Sunday, November 15, 2015

Welcome Back!

It has been a long time since I wrote a post. School started several weeks ago, evidenced by the fact we just finished our first marking period. Thursday was our conference day, followed by a much needed compensation day. We condensed our conference scheduled from nine hours to six. It was like having drive-thru conferences. I still invited students to lead the conference using the outline I have used for several years. This was crazy, fast paced. I saw parents of twenty-four of my twenty-five students during a ten minute conference scheduled twelve minutes apart. This included my new student, that I had for one week before the end of the marking period. I had also already met with them during a meeting two days earlier for a temporary placement. About half of my students came, with some staying home or watching younger siblings in the hall.

A common theme during the conferences was how much the parents are struggling to grasp the "new" math presented in our patched together math program using Engage New York. We are going to look at some other programs, to see if we cannot find something that is student, parent, teacher, and budget friendly. I would love to know what math program you are using in your district to meet the rigorous demands required by high stakes testing, and whether you use Common Core.

I have other things to share, and hope to get back to blogging more regularly. As I try to find ways to work smarter, not harder. Until next time...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

May Already

It's a warm sunny Saturday. Can't believe it is May already. I have so much to do before June 10 and the last day of school. First thing, I want to link up with Farley's Currently Linky.

Trying to get my daughter's laundry finished. She is packing for a job away from home. She leaves on Monday. 

We finished our M-STEP tests this week. Now I have to finish teaching my curriculum and then do district assessment. There is so much to do before the end of the year. We don't get out until June 10. I have a final observation, a wedding shower in North Carolina, and so much more to do yet this month. Better get busy!

I would love to sit outside a read a good book. It is going to be in 75 today. We have turned the corner to warmer weather for good, I hope. 

I am going to Jamaica in August for my son's wedding. I have only been outside the U.S. for Canada. I am looking forward to getting away and adding a daughter. I want to lose some weight before the wedding. Walking is therapeutic for me, so that should help with my weight loss and the relaxation part. 

What are you doing Currently?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Five for Friday and Testing Relief

Standardized Testing stressing you and your students out? I can relate.

When Michigan decided to switch to Smarter Balanced testing and Common Core, I was all for it in theory. I welcomed starting each new school year without mandated review made necessary by the summer slide. Then the state decided to switch gears. We would still be doing a spring electronic standardized test, only now it would be the M-STEP. 

One thing I did not like was that our fifth grade testing window started the day after spring break. We had a three week window. Today is the last day for fifth grade testing and make-ups.  I wish I could say the testing sessions went well, and were event free. Unfortunately, there were many woes. Technology malfunctions, problems with student directions, and so forth. Students and teachers were stressed before the tests began. 

To help motivate students, I made bulletin boards using Melon Headz and Educlips clip art. My friends stayed after school to help choose the clip art. They then gave up recess to cut the laminated pieces. 

I made locker tags for my students. I knew my neighbor purchased my Rock the Test tags I made last year, I didn't want a group to be left out, so I made their class tags as well.
When we needed a distraction from the testing sessions, we planted flowers for our service learning project and Mother’s Day. We grow them in our life lab.

Students are learning about the Oregon Trail and Western Expansion in social studies. They are doing a simulation. They earn “money” for supplies by bringing in Box Tops for Education, doing homework, etc. To add a little more interest, students played Oregon Settler on the iPad. We also blogged and sent messages to a former classmate. 

The best stress reliever came with our walks. We participate in the Walking Classroom. After testing last week, the students begged to get outside for a walk. The weather was perfect for walks. On Friday, we listened to a podcast on trickster stories. The students loved the break from testing, and enjoyed the presentation. We had read about “Bear and Fox” in our anthology recently, so they were interested in hearing the podcast’s version of the story. With stress from the testing, many students are struggling with behavior and mean behaviors. I liked how Laura Fenn and her students equated the trickster stories with bullying. It was a message my kids needed to hear.

With our first year of M-STEP behind us, I am thinking about what I will do differently next year. I would love to hear how you prepare students for the stress of testing, and how you relieve the stress. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What Works Wednesday Revisited

I had the best intentions with this blog. Unfortunately somewhere between the start of school, and today (our last state test day) life, common core, everything, and anything has gotten in the way! I am hoping now that our state test is finished, I will be able to return to a sense of normalcy. Maybe I will even be able to blog a little more often.

Since today is a Wednesday, I thought I would revisit a previous topic for What Works Wednesday.
Previously, I wrote about Bouncy Bands. Scott Ertl, Bouncy Bands CEO sent me the original bouncy bands, which consisted of recycled bicycle inner tubes and PVC pipe to go on the legs of desks.

After lots of feedback, he started using fasteners to form loops, since it was difficult to tie the tubes to the desk. Later, the company switched to a rubber bungee cord with fasteners. Last year, my students fought over the desk that had the Bouncy Band (I had mostly tables). I was able to stretch a band to fit the end of a table, but the table shook too much. I loved the bouncy bands, but this year I loaned them to colleagues that had sets of desks. It was a better use for them.
Bouncy Bands for Standard Desks
Bouncy Bands Photograph
Scott recently contacted my about the improved bands with better fasteners on the cords. He also had a new sample for me to try, Bouncy Bands for chairs. Scott sent me two sets of the improved bands, one for a desk and the other for a chair. I have a chair that has pegs on the legs, so I was able to use both sets on chairs. J With tables, this is the best solution for my classroom. The bouncy bands for chairs were a big hit.

My students love that they can bounce their feet while keeping the table still. I love that I have been able to share my other sets with colleagues. More students have the opportunity to use the Bouncy Bands. Our occupational therapist has borrowed sets, and  encouraged other teachers to try them. She is looking into a grant to fund multiple sets for our school and a neighboring district.

The Creative Child Magazine featured Bouncy Bands as a 2014 Product of the Year. They are an inexpensive solution to those fidgety students that need to move. They can be purchased with funds from Donors Choose. Scott has helped even further by giving a link to a sample project page.

Bouncy Bands are the What Works Wednesday product for this month. Give Bouncy Bands a try.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Currently April

Currently it is April 2nd. I didn't get home from a long day of conferences yesterday until after 9:00 last night. Blogging was the furthest thing from my brain after a draining day. I did want to see what Farley came up with for her last spot on the currently. She did not disappoint. How fun!

After a very long month that included March is Reading Month activities, 5th Grade Outdoor Education (Camp), Project Unify activities, and a whole lot of test prep, I am spending the first day of an extended spring break (today was a comp day!) catching up on missed episodes of some of my favorite shows. 

Yesterday was a long day. We had conferences from 8 in the morning until 8 last night. We had time off for a soup and salad lunch from our PTO moms, and dinner. My dinner was a piece of pizza at a  union executive board meeting. Some great conferences, some difficult ones. Glad they are over. Students get twelve days off and we get eleven days for break. I am staying home. Hubby doesn't have vacation and the youngest had her break three weeks ago. 

I hoped to get a long walk in today in warm weather, but the rain kept me inside. It is warm, but very wet. Snow is forecast for tomorrow night. That is Michigan weather for you.

I am looking forward to some long lasting warm weather. The students have passed flu and viruses around forever! I want them to get outside to play. I need to open windows and get some fresh air into the room. Hopefully April will bring better weather.

I have several projects planned. Some are for school, some are for home. Hope I can get them done without running out of time and energy.

My blog's name "Learning in Bliss" got its name from the fact that I am a lifelong learner. I try hard to keep a blissful environment in my classroom. My school is located at the edge of a small town that takes great pride in being a blissful place to live and learn.

What is currently happening in your life?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What Works Wednesday

In this week's installment of What Works Wednesday, I thought I would discuss computer apps and programs I use with my in-flipping. All of my students do not have technology at home. Instead of flipping my classroom, I started to in-flip the room. I use video and apps to free me up to give more individual instruction. One of those apps/websites that I really like is Edmodo.

Edmodo is a free website and app. I like that I can load individual and group lessons for the class or small groups. You do not need individual email addresses for students. When you sign up and claim your school, it allows you to use Snapshot. Snapshot is a quick pretest on a set of skills. In a "Snapshot" you see at grade level, behind, and intervention students identified. You can either assign a skill from the results, or use other apps within Edmodo to address weaknesses.

I started my in-flip and pretests with math. I have three math groups, but could have four. Two students are above grade level, but need hand-holding to get them through lessons. The next is at grade level. Another is at grade level, but struggles (my inclusion and RTI students). The third group is one student working at late first/early second grade level. If I could squeeze out a few more minutes, I would split the struggling group into two groups and have one leave the fifth grade material for fourth grade skills. I just cannot seem to be able to make the move.

My in-flipping is at least allowing me more time to work with students that are not "getting it". In a perfect world, every student would get quality teacher time each day. In my world, the struggling get the most. I individualize the single student, and cheer on the top two students as they watch a power point. I cannot get videos made for each group.!

 I use Voki Presenter ($29.95) to make my instruction videos. The kids like that the avatar I use is an improved version of me. They are begging to teach a lesson themselves, using their own Voki. Voki is like having 25 clones of me. Unfortunately, the Voki cannot answer questions they may have. After the Voki lesson, students may have task cards, a practice worksheet, or an online lesson.

Check out Voki Presentation

My students like the improved Mrs. H provided by the Voki avatar, but also love having a dog, of famous person teach their lesson for the day. Their curiosity gets them to want to see the lesson just to see who the guest teacher is for the day. A few students are giving up recess time to record the voice portion for a lesson their Voki will teach.

As a note: if you use iPads for your in-flipping, you need a browser like Puffin that allows for Flash.  Puffin is free, but I still need to download it on our grade level iPads. Some of the Edmodo features works better with Puffin and Google Chrome.

Edmodo has several apps you can add-on. CK-12 Math Practice is one I use for skill practice after my lesson.

Yesterday, I used a math exit ticket to assess their ordering decimals knowledge. Today I assigned a Tenmarks lesson as a review of the skill for the students that scored earned a 1 or 2 out of the 3 questions on the exit ticket. Tenmarks is a free site. I assign a lesson with ten problems.

Students have three hints they can use. There is also a video clip. The site will read the problem for students by chosing the speaker icon. It is a great supplement to my lesson I have already taught. It also uses a format similar to our standardized test, where multiple answers might be correct. This is helpful practice with M-Step test scheduled for April. I hate the thought of having to teach to a test. In-flipping gives my students experiences that prepare them for the test, while covering my curriculum expectations. Reading math and solving math on a computer may be a difficult thing for some students.

Do you do any flipping or in-flipping? I am just beginning to use this format. I like what I can do with it, but need more time in my days and nights to make the videos.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Currently March 1

With the weeks of cold, and the fact we haven't see grass in well over a month, March crept up slowly! I cannot believe it is March 1st already. This means it is also time for Farley's Currently.

I like listening to television while I work on the computer. It usually doesn't matter what is on, just that it is on. Funny, when I work at school, I prefer silence. Maybe because it is usually noisy there. At home, the dog likes to sit at my feet or cuddle on the couch. The youngest is home, so the dog is with her tonight. 

My son and his girl friend recently announced their engagement. She compliments him. They are beginning plans for their wedding. Cannot wait for their visit in two weeks!

My lesson plans need to be completed. So many extras to fit in before we go to camp in two weeks. I have a special guest coming this week, a PLC meeting during the day Wednesday, and a Mystery Skype this week. We also have a planned Fire Drill. Snow is still about a foot deep. That should be fun for the classes that go out side doors without sidewalks. Lol! Looking forward to it all, except the substitute plans for Wednesday morning. 

The house and my classrooms are both in desperate need of a good cleaning. That may be my Spring Break plans after all! I need to at least clean some before son's visit.

We have had so many inside recess days, but only three snow days. The few inches of snow today won't keep us from school tomorrow. They are predicting snow, sleet, freezing rain, then rain for Tuesday. We will likely have school as it standardized testing for Juniors in Michigan. Also, our superintendent takes great pride in not cancelling school. 

Spring Break for me isn't until April 2nd. We have Parent Teacher Conferences all day on April 1st. It will be our longest spring break in my 32 years. With family all on different schedules, my break will be uneventful. I hope to get some cleaning, reading, and projects completed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Plickers Works!

Last Wednesday's What Works post talked about how I am using exit slips to assess my students. I also talked about using a Senteo response system. While I like both of those assessment options, I don't always like the preparation it takes to get things set up for both. My response system can be quirky. 

On one of those days, where technology was not my friend, I happened to come across a post about using Plickers. I had not heard of Plickers, but was eager to try something that I had more control over. 

The Plickers app is available for Apple OS and Android. It is a free app available for iPads or smartphones or tablets. Students names need to be entered. A predesigned code, like a QR code is printed for each student. I printed on cardstock.

The questions can be typed for display, like on a smartboard, or Apple TV (two devices needed - one to display, and one to scan). Alternatively, you could read the questions aloud. The questions can be multiple choice or true/false. 

Students turn their card so their answer choice points up. The letters are small, so students cannot "cheat" from across the room. I put small answer choices on the back of the card, so students can easily decide which way they want to turn the card. My students stand in rows, so I can quickly scan the room.
Cards 1 and 2 for 2 students

The cards are scanned quickly with an iPad, iPod, or smartphone. I recommend not laminating the cards, as the half sheet card reflects light when laminated, making it more difficult to quickly scan the answers. I have students hold the cards against their chest when they have made their choice. The Plickers program will let me know when it has recorded the answers, and who still needs to answer. 

My students like Plickers as a pretest or a quiz. I like the instant feedback and access to the data, the ease of use, and the price. My only real cost was for the cards, as a device is almost always within reach in my classroom. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

You Are My Hero!

Thanks Melon Headz Illustrating and KG Fonts

Teachers Pay Teachers is having a sitewide sale tomorrow and Thursday. As educators, we often get a bad rap. The public often doesn't understand all the things we go through to educate our students. The public doesn't realize how much personal income teachers pump back into their classrooms. I know my own classroom has benefited from thousands of dollars spent on units or worksheets, furnishings, decorations, storage and organizational materials, and thousands of novels purchased for my classroom library. Teachers Pay Teachers is letting the teachers know how much they are valued. They really are heroes to their students, families, and communities.
As a tribute to all those teachers out there, I am joining Teachers Pay Teachers in offering 20% off of my store. With the additional savings, you will save 28% off any item in my store. It is my way of trying to help you provide for your students, while saving you some cash.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Addressing Professional Goals - Testing, Testing

I work under a contract that includes merit pay. We use the Danielson model for teacher evaluation. As part of the process, we have to do a mid-year self-assessment. As I worked through the assessment, I pinpointed some strengths and weaknesses in myself or my teaching. I am going to do a couple of posts on what I am doing to address these professional goals.

One area that I am working on is aligning my assessment with my instructional outcomes. I am using a variety of formative and summative assessments. One of my favorite formative assessments are exit slips for math, reading, and writing. I purchased the sets of passes from Melissa O'Bryan last summer. They are common core aligned, so you just need to print the relevant slip for the day. They are easy to use. They do require printing and storing the slips. They give you a snapshot of how students are doing on the concept. You can graph responses to track student progress, so you don't need to keep the individual slips. You can check the exit slips out here, in her store.
I also use technology based assessment. My students love the instant feedback. I was using a Senteo response system for all of out selection tests for stories from our anthology. Our system is older, so I am limited to multiple choice, true/false, and numerical answers. My neighbor and I both use Senteos, sometimes at the same time. They are great for giving feedback, and grade the test for me. It helps save time. What I don't like, is that the technology can be quirky. Sometimes the computer acts up, or the receiver cannot "find" our class. 

Class and individual results are easily accessible. I can easily see what concepts were difficult and may need to be readdressed. I export the results on an excel spreadsheet. It makes transferring to the grade book easier. Overall it works well, but there are other ways that use other devices that I will get into in next week's installment. 

 In the meanwhile, I would love to hear what works for you.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Currently a very snowy Feb. 1st

It is February 1st and time to link up with Farley for her Currently Linky.

After last year's record sixteen snow days, we have only had one this year. Our luck will likely change for tomorrow, as it is snowing as I type. We have been north of most of the storm paths, but the bull's eye is right over Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. Every hour it seems the local meteorologists have changed the forecast. They are now predicting 10 to 14 inches of snow by the time it ends tomorrow morning. Winds should bring drifts of three feet. 

My husband bought a new snow blower. Our old one is very picky, and doesn't like to start for me. He knows me well, and knows I will clean the drive before he gets home tomorrow. He didn't want me to have to shovel by hand. The new one has an electric start, and is lightweight. It should be much easier for Princess, Hubby, and me to use.

I have a long list of things I want to do if I have the day off. Today, I completed one, by making a delicious breakfast for us. I am making snacks for the game tonight as well.

I hope we get a snow day, or it will not be fun driving the country roads to get to school. The winds should drift over many. 

I have been making a few lessons for my kids. Although it isn't really "flipping" because many of my kids don't have computer access at home, it does allow me to add technology to my lessons. I was posting to my password protected website, but want it to be easier for kids to access. Videos are on my thinking and needing list. Only problem, I hate hearing myself on videos!

My Pageant title is because I love technology and often are sharing, and encouraging my colleagues to try new things. It often backfires, as then they want me to share the technology with them. That means less time for my kids to have it. Argh! 

How are you spending your first day of February? Link up!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Semester's end and honoring students

Today was the start of our new semester. I would love to be able to say kids came in to a new set up, and that I was raring to go. Unfortunately, Friday was the end of the first semester, and grades were due at 8:00 AM this morning. For the first time since we went to computerized grades, my grades were almost finished when I left here on Friday. I only had one set of writing papers to finish, and the comments to add to that section of the gradecard. I procrastinated all weekend. I blog stalked, read Twitter feeds, pinned on Pinterest, and more. I lived my outside life.  Finally late last night I slapped the last comments down, and called it a night.

I am emotionally wiped out. I just spent an hour discussing with my teammates about our upcoming awards program. Last year we started doing honor roll recognition at the end of each semester. The program is wonderful if your child has one of the top academic honors in a subject area, is an all A, or A/B student. What message are we sending to our RTI students, or Special Ed. students that won't earn one of these awards? Last year I spent an hour on the phone with a parent on the Saturday morning following that first awards program. She was worried her son might hurt himself. He cried himself to sleep every night for weeks following the program. He saw himself as a failure. Another child sat in a fetal position throughout the program, sobbing uncontrollably. She didn't get an award, and knew she never would based on grades. So many of my students in my two classes are great kids, just not the top in academics.

What message should I send my students this year? I could give awards in my classroom separate from the assembly. The other parents would never see them beam as they are recognized for their achievements in behavior, or character, or whatever I deem appropriate. Will that token award be enough to erase the idea of failure from their mind, as I try to get them ready for high stakes testing?

I would love to know if you do an awards program for academics. Do all students get something? Should they all get something? I am looking for some guidance as I try to do right by my kids.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I live and teach in a state that used to do testing in the fall. We spent the first few weeks reviewing all of the previous years standards. We seldom got test scores back before spring, which rendered them almost useless. It was too late to really make an impact on those that had just missed proficiency. At-risk students had usually been receiving support in RTI.
This year we are finally joining the rest of the country in doing our state proficiency test in the spring. Testing windows vary. Our window for fifth grade begins the day we return from spring break. It runs for the next three weeks. This year we were going to do Smarter Balance Assessment, but the state decided to go with two versions of a new test, the M-Step. One is a paper/pencil and the other is computerized. We have opted to do the computerized test. This new test is very different from the old "MEAP". It is much more like Smarter Balance. It is also testing common core standards. They have opened a Spring Preview Test. I am going to give my students plenty of time to check out the sample questions. Luckily, this group of students did a pilot of Smarter Balance as third and fourth graders, so the test question format should be familiar.

Unfortunately, our math curriculum is not aligned. To prepare students for the test I am supplementing my math curriculum with task cards and other activities. I don't have as much time to make products as I would like, so I look for good deals. By following blogs and facebook pages, and stores on Teachers Pay Teachers, you can get lucky and win products. My textbook series doesn't get to operations with decimals for a few more weeks, so I jumped at the chance to grab some task cards and activities for centers. I happened to find to great products to help with decimals.
The first product was from Melissa O'Bryan from Wild About Fifth Grade. Melissa sent me her New Year's Decimal Centers.

New Years Decimal Centers Grades 4-6

What I loved about this set is that it included Task Cards, Independent Worksheets, and Math games. Students practiced rounding decimals, ordering decimals, adding decimals mentally, and multiplying decimals. 
My second product was from Verena Scrivens at Diary of a 5th Grade Teacher. She sent me her Dividing Decimal Task Cards.
Dividing with Decimals Task Cards

This set helped fill the requirements for dividing with decimals. I liked that Verena has the CCSS listed on each task card. This was helpful when determining which particular standards my kids still need to practice. This was a great way to practice skills, and made planning a breeze.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Re:marks Review

I recently had an opportunity to take a look at a new product. The product was from Re:Marks Personalized Designer Address Stamps. The stamp comes with a designer self-inking stamp featuring an interchangeable die plate. It allows you to use a single stamping device for all of your stamping needs. 

You can get a plate with your address, a monogram, one for greeting cards, etc. The setup is for a square stamp image. The stamping device is a sturdy design. I like that you can use one device for several different stamps. I think the only thing that would make it better would be for it to have additional storage for the other plates you might want. It would be helpful for organizing and storing multiple stamps.

The one that I received was a "Thank you" stamp design, a double sided black ink cartridge, and a redeemable certificate for a custom stamp design of your choice. So many choices made it difficult to choose my free one. They have so many styles from which to choose. You can even design your own stamp by uploading your own image. A direct link to Re:Marks product will allow you to purchase your own Re:Marks Stamp. I have used Re:Marks stamps before and love them. The ink lasts. 

I used my stamps to make Thank You cards for gifts my students gave me. It was fun, and a breeze to do with the Re:Mark stamp. 

If you are looking for a great stamping product, check out Re:Marks Stamps. They are a good dependable product with some great design choices.

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