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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Let your "blue" light shine

Hello everyone.

Long time, no see.

 Today is autism awareness day and in honor of today and autism awareness month I want to share a little story with you.

Last year I had a class of 23 Kindergarten students.  Three of those students had a diagnosis of autism.  I wasn't sure until right before school began whether or not they would be placed in my class.  Secretly I was hoping they would be.  I knew this would be a great opportunity to teach my students lessons about friendship, working with others, respect and acceptance, and also, MY chance to pay it forward.

Growing up I had a very special friend.  His name was Cullen.  He was my friend before I knew what the word friend meant.  We were in weddings together, went to Sunday school together, and were classmates in elementary school together.  Cullen was special.  He was loving, kind, and smart.  He loved life and everyone in it.

When we were in either 1st or 2nd grade his parents started noticing changes in gross motor skills.  He was eventually diagnosed with a condition that I can neither spell, pronounce, or correctly define.  All I know is that slowly he began to lose all of the physical pieces of himself.  A boy who once ran, played, and line danced for a second grade show and tell was now bound to wheel chair.  It was a hard concept for us as his friends to understand. As time went on he lost his outward functions but his insides never changed. I will never be more in awe of one person and their strength, love for life, for people, and for Jesus.

That year my 2nd grade teacher arranged our desks in horseshoe shape and every day we rotated our desks so that each of us had the chance to sit by him and another student in our class with special needs.  Our job for the day was to assist them, either but helping them use their scissors, get books from inside their desks, or just be their buddy for the day.  It was a responsibility, a lesson, and privilege.  One that each of us not only looked forward to but often times we found ourselves fighting over who would play with them at recess, sit with them at lunch, or be their partner for a class activity.  We never had a discussion about these boys and their conditions, their special needs, their differences.  We were not lectured about all of the ways we were going to be forced to treat them because it was the right thing to do.  We were simply given the chance to demonstrate our powers of love and friendship.

And it worked.

BEAUTIFULLY.

My 2nd grade teacher was a genius.

Last year, when I was told I would be getting three students with autism my only hope was that I could create a classroom that would make half the impact on my students that my 2nd grade teacher and my friend Cullen made on me.  

Although my boys last year did not have the same unique situation as Cullen the conditions were still the same.  They look like everyone else.  Talk like everyone else.  Love life, school, people, and sports like everyone else. They are no different than anyone else only they see life in a different way.  A special way.  They all want love, acceptance, and a chance to share their amazing gifts with the world.

To me autism is not a sad diagnosis.  It's a brilliant one.  One that has the capability of giving more to the world than any of us could ever imagine.  There are times when life with autism is difficult, frustrating, and exhausting but the highs that counteract the lows, the days of pure J. O. Y. will always outweigh the hard times.

If you don't have much knowledge about autism I would encourage you to learn.  I would also encourage you to reach out, support, and love someone with autism or someone who is raising, teaching, or encouraging someone with autism.  Let the world of autism make an impact on you.  Let your blue light shine. You will never be the same and you will be so glad that you did.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

FRF Back to Life Back to Reality

Happy Saturday!

We are inching ever so closer to normal life here.  Maybe because we escaped another snow storm this week.  Maybe because we are getting used to a week of five full school days.  Maybe because we were able to have a couple of days of outdoor recess this week.  Maybe because my mom has finished her six rounds of nasty chemo and is one step closer to no more cancer treatments.  Or maybe it's all of the above.  Whatever the reason is we will take it!


Last weekend I played tutor for a friend of mine who recently started a master's program.  She has been out of school for a little over 10 years and is a little unfamiliar with online classes.  I spent the morning/afternoon helping her maneuver the website and understanding APA citation.  

We searched for research articles.  Looked at websites to help with in-text citation and I sipped on about 4 cups of vanilla and cinnamon infused coffee.  It was a major success.

I talked last week about the greater than, less than activities we were doing in class.  This week was round 2 of all about comparing numbers.  I said before that I love our comparing numbers unit because it allows my students to practice their number sense skills and get them ready for addition.  I really like to hit the number sense part of this lesson hard because if you haven't noticed already...I'm all the number sense.  With that said we use all kinds of manipulatives to create inequalities, solve them, and prove our answers.  

The favorite manipulative of all of my students?  

Goldfish.

Let me tell you what.  Throw some goldfish in front of them and they are comparing number machines.  We had to review the rules of comparing goldfish because of my little darlings thought I was just providing snack while they were working.  

Once they were all reminded that the goldfish were in fact for comparing first THEN for eating it was smooth sailing.  

Not to mention the fact that they cheer every time I announce that we will be using food in math.  

I pretend they're cheering because they love comparing numbers.

Teacher of the year right here.

We had a little end of the week "celebration" on Friday and did math station rotations with no seat work.

I repeat NO SEAT work.  

That's right.

All games.

Did I mention teacher of the year?

My students celebrated an hour of game playing.  I celebrated the fact that they knew they were practicing the comparing numbers skills while working at each station.  And they were loving it.

We had a number sense matching game that I worked with, a comparing numbers with alligators game on the computer, a number sense game that included building towers of connecting cubes and reading and writing numbers 0-20, and a bug catching comparing numbers game.  IT. WAS. GREAT.
Do you use Classdojo?  I learned about this a couple of years ago from a friend of mine.  If you don't know about it basically it is a classroom management tool.  You create an account, add your class, and you're ready to go.  You can print usernames and passwords for parents so they can log in to the website via computer or by downloading the free app and they can see when their child is awarded points for staying on task, working with others, participating, etc. 

There are a lot of pros and cons to using this tool but what I like about it is that they are creating more options and features to help create a more positive learning environment.


We watched an episode on the brain this week and my students were introduced to concept of exercising your brain.  It was very informative and age appropriate.  We are going to watch it a couple more times before moving on to the next chapter.

Here's a picture of the episode we watched.  If you'd like to check it out or tried it before they added the new features and want to give it a shot again send me your e-mail and I will refer you.  It's free.  Plus they slapped a mentor sticker on my profile a few months ago so I want to continue to do my mentor duty.  You can e-mail me at AVeryUnlikelyTeacher@yahoo.com.


I had dinner with my cousin Kaitlyn and our friend Jordan last night at the Lakehouse.  I realized that the last time I was there was with the same group of girls back in October.  My mom was newly diagnosed with breast cancer and they were donating proceeds that night help raise awareness and fund reconstructive surgery as a result of breast cancer.  I love being with these girls.  We laughed through every conversation, even the serious ones.  It was nice being at the Lakehouse under different circumstances as well.  During our first visit there I was on information overload from everything we were learning about cancer and my mom's case.  Six months later we are almost half way through her treatments and are now looking at the recovery process as opposed to the options for killing the cancer.  It's a relief and one I was glad to celebrate with these girls.  

So there you have it.  Back to life, back to reality.  I've never been so happy hear that phrase.  I have no words to describe this school year.  All I know is that right now I'm thankful for the norm.  I'm thankful for a week devoted to comparing numbers and spending quality time with my friends.  I'm thankful for the awareness I am gaining through all of my experiences this year.  I'm thankful that even the darkest times God's light always shines through.  Whether it's in the outdoor lights of the Lakehouse, the eyes of 23 five year olds, or the little tiny hairs on my mom's head.  It's always there.






Saturday, February 20, 2016

Five for Friday A Week Without Snow

Happy Saturday!

Happy warm Saturday!

Happy, warm, sunny, birds chirping, it feels like spring Saturday!!

If you haven't been able to tell, we've had no snow this week.  I don't hate snow.  It's kind of exciting at first.  It's the dragging on for days and days and cold temperatures and thinking about the number of days we will still be in school during the month of June because of all of the make up days that sort of just rains on my winter parade.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this warm, sunny weather is a growing trend.  I'm not the dark, cold, snowy type of person.

Here's what else happened this week.    



We started learning about greater than and less than this week in math.  We are still recovering the enormous amount of interruptions the past few weeks so we'll be working on it a little bit next week, too.  I love teaching greater than and less than because it's a great topic to introduce symbols, build number sense, and segue into addition and subtraction.  It's fun.  There are lots of options for instruction. In this pictures students were grouped in pairs and were comparing different amounts of counters.  This was the beginning of unit.

This school year should be named the year of interruptions.  As if snow and frequent trips to the cancer center with my mom weren't enough, I was also called for jury duty this week. 

That's right.

You heard correct.

Jury duty.

Seriously?! 

I thought it was a joke in the beginning but I can assure you it was not. So I spent my Tuesday downtown at the courthouse.  I was a nervous wreck.  I've never been inside a court room.  It's intimidating.  Don't worry though.  I'm not giving away any details that could get me fired or fined or whatever else.  I was not an actual juror and there were no cases going on.  It was basically just an information session to inform me that there is a possibility that I can and will be asked to do my civic duty.  

The best part about Tuesday, meeting my cousin for coffee.  It was strange and fun to be walking around town in the middle of the day.  I actually ran into a parent of one of my students at the coffee shop and I immediately blurted out "I'm not skipping school!" Amateur. 

This is something I'm pretty excited about.  I've been working on creating and transforming my focus wall since the beginning of the year.  This is the first year I've actually done a focus wall and I love that it creates a visual reminder of what we're learning each work for my students. 

I've been working on letter and sounds cards to post on the wall to remind my students what letter we are focusing on each week as well as give them some examples of words that begin with that sound.  We use these, obviously, on the focus wall every week but they could easy be used in any reading or writing center.  My kids love them.  If you want a set you can get them HERE.

We've been celebrating President's Day all week.  Mostly because our study of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln began on Monday and will continue into next week.  I really want to get my students writing and we tried it out this week with during our President's Day celebration.  We read a few stories about George Washington, learned a song, made a list of facts, put them all together to make a couple of sentences, and made a really cute George Washington to hold our sentence.  You can get the George Washington craft for free thanks to Ms. Freshwater's class HERE.

I saved this one for last just because I needed a little end of the week humor.  I often think that if you're not a teacher you can't even begin to realize the amount of miracle working, juggling, and functioning in crisis mode we do every week.  With that said here are few memes I found this week. 


I'm a little more partial to Madea but they both work for me.

That's a wrap for this week.  It's supposed to be 60 degrees today.  I don't even know what to do with myself.  What are your plans this weekend?

  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

FrF Lying Groundhog Edition

Happy, snowy Saturday.  I think snow has been a major part of my posts for the last 3 weeks.  You know it's time to seriously reevaluate your sanity when you trust a rodent's prediction on the length of winter but let. me. tell. you. when I saw those signs behind Phil that said "no shadow" I was leaping with joy!

 Pure joy.

I'm talking J-O-Y JOY!

 It's only because we spent the last two winters here in the polar vortex.  Anyone remember that?  Arctic blast after arctic blast after arctic blast.  It was cold! Really cold.  Even for us.  I was so hopeful for a mild winter and early spring.  Sadly we were hit with more snow this week and they were threatening another storm this coming Sunday night but now they're not sure if it will just be rain or snow or rain and snow or ice and snow or anything at all.

Oh the humanity!

On Saturday some of my mom's wonderful former students hosted a benefit dinner for her.  She has received so much love and support since her diagnosis with breast cancer and it has made such a difference in her journey.  Last week we celebrated the end of her final chemo infusion for this part of her treatment.  She and my dad were not able to make it to the dinner on Saturday so I went to see everyone and say thank you for everything they continue to do for her.


On Tuesday, you guessed it, it snowed.  AGAIN.  About 8 inches which seems like a few flurries compared the 2 feet a couple weeks ago but still.  The favorite phrase around here has become "I'm so over winter."  No one I know is a big fan of Phil right now.


As you can imagine the amount of time we spent in school this week was limited with all of the snow. Somehow we found time to finally celebrate our 100th day.  We did some math centers with 100 objects.  Cup stacking was the favorite.  It was really interesting to watch them.  They were so excited when I put the cups in front of them then they looked at me and said "how are we going to build with all of these cups?"

We exchanged Valentines yesterday.  Valentine's Day is actually on Sunday and all of the teachers at my school decided that we would much rather celebrate on the Friday rather than Monday.  It was a good decision.  Each of my little minis decorated their own Valentine bag.  We loaded their overflowing bags into their backpacks as the headed out the door for the weekend and as I was cleaning up I found that 4 students forgot to hand out their Valentines.  I guess we will be celebrating on Monday anyway.

One of the best things about teaching Kindergarten is that I get to be everyone's favorite teacher.  Mostly because I am their first teacher and I have no competition. However I'm pretty sure for most of them I will always be the favorite.  Every year our awesome PTO does a Valentine themed fundraiser and sells "heart grams."  I received heart grams from three of my students from previous years.  There is no better feeling as a teacher than to know your former students still love you.

So that's it for this week.  Lying groundhogs, snow, and lots of chocolate.  Here's hoping next week brings some warmer temperatures.  Is it possible to give up snow for lent?


Saturday, February 6, 2016

FfF "one step closer" edition

Dear Saturday.  I don't know if I've ever been this happy to see you!

This was our first full week of school since Jonas and it's been busy.


On Sunday we celebrated my cousin's 2nd birthday Minnie Mouse style.  She is one of those of those Mickey Mouse Clubhouse groupies so there was plenty of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Daisy, Pete, Goofy, and of course Clarabelle Cow.  Is it sad that I know so much about Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?  

Here is the birthday girl.  She is a 2 years old with the personality of a 17 year old.  Super smart.  She loves sit on my lap and play monkey math school on my phone.  Did I mention how smart she is?



We finished up teen numbers this week. We are working on recognizing these numbers as well as using them to introduce place value.  Place value is a tough concept, especially for Kindergarten.  We have been using a ten frame help us understand place value for numbers 11 to 19.


This week was parent teacher conference.  This is not one of my favorite activities just because it makes for an extremely long day.  I'm not sure how other school districts  run their conferences but we have ours after school.  School all day.  Conferences all evening.  It's long.  The good news it was pretty painless.  
This one was the highlight of my week.  Yesterday my mom had her sixth and final chemo infusion for this part of her treatment.  I had no idea how excited I was going to feel after this.  The last six months have been both unpredictable and challenging to say the very least.  It's an experience I can't really explain but has given me more gratitude and respect than I ever thought I needed.  I continue to be thankful for all of the doctors, nurses, and researchers that are working towards treating and curing cancer.  Through this process we've learned about many experimental treatment, clinical trials, and so many brave women that were willing to experiment on the very same medicines that are now being used to help breast cancer patients including my mom.  It's an incredibly humbling feeling that I just can't put into words. 

 Here's a picture of my mom and I at yesterday's treatment.  Doesn't she look great?!?!

I spent the afternoon with my mom yesterday.  Just the two of us and we did some celebrating for the end of this part of her journey.  We went to one my favorite local lunch spots and also stopped for some cupcakes.


My mom loves all things chocolate so she had to have a double chocolate cupcake.  Notice one came up missing before I was able to get a picture.

And that's a wrap!  Lots to celebrate this week as we are one step closer to no more cancer treatments, one step closer to spring, and of course one step closer the SUMMER!  I can hardly contain my excitement right now.  That was my week.  How was yours?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Five for Friday...the Great Dig Out

Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wake up...suddenly...without warning...and you're not sure what day, time, or century it is?  Then you start to panic because you think it's probably Saturday but what if it's not and how did you forget to set your alarm and you don't want to look at your phone because you're afraid that it in fact won't be Saturday it will really be Friday or even worse...Tuesday?!?!?!

Well...that was me this morning.  I literally jumped up in bed, looked around to see how much light was coming through my windows, and tried to make my semi-sleeping brain think as fast as it possibly could to figure out whether or not it was the weekend.  We had three snow days and two half days of school this week so in my defense I had a good reason for my panic attack this morning.    
Winter storm Jonas brought all kinds of crazy to the east coast over the weekend and left us all in a state of confusion.


Snow.  Snow.  and you guessed it.  More snow.  We were all gearing up for the big storm Friday morning.  School was canceled.  Some local businesses and universities we set to close early.  There was literally no bread left of any of the shelves in the grocery stores.  We were all prepared and by mid morning on Friday there wasn't even a drop of snow.  Not a flake, not a flurry, NOTHING.  Everyone was in disbelief and just winter storm Jonas was starting to become a running joke on social media...he STRUCK.  A steady stream of snow began late Friday afternoon and continued all the way through Saturday.  It snowed and snowed and snowed and when we thought it couldn't snow anymore.  IT. KEPT. COMING.  In the end we were left with around 2 feet of snow give or take a couple of inches.   It was crazy!
This was the measurement early Saturday morning.



So needless to say for a few days we were stuck.  Truly stuck.  The governor declared a state of emergency.  The local channels were constantly running an warning from public highway officials to please stay off the roads at all possible cost.  It was snowmageddon.  The only solution was Netflix. I decided over Christmas break I was going to go back and watch Grey's Anatomy from season 1 to present time.  BEST. DECISION. EVER.  I forgot how much I loved that show.  When we started back to school I had to give up my daily routine of Greys, Greys, and more Greys and well..be responsible.  A couple of days in a snow storm and I'm right back on track.  



Finally, almost halfway through the week we began to dig out.  In case you're wondering, we are still digging out but the temperatures rose to about 40 degree which helped speed up the melting process.  Yes 40 degrees.  It was a heat wave people.  Let me tell you.  Here's a look at the sidewalks.


The parting of the Red Sea comes to mind when I look at this.

When I was glancing through some of last week's FfF posts I came across a very cool science experiment using snow from Teach Guide Inspire.  I loved it.  The students tested to see how clean the snow in the back yard of their school was by scooping some up and using a filter to determine if there was in fact dirt or any other particles could be found in snow that APPEARED to be clean.  You can check out her post and get everything you need if you want to do this with 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade class.  In in Kindergarten we did it as a whole group activity.  We talked about eating snow, made predictions about whether or not the snow was clean, and then performed our experiment. 


 My kids were amazed at what they found in the coffee filter the next day.  I'm hoping that they think about that before they take another bite out of the snow.  I just realized I forgot to write the word filter on our chart!! Teacher Fail!  Forgive me.  I was so excited to do this experiment that I didn't double check my chart!
This coming Friday will be my mom's last round of chemo for this part of her treatment.  If you're just tuning in to my blog, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of the school year.  She is also a teacher and we were in our normal beginning of the school year dead sprint when everything came to an abrupt stop and dramatically changed with her diagnosis.  She has been through a couple of surgeries and chemotherapy treatments for the last few months.  She is scheduled for another surgery in about a month with more treatment to follow.  She continues to handle it more gracefully than I could ever imagine.  It is not easy.  Being sick is not easy and chemo is especially nasty.  She has visited the hospital often in between her treatments due to chemo side effects and still she continues to have an incredible attitude.  This past week was her "sick week" and that coupled with the snow storm made life a little more stressful than usual.  We are all continuing to press on with that hope than in a few more months this will all be behind us.  



So there you have it.  Life after winter storm Jonas.  Honestly, after two years of crazy snow storms and negative temperatures we are ready for spring in this part of the country.  Let's hope the groundhog is on the same page! How was your week?