You're nearly there! Get ready to celebrate...

The holidays are a time to be thankful and count your many blessings. As you go into winter break, here are a few things to enjoy for the next two weeks:

Bathroom Breaks- That's right, for the next two weeks you can go to the bathroom whenever you want! Enjoy it, friends. You've earned it! 

Making Appointments- Maybe it is just me, but my schedule seems to exactly align with the lunch break at every single doctor's office in a three county area. If I find time in my 30 minute lunch to call for a doctor appointment, they are inevitably closed for the lunch hour. Well, ladies and gentleman, not during break! Get out that phone and make the call at know you're awake anyways!

An Uninterrupted Planning Period- You go into break thinking this will be the one where you don't do any work....Yeah, right! This is your only chance to make a dent in the pile as you try to catch up. By the third day, you are back to work. The good news is you can work from your couch in your PJs with glass of wine in hand. Who wouldn't enjoy the ten day, 24-hour planning period that is your winter break?

Leisurely Lunch- Have a nice and slow lunch! Consider going out to a restaurant. In fact, free free to go crazy and take a whole hour to a chair...without doing work.

Wishing you the most wonderful, relaxing break. You're almost there!

Big Kid Book Clubs for January

Book clubs, or novel studies, are a great way to allow kids the opportunity to authentically talk about literature. However, it can be difficult to find books that coordinate and cover all your readers. To make it a little easier, I have put together a set of books focused on January-related topics. They cover a variety of genres and reading levels, and it will give you a great place to start planning your reading during break (because we all spend at least part of our break getting plans ready).

Happy Reading,

Master Management Challenge #1: Praise

One of the biggest things that creates a barrier to classroom learning is management. Good classroom management can transform a classroom, but it is often overlooked in teacher education because it is something you need to experience to really understand. Compounding the issue is the fact that teachers who have mastered classroom management make it look effortless...let me tell you, it is NOT effortless. So I offer you a 10-week challenge. Each week I will be posting a new tip. Make it a goal to use this tip in your classroom, and come back and tell me about how it goes!

Today's tip is PRAISE! I selected praise because it is one of the easiest to implement. It doesn't take a ton of thought or prep work, and it makes a world of difference in the feel of your classroom. However, it is also a skill that requires practice, and it can fall to the wayside as the stress of the school year builds. So here are three quick tips to help you re-energize (or start) your use of praise!

  • Pick Target Behaviors- Think about what behavior your class (or that specific student) is doing that is making you bananas. Maybe it is the friend you have who wanders the room...or the fact that the minute you start a transition, the noise multiplies exponentially. Whatever it is for you, focus on just ONE behavior at a time. Now look for the student or students who AREN'T doing it and praise them...often, out loud, and by name! You'll be surprised at what students will do to be the kid you praise to the class. Just be sure not to target the same kid every time (you know the sweet one who is ALWAYS following directions) and praise effort when that kiddo who is normally not making good choices makes small changes. 
  • Be Specific- Cut "Good job!" from your vocabulary. When you praise a student, be specific. What are they doing right? Give them details so they can keep doing it! Try something like, "I really love how you got right to work after I finished the directions, Franklin."
  • Focus on 5:1- Focus on giving more praise than criticism. This can be a hard one during those stressful times, but when you are looking for kids doing good things, you will find it! The reverse is also true. Of course, 5-to-1 is not a hard and fast rule. There is no need for a tally chart. However, it gives you something to work toward. Be cognizant of what you are saying to your students or class...especially those tough kiddos who know (and push) all your buttons. The praise will help build that strong relationship...which is the most important part of changing behavior. 

Remember, it isn't about changing everything all at once. Small changes can make a HUGE difference. Can't wait to hear how your week of praise goes so be sure to come back and leave a comment!

New Blog Design from A Bird In Hand

I am so loving the new blog design thanks to Megan over at A Bird in Hand Designs. Megan was AMAZING to work with on this undertaking. She was quick to answer any questions I had, totally willing to make adjustments, and helped me make decisions when I had no idea. So thrilled with her work. The updates on content are a work in progress, so stay tuned!

What I Learned from My First Genius Hour...Looking Backward, Going Forward

Over the summer I was looking for new ideas to incorporate into my classroom when I came across this post about passion projects by Jen from over at Runde's Room. After watching the videos and thinking about several times over the summer, I decided to give it a go with my new group of third graders in September.

Here's a little overview of how it all started, for those of you who haven't heard of Genius Hour before. 

I've had students do independent research in past years, but typically I reserve it for later in the year or use it as an enrichment method for students when I am compacting. However, my campus provides enrichment time each Friday, and this seemed like the perfect fit. Everyone can be working on what they enjoy and are passionate about. What could be easier than that, right? Wrong! Through this 5-week process (which ended up taking 8 weeks when all was said and done), I learned a ton and discovered I had to work harder planning for this one hour than I did for the entire rest of the week. 

That being said, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Why, you might ask? Well, for starters, every single student in my class was challenged as a learner and got their moment to shine. The pride in their eyes as they shared their final product was overwhelming...there were several moments, as my struggling learners stood proud and shared their amazing products, where I was literally forced to hold back tears.

It was also amazing to see what they were truly interested in. I learned so much about my students! They had really great questions, and the majority of them didn't need much help at all to get to an actionable version.

What kinds of questions did they want to answer? Here are a few examples of the questions my students developed:

  • How can I create a design a website to teach others about the world?
  • Can I develop a recipe that would make a bubble last for 2 minutes? 
  • How do I build a robot that can pick something up? 
So what did I learn from this adventure? 

Third graders need structure and clarity...especially new third graders.  Duh! Should have predicted this one. It sounded so easy in the videos and the blog posts I read. We talk about their passions, and I help them develop an actionable question and from there they go forth to explore and create! Nope, there was WAY more on the back end than that. If I were to do anything differently, having a plan for each week in advance of starting this whole endeavor would be it. Of course, over time I figured it out, but it would have been way easier to have this done in advance. Next time, we will use a calendar to backward plan from the get go. I met with each student about 3 weeks in to do this, but it would have been easier to do it from the beginning with a partially filled in calendar.

I also discovered that the videos that Jen Runde was using with her 5th and 6th graders were above the comprehension level of some of my lower third graders. This led to some confusion initially, which I then had to spend time clarifying. That being said, I found this great video that was a better fit.

Don't be afraid to ask for favors...or to admit you don't know. The topics my students studied were so diverse and unique it was truly amazing. No one person could be an expert in all of them. At the beginning of the year, I think there is this pressure to have the students see you as someone knowledgeable. However, I know nothing about aeronautics. I took a mechanical engineering class once in college (mostly because it was the only course that studied abroad in England over a summer), but I spent very little time learning about bridge building...and a lot of time enjoying the pub scene. Therefore, I made it my goal to find each student an expert in their field for them to talk to during the research phase of our projects. This was a HUGE undertaking (but super rewarding). 

Photo from:
How did I do it? I started out by meeting with my students individually and developing a list of skills and knowledge they would need to accomplish their goals. In my group of twenty students, this meant locating a web designer, professional photographer, chef, chemist, aeronautical engineer, civil engineer, computer programmer, movie producer, and more. It was a tall order! I started with friends and acquaintances (Thank you, Facebook!). I also sent out an email to my colleagues on campus and parents of my students, which actually ended up being where I found a large number of my experts. Friends of friends are a GREAT resource! In the end, nearly all of my students were able to have a "consultation" or lesson from an expert in their area of interest either in person or via FaceTime or Skype. 

Let parents know from the beginning that it isn't about WHAT is produced. Woah, Nelly! This was a huge issue early on for me. I work in a school where the parents are very involved, and many of them were terrified because their child had selected to work on a question that was going to require some serious skill and time. I cannot tell you how many emails I had about the project that were focused on how I was going to grade it or how they should be working with their child. Despite having talked about it at Parent Night (No, it isn't graded and the goal is to have your child see the process of being a self-directed learner and to explore their own interests.) After a few weeks of this, I realized that I needed to send these reminders home in my weekly update email EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. My note went something along these lines:

Please remember these projects are not graded on their completion. Your child's only grades will come through their reflections on their learning and growth. Some students may not complete their project before the showcase because their learning has led them to new understandings or toward a new idea. This is totally ok! The goal of this project is to help your children see themselves as capable, independent learners. Encourage your child and be available to help with questions, but don't feel you need to guide this project. Thanks for your support! 

Of course, in the end I still ended up with a few projects that suddenly transformed from kid-done to professional looking over night before the big showcase...but most parents finally felt the pressure was off. 

Be flexible. About halfway through a few of my kids decided they wanted to combine their projects into one. I went back and forth about it, but in the end I realized this partnership wasn't taking away from the goal. Both boys were eagerly working and collaborating each time we had a Genius Hour. This was the purpose of the project. I needed to let it go and let them learn. 

So what did I end up with at the end? Here are just a few examples of what our final projects looked like: 
  • We learned a new sport, invented by a student who struggles to focus and is nearly always the last one done. The kids LOVED it! We trekked outside after he taught us the rules, and it was so amazing to see him take on a leadership role as he officiated the games. 
  • Wearing safety goggles, my bridge builder and I added more than 10 pounds of weight to her bridge as her classmates cheered. The bridge held strong until we ran out of weight at about 15 pounds. Claps and high-fives all around! 
  • One student invented a new soap, including her own logo design and label. The kids loved it so much she was asked to share the recipe...and she left her bottle at the sink for all of us to use.
  • Our budding movie maker shared the premiere of his short stop-action film and did a post-movie Q & A.  
There were so many more great projects, but one of the best parts was listening to kids spontaneously tell the class what they were going to do for their NEXT project...sometimes building off their own project but often based on what a classmate had taught them.  

So have you joined the Genius Hour movement? If you are looking to get started, I highly recommend you check out this link to Runde's Room for great free printables to get you started.

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