Oh boy, Week 3 felt like it was 9 days long. I think this is always a hard week every year. I consider weeks 1 and 2 the ‘honeymoon’ weeks where everyone is bringing their best. By Week 3, however, the students are progressively more tired and receiving increasingly longer and more challenging assignments in all of their classes. They have gotten over the shiny sparkle of going back to school. We’re not “Back to School,” anymore – this is life for the next 37 weeks. As we accept our fate and embrace the routine of things, we must also celebrate the many highlights of the week!
1. Guess the Reader – My favorite highlight of the week has been the “Guess the Reader” contest going on throughout the school. The students are sneakily trying to figure out who is behind each book by asking us totally not obvious questions and trying to get sneak peeks at our hands. I’ll announce a winner on Monday, and the winner will be invited to choose a brand new book from their wish lists.
2. Timeline – I am teaching Social Studies again this year. We will cover content from the founding of the 13 colonies up through the War on Terror and everything in between. I decided to post a classroom timeline to help my students get a sense of how events relate to one another chronologically. So far, this has been very helpful. My plan is to take a moment after finishing each chapter to have my students vote on an image that could symbolically represent that chapter as well as to decide where the image should be placed on the timeline.
3. AIMSWeb – I was trained in AIMSWeb this week. It is an assessment and tracking tool created by Pearson publishing. As an interventionist, I will use this tool to provide weekly probes to my students and track their progress toward becoming ‘on grade level.’ The training was a full 7 hours and included practice with a training module. I completely understand that this tool is necessary and I accept that this is the direction we must head as an educational community, however I still have several reservations about AIMSWeb. My main reservation has to do with the assessment tools themselves. To track reading progress, AIMSWeb provides a reading fluency measure (a running record) and another component called Maze to assess ‘comprehension.’ Maze provides students with a cloze passage in which every 7th word is missing and students must choose between the options to decide which word makes the most sense. I do not believe this to be an accurate or comprehensive measure of reading comprehension, nor does it align with any common core standards and expectations for what constitutes reading comprehension. What is Maze testing, exactly? Grammar? Vocabulary? There is so much more to comprehension. What about locating evidence in the text? Making inferences? Analysis, compare and contrast, or critique? I hope that educators and administrators will use AIMSWeb data as one of several tools to track student progress and make any high stakes decisions about a student’s education.
4. Classroom Mantra – “Why are you here?” On Wednesday, I was very moved by Alicia Keys’ advice she shared on my morning commute radio program. Every hour, everywhere, she asks herself about her purpose. It’s a simple question that can mean so many things. I decided to put the mantra on my classroom door for myself and for my students. Why are you here today? What do you hope to accomplish? What is your purpose on this planet?
5. Graze – I am LOVING having a Graze subscription this year. I so look forward to it every Tuesday. I log on to my account and let them know how I liked each snack, which helps them to send me more of the snacks I will like. They are healthy, filling, and tasty, with the bonus of being a surprise and not the same boring things I always buy. Loving it!
How was your week? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Happy Week 2! These first few weeks back to school are always the longest and most challenging, and I feel completely wiped out this week. We had open house on Wednesday, and I met a lot of wonderful parents. I can’t wait until tomorrow morning so I can sleep in and finally catch up on my overflowing inbox! Here are the highlights from week 2:
1. Guess the Reader– I’m working on a fun new bulletin board! Check back next week to see the final product.
2. Identity Pie Graph Activity – As an opening activity for our unit on Identity, my students created pie graphs to represent the various elements that impact their own identities. This is a great activity to learn more about your students and to get them talking!
3. Sea World Controversy / Practicing Argumentation – In Social Studies this week, we read various articles and watched youtube videos both in support of Sea World as well as condemning. We practiced writing claims and finding supporting evidence as well as working in groups and initiating collaborative discussions. In my opinion, this is a perfect controversial issue to use in your classroom because there are strong points on both sides of the argument. Sea World does a lot of critically important work in protection, education, and preservation. We watched the trailer to Blackfish as part of our investigation, and I have to tell you – the room was completely silent. After the clip ended, there was an audible “gasp” in the room, and I know my students were emotionally impacted. I watch it and feel like I got punched in the gut. The next day, several students told me they went straight home and watched the entire movie. This topic clearly got their attention.
4. Dissertation Bound – I completed my doctorate in June, but it takes several months to get your dissertation professionally bound. I got the call and went to pick it up from my university library. It is HUGE! Glad I brought my husband along to help me carry it!
5. Paleo Foods this Week – I received my copy of Meals Made Simple in the mail, and I’m in LOVE! I’ve been cooking exclusively from this cookbook this week, and I’m absolutely loving everything. Here we have Mexican Chicken Soup, Cumin-Garlic Summer Squash, Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies 2.0, Pumpkin Bread, Chicken and Rice Casserole and – my own recipe – frozen Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bites (a great summer treat).
Happy Back-to-School! Today is our first Friday of the 2014-2015 school year, and we’ve made it through week 1. It was your typical first week back with bumps in the road and interesting challenges, but we made it!
Every Friday, I post a “High Five For Friday” entry that highlights 5 things from the week. It’s all about being positive and finding things to celebrate. Here are this week’s 5:
1.School Supplies – The Supply Fairy delivered a wonderful, colorful pile of back-to-school supplies to my room! I do all the ordering for our department, so that is why there is so much here. Who doesn’t love new pencils, highlighters, and white out?!?
2. School Forest Field Trip – Our district is lucky enough to own a 16 acre school forest right in our own backyard. This week, I took my students on a quick walking tour of the grounds. We noted several invasive species, steered clear of the poison ivy (!) found some great places for doing creative writing later, and enjoyed how we felt worlds away from school when we were only a few paces from the playground.
3. Packers Season Open – To celebrate the official start of Packers Season, the staff got to have a dress down ‘Green and Gold’ day. We have some very enthusiastic staff who made me giggle with their seriously fantastic sportswear (think Green and Gold overalls!).
4.Eleanor & Park – I started reading this new book, which was recommended as an adolescent fiction novel. One chapter in, I soon realized that I would not be able to recommend this to my 8th grade students due to the language. However, I am really digging this book so far. The characters are very interesting and the story feels nostalgic to my own teen years in some way. I’m on Chapter 13, and I expect this will turn into an emotional roller coaster by the end.
5. Making lots of Connections – I saved the best for last. I have loved meeting my new students. The best part of the first few weeks is the connections we make. I learn so much about my new students, their interests, their anxieties about the year, what they are excited to accomplish, their hobbies and talents, and everything else they are willing to share. On the first day, it’s become my tradition to wear these silly rainbow socks. I do realize how ridiculous they look, but they have become a real conversation starter. My students like to come up and talk to me about them. I think it helps them to see that I don’t take things too seriously, that I am approachable, and that I know how to laugh. Connecting with my students is really important to me, and I value our relationships and everything that we can accomplish knowing there is mutual trust and respect.
Whether this was your first week back or you’ve been back to school for a while, I hope you had a SPLENDID first week of September! I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
This is my last High Five for Friday for the 2013-2014 school year. We made it!
1. Intertextual Connections – This week my students watched “The Book Thief” and made intertextual connections to our novel, Spite Fences. I asked them to notice connections in Conflict, Main Character, Supporting Character, Plot/Events, Resolution, and Theme.
2. Student Growth – We recently updated our data wall to reflect student growth in MAP Language Arts scores. Wow – isn’t it just amazing? Look how many students moved from the left (below grade level) to the right (high) over the course of the year. Inspirational! Way to go you hard working students!
3. Countdown – There are 3 days left of school. THREE! Monday and Tuesday are business as usual, Wednesday is our field trip to Great America Six Flags, and Thursday is only a half day to practice the 8th grade promotion ceremony.
4. I Ph.inisheD.!! – So the big news this week is that I successfully completed my doctoral defense. I’m Dr. Dembroski now, yay!
5. Weekly Eats – I love sharing the delicious foods I make each week. I was pretty busy last weekend! I made a Broccoli Egg Bake, Grain-Free Chocolate Chip Bars, and my own recipe of Mango Banana Pineapple Freezies – a staple for summer!
Week 37 is over, and there are only 2 weeks of school left! Plus, the day of the Walkathon is finally here!
1. Walkathon – Our school holds a Walkathon each year to model and encourage community and selflessness among our middle school students. Each year, we pledge and raise money for important charities such as Hunger Task Force or Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. This year, we are raising money in honor of a very important person – our beloved custodian, Joe. Joe was diagnosed with cancer this year, and that hit home for the students and staff. He is such a bright, cheerful, helpful person, and it was devastating to see him struggling. He left us for a while to seek treatment at the Cancer Treatment Center of Illinois, and upon his return, he was greeted with the colorful sign on the left. It says “Helping Hands for a Helping Man.” For our Walkathon, we elected to raise funds for the Cancer Treatment Center relief fund for families – it provides financial assistance for non-medical needs (i.e. mortgage, utilities, gas, childcare, etc.). We donate in Joe’s name, since Joe is all about the spirit of paying it forward and helping any and all in need. Today is the big event – a 2 hour Walkathon! On the right, you can see Joe being interviewed by WISN Channel 12. His story has touched so many and continues to inspire others.
2. Walkathon T-shirt – So I live for these Walkathon T-shirts, and I can’t wait to get our new one every year. I have a collection of 7 now. SEVEN! I especially love this year’s, of course, since it brings a tear to my eye. In addition to the pledges students collect, the sale of t-shirts also helps to raise funds for our donation to the Cancer Treatment Center. Altogether we are projected to collect about $5,000 this year. We already passed the $4,000 mark yesterday, so finger’s crossed that we make it to our goal!
3. Morning Runs – Speaking of walking, I got up at 5am every day this week to start my day with a run. It’s very peaceful, quiet, and cool – perfect for running. Yes it is hard to get up that early, but if I get right out of bed and go, my brain doesn’t fully awaken until half way in when it’s too late to turn back. It has really made a great improvement in my mood and my energy levels. I love that I can head straight home from work, too, without having to workout at the end of the day. I will certainly continue this new habit as long as it is light out in the mornings.
4. Finishing Spite Fences – We have officially finished the novel, all 21 chapters. The final assignment was to create a “Theme Page” or a “One Word” Page in Book Creator. Above is a sampling of their great work. They really have impressed me this year – great ideas and lots of growth!
5. Countdown – Only 8 days left! Well 8.5 for the students, 10 for me. But still – only 2 more Mondays! w00t!
So how was your week? Are you still in the classroom, like me, or did you start your summer yet? Either way, I hope you’re having a great Friday!
Only 3 weeks of school left! We are barely surviving here, and everyone is going CrAzY! Here are the highlights from the week:
1. Assembly – We ended last week with an all-school assembly on Friday. There were basketball games, a choir performance, pom pons, raffles, shoot out competitions, videos, and so much fun! I believe these assemblies are important for so many reasons. They give us opportunities to teach and model appropriate behaviors in new scenarios, they build camaraderie and an all school spirit, a chance to appreciate one another’s talents, and they give students a time of release and a chance to build fond memories of school.
2. Teacher Gifts – There are 2 new teachers in my building that I have grown close to this year. They have been so much fun to work with, and I really appreciate how hard they are working with their students. I made them these teacher gifts – a post it holder. It’s just a plastic frame (about $1) filled with scrapbook paper, then wrapped in a ribbon with some fun embellishments to hold it in place. It’s an inexpensive but fancy looking and thoughtful gift that I hope they’ll like!
3. Art of Writing – You may have seen some of my other blog posts on the Art of Writing conference in Milwaukee. I think this is just such a unique opportunity for so many young authors and artists to be challenged, to network, and to learn a lot about their craft. Well our published book came in last week. My student’s artwork was featured on the inside of the front cover (we were ecstatic!).
4. Ph.D. Books – As I am nearing my defense date, I have been reorganizing my materials and preparing myself mentally for this important milestone. I took inventory of my textbooks I have purchased – wow! That’s a mortgage payment right there! There are books I loved and books I hated. I would say that I have learned the most from the handbooks in the lower left – they are quite expensive, but also a priceless wealth of knowledge. Any books that claim they can help guide you through the Ph.D. process with a smile on your face? Save your money.
Au revoir, Week 35! I have so many highlights to share from this week:
1. Mother’s Day – I know everyone THINKS they have the best mom in the world, but I smile because I KNOW that I do 🙂 We had a lovely Mother’s Day this year – my mom allowed my sister and me to cook the entire meal. It was a great time, and lots of laughs were had by all. We grilled chicken and potatoes, had fruit and spinach salad, cole slaw, and my favorite – dessert! I made a Blueberry Crumble and French Silk Pie. Guys – it was to DIE for. Click for the recipe, and you won’t be upset you did! The Blueberry Crumble was paleo, sweetened only with lemon juice and honey and topped with almond flour and crushed macadamia nuts. Delish!
2. Book Giveaway – So I’ve decided to adopt a fun new tradition in my room based on this great experience I just had. I am currently reading The Maze Runner and enjoying it quite a bit. I decided to tell my students all about the first 3 chapters to get them interested, too. Then, I purchased a second copy of the book and did a raffle for all of my students who have had no late work this quarter. The winner was so excited! She said that she had been wanting to read that book for a while. The message – do anything you can to get kids excited about reading. ANYthing.
3. Countdown – 18 days left. Eighteen! Do you realize that summer is only 4 weeks away?!?! AAAAaaaaaaAAhhhhHH!!!!!!!! BTW, the students are having fun ripping off one more ring each day and watching the countdown shrink.
4. LLI Leveled Literacy Intervention – So I’ve been researching a new literacy intervention for us to use at our school in the fall. Preferably, we would like one that we can use to qualify students for special education referrals as well as one we can use to remediate and get our struggling readers up to grade level. What appealed to me about this LLI model is that it addresses foundational reading skills in addition to comprehension. It includes both fiction and non-fiction texts as well. It seems like a really great fit for our school. It won’t be released until September 30th, and my knowledge is limited only to the comprehensive sampler they shared with me. Do you know much about this model and its use with middle school students? I’d love to hear from you!
5. Gearing up for the Walkathon – Our all school annual walkathon event will take place in two Fridays. To get kids excited (and encourage them to start collecting pledges), the staff all wore our ‘retro’ Walk Shirts from years past. That means I got to wear a t-shirt and jeans each day this week! Such a treat 🙂 For the Walkathon this year, we are donating all of our pledges to the Cancer Treatment Center in Illinois on behalf of our custodian, Joe, who said he had such a wonderful experience there. The money will go to assist families with non-medical expenses. Last year we raised over $5,000, and I do hope we beat that record this year!
We’ve made it through Week 34! (Only 5 to go!). Time for highlights!
1. Testing – My poor students endured 2 rounds of testing this week. To help give them an extra boost, I brought in donuts. I blinked, and the box was empty. Teenagers are huuuuuungry!
2. School Flower Garden – This week our school’s art teacher organized an after school event for tending to our school flower garden. I think the tulips are just such a cheerful greeting at the front of our school. I’ve enjoyed watching them grow every day.
3. Cameras – As part of our Spite Fences unit, I got to teach my students about cameras and how they function. The thing is, they THINK they know everything about cameras. But each year, I am astounded at how silent the class grows when I start taking the camera apart and explaining how the film, shutter, aperture, advance film, and other features actually work. They have no clue. You can almost see the gears in their heads turning as they are soaking up the new knowledge. I look forward to that day every year! What’s neat is that my husband and I have a pretty extensive collection of antique cameras, so I can bring in our old cameras from home like the HOLGA above.
4. Classroom Countdown – Only 23 days left! EEeeekkkK!
Week 33 is O-V-E-R! I lived to tell the tale and share some highlights:
1. Spite Fences – Just before Spring Break, we began reading Spite Fences, our final unit and novel of the year (Here is a link to our novel study unit). It is about a 14-year-old girl named Maggie living in Georgia during the Civil Rights movement. She is given a camera as a gift, and she begins to see the world around her with new eyes. I love teaching this unit every year, and I know my students learn a lot and enjoy reading it. We’re up to Chapter 7 as of today.
2. Audio books – I am so thankful for our iPads every single day. We are such a lucky district! The iPads have allowed us to share the audiobook version of Spite Fences with some students who really benefit from this extra level of support. I’m seeing so much more engagement and higher levels of comprehension this year with that modification in place. (Note: Only 8 of my 90 students receive this modification)
3. Countdown – With Spring Break behind us, it’s officially time to start the end-of-the-year countdown (29 days left, but who’s counting?!) Some teachers would caution against this. They would say that it encourages students to start slacking too soon as they dream about summer. On the contrary, I use it as a motivational tool. I have already planned all of our lessons through the end of the year, and I’ve shared every single assignment with my students via email already. They know exactly what they have to do before June 12th – and it’s a lot. Each day as we remove a ring, I remind them that we have X days left to finish our work, to cultivate good habits, and to end the year on a high note. We have grit, we have stamina, and we work right up until the bitter end. We don’t coast to the finish line!
4. Doggy Bath– Would you please look at these pathetic dogs. Just look! Don’t feel sorry for them. Their lives are filled with walks and belly rubs and treats and snuggles. Such ninnies.
Week 31 is ooooooover! Enjoy the highlights below!
1. Flipped Classroom – This week, I discovered the joy of Discovery Streaming and the Flipped Classroom. Did you know that you can use Discovery Education to create a clipboard of video clips? We are starting to read a new novel, Spite Fences, and in preparation, I wanted students to explore the time period and Civil Rights. My partner and I created a clipboard of about 10 videos to watch, with accompanying instructions for each video. So instead of ‘sit and get’ where we watch a documentary together and answer review questions, the students are on their own to investigate and teach themselves about the important topics at their own pace. Then, the next day, they use this information to create an Eyewitness Story (see #2 below). They were highly engaged, and – thanks to earbuds – you could have heard a pin drop!
2. Eyewitness Account – After viewing the videos and taking notes, the students were then asked to write an eyewitness account of a Civil Rights event. They had to chose an event, then become a person at that event, describing it in first person. They had some very creative ideas. I believe this is an excellent way to encourage engagement and creative writing that is also content based. Taking on perspectives is also a Common Core aligned activity. It was certainly a hit, and I was very proud of my students’ writing!
3. Social Frames – Another way I wanted my students to prepare for our upcoming Spite Fences unit was to investigate the influence of social frames on our society. We learned about gender roles – comparing and contrasting the 1950s and today. We also compared and contrasted interracial relationships and the role of race in identify as it has evolved from the 1950s to today. We could have spent a week, no a month, no a whole semester on this topic, but we only had a day. It was a very rich discussion, and I’m glad we had it. It will really set up students for understanding the themes of the novel.
4. Spring has Sprung! Have you seen the evidence that Spring is definitely here? The weather has been gorgeous in Wisconsin – 50 degrees, sunny, and oh so welcomed!
5. More Healthy Eats – I continue to keep my New Year’s Resolution and cook healthy paleo foods for us to eat every week. This week’s marathon cooking day included: Banana Pancakes, Kielbasa, Zucchini Pancakes, Dark Chocolate Cake Brownies, Spaghetti Sauce, Strawberry Banana Kiwi Popsicles, and Bacon Carbonara ‘Pasta’. I’ve also been juicing every morning. Our favorite combinations are 1) sweet potato, carrot, and lemon or lime 2) honeydew with apple and carrots 3) apple, pear, cucumber