The Art of Making Resolutions

Guess what time it is?!

Yes! It is that wonderful time of year when we reluctantly shove holiday decor back into storage containers while gathering a few extra end-of-the-year Goodwill donations, all while halfheartedly cheering for several college football teams in obnoxiously-named over-advertised bowl games.

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Watching the ball drop in Times Square on NYE is a metaphorical event tied to new beginnings.

More importantly, it is a time to make resolutions for the New Year!

Making resolutions is an interesting pastime. Year after year, nearly half of all Americans make resolutions on December 31st as a way to help themselves feel like they are going to be a better person in the New Year. Whether we resolve to lose weight or spend more time with family, we are pressured into declaring our statement of intent as to how we are going to act for the next 365 – err, in the case of 2016, 366 – days. (But, who are we kidding? We know that our resolutions will naturally dissipate around Day 16…Day 20 if you are lucky.)

The new fad last year was to sum up all of the resolutions that you were

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This was me 365 days ago.

going to make into one word. Yep, so many people I follow on Twitter were coming up with a single word that would define their actions – or, at least, intentions – for one year. The word I chose last year was “better.”  By George, I was going to be better at everything I attempted! I was going to be a better teacher, wife, daughter, friend, co-worker, blogger, runner, reader, member of society…you name it! I’ll admit that this goal was pretty abstract, and I can see why to some it may seem like I was afraid to make a resolution that was measurable or tangible. Looking back, however, I can honestly say that I truly focused on this word this year and I worked hard – both personally and professionally – for the past 364.5 days to be better. (Side Note: I have never followed a New Year’s Resolution through for a whole year. Must be getting better at that, too.)

My word for 2015 was better; so what is my word for 2016 going to be?

Drumroll please…

 

There is not a single word out there that I can choose to replace my word for 2015. Just because 2015 is over, doesn’t mean I can stop trying to be a better person. I mean, we never can’t strive to be better. I feel that by choosing another word, my focus on being better will be over. And so I’ve decided that when the clock strikes midnight, I am still going to strive to be better.

Not too long ago, I realized that last New Year’s resolution turned out to be a lifelong resolution. And then it dawned on me: isn’t that what the art of making resolutions is all about? Creating a resolution isn’t about changing our self for a few weeks, months, or years, but changing our life. Resolutions begin a new chapter, so to speak, and therefore, change our whole story. If we do it right, we should be making resolutions that will have a life-long impact on us every January 1st, not just setting up unattainable goals or coming up with words that will be forgotten by the following December 31st. Bottom Line: Resolutions should change us, or we need to change how we make resolutions.

Remember: it takes anywhere from 21 to 254 days to form a habit. So whatever your resolution is for this year, stick with it and it can become a lifelong resolution!

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Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

It has been a few years since I’ve written to you. And I know my letter is arriving to you late on this Christmas Eve, but there are a few Christmas wishes on my list this year that I know only you can make possible.

My first Christmas wish this year is for students. I have been given the extraordinary gift of teaching at a STEM school this year, Santa. At this school, I teach lessons that inspire students to imagine, tinker, and create. I have the amazing opportunity to give students choices in how they learn. The result? I am able to watch the students deepen their passion for learning and exploring new topics every day. And so my first Christmas wish is for all students to have similar experiences…everywhere and everyday.

My second Christmas wish is for parents. I can’t even describe in words the difficulty of a parent’s job. To make sure that your children’s basic needs are met 24/7/365 is quite a tall order, not to mention meeting the many desires and dreams that children have, too. But my Christmas wish is for all parents InspirationalQuotes.Club-preparation-life-education-John-Deweyof all nations, ages, races, and neighborhoods  to recognize and act on the fact that their children’s education – and their involvement in their children’s education – is the single greatest influential factor on their children’s success later on in life. If we really want to close the achievement gap anytime soon, Santa, it is quite possible that we may just need your help to accomplish that goal.

My last Christmas wish is for teachers. There are not enough hours in the day to do our job to the best of our abilities. In order to be the great teachers that we desire to be, we need more quality time to: plan/create/facilitate lessons, assess students and give timely (yet constructive) feedback, teach students one-on-one as well as in small groups, and communicate with parents and other education staff on behalf of our students and their best interests. That doesn’t even include meeting our additional needs for professional growth! That being said, I guess my last wish is to add some time to the end of the day to help accomplish all of our daily goals to be the educators that our students deserve. (And maybe a few extra minutes to jump in on some awesome Twitter chats that I have been missing lately!)

While you may not be able to help me with these wishes by Christmas Day, I would greatly appreciate your help in 2016. Some may think that a few of these wishes are impossible. But I trust that you, of all people, know that believing in the impossible can lead to magic within our hearts. And with a little holiday magic, I believe anything is possible.

Merry Christmas.

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Disconnected and It Feels So Good

I went on vacation with my husband last week and truly disconnected myself from my profession for a few days. I didn’t go completely AWOL from Social Media because we continued to post pictures from our journey on Facebook and Instagram for family and friends. However, I did make the conscientious decision to stray from Twitter and Voxer, and even my e-mail account, my highest concentrated means of communication with the education community.

I was really nervous at first. What if I missed an inspiring chat with my PLN or a link to an excellent blog post that would help me navigate the upcoming school year? I was afraid of missing the littlest piece of teaching advice to gargantuan news about educational legislation and everything in between.

But I did it. I disconnected. And it felt really good. The education community did not have it’s hooks in me for a few days and I felt…relief. Happiness. I felt like I was free.

Is it okay to feel this way? I thought a few days into our trip. Shouldn’t I feel like I’m missing something? Shouldn’t I feel remorse that I’m not more interested in what’s happening? Is it bad that I’m not constantly checking my Twitter feed? 

No, I thought. I’m focusing on my family right now. I eat, sleep, and breath education most of the school year, and way more than the average educator. It is more than acceptable to take a break. 

My husband and I enjoyed a day at Estes Park, CO and the Rocky Mountain National Park on our vacation.
My husband and I enjoyed a day at Estes Park, CO and the Rocky Mountain National Park on our vacation.

I thoroughly enjoyed my vacation with my husband. But now I’m back home. Twitter, Voxer and my email are awaiting my inevitable return. A part of me can’t wait to jump back into my old habits and incessantly toggle back-and-forth between all of the social media apps on my phone  But another part of me is stopping me from jumping back in so quick. How did I let social media become such an addictive and controlling part of my life? And what can I do to keep it from grabbing a hold of me again? All of a sudden, a childhood memory came crawling back…

When I was eight years old, my parents bought me a Super Nintendo system. I received the game as a birthday present in late June. Since it was in the middle of the summer, my parents were understandably worried that I may waste my summer away with Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach. Therefore, they gave me the gaming system under one condition: I could only play Nintendo games for one hour – sixty minutes – per day. I could choose to play in chunks of time or for a straight hour but once that hour was used, I was done for the day.

Well, I think it is time to re-institute Mom & Dad’s Nintendo rules and apply them to social media. I’m going to try the one-hour limit per day. I am going to start my timer on my phone before each time I run the Twitter or Voxer app. When I hit the 60:00 mark, I will choose to be done for the day. How fast will 60 minutes feel? How will I optimize my time? Will I choose to spend my time on Twitter engaging in chats or following links? Will I listen to full two and three-minute voxes or skim through the conversations? Honestly, I can’t wait to find out!

A Mid-Summer Teacher’s Dream

With hours of rest, relaxation, and reflection during the long summer days, comes an abundance of time to brainstorm new ideas for the classroom. I have spent numerous days lurking on Twitter, reading professional books, attending (un)conferences, reading blogs left-and-right, and planning – no, dreaming – how I want to facilitate learning in my new classroom in a little over one month!

I have so many ideas but very few plans, which is a terrible state to live in for a planner like myself. (You can read a previous blog post about my obsessive planning here.) But the plans will come, so I just need to be patient. I have an opportunity to meet with my new team in two weeks, which is when many of my ideas will be able to solidify into something more tangible. Until then, I continue the flow of ideas:

Creating a Vision and Mission statement (done) that truly illustrate my vision for the classroom and my purpose for being there in addition to making posters to hang in my classroom.

Gamifying my classroom. While I’m sold on this idea, I still haven’t pulled the trigger on 3DGameLab or ClassCraft. What am I waiting for? I like both sites, I really do. However, I can’t commit until I find out if any of my teammates use either site. I desire consistency and cohesiveness for the sake of my students, so I’m willing to forgo my first choice if it means I’m matching what my teammates are doing.

LMS. Which system should I use? I have experience with Edmodo and Google Classroom. Our school district just purchased Canvas but my teammates have experience using Google Classroom. Again, since I want consistency above all else, I’m waiting on this one.

Introducing my students to my classroom Instagram/Periscope/Voxer accounts. The three things I’m dying to accomplish this year: 1) Watch my students grow, 2) Teach, and 3) Share all of the amazing things my students do this year! I can’t wait to integrate acceptable formats of Social Media in this classroom. I plan on Instagraming and Periscoping (with families) during the day and using Voxer for homework.

Casto’s Classes for Charity. My fifth grade teacher, Dave Edwards, involved his students in raising money for a wonderful organization, C.A.T.C.H. Since then, I have dreamed of doing the same thing with my students. We will be raising money this year for a charity. I can’t wait to help the community!

Remind. I had a horrible experience with a lack of parental involvement last year. Since I believe wholeheartedly that a student excels with the partnership of school and home, I have decided that I will not tolerate that again. I am going to make sure my students’ families are informed regularly of their areas of strength and growth, and I plan on using Remind to make that communication happen.

Skype in the Classroom. We are going to – somehow and someway – Skype with other classes, other countries, scientists, bankers, CEOs, zoologists, and world leaders!

Giving my students the opportunity to become TedEd enthusiasts and experts in their own fields. Have you been to the most recently-updated TedEd site? Wow! I love the TED Ed Series and how they are grouped together. This is excellent for student research and learning. [I would also love to start a Ted Ed Club…we’ll see if I have time for that, too, this year!]

Formatively assess – early and often. I plan on using Formative and Kahoot for my whole-class lessons and white boards and sticky notes for my smaller, individualized groups.

Adopt a class pet! (Can we even have pets? I don’t even know.)

Discuss the growth mindset. We are all learners. When I began teaching eight years ago, I called myself a “teacher.” Now, I refer to myself as the “lead learner.” That is due to the Growth Mindset.

Green Screen! I haven’t fully pictured how we will use the green screen, but I love the idea of having one for my students to use for projects and presentations.

Whole Brain Teaching. I went to a session on whole-brain teaching last winter and it really resonated with me. While I’m not sure I buy into all of the techniques, I think many of them are ideal for healthy levels of engagement from students. Plus, I think the “Teach-OK” and “Mirror” strategies are excellent for content retention.

Two leftover monitors + Raspberry Pi = serious application of technology! My husband and I found two unused monitors in our storage over the summer. It’s almost like Raspberry Pi knew I was just looking for an excuse to purchase two of their products to put into my classroom for students to explore! I haven’t bought the Raspberry Pi computers – yet – but I can assure you that they are on my Wish List!

Lots of ideas as you can see. And since I blogged about these ideas, I will use my blog to reflect on which ideas worked and which didn’t, and ultimately hold myself accountable. I have so many personal/professional goals, but one of them is to remain innovation-minded and progressive in my field.

So, what do you think? What are some of your goals for the classroom? I would love to know what your plans for the 2015-2016 school year are and if you are struggling in the “limbo” phase (between idealizing and doing) as I am currently. Please share out! And most importantly, enjoy the rest of your summer!

My Vision and Mission Statements

The first time I wrote a professional mission statement was in one of my undergrad education classes. One of our final assignments was to design a “teaching philosophy” that could be streamlined into a vision/mission statement. I remember working really hard on this assignment. But when it came time to get a job, I was more focused on which textbooks I’d be using, the bell schedule, IEPs, and behavior management. My philosophy, although important to me at one time, was thrown out the window.

I am starting a new teaching position at a new school in the fall, and with a new position and a new school comes a clean slate to write on. Therefore, I am reconstructing my mission and vision statements that I made years ago. Both statements have changed since I started in this profession, just like the education profession has changed itself. I’m sure as I advance in my career my purpose and future goals will change again. However, after crafting these two statements, I must say I like where I’m at. I really like the teacher I’ve grown to become and what my statements say to my students and colleagues.

Not only did I create two statements but I also made posters of them and I am going to post them in my classroom, on my blog, and on my class website. I have learned that vision/mission statements only work if you use them. Many schools have vision/mission statements. Unfortunately, not many teachers or students know what they are. In many scenarios, the statements are not posted around the school building or they are not referenced when making decisions for the school. What is the purpose of a mission statement if you don’t know what the mission is? I want my students and I to always KNOW why I am there for them. I don’t want anyone – including myself – to ask why I do what I do. I want everyone who steps foot inside of my classroom/virtual classroom to see me doing exactly what it says on my wall.

Without further ado, here is my vision “statement”:

Vision Poster

and my mission statement:

Mission Poster

…and one last statement:

Choose Kind Poster

My Favorite Podcasts: 2015 Edition

Like many of you reading this, I’m a fan of podcasts. It began several years ago when my husband and I were on a road-trip. He had downloaded a few of his favorite comedy podcasts for our trip and as soon as we listened to them, I was hooked. To this day, I love taking road-trips with my hubby and laughing along to Comedy Bang Bang (@comedybangbang), the Nerdist Podcast (@nerdistdotcom) and Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy Podcast.

It didn’t take me long to realize that there are podcasts out there for everyone (and I mean, everyone.) I have listened to a wide variety of different podcasts in the past two years. I have found some that I listen to religiously and others that I deleted after five minutes. [Now, I know what you may be thinking: Five minutes?! She didn’t even give them a chance! But there are too many awesome podcasts and episodes of podcasts out there to waste a mere five minutes on one that doesn’t float my podcast-boat.]

Fortunately for me, my commute for the past two years has roughly averaged 50 minutes a day for nearly 400 school days..According to my calculations, I have devoted 20,000 minutes of my life to traveling to-and-from school. While not every minute has been spent listening to podcasts, an over-whelming majority of them have been. During those 20,000 minutes, I have become slightly attached to several podcast shows that I would like to mention in this blog as some of my favorites. My hope is two-fold in that (A) you’ll be inspired to become an avid podcast listener if you aren’t one already, and (B) you’ll be encouraged to try out one of these podcasts for yourself. And, of course, I’d absolutely be tickled if you’d comment on my blog or contact me via Twitter (@thatmathlady) and share some of your favorite podcasts with yours truly!

By the way, I download all of my podcasts for free from iTunes, but you can find them online and on Android phones as well. Without further ado, here is my list of favorites for 2015:

Podcast #1: Stuff You Should Know

Of all varieties of podcasts out there, SYSK is my favorite! I listen to the hosts, Chuck and Josh, on my commute to work, while running around the neighborhood, and even while grocery shopping. What is this podcast about? Well, it basically well-equips the listener with thorough facts and unique trivia about various topics. Want to know how water slides work? What about cinnamon? You can find out about these topics as well as hundreds more – from stem cells to black holes – each week!

Ever since I have been listening to SYSK, I have been able to impress my husband (and students!) with dozens of random facts. His response whenever I drop a trivia fact out of the blue, “You’ve been listening to Stuff You Should Know again, haven’t you?” Yes. Yes, I have.

Podcast #2: Every Classroom Matters

Vicki Davis (a.k.a. The Cool Cat Teacher) and her podcast on the BAM! Radio Network was the very first K-12 podcast I found and boy, am I glad I did! Vicki Davis does a phenomenal job exploring a variety of hot topics in education today including policy issues, tech-integration, creativity, and engaging students in every classroom. She has interviewed hundreds of expert teachers and leaders in the profession and I have learned so much from their personal insights. (Side Note: A professional goal of mine is to be one of those expert teachers that Vicki Davis interviews some day!)

Podcast #3: Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers

I found Angela Watson’s podcast after a member of my Twitter PLN raved about her book, Awakened. I began following Angela Watson (@Angela_Watson) on Twitter right away. Shortly after that, I learned about her podcast, “Truth for Teachers.” I downloaded all of her episodes at once and had caught up her entire first season within a few days. Why do I love this podcast? Ms. Watson tells it as it is. There is no sugar-coating to the troubles of this profession; however, there are classy and professional ways to handle the curveballs that are thrown at teachers on a daily basis. Watson reveals some real struggles that teachers must face on a daily basis and gives supportive suggestions to help persevere through them. Finally, I don’t feel alone in this demanding profession anymore. And you won’t either!

Podcast #4: TeacherCast Broadcasting Network

In today’s connected world, there are so many ways that teachers can utilize technology to improve their practice. But how many of our educators know what these methods are and how to use them most effectively? My goal is to integrate tech into the classroom in the most efficient ways possible. Sometimes, however, I’m still scared that I’m not doing that. Listening to Jeff Bradbury and his many techy guests on this podcast have given me a plethora of ideas and strategies to use technology with my students. While I’m still slightly intimidated by stepping up my tech game, I’m much less so thanks to this podcast!

PS – You can even watch or listen to this podcast LIVE!

Podcast #5: Serial

This 12-episode mini-series was the Game of Thrones of podcasts in the fall of 2014. Listeners could not wait to download the latest episode each Thursday and hear the new evidence that the host, Sarah Koenig, had dug up and the dots she had connected in regards to the 1999 murder this podcast was investigating. If you haven’t checked this podcast out, you still have time before Season Two of Serial is released later this year.

BONUS Podcast: BeardED

This podcast is a new addition to my list, but I felt it needed to be included in this blog post, anyway. I knew I would be a big fan of this newish podcast when – within 5 minutes of the first episode – the host, John Mason, uttered the words, “All teachers should geek out on coffee.” Truer words have never been spoken.

I haven’t met John face to face (yet) but we’ve shared many cups of coffee while chatting with our #BFC530 PLN on Twitter, Monday through Friday at 5:30 AM. I am the biggest fan of each of my #BFC530 PLN members, and I just knew John Mason’s podcast about being a connected educator would speak volumes to me. (I was right!)  Three episodes in and I have a feeling that Mr. Mason has a hit on his hands!

One Final Thought

For those of you looking to increase your podcast experience in life and need some guidance, may I suggest the #PodcastPD Twitter chats on Sunday evenings at 8:30 PM EST!

My NCCTM Experience

IMG_1828I had the fortune of attending the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics 2014 Regional Conference in Greensboro, North Carolina on Thursday and Friday. On top of that, I had the greater fortune of presenting – for the first time EVER!! – TWO SESSIONS on a topic that I am very passionate about. I have been looking forward to this conference for weeks and boy, it did not disappoint!

I attended this conference in 2012, and what I had forgotten – which I quickly remembered after a session or two on Thursday – was how much I LEARNED at this conference. I can’t put into words the value of the resources and amazing educators at this conference. I took away so much from the workshops and sessions I attended. Instead of me rambling on about how amazing this experience was, let me get started on the highlights of my two days at the NCCTM Conference:

 

Sheila Brookshire and I pose with the TI Inspire.
Sheila Brookshire and I pose with the TI Inspire.

1. Learning about the TIinspire. The first workshop I attended on Thursday morning was given by Sheila Brookshire, a veteran teacher in Buncombe County Schools (NC). She taught us some cool tricks with the TIInspire – a device I had never used – and gave us some other fun hands-on resources to teach stats to grades 6, 7, and 8. The 90 minute workshop FLEW by and before I knew it, I was off to my next session!

 

 

 

 

 

2. It Ain’t the Kidz. I didn’t go to any keynote speaking events in 2012 and I really regretted that. So I made sure I hit up two of them at this conference. The first one was delivered by Lee Stiff, a professor of mathematics at NC State. He was

Lee Stiff and I after his "It Ain't the Kidz" Keynote speech!
Lee Stiff and I after his “It Ain’t the Kidz” Keynote speech!

discussing his research on urban education and the achievement gap. He discovered that the achievement gap isn’t at the fault of the teachers OR the students, but the system. If we don’t start reaching kids at their own pedagogical level,and provide for them a solid foundation of identity, security, and validity, we will never reach high achievement in our urban schools. This hit close to home for me since I currently teach in an urban math classroom. Dr. Stiff is very passionate about reaching students with more active and engaging classrooms…and listening to his keynote address gave me the reassurance to know that I can make that happen. I can meet my students where they are and help them succeed.

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I was so happy to have a chance to meet Juli Dixon and her inspirational daughter, Alex!

 

 

3. The CCSS Mathematical practices should always be considered by teachers and students. The other keynote speech I attended was given by Juli Dixon. Her keynote was focused on the five essential instructional shifts that she has identified that change the way teachers view and teach the eight mathematical practices. I can’t claim to always think about the mathematical practices when I’m teaching (probably because it is like second nature to me) but it got me thinking. The mathematical practices are just as important as the content we teach.  Yes, students need to know how to multiply; but they also need the meta-cognitive skills to know how they are multiplying. Teachers need to start focusing on the specific practices we are teaching just as we are focusing on the content.

 

 

4. Interactive notebooks are taking over the world! I went to THREE different sessions that highlighted the use and importance of INBs. I saw some GREAT ideas…some I’ve implemented already in my students’ INBs this year, and ideas that I will remember for next year. I love interactive notebooks. I’ll have to blog about those later this year…because they are FABulous!

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A found a fellow GTN member…from Michigan!!

 

5. Common Theme: Grades are still motivators and successful students take ownership for their learning. I know a rapidly increasing number of educators who are jumping off the “grades” bandwagon. However, I found it odd that so many presenters were still mentioning that the top motivator in their classrooms are grades. I’d see a unique implementation of an activity or lesson and ask, “How do you get your students on board with that?”  The reply? “Well, they get graded on it, so it isn’t optional.” Well, it is optional if your kids lack interest in their grades, as several of mine do. Grades still rule the classrooms (in classrooms where good grades are important.) And the students with the best grades are the ones hat take ownership for their learning. (No surprise there.)

I saw so many unique and AMAZING uses of technology at this conference! Blendspace and Presentain (the presentation website I used in my session) were two of my faves!
I saw so many unique and AMAZING uses of technology at this conference! Blendspace and Presentain (the presentation website I used in my session) were two of my faves!