Monday, November 2, 2015

Rituals Empower Students to Take On Even Greater Responsibility

Visual by

Oh the juxtaposition, giving up power in my classroom to my students has resulted in me being more available to my students!

Putting my students in charge has resulted in a more efficient classroom.

My students have NEVER gotten out early and rarely on time until this year. For the past two weeks or more, my students are ready to walk out the door 10-12 minutes EARLY because of their efficiency in administering the end of the day activities espoused in Paul Solarz's book, Learn Like a Pirate.  Read about it here, Rearjmcl, or on p.136 in the book.

It's hilarious to me to think I was so nervous about releasing responsibility to my students.  Every day, I post the times for each subject and activity. STUDENTS remind the class of upcoming transitions which has reduced our transition times.  Since, the reminder is verbal, I'm made aware that I need to wrap things up with a small group or one-on-one conference and begin preparing for the next subject area.

The many strategies, especially the "Give Me 5," has been a life-saver for me this year, because I have suffered from 2 months of laryngitis.  Students begin their day outside the classroom with the Good Morning Greeter, walk quietly (okay that is relative!) into the classroom, turn in their homework and get right to work on their AM work, all of this within minutes and WITHOUT me issuing any verbal instructions!  The end of the day with the REARJMCL is a similar experience.

Every strategy I have tried is working like gold in my classroom. Now, all I need to do is reread each chapter because I keep on finding new treasure with each read!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Magnetic Student Empowerment

Magnets by Rick Morris
Magnets empower my students! I was first introduced to the power of magnets at a Rick Morris seminar. I've used them ever since! Magnets can be used in a multitude of ways: as a means to fairly call on students, to stop the "teacher, teacher" cry that drives all teachers crazy, magnets allow one to easily see who's completed an assignment, as an expert board, and a way for students to collaborate and discuss texts.

One of my students' favorite use is the "Got Questions?" board.  It is primarily used during math and the first hour of class when students are turning in homework, starting AM work, or just have something they want to share.  The method ensures that all students have easy and fair access to me as often as they need my help, advice, or concern.  Students simply go to the board and move their magnet into line.  After I help a student, they move their magnet down and call for the next student - Wow! students are empowered to lead.  Of course, I have taken the time to talk to them about using a kind tone when calling on their classmate.

Also, this magnet-method builds community. Students know that I'm available and often I will hear mini-stories about their weekends, their concern, or a cool video clip they saw. These mini-conversations are relatively brief, students know that others are waiting, but this magnet-system has created a space for them to share about their lives

During the independent practice time in math, the magnets ensure that all students get called on fairly.  This matters greatly to my early-finishers who know if they finish their practice early, they can start their homework.

The expert board empowers students to use their skills to help others.  The required "expert" changes daily, sometimes hourly, so all students have the opportunity to be an expert. I have seen first hand, shy students move their magnets up because they knew they had a skill or knowledge and wanted to help their classmates, even though it was outside of their comfort-zone, especially if there were very few "experts" on the list. Again, magnets empower students to lead.

Magnets provide a means to monitor progress while letting the teacher see at a quick glance who's completed various assignments. Students love to go to the list and move their magnet up once they have turned in an assignment.

In addition, I have used  magnets as a means to monitor writing progress (rough draft, peer-editing, final draft).

Last year, I began using magnets as a means for students to discuss texts and/or collaborate.The magnets allow students choice in who they want to be their discussion-partners = students are empowered to make smart choices.  

Two of the best side-benefits to using magnets is that students keep it all organized and it's front and center for all to see.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Inspiring Readers to Read Across the Genres

In order to encourage my students to read across the genres, I implemented 3 years ago a Read Across America Project - there are 50 different projects that are named after our 50 states - this was a fun way to tie our American History to our Reading projects - however, only one is directly related to a state (New York - read about the Empire State Building).

Student choice, exposing students to actually opening out atlases, cook books, almanacs, comic strips, graphic novels, poetry books, encyclopedias, science experiments, picture books, researching a future career, reading about scientists, biographies, as well as reading novels has opened up so many windows to my students.

Each week students are required to turn in one project.  These project include science experiments, making a paper puppet of a main character, book marks, illustrations, word-searches/puzzles, quizzes, reading poems aloud, writing paragraphs, cooking a recipe for their family, and the list really does go on.

It holds the students accountable in making reading a habit while allowing the students to choose what they want to read.  They are allowed to do 3 projects on one novel - I do want them to complete the novel!

If you are interested in this project, let me know.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pirate-Teaching in 7 Days

My teaching world is forever rocked
and everyone is benefiting: students and teacher!

BEFORE - desks

AFTER - Table groups + reading nook

From Day 1, students have been empowered to take control of their learning and their learning environment.  No one is hostage to their seat; students are constantly moving around the room to work on assignments, collaborate, peer-edit, ask for help. The guideline is Ask 3, then Me.  They are learning to be responsible for their learning, our learning environment, and our community.

On Day 2, a student felt empowered to move himself to a desk so he could focus. He moved himself back to his table group later in the day - didn't ask me - I LOVE this!

From Day 1, I modeled Give Me 5 and even asked a couple of students if they would repeat what I told them and most did.  Finally, on Day 7, a brave soul called out one after I posted a note on the whiteboard. Over the course of the day three or four more students utilized this empowering tool - all appropriately.  **Tomorrow, I'm planning on reviewing the many ways it can be employed - I reread that chapter today!
**UPDATE 9/21/15 - 6 students did it - I can see for some that they were really being brave, for others they "own" it, now! 8 days!!!!

Give Me 5
On Day 2, emphasizing all 4 C's which are listed in the 21 Century Skills section of Learn Like a Pirate which is linked to the Revised Blooms Taxonomy, I used Popsicle sticks and grouped the students in groups of 3. Using the data from the whole-class bar graph we created, students were charged with designing (=creativity) a pie graph with a title and legend.  LOTS of discussing (=communication & critical thinking) and collaboration commenced - I listened in and moved around the room, checking to see that everyone was in some way participating - very "present" the entire time.  After they completed their rough draft, I asked each group to come up with 3 different ways they could improve the presentation = improvement-focused.  Absolutely blown away by the thoughtful responses: different color choices, using a ruler for straight lines, moving or enlarging the legend. I know it's not rocket-science, but this was accomplished on Day 2 with some not working with their favorite partners!
Math Pie Graphs
Day 6 - students "boarded" a ship bound to America in 1850. I donned a shawl, dusted off my Irish accent, and using a baby doll, marbles, and a miniature of the Statue of Liberty - both 5th grade classes (36 students) crammed together in the middle of the classroom to hear a dramatic retelling of Peggy O'Flynn's (a relative of mine whose story has been greatly embellished!) journey to America as a result of the Irish Potato Famine.  This was part of our Immigration Celebration in which students celebrate the diversity of America by bringing bread to share from their ancestral home. Fun and full tummies were had by all! I put push pins on a world map of all the countries my students' ancestors/parents have immigrated from. Every year, I used this Active Learning strategy - it's nice to know that I've been on track in at least one area.
**Future Active Learning & Peer Collaboration Project- Native American tribe reports using Glogster.

Sharing Bread from Our Cultures

This week, I'll be starting Responsibility-Partners and using Paul Solarz's math lesson model.  I'm looking forward to making one-on-one homework check-in a reality.  In this way, every student is being reached while all students are working on a review lesson.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pass BIFF, Find JOY

I just created this card that is going to make this first JOY mission a reality. Beyond excited!!!!

One of my teacher goals this coming school year is to promote a positive school culture within our staff inspired by Angela Watson's book, Unshakeable.  One way I'm planning to do this is be creating JOY opportunities.  You can read my earlier post here.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Imperfect Educators Inspire Me

Three books, three authors, all shared that not everything they do goes perfectly as planned.

Their sometimes imperfect implementation of a daring teaching strategy has inspired me to become a daring, adventurous, perhaps even radical teacher.

My educational philosophy has undergone a paradigm-shift of epic proportions and this couldn't excite me more!

It has been these educators' willingness to try and then share with others, even the global community (oh, Twitter, thou art a powerful force!) that has emboldened me.

I now dare to believe that "when in doubt, take action" @Burgessdave at  It is much better to DARE GREATLY and risk potential failure, then to do nothing and remain stagnant. How awesome it will be for my students to have a teacher willing to try and learn, modeling that failure is simply a First Attempt At Learning!  Yes, my Periscope Misadventures will be shared!

My students are able, they are ready, I just need to DARE to go where I've never gone before in my teaching, equipping them with life-skills to lead within the safety of our classroom community. Thank you, @PaulSolarz for generously sharing via Learn Like a Pirate and on Twitter what a 21st century classroom looks like in action.

Finally, a huge shout-out to Angela Watson for helping me to recover my enthusiasm and passion for the teaching profession. I never lost my joy in teaching, but had become discouraged in the last few years.  Angela helped me to reflect deeply about my practices and find much needed balance.
All have let me know that "it isn't going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it." @Angela Watson of The Cornerstone for Teachers

Friday, July 24, 2015

Social Media Diet

Do you find yourself constantly getting whistled at
by Periscope, beeped by Facebook, tweeted at
by Twitter, and binged by Pinterest?

Seriously, there is only so much information and interactions via these sites that I can process effectively.  It's just becoming a time-waster and I don't have time for it. 
Here's my plan going forward for the rest of the summer (I naturally unplug during my B2Sch prep time):
  • Turn off all those noises on my phone.  I want to see if there's any notifications on my phone, but the noises are distracting and I ALWAYS take a look when I hear them
  • Don't even look at anything related to Social Media until after I get my morning tasks done
  • Schedule in a time allotment for Social Media skimming - LIMIT it to a set time - maybe it's 15 minutes in the AM, 10 minutes after lunch, and then 30 minutes in the evening.
  • DON'T LOOK at my phone unless I get a text message or phone call - I have such a reflex of checking it frequently.  Seriously, I'm not that important and what I'm saying on these sites is not that important!
  • Blog once/twice a week
  • Learn Like a Pirate Facebook posting as a facilitator - 30 minutes 2 times a week
  • Choose one day a week and go silent - NO social media - I'm thinking Sunday!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, as well as your suggestions.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Periscoping Misadventure

Not going to lie, it was painful to watch on replay - lots of umms, repeated words, and oh, ugh! just not how I want to present to the world.

But, I did it!  I went for it, learned (did another one a few minutes later so I could learn how to switch views), experienced some inward groans, and now am even more energized about how I can make this work @ Back 2 School Boot Camp in August and in September, my classroom.

This is the rage now, teachers - hop on board and be the innovator at your school.

You can go to Periscope @teach2inspire6 to watch for the next 24 hours and then it's gone!  Not my stellar moment, but hope that it will inspire you to be brave and try that thing that strikes fear in your heart, but you really want to try it!  DARE GREATLY!

What I would have looked like if I could have figured out
how to switch views LIVE in Periscope
* now I know, perseved just like I want my students to!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Creating JOY with Pass the Bulldog

Our school's mascot, the Bulldogs
Create JOY opportunities!  

One of my teacher goals this coming school year is to promote a positive school culture within our staff inspired by Angela Watson's book Unshakeable.  Who does not like GOOD surprises?

How to implement this in your classroom:
1.  Find something that is related to your school or just will bring JOY upon sight.

2. Write a 1-2 sentence note of encouragement, such as, "Hope your day is doggone good!" Or it can be specific to the individual, such as, "Nicole, the way you connect with your students is just so inspiring!"  The point is just to encourage.

3. Find a place to hide it - you decide how stealthy you want to be - put it on their lesson cart or in their classroom library.  Trust me, the students will be over the moon to let the teacher know about something new in the room.

4.  Smile, because you just brought someone joy!

5.  Now, it's that teacher's turn to Pass the Bull Dog or whatever you decide to call this joy-giver.  Nope, it doesn't matter if the same teacher gets it twice, you have 35 weeks to pass this cutie around.

This idea was inspired by my reading of Unshakeable by Angela Waston.  Totally took another teacher's idea who shared about a similar idea online and tweaked it - don't we all do this!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Unshakeable Reflections - Part 2

Chapter 7 is all about being a force for good at your school.  Oftentimes, you can not change decisions that are made, what you have to teach, your staff, or your students, but you do have the power in how you proactively respond.

Here are a few pointers from the book:
1.  Don't engage negative co-workers in any way whenever possible - no matter what you say, the Debbie Downers are only going to see problems and want to drag everyone down.

*Don't let them waste your precious time, gripping to you or telling you why a new policy isn't going to work or add to your burden.  Odds are you may agree with their perspective, but if you are powerless to change the decision then why talk about why it's bad. You already know that you are going to figure out how you can make the decision work.

2.  Share what's working and support one another's teaching
*My takeaway was to go visit other classrooms (not just when you "have to" for peer reviews).  Chances are that you will see something that sparks your imagination or maybe you can just simply point out to them what they are doing right.  As Angela points out, it's rare for teachers to get genuine positive feedback.  Be that force for good in your fellow teacher's life.

3.  Stealthy JOY - One person on the Facebook book club page shared about secretly passing around an item around campus, I think it was a dinosaur toy.  It would just secretly appear in a classroom and the fun was in how long it took the teacher to notice it and then her job was to place it in the next person's room.  I am so ALL OVER this idea! I just bought a stuffed bull dog animal, a bull dog is our school mascot.  

Seriously, I can not wait until school begins to implement the gazillion of ideas I've read about in Unshakeable by Angela Watson, as well as the amazing ideas that teachers have shared on the Facebook page!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Back 2 School Boot Camp - 2015

This ACADEMIC summer camp is designed to help incoming 4th, 5th, and 6th graders dust off their brain cells while having phenomenal fun!

Small class size = lots of individual attention.

Back 2 School Boot Camp will give your student an academic boost in the areas of reading, writing,
and math, using lots of active engagement and tons of positive reinforcements.
DATES : August 17 – 21

Times:   9 am – 12 noon       Session 1
                12:30 – 3 pm           Session 2
                (extended day care is available)

Cost:       $125 + $25 nonrefundable
                registration fee for Session 1
                $175 + $25 nonrefundable
                registration fee for Session 1 & 2
                Extended daycare is available for
                a fee of $10 per hour

Location:  Contact Mrs. McCutcheon for location in Cypress

Students will need to bring their own lunch/snack AND one of the following: an iPad, computer tablet, laptop, or smart phone.

To register, email   

Session 1
Dynamite Math
*Cooking with Fractions
*Sweet Math (lessons involve candy)
*Measurement Madness
*Fast Facts Review

Wow Writing
*Inspiration Destination Writing Excursions - daily writing walks that will inspire students to write
*Tackling those Tricky Topic Sentences
*Perfect Paragraphs

Session 2
Rockin' Reading
*Reading for a purpose using online resources
*Citing Text Evidence
*Comprehension Review

Home Run Homework
*Setting up your study area
*Study Skills
*Test Prep
*Taking Notes

Imagination Destination Writing Excursions

Imagination Destinations Writing Excursions

Back 2 School Boot Camp believes in getting students outside in order to be inspired by the world we live in.

Each day campers will set out on a surprise destination and will use their senses to write exciting insightful narratives.  Destinations are within walking distance and writing will occur all along the way.  

At least one day will be devoted to nonfiction writing inspired by a nature walk.

Students will be able to take pictures to illustrate their stories during the writing process.  

"A Star and a Wish" feedback provided by me, as well as other campers, will take place various times during our writing excursions.

After we return to base camp, students will edit their story and then upload to a Back 2 School Boot Camp blog.  In this way, students will be able to share their writing inspiring other campers, family, and friends.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Becoming Unshakeable - Part 1

Are you stressed just thinking about the coming school year and all the work you know it's going to bring?  Check out Unshakeable by Angela Watson  I'm reading this book for the month of July and participating in a Facebook Book Club with over 2500 educators.

Here are some of my Aha moments and takeaways from this week's first 5 chapters, as well as some practices I'll begin implementing in the coming school year.

Chapter 2 - Allocate your time and energy wisely through productive routines.

I needed this chapter.  I am completely unbalanced when it comes to work because I'm passionate about teaching AND because all of my kiddos are adults (got a late start on becoming a classroom teacher) which means I actually have a lot of extra time to pour into my classroom.  However, this hasn't translated into using those extra hours time productively.  I am so easily distracted by a new idea or strategy or straightening up something that I often don't get done what needs to be done to help my classroom run more smoothly or take the stress out of all the paperwork that teachers are buried under daily.

New plan of action
1.  Set hours of AM/PM hours of work (outside of teaching/school hours) and stick to it!  When it's time to leave, leave.  So often, I justify staying late for an extra hour just to get something done, however, in the long run, I'm still leaving work stressed about all the work I didn't get done.  It's simply better to leave and be done for the day knowing that tomorrow is another day.  Also, this will allow me to gain balance with all other aspects of my life: family, friends, just relaxing, and some professional development - it's not going to happen if I'm always wrapped up in school work.

2.  When I'm at work, have a plan for my work hours (again, those that are outside of the school day of 8 am - 3 pm).  This means I'm going to plan to grade writing most mornings for an hour - this is one of my most procrastinated tasks because it takes so much time!  It's just not good for me to do this after school because I'm tired and already thinking about what needs to be completed and set up for the next day.  I find inputting grades to be mind-numbing, so I'll do that after school - then I can leave with a sense of accomplishment.  Those mid-day planning periods - I'm going to reserve for prep and grading - to be honest, I don't have many in the week, but I'm determined to make those 30 or 45 minute windows of time work for me.

3.  Someone shared about the 43 Folders System and after I googled it and watched a youtube, I thought it would be perfect organizational system for me, especially those pesky papers one must keep track of.  Basically, it's manila folders numbered 1 - 31 for the days of the month and 12 folders for each month.  You simply put each paper that needs to be addressed in the day/month folder that you need to deal with it.  For example, if I have a teacher observation on September 21, I would put the corresponding paperwork in that folder and come that day I know exactly where it is. Of course, I've already thought of a way to tweak it and I'm going to add my revolving subject lesson folders to the system. 

Chapter 3 - Establish healthy habits for bringing work home and decompressing.
To be honest, I decided that this first part is just not going to happen.  My goal is to leave work at work and I have done that for years.  The problem is that I was working 12 hour days most days - like I said, totally unbalanced work/life. I'm sticking to my rule, I'm just planning to work 9-10 hour days = balance for me. 

I have a pretty good exercise habit - I LOVE Jazzercising and do it at least 5 days a week, but there are more habits I would like to incorporate, such as blogging and it's only going to happen if I leave work earlier!

Chapter 3 - Determine how to do what really matters and forget the rest.
Now this is a hard one I think for most educators because so many things matter.  For me, this is translating into a complete educational philosophy revision, in particular regarding homework.  Homework has become stressful for all involved: students, parents, and teacher.  There are many reasons, some of which I agree with and some I don't, but the reality is that I need to make a substantial change in this area. In addition, this will free up my check in/grading time which will allow me to spend more time with my students.

My goal is to concentrate on life-long learning habits all students should be incorporating into their lives and throwing out the rest. 

I'm sure I'll be revisiting these goals, but I found that if you have a plan then there's a chance for change.  And change is needed!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Brown Bag Art Challenge - STEAM project

Engineering, math, teamwork, problem-solving, art, and PHENOMENAL FUN!  Each student received a SECRET challenge hidden in a paper bag, such as building the strongest bridge, tallest tower, longest line, or building a house with windows and doors that can open.  They could only use construction paper, markers, a ruler, scissors, and tape.  ALSO, there was a 45 minute time limit. As groups finished, each student completed a reflection sheet about the project.

My 5th grade students loved this end of the year project! 

This was a teaching idea I got from Angela Watson of - this teacher ROCKS!