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I Am Grateful

I am grateful 

for

my two strong, wise daughters,
my amazingly brilliant son,
my partner in life and crime,
my ability to think and reason,
the students that I learn with
every day,
the rising 
and
setting sun,
blue skies,
and clouds,
rain that soaks through everything
and quenches thirst,
afternoon walks,
books that nourish me,
words that declare
and shout
and feel
and spread across the page.
I am grateful.
 
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Sometimes…

Sometimes,
when I’m teaching,
I look out at the sea of faces
that are my students,
and wonder if
I am
talking too much.
Or, if I am repeating myself ad nauseam?

Are my students learning?

Was the look of attention and interest on their faces
because they were captivated by the lesson?
Or was it because they were trying really hard
to understand what I was teaching,
but weren’t being successful at all?

These thoughts have been lingering at the back of my mind for most of today.
I hope that by writing about them, however tentatively, I can lay them to rest.

Affirmation #1: I am an effective teacher not because I’m perfect, but because I strive to come up with better ways to engage and involve my students in their learning. I don’t ever relax into thinking that my job is finished. In fact, my job is never done because even when most of my students are learning there will be some who need additional support.

Affirmation #2: I love what I do! The challenges that I face as a teacher on a day-to-day basis, make my job exciting and challenging. There is never a dull moment. I love sitting down one-on-one with a student to talk about their work or to help them understand a difficult problem. When I see that look of understanding on their faces, I feel joyful as if I’m the one making an important discovery.

Affirmation #3: I am in the “zone” even during those times when doubt creeps in. It is the twin feelings of joy and satisfaction that I will hold onto every day I enter my classroom. It is the memories of the moments when learning clicks that makes me do a little celebration dance in my head.

It is a child’s breakthrough in learning,
an example of progress, or
the smiles
that light up my students’ faces
that keep me coming back for more
every
single
day.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday

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Why Math Games Should be a Part of Every Math Class

This year, more than any other year, I’ve noticed that many of my students don’t like math. Not just a little bit, but a lot. In part, it’s a question of feeling confident about what they know and, in part, it’s because I am asking them to not only give an answer, but also to justify their answer or their method. Too many of them simply want to follow the algorithm and be done with it. It doesn’t matter if they can explain why this method works or not. They got the answer and it’s correct. Who cares why it works. 

Other students have an ingrained sense that they are not good at math. Their parents were not good at math and that’s why they struggle, too. Or so goes their logic. 
And, of course, in 5th grade we get into more thorny math topics that will follow kids through middle school and beyond. In a word, I think that when some kids hear me say, “It’s time for math,” they literally shut down their brains and their emotional filters go up. 
I’ve tried many things this year, but what has been most successful is starting most math classes with games. Now, I have to admit that I am wary of games in math because they tend to favor computation and therefore lean towards reinforcing algorithmic procedures. Nevertheless, I was a bit desperate and felt I needed to do something completely different or I would lose some of my reluctant math students for good. 
I have been using a variety of sources on and offline for games and sharing these resources is really not the point of this post. I will leave that for another time. A purpose of this post is to reflect on my observations as my students play the games. I also want to mention that I always have my students write written reflections of the game. Questions I ask include the following – 
(1) Was this game easy, just right or challenging? (I need to remember to add “why” next time).
(2) Where’s the math in this game? What did you need to understand or know how to do in order to play?
(3) How would you change this game to make it more interesting or challenging for you?
(4) What strategy did you use, or could you use next time you play this game?
My observations:
• For a challenging game it’s a good idea to pair up kids with differing math levels. That way they can help each other as appropriate. A much as possible, I try to emphasize the importance of teaching their partner why an answer is correct as a condition of getting a point. 
• Demonstrating the game to the class the first time it’s played is important. Giving the kids a sheet with directions is not sufficient. 
• Limiting the game time to 15 minutes or so with 5 minutes to write a reflection is working for us. That still gives me time for a math lesson, which usually involves some kind of investigation related to our unit of study. The games are not always connected to the math we’re currently studying, however. 
• Kids are making positive comments about math. They are sometimes choosing to forego class meeting to keep working on the math, whether it’s a game or an investigation, though it’s usually the latter at that point. 
• The game period gives me the opportunity to “work the room” and do some in-the-moment teaching. It only takes a minute or two to engage in a targeted interaction about math for students to suddenly understand something that was previously eluding them. 
• Kids make good choices when it’s choice day for games. For the most part,
they select appropriate games and adjust the challenge level. 
Of course, I’m only at the beginning stages of using math games in the classroom. Up next is to dig into the book Well Played, Building Mathematical Thinking Through Number Games and Puzzles, Grades 3 – 5 (there’s a K – 2 version) by Linda Dacey, Karen Gartland and Jayne Bamfors Lynch for more inspiration and ideas.  
Do you use math games in the classroom? If so, please share what you do and how it’s working for you and your students.
All the Summer Girls · Jeffrey Deaver · Jr. on Leadership · Martin Luther Kind · Meg Donohue · The Kill Room

Books, Books, and More Books

I’ve been absent from my blog for the past week, but for a good reason: I’ve been doing writing for my doctoral research. So much so, that my brain feels like it’s on overload. I don’t think I could extend any more brain power at the moment and, yet, I write some more.   

It is past midnight. I have my Kindle at my side, ready to read another chapter of my chick lit book. Yes. You read that correctly. Chick. Lit. Novel. Does that term even exist? You know, like chick flicks? Oh, well. Maybe I’ve just created a new term, even if only for myself. 
I can’t wait to dig in and read more about Vanessa, Kate, and Dani and how the secret two of them harbor gets unraveled. How will it affect their relationships? Will they grow up, once and for all?  And, what about the men in their lives? How will those relationships pan out? As you can see, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, in between writing my literature review and completing the ethics application for my field study. This book is my brain break. 
Ah, yes, my brain! It is feeling like toast: crusty, with visible holes here and there, and cluttered. Yes. Very. Cluttered. My eyes feel heavy, but not ready for sleep. The heroines in my book await me. I must read on. 
By the way, in case you think I’m a vapid, brainless reader…I am also reading two other, more serious, books at the same time: The Kill Room by Jeffrey Deaver, a Lincoln Rhyme mystery, and Martin Luther King, Jr. On Leadership by Donald T. Phillips. 

Disclosure: I’m enjoying all three books immensely. 

I love Deaver’s books, but need to be in the right frame of mind to read them. There’s always a lot of intrigue and complicated plot lines. I love the mystery and danger in his books. A shout out to my friend Lori Kennedy for recommending Deaver all those years ago.

The Phillips book was recommended by a member of my PLN and I’m enjoying it for the historical aspects, which I find fascinating. I don’t typically choose to read historical fiction or nonfiction. However, when I do, I really enjoy it a lot. I haven’t yet gotten to what the author identifies as Martin Luther King, Jr’s. perspective on the issue of leadership, the topic of the book, but I’ve gotten a great history lesson, so far! Looking forward to continuing to read this book. 
All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue, on the other hand, is my book to relax. I love the character depictions and the relationships among the three friends. To me, they sound real; they could be actual people I know. Or, am I just being delusional? My brain on overload? No, I don’t think so. I like this book, though I may not recommend it on Goodreads. This is my secret, or not-so-secret, guilty pleasure.
Today is my last day of February vacation. I go back to school tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing my students and being in the classroom, but I am going to miss the lazy days of running errands, spending time with my husband and son, and reading, writing and resting. 
Now, back to my books. 
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New Habits in the Making

Today is the second day of a ten-day break. I don’t go back to school until Feb. 10th, so I’ve had time to read and write a lot. This always leads me to reflect about teaching and life in general. I start to think about what I can improve, both on a personal and a professional level, and make plans to implement those changes. So, here’s a list of the changes that I want to make, in no particular order. 
(1) Big confession: I don’t look forward to recess duty. Usually I stand in one spot during the 20 minute lunch recess, look around to make sure everything is OK, and then go back to being annoyed at having to do recess duty. Not fun! It bears mentioning that there are at least three teacher assistants on duty as well, so the kids are adequately supervised. This is a golden opportunity to observe the kids in a more natural environment: at play with their friends. So, instead I will walk around the field and engage in conversations with as many kids as possible.  When I take the time to observe students from a closer angle, I get a sense of how they interact with each other, who may not have someone to play with, and where the trouble spots are. As a fifth grade teacher, this is also a good opportunity for me to get to know the third and fourth graders, some of whom will be my students in the near future.
(2) When I find myself on the verge of saying or doing something I might regret later, I am going to take a deep breath and take a step back from the situation before reacting or responding in any way. This is so hard for me! I am realizing that I am impulsive and I “lose” it more often than I’d like to admit, which makes things worse not better. This is a huge challenge for me, but I will feel so good once I develop this new habit.
(3) When I read a blog, I will leave a response in the comments section. I’ve tried committing to this in the past, but I haven’t been very successful. I want people to respond to my posts so it seems only right that I do this for others. Reminding myself of the learning that happens when a conversation gets started on a blog will help me to do this.  
(4) I will not take on any new books to review for MiddleWeb until I finish the ones I have. This one is also hard for me because it takes so long for books to get to Ecuador that I want to make sure I have a book waiting to be reviewed at all times. However, that isn’t fair to the author since I end up stockpiling books because I can only write one book review at a time. I might be sitting on a book that another reviewer might get to right away. I love getting new books, so this is definitely a hard change for me to implement.

I am excited about making these changes. They may seem small or inconsequential, but I know they will make a difference in my attitude and well-being.