Friday, October 26, 2018


I love song parodies, videos and stuff like that!
I've got some Weird Al in me for sure.

When I was a kid, I would make SNL videos for my friend's birthday presents.  
Now I get to create and share parodies at my school with our weekly TV news announcements to promote events happening at school.  It's so much fun!

So when I recently found out about the Instagram #gradingpaperschallenge started by Ron Clark, I knew I had to get my groove on.

I had a blast learning how to pretend sing in Korean as well as the Gangnam style dance.  But I didn't realize that Instagram videos are usually only 15 seconds long.  So I thought I would give a link to where you can watch the whole thing.

If you're a teacher, you've got to do this!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

TLF Chapter 1: Keep the Peace

Fast forward from sunny, green-grassy August days when school wasn't in session to brisk, leaf-strewn October days when the end of the first quarter is almost here.  Time flies!   But I've been thinking about Finland a lot lately because, in our district, tensions over loss of academic teaching freedom are at an all-time high and I wish I could escape to Finland. Good thing I have this book to lift my spirits.

Chapter 1 concludes with the idea of 

Rauha means peace in Finnish.  But, in the Finnish culture, there are many types of peace.  Stop and think about that.  Different types of peace.  I love this idea.  Among them, ruokurauhais or 'food peace'.  I think I’m going to explore this idea further on my own.  

So rigorous versus peaceful.  Which would you choose?  As a parent, I choose rigorous because I want my child to be ready for the next grade level.  As a teacher, I want both.  And, as it turns out, research suggests and supports that both are possible and both actually need each other.
For more on this, check out an article by Olga Khazan “How Noise Pollution Impairs Learning”from 2016.  

Here is a list of ways that we can increase peace and learning at the same time, like is the norm in Finnish schools. Keep in mind that you are probably already doing many of these (pat on the back), maybe you fall out of routine with them from time to time or maybe they’re new.

·     Rules: establish, together, how to achieve 1. Respect for self.  2. Respect for others and 3. Respect for the learning environment. What does it look like, sound like, feel like. Involving students in this is crucial and the rules (chart) can be referred to throughout the year.
·     A noise-meter, created by the class, to help provide them feedback on the aforementioned idea.  One of thebest items I’ve ever purchased for my classroom (in my second year of teaching) is a Yacker Tracker.
·     Strike a balance between noise and quiet.  During a quiet work period, for example, offer a spot in the classroom for kids to go who need to talk about what they’re working on.
·     Incorporate the practice of mindfulness.  It’s a buzzword in education today and you only have to Google it to start finding information and resources.  But the book Mindfulness for Teachersby Patricia Jennings has some great ideas for teachers.  Her point is that mindfulness is “intended to promote self-awareness; foster cognitive, emotional and behavioral self-regulation; and reduce stress.”

All of this is a wonderful no-brainer and “makes my heart happy” but when your day is scheduled and structured down to the minute (unfortunately true in my district) and you have to choose between using the last 30 minutes of the day for either social studies, science or SEL “my heart is so sad.” 

Chapter 2 is up next and is all about belonging.  I'll share the ideas Timothy Walker proposes that help "cultivate that sense of connectedness in our classrooms."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

TLF Chapter 1: Get Into the Wild

Ever heard of ADD?  Of course, we (teachers) have heard of it, dealt with it and know it when we see it even though we are not allowed to really mention it and instead must use code (i.e.  “Have you talked to your child’s pediatrician about the attentional concerns I’ve raised?”) 

Well, have you ever heard of NDD?  Nature Deficit Disorder, as coined by author and journalist Richard Louv in 2011, is exactly what it sounds like: a gap between kids and nature.  Louv says “research strongly suggests that time in nature can help many children learn to build confidence in themselves, reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, calm children, and help them focus.”  

Finnish teachers are very willing and able to bring their students outside of their classrooms for play and  learning, according to Timothy Walker.  Some of us, in our school settings, have access to nature right outside our windows and doors.  Teaching in Alaska, we are surrounded by so much spectacular nature it’s breathtaking.  Teaching at the foot of the Chugach Mountain Range at my school, it’s even harder to resist. One of our 6th grade teachers spearheaded the effort to create a “Living Classroom” adjacent to the school and our playground.  There are wooden benches, a big cleared space, collapsible camping seats and even a carved sign indicating the space.  So a nature space can even be created in the absence of one. 

Walker suggests we think about this strategy in different tiers of getting students outside.

Tier 1: Bring nature into the classroom.Projects that tie to curriculum are abundant (sprouting potatoes, butterfly lifecycle, leaf rubbings, etc) and bringing plants into the classroom and caring for them is wonderful, in my opinion.  I was fortunate enough to receive a Donors Choose grant a few years ago for a garden table.  It is full of plants, big and small, and the special grow lightbulbs are soothing.  I love having smelly plants like lavender and mint.  I also have plants around the classroom to green it up. 

Tier 2: Stepping outside for a lesson. Use your school campus as a habitat to enhance your measurement lesson(s), poetry study, writing prompt(s), etc.
Tier 3: Greening the school grounds by undertaking projects.  I like to think of this as campus beautification.  There’s a school in my district that has big raised garden beds against the school wall and each grade level has one to plant things in. Putting up bird feeders, planting a tree(s) and pulling weeds to make a small area look nicer are other ideas. This past spring (last week of school), I taught my students about dandelions.  They are very clever plants. . .that I detest.  After our science lesson we went outside to a small, square space directly in front of the principal’s office and went to work getting rid of trash, dandelions and other weeds for 1.5 hours.  THEY LOVED IT and wanted to do it again the next day. . .and so we did!

We can all take baby steps towards connecting our inside learning space to the wonderful nature outside.

Up next: Keep the Peace

Thursday, July 19, 2018

TLF: Chapter 1 Breathe Fresh Air

I tend to be hot in my classroom when I’m teaching.  I rarely sit at my desk and am instead up and down and all about.  I cannot, for example, even think of wearing a sweater to school (and I live in Alaska) because I know I’ll be a pool of sweat by lunch. But my daughter’s fourth grade teacher on the other hand, (at my school) is always cold and wearing cute sweaters. . .go figure.  If given the choice I’d much rather always be cold because you can always put on more layers but there’s only so much to take off.

Because I often get warm, I open a window to let in some cool air.  What I’m doing to regulate my own body temperature is an idea Thomas Walker suggests that I didn’t really think about.  Open a window and let in fresh air in order to keep a balance between the oxygen we need to breathe in and the carbon dioxide we breathe out.  In other words, it’s good for your brain.  

My dream classroom window!

Finnish people in general feel that cool or cold air is good for you.  Walker observed, for example, parents leaving their babies sleeping in their strollers outside on their balconies (even in freezing temperatures) and he and his wife ended up doing the same.  It’s an acceptable part of Finnish culture.

The temperature of a classroom is one of a few factors that can lead to academic achievement.  A study was done in 2014 that found “that student learning and achievement are deeply affected by the environment in which (this) learning occurs” as proven by “a plethora of scientific evidence.”  

When I open a window to regulate temperature, I always feel some degree of calmness wash over me.  It’s like a natural stress reducer.  
So opening a window to let in fresh air can not only help academic achievement because it’s good for your brain, but stress (yours and your student’s) can also be reduced.

Next up: Get Into the Wild


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

TLF: Chapter 1 Simplify the Space

Think about the four walls of your classroom.  Think of three adjectives that best describe those walls. I would say: cute, functional, tidy. With each of these adjectives, think about who that benefits more: you or your students?

The saying “what’s best for kids” has its place in an elementary classroom. Are my cute decorations best for kids? Is the functional word wall and the super tall AR (Accelerated Reader) tree best for kids?  Is the tidy appearance best for kids?

How about “what’s best for the teacher”?  We spend the most time in our classroom and it is our priority to instruct kids in our classroom.  So my cute decorations are best for me (Pinterest has been a GAME changer in elementary classrooms), the functional aspects are helpful for me and the tidy appearance is best for me.  

So what’s best for the classroom, in my opinion, is a combination of both what the teacher and students need and want.  Think quality -v.s- quantity.

Think about, for example, your Kindergarten classroom from when YOU were a kid.  Think of three adjectives to describe the four walls that surrounded you for an academic year when YOU were five.   

What we put up on the four walls of our classroom and how much we put up are very different in the U.S. and Finland.  Thomas Walker noticed very quickly the “less is more” Finnish motto in his colleagues’ classrooms in Helsinki.  He feels that the calmness of students and teachers can be, to some degree, attributed to the simplified learning spaces of their classrooms.

A study by Fisher, Godwin & Seltman in 2014 revealed that, in the U.S., children “were more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated”.  I can understand that revelation and know that when I’m somewhere that has a lot of stuff up on walls, I feel overstimulated and am more distracted.  

Finnish teachers limit, to an extent, what and how they decorate their classrooms.  They want their classrooms to be uncluttered and cozy and achieve this by keeping their classroom design and decoration simple in order to achieve a positive tunnelma(atmosphere).  

Walker’s suggestion is to really think about the purpose of what you put up and display in your classroom throughout the year.  If it is something that helps students (a word wall, for example) or something that highlights students (published writing project, for example) then that is worth your time.  But if it’s just for show, or you feel the pressure to display student work or you’re trying to win the Pinterest-inspired classroom contest then it’s not worth your time and energy.  Quality -v.s- quantity

Think about your teacher desk area in your classroom (if you have one). What three adjectives best describe it? I would say: cozy, small, organized. There are teachers who do not have a teacher desk or teacher area in their classroom.  I am not one of those people and never will be.  My desk area is the first thing I set up in August and the last thing I put away in May.  My philosophy is that if I’m going to spend a lot of time in my classroom, it needs to be cozy and helpful to me.  You’ll find slippers under my desk, a little fountain on my desk, lamps around the room (with lights off) and chocolate in my bottom left-hand desk drawer.  The icing on the cake is when I put on the Pandora 'spa' station and my iPhone is connected to a bluetooth speaker across the room.  Zen baby!

Next up: Breathe Fresh Air

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

TLF: Chapter 1 Recharge After School

How much time do you spend, at the school where you teach, planning and preparing for your students
. . .outside of your workday?
How much time do you spend, at home planning and preparing for your students. . .outside of your workday?

If you're like most American teachers, TOO MUCH time.  I find it hard to decrease the amount of time I spend planning and prepping because of the pressure I feel to do my job well and I want to be Super Woman and do it all (family, work, blogging & TPT, running, etc.).  But I totally agree with Timothy Walker when he says that teaching "is more like a marathon than a sprint" and that we have a tough time pacing ourselves, even when our bodies tell us to slow down.  I'm a runner and have always viewed my teaching year as a marathon.  I can pace myself pretty well and as soon as I cross the finish line I CELEBRATE and play hard during the summer.  

So within the realm of recharging after school, here are three things Walker suggests:

1. Work smarter, not harder.
     Walker doesn't give specific examples.  Maybe finding and using a TPT resource instead of creating it yourself (I'm SO guilty of that) is an example.  I finally started doing this last year and was like, "Duh, that saved me a lot of time!"  I really like to create stuff and am super picky so that's why I just always make stuff.  I would love to get your ideas for how to accomplish smarter instead of harder.
2. Prioritize your work.
     Making sure the most important things get done after school before you leave and not sweating the small stuff that remains is the message I get here.  I've personally started doing this last year and it works. . .but I'm still left with anxiety over when to get those things done and being okay with them staying my "to do" list for a while.
3. Set clear boundaries between work and rest.
       This one is the hardest for me because I'm a work-before-play person.  I'm just that kind of person and it was a good strategy for me at the start of my career before I had a husband and family.  I know it takes something like 21 days to form a habit so if I get in the habit of taking me-time (a.k.a. rest time) before doing school work at home, it'll happen, right?

Next up: Simplify the Space

Friday, June 29, 2018

TLF Chapter 1: Learn on the Move

Finland and the United States both failed at the same thing in 2013 and 2014, respectively. . .

. . .helping students stay active during the school day.

     Finland decided to do something about it right away and created the Finnish Schools on the Move program.  Several easy-to-implement movement ideas were compiled and shared with Finnish schools. A few pilot schools started it and eventually 800 schools jumped on the band wagon.  
     'Recess Activators' was one big idea.  Since all students go outside for the daily breaks in Finland, older students volunteered and were trained to engage younger students in games and activities that promoted movement.  Many teachers noticed that even though outdoor breaks are scheduled into each day it doesn't necessarily mean that kids are moving while outside, especially older kids.  
     Here's how I could see this specific strategy working in a U.S. school: brain break buddies.  Brain breaks are all the rage and, while a great idea, can be hard to implement.  I see the second graders at my school going outside in the afternoon every single day.  I am boggled at how they can fit a break in because we are incredibly scheduled with our 'blocks' and there is no wiggle room. . .argh! The Kindy and sixth grade classes pair up each year to be buddies and I've also experienced 'reading buddies'.  So why not Brain Break Buddies?  Yes, it would take time to figure out a part(s) of the day during which both classes could unite and do this but it's worth a try, right?  
     Another idea, specifically aimed for older students is to involve them in creating some fun movement activities that they can and want to do during their breaks.  But, in order for this to be successful, two 15-minute breaks were combined for a 30 minute break.
     I really like this idea because giving students a choice and involving them in creating those choices is very powerful and motivating!  I think, for this to work in U.S. schools, the materials needed to accomplish this would be the issue.  Of course the P.E. teacher more than likely has items to let students use at recess or during a break but those items are also used for teaching.  So maybe the PTA, a school fundraiser or even something like could be utilized.  Because, as Walker points out, engaging students in physical activity shouldn't rest on the shoulders of the P.E. teacher and recess.
     An idea I could definitely see being popular at my school is dance.  There was an amazing sixth grade hip-hop dancer that kids would crowd around at our annual end-of-the-year DJ party to watch. Inviting her to model and teach hip-hop would be dope!  Another idea is to have a mobile (projection) screen available on which to show dance videos for kids to learn from, kind of like Dance Dance Revolution.
     Aside from recess, infusing movement into the main classroom is vital.  It's so vital that the state of Alaska, where I live and teach, made it law in 2016.  Yes, there is a law called SB 200 that mandates 54 minutes of physical activity per full school day for all students K-8.  This can include scheduled P.E. times but, for example, my students have gym three times per week for 30 minutes each time so the rest is up to me.  But we're between a rock and a hard place because, in my district, a new reading curriculum was implemented this past year that mandates a certain number of minutes (a.k.a. the reading block) and more minutes are being added next year!  So it's incredibly hard to find time to squeeze in vital breaks.  
     Two ways I've tried are whole group and small group.  I call these 'Body & Brain Breaks'.
     Whole group is usually after a lesson/activity finishes.  I have a menu of quick games/activities that we roll a dice to decide upon.  You can get this menu for free if you go to my TPT store.  We also LOVE Go Noodle!
     Small group is THE best way I incorporate movement into daily learning!  The cornerstone of my teaching philosophy and practice is small group learning.  For reading, I use a form of the Daily 5 and take all of the whole group teaching from our new curriculum and put it into small groups.  This past spring I invited a mom to come in who is a yoga teacher who is passionate about the benefits of yoga for kids.  She was one of the small groups in the hallway outside of my classroom and it was awesome!

Child's Pose
     She kicked off my plan to incorporate independent yoga in the classroom by explaining what yoga is and showing them some basics.  I then devoted one of the five groups (at the 'video station') to YouTube yoga videos I downloaded.  Kids use wireless headphones and the video is show on the only desktop computer I have in my classroom. Each small group is 15 minutes in length.

Cosmic Kids Yoga with Jaime is awesome, check it out!
     I'll leave you with another idea that Walker proposes in his book.  It's something he calls a "Gallery Walk".  Students take a piece of work and display it in the classroom and everyone walks around to look at and comment on each piece.  I think this is a great idea and can be adapted for K-6. You're killing three birds with one stone: movement, displaying published work and peer feedback.  

I would love to hear how you incorporate movement into your elementary classroom, please leave a comment below.

Next up: Recharge After School