immerse ourselves in local history and architecture. One of the stand-out memories of his class was how he would show home videos of his family traveling all over the United States to help teach us about history. He thought about us while he and his family were on the road. He was also unconventional, as I am now, singing random songs that were sometimes a bit bizarre but at other times profoundly educational. Yet in the movies, only three years after having him, I acted like he had never been my teacher, and it actually hurts me now to think about it. About six years later-- perhaps-- he became Teacher of the Year for his school, and a number of years after that, I represented my school as Teacher of the Year. I congratulated him for his phenomenal accomplishment via district e-mail but never saw or heard from him again, though he (I believe) still teaches in our district as a high school history teacher now.

Sigh. It feels good to get that out. In a public manner. There are teachers who change your life, and even when one doesn't, it is still amazing to give that person the consideration and appreciation (s)he deserves. I feel like that one teacher impacted the person I became in adulthood as an educator now.

I remember when I went back to former teachers to write letters of recommendation, and it was incredible what a few of those individuals recalled a few years after having them. I never considered myself that memorable, though my writing and artwork tended to stand out because I always put forth strong effort when working on projects. When I have reunited with a few teachers over the course of my teaching career, I took the time to tell them how much they made a difference in my life-- just by being themselves and believing in what I could accomplish. Even nineteen years after having my sixth grade Language Arts teacher (now twenty) and twenty-four (now twenty-five) years after having my first grade teacher, I told those women they were more than teachers to me. They were brilliant, innovative, gracious people I considered my friends. Because of my first grade teacher, I succeeded in school-- I will hold that opinion for the rest of my life-- and my sixth grade teacher was strict but immensely loving. I didn't know until adulthood that she told one of my friends that it was so valuable that she was protecting me from being bullied (more than I was, because I was beyond bullied). I was one of the most bullied students in the entire middle school, and-- she at least recognized it... and tried to help it in her own way by affirming my friend.

I have been recognized by former students-- attending last year's high school graduation and having the honor of being a hand shaker. Immense love and pride swelled as I congratulated each student-- and hugged my former students like very little time had passed since they were fourth graders. It is beautiful hearing some of their stories now, knowing what they are accomplishing as college students and the plans they have for their careers. Some of the students have grown up to be the most altruistic, mature, and humble young men and women I know. I thank them for staying true to themselves; it is substantial because there are so many pressures society exerts upon young people today.

It also was a beautiful surprise when a student-- a few years ago-- prepared a plethora of neat things for me as a middle schooler as a gift for my birthday. She gave me her fourth grade book publishing project, examples of work she received exemplary grades on, and a few other neat goodies. The birthday card stated, "You are STILL and will always be my favorite teacher of all time." That was a tear fest and so heartwarming, to say the very least. I also have letters from my students that were written in fifth grade during Teacher Appreciation Week as well as all the letters the kids wrote at the end of their fourth grade years.

Teachers are valuable, and I hope in the lives of many, I am considered to be someone who can never stop guiding, advising, and affirming. I hope to attend even more high school graduations, perhaps a few college graduations, have students who become experts in their field who are a part of my network, and receive cards (for the holiday season or whatever other reason). I know I will not be "Glen Holland" or "John Keating" to every student I ever teach, but I hope I am someone. That moment of coming back or showing appreciation means more than one would ever expect.

Monday, April 28, 2014

How can you be tech-forward without having much technology available?

Sigh. This is a challenging question to answer, and it actually has been on my mind more than once today. My ideal tech-forward classroom is nothing like a "traditional" classroom, just to make you aware. Actually, my ideal school is not like a "traditional" school, either; it would have a news recording studio (equipped with green screen) and radio station, supersize iPads mounted to the walls, and all kinds of portals to enhance communication with schools around the world (via Skype). Students would have their own Twitter accounts for educational purposes and learn code daily to make their own websites and apps. My ideal school would grant students the opportunities to communicate with individuals who are accomplished in their fields and work on projects that people on the other side of the world would benefit from. Students would thrive in a school where they would have numerous venues for impacting society while still focusing on the required curricular components as well.

There would be a museum with virtual and real displays. Students would be able to "rent" space by displaying their work on the massive flat-screen monitors, and then of course there would be hands-on projects they constructed as well (like a model home constructed to scale or a working science display). There would be a few massive workshops where students would have the opportunity to construct and keep their project components organized (with a safe of sorts they could also rent).

Students would also receive a list of standards that they are required to learn (when not engaging in regular assignments, which the school would offer for the first two-thirds of every day). They would then brainstorm projects that would correlate with those standards and set timelines with their academic advisers.

Perhaps on a wing and prayer, this school can one day be constructed. Yet for now, the technology available in many schools does not match my vision, and I have to think of how I can still be tech-forward without not having much available for my students.

I have two iPads as well as four computers available. I also have a set of clickers and an Elmo, which is basically what I had available in my last school (except that I had a laptop cart, which made interactive projects much easier to incorporate). Since this year was so much of a learning curve (being new to fifth grade as well as the gifted program), I have thought of how I can better incorporate technology next year with at least the same materials available. I have also brainstormed what I can do with students if I am able to start the science club I am envisioning, which would be for the middle school students (who are already quite tech-savvy and should have the opportunity to flourish, even being in a club once or twice a month).

Here are my suggestions for being tech-forward with your students (without much technology available in the classroom), which can extend beyond the hours of the school day--

  • Start an interactive website for your students-- or at least introduce collaborative tools to them. The purpose of my website construction this summer will be to create something that is immensely interactive and collaborative for both students and educators. Emphasize to your students that you have a vision you want to carry out. Perhaps incorporate a weblog through Blogspot or Edublogs where they can comment (in class or at home) on posts about what you are reviewing in class, create a Padlet page (that you can embed on your website), make thought processes visual with, Stixy, or GoVisually, or start a Twitter account for your class, featuring amazing links to articles, videos, and more. 
  • You can also communicate with families using a site like Class Messenger. Here is the explanation from their website-- "Class Messenger makes it effortless for teachers to send home important notes and updates about the day's learning experiences. They can even see exactly which parents have read each note. And whether via app, text, or email, communication through Class Messenger is always private." 
  • If you are able, incorporate Skype in your classroom. All you need is a laptop and projector as well as access to Skype. Perhaps you would like to become a NASA Explorer School. A few years ago, all fourth and fifth grade classes at my old school were given the opportunity to participate in the program. (Here is the newspaper article featuring my students from two years ago.) Of course, you can communicate with individuals on the other side of the world (Angela Bunyi) and host mystery Skype sessions as well (Krissy Venosdale). 
  • Have your students start their own weblogs. They can be updated at home and shared in class. You can link to all of them from your website. I brought this up in another post I wrote about having your students design websites and increase their Internet presence (safely). Students can start blogs featuring book reviews, scientific theories, and much more. As I stated, Kidblog is a tremendous option because the site was started with children and educators in mind. 
  • Students can also work on their own stories that they later enhance with technology. I have done the typical book publishing project where the students were given their own blank books. (I may talk about this more in-depth at another time, but here is another article for you about stories written six years ago). Even if you do not have much technology available, perhaps a student has an innovative idea-- which they may have the desire to research so they are historically accurate (or simply accurate in general). If you have the opportunity to bring students to a computer lab, too, you may want to introduce some digital storytelling websites to them. 
  • I also have used an eReader tool called Scholastic Storia. Scholastic Storia, if you do not have ample desktop computers, laptop computers, or iPads, can be projected on the large screen so your class can discuss the literature and use the interactive features together. Using Storia does not require the Internet-- you just need to make sure you have downloaded the book before you use it with your class. 
  • Teach your students about green screen technology. The technology may be available in your school's library (we have a recording studio for the middle school morning news show), but all you need is a smooth green surface to film your students against and the proper editing equipment. To garner more insight, my friend Angela Bunyi wrote a post about how easy green screen technology is at Scholastic in 2008. 
As you know, utilizing technology in your classroom has numerous benefits. I know I could include tons more ideas, but this was a fairly quick post. How do you utilize technology in your classroom, even when resources are not that readily available? Don't hesitate to share below. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Weblog Showcase-- Fancying 4th and Trendy Tech!

Today, I came across Melissa Huff's weblog. As soon as I entered, I was EXTREMELY impressed! She is a certified Google educator and has been a presenter, utilizes Twitter, wrote about blended classrooms in one of her posts, and delves into virtual professional development. Her content is in-depth and intriguing! She also mentioned Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Martinez, which is RIGHT up my alley! Aside from that, she seems like a really awesome and humble person whom I absolutely cannot wait to hear more from. I highly recommend heading over to her weblog at Thank you, Melissa!

10 Tips on How to Revolutionize a Science Classroom

I could write an entire book about revolutionizing a science classroom. By no means am I perfect-- I am not. This year was the first year I was granted 90 wonderful minutes a day to incorporate science rather than 20-30, so... I had to dig deeper into what invigorates a science classroom.

This year, I learned a lot, to say the least. Out of all the subjects I teach, I have learned the most about science over the course of a decade. Entering the classroom, I had never been a phenomenal science student, to say the least-- I earned As for the most part, but very little of it had stuck with me. Prior to high school or perhaps the eighth grade, I recall minute snippets of my science instruction. 
  • I do not remember ANYTHING I did in science prior to fifth grade, except in fourth grade, it was my least favorite subject along with math because I had never done a science experiment in school. It would actually ALWAYS remain my least favorite subject along with math until I entered the classroom, though I took a college geology course I enjoyed. 
  • In fifth grade, I recall one experiment taste-testing activity. My teacher put out Dixie cups filled with Coca-Cola, a generic Coke-like beverage, Sprite, and a generic Sprite-like beverage, I believe. She then proceeded on blindfolding us and asking us which beverage we preferred more. I recall the generic beverages "won". 
  • In sixth grade, I do remember learning about plate tectonics, the Marianas Trench, and Pangaea. I do not recall any experiments from that year, though. 
  • Seventh grade science impressed me in the least. 
  • In eighth grade, we watched Bill Nye the Science Guy on more than one occasion. I really enjoyed that teacher a great deal-- she was quite engaging and awesome. I remember doing a few collaborative activities in that class and really enjoying it, though I do not remember what I learned about at all. 
  • In ninth grade, I dissected a fetal pig in Biology Honors and received a score in the 50s because I was incredibly grossed out. I literally still recall where I was in the classroom and having to stick labeled flags on the dissected pig. In sophomore year, I took Anatomy and Physiology Honors and really found it quite fascinating, though I never felt like I was adequate in science for some reason, so I opted out of taking Chemistry or Physics. Our class salutatorian even received a C in Chemistry Honors, which immediately convinced me I would receive a D or lower, so I was intimidated out of my wits because he had always been an immense genius. 
  • The only year in science that I IMMENSELY enjoyed was eleventh grade when I took Marine Biology. At first, I knew I was opting out of taking Chemistry and then Physics, but something attracted me to that class. That was the year I learned to appreciate dissection-- we dissected sharks and starfish. We also got to sample octopus and squid. That was also the class where I developed unconventional methods for studying-- and our teacher had taught us fabulous methods for filling up information on an index card that we could use on our tests. 
How many labs did I participate in from grades K-12? I would like to say around ten, probably eight of which were in high school. It was not a significant amount, though. I remember participating in the school and district science fair competition in elementary school (somewhat against my will), though I progressed to district competition in the third and fifth grades. I have a few wonderful trophies in storage, but it was not for anything my teacher had done with the class. Class science fair projects were not required back then, I believe, either, so... I defined science as... 

Beyond boring. Book work. Sometimes over my head. Exhausting. Irrelevant. As I mentioned, I always did extremely well in Science, though it was not my preference. 

Why? I am a visual-kinesthetic learner, and though I am a proficient reader who has decent study skills under my belt, I was just acquiring information for the sake of taking a test and getting an A or B. I recall sitting through lectures and being somewhat quiet in my classes. I convinced myself I would never need the information again because I was not entering the science field. 

I didn't enter the science field, though I entered the education field and am teaching aspiring scientists. I am also teaching gifted students, some of which possess a greater wealth of knowledge about science than when I was in high school. Over the course of my teaching career was when I learned the majority of what I know about science. 

I convinced myself from about my fourth year of teaching that I was not going to make science a dull experience for my students, so I began delving into a great deal of research online for resources that would captivate my students' interest. I specifically went to the educator website for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Ology from the American Museum of Natural History, NASA's education website, the education section of the Exploratorium website, and PBS Design Squad

For quite some time, I still possessed some gaps in my "scientific schematic database". Since I network with a great deal of science educators and people who possess a powerhouse of knowledge about science, I am embarrassed to type what I did not know about until perhaps a few years ago. However, I overcame those shortcomings and am now starting a domain dedicated to science education. 

The Exploratorium best states what a model classroom for scientific inquiry "looks" like::

1. Children view themselves as scientists in the process of learning. 
2. Children accept an "invitation to learn" and readily engage in the exploration process. 
3. Children plan and carry out investigations. 
4. Children communicate using a variety of methods. 
5. Children propose explanations and solutions and build a store of concepts. 
6. Children raise questions. 
7. Children use observations. 
8. Children critique their science practices. 

Here are my tips for revolutionizing a science classroom:: 

1. Go places. Attend events
  • Visit local and national science museums. Visit their websites and see what they offer for education. Head to national parks as well. Here is the educator website for the American National Park Service, which offers tons of resources for educators. 
  • NASA Socials are available for people who have social media platforms. They used to be called "Tweetups" because they were geared toward individuals on Twitter. However now, people can also utilize Google+ or Facebook rather than Twitter. I guarantee you do not have to be grandly established on social media to be accepted into the events, too, because I wasn't that established when I attended the GRAIL tweetup in September 2011. 
  • Not everyone knows Space Camp is available for educators. The price is pretty high if you attend the week-long camp, but there are options to attend for a shorter duration. There are also options to apply for a scholarship about a half a year in advance-- check in the fall if you may want to attend the Space Academy for Educators the following summer. Aside from meeting up with educators, you can also head there with your family, or if your district permits it, your students. A few reasons why Space Camp ROCKS: The Educator Center is PHENOMENAL and offers SO many gorgeous resources, you have the opportunity to participate in a mock mission and ride simulators, and you get to complete exciting hands-on labs with other educators. 
  • There is also the option of joining the NSTA and attending their awesome conferences. I plan on attending the one in Orlando, Florida this November. 
To captivate your students' attention, bring back awesome souvenirs, photographs, brochures, posters, etc., and display them in your classroom. This opens so many doors for discussion. 

2. Have your students go places. Have them attend events
  • Of course there are expos as well-- which are simply the best, especially when they are free. The University of South Florida Engineering Expo and the Mini Maker Faire at the Orlando Science Center are wonderful (though they are in Florida), and then of course, there is the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. (If I had my own school, we would head to Washington, D.C. every year for a week to attend and visit the Smithsonian museums.) 
  • Discuss opportunities for summer camps and internship opportunities with your students. My friend Glenn used to work with high schoolers who interned at Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Let families know about the plethora of possibilities that are out there and how attending can be a possibility, even when budgets are a bit tight. 
  • If your students cannot go places or attend events, bring in guest speakers to enhance their learning experience. Ask around-- see who within your network of friends may have a connection to someone who works in a science field. 
3. Now for the hardest hurdle to overcome-- Incorporate labs in your classroom. 

I know, I know. You don't want something to go wrong. Not all your students are phenomenal at reading instructions. They may misuse the equipment. Something may spill. Something may take too long to accomplish-- and take away from the time where they can be acquiring content by reading passages, taking notes, and answering questions. Yet, guess what? SOMEONE needs to expose them to how to properly use equipment. Someone needs to show them how to stay within a time limit. Someone needs to explain the importance of following directions properly, understanding the purpose, and taking proper measurements. And even better, someone needs to show them what the world of science looks like beyond the pages of a book. I think once a student completes a lab for something, they are then in MUCH better form to take further notes or respond to questions. 

Where can you get GOOD labs? The sites I mentioned have decent inquiry-driven labs. The ones I am about to mention are beyond superior as well--
4. Think about the type of questions you ask your students. In how many of the questions are they applying themselves? Or are you asking them to... regurgitate information instead? Here is an article from Edutopia called "The Five Features of Scientific Inquiry". Beyond that is the NSTA's explanation

5. This may sound schmaltzy, but put up EPIC decor in your classroom that is science-oriented. Have awesome bobble heads, cool .pdf posters you printed out from the Internet, magnets using science quotes you located on Pinterest, images of scientists with googly eyes, Space Camp Barbie, NASA stickers... whatever you can locate. Don't distract the living daylights out of your students or make the fire marshal's eyes bug out of his head when he makes his annual visit, but have enough to captivate your students' interest. 

6. Do you use videos and music with your students? I use MP3 Rocket to download science videos, particularly Mr. Parr's science songs. I have MANY fifth grade students who are VERY musically inclined. They love singing along with these videos when I show them. When I told them there was a way they could download the videos at home, they were ecstatic. It is wonderful to have many ways to make content presentation memorable. I think the huge difference I will make in presenting these songs next year is having a printable of the lyrics in the students' science journals. 

7. Do you have students analyze other students' experiments? I have kept experiments over the years my students have completed... and I have also printed out examples of experiments from students in the Selah School District in Washington because they have a plethora of middle school projects showcased online. My students have solidified their understanding of what is required for a top-notch experiment by analyzing other peoples' experiments. 

8. Do you relate science to real life for your students? For example, let's say you are discussing minerals. Well, my infamous New Balance brand rainbow shoes that I wear every Friday are comprised of minerals! Beyond that, a lesson on force and motion can become so much more relevant when roller coasters or sports/sporting events like the Olympics are discussed. When you find a way to engage your students (part of the 5E model), they are hooked. 

Here is an awesome video I found on the Teaching Channel regarding Making Science Relevant with Current Events

9. Communicate with science teachers online and see what they do in their classrooms
10. Last, take baby steps in making science a more invigorating experience. For every standard you are required to cover, locate at least one song, video, lab, and inquiry-driven lesson. Peruse Pinterest and perhaps create a science planning board on there that others can see. There are also so many other boards you can link to for planning purposes. I have boards called-- Elementary Science, Elementary Science Expo, and Gathering for the Science Planning Team (for the science domain). 

Hoping the best for you as you plan a sensational year of science with your students! 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jasztal's Resource Spotlight (#2):: Showcasing Phenomenal Educators Online!

This evening, with Jasztal's Resource Spotlight,  I am showcasing some weblogs and websites I have found recently that are phenomenal and impressive in my eyes. This feature will be a part of the weblog every once in a while.

Since the new domains that will debut are geared toward K-12, I am beginning to work hard in finding blogs and sites for a wider audience (than the usual upper elementary audience I seek out).

  • Mind/Shift:: This blog is ALL ABOUT educational reform, challenging students, offering students phenomenal opportunities, and thinking outside the box! Innovative... I found this mentioned on Twitter either one or two days ago and have been affixed since. 
  • Dan Meyer:: This high school math teacher has maintained his weblog for almost a decade. I am highly impressed with the variation of his posts, his interesting ideas, and his unique humor interjected here and there. Even though I teach fifth grade, I feel I can learn a lot from his weblog. His weblog is one I am going to showcase for sure on the new website. 
  • Sprout Classrooms:: Katie Uppman has debuted a fantastic new weblog as well. She is a fifth grade teacher in California-- and her posts so far have been VERY high quality, particularly her one about math performance tasks. She has also been so supportive as I have planned the domains! 
  • Teaching With a Mountain View:: I am a huge fan of Mary's Teachers Pay Teachers store-- and I will admit it, I am kind of picky when it comes to choosing what I incorporate in my classroom! Her products are high-quality and interesting, and I love how her weblog offers a great deal of variation. She has some images of wonderful anchor charts on her blog as well. 
  • Ladybug's Teacher Files:: She has some gorgeous, visually appealing products on Teachers Pay Teachers-- and her weblog is a trillion percent high-quality/WOW!!! as well. When you see her products, you KNOW they are hers. 
  • Mrs. Harris Teaches:: Jessica Harris spent five years teaching elementary school, and now she teaches high school physics. I found her weblog when I searched for science teacher weblogs... and... she made a science teacher Blog Hop! She has some great quality posts and WONDERFUL Pinterest boards as well! I found her today. 
  • Joy in the Journey:: I am quite impressed with the teacher (Jessica Lawler) who maintains this weblog! I discovered her this afternoon when I joined Bloglovin'. She has a fabulous layout, for starters, and she incorporates some neat art lessons in her fifth grade classroom. "Fuel Your Faith Fridays" is also an inspirational and neat component of her weblog.
  • Young Teacher Love:: I'd like to say Kristine came across my old weblog about two years ago... and I thought she was awesome as well. Immediately. She possesses a wealth of knowledge and has offered so much for the education world. She also teaches fifth grade! 
  • Teaching to Inspire in 5th:: Jennifer Findley is super-cool as well! I have purchased a number of her products over time-- and my students love them. She is immensely knowledgeable and has done so much as well as contributing to the online education world. 
  • All Things Upper Elementary:: I just found this weblog yesterday or the day before, I believe. I am impressed with it because it is a collaborative weblog and there are some great minds behind it. There are a lot of Teachers Pay Teachers products showcased, but there are free resources as well and wonderfully detailed instructions for carrying out the activities. 
  • Tales from a Traveling Teacher:: When I visited Kelli's weblog, it had some neat components! Her weblog is for the younger elementary audience (kindergarten through second grade). One of them is... Wordless Wednesday. I like how she approaches her posts and the products she showcases. She obviously incorporates a lot of travel elements in her weblog as well. 
  • Got to Teach:: (Link to Facebook group) This person (next to Jennifer Runde and Teaching with a Mountain View) has some of the best products out there, too-- namely her "Depth and Complexity" set. I believe she teaches gifted as well-- and well, her products have just the right amount of rigor for my fifth-graders! 
Also, please reference my first post about bloggers and social media mavens I admire! 

If you are featured in either of these first two posts (or any of my future posts), you may take the image below and put it on your weblog, if you would like.

How to Get Your Students Started in Website Design (and Graphic Design)

Lately, my fifth graders have asked me about how I thrive with website design and also how they can start a webpage of their own. They are ecstatic I possess knowledge of HTML, and some are quite interested in learning it themselves. I can see why... it is where so many phenomenal things can launch. 

Really pondering on this topic, I look at how my online journey began-- a good 4-5 years before my students were born, in a pre-millennial era where Tripod and Geocities webpages dominated the Internet. My family members could not be on the Internet at the same time because we had a dial-up connection, so I had an hour time limit daily. My HTML acquisition began in an era of sparkling blinkies, webrings, pages under construction, animated .gifs, and me perusing Lissa Explains It All with wide eyes. Lissa, in my opinion, was a rock star because she created an HTML help website at the age of eleven. 

Debuting in November 1998, my first website was... interesting, to say the least. I was sixteen years old, very much into butterflies, poetry, and song lyrics. My "About Me" page had a description of-- "My main interests, what's phat in my world, and what makes me tick." My "Chorus" page had a description of-- "I love 2 sing." I proceeded like that somehow until 2001, when my friend Christine advised, "You should purchase your own domain." That would become, which was a faith-oriented website that garnered plenty of college-aged visitors who were ecstatic about posting to my message board. Christine also introduced me to Adobe Photoshop, which would later become a passion. At first I was fixated on all things black and white, but that would later evolve. My friends would give me constant pointers, and a lot of college-aged students had their own domains online, hosting friends' sites like I did. I learned about brushes, blending effects, shadows, outlines, and photo balance from them. 

I owned two domains before entering the teaching profession, and on November 30, 2004, was purchased. That website, which debuted the following July, became quite huge and remained online for almost eight years. When I blogged for Scholastic, I wrote an entry for educators who wanted to design their own sites, focusing on what Teachingvision offered that at time.

Yet I never thought about students starting their own webpages. I never thought I would answer the question of, "How do you do that?" for some reason. I mentioned Heather Renz in that entry, and I remember her students used to design their own webpages to showcase their achievements in her class. I remember wanting to try that myself, yet I did not have the technology at the time and the project, in itself, seemed quite intimidating to me.

I thought for a while about how to give my students advice.

Web Safety-- Before delving into HTML, graphics, weblogs, or ANYTHING else, for that matter, web safety should be needs to be discussed. I will allow my own children to create (once I am a mother), though I will lay down the law with them first. Most importantly, explain to students to not EVER reveal personal information-- or necessarily post photographs of their face online before reaching a specific age. (Explain to them how they would not want someone entering their bedroom and taking personal photographs from them-- it is VERY much the same online.)

Also, explain to your students that copyright laws are major-- whether they are posting images (you'll read more below), posting song lyrics, uploading songs or videos (even snippets), or even creating something that parallels a popular brand, movie, television show, etc. Phase 4 Films releasing their knock-off movie, Frozen Land (with similar logo and all to Frozen), is an example of why you cannot even create something that somewhat parallels something else. Here is the article about them getting sued by Disney.

Learning HTML-- So far, I have told a few students who have asked about registering for and logging into Code Academy, which is completely free. There is also a HTML coding "app" of sorts with a preview window called Thimble. Of course, "Lissa Explains It All" is still completely legitimate as well.

There is also something specifically for educators to read called the "Hour of Code". Here are some high-interest beginner tutorials for kids that last under an hour. The "Hour of Code" suggests showing some inspirational videos first like the one I first showed you, yet individually with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc., speaking. Students can then proceed to tutorials-- and the most important thing that stood out that focuses on the essence of the learning process is enforcing the rule "Three Before Me".

Editing Images-- I have edited images using Adobe Photoshop for approximately thirteen years, as I pointed out. Here are two websites that have some gorgeous effects, typing tools, etc-- and PicMonkey. They are the most visually appealing and easiest editing sites I have come across. Explain to students that it is MAJOR to use royalty-free images and not edit an image until the watermark has disappeared.

A Platform for Website Construction-- For those who are not ready to type code from scratch into Notepad and upload via FTP (my kids gave me THE LOOK when they asked what I use to create my site-- in a kind, respectful way, but it was still epic), I recommend Weebly or Wix. Both platforms help children to create visually appealing pages without a grand knowledge of HTML as of yet. For weblogs, I recommend

Widgets-- Also, you may want to mention widgets a bit because they can most certainly enhance a page. Here are some I know kids may very much enjoy--

  • Shelfari "bookshelf" widget
  • Glogster-- "Scrapbook page"-like creator for displaying knowledge
  • Voki-- Talking avatar site
  • Tellagami-- Another talking avatar site
  • Padlet-- Really incredible for school projects as well. 
  • Snacktools-- Enhance your websites with widgets you design-- slideshows, video and mp3 players, flip books... 
Inspiration-- Mitch Resnick--

I hope this information will be of value to you and your students! If you're looking to start a page, you may find this as well as the link to the Scholastic entry valuable. Enjoy the remainder of your weekend!

How to Strengthen Your Teaching Philosophy, One Vision at a Time

The other topic I am working on today has to do with developing your educational philosophy, one vision at a time. Have you ever felt disillusioned or dismayed about your ever-lengthening list of responsibilities, mandated standards, merit pay (and how you're held ultimately responsible for children who may have never even met you before this year), and how people regard educators? The answer, obviously, is yes. Looking at the moment I signed the contract to enter the teaching profession one decade ago in comparison to now, things have shifted quite dramatically-- in some ways, for the better, in other ways, for the worse.

Teaching is an increasingly difficult profession that is immensely under-appreciated and underestimated. Teachers seem to show up more in the news for taking advantage of their students rather than being their abacus. Whenever I read about an educator who is making a phenomenal impact, my heart soars... and I wonder what keeps them going in such a perilous era in education.

Students are being branded consistently, and by the time they reach teachers like me, they know precisely how they are generalized and what people expect of them. Beyond that, students throughout the nation (and world) are being held to the same standard-- the proverbial "bar" is being raised for EVERY student like they are ALL equally proficient-- with the same parental expectations for academic success, the same consideration given to them in their formulative years, the same kind of home (with clean air and decent upkeep), and the same degree of affirmation from those in their lives (with no verbal or physical abuse).

The fact of the matter is, though-- some students you will teach will have parents who earned their Doctorate (or could have), and others will have parents who struggled beyond belief. There are parents with learning disabilities just like children, and some have learned to overcome the odds while others may use it as a crutch, letting it discourage them every single day. Then there are children who have lost their parents or may have to thrive on their own or with other family members because their parents have left them. There are families who are concerned about water being turned on in their homes rather than homework completion... because they have to be.

Yet all students are judged as if given equal experiences from the moment they were born. Frankly, though, that is impossible. When I enter every school year with my list of standards to cover (and a few months later, begin glancing over the test item specifications for state testing), I plan what I consider to be strong, memorable lessons... yet not every student is going to perceive my words in the same manner. Someone is always going to think outside the box, someone is always going to REFUSE to get out of the box, and other students may not even know where to find the box. Some students may not even know what the box looks like or what a box even is.

Yet when I as a fifth grade teacher receive my roster of students, I am expected to receive students who have intricate, computerized minds with beautifully organized storage compartments. I am expected to have "Schematic Warehouses" to work with. This is the best part-- every single student I receive has something phenomenal to offer, but they have already convinced themselves of their "self-fulfilling prophecies". They already consider math to be impossible, literature to be pointless, science to be boring, history to be irrelevant, etc., because of how content has been presented to them, how others have measured their degree of success, and how they felt while focusing on concepts in the past.

By the time I was in sixth grade, math was WRETCHED for me. I received Bs in it in fourth and fifth grade-- I moved from the advanced to the remedial group in fourth grade to feel successful, and my fifth grade teacher (perhaps without realizing it) really soured my opinion of it because whenever my classmates got in trouble, we ALL had to sit inside and independently complete 50-75 problems while we were supposed to be out at recess.

In the 1980s and 1990s, standardized testing was not the pressure cooker it is now. We took the CTBS in elementary school, I believe, and my scores were always all over the place. I always was an Einstein at Language Arts, somewhat average to below average in Math, and variable in Science (no pun intended). The scores never defined me, nor did they inhibit me.

Looking at my pre-standardized life compared to now, I am grateful for a few things--
  • Teachers cannot simply do what they desire and avoid covering the curriculum with no follow up whatsoever. I think that is important and what originally spurred the Testing Revolution. 
  • If teachers had monitored progress more when I was in school and differentiated more, students may have felt a greater degree of success. Seeing where your students have strengthened is a phenomenal feeling. I have witnessed some of my students evolve leaps and bounds this year, and if it weren't for periodic testing, I wouldn't have something valid to base my differentiation on. I am grateful I can say things like, "_______'s score went up 64 points from the beginning of the school year on the math assessment. In the middle of the year, it had gone up 38 points. At the beginning of the year, he did not respond to the surface area and volume questions correctly. However now, he has mastered every single one." Though that is not the only measure I use when reporting progress to parents, noting the increase is a tremendous affirmation for the student. 
Despite testing being a positive thing to an extent though, something needs to change in education. It starts with our mindset. 

There are teachers who claim they do not have time to complete science experiments (and namely collaborative science fair projects) with their students, read and discuss class chapter book selections, head on field trips, and integrate technology in their classrooms. There are exhausted, overworked, and... yes, underworked students. There are students who are verbally lambasted all over-- and an imbalance of power in some classrooms, which is immensely stressful for all involved. 

Now before I proceed in sharing where I feel educational revolution can begin, I will give myself an award for blabbering so incessantly... 

Most Annoying Blogger Who Suddenly Rose From the Figurative Dead --> Me!

I know, I know. I am being uber-critical. And also quite brutally honest because I tend to stand on a proverbial soapbox. Yet I feel passionate about this topic-- like I should-- because I invest myself fully in the career my heart has chosen. Now without further ado... 

1. Develop a network. You should NEVER be on a proverbial island, alone. This goes for at work AND online. 

School:: At work, you may feel indelibly alone at times... or you may be part of an incredible team-teaching partnership or team. You may also have friends at other schools, which is fine. If you are fortunate, vow to watch movies, share resources, discuss educational philosophy, even hold a Bible study or host a prayer group. The possibilities are endless and so beautiful. Try to develop a network at school or within the district, yet if it is not possible, you may have to extend to online options. 

Beyond that, attend conferences, sign up for workshops... attend camps. It could change your life. 

Online:: Social networking may possess its downfalls in some respects, yet it also has IMMENSE benefits. Over the years, as my website and others were visited by people by all over the world, I met amazing people and was recognized for my contributions. Whenever I admired one's website or weblog, I contacted the individual. If she did not contact me back, fine... because there was always someone who would. In 2008, I contacted Krissy Venosdale when I visited her old domain for the first time, and then the same year, Angela Bunyi referred me as to Scholastic as a potential Teacher Advisor because she was impressed by some of the content. 

Because I followed peoples' advice and advocated education online, numerous opportunities have presented themselves. A few of the teachers who have contacted me over the years have opened "doors" for me in immense ways, namely Krissy. Looking online, there are message boards (A-Z Teacher Stuff has been a huge part of my educational journey), Facebook groups, Twitter, and blogging. For example, a lot of the teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers also maintain weblogs and have made various meetup opportunities possible. For many, their friendships have extended off the Internet. In my case, I attended Space Camp and the Twitter socials at NASA as well as the Smithsonian. Then this summer, starting the domains has brought together so many unbelievable people from so many walks of life. Some of the people, I knew offline, and others, I met online. Yet thinking of their collective power is mind-blowing. I can barely take the wait... I just want the debut to happen now, yet I have to work over the summer to assure that our synergism is developed and our vision is carried out. 

When you surround yourself with optimism and innovation, YOU then are uninhibited as well. 

Being able to openly communicate about education can alter your philosophy in incredible ways. The teachers who have altered my philosophy the most were Heather Renz, Laura Candler, Krissy Venosdale, Beth Newingham, and Angela Bunyi. (If any of you happen to be reading this, I am not yanking your chain. Seeing your photos, videos, blog posts, websites, etc., inspired me to be on top of cutting-edge educational philosophies and approaches.) 

2. Make your philosophy concrete. Walk the walk. Don't just say, "Ooh, yeah! Sir Ken Robinson! AWESOME! EPIC!" without ever watching his TED talk on creativity. Know what defines the "perfect classroom" in your mind. Also notice there are so many ways one can approach a standard. There are worksheets you can distribute, but then there are inquiry-driven labs and performance tasks you can assign. 

Read new literature-- that is how I became exposed to Fountas and Pinnell, Stephanie Harvey, Tanny McGregor, Marilyn Burns, Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn, and Linda Dorn. Three years ago, I couldn't tell you who Tanny McGregor, Franki Sibberson, Mary Lee Hahn, or Linda Dorn were. Yet now I love seeing how ideas can be presented in visual manners, students can be masters of literature, and how responses can be enhanced by maintaining Thoughtful Logs. 

I saw this video on YouTube that you may very well enjoy (posted by Keleininger)::

3. As soon as your students walk into the classroom on the very first day, get to know them as PEOPLE, not vessels you are filling to succeed beyond measure on a standardized test. I give a survey about favorites and hobbies. I ask if they have siblings and animals at home-- and also who inspires them the most in life. I read the surveys on the first day and then take notes. I then sit the students down as a group and ask each of them about something that stood out on their survey. Keep building upon your knowledge of your students and share your interests as well so you are REAL to them, not just one who imparts curriculum-- or worse, shoves it down their throats. 

4. Let your students create! Don't always define rigid expectations for them. Creativity is lacking in schools to an extent, and a lot of students are expected to comply to cookie-cutter standards. This year, I incorporated engineering challenges and also let my students construct model bedrooms (over the course of the past few days). While I cringed that my room looked like a craft room/maker shed until it was cleaned, it was a learning experience seeing how they approached constructing their own model furniture to scale. They thought outside the box and utilized materials in ways I never would have thought of on my own. 

5. Vow to be strict AND fun. If you want to have fun with your students, you need to lay down the law first. Procedures MUST be in place and modeled. Enforcing and re-enforcing expectations (later in the year) can be achieved without yelling because immediately, there is an imbalance of power indicated from the moment you raise your voice above your students'. You then convey shouting is going to achieve something, but speaking in a calm tone of voice probably will not. Some educators may believe that is the ONLY way attention can be garnered, because of how their students are raised, but the educator/student trust factor has to be built. I did pretty well with enforcing the "no yelling" rule this year, yet I did a few more times than I wanted (it's always under twenty times) and I need to see how I am going to promote excitement in a stern manner with my upcoming group. 

I may seriously show my students a short slideshow of amazing things on the first day of school next year and state, "This will be achieved with enthusiasm. It will be achieved with synergism. Your choices will drive this room. HOWEVER, we MUST have expectations in place and get this place running in the smoothest manner possible so we have time to make that joy a reality." 

6. Get together with fellow educators (locally or virtually) and embark on a really neat project. I am actually doing that, though the details are disclosed right now. It is not directly the domain itself, though it is something that will certainly be featured on the domain. Some other projects can be:: writing and implementing a grant, taking an endorsement class together, starting a store online, or starting a blog together. 

7. When you plan at the beginning of the school year, think of all the things you want to achieve. Begin with the end in mind. Commit to some new projects every year... think of ideas that are going to get the students' minds whirling. I'm not talking boring stuff here. I'm talking about lessons and units that promote collaboration, creation, independence... simply being unique and showcasing your students' greatest attributes. Then as you build your classroom community with your students, keep every single idea of yours at the forefront of your mind as you watch your classroom synergism unfold. Stay current by checking out new ideas on social media platforms-- especially Pinterest. Sometimes seeing one image can spur a GRAND idea. 

Another neat idea is to find at least one interactive lesson for each standard over the summer so you are on the up-and-up of freshness all the time. One option for organization is that you can print out tables in Microsoft Word, type a standard in each box, and then type the lesson or idea in before inserting it into your plan book. Or you can create folders on your computer, which I do, labeling them with the standards and their respective topics. Then save .pdf files, videos, songs, Microsoft Word files, etc. to the folders. You will then gain confidence that you are adequately preparing students for state testing, yet in a way that engages their long-term memory storehouses. 

Remember, winning your students' enthusiasm over is ALL in the presentation. If you present content in the same way again and again and again (aside from note-taking), you may..................... lose their interest. Please do not expect your students to all respond well to the same kind of presentation. Not everyone's brain is wired the same. 

8. Imagine yourself... stronger. Imagine yourself at your VERY best-- be your own Robin Williams in The Dead Poets Society. Literally envision a scene in your mind of you captivating students' attention, presenting phenomenal content, and... I know this sounds sappy... feeling immense respect for yourself in the process. Treat yourself well-- rest and eat well. Try to not let worry or especially NEGATIVITY overrule you because that would be insanely unfair.

I am leaving you with a link that includes TED talks about "re-imagining school"

I know this post was a marathon, but I felt passionate about the topic. I hope you gathered something valuable from here that you can incorporate.

Also:: New:: Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ms. Jasztal Shares-- Fraction, Decimal, and Percent Anchor Charts

Last night, I was perusing Pinterest when I came across the fraction, decimal, and percent anchor chart I sketched in January 2010 and posted on The post where it was featured, titled "A New Year and Decade: A Stronger Teacher", received a number of newer comments I never read because I always thought people could not comment after my duration as Teacher Advisor for grades 3-5.

One of the comments stood out to me and made me re-analyze the image I included.

Karen stated--
I would love to print your fractions/decimals chart that is at the top of this...

I tilted my head and stared at the image for a few moments, realizing I was trying to capture the image in an artistic way when I initially took it. I went back to the photo card where it was stored-- that was the only image I had taken of the chart. So this afternoon in my classroom, I decided to set aside about fifteen minutes and do a "photo shoot" of some of my math charts over the years.

Karen also wrote that she would pay for the chart, but I am a gracious person and would never make people pay for the images.

Looking back at the charts, they were created with fourth graders in mind. I believe students in grades 3-5 can benefit from the posters. What I would do with the images, if I came across this post, is print them out, make black and white copies, and have my students glue them in interactive math journals. You can also show your students the entire collection and ask them to create their own informational anchor charts. Of course, you can replicate the information on the posters as well in making your own charts. There are a number of possibilities.

Without further ado... you may recognize image #1 from Pinterest, and below, there it is four years later with a "straight-on shot"! =)

I hope I was able to help out someone with this post. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to comment. Have a phenomenal weekend!

The Power of an Affirmation

At the front of my classroom is a poster I created with sample affirmations on it. This year, I have incorporated affirmations while promoting Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Happy Kids (particularly Habit 6-- Synergize). I thought about how receiving a note or card (or a considerate verbal statement) from my administrator uplifts my spirits. I thought about I am in that same capacity when interacting with my students. At first I wondered how fifth grade students would perceive affirmations, yet they quickly embraced the concept. My students are phenomenal at affirming one another-- and so many are willing to contribute every time I set aside ten or so minutes to incorporate them.

I have encouraged affirmations because I have tried to develop an optimistic outlook in my students as much as possible. I desire for them to focus on their classmates' positive attributes and recognize what makes them "shine" as well. They are essentially part of a "classroom family"-- and it is important for them to recognize how they are a part of that whole. As you see in the image above, the sample affirmations state--

"I like how you always add to the value of our discussions." 
"You are extremely artistic." 
"You are always so articulate." 
"You are always so accurate with numbers." 
"Oh my goodness, your writing sounds PHENOMENAL." 
"You are becoming quite the friend this year." 
"You always have something good to say about everyone." 
"I think what ______________ had to say is so important." 
"Thank you so much for your help." 

These are times when I have had students verbally affirm one another this year--
  • After they present their products
  • After an inquiry-driven lesson where they had to think outside the box and utilize teamwork strategies
  • In the midst of a challenging situation 
  • Prior to state testing 
  • Students will also verbally affirm one another and write affirmations for one another for our classroom awards ceremony a few days before we graduate fifth grade. 
When I introduced the concept, I modeled what an affirmation sounded like and then asked my students to try right away. I used the poster as a reference while asking my students what merits an affirmation. Now 7-8 months later, it is something my students do naturally.

In addition to the poster you see, I also have a large board that consists of a number of kid-oriented Hallmark cards with quirky affirmations in them.

Though I never directly utilized any references when initially introducing affirmations in my classroom, I found a few sites this morning that you may find useful. Here they are--
Thank you for visiting. If this is your first visit to the weblog, it just opened yesterday. Please check out my other resources if you would like, and keep in touch! 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Krissy's Debut at the We Are Teachers Weblog

Krissy, one of our phenomenal upcoming team members, posted for the first time today at the We Are Teachers weblog! I could  not be any more excited for her! Her choice of topic was perfect--

Job well done! AWESOME as always!

Adequate, Inadequate.

This evening's post is about putting too much pressure on yourself as an educator, second-guessing your methodologies and internalizing when your students do not follow through with what you desire for them to complete. Around this time every year, coming off the "high" of state testing, I tend to find myself venturing toward a "valley" of sorts, entering the realm of What If-Ville. When the school year officially ends, I wonder if I have adequately prepared my students for the upcoming grade level, which this year is even more stressful than ever because I have never directly sent students on to middle school. I have always told my students, "Next year will be middle school, and fifth grade is all about responsibility", but now, I am saying things like, "Middle school is a time of immensely high expectations, and you are approaching that period in... just a few months."

Here is some advice for self-assessment while you are lurking in the valley--
My reflections are written below. 

1. Affirm yourself. Where did you succeed beyond measure this year? You need to think of some area in which you have achieved success.
I am now well-acquainted with the fifth grade curriculum and can proudly say my students have mastered the majority of the content. I feel like when next year approaches, I will have a stronger sense of accomplishment and elude a greater deal of self-confidence. Fifth grade science was a tad intimidating at first, but I have completed more experiments with my students this year (currently, 69) than probably all my previous classes combined. 

2. What has driven you insane this year? What do you want to fix for next year?
I want to have a student in charge of making sure homework has been turned in so I do not have to spend time sorting it out of my classwork basket. I want to have a separate classwork and homework basket. Also, I think putting folders in a crate for turning in work will make it infinitely easier to see that my students have turned in their required assignments. Obviously, too, I want to work on organization.

Sometimes, too, it is good to make a list of procedures you would like to change in your classroom for next year based on how you feel about them right now. The end of the school year is a wonderful time for honing in on how you want to strengthen your classroom community for next year's students.

3. How do you want to develop professionally this summer?
If anyone asks me this question in "real life", they get a marathon response because of the initiation of the new domains. I plan on collaborating with (now) thirty-seven others this summer, meeting with the local contributors, planning sensational content. Doing that immediately opens so many possibilities for watching TED talks, brushing up on educational philosophy, and delving into pins on Pinterest to plan an "inspiration board" for the team. It means asking some of my friends deeper questions about education than I have ever asked them. I also plan on attending the Whole Brain Teaching Conference in Pineville, Louisiana, as I pointed out yesterday. Right before that, I am going to officially be gifted endorsed as well! At the end of the summer and in the next few years as the domains develop into what I really desire for them to be, I feel like I am going to evolve monumentally. 

4. How can you take time to love yourself (even) more this summer?
Exercising and learning to not internalize stress. I hope to at least decrease that internalization by half. I hope to develop better eating habits that carry on into the next school year and incorporate some kind of exercise into my daily routine. Developing better habits will help me to not over-exhaust and underestimate myself. I hope to put myself closer to first!

5. One more time, tell yourself you are human. You are constantly living on the threshold of change and revolution. Every day you live makes you wiser and stronger, more appreciative and well-rounded. You did the smartest things you could do at the time you encountered them. The best thing is to get past anything you consider a "shortcoming" or "failure" with a definitive plan.

I am leaving you with some profound quotes--

  • "You are very powerful, provided you know how powerful you are." -- Yogi Bhajan
  • "Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are."-- Malcolm S. Forbes
  • "Our entire life consists ultimately in accepting ourselves as we are." -- Jean Anouih

Most importantly, love yourself, don't be afraid to evaluate yourself, and understand you are always growing and changing for the better.

Engaging Students RIGHT After State Testing Concludes, Part I.

After a decade of administering state tests, I still cannot completely describe how I feel when it comes to an end. Of course, the "coulda-woulda-shoulda" thoughts run through my mind at rampant speeds, causing me to worry if I covered everything that was presented to my students on the tests (and if my presentation of the content aligned with the questions). I question whether I was thorough and rigorous enough. I also feel this immense surge of relief that my students have concluded higher-order, exhausting high-stakes testing. Besides that, I feel drained because reading similar scripts for six days of testing and having somewhat idle 70 and 80-minute testing periods lead to a somewhat early or an obnoxiously late bedtime (because my brain is surging in this rampant Indianapolis 500 race). Usually when I administer tests, my production decreases... and I crave the weekend... so I can take 1,407,868 deep breaths. I internalize stress.

I have always wondered how my students feel. When one of my students' parents told me her son went to bed immediately when he came home from school and woke up for a little while to watch a re-run of Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos, I knew. They. Must. Be. Numb. 

I scheduled time well surrounding the testing. I balanced review and relaxation well. In the mornings, I made sure I dedicated an hour or so to math review this week-- and then I gave the students silent reading and board game periods. In the afternoons, after testing, we headed out to our only recess periods of the year besides five-minute running breaks here and there/a reward recess they earned in November. I also began reading a new chapter book to the class and made sure I scheduled whole-class PowerPoint Jeopardy reviews. 

Yet now, I cannot have entire days dedicated to recess and board game wonderment. Though students often think the "year is over", it is (in my humble opinion) just beginning. 

Here are two activities I have scheduled for the next few days that are highly academic and immensely engaging as well. It is going to take a great deal of innovation for my students to carry out these wonderful projects. They are also being presented with rubrics. I will be writing separate posts about each of the projects before the end of the week. 
  • Theme Park Creation-- I completed a variation of this project in my fourth grade days, yet now. I've upped the ante. Now, my students have three things they need to accomplish to earn their grade. They must write an expository paper with five paragraphs about the theme park (describing three lands in IMMENSE detail), design a menu of a themed restaurant, and write a persuasive, informative advertisement for one of the lands in their park using emotive language. 
  • Model Bedroom Creation-- My students will be building model bedrooms in shoe boxes the next two afternoons. Students have to construct their own furniture to scale and include numerous other elements that are properly scaled as well. They will have to calculate the volume and surface area as well as the regular area of chosen elements in their rooms. I headed to Lowe's and Home Depot as well as Michael's and Walmart last night to pick up some amazing materials for the class. 
Stay tuned for more information about BOTH of these projects. Plenty of photographs will be included of each product. I appreciate you reading my weblog-- have an incredible day!

p.s. Here is Katie's newest weblog entry, called "14 Math Performance Task Links". She is one of the thirty-seven people helping with the new domains as well. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A List of Educator/Education Advocate Bloggers and Social Media Mavens I Admire...

This second post is about educators' blogs and online (social media) contributions I very much admire. Their content is phenomenal, and I very much enjoy delving into their "classroom world" when reading.

Krissy Venosdale is a brilliant friend of mine who lives in the Houston, Texas area. She is a tremendous gifted education advocate and is immensely inspirational. When you type "inspirational educator quotes" in Pinterest, you often see her photography as well as words of affirmation that uplift your spirit. I love how she writes about her daughter and how she has evolved as an educator because of her. Krissy delves into philosophy and very much admires Sir Ken Robinson's TED talks as much as I do. Besides that, I have loved seeing her blog posts about space education for years. The two times we have hung out both related to astronomy. She is one of the thirty-seven contributors to my new domains later this summer. 

Jennifer Runde has a wealth of information to offer the blogosphere. Every post she writes is loaded with pertinent and interesting information for how to carry out innovative lessons. She is VERY thorough. For years, I have very much been inspired by her math journaling posts, and my friend Gale (an elementary math coach in my district) has been blown away by her content as well. She is one of the best Teachers Pay Teachers sellers I have come across.. In addition to Krissy, she is also a part of my thirty-seven person team who will be contributing to the upcoming domains!

Humble, innovative, and genuine are three words that describe Joan Otto, another contributor to the upcoming domains. Joan is an advocate of unschooling and has one of the most cutting-edge educational blogs (in my opinion). She is a phenomenal author who captivated my attention when she wrote about what propelled her to homeschool her daughter Sarah a few years ago. Her philosophies intrigue me, and she is an all around FUN person who I cannot wait to hang out with sometime. 

Now onto a Facebook group-- Andrea Logue's fifth grade science lab. I still don't remember how I came across her group, but as soon as I discovered it, I thought, You know what? You can achieve the sensational things she does with her students. In my opinion, seeing photos of a teacher using a blowtorch to demonstrate a chemistry concept is beyond epic. I love how she showcases her innovation; I can tell her students respect her greatly for being a HANDS-ON science teacher. I cannot wait to get to know her better over time. She is amazing! (I don't state things like this lightly!)

Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn inspire me in the realm of literature. They have a weblog called "A Year of Reading". A few summers ago, I read one of Franki's books cover-to-cover-- and implemented some of her ideas the following year. I have never contacted her, but if she sees this... I REALLY love the fact she and Mary Lee maintain a weblog. 

Getting Smart is a very tech-forward weblog that is immensely convenient, informative, and simply... wonderful. Reading it has really gotten me on the up-and-up when it comes to educational technology. 

Scholastic's Top Teaching weblog has featured some tremendous educators over the years, from Angela Bunyi to Beth Newingham to Erin Klein of Kleinspiration, which is another tech-forward and wonderful weblog I cannot cease mentioning this evening. Erin has always been innovative in her approaches-- and Angela and Beth TRULY impacted the way I teach (more than they will ever realize). Needless to say, some phenomenal ideas are posted on Scholastic that should not be overlooked. Scholastic is top-notch and has been a pivotal component of my life as an educator over the years because of their generosity and optimism.

Then there is Lisa Conrad, who moderates the #gtchat on Twitter weekly. After seeing her presentation about Twitter at the Texas Gifted and Talented Conference this past December, I learned a LOT about Twitter. She is also among my thirty-seven contributors. Her insight is genuine, inspirational, and exquisite!

p.s. Sidney, an intermediate gifted educator in Canada, is my first follower so far. She is a part of the domain team as well! (Needless to say, I am very blessed.) 

Thank you for reading this list of some of my very favorite weblogs (and Facebook groups) online. What are yours? I would love to read your weblog if I have never come across it before. 

New Chapters. New Perspectives.

After pondering a great deal about whether I should return to the blogging realm, I decided to delve into post-writing and promoting innovation once more.

If we have not met before, my name is Victoria, and I have nearly completed one decade of teaching. Prior to this year, where I delved into interstellar space/the cosmos/whatever you would like to refer to it as (a.k.a. fifth grade gifted), I taught fourth grade. Four years were spent teaching advanced, one year was devoted to team teaching where I specialized in Language Arts, and then the other years were spent teaching all subjects, but ability-grouping and switching students with other teachers in the grade level.

My interests are fairly broad. I am passionate about writing and publishing content for educators, writing whimsical novels for the upper elementary/middle school audience, photography, traveling, and designing websites. I am fluent enough in code, and my students admire me for my "HTML prowess". (I tell them I was inspired by an amazing website in the day called "Lissa Explains It All", which still happens to be around!)

This July or August, depending on my rate of productivity, two new domains will debut to the world from the realm of my brain. One has a name that may sound very familiar to some (; I obviously lost and the other will be dedicated to the fantastical realm of science. Believe it or not, I gathered a team of thirty-seven incredible and brilliant people to collaborate with me in making the "Disney World of Domains" a possibility. (We are planning some innovative and phenomenal content that will hopefully enlighten and inspire you.) 

Now you may be wondering before I am through... what will be showcased in this weblog? 

I. Philosophy:: Some days, I research educational philosophy as a relaxing after-school activity while I listen to pulsating tunes on my laptop. Individuals like Sir Ken Robinson invigorate my thought process. Even though I am a public school gifted teacher, I delve into a grand plethora of topics-- "unschooling", Montessori approaches, teaching abroad, STEAM, interactive journaling/Thoughtful Logs, multiple intelligences, and inquiry-driven explorations. I see the validity in much of what I research. Some individuals who have shaped me as an educator are (in no particular order)-- Franki Sibberson, Fountas and Pinnell, Tanny McGregor, Marilyn Burns, Stephanie Harvey, and numerous scientists (if I delved into that list, it would likely not stop).

II. Stuff I Force My Fifth Graders to Do Against Their Will (LOL):: I often do my best to "think outside the box" and incorporate interactive, creative approaches with my students. I hope to share numerous original ideas on here as well as promote some resources others have created. Here are some examples:
  • A figurative language lesson that showcases three Disney songs
  • The model bedrooms my students constructed that focused on concepts like surface area and volume
  • Our class' science demonstration fair
  • My class' devotion to completing 100 science experiments this year
  • Featuring science songs posted on YouTube by Mr. Parr 
  • Products my students create to present content learned in class-- especially science
III. Content I Add to The Domains:: With thirty-seven people on our team, I have a feeling I will never run out of ideas for this weblog or the domains. We plan on incorporating some content that is either not out there that much for educators-- or at all. The majority (at least 80%) of the content that will be uploaded to the domain will be free. 
  • Science units enhanced with labs, inquiry-driven discussions,  reading material, videos, music, hands-on enrichment, and vocabulary. 
  • Inquiry-based lessons with essential questions
  • Photographic journeys driven by inquiry
  • Excerpts from some of the novels I have written 
  • Lessons that incorporate visual and performing arts concepts in science, math, history, and reading classes
  • I often make lists about specific topics for "bibliotherapy". On Pinterest, for example, I have lists of books that pertain to gifted education as well as bullying. 
IV. Prevalent Educational and Personal Topics:: Pressure and perfectionism, self-confidence, bullying, the transition to middle school, dual-exceptional gifted students, classroom management, and shifting from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" are a few educational topics I may discuss in this domain. I will also address fitness, organization, scheduling, and many more personal topics. 

V. Professional Development:: I attended the Texas Gifted and Talented Conference this past December as well as Space Camp for Educators last month. This summer, I am attending the Whole Brain Teaching conference in Louisiana. In the past, I participated in two "Tweetups", one for the GRAIL mission at Kennedy Space Center and the other for Be a Pilot Day at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum-- Udvar-Hazy Center. I love being able to share experiences with you. I plan on starting something huge that will be wonderful for professional development as well. 

VI. Products I Sell:: I am not a huge Teachers Pay Teachers seller. I have dabbed into it before and pulled back for a while to really think about what I want to accomplish on the site. This summer, some products will be debuting. Once a week or once every few weeks, I will write a short description of products and include images. As I stated, only about 20% of what I will offer will be products I am selling. That will not a prevalent focus on this weblog or the domain, though the products I sell will be cherished and made from the heart. 

Please take the time to follow me on social media. This summer, a bit before the websites debut, I will create a Facebook group page. My Twitter account will remain @love4thgrade as it always has, and my Pinterest is featured on here as well. Thank you!