Monday, May 27, 2013

Damult Dice!:A Math Game Everyone Will Love!

What is Damult Dice?

During  #5thchat, a  "tweecher" tweeted: 

My immediate reaction was, "What's Damult Dice?" Amy sent me all the info I needed to play this game and I was hooked. I shared it with my students the next day. I shared it with a few teachers. Yes, I was that excited about this game!

And you know what? My kids were too! They LOVED it, and did. not.want. to.stop.playing.

It's simple, yet so, so "mathtastic"! Each student gets 3 dice. They roll at the same time. Add the first two dice. Then multiply the sum by the remaining die.First one to 300, or whatever number you choose, wins! Actually they all win, because they are practicing their Math skills.  "Kill and drill" without any killing or drilling! Multiplication, addition,and critical thinking, because they want to get the most bang for their buck!

This is a great beginning, middle, and end of the year game! Use it anytime, and of course, try all the variations you can think of. I bet your students can come up with some of their own as well.

What is Damult Dice? It's a wonderful, exciting, simple, educational, Math game, that my students enjoy!

No Money for Schools..But Money for Pearson?

The content of this article, "Schools Add to Test Load, Just to Test Questions",. How our students are being used as guinea pigs to field test future tests.

But then, this jumped out at me,The (NY)state currently has a five-year, $32 million contract with Pearson, a testing company."

What the...? Are you serious? A 5 year, $32 million  contract? Let's see, that's $6.4 million a year!

That can't be right. The state doesn't have any money. We are closing schools, getting rid of teachers, slashing the arts,, that can't be right. We certainly wouldn't take $6.4 million and give it to a testing company, now would we?

As we all know, we are in this for the kids. There is no way any public official would let this happen. Right?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why Can't We Keep the Music Teacher?: Losing Arts in Schools.

I sat, mesmerized, as the music teacher coaxed the most beautiful songs out of 30-40 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.  This was not the first time. I have been to many of her concerts, and I am always amazed.

I'm not amazed at what she does, because I know it is a gift that she possesses. I am amazed at how effortless it seems. When you watch her with those kids, all you witness is the final product. You don't see the weeks and weeks of work that went into getting that many kids, to learn that many songs, and to sing them well, to harmonize.

And then you find out she's been fired, let go, riffed, or whatever term they use to explain that they are letting you go, and you sigh. Deeply. You wonder who would make such a choice to let go of this person. This person who can take kids, even the ones most people deem "behavior problems", and turn them into this group of kids whose voices touch your heart.

We need people like her. We need people who are not  "testers", but teachers. We need people who can take our kids, the "good" ones, the  troubled,  the struggling, and make them believe that, "Yes, there is something I can do. I can sing!"

Someone who gives our kids a chance to dress up in the pretty dresses and handsome suits, stand in front of their parents, giggling, taking deep breaths, fidgeting, squirming, waving hello, and then...belting out a song that makes you so, so, proud of them. A moment some of them NEED so badly.

If we can give millions to Pearson, to create tests that are meaningless, why can't we keep a music teacher? If we can pay data coaches, who have never taught a day in their life, why can't we keep a music teacher? If every year, we can purchase books form authors who have been out of the classroom for years, yet want to tell us how to teach, why can't we keep a music teacher?

Someone tell me, why can't we keep a Music teacher, who changes so many lives with a song, every single year?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Vocabulary and Spelling City: Lovin' It One Year Later!


It's been a year since I began using SpellingCity. I have to say that my students and I really enjoy using it. Not only that, but SpellingCity keeps finding new ways to keep my students engaged with added features, all beneficial to the classroom.

These are the features I loved a year ago, and thankfully, still exist today:
  • You can set up individual student accounts.
  • Instruction can be differentiated.
  • LOVE the fact that I can input my own words. (Reading, Math, Science, you name it, you can input it.)
  • Games/tests/tutorials/flash cards/ writing practice are created using the lists that you input. (talk about saving time)
  • You can view the assignments that were completed, who completed them, and how well they scored.
  • Reports and grades are generated for given assignments. (All this information can be printed
  • There are TONS of lists in every subject already created. (Why reinvent the wheel?)
  • My students love to get on this site and "play" the games. (Aaaah, learning + fun, don't cha love it?)
  • They are part of the Edmodo community (Sharing great ideas with great teachers)
  • There are so many games to choose from!
  • The price for a Premium membership is reasonable, especially if purchased by your school.(Some of the features mentioned are only available with a Premium account, but even a free SpellingCity is great!)
New features:
  • There's an app for that! Since my class is piloting BYOD, my students have uploaded the app on their devices. They work at their seats, on the carpet squares, wherever, right from their own devices!
  • Even more pre-made word lists in every subject!
  • Writing has been added. Students can write sentences and/or paragraphs with the words you provide.
  • They are about to launch a Summer Study Program, great, fun, engaging way to beat the Summer Slide.
  • New games and activities! The kids can't get enough of them!

My  favorite feature? I can differentiate lessons. I may have three different groups using the same words, but their assignments are unique. One example, my students that struggle, will receive the flash cards more than once, giving them more exposure to our Vocabulary words.

SpellingCity reinforces vocabulary without  the boring "kill and drill" And the best part, my students request SpellingCity assignments! If my students enjoy it, even though it's work, SpellingCity must be doing something right!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Teachers, Targets, and Test Scores!

My stomach is in knots and I want to scream.
I want to hit something.
I look at my students' test scores, the growth they have made,and I am proud of them.
I refused to teach to the test, and they still kicked DCAS !

I looked down the AYP column on the all-glorious data chart, and saw that some of my students grew by over 100 points. Only two of my students did not show "growth".

Then I look across at the column marked "Target".
That's when I wanted to scream and hit.
The target that they had to meet in order to prove that I was an effective teacher.
Not many of them met the Target. Many of them missed by a few points.
Doesn't matter, they didn't hit the bulls-eye.

A couple of months ago, my team and I called DOE to find out how these targets were determined.
We were told someone would get back to us.
Still waiting.

So now, next week,I have to sit in front of my principal and justify whether or not I am an effective teacher.
Welcome to Component V.
What is it,and how does it work, you ask?
Truthfully, no one knows.
I am not being facetious, no one knows.
The line is, "We're learning this just like you are."
All good and well, but your salary, your reputation, is not tied to it like mine.

 Here's a sample question I will have to answer: Did your target(s) lead to strengthened professional performance and improved student learning? To what extent? What evidence do you have to support your conclusions?

How will I answer that question? Honestly. Those targets didn't have a thing to do with how and what I taught in my classroom. The only target I aimed for was the ability to teach my students to be independent, critical thinkers. And while I had my eye on the bulls-eye,  they also learned how to problem solve, gained a love of books, wrote for an authentic audience, honed their Geography skills (Mystery Skype),opened their minds, used social media as a learning tool, I can go on...

I did my job, and I hit that target dead on. And test scores didn't have a thing to do with it!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Appreciating Teachers!: My Top 10!

Chocolate, gift certificates, and lunch are great! I really do appreciate all the thanks I have received during the week. 

But I'd like to  share some tips on what would REALLY make me feel appreciated!

This goes out to anyone who interacts with teachers,in no particular order:

1.  Please take responsibility for your child. We each have a hand in raising your child. I need your help.

2.  Stop making excuses for your child's behavior. It causes a vicious cycle that will never end, and makes your child, hmmmm....not so nice to be around.

3.  If I send home information, read it. If I call you, listen to the message. If I email you, respond. If I need a signature, sign it.

4. Stop.talking. Do you know how much more you would learn if you were actually listening to me and/or your peers? It's not always going to be "fun" and sometimes you have to be quiet.

5.  Take responsibility. If you did it, say you did, and let's move on. If you didn't do what you were supposed to, get it done. 

6. Don't patronize me. If it's another "new thing" and I have to do it, just tell me what it is, what I have to do, and how soon I have to do it. Candy on the table won't sweeten it.

7. Treat me as a professional. I went to college!  I can make decisions about what is good for my students. (With their help of course)

8. You will never, ever, ever, in a million years know what is best for my students. Stop dictating what is best for them because you do not know.

9.   No more standardized tests! No more data, data, data!

10. Last, but certainly not least, respect me. This is a difficult, complicated, job. Try to wrap your head around what I do every single day, mostly without complaint, and respect the fact that I do it.

Thank you, thank you very much!
A teacher

Sunday, May 5, 2013

When is a PLC, Not a PLC?

I wrote a post with this title  in 2011.

Fast forward.

A couple of weeks ago we were handed a rubric. The purpose of the rubric was to provide feedback on our PLC. However, it should be understood that the rubric is NOT evaluative.
I think if it walks like it's evaluative, and talks like it's evaluative...

These words were followed by, "If the district or the state comes in to observe your PLC, this is what they expect to see."
So now, my PLC (Professional Learning Community) is being observed, evaluated, and scored on a rubric! Whose idea was this? How did the wonderful idea of a TEACHER-led learning community, become yet another tool used by"them" to evaluate us?

The key word in PLN is Professional, which I assume meant the teacher. Teachers making decisions, based on data and our knowledge of our students, striving to do what was best for our students.

My PLC has become an alien form of what I learned in Arizona.

  • We have meetings where we are 'taught" how to write data-based questions, because every. single. PLC meeting has to be based on data. 
  • We are to begin each PLC meeting reading our norms aloud. (ex. Be on time) Yes, every.single. meeting. This is just in case we forget them, I guess.
  • Review your beliefs. (Each team had to write their own)
  • You must have an Agenda. ( I have nothing against agendas, they are good for guiding meetings) The Agenda must be broken down into minutes, and a hard copy placed in the administrator's mailbox two days before the meeting.(ex. 1 min-Norms 10 min -Reading data etc...)
  • Make sure you have, and know, your role.
  • And of course, the "non-evaluative" rubric. How can you possibly have an effective PLC when you are worried about whether you are doing what is required on a rubric?
I think back to when this began. We would meet as a team , discuss our students' strengths and weaknesses, figure out what we needed to do, and do it. No one breathing over our shoulder (literally). No one taking notes on what we were doing wrong. There was no wrong. There was no rubric.There were just a group of professionals, learning collaboratively.

I mourn the demise of PLC as we knew it, as we learned it. Another good idea that worked for educators, now being used against educators.

Reading Aloud! They're Never Too Old!

I used to read to my students every day for five minutes.  
We would set the timer, and I would begin five minutes of uninterrupted reading.  Sometimes, the students would be “Guest Readers”, and they would get a chance to read the book to their peers. They loved it, and so did I.  Then I stopped. I don’t know why, but I did.
Last year, I became a volunteer for Read Aloud DE. Every Tuesday, I head to the day care across the street, and I read for an hour to 3 and 4 year olds. There is nothing like the feeling of being the Reading Lady, and having toddlers bum rush you as you walk in the door, or outside on the playground, screaming, “Read to me, read to me!”
Well, this motivated me to read to my 5th graders again.  I chose “The Bad Beginning” by Lemony Snickett. I have to admit I had never read one of his books. We set the timer, and I read, uninterrupted, for five minutes practically every day.  What an enjoyable experience for myself, and my students!
“The Bad Beginning” began to spring up on desks around the classroom, from low readers to higher level readers.   Some finished the first book, and moved on to the rest of the series. Some stayed with me, sharing each moment. I loved the reactions that were elicited from my students as I read. The gasps, the moans, the “Ugh, she’s only 14.”  The last day, when the five minutes were up, they begged me to finish, there were only 13 pages left.  I looked at the clock, thought about what I was supposed to be doing at 10:45 a.m., and kept reading! The applause at the end of the book was thunderous!
Each week, I would incorporate Edmodo, Twiducate Chat, Kidblog, something to make the students think, and write, about what I had read. I had them draw a picture of their favorite scene. Many of my students volunteered to bring in the movie. I’m going to use the movie as a vehicle to compare and contrast the book vs. the movie. Let them decide which is better, and explain. (I can create a poll on Edmodo before and after they view the movie). They will also create a Glog “book report” of the story.
 It still amazes me what I was able to do with 25 minutes of Read Aloud a week.  I was able to incorporate many of the Language Arts Standards, and it inspired my non-readers to read.  The next book we read, I will incorporate Guest Readers again, and I will also ask their parents to volunteer to read. Five minutes a day created something that, I hope, will last a lifetime, a love of reading!
Education World: Reading Aloud, Is It Worth It?