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Easter Basket Planning

With Easter 2 weeks away I am starting to plan/purchase items for the boys' baskets. I don't know about you, but I loathe putting candy in their baskets! They do get some, but it's not much.
And in full honesty...I think Evan still has candy in his basket from last year!
I normally go with a beach theme (we do live in a FL beach town) with new flip flops, bathing suit, and other such things.
This year I want to switch it up a bit, and found these cute items.

Hello Duckling  //  Spray Chalk  //  Light-up Ball  //  Basketball Toss  //  Swimsuit  //  Skateboard

Obviously, as a teacher, I LOVE to include a book with every holiday! Preston loves to read as well, and I thought this Classic Golden book was perfect.
Thinking ahead for the upcoming warmer months, I thought Spray Chalk would be fun to try.
I'm always looking for fun 'old-school' toys for the boys. I loved playing the water ring toss game when I was a kid, and I know this will be a favorite as well. The
Of course, a bathing suit had to be added! I like the boys to coordinate and not match completely. This fun tropical shark suit is completely Preston's style.
And I will probably kick myself for this when I'm in the ER, but he is begging for a skateboard! He's such an athletic outdoors boy!

STEM Toy  //  Hello Nature  //  Lego  //  Swimsuit
I found these great mini-STEM Rube Goldberg kits at Target and I know they will be a hit! There are several to choose from and aren't horribly priced. I'm excited for him to continue engineering throughout the summer!
This book is amazing! Not only does it include facts about nature, but activities that allows them to doodle and create a nature scrapbook.
Legos. Boy. Enough said.
And this shark suit is perfectly Evan's personality. Classic with a little edge.

And what to put these items in? How adorable (and cost effective) are these wire baskets found in the Dollar Spot at Target ($3)?!

Would LOVE to know what your go-tos are for Easter baskets and what you have planned this year!

teach. create. LOVE LIFE.

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**WARNING** This post may be long and rambling, but it has a purpose. I promise!

Towards the end of 2016 life seemed stressed. The holidays, crazy work schedules, kids, etc. Typical things. But I wasn’t ‘dealing’ with them as well as I normally would.
The New Year was approaching and the typical time for people to make their resolutions. I gave up the whole resolution thing a couple of years ago when I started using One Word. So, I began to search for my word as other’s promised to give up things, and exercise, and save more. This word kept coming to mind (speaking to me if you will) but I kept quieting it because I felt it wasn’t pushing me or powerful enough. In actuality, it was the exact opposite.
However, the more I seemed to quiet it, the more I would see it and hear it.

As much as I was trying to push it away, I knew it was the word I needed. It was what was missing in my life and making me feel so overwhelmed.
I’ve been on a journey for the last month and a half to find what balance means to me. So far, what I’ve come up with, is more time for me. As a wife, teacher, mother, and the other multitude of hats that come on and off throughout the day, I was putting myself last…if at all. My cup was beyond empty and needed filling.

This search for balance and filling my cup has lead me on a journey to become healthy. Not only did I put myself last, I also was putting my health last. As much as I was ‘dieting’ and ‘exercising’ I was actually gaining weight not losing.  I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin, let alone my clothes.

In the past month or two I have changed my eating habits and added in 30 min of exercise a day. I have more energy, I’ve actually lost more weight than I ever have, and by spending 2% of my day on ME I’ve gained some balance.

So why am I telling you this? Because I think the world could use more honesty. Because I know I am not the only person feeling overwhelmed and trying to find balance. We tend to post all the ‘happy’ for people to see and it gives the false sense of perfection.

So now I’m going to take an even BIGGER step out of my comfort zone and show you my transformation. <<GULP>>

There you have it. My before. And my progress.
This is a journey I’m on. I’m in this for good because I’m tired of starting over, and I’m worth it. My kids/family is worth it.

Yes there will be some changes in the blog and my social media accounts (like I may actually make some posts.)  When I first created my blog, I never meant for it to truly become an education only platform. I wanted and intended it to be about my life. My love for creativity, teaching, and creating a life that I love to live.  But as you can see, balance was thrown off.

So I hope you stay with me and join me. Journeys are lonely on their own, and I would love to help others find balance too.

teach. create. LOVE LIFE

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So you want to start using STEM in your classroom, but aren't really sure how to do it?....
I wish I had the magic wand for you to wave to make that happen, but the truth is that this is a journey/marathon you are going to be on. You will learn and grow just as much as your students will. 

With that said, let me share my journey...
The first year we completed challenges maybe 4 times (one a grading period). 
The first year we relied heavily on already published challenges.
The first year the challenges did not completely align to our curriculum/standards. 
The first year.....wasn't pretty 

Fast forward 2 years....
EVERY Wednesday is STrEaM Wednesday. The entire day is dedicated to the STEM process. 
STREAM lessons may be based on similar activities out there (there truly are only so many engineering things you can do with elementary students), but for the most part they are 100% created by us. 
STREAM lessons are now tightly aligned to our curriculum/standards
It still can be messy, but in a beautiful way.

Things to Consider:
I see several people posting about STEM activity boxes. That may be the route you want to take to begin (especially if this is not a school-wide push/implementation), but we consider that more of a Maker's Space/Tinker Spot at our school.

STEM is NOT a science experiment. 
Your science standards are built into the lesson. You may have a small science experiment within the challenge that relates to the topic, but it's not just a science experiment.

Don't go on this journey alone. 
If you are truly committing to the STEM process and creating plans that fully align, you're going to need a friend and some help. It takes time and commitment. There may be some tears and there may be days you want to pull your hair out and scream. Make sure you have someone on your side so you can cheer each other on and share ideas. 

Take time to create a team. 
This is a completely new way of thinking and acting in a classroom for students. They are having to collaborate and communicate- two skills that are new (or lacking) for our children. Taking time (like a month or two) to do 'fun' challenges that build team and help them understand will be well worth it in the long run. When we first started STEM we didn't take the time to do this and we paid for it. It made challenges painful because students didn't know how to work together and not argue. I spent more time being a referee than I care to admit. Now that my school has been doing this for 3 years, the students are more used to this structure of learning, but we still have to take the time every year to build the new team and remind them of their roles.

A STEM lesson doesn't always fit neatly into a given amount of time (Your teachers, you know sometimes things take a little longer than planned). Curiosity and creating takes longer than you think. Don't stress yourself and your students out by strictly sticking to a time frame. 

When creating a lesson keep 2 things in mind:
Is there a problem/challenge?
Are they building/creating something?

I  could go on forever, but I think I might have lost my 3 followers a long time ago. 

If there is something specific you have a question about or I haven't covered, please leave it in the comments (Really, it's okay to comment....I would love to know someone is actually reading this ;) ). I will answer them in my next post. 

teach. create. love life.

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GOT STEM? A blog series

STEM. The hot new 'word' in education. Do you use STEM? Does your school?
I have been at a STEM school for the past 2 years. Last year, we had the honor of completing the process and becoming the first STEM certified elementary school in the state of Florida. 

It has been an interesting journey filled with learning and growth. This is the first in a series of posts as I share my knowledge and answer your questions on STEM. I am by no means an expert, but I will definitely be honest on the ups and downs and the journey I've been on. 

This week's focus is on the What....

First, let's start with what is STEM. More than likely (unless you have been living under a rock) you already know it is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. There are variations- STEAM (adds art into it) and STREAM (which is what my school utilizes) adds reading/writing and art. There has been a major interest and push for STEM education in the past couple of years to prepare today's child for the world and jobs of tomorrow.  It isn't only about preparing students for jobs that focus in math/science/engineering, but it's creating students that can collaborate/critically think/problem solve. 
Young students are natural scientists and engineers, so the STEM process can, and does, work quite easily for most students. 

STEM curriculum has many benefits:
-Highly engaging
-FUN.... yes I said the F word. These are still kids. They need to have fun while learning!...Heck, I need to have fun while teaching! ;)
-Full of natural learning opportunities
-It allows students to connect and apply concepts leaned to everyday experiences
-Students retain the knowledge, gain confidence, build self-directions, and learn to work both cooperatively and independently.

Things to keep in mind as the teacher:
-Be enthusiastic. This is a new challenge for you as well, and is more than likely taking you out of your comfort zone. Embrace it. Be enthusiastic. Have fun!
-Be flexible. Things aren't going to go as planned. (That's the purpose of STEM). 
-Get in there with them. Learn by doing, just like them. Have them talk things through with you (but remember you are only there for guidance and to ask questions). Cheer them on. And yes, sometimes, be the referee.

So, a quick introduction to STEM for you this week. Next week I will discuss the How? I would also love to answer any questions you have about STEM, so leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer them next week. 

teach. create. love life.

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Celebrating Birthdays in the Classroom

How do you make your students’ birthdays special?
I love celebrating birthdays, but have never found a way to make them extra special for students without breaking the bank. It’s always the generic sticker, necklace, pencil, bookmark….
Well, on one of my billionth trips to Michaels an idea struck. How fun would it be to pop a balloon filled with confetti over a student’s head?!

So that takes care of the fun, but what about the ‘gift’?
It needed to be cheap, but have impact. Last year I started a money system and they were able to buy coupons with the money. The LOVED it! I decided to take the coupon idea and use it with the balloon. The top 3 coupons in my room were 1. Sit at the teacher’s desk 2. Lunch Bunch 3. Job swap (the joy of stealing your friend’s job for the day ;) )
I created the coupon below and will roll it up and place in the balloon.

Also in the balloon? Some candy, a pencil, and anything else you wish to (or can fit). 

My students will also get a no homework pass and a birthday card signed by all their friends in the class waiting at their seat….with a balloon hanging from the ceiling.

I am now excited to celebrate and can’t wait to get my class list and see who the first lucky kid will be.
Side note: My own soon-to-be 3rd grader was pretty excited about this, as was my 13 years old niece. So I am placing money on this being quite the hit this year J

If you like this idea too, you can pick it up in my store. The pack includes the coupons, birthday card, and this cute way of displaying your students’ birthdays in your classroom.

Happy Celebrating!

teach. create. love life


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Reflection: Part 1 Assessment

Every year teachers in my district are faced with creating a Professional Development Plan as a way to grow and as a piece of our evaluation. 
This year I decided to focus mine on assessment. Specifically
-How could I improve how I monitor my students' learning in a more effective manner?
-Providing my students with high-quality, constructive, and timely feedback on writing assessments.

So to start with I read this book:

There are some major eye-opening statements and facts presented throughout the book. 

-Visions behind assessment:
  OLD: Assessment to grade student learning and hold them accountable 
  NEW: Encourage students to play an active role- actually making important instructional decisions as they learn
I feel that I am currently living in the old vision (and my county) as much as I/we want to live in the new vision. I struggle each year with trying to find ways to make the students active in the learning process. I don't know if it is their age that limits this (seriously, how much can a 7-8 year old put into making important instructional decisions!?) or my old-school ways (or control issues;) )
I would LOVE any tips or suggestions if you have effectively moved into the 'New' vision!!
-There are 4 reasons to assess:
    1. verify student learning 
    2. decide how far an individual has progressed and    what should come next
    3. how to assist an individual 
    4. to motivate students to invest the time and energy needed to learn.
#4 really connected to me because I don't see motivation in my students any more and I need to find a way to connect their assessments to a motivational piece.
- Stiggins makes many mentions to the emotional connection that is made by students when learning and succeeding. I found this to be quite profound:
"The beauty of learning is that it is the pursuit of something that is elusive but attainable- a constant array of occasions for hope. The belief that success is possible is critical."
We can no longer rely on the old-school methods of using the F as a way to motivate. It doesn't. It beats the child down and gives them no hope. Now, this doesn't mean don't give F's, but after a failure we need to find ways to allow the child to feel some success that is a direct result of his/her own efforts. 
- Bringing educational assessment into the twenty-first century with three practical changes:
   1. Teachers must also use assessment in their classroom to help students learn. (not just for judging) 
     2. Abandon the belief that intimidation can work as a universal motivator. Learning success is the only viable universal motivator. (The F doesn't work)
   3. The quality of our assessments must improve at all levels. (teachers, administrators, and district personnel must be trained and qualified at creating assessments at the classroom level)

There is no beating around the bush with the place assessment has in today's educational world. How we create it, use it, and inform students about it IS something we can control in the classroom. 
"Day-to-day classroom assessments can do more to build or to destroy students' confidence than any other schooling intervention. As it turns out, students' level of confidence links directly to how hard students try and, therefore, how much they learn."

Sorry to get all PD on you, but I wanted share some things I've read, learned, and tried this year with you all. This book is compelling and has made me reflect on the assessments and feedback given in my own classroom. 
Stay tuned for Reflection part 2- How I changed my writing instruction to allow the feedback my students need. life.

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Get PIE'd!

This was beyond an AMAZING day! I don’t know who enjoyed it more- the kids or me!

The idea of using a form of a real PIE to teach author’s purpose had been in the back of my head since Hope King shared her Periscope back in December. After attending Get Your Teach On I knew it had to become a reality.

We did make a slight change to using Pie Face, and instead had students create a Pie of their own that they would enjoy at the end.

So here’s the not so skinny on our Get PIE’d Day!
Chef Scalo was more than happy to greet the fellow chefs that would help her bake her author’s purpose PIE’s!

The students were thrilled to have their own aprons and chef hats.

They were too much!

Once we were dressed and had our instructions the students dove in. They had 6 passages they had to read together (in groups of 4). Each student had their own Author’s Purpose checklist (freebie from Read Like A RockStar) that they used to help determine if it was Persuade, Inform, or Entertain. The groups had to have 100% agreement and had to highlight text evidence to prove their choice.

If they had 100% agreement they took that passage and put it into the PIE tin they chose and brought the PIE to me.

Head Chef Scalo would then ask each group why they chose the author’s purpose they did. Not only did the purpose have to be correct, but they had to be able to support their answer choice.  If all of these things happened, they were allowed to add an ingredient to their PIE.

For each of the 6 passages they got one of these ingredients:

1. Graham Cracker Crust
2. Chocolate Pudding
3. Cool Whip
4. Crushed Oreos
5. Mini M&Ms
6. Sprinkles

To make it more authentic we had 50’s music playing in the background (I don’t know why, but it seemed fitting, lol)

They were active. They were having discussions. They had...dare I say it....FUN while learning!

At the end of the day I was exhausted (I only teach reading this year, so I had this experience twice in one day)....but I was smiling and happy, just like my kids! life.

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