Friday, May 30, 2014

Five for Friday {May 30th}

Five for Friday {May 30th} Doodle Bugs Teaching

I've decided to try something new - a linky party hosted by Doodle Bugs Teaching.   I'm hoping to join in every Friday, so why don't you click on over to the right there and start following me for some great fun!

 So here they are!  My first FIVE FOR FRIDAY!

Although I am not there with them physically (on maternity leave), I am with them in spirit.  My grade 6 students are currently on their 5th day of the EQAO Provincial test.  It's a province-wide Grade 3/6/9 test that lasts 6 full mornings.  It's not fun, but I know they are going to do GREAT!  

This week, my son turned 2 months old!  Time FLIES!  On one hand, it feels like I was just in that hospital bed, not being able to take my eyes off of his sweet face and looking on with pride while my husband changed his first diaper (of MANY!)  On the other hand, it feels like I've had him forever.  I couldn't imagine life without him.  I am so blessed to have such the perfect little family.  

Happy 2 month birthday C!

SUNSHINE has arrived!  We have had a brutal winter and I am proud to say that the heat has been turned off during the day time (ok, maybe we keep it on at night, it's still a little chilly!)

So don't mind me if I start kicking off my shoes, going barefoot and running through our field of dandelions! :)

This week, I've also made some progress on my Interactive Poetry Notebook that I'm making.  It's going to be an amazing product, full of interactive goodness - everything a teacher will need to teach their poetry unit! It's my first BIG product that I'm posting on TPT, one that's taking me quite a while to complete!  I'm pretty excited and hoping to be able to release it within the next 2-3 weeks or so!  So stay tuned!

I've kept my big news for last!  I hit my own little milestone with TPT this week, and I'm SO proud of myself!  I started selling on TPT about 3 months ago, and have now sold 100 products!  To me, that's quite a feat! 
My next goal is to sell 100 products by the end of July (2 months).  With summer, I'm sure it'll be a tough goal to reach, but I know I can do it :)

Have you ever thought of selling on TPT?  If so, use my referral link and get started today!  It's easy and FREE to join.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Students + Physical Activity - Do Schools Need to do More?

The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada report card came out and the results are, well, interesting to say the least.  It grades Canada, as well as 14 other countries, United States included in their physical activity levels.  And our overall grade?  D-.  Ouch.  (D- for my American friends as well)

Here are some interesting facts from the report card :

- 95% of parents report availability of local parks and outdoor space and 94% report availability of local programs and facilities that promote being active

- 75% of children aged 5-19 participate in organized sports or physical activity

- 84% of children aged 3-4 are physical enough to meet guidelines, but that number drop significantly to 7% of children age 5-11 and only 4% of children age 12-17

- Children age 5-11 spent a whopping 7.6 hours a day being sedentary (5.8 hours for children 3-4 years and 9.3 hours for children 12-17 years)

- Only 37% of parents actively play with their children and 82% agree that the education system should place more importance on physical education

So my question today is : Should the schools be doing more to promote physical education among students?

And if the answer is yes, then we must see what we are doing differently now than we were doing 10-20-30 years ago that made children stopped playing sports.  

On one hand, the studies show that when children start school, their sedentary levels go way, way up and their physical activity level drop dramatically.  But can we definitely say that starting school = lower physical activity level, I'm not so sure.  There might be a definite link, but you can't say that because children start school, they are not as active.   

Recess when we were younger were always a lot of fun.  I played outside, a lot.  We would organize skipping contests, basketball games, Red Rover, Tag (and the many thousand variations of the game), tether ball, soccer-baseball and so, so, so many other games I can't even think of them all right now.  Not only that, but we always played sports after school (soccer, basketball, volleyball, badminton, cross country, etc) and we loved our physical education class.

Nowadays, recess look a lot different than they did when I was younger.  So many games are not allowed anymore for various reasons. I remember being aghast when my students didn't know how to double-dutch (I definitely had to teach them!) and they often try to stay inside at recess instead of getting some fresh air.  

Unfortunately, recess also has a lot more rules.  Now, the large open field is only available to certain grades on a rotation basis, to allow everyone a chance to play in the field.  Every grade level has their own "section" of the yard to play in.  Even the monkey bars aren't available to all students in the younger grades anymore, they must wait their turn.  

The stats show that there are plenty of opportunity for children these days to play and be active, but they aren't taking advantage of these opportunities.  They aren't playing anymore.  And we need to get them playing again.

But I don't believe that we will achieve that by adding more "rules" about how many physical education classes students need to take, or by imposing even more physical activity time at school.  I think we will achieve that by letting them play.  

In fact, in the report, they mention 4 elementary schools in New Zealand (who scored a B overall) that banned all playground rules.  That meant children were allowed to go out and PLAY.  Can you guess what happened?  Children became more active and reports shows drops in bullying cases, injuries and vandalism. 

That's worth repeating : take away the rules surrounding physical activity and children will start playing, cooperate with one another and take care of their equipment.

To go back to my original question - Do schools need to do more? Actually, I think they need to do less! Remove some of the rules during recess, and we might just see an increase in physical activity. Let's boost our rating for next year, let's go above and beyond the pack, and let's PLAY!

Here are the results :

Get out there and PLAY :)

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Two Cents - Cutting Funds from the Education System

We are headed to a provincial election soon here in my province (Ontario, Canada) and the big headline this time around is major funding cuts to our education system.

I'm not one to usually talk much about politics.  My wants are fairly simple. I want a balanced budget, I want programs for people who need it and I want the ones in charge to think about long-term advantage instead of short-term gains.  

But if there is one thing that holds dear to my heart, it's our education system.  I want our government to value our education system and our teachers.  I want them to shout out from the roof tops about the richness we bring to our classrooms and to our students.  I want them to acknowledge that we work way longer than 9-3 and our vacations are often spent working on classroom needs.  

I want them to realize that we aren't in it for the money, or the summer's off.  We are in this wonderful career because we care about the well-being of every single child in our classroom.  We want them to thrive, to flourish, to get the best education they can, and we will work day and night to make sure every child in our classroom gets a chance.  We care about them becoming the best adults they can.

Tim Hudak and the Convervative party wants to cut funds to our education system.  He wants to cut too many jobs, freeze our wages and increase class sizes.  I applaud him for wanting to balance the budget, but I despise him for what he wants to do to our education system.  He simply doesn't understand.

A teacher's job is never ending.  It never, ever does.  Most of us will often be thinking about certain students and how to reach them, or be re-evaluating a lesson plan that we did that day, or grading papers late into the night because you know that giving feedback within the proper time frame is what's best for them.  I can't tell you how often I've been out and about and an idea will pop into my head, some great idea for my classroom, and I will either have to write it down or talk it out with my husband.  I am always on the look out, always thinking about ways to improve my students' experiences in my classroom.

Spending money in our education system will always pay off.  Always.  Improving our education system means improving every single system in the next 15-20 years, because those students that are in school now, will eventually become engineers, accountants, doctors, lawyers, politicians, nurses, business owners, hair stylists, etc.  Every single person in the workforce in our country has one thing in common : they all went to school.  They were all influenced one way or another by the quality of teachers.

So instead of undervaluing teachers and negating what they do, let's enrich teachers.  Let's value the work they do, let's show them we are grateful.  Let's say thank you.

To all the teachers out there who do a wonderful job : Thank you.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Homework Incentives

Homework and incentives – do they work?

How often do you actually get students to complete their homework because they realize the value of doing their homework?  Probably not very often!  Out of my 7 years of teaching, I can count on one hand how many students actually realized the importance of learning the skills being taught and wanting to complete their homework because they wanted to learn.  Now that’s not including the students who would simply do their homework because they wanted to please, or because their parents made them, or because they just did it.  A lot of students do that, or at least a fair amount.  But overall, I’d say homework is probably one of the areas that I struggled with.

For one, I don’t believe in giving homework just to give homework.  Most of the time, the homework I give my students is work that they had in class that they weren’t able to complete.  But I do have two homework staples: reading + math flash cards.  I teach grades 5/6, so my math flash cards this year are multiplications.  They NEED to memorize their multiplication table before they head off to grade 7! And reading, well, the benefits of reading needs no explanation.

Anyway, I have searched long and hard for great homework incentives.  I’ve done the whole “having to stay in at recess” thing, but frankly, that’s just punishing me (since that’s the only time I get to pee during the day!)  A pinterest search came back with some very interesting ideas that I’m going to share with you.

Bingo Board

First off is the idea of a Bingo board.  This idea comes from The Teaching Thief.  This Bingo Board  is super easy to set up and rewards students for great behaviour (aka completing their homework!)  You can use it for any behaviour issue you have in your classroom, but this post is about homework, so I’ll stick to that!  You can use it in a various ways, but the way I’d use it would be the following:

1 – Set a goal, such as 21 out of 25 students complete their homework on a daily basis, or 80% of students complete their homework on a daily basis.

2 – Every day, when you check their homework, if the target is met then you can pick a Bingo Number.  Mark that number off the Bingo board in any way you choose. 

3 – When you have a Bingo (a line, an X, a whole card – whichever you choose, although I’d go easier at first and then make it harder for them), then you can celebrate! 

Celebration can be done by giving an extra recess (5-10 minutes is often enough), or have a board game period on Friday afternoon, or extra computer time.  Anything, really!


Second idea is one that I’ve seen floating around a lot.  It requires a bit more set up, but unlike the first idea, which allows the whole class to reap the rewards, this one is more individual. Although you have so many options with it, you can most certainly set it up as a whole-class reward as well!  It’s Homeworkopoly!

A quick pinterest search will show you MANY different ideas on how to set up your Homeworkopoly board.  It’s a great way to reward students individually for having their homework completed.  You can do it daily, but most decide to do it weekly.  If your students completed their homework for the week, they can roll the dice and move on the homeworkopoly board.  It’s exactly like Monopoly, except for the whole house buying thing!  You can have some squares set with prizes or rewards (pick who you want to sit next to, use a pen all day, wear a hat in class, extra computer time).  You can have some squares have larger prizes but they must correctly answer a review question (yay!).  Parking space now becomes Free Homework Pass space.  Jail becomes anything you want (library, computer lab, etc).

Check out this great homework board made by Keeping Up with Class :
  Her blog about how she uses it in her classroom is available here.  What a great blog post! The safari theme is subtle, but oh so cute.

Lady Bugs Teacher Files made a GREAT blog post about how she uses it in her classroom and has even included free templates for you to use!  Don’t forget to thank her (and follow her) if you use her templates!

Monarch Madness also has a great Homeworkopoly board that uses Ziploc bags to hold the Chance and Community Chest cards.  You can check her blog post about it here
Monarch Madness

I really like the idea of the Homeworkopoly board.  It’s an individual game, so students become motivated to move around the board themselves and have a chance of winning a reward.  At the same time, it teaches them that they aren’t always winners and homework isn’t done only for prizes, as you can set it up so that there are minimal prizes to be won.  It’s the fun of the game! 
You can also set it up to be a classroom reward by saying that when all students cross GO, then the class can pick a reward.  It might work with your class, might not, depending on your students (you don’t want that ONE student who never does their homework to feel the weight of the reward on his/her shoulders).

Homework Chart 

The next option is one that I think is genius! It’s by Teacher mama and it’s called Easy Homework Chart
Teacher Mama
Super easy to set up, super easy to use and I’m sure students will love it!  The idea is simple – complete your homework on a weekly basis and you can initial a square.  When the chart is full, the teacher takes two sets of cards (one with the letters H-O-M-E-W-O-R-K and one with the numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8) and draws one card from each set.  The winner is the student who drew their initials on the appropriate square.  So in her example, if the teacher drew M and 5, the winner would be the student with the initials “ce”. 

This system rewards students who always do their homework by giving them a higher chance of winning, but doesn’t mean they ALWAYS win.  The underdog also gets a chance, which is great! 

All three of these ideas are just a few of the many ideas that are out there.  The important thing is to keep it consistent.  If you check homework daily – make sure you check it daily!  Set aside time to play Homeworkopoly or to pick the prizes.  It’s important and if you start forgetting, students will stop caring about whatever system you have in place.  

Happy Tuesday!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Definition of Success

I spent some time today catching up on some blog post reading.  Anyone with a newborn will know how great it is to be able to spend some time reading, sipping a cup of tea and enjoying the peace and quiet surrounding you!  Scratch that - anyone with KIDS will be able to relate!

Funny thing is, most of the articles and blogs that I read today seem to focus on success.  It was a recurring theme, so much so I decided I had to add my two cents.  Especially now with a new little one, wanting him to succeed means so much to me, but how am I going to make sure that this actually happens?  Is what I do today with him going to actually make a difference?  How can I ensure that my kid has the best chances at a successful life?

First, I guess, we have to define success.  To me, success isn't being the best or being the smartest.  It's not about having lots of money or a nice car.  Success is about finding your passion.  Being happy.  Having dreams and pursuing them.  Reaching your goals, but being able to adapt and be flexible.

How can I teach my son success? 

1 - Allow him to make mistakes and learn from them

Ok, so right now he's 5 and a half weeks.  He doesn't make mistakes.  But when he does (and I'm sure he'll make lots of them if he follows in my footsteps!), I'm going to let him figure out what to do next.  I'm not going to step in and solve his problems for him, as much as I know I'm going to want to.  

Why is this so important?  I see it all the time with my students.  They know they don't have to try because they know that someone, somewhere, is going to swoop in and save them.  

I don't need to study, they're going to pass me anyway.

I don't need to actually practice to make the soccer team, everyone wins anyway.

Yup, they don't even try.  Not allowing them to make mistakes, to fail at something without interfering has been the biggest (in my opinion) flaw in our education and parenting communities.  

So, my son, YOU are going to make mistakes, and you are going to make a lot of them.  You are going to not work very hard on a project, and you are going to get a bad grade and you know what?  You are going to learn that to be successful, you need to learn from your mistakes, and keep on going.

2 - Love him and support him no matter what

My love for my son is unconditional.  So is my love for my students (granted, there are some days I'd like a break from certain ones here and there, but that doesn't mean I don't love them!)  

Unconditional.  That means no matter what they do, they say or they are.  In fact, I'm a strong believe that EVERY child is perfect just the way they are.  Truly, they are.  Of course, everyone has things they need to learn (hence point #1), but that doesn't make one child better than another.

For a child to be successful, he or she must know that they have a great support system behind them.  To know that it IS ok to make mistakes, that they will still be loved and no one is going to judge them for failing.

It is important to me that my students know that I have their back whenever they need me.  That it's ok to make a mistake, as long as you keep on trying.  That we all take a different amount of time learning a concept, but that doesn't mean we can't learn it.  That effort means more than the grade received.

3 - Spend time with him

I guess this one goes hand in hand with #2, but it's worth repeating.  Spending time with a child, really connecting with them, will have such a lasting impression.
This quote from Carl W. Buechner says it all.  It really does.  Spend time with your kids, with your students, it'll pay itself back hundredfold.  

Success isn't an easy road, it takes a lot of perseverance, failures and motivation.  It means doing what you need to do because it's going to allow you to reach your goals.  It means making mistakes and learning from them. It means getting back on the horse after you've fallen for the hundredth time.  

  Success is being passionate about something.  It's about following your dreams. It's about being happy with who you are.  

That, my son (and my students) is what I wish for you.  

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Monday, May 5, 2014

TPT Sitewide Sale!

Have you heard?  TPT is having a sitewide sale on May 6th and 7th.  To celebrate this sale, I have decided to discount my products an extra 20% off, which will give YOU up to 28% off ALL my products!

How great is that! All you have to do is enter promo code TPTXO and you'll receive 28% off!  Easy peasy!

So head on over to to my TPT store, start working on your wishlist tonight and tomorrow morning, start saving!  

Have fun shopping!

Friday, May 2, 2014

For the Love of Reading : Learning to Love to Read

     As a child, I read.  A lot.  You never had to ask me to read when I was done my work at school, and I can often be found with my nose in a book.  I read mainly fiction, novels were my pleasure.  So when I became a teacher, I was astounded at the number of students who didn’t enjoy reading.  Making them read independently was torture; they hated it and often would simply stare into space (or into the book) and think they fooled me. And I knew I had to change that.

     If students don’t enjoy reading, it’s usually for one of two reasons:

1 – They have difficulty reading

                Of course they don’t like reading if they have difficulty reading.  Can you imagine trying to lose yourself in an adventure, while trying to decipher every letter first?  If reading a 20-page book takes too long, the students doesn’t engage in the book and meanwhile learns to hate reading.

                This needs to be corrected early on for an easier transition and a higher success rate.  Not that it’s impossible later on in life, but if corrected and fixed at an early age, the easier it is on the child, and the quicker they are on the path of success.  This is where proper documentation and strategies come in. 

                As a teacher, it is important to read with every student as often as possible (every week would be ideal).  This way, you can document and learn exactly what issues the child has and fix it.  There are many great resources out there that can help.  The ones I used were Daily 5 and CAFE.  They were great to help me pinpoint exactly what strategy the student needed and give him/her proper feedback and learning objectives while reading.  Allowing your students to reflect on their reading goals and getting them involved will also help immensely.

                Also, when you correct their difficulty early on, they don’t have time to develop a negative attitude towards reading, stemming from lower self-esteem.  The older they are, the more they don’t want to try because they don’t want to fail in front of their peers.  Forget trying to get these students to read aloud!

2 – They haven’t found what they like to read

                As a young kid, I devoured novels.  And luckily for me, that’s exactly the type of books we read in class.  As a teacher, I’ve learned to not set a specific guideline as to the type of book my students can read.  As long as you’re reading, anything goes! 

                I once had a student in grade 8 who didn’t enjoy reading.  I then introduced him to a World War II novel, more adventure than memoir, and he loved it!  He then continued finding more novels based around war adventures and found his love for reading.

                Another student of mine (gr 7) hated novels.  He found them all so boring.  His passion?  Comic books.  Loved them to pieces!  Once he found comic books, he read and read and read and read.  Often the same comic book over and over again until he could get his hand on another one!

                One last student (gr 11 this time) also hated reading.  She was a slow reader, but also never found novels she enjoyed.  Then someone bought her a John Green novel (The Fault in Our Stars).  Although it took her a bit to read it, she loved it and went on to buy all other John Green novels.  She also shared her passion (and the books) with me so we could have great discussions about them. 

Moral of the story? 

Never limit what your students can read.  Let them find their passion!  It is so important for them to develop a positive attitude towards reading instead of it always being boring, hard and negative.  Learning to love to read will provide them many benefits through life, more than can ever be listed in one simple blog post. 

Time to go read a book!