February 27, 2012

Zensah Running Bra Review + New See-Me-Run Giveaway Winner

I feel so lucky to have had so many great running gear review opportunities!  It's awesome to get to try things out and share my favorites with you.  Most recently I had the opportunity to review the Zensah running bra.  You might have seen me sporting my Zensah compression sleeves in pictures on the blog. I am in love with them.  (I just found out they come in tie-dye print...hold me.)
Compression Love at Girls on the Run practice last year :)
 Until somewhat recently, I didn't realize that Zensah made more products than just compression wear.  It turns out they have a huge selection of fitness apparrel and gear.  I am super excited to tell you about their running bra.
Nice and Sweaty, but still comfortable!

From  the Zensah website:
Finding a proper fitting running bra is essential. Runners know that many running bras often feature seams or rough fabric that causes chaffing and irritation. We at Zensah understand this and have developed the most comfortable running bra within the running market. Each running bra is made our propriety Zensah fabric - meaning the running bra is thermal regulating, as well as moisture wicking. The Zensah Running Bra will help to keep dry when you go running.  Running Bra Features:

*Seamless design = no chaffing
* Anti-Bacterial
* Superior Comfort from the proprietary Zensah fabric in each Running Bra
* Thermal Regulating
* Moisture Wicking - to prevent the running bra from becoming heavy with perspiration
*Available in 10 colors including pink!

I tried this bra on one of my mid-week runs and was really pleased with the fit and comfort level.  The bra is super soft and 100% seamless and tagless.  I feel like this SHOULD be the case with all sports bras, but it's totally not.  This bra was so comfortable because of this!  Also, true to the description, the bra definitely had a "cool" feeling and didn't soak up sweat like some bras that claim to be wicking.  It stayed comfortable and cool on my whole run, and I can't wait to try it out on a sweaty summer run.  (Speaking of summer, why is it still February?  I don't know about you guys, but I've had about enough winter...)  I also love the fact that the back comes in to a more narrow racer-back than some of my other sports bras.  One of my pet peeves is when I can feel sports bras hitting my shoulder blades, so this was a plus for me.
For me, the bra was supportive and did a job well done, but as I'm sure you noticed from the pictures, I'm not exactly busting out of it.  It's definitely a medium-impact bra, great for running for bra sizes up to a small/medium C-cup probably, but would be better suited for low-impact workouts like yoga for anyone bigger than that.

Possibly one of the coolest bonus features about this bra is that it comes in a 9 different color choices.  I impulsively picked pink (shocking, I know), but now I'm totally wishing for the baby blue or neon pink.  So many great color choices!  Visit the Zensah website to check out the running bra for yourself as well as some of their other cool products.

Oh, and last but not least, the winner of my See-Me-Run giveaway never claimed her prize, so the new winner is...
Jen, email me by Wednesday to claim your prize!

Disclaimer: All thoughts expressed in this post reflect my own views and opinions.  I was provided with one free running bra to review, but received no additional compensation to express a particular opinion.

Teaching Figurative Language in Writing Workshop

As state testing time is RAPIDLY approaching (T minus 5 school days until THE TEST!), I've been trying to hit test material/strategies in all content areas, not just during test prep time.  Writing Workshop has been a great place to review skills like author's purpose, text genre and style, and most recently figurative language.  We talk about figurative language all year long during shared reading, but most times that just involves pointing out examples when we happen to come across them in the shared text.  That's okay, but I wanted to go a little further.  On our 5th grade state test, most figurative language questions tend to be about similes, so I wanted to spend most of our time focusing on writing and identifying similes, but also wanted to go over metaphor and personification again.

Last year, I did a series of lessons on writing poems using similes that I got from Read Write Think.  The lessons involve reading the poem "Willow and Ginkgo" by Eve Merriam.  and identifying the similes in the poem.  After that, the kids begin to write their own simile poems.  I decided to do this same lesson again this year, and it was just as successful.  Since we worked on our poems the week of Valentines Day, all of the kiddos chose a person or thing that they loved to describe using similes.  Read more about the lesson I did last year here.

After spending about a week reading and writing similes, this week we explored metaphors.  I had a hard time finding a kid-friendly poem with great examples of metaphors, so I "borrowed" a poem I found about books that used a lot of similes, and changed them to metaphors...I don't want to get in trouble for copyright infringement, so I'm not going to share it here... :)  If you know of a good poem with tons of metaphors, please let me know!  As another activity, we listened to the song, "The World's Greatest" by R Kelly.  Are you familiar with the song?  It is ALL metaphors.  While we listened to it, I had the kiddos jot down some of the things R. Kelly compared himself to in the song.  Afterwards, we discussed the metaphors and talked about what they might mean.  For example, "I am a lion" might mean that he feels he is brave and strong.
Once we'd learned about metaphors, the kids had an opportunity to write poems about their families comparing each member to something through metaphor.  Here's my sample:
As another fun review of the difference between similes and metaphors, we listened to "Firework" by Katy Perry.  Before listening, I had the kids write the words "Simile" and "Metaphor" on a large index card.  During the song, every time they heard one of the two, they held up their card to indicate which one it was.  So much fun.  Finally, I haven't taught it to my kids yet, but one of my teammates shared this little song she made up to help with simile and metaphor.  (To the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree")

A simile, a simile
A comparison using like or as
A simile, a simile
A comparison using like or as
A metaphor is a comparison
That doesn't use like or as
A simile, a simile
A comparison using like or as

I will be starting off our week Monday by using this song to review the two techniques.  :)  This week, I am also planning on revisiting personification, which we worked with more closely earlier this year.  When I introduced it, we read the books Brave Irene and Rosebud and Red Flannel, both of which are great.  Then we wrote stories personifying object in pictures, like bowling pins, buildings, etc.  After we've reviewed personification, I plan to read a few picture book mentor texts and have the kids hold up cards when they hear examples of similes, metaphors, and personification.  So far I've picked out Owl Moon (great similes!) and Under the Quilt of the Night.  Both are so beautiful.  
What are your favorite ways to teach figurative language?

Do you have any favorite mentor texts for figurative language?

February 25, 2012

A Huge Thank You, A SPI Band Review, + A Giveaway Winner!

You guys, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your response to my post last night about my job situation.  I am so grateful for your kind words and prayers.  You are the best!  I am so grateful to have the support of so many wonderful people as I begin this next part of my journey.  Stay tuned for updates...

As part of my "self therapy," I've been doing a lot of shopping and drinking a lot of shamrock shakes, but I've also been enjoying some swim-run-yoga fitness therapy.  Few things can calm the mind like a good workout or yoga class!  So, I'm really excited to tell you about a great product I had the opportunity to try out recently!  In this post, I talked about my recent frustration with the fact that my running tights and capris are all pocketless.  Seriously, whose bright idea was that??  I recently had the opportunity to review a great new product: the SPI Band (pronounced "spy" band).  From the SPI Band website:
SPIband creates a more compact way to keep track of the tiniest belongings without interrupting a productive workout. With SPIband’ s compact, yet roomy design, users can keep the smallest personal items around their ankle or wrist. With the safe and secure fit, users can work out without the worry of keeping up with their smallest, yet valuable belongings such as car keys, house keys, gym membership cards, cash and even wedding bands. 

Similar to the Banjee, the Spi Band is a stretchy wrist band with a pouch for holding keys, ID, etc.  It has a few features that are different from the Banjee, though--first of all, it fits much more snugly, which is a big plus in my opinion.  When I first opened the package and took out the Spi Band, I was worried it wouldn't fit!  It is nice and stretchy though, and fit perfectly.  I have really little wrists, so I had my dad try it on too to see if it would fit over a bigger hand/wrist, and it fit him great too.  (I have since learned that there are multiple size options for SPI bands, and the bigger bands can work as anklets too.)
I was sent a reflective SPI Band to try out.  The inner part is a black stretchy fabric with a silvery reflective band over it.  My keys fit perfectly inside the fold-over flap pocket, and they stayed COMPLETELY put on my run.  Seriously, this band didn't move at all, and the keys didn't move once.  LOVE!  There's no danger of anything falling out of this little guy either--the flap pocket is super secure.  Another awesome plus is the price.  These little guys are only $9.95 for a regular band, and $11.95 for a reflective band.  Overall, I think this is an awesome product.

This band only has two tiny drawbacks in my opinion.  I did notice that my wrist got pretty sweaty inside the snug-fitting band.  I tried it on the treadmill in a sweaty gym, and my wrist was a little hot by the end, so I think this might get uncomfortable on a hot summer run.  Also, it is pretty small so there isn't room for Gu or anything.  I would definitely recommend this band for someone who, like me, is frustrated about not having a pocket for keys in their running clothes, or who doesn't trust some of those waist band pockets!  (I always worry about my keys falling out...)  For long runs when I need to carry fuel, I'll stick to the fuel belt or the slightly larger banjee, but I will definitely be using this band on my shorter outdoor runs!
A winner!
I am super happy with the SPI Band.  You can buy your own SPI Band Here

Oh, and last but not least, here's the winner of the See-Me-Run giveaway!

Vanessa G, email me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT gmail DOT com by Monday to claim your prize!

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with one SPI Band to try out for the purpose of writing this review, but was not compensated in any way to express a particular opinion.  All thoughts expressed in this post are my own.

February 24, 2012

Life's Not Fair: My Personal Pity Party

Other possible titles for this post include:
"Gee, I'm glad you noticed my hard work!"
and "Complete Identity Crisis"

Current Mantra
Sorry I've disappeared for awhile...The truth is, I'm in the midst of something of an identity crisis.  Let me explain:  I haven't made it a secret on the blog that this has been a challenging year for me at school.  I love my class and love teaching, but due to a number of factors, the pressure at my school this year has been...well...overwhelming.  See, my school had some big changes happen this year.  We got a new principal, new assistant principal, a whole bunch of new teachers and support staff, and a ton of new expectations and policies.  The goal was to get our low-performing school straightened out and in shape.  It was a change that needed to happen, and so many good structural things came out of it.  But has been a LOT of change to digest, and the atmosphere has been a bit...intense.

I have followed every direction and embraced every change.  No more classroom recess breaks?  No problem.  Running records and notes during guided reading?  Okay, I can get on board with that.  Fountas & Pinnell test all of my kiddos at the beginning of the year?  Happy to.  Additional minutes to the literacy block?  Okay.  Zero down time for fun?  No big deal, I'll make our lessons "fun."  Serve on the PBIS team?  Sure.  Run intervention groups of the lowest kids in the grade?  With a smile.  Help with the science fair?  Love to.  Jump?  Just tell me how high.  You get the idea.  I've done it all with a smile on my face and with only minimal venting to close friends at work.  And I've basically felt that all year I've been working as hard as I possibly can, not only with little recognition, but with the constant feeling that it is NEVER enough.  Yeah, it's been rough.

Well, after three years at my school, I found out last Friday that in exchange for the insane effort I've put in this year, I'm losing my job for next year.  Awesome.  See, our enrollment is going down due to some boundary changes, and multiple classroom teaching positions are being eliminated, so last week myself and two other teachers who have also taught in our building for three years were told that, "it's not about performance and you didn't do anything wrong, but we're not renewing your contract."  As a nontenured teacher, this kind of thing happens.  Buuut did I mention that we have 3 or 4 teachers in the building in their first year in the district?  You might think that they would be the ones to be cut first...but unfortunately for me, that's not the case.  See, it happens that the three of us that were let go were the only three nontenured teachers hired by our old principal.  I can't shake the feeling that Mr. New Principal decided to keep "his people."  And I can't tell you how unfair this feels.

I'm more than a little bit Type A.  I like routine, order, control, and PLANS.  I'm not really into surprises, and I HATE when things feel unfair.  It can be hard for me to adjust when something happens that isn't part of my plans, or that there was nothing I could do to prevent.  Like this.  And there really wasn't anything I could have done--I did absolutely everything I possibly could this year to be the best teacher I could be, and even so, performance aside, here I am.  I'll say it again--this just doesn't feel fair.

But I guess life's not fair, right?  
Card from Mrs. Mentor Teacher: Do you think they made it especially for me?  I do.

In addition to feeling angry about the unfairness of it all, I've been feeling kind of...lost.  I've been thinking about why this is so hard, and I think it's because of this: Teaching is a deeply personal endeavor.  Losing a teaching job, at least to me, is not like losing another job.  "Teacher" is more than my job title--it is so much a part of who I am.  And even though I understand that this decision was not based on performance, it still feels like a part of me, an important part of me, was told that I wasn't good enough.  It was hard at first to even feel like "myself."

^Breathe In, Breathe Out, and Trust the Process.  Repeat.

After spending last weekend and half of this week crying or wallowing away on my couch (Did I mention I was sick with an awful cold when I got this news?  It was super.), I am attempting to get my act and attitude together.  I'm committing TODAY to ending the wallowing and complaining about the unfairness of it all.  You heard me: The moaning and groaning stops here.  This is the truth:  I can't change things by being grumpy or angry or sad.  I can only change the way I decide to see the situation, and where I go from here.    

I am trying very hard to see this as an opportunity for a positive change in my life.  Here's another truth:  As much as I love teaching and the kids I work with and many of my coworkers, this really has been a rough year.  Maybe a change will be a good thing.  As Mrs. Mentor Teacher in her unending wisdom said, this could be the best thing that ever happened to me.  I am still looking for a job elsewhere in the district, but I am also exploring the idea of a bigger change and applying to jobs out of state too.  After all, one of the items on my 30before30 list is to live in a new state--maybe this is the perfect opportunity.  (I vacillate between excitement and terror when I think of starting over somewhere completely new...I went to college two hours away from home and even though I'm "on my own" now, I still have dinner with my parents at least once a week.)  But whatever happens, I know I will get through it.
 Anyways, sorry for the long post--if you actually made it this far, thanks for reading. :)   

February 16, 2012

See-Me-Run Review + Giveaway!

 I don't know about you, but to me there is something so special about a late night or early morning run.  I LOVE them.  I just love the quiet, the coolness, and the feeling like you are the only one around.  I swear it is magic.  Anyways, I know running at night or before sun-up is a big safety concern for runners.  When it's dark, I make sure to only run in safe, residential areas, stay on the sidewalk, take a buddy as often as possible, and stay close to home. But if I'm being honest with you, I have to admit...I do not usually dress appropriately.  While I have some brightly colored running shorts and a few hot pink tops, I'm not going to lie--for all of the running gadgets and gear I own, I really don't have anything reflective besides a little logo or reflective zipper pull here or there.  I know running is not about vanity, but I have just never been able to make myself wear one of those reflective vests or the like!
Not my favorite look...
Even so, I've been thinking for awhile now that if I'm going to continue running in the dark, even occassionally, I need to be a little less stupid.  I was SO THRILLED to discover See-Me-Run, a totally awesome company that makes reflective iron-ons specifically for runners.  From the See-Me-Run Website:

See-Me-Run offers reflective iron-ons (aka transfers) for runners and cyclist that choose to train during early morning hours or during the early evening when lighting is either low or non-existent. We’ve manufactured and tested our safety products specifically for performance apparel such as Under Armour, Nike Dri-Fit, Brooks, Pearl Izumi and other popular wicking performance apparel. It's designed to be highly visible while remaining extremely lightweight and fashionable. They look great in the daytime and at night. It’s a must-have item for the runner or cyclist who wants to feel safer and more visible when they train.

What really sold me, though (you know, in addition to the whole safety thing) was that the iron-ons are in super fun shapes and patterns!  The selection of designs isn't gigantic, but I think that there is definitely something for everyone.  Designs include runner-specific words and pictures, girly patterns like flowers and hearts, simple reflective shapes and stripes, and others.  Each design comes with two iron-ons in the desired pattern for the front and back of the shirt or item, and a smaller logo "test piece" to iron on the sleeve.  

See-Me-Run was kind enough to send me two different iron-on sets to test out.  I got the Peace Sign and Running Girl Group designs.  Because I am still learning to be a "grown up," and because Teacher Mom's iron is a million times better than mine (which I think I purchased at Walgreens...), I brought the decals and two of my (many) black running shirts over to her house.  I was getting ready to put the peace signs on the front and back of one shirt and the running girls on the other, but Teacher Mom in her unending wisdom suggested mixing them up.  I put a peace sign iron-on on the front of each shirt and the running girl group on the back of each.  I thought this was a great idea!  The designs were simple to iron on, although it did take an extra 30 seconds or so on each beyond what the instructions had recommended.  No biggie!  After the extra few seconds the backing peeled off quickly and easily.  And voila!  Super cute reflective gear!
I LOVE how they turned out.  The designs are so lightweight that they just feel like part of the shirt, not like some iron-on letters and things I've used before.  Of course, I could't wait to try out my new super-safe clothing, but I haven't been able to fit in a night run for awhile!  Luckily last night I was finally able to try them out.  
Check out that glow--just from my phone's camera flash!  Okay, are these clothes a miracle worker and an excuse to ignore all other safety practices when running in the dark?  Of course not.  Does a reflective decal make a difference when a car isn't looking and you're running across a street?  I'd say it certainly has the potential to make a big difference!

Here's the best part.  See-Me-Run has generously offered to give one of their great designs away to a reader!  1 winner will get to choose their favorite design from the See-Me-Run website.  Here's how to win...(leave a separate comment for each entry!)
  • Be a follower of Juice Boxes + Crayolas, and leave me a comment telling me why you want to win! (Mandatory)
  • Visit the See-Me-Run website and tell me which design you would choose if you win. (+1 entry)
  • Post about this giveaway on your blog, facebook, or twitter and leave a comment letting me know. (+1 entry each)
This giveaway will end at midnight on Wednesday, February 22nd.   I will choose a winner the next day using random.org.

Disclaimer: I was provided 2 iron-on designs by See-Me-Run.  I was not asked to express a particular view or compensated in any other way.

February 10, 2012

A LONG Week...+ The Saddest Note Ever

This has been a LONG week.  I know that sometimes when i read other teaching blogs, I think about how everyone else has the *perfect* classroom with *perfect* students and *perfectly* organized cabinets...but then I realize that sometimes the bad days are just less fun to blog about!  There's no need for me to go through my week play by play--it is Friday after all.  But I am not feeling great and have had a few students who have been a bit *off* these days...oh, and we ended on a bad note with me upset that the kiddos couldn't get the floor clean until 5 minutes after the bell.  (I'm a stickler about clean floors!)  I know that's nothing huge, but I hate ending the day upset!  Leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  (Plus, I've completely fallen apart in terms of my workout/training schedule, and being out of the routine like that always makes me a little down.)

Anyways, I'm committing to making this a relaxing, refreshing, and productive weekend!  I started it off right with some napping in hopes of beating whatever the heck is wrong with me, some Downton Abbey, and a little online shopping...I have a problem...it's bad!!!!  I guess I figure that if I'm not going out and spending money, it's okay to shop a little bit...right??  I just discovered Lands End Canvas via a pinterest pin.  When I hear the words Lands End I think of hiking clothes and this ugly jacket I had from there in 4th grade, so I couldn't believe when I clicked on a pin of an adorable belted dress and was brought to Lands End Canvas!  Super cute clothes, and amazing sales!

In other news, I need to share this adorable note from one of my neediest and challenging students.  He wrote it to me last week after a couple of REALLY trying days together.  I know these kind of things lose their novelty the longer you've been teaching, but I don't think I will ever get tired of this kind of note, especially from a student like this little guy:

Dear miss teacher.  i am so sorry that i refused to do my work.  And refused to ask for help or talk miss teacher you are the best teacher in the world and i act like a Jerk im so sorry miss teacher this will not happen again

Oh. my. goodness.  In case you can't tell from the handwriting, spelling, and drawings, this letter is from one of my little LD/ED kiddos.  He struggles with reading, writing, and motor skills in general.  He has all sorts of emotional troubles, and we have had some particularly trying days lately.  On a few different days, this little one basically decided he wasn't going to speak, answer my questions, or follow directions.  (I swear, with my group this year, "I need you to use your words" is by far my most frequently used saying..)  Doesn't this letter just break your heart, though?  When I read the part where he said, "I act like a jerk," I almost cried.  It is so important to be in contact with parents when kids are struggling at school (or when they're successful!), but it breaks my heart when I think about the things that might happen after I call home, especially in a high-needs, low-income school like mine.  For example, I know this student's mother loves him, but I'm pretty sure he didn't come up with the phrase, "I act like a jerk" all on his own.  This difficult student has become one of my favorite kiddos of all this year--funny how that works.

What are you most excited about this weekend?  I'm excited to SLEEP and get healthy!  Oh, and FINALLY get myself back on track with training.  (I am NOT excited to work on grad school HW--just had my first class Tuesday to start working on my Reading masters and am already wondering what I was thinking...)

February 8, 2012

Amazing Discovery (Handful Bra FTW!)

Remember when I shared way too much information about my bra size with you a few months back?  I swear it was all relevant information--I was professing my love for my Handful bra aka the only sports bra in the history of the world to NOT make me feel like a 10 year old...boy.  While I am still mostly loyal to my Adidas sports bras for running, the Handful bra has become my go-to bra for any type of cross training, especially yoga, and for plenty of non-gym activities.  I also love using the little drawstring bag it comes in for plenty of things besides washing the bra.  Case in point: it's currently holding my swim cap and goggles in my gym bag.  VERSATILE.  Since I am something of a spendthrift, I LOVE when an item can "multitask"!
This weekend, though, I discovered yet another amazing benefit of the Handful bra.  Oldest Brother LOVES a good theme party and was hosting a tiki/luau themed party at his house last Saturday, costume required.  Since I don't own a huge amount of Hawaiian clotheing (or any...), I decided to go with a beach cover-up over a bathing suit.  Somehow I figured that my TYR diamond back suit wasn't quite in keeping with the theme, so I rummaged deep into the back of my dresser and found a top from a 2 piece suit.  When I was about to put it on, I noticed that one of the removable pads was missing and was nowhere to be found in my drawer.  I considered going without, but...well...like I said before, my, um, chest is not my BEST asset.  Sometimes a girl just needs a little help, amIright?  (Don't get me wrong--I LOVE my body, and long ago embraced my flat chest, but still.  It's nice to feel like a girl!)  Anyways, I puzzled for a minute or two over the lopsided swim suit, then spotted my Handful in the drawer.  INSPIRATION STRUCK.

I pulled the removable pads out of the Handful and put them in the bathing suit top.  They fit perfectly!  Not only that, they gave the top a great, flattering shape, and actually made it way more supportive than a regular bathing suit top.  Check out the comparison between the original pads that came with the suit and the Handful pads:

The best part was that they made my cheapie Target swim suit feel much like higher-quality suit in about 1 minute.  I will definitely be using the Handful pads in my suit all summer, and probably even buying an extra set.  Handful sells additional sets of pads for $10 here.  Oh, and of course I won't leave you without a picture from the I wish it were summer Party Tiki Party:
Me & Oldest Brother--Ready for Summer!

February 7, 2012

Persuasive Writing Boot Camp

It's been awhile since I did a post about Writing Workshop!  My kiddos and I spent the month of January knee-deep in persuasive writing.  I am incredibly pleased with their improvement over the course of the month, and happy to report that they have turned out some fabulous final products!  

To start off the unit and hook them in, I gathered the class on the carpet, adopted a very serious tone, and said,
5th graders, I have some very sad news to share with you.  Mr. Principal has been thinking about canceling lunch recess.  He thinks you guys need more learning time in your school day and that we don't have time to go outside for lunch recess.  However, he is still considering the decision.  I was thinking that maybe we could write him a letter to convince him how important lunch recess is.  What do you think?

Needless to say, the kiddos were outraged.  To give you a little back story, our principal no longer allows us to take our class out for 5-10 minute "classroom recess" in addition to the lunch recess, so this was both especially terrible and especially believable news.  We started out with brainstorming the different reasons that lunch recess was important.  After the kids brainstormed with partners and shared with the class, I discussed the importance of appealing to one's audience in writing.  If our audience was Mr. Principal, then we would need to choose reasons that Mr. Principal would think were valid.  (i.e. not "it's fun" and "we like kickball.")  The kids settled on three strong reasons, and we began to fill out a graphic organizer together on chart paper.
One of my big goals for this unit has been to get the kiddos to use second order support as well as strong, detailed examples to support their main points.  So, during this shared activity I really pushed them to elaborate on their reasons.  Why does lunch recess help us learn?  Why is social time at recess important?  Why will Mr. Principal think that's important??  After spending a day or two planning our shared letter, I modeled using the graphic organizer to write a letter.  I used to do this on chart paper, but this year have been hooking up my laptop to the LCD projector and typing.  So much faster and easier.

Anyways, after we finished the letter, I shared with the kiddos that lunch recess was not really going to be cancelled.  We talked about the purpose behind persuasive writing (connecting it back to our Author's Purpose lessons), and began to brainstorm different things we would all like to have that we could write our own letters asking for.  The kids came up with topics like their own bedroom, a cell phone, a pet, lockers, hot lunches at school, and a later start time to the school day.  Then, we used this graphic organizer from Read Write Think to start planning.

Over the next few days, the kids worked on their graphic organizers and rough drafts.  I taught mini-lessons on topics including second order support, persuasive transitions, strong conclusions, and varied sentences.  Here are some of the anchor charts we made and used.

To help with varied sentences, I also had students go through their writing and underline the first word in each sentence.  Then, we worked on restructuring sentences to change up the starting words.  

After the kiddos finished their letters, I gave them a choice of 4 or so other topics to write an essay about.  We talked about how essays are different from letters, and worked on writing strong introductions, reviewing the "hooks" we learned earlier this year.  Again, the kids wrote about similar things, including hot lunches, fast food for school lunch, school uniforms, kids having the right to vote, and lockers at school.  The essays are turning out great too!  All in all, a successful writing unit.

February 6, 2012

Random Classroom Updates: Clip Charts & Test Anxiety

After trying at least 5 different behavior management systems in my first two years, this year I have finally found one I love.  Friends, 2011-2012 has been the year of the Clip Chart for me!  I talked about how much I love the clip chart and how I use it in this post, but I wanted to update today on one little thing: clip colors.  All of my kiddos started the year with a plain clip with their number on it.  At the end of the day, every student that reached Outstanding (the highest level) receives an MVP award and a sticker on their clip.  Since I have a sports theme in my classroom, the stickers are all different sports balls.  Once they have earned 5 stickers on their clip, they get a brand new clip.  First is a red clip, then orange, yellow, and so on. The colors go in order of the colors on the clip chart.  I didn't explain any of this to the kids at the beginning of the year, just told them to "pay attention to your clips--things might start happening to them as you do outstanding work."  

Anyways, there were a lot of whispers between the kiddos when one student filled their pink clip for the first time--pink is the highest level of the clip chart.  What would happen?  I surprised them all when the next day it was replaced with a silver clip.  After silver comes gold, and, finally, the ultimate highest level: the jeweled clip.  I used regular markers to color all of the clothes pins in the regular colors, but used silver and gold paint pens.  (Silver and gold sharpies would work too.)  For the jeweled clips, I flipped their gold clip over so the stickers were on the back and hot-glued a row of rhine stones to it.  I decided to make jeweled the highest level--kids don't change clips anymore once they've reached it.  I think that's perfectly okay because the kids that reach jeweled early don't need that extra motivation/incentive to behave.  I love the system and it is so easy.  I add the stickers after school in about 1 minute, and earlier in the year I had a few of my students stay after school to color a whole bunch of clips.  Now when someone needs a new clip, I just grab one out of that bin and add their number to it.  The only thing that takes a few minutes is the gluing on the jewels, but it's worth it IMHO. :)

Also, this year I've really been trying to help alleviate test anxiety in my kiddos.  In keeping with our sports theme, I've started telling the kids that tests are like a "big game" that they are ready for after all the practices we've put in.  I tell them that tests are their "opportunity to SHINE," like the super bowl or stanley cup playoffs.  I've taught them all year that we should approach any challenge with a "bring it on" attitude. In fact, before a challenging thing, I will say to them, "And what do we say to a challenge?"  The kids respond by shouting, "BRING IT ON!"  Back to tests: I've had the kids write "Bring it on!" at the top of their test papers all year.  No, it's not going to work a miracle.  But if it helps one student do their best, I'd say it's worth doing!

February 5, 2012

Sunday, Sunday

Every weekend I have grand plans that I am going to ACCOMPLISH THINGS on Saturday.  Grade that stack of papers I've been carrying around for longer than I want to admit.  Type up the billion sets of plans I'm making these days.  (Lesson Plans, Guided Reading Plans, Reading Intervention Plans...oh my.)  Vacuum.  Do laundry.  Dust.  Get that sink of dirty dishes squared away.

Then, every Saturday I pretty much end up relaxing and doing none of these things....oops.  Oh well.

Today, it's happening.  I am conquering the To-Do list.  Since I am not participating in any Super Bowl festivities, I am going to be P R O D U C T I V E.  I am going to start out Monday this week with a clean apartment, an empty dishwasher, and closet full of clean clothing that is actually put away.  I SWEAR!  AND I am GOING to grade those papers!!!

But first, pancakes. :)

Have a wonderful Sunday!

What's on your To-Do list right now?

Are you watching the Super Bowl today?

February 4, 2012

This is my brain on injury...

I am one of those runners who is always injured.  Seriously, always.  I try to do all the right things, honest!  Yoga, cross train, stretch, foam roll, low mileage, even ice baths, but I'm always either out with an injury or coming back from one it seems!  My latest injury didn't even have anything to do with running--I slipped on the ice and banged my knee outta whack.  No, thank YOU Midwest winters...Anyways, long story short I took the past two weeks off of running.
 It got me thinking about the mental and emotional side of injury and how I deal with it.  I definitely have a pattern!  Unlike many runners who approach injury with a deny-deny-deny type of attitude, I'm what I like to call a paranoid runner.  When I first feel the twinges of an injury, instead of an "If I pretend it doesn't hurt it's not a real injury" approach, I have more of a "Frantically google my symptoms and freak myself out" approach... This almost always leads to hours of reading every Web MD article and runner's world injury forum thread describing my pain.  Healthy, I know...

Anyways, at the beginning of an injury I am always super depressed.  I play over and over in my head what I could have done differently to prevent the injury.  This is especially true for my ice-fell-knee-foolishness as I've taken to calling it.  Since this wasn't a running injury, I knew exactly what caused it.  "If I hadn't parked on the street, I wouldn't have had to walk down the icy driveway."  "If I'd worn different boots, I might not have slipped."  "If I didn't live in freezing Illinois, there wouldn't be so much ice!!"  You get the idea.  Obviously that's all nonsense and completely unhelpful!  I'm also known to spontaneously burst into tears when coming to terms with a new injury.  Last year when I slipped on the stairs at my friend's apartment and twisted my ankle, I immediately burst into a sobbing fit because I realized that this obviously meant time off running.  (And if I hadn't been wearing ballet flats/drinking wine/racing down the stairs...you get the idea.)  Emotional injured Amy also likes to jump to the worst possible conclusion.  "I will never run again."  "I'm just not meant to be a runner."  Case in point: convincing myself that my ice-fell-knee-foolishness was a torn meniscus and would require surgery.  So. Completely. Untrue.  And crazy.

After I've managed to stop crying, I get in a bit of a funk.  I look out the window of my car longingly at other runners.  I look up races online "for when I can train again."  I make training plans for these "distant future races."  I read running books.  And the shopping...oooh the shopping.  Let's just say I should be allowed nowhere near the running store, amazon, the fitness clothes section at Target, or the nike website when I am injured.  It's almost comical, really.  I literally want nothing more at any given moment during this time than to run.
Case in point, new running capris and swim suit purchased this week while not running...
Here's where things get really interesting...after I've started healing and am ready to try running again, I do a complete 180 and want NOTHING to do with running.  You'd think I'd lace up my shoes as soon as possible, but often times I don't.  Here's why: I become so petrified with fear that I won't be able to run that I don't want to try.  I know.  I'm completely crazy.  It's like I can convince myself that my injury has healed while I'm still taking time off running, and am so scared that if I run I'll find out that's actually not true.  Or that I'll have lost all of the endurance I'd built up and just not be able to run anymore.  Even just admitting all of this I feel silly.  I know it doesn't make any sense!  Welcome to my world of anxiety...

So anyways, back to the present.  I said before that I took the past two weeks off to let my knee heal from the ice wipe out (that wasn't a torn meniscus...duh...).  The first week I was depressed, paranoid, and jumping to the worst possible conclusions.  And I was dying to run.  Then the second week my knee started feeling much MUCH better.  I realized it was probably going to be okay.  And I was dying to do anything BUT run.  I told myself all week that Saturday I'd do it.  Saturday I'd put on my shoes and get out there.  Not until Saturday.  Then this morning rolled around.  I got dressed in running clothes, tracked down my road id and garmin....and sat in bed Pinning and putting off running:
I even caught myself thinking, "Maybe I don't actually like running.  Maybe I'm just not a runner.  I don't HAVE to run if I don't want to..."  Eventually I decided enough was enough.  That that was crazy talk.  That I was being ridiculously stupid.  I put on my shoes, stuck my keys in my banjee (have I mentioned how much I love this thing?), and headed out.
And I ended up having a great run.  3 miles in the sunshine, and the first non-freezing run I've had in awhile.  My knee felt fine!  My IT bands were another story, but I knew that would happen--every time I take a break they tighten right back up.  (Of course, I probably shouldn't have taken a break from foam rolling...oops.)  But this run was just what I needed.  Next week starts half marathon training again (and excessive foam rolling!).  

Last but not least, can I just share my new favorite running song?  Thank you Lauren for introducing me to it and its amazingness.
I must have listened to this at least 4 times on my run.  It was just what I needed to hear today to calm my anxiety, put a smile on my face, and remind me that I CAN do it. "You've got every right to a beautiful life."  Love.  
Do you go completely crazy like me when you have an injury?  

Banjee Giveaway Winner!

The winner of the tie dye purple banjee is...

 Congrats Suz!  Email me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT gmail DOT com to claim your prize!

Didn't win?  Go here to treat yourself to your own banjee!  You deserve it ;)

February 1, 2012

Giveaway Reminder!

It's not too late to enter my Giveaway to win a Banjee Wrist Wallet!  Spread the word and enter here before it closes at midnight tonight!
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