May 31, 2013

Reflections on a Year of Change

Today marks the last day of the school year, and my first last-day at my new school.  Nothing more depressing than a classroom full of boxes and empty of color:

This has been a year of changes, and I want to take a moment to reflect and celebrate.  This year I...
  • Was welcomed into a building with a truly positive climate...
  • Fell in love with a new grade level...
  • Worked as part of a truly well-functioning team... ((What a breath of fresh air!))
  • Implemented Quantum Learning into every part of my day...
  • Finally KIND OF figured out how to run guided math...
  • Celebrated amazing amounts of growth with my kiddos...
  • Conquered my fear of field trips, including taking a 16hr marathon trip to Springfield, IL...
  • Finished my masters! (happy dance!)...
  • Got my *spark* back and truly grew as a teacher.
Thinking back over this year, while I still feel like I kind of got screwed out of a job last year, I feel truly blessed. Last year just plain sucked--you might remember how frustrated, defeated, and exhausted I felt when I worked, and worked, and worked, only to feel like I was being sent the message that it wasn't enough.  This year was of course filled with its own challenges, as every year in teaching is, but during one of my evaluation meetings with my principal, I shared with him that I feel like myself again.  What a wonderful feeling.  While I didn't end up somewhere beautiful and new this year, I am confident that I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be.  More than ever, after this year I whole-heartedly believe that everything happens for a reason.  

My goals for next year include:
  • Figure out how to get the kiddos using WAY more technology in the classroom--I totally suck in this area
  • Figure out how to get my kids actually reading and FINISHING tons of books
  • Work independent reading conferences into my literacy block somewhere, and take data on them!
  • Keep working on guided math!!
  • Take a sign language class--I will not only have an ELL cluster next year, but I'll also have a Deaf & Hard of Hearing cluster!  (My school has the DHH program for the district.)
  • Start Girls on the Run at my school--hopefully!
I will leave you today with some "gems" from the letters I had the kiddos write to me yesterday.  I love reading the totally random things they have to say, and they can be pretty darn cute. :)
Because the ONLY reason for learning is to be smarter than friends and cousins ;)
^Note the triathlon themed artwork on the bottom--LOVE!
"I am super proud of the accomplishments.  We did great, but not as good as you did."
Didn't realize I was in a contest against the kids!!
Look closely at the detailed drawing of the projector.  I'm confused about the wavy line that connects what I assume is me to it.
:)  Love random sharing.
I'm the One and Only Miss Teacher!!  Woo!
Kid, I hope my summer looks just like this picture.

Aw thanks, I will try to keep it up!
Clearly they know that I am in desperate need of some relaxing time :)

Teachers--are you on break yet??  How are you celebrating your start to summer?  I'm celebrating the start to my summer by enjoying a much needed night out with a friend tonight, attending a marathon training clinic tomorrow, and digging deep for my last brick of tri training Sunday before the Esprit de She triathlon on June 9th.  Oh, and hopefully watching a Blackhawks WIN somewhere in there!!

What are your reflections on the year and goals for next year?

May 29, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday: The Read Aloud Edition

I've already talked about on this blog how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE read aloud.  Our schedules next year look like they're going to be even tighter and more rigorous (no, thank YOU Common Core!), but consider this my pledge that I will SOMEHOW still work in time for a daily read aloud.  I wanted to share the books I read aloud to my class this year--they were all huge hits.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Goodreads Summary: There was a terrible mistake - Wayside School was built with one classroom on top of another, thirty stories high (The builder said he was sorry.) Maybe that's why all kinds of funny things happened at Wayside-especially on the thirteenth floor.

My thoughts:  This is a classic, and it has always been a favorite beginning-of-the-year read aloud for me.  It's a great hook to get the kids to buy into read aloud--even my too cool for school 5th graders loved sitting and giggling to this book in past years!  4/5 stars

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Goodreads Summary: August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

My thoughts: I have already sung my praises about this book here, so I won't go into it again, but this book was a huge hit with my 3rd + 4th graders.  They got so much out of it, too--we had beautiful talks about kindness and courage throughout.  Loved!  5/5 stars

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Goodreads Summary: It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There’s . . .Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next;Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle,who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.  Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn’t let them get away with much . . . until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything—and everyone.

My thoughts:  Again, I also talked about this book here, but I want to say again what a fun read aloud it was.  Initially I was worried that the kids wouldn't be able to follow the story because it jumps between seven narrators, but we made a chart of each students na dsome character traits to describe him or her at the beginning, and they caught on quickly.  Another powerful book that fueled discussions on kindness, laying blame, and forgiveness.  5/5 stars

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Goodreads Summary: Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.  Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

My thoughts:  If you haven't read this book yet, read it asap.  It is so beautiful.  My kiddos didn't buy into this one as quickly as Wonder and Mr. Terupt, which I think is because it wasn't as funny.  Even so, after a few chapters they were in love with Ivan and Ruby and Stella, hanging on every word.  Another powerful book that led to great conversations about respect for living creatures and ethics.  

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
Goodreads Summary: One day I was 12 years old and broke. Then Grandma gave me Grandpa's old riding lawnmower. I set out to mow some lawns. More people wanted me to mow their lawns. And more and more. . . . One client was Arnold the stockbroker, who offered to teach me about "the beauty of capitalism. Supply and Demand. Diversify labor. Distribute the wealth." "Wealth?" I said. "It's groovy, man," said Arnold. If I'd known what was coming, I might have climbed on my mower and putted all the way home to hide in my room. But the lawn business grew and grew. So did my profits, which Arnold invested in many things. And one of them was Joey Pow the prizefighter. That's when my 12th summer got really interesting.

My thoughts:  This book was totally different than our previous few read alouds, but it was so much fun!  At first, my kids had a tough time following it because there is a lot of talk about investments and capitalism and stocks, but I broke it down pretty simply.  When Joey Pow the boxer shows up, the book gets just plain hilarious.  We loved it!  4/5 stars

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor
Goodreads Summary: "Half of me was thinking, Georgina, don’t do this. Stealing a dog is just plain wrong. The other half of me was thinking, Georgina, you’re in a bad fix and you got to do whatever it takes to get yourself out of it." 
Georgina Hayes is desperate. Ever since her father left and they were evicted from their apartment, her family has been living in their car. With her mama juggling two jobs and trying to make enough money to find a place to live, Georgina is stuck looking after her younger brother, Toby. And she has her heart set on improving their situation. When Georgina spots a missing-dog poster with a reward of five hundred dollars, the solution to all her problems suddenly seems within reach. All she has to do is “borrow” the right dog and its owners are sure to offer a reward. What happens next is the last thing she expected. With unmistakable sympathy, Barbara O’Connor tells the story of a young girl struggling to see what’s right when everything else seems wrong.

My thoughts:  This was a serious one; Georgina's situation is just plain heart breaking.  It was kind of an eye-opener to some of my studnets to think about how some families actually do have to live in their cars and deal with very tough times.  Our big focus during this book was evaluating the characters' actions.  We used lots of turn and talks and voting to share opinions and make judgments about the characters.  I loved the higher-order-thinking it inspired--the kids had to share their opinion and justify it with text evidence.  In discussions, I had them use sentence frames to respond to each others' evaluations of the characters.  It was a really sweet book that deals with some tough issues in a great way.  4/5 stars.

What books did you read aloud this school year?  We are cruising through Lawn Boy Returns right now, and I'm hoping to finish it by our last day, Friday!

And now, off to *hopefully* watch the Blackhawks win!

May 25, 2013

Race Recap: Chicago Spring Half

Last Sunday, headed into the city to run the Chicago Spring Half Marathon.  I went into this race with two goals: enjoy every mile and stay uninjured so I can start marathon training strong next month.  As I was getting ready for the race this weekend, it struck me how calm I was feeling about the whole thing. My first half I was incredibly anxious about just finishing, #2 I was worried about getting hurt since I'd been an injured mess beforehand, and #3 I was shooting for a PR and was a bundle of nerves (#4 was in Disney and my only focus was on sticking with my sister in law through her first race, so I wasn't nervous about that one.)  Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that I wasn't nervous AT ALL going into this race. Sure, I had one nightmare where I showed up late, forgot my Gu, got lost on the course, and had to run through WATER for part of the race, but that's normal, right?  :)  With a few halfs under my belt, everything felt routine as I lined up at the start--I knew I could do it, and I was just excited to get started.  What a great feeling

My awesome dad came with and brought his bike so he was able to ride down the course and catch me several times along the way.  It was a beautiful day to be running along the lakefront path in Chicago--there is nothing like feeling those lake breezes and seeing the skyline while you're running.
After a few minutes of the race, I realized that I'd forgotten to set my Garmin to beep for my run/walk intervals.  To change that, I'd have to stop it and start fresh.  Crap!  I'm such a slave to my Garmin that I was so worried about screwing with it and having the time/distance be off.  For about 30 seconds I considered just keeping track of the time and walking every 3 minutes without the beeps, but I realized that after an hour there was no way I'd be able to remember when to walk.  I decided to reset it right at mile 1 so I was just 1 mile off--easy peasy.  Phew!  I hoped that was the worst obstacle of the race!
I had all kinds of weird aches and pains the first few miles--does that happen to anyone else?  Parts of my body that I never have problems with will hurt.  I'm convinced it's just my brain messing with me.  Right around mile 5, though, I hit a great stride.  I came out a little fast, and by mile 5 I'd gotten myself to settle in to a comfortable pace of 11min/mi--I planned to run it at 11:30/mi, but once I got started 11s just felt good so I decided to go with it!!  The miles started to fly by.  6, 7, 8, 9--I LOVE when that happens in a race!  I'd see the mile marker up ahead before I even realized it was coming!  BEST FEELING EVER.

Along the way, I got lots of comments about my shirt:
"Dear God, Please let there be someone behind me to read this."
Of course, they were made by people passing me... :) Even though I've gotten faster, I will always be a back of the pack runner--but the pack of the pack is kind of fun. :)

I started getting pretty tired and cooked by the sun by mile 10, but kept plugging along and kept up my pace.  Around mile 11, though, things got tricky--apparently at 9am a 5K walk for the children's hospital started, and it was on the same course for about a mile!  Let me set the scene: a handful of half marathoners are trying to keep pushing forward along a path that dips off into the harbor, weaving through a huge mess of 5K walkers.  I felt like such a jerk weaving through people, but by this point I wasn't going to just stop and walk!  It was scary enough to think about how close I was to falling in the water, but the worst part was that I was convinced I was going to lose the half marathon course!  I kept looking back to check people's bibs as I passed them, making sure there were other half runners around.  I was terrified that I was going to end up crossing the 5K finish by accident and having to turn back around to find the half again!  Yikes!
Luckily there were enough course marshals staggered along the way to reassure us we were moving in the right direction and direct us when the course eventually split.  I crossed the finish line with no idea what my official time was thanks to the Garmin oops early on.  The post-race "picnic" features amazingly fluffy pancakes and watermelon--PERFECT.  I was a little sore, but in nowhere near as bad shape as I was after finishing the Space Coast half, so I was SHOCKED when I checked my time online later and found out I finished in 2:21:22, just 1 second slower than Space Coast!  I couldn't believe it--that whole race I was so focused on my pace and time, pushing deep, ignoring pain, and focusing on finishing with no gas left in the tank.  So when I saw that today I ran just as fast but felt so much better, it was awesome.  Maybe I am actually ready to up the stakes and start marathon training this summer!  Woohoo!

May 19, 2013

Six on Sunday

Hey guys!  I realize "Six on Sunday" is in no way a "thing," but it has been so long since I blogged I figured a bulleted list would be best to get me back in the game.  Things were busy in spring, and I just needed a blog break.  Do you ever feel that way?  I hate for blogging to become a "chore" when it's supposed to be something fun that I do in spare time, so if it ever does become "work," I have no problem giving myself a blogging time out vacation.  Anyways, onto the "six"...

1. I ran my 5th half marathon this morning!  It was an awesome race and a beautiful course on the lakefront path in Chicago.  I wasn't shooting for a PR, but I ended up coming in just 1 second slower than my PR from the Space Coast Half in November, and I felt WAY stronger--what a great feeling!  Check back for a full recap and more pics later this week!
2. Speaking of running, I am officially signed up for the Chicago Marathon in October!  Not only will I be running my first full marathon, but I will be running as part of Team Up!, the charity team for Autism Speaks. I'm thrilled to be supporting such an awesome organization and am excited I've already raised almost $2,000!  Check out my fundraising page here if you are interested in hearing more about my connections to autism and why I'm running this race.

 3. My class is completely falling apart in the last weeks of school.  One girl was out midweek with stomach flu, another went home sick Friday with diarrhea, and another threw up on the carpet Friday mid-morning.  YIKES.  My fifth graders almost always made it to the trash can or bathroom to throw up, but this was our second floor accident of the year.  Must be a third grade and below thing...oh well!  Anyways, since all of this I can't help but view my classroom as a giant petri dish of germs, and I convince myself every stomach twinge I feel is the fingers are crossed that the large amounts of hand sanitizer I've been using will protect me!!

4. Speaking of school, with EIGHT DAYS of school left, I'm reflecting on what an awesome year this has been.  The kids are totally driving me crazy right now (HELLO MAY!), but seriously this year has been a breath of fresh air.  I loved fifth grade, but 3rd/4th is totally my niche.  Yes, they cry more than 5th graders, but then they write something cute on a spelling test like this:
Adorable.  That being said, I am so ready for summer!  Pool days, nonstop reading, and vacations are calling my name!!

5. Tuesday is my LAST DAY of grad school!  I am presenting my final project, turning in my loooong paper, and calling it a day!  It all feels a little anticlimactic because I didn't walk at the graduation ceremony, but after Tuesday I will have my master's degree.  Woohoo!!  What an awesome feeling.

6. I'm not much of a field trip girl--I think I am still scared from a field trip with my insane class my first year that almost killed me or at the very least almost drove me to quit.  Seriously, it was THAT BAD.  Anyways, like I said, I'm not much of a field trip girl, but Wednesday morning I will board a bus with a billion 3rd & 4th graders bound for Springfield, IL to visit our state capitol.  It is a 3 1/2 hour dive.  We leave at 6am and will be back home at 9:45pm.  Hold me...

By the way, I have some upcoming posts in the making including ones detailing my guided reading structure and notes, a typical day in Daily 3, how I ran guided math this year, updates on my marathon fundraising, and a giveaway for tart cherry juice!
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