Monday, June 29, 2015

Differentiation & the Brain - Chapter 3: Curriculum

I've been doing a lot of reading lately and one book I've been reading with my Tools for Teaching Teens Team is Differentiation and the Brain by David Sousa and Carol Tomlinson.  I'm here to talk about chapter 3, Curriculum & Differentiation, but if you haven't read Chapter 1 yet head back to Ellie's blog.  And Chapter 2 is on Brigid's blog.

Chapter 3 spends most of its time defining what qualifies as quality curriculum because the quality of the curriculum not only communicates to the student our regard for them and their potential, but also without quality curriculum we fail to really teach our students no matter how much we differentiate the material.  In defining quality curriculum the authors lay out 5 key characteristics.
1. The curriculum should be organized around essential content goals.
2. The curriculum should be aligned with the content goals, assessments, and learning experiences.
3. It should be focused on student understanding.
4. The curriculum should be engaging for the students.
5. It must be authentic.

Through further explanation of these characteristics we learn that two key questions must be answerable for students when they are given material to learn and digest.
*** Does this make sense?
*** Does this have meaning?

When learning both makes sense and has meaning for a student, it is more likely to be remembered and retained in their memory for recall and use later.  Therefore, if we can integrate the curriculum more, rather than compartmentalize learning, it will help to establish meaning and thus increase learning.

Who hasn't had a student ask, "Why do we have to know this? When am I ever going to use this?" The quality curriculum that has meaning and makes sense, answers these two questions.  If a student is asking these two questions, they clearly have not reached meaning or sense of the information as of yet.

Along with this is the idea that learning must be relevant to the student to enhance their understanding of the material.  When learning is relevant, it increases student motivation, which develops neural circuitry, which in turns increases student achievement.  Thus the most important tasks are those that ask students to take their basic knowledge and skills and use them to explore and extend their understanding, not simply recall facts and figures.

Something that struck me in the reading and is very different than how I was taught to differentiate curriculum in college is that the authors do not believe that curriculum should come first and then be differentiated to meet student's needs.  Rather they believe that differences in students should be anticipated and incorporated as the curriculum is being developed.

This chapter points us towards a better outcome by encouraging the use of meaningful, appropriate lessons based around how we lead the students to reach an objective of attaining expertise in a content goal. We do this by applying what we know about the students to the lesson, rather than simply applying a hard curriculum to the students. The lesson should be molded to the students in order to let the knowledge sink in.

Now, to read on and learn about chapter four and Assessment and Differentiation, visit Leah's blog.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Daring to Dream - The TpT Seller Challenge Week 2

Thanks to the TpT Seller Challenge being hosted by Peppy Zesty Teacherista, Sparkling in Second, Teach, Create, Motivate, & Third in Hollywood, this week's topic is Dare to Dream.  In consideration of this topic I have chosen to dream about my life thanks to my store and about where I would like to see my store go as well.

Continue TpT Full Time - Thankfully, due to the most amazing husband in the world, last October/December I got the chance to stop teaching and work on TpT full time.  It has been life changing for me.  It has meant the end of almost daily migraine headaches. It has brought a sense of joy and creativity back into my life that had been missing for many years. And it has allowed me to be available for our daughter whenever she needs me.  I would hope that my store continues to do well enough that I can continue to work from home on TpT and reap the benefits it has brought to our family.

Become Debt Free - My husband and I were high school sweethearts.  I was engaged at the young age of 16, married at 20, and we had our first child when I was 22.  This summer we will celebrate our 23rd anniversary.  Although I wouldn't change my life for anything, we were very unprepared for all the responsibilities that married life and parenting required, and as such we racked up a lot of debt that we are still trying to pay off after having learned our lessons.  I would  love to finally have those debts off our shoulders once and for all.

Renovate the Backyard - One of our projects we've been slowly saving up for is to renovate the backyard.  It would be nice to be able to pay for that project next summer and finally have our backyard oasis we have always wanted.

Vacation - During my first twelve years of life my family always took two vacations every year - one every summer and one every holiday.  I loved traveling and have always loved road trips.  Unfortunately, in my family, we rarely get to vacation, and I would love to take my husband and kids on trips like when I was a child.  I would love to visit the national parks, go on a cruise, check off the rest of the 50 states I haven't been to, and see a couple amusement parks while we're at it.

Consistently be in the top 100 M.S. Sellers - I joined TpT in the spring of 2013, but didn't do much with my store until the summer of 2014.  Since then I have made it to the top 50 in my state and I sometimes make it on the top 100 middle school sellers list, but I am often towards the bottom of the list.  I would like to consistently be in the top 100 sellers, and preferably strongly in the top 100 sellers.

Reach my First TpT Milestone this Year - This one is a longshot, but it's not called Dare to Dream for nothing.  I would really like to have a strong Back to School season of selling and finish the fall well so that I can hopefully reach my first TpT milestone late this year.  It's going to take a lot of hard work and lot of prayers and luck, but I hope with my work over this summer, what I learn in Vegas, and my increasing presence on Pinterest I can gain the momentum I need to get there.

So there you go...there are my dreams.  I hope to push through, dare to really go there, and that I get to see at least some of them come to fruition.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Making Over my Character Certificates

I, along with hundreds, if not thousands of others, joined the TPT Seller Challenge to raise our stores to the next level.  Over the coming four weeks we will be given different challenges to complete, and I am eager to see where it takes me and my store while I am on this journey.

This week's challenge was to makeover a product cover or an entire product itself.  I chose to go for the entire product and it has taken me most of the week to complete, but I also became obsessed and went a bit overboard, just to say the least.  The product I chose to makeover was my 75+ Character Certificates.  

You can see from my before images that my cover is attempting, but failing miserably, at being cutesy, and my title is small.  I also have another TpT author's logo on my cover because way back when I had no idea how to do credit pages and the only thing I used of hers were the kids on the cover so I put her logo on my cover ( so stupid...)  

The biggest problem with the product itself is that I tried to make it editable as a PDF which just didn't work for people as it was too hard to line up the text and too hard to match the fonts.  I had no idea how to use PowerPoint back then and had only used Publisher, so I changed it to be editable in Publisher, using Microsoft graphics, which wasn't very cool of me either.  It was just a big hot mess and needed to be updated.

So now I have a whole new design with real graphics and a real thank you and credits page, all completed in PowerPoint.  And now that I know how to use PowerPoint I have made it editable in PowerPoint.  I also added 22 more character traits to get the product up to an even 100 character awards.

What really got me into trouble with my re-design this week, however, is that once I got into it, I just kept going and I didn't just stop at gold.  I actually made 5 versions of the certificates and was going to bundle them all together as one gigantic certificate offer - 100 certificates in 5 fun versions.  Unfortunately, when I went to upload them to TpT though, I discovered my bundle was 500MB too large.  Not 5 MB too large - 500 MB too large.  I was so stupid to not even think about the monstrosity I was making.  So in the end I had to unbundle my certificates and offer them all as separate colors. 

My "Makeover Madness" of this week will benefit you however, as all versions of these certificates will be on sale for just $2.50 for the remainder of this week.  I hope you will pick up the color or colors you like best.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Love Isn't Always Easy

Things have been trying lately, but I wouldn't change it for the world.  See I'm married to my high school sweetheart as they call it, although I only knew him for a whole 9 weeks while we were actually in high school.  Our first date was June 2, 1988 (27 years ago), on his last day of high school and from that day on we were smitten.  We were engaged one month later, married four years later, and had our first child 2 years after that.  Twenty-three (married years) later we are still going strong, although now we sometimes have to work at it, to make things spark or sail or fly along.
Love isn't always easy.  Some days it takes works.  Some days we disagree and have to reach a healthy resolution.  Some days one of us might just wake up disagreeable and the other person has to realize it's nothing personal.  Some days, weeks, or months (in this particular case) our job pulls us farther and farther away from one another and we have to know that it's all for the greater good; that the work being put in now will benefit us in the not too distant future.  We have to understand that if we can weather a few storms today, we can find shelter together in a beautiful tomorrow.  Love isn't always easy, but if it's love, you're willing to endure some hardships for the beauty, togetherness, and happiness that waits on the other side.

When I'm left to fill the void left by husband as he ventures off to his job, I work on another love of mine, albeit one that is not as torturous to the heart nor as consuming as my own profession - gardening.  I love to get my hands dirty and dig in the dirt.  I never wear gloves when I'm out there.  I'd much rather feel the dirt between my fingers even if I have to jump and squeal from the occasional spider or centipede.  I love the peace and quiet (and shade of my favorite garden) as I sit and weed for an hour or two every week.  I love the beauty that comes from the blooming flowers and the compliments from the neighbors.  It just all brings about a peace and a serenity that I don't often get in my life.
What isn't easy about this passion is that every year I have to start over because I stink at gardening so badly.  Even my favorite garden, which is a perennial garden, somehow manages to need starting over every year.  They're perennials because they're supposed to come back year after year, but not mine.  This beautiful garden that my husband built me has about 14 plants in it, and usually each year I must replant at least half the plants as I have somehow managed to kill them by not properly preparing them for the Colorado winter.  The plant industry must love people like me.

Another thing I love but yet takes a lot of energy, heart and soul in doing so, is my Interactive Notebooks.  I love creating Interactive Notebooks, or living books as we used to call them back when I started teaching.  I love getting kids involved, making lessons that are creative, and figuring ways to teach something with a flippable, foldable, or spinnable activity.  I love putting my lessons out there for others to use and considering the idea that hundreds or thousands of students could be learning about something because I made it accessible to them.  That's a pretty awesome feeling.

With every Interactive Notebook, however, also comes a time where I hit a wall in my creativity, and I have to take a break from it before I explode.  I also find that it's not always easy to put my books out there.  With my own children being grown, these books are like my babies.  I'm invested in them and I've sunk so much of my time and energy, passion and creativity into them, it's like putting a piece of your soul out there to be criticized.  It can be hard to watch the reviews come in, but like everything you's not always easy, but if it's truly something you love than it's worth it to make it better.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Mile High TPT Meet Up

Last Saturday I was able to partake in my first TPT meet up, and it was a great first experience.

Around 2 dozen Colorado sellers got together in southern Denver at Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant for some great discussion, fun exchanges, and lots of laughs.  It was such a thrill to finally meet Leah Popinski, Pamela Kranz, Jean Martin, and many other sellers, not to mention Ashley Cook of Teaching in Bronco Country who put our festivities together and did a stellar job.  I was really glad to meet some friendly faces before I head to Vegas for the big conference in July.

We had a delightful lunch and then partook in a school supply white elephant exchange.  I got giant post-it notes; I didn't even know they existed that large.  I gave away a package of my favorite flair pens, some post-it notes, and a bag of M&Ms.

Once the school supply exchange was over, we then had a raffle for great prizes donated by awesome companies.  A big thank you goes out to Learning Resources, Little Knits Studio, Lakeshore Learning, Scentco, BIC, GoNoodle, Learning Expeditions, Gifts By Gaby, Classroom Friendly Supplies, KristyBear Designs, and Plan Book.

If that wasn't enough we also got an incredible swag bag full of great items to use in our classrooms.  My favorites were the assortments of pens and pencils from Bic and the scented pen from Smens.  What can I say, I'm a office supply-aholic.

Now it's your turn.  You can win one of our swag bags too.
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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Currently It's June

It's the beginning of June, and so I'm joining up with Farley at Oh' Boy 4th Grade to share what's currently happening in my life.  If you want to share your own 'Currently', head over to her blog and get involved.

I had a great day at the museum with my daughter today as we checked out the exhibits and took pictures of various artifacts.  I was surprised at how many schools were still in session.  We both felt bad for those poor teachers and students still going to school.

I've been working on an Interactive Notebook for about a month now.  I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and think I'm close to being done, maybe another week left, but I really need to get it done and out to my store before people start to think my store is dead.

I've been struggling with my self-confidence lately and been feeling the need to run everything past my husband.  It's been very burdensome to him as he is already putting in ten plus hours at work.  Somehow I need to get my mojo back and be okay with what I do.

Finally, I am so grateful it is summer vacation.  I love not having to set an alarm or harass my daughter about homework or projects.  I hate projects.  Plus I absolutely love the long warm nights of summer.  If it could be 7:30 PM and 80 degrees all the time, I think I would be in heaven.