Mystery Science for the WIN

Oh. My. Goodness. This COVID teaching life is no joke. I am EXHAUSTED. I mean, we all know that teaching is exhausting but adding on all of the new rules AND the constant changes, is extra rough.

I’ve learned this year that I have to be okay with not being the best teacher in some areas and accepting that things are going to be hard and different. I will admit that this week was a hard week in many ways. Our school has gone from dropping the bomb that we would be moving to hybrid learning in the elementary schools on Monday, to being told we wouldn’t be given prep time for that transition on Tuesday, to then being told we would not be going to hybrid on Thursday. There is no other way to explain it than to say it was a total mind f**k. On top of that huge confusion, I had parent and student issues going on as well. I honestly can say I know I taught something this week but I don’t really know what.

The thing that got me through this week was my amazing team. This is the first time I feel like I’m on a team where everyone understands each other and is always there for you no matter what. I’m also finally on a team where everyone is a real person. There are no words to explain how helpful that makes everything.

There has been one resource that has truly been a lifesaver for me. If there is one subject I am not good at teaching, it’s science. I have really struggled with that in the past and was really stressing about how I would do it this year since I’m struggling just teaching reading and math.

This year our district is piloting Mystery Science as our science curriculum. For years I have been showing Mystery Doug videos weekly to my classes just for fun. If you’ve never watched these videos, do it! They are usually about 5-10 minutes long and touch on anything and everything kids want to know about. A video might be on how pencils are made, but the videos go way deeper than just that answer. I’ve told my students that every time I watch a video, I learn something new even if I know the answer to the title of the video.

Mystery Doug than evolved into a full fledged science curriculum website known as Mystery Science. (To be honest, I’m not sure what came first Mystery Doug or Mystery Science but I personally heard of Mystery Doug first.) Mystery Science’s website is super easy to follow and teach that literally anyone can do it! Even someone like me who really struggles understanding parts of science in the first place.

All you do is find your grade level standards and there are videos ready to go to show your students. The video goes through a lesson and always has a hands on exploration at the end. My students are starting the year off by learning about energy and electricity. They just completed an activity where they built their own chain reaction machine. It was so cool because they got to learn about energy transfer while also being their own engineers.

The site is so friendly to use that it is PERFECT for a distance learning teacher. My students all have their own Chromebooks so we’ve been practicing on doing lessons completely independently just in case we have to go distance in the future.

I send out a link on Seesaw to the week’s lesson, show them the materials they will need for the exploration, and then set them loose. The lesson videos are 10-30 minutes long and the hands on activities are around 30 minutes long. I’ve really enjoyed watching my kids be totally independent in their learning while navigating the videos and making their projects.

We do every other lesson together as a class so we can have class discussions and I can keep track of their learning. The weeks that they go through the videos on their own, I have a print out of questions they have to answer throughout so I can see later they followed along. (This has prevented my slackers from just clicking through the videos just to get done.)

The other super nice thing about this site is they are always updating it and posting new projects and videos weekly for any grade level. An example this week was that they posted a video on creepy crawly bugs. I sent this video link out to my class today during WIN time as an optional “Friday Fun” activity. They watched a short video and then got to make their own symmetrical centipedes. They LOVED it! It was so fun watching them laugh at the videos and get super into making their own bugs. The best part was that, to them, it was a Friday Fun activity but they were actually doing a science lesson at the same time without even realizing it.

Moral of the story, even if your school has a set science curriculum, go check out Mystery Science’s site. If you subscribe to Mystery Doug’s weekly videos, you get a new free video sent to your email every week followed by extra activities they will randomly post throughout the week. (Like the bug activity from today.) Kids love it and I promise you will to because it is no extra work. It’s actually a nice relaxing time of the week because for a few minutes you can take a breath while they are captivated by the video being shown.

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Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Our first full week is complete and I’m shockingly not as tired as I have been in the past. It was a good week full of lots of housekeeping and FINALLY starting some curriculum lessons! This week started off with a pretty normal couple of days but then the bomb came. We found out Monday … Continue reading Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Back in Work Mode

Oh man, I don’t know about the rest of you but I feel like everyday has been a marathon and a sprint at the same time. I don’t know if it’s because of our shortened schedule mixed with our new COVID rules and procedures but I am exhausted at the end of every day. I also feel like I never get everything done that I need to.

We are now officially one month into school and I have finally come to the conclusion of what kind of class I have. I have a group of really sweet kids but they are also a group of kids who cannot be unsupervised or unstructured for more than a few minutes. They are the type of class that can get really loud and excited fast but then cannot come back down. I’ve had a couple of classes like this before so I sadly know what we will and won’t be able to do.

I’ve also come to the conclusion on who my students are as people. I know who my class clowns are, who my shy insecure kids are, and who my overachievers are.

My students (at least I think) have realized who I am as a teacher as well. I have high expectations for them and they know it. (Some of them hate it.) I do not tolerate certain behaviors that they have been able to get away with in the past. For some, this year has been a rude awakening and I’ve been called the mean teacher many times. In our district, 5th grade is the last year of elementary school. We tell our kids on day 1 that we are going to treat them like middle schoolers so there isn’t such a culture shock next year when they enter 6th grade. It’s been crazy for me to see how many of them don’t even act like a 10 year old.

It’s been rough trying to get everyone back into school life again. I’ve been told by my teammates that the 5th grade teachers are known as the “mean teachers in the school” because of the high expectations. What has made this year even harder than normal is that some of these kids haven’t had any structure in over 6 months. (Some even longer than that because their 4th grade teacher had no expectations what so ever.) The first few weeks I caught them doing things that I couldn’t even believe I was seeing. During a test I had students getting up to talk/share answers with another student in a different spot of the room. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had students who constantly tried to “sneak” on their hats in the classroom even though it’s a school policy to not wear hats. I’ve also had students who have flat out refused to do what I’ve asked of them. When I’ve asked them if they have gotten away with refusing what a teacher has asked before they said yes. It’s been wild and has definitely been an eye opener.

Besides the weird behaviors and adjusting to being back at school, we’ve had some pretty good moments including these amazing Daily 5 moments and this amazing writing my student wrote for me during write to self. (For anyone who doesn’t know, Max Kepler is an outfielder for the MN Twins and I love him!)

This year (thanks to the threat of going distance again) our school has provided Chromebooks for everyone in the district. Before this year, only kids in grades 6-12 had them. Being 5th graders, our students were the first to get their Chromebooks in the school. It’s been fun incorporating different sites and apps into our lessons. I am used to teaching with 1:1 devices, so it’s been fun for me to teach my students how to use different platforms like Seesaw, IXL, and Epic. I’ve also learned that “free Chromebook time” is the perfect Friday afternoon reward for positive behavior since the novelty of having them hasn’t worn off yet.

On top of the sites I’ve used before, I’ve also learned about more platforms our school is rolling out district wide this year. It’s been exciting incorporating different typing and music sites that they’ve been learning how to use in their media and music classes. As crazy as this year is, using the Chromebooks has been a nice constant in our day that will be able to stay constant when and if we have to go back to distance learning.

I’m also trying to adjust to trying to teach outside as much as possible. I’ve kind of been slacking on this. The only time I’ve really been outside with my class is to eat snack and lunch. That’s been it. (And that has been interesting itself.)

This is one of my students using the tinfoil from his lunch to “heat up” his friends peas….

I felt bad this week when I was hearing from other teachers about how they’ve been out to teach reading and to do math homework. Today I finally decided it was time to try going out. We were in the middle of taking our super long unit reading test so I had them finish it outside. It was wonderful and went much better than I had expected. (It helped that one of my harder students wasn’t in my room at the time.)

It’s been a weird month and it’s only going to get weirder. With our county’s COVID numbers, we are more than likely heading to a hybrid model soon which will be a whole new definition of weird. BUT I am thankful to have a job and to be able to see and teach my students in person. I’m really hoping things start to turn around soon so we won’t have to go back to what last year was like. Fingers crossed.

The mask eyes you have to make in order for your students to know
you mean business.

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Outside Cafeterias and Masking Up – COVID Classroom 2020

Our first full week is complete and I’m shockingly not as tired as I have been in the past. It was a good week full of lots of housekeeping and FINALLY starting some curriculum lessons!

This week started off with a pretty normal couple of days but then the bomb came. We found out Monday that on Wednesday our entire school building’s schedule was going to change! Because of specialist schedules and bathroom schedules, the schedule had to be rewritten so our classes wouldn’t mix in the hallways. Luckily for us, the only thing that switched in our schedule was lunch being a whole half an hour sooner than it had been. That was wonderful news for me because I was STARVING by the time we finally got to eat. It’s crazy how much of a difference 30 minutes can make.

My students loved the change in schedule as well so it didn’t bother me too much. The only problem came when one of my students (who needs to know what’s going on at all times otherwise he has a mini melt down) couldn’t understand why our schedule changed and why we were going to lunch sooner when the clock didn’t read our “normal” time. I felt bad for the poor kid. He handled it much better however than I thought. He was able to adjust quickly by the next day.

Lunch has been one thing that has been really strange this year. For one thing, because we can’t mix with other classes, we can’t each lunch in the lunchroom with the whole grade level like normal. Because of that, we have to eat in our classrooms (gross) or outside! If there is one thing I hate, it’s the smell of a cafeteria in an elementary school. I LOVE my job but I hate lunch supervision duty. (Even if the smell wasn’t so bad, just watching some kids eat is disgusting!) When I heard that my students would be eating in the classroom, I was not too thrilled.

The first few days I tried eating inside but it was too chaotic and the smell was too much. This week, I took my students outside to eat and it was a little easier. It was a challenge to get my students to eat the first few days rather than go crazy because they were outside. I think it was hard for them to understand that we were outside to eat lunch, not play. Yesterday and today, however finally got better. They found a spot in the grass and ate their lunches like normal human beings which was a small but exciting win for me.

I did have to laugh though, because a group of my boys were yelling and pointing at something in the grass. When I asked what it was they informed me it was a dead bird…..I asked them why they didn’t move and they looked at me like I was the crazy one. I guess eating next to dead birds is the cool thing to do now…? 5th grade boys are weird.

Another small success came this week with one of my students. Last week I hinted at a story about one of my anti mask wearing students. In our district, parents were offered many options for their child this school year. They could opt in for 100% distance learning classrooms or 100% outdoor/nature based learning classrooms if they didn’t want their child to have to wear a mask. It was then stated that any family who chose to send their student back into the classroom would understand and agree to having their child wear a mask all day everyday. No exceptions.

One of my boys had a really hard time with this.

Side note: He is a really sweet boy who has ASD and ODD. He receives behavioral support services in a normal year so I had a feeling, with this crazy strange year, he would need some extra support to help him get through these first few weeks.

When I first met this student at our Welcome Back Days, he flat out refused to wear a mask. He then informed me his thoughts on mask wearing and let’s just say, they weren’t positive thoughts. During our first 30 minutes together, I didn’t get anything out of him other than his negativity towards coming back to school and having to wear a mask. I think I heard the word hate come out of his mouth at least 5 times every minute.

Because of our non-negotiable rule that if a student comes to school they must wear a mask, I knew the first day (plus) would be hard. Sure enough, day 1 started with him flat out refusing to take his mask out of his backpack. I didn’t know yet how to work with him in a way that would be productive so I had to call for some backup. Sadly, he was in my room for maybe 1/2 of the first day. I was able to have a conversation with him at lunch that day. I tried to get him to talk about anything other than masks but he was stuck on that subject all day. At one point, I asked if he’d like to wear a face shield instead. His response, “People who wear face shields look like terrorists.” Yep, so no face shield.

He was so angry and stubborn about wearing his mask on day 2 that I only had him in my classroom for 1 hour that day. I hate that! I never want a student out of my room for a long period of time even if they are having a rough behavior day. I wanted to regroup and go into this week with a fresh attitude and mindset on how to get him to be more relaxed so he could stay in our room all day.

This week, he walked in Monday morning with his mask on and that was that. It was like I was finally getting to see the real him instead of the angry irregulated boy I met last week. Granted, he still complained up and down about how much he hated masks but he kept it on. He would take it off every so often but as soon as I would ask him to put it back on, he did it no questions asked. That’s a success in my book! The best part was that by the end of this week, I finally got him to smile and laugh with me. I think we finally made a breakthrough where he feels he can trust me and knows that I’m in his court. I know we will have rough days this year but I think we’re building a relationship to help offset those rough days.

I know I’ve said this before but I have a soft spot for kids like him. It’s my more challenging students that I think about all the time even after I have them. I know that, because of past behaviors, sometimes these types of kids get a bad rap and some teachers immediately are prejudiced towards them because of that. I hate that. These kiddos need extra love, support, and understanding. They’re different, they need different things than most students in the classroom and I’m not afraid to give them what they need even if it makes my job harder. If you can build that connection and trust with those students, your “bad” days won’t be so bad. That kid will know it’s okay to have those hard moments and it won’t change how you feel about them or how you treat them.

Overall, our first official full week went pretty well. I love my class and can tell it’s going to be a great and fun year! There are a few yahoos in my room, however that might need to see the “mean Ms. Nygaard” come out if some of their choices don’t change for the better. They’re not bad kids by any means but I can tell it’s been 6 months since some of them have had any structure and discipline in their lives, thanks COVID! I’m hoping next week is just as great.

(There are talks about moving to a hybrid model soon so we’ll see what happens. If it comes sooner than not, be ready for some major teaching fails as I try to navigate teaching 2 rooms of students at the same time! Fingers crossed!)

Extra little surprise this week, one of the teachers at my old school sent me this awesome message over Facebook. One of my old students wrote about me in their weekly morning work. It’s the little things like this that make it all worth it!

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The New Normal

What world are we living in right now? It seems like things get more intense every single day. I don’t know what to think. Up until yesterday, I was doing okay handling all of this. We were told on Sunday that Minnesota schools would close officially as of today until at least Monday, March 30th. … Continue reading The New Normal

The First 2 Days of the 2020-2021 School Year

Well as most of you are aware, this year is going to be a hot mess. After 2 official days with my class, I know that will be a true fact but I am so lucky to have the class I do! They are amazing and so sweet.

Our first day was yesterday (Thursday, September 10th) and it was a crazy day but it felt SO GOOD to be teaching in front of a group of kids again. I forgot how much I love working with them but I also forgot how much I love just getting to know them. It was a weird first day though because most of my “get to know you” activities we couldn’t do because of social distancing and masks.

Instead of having a full lesson plan on the whole day, I just made a list of what needed to get done and I worked from there. Our mornings are insane because school officially starts at 9:15 and we have to be at our specialist classes (art, phy ed, music, or media) by 9:20! Pretty much my students arrive and we’re out the door. That isn’t exactly the way I would like to start my day (especially our first day) but I’ll just have to get used to it.

Once I picked them up from their music class we had to take our first bathroom break of the year. I never thought I would have to have a “bathroom break schedule” for my 5th graders but that’s what this year entails. We can’t mix our class with anyone else so we can’t go to the bathrooms when other students are there. Because of that, we have certain times of the day our class can go to a certain bathroom when no one else is there. Needless to say, the poor 5th graders were so confused that this was happening but listened pretty well and didn’t complain. We have a few more scheduled throughout the day and they were awesome at handling that new change.

I was able to throw in some traditional first day activities like reading First Day Jitters and We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. I love reading those stories on the first day of school because they spark great conversations on how everyone is nervous for the first day of school (even teachers.) They’re also just fun silly books that the kids get into. Before we created our class rules I also read a fun new book called The World Needs More Purple People. It’s a fun new book written by Kristin Bell and Benjamin Hart. It talks about how the world needs more kind hard working people who are themselves and who accept others. It was the perfect book to read considering all of the things that have been happening in the world. We decided that our class motto was that we’ll all be Purple People this year.

Once we finished that story we created our class rules together. I do this every first day and every first day after Christmas break. I love it because the students are involved in our rules and take more ownership in following those rules.

The day was crazy and seemed to fly by. On top of all the normal first day things like organizing materials and getting to know each other activities, we had to go through new rules and procedures like wearing our masks, taking mask breaks outside, eating lunch in the classroom, and cleaning ALL THE TIME. Before I knew it (and before my list was complete), the day was over.

When I finally got to check my email at the end of the day, I saw I had a “delivery” waiting for me in the office. My mom had this beautiful flower display sent to celebrate my first day back.

Today was day 2 and it also flew by and was full of challenges but my kids were awesome and flexible about it. Today was centered around Chromebooks and the internet……yeahhhhhhh yikes.

This year, our district is finally rolling out 1:1 devices for all students k-12. Before this year, 6-12 had Chromebooks so the elementary students were not used to sites like Seesaw and IXL. Last spring during distance learning, they had a really hard time implementing those sites because no one had used them before. This year they wanted to be more prepared.

Today we decided to distribute their new Chromebooks and log into some of their online accounts. It was a crazy mess! Some of my kids could get into certain sites and others could get into different ones. For some wild reason, I couldn’t get all of my students into every account we have to start using on Monday. Hello headache!!!

Luckily, they were super patient and understood the struggles of the internet not working. Once we attempted all log ins, we played a Kahoot game to just have some fun. They all were able to get into that and it was so much fun! I made a 20 question Kahoot all about me and they loved it. Over the past 2 days I had shared tidbits here and there about who I am so the Kahoot was my way to see if they could figure out how to use Kahoot but also to see who in my class listens well and who doesn’t.

After our Chromebook mess, I had them pick out their first read to self book from our class library. We had a nice calm 15 minutes of reading before lunch. It was a nice way to practice stamina while also calming down after the crazy Kahoot game.

Today we also had to finish up our rules and consequences for our class. Day 1 we created our rules so today, day 2, we created our consequences. Before we brainstormed a list, I read The Bad Seed and The Cool Bean to remind them of what we want our class to look like and what we don’t want our class to look like. I was so impressed because their consequence ideas were so mature and realistic. Out of my 4 classes, I can already tell this group is the most level headed group I have had.

I’m so excited to actually start a real schedule next week. I think this will be a great year no matter what it looks like. Right now, our numbers look like we may be headed to a hybrid model soon which would mean 1/2 of my class would be in one room while the other 1/2 would be in my “second room” next door. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that doesn’t happen but if it does it does. Be ready for some interesting stories if that happens! I also have a student who is anti-mask so I’m hoping next week he finally gets over the fact that we all have to wear them. Because of his defiance, he hasn’t spent much time in my room so I’m hoping that changes!! Fingers crossed!!! That’ll be a story for next week and you definitely don’t want to miss it!

Year 4, let’s go!

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What is Happening

Well well well…I feel like I need to share my thoughts on everything going on considering the education system is being effected pretty hard. I know some other states are closing schools but Minnesota has yet to follow in their footsteps. Our neighbor state Wisconsin announced yesterday that they will be closing for the next … Continue reading What is Happening

Hot Mess Alert

Well it’s been a hot minute guys. I apologize for being a little behind on posts but life has been crazy busy. It’s crazy to think that I was going to share on Valentine’s Day about our party, and now here we are 2 weeks later and there has been nothing. Today’s post is going … Continue reading Hot Mess Alert

Fairytaletopia

If you’re anything like me, you LOVE read alouds with your students. Back when I was doing one of my teaching practicums in a 3rd grade classroom, I heard the most memorizing story I’ve ever heard (apart from Harry Potter of course!) The story was called The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris … Continue reading Fairytaletopia

Back to School COVID Style

Well here we are everyone, we made it to September. It has been a wild and stressful summer because I didn’t know if I would have a job for this school year and, even if I got a job, no one knew what it was going to look like.

I know I wasn’t alone in that boat and I know I’m still not alone.

I wanted to start by giving a little update on my crazy long wait these past few months. As I’ve said before in a previous post, I found out the last week of April my job was being cut at the end of the school year. This was completely devastating to me because I did not see this coming. I found out later that my principal didn’t even know about it until after I got the call from the superintendent. It was a mess. I was given hope, however that they would be hiring back later in the summer once the fall school year plans were finalized.

I waited and waited and waited ALL summer for them to repost my job but it never happened. In Minnesota, we were told that the governor would make an official announcement on fall plans the last week of July. Districts were going to wait to hear his plan before they finalized theirs. A week after the governor announced Minnesota’s county by county plan, I heard from my principal that they would not be hiring anyone back. I felt sick to my stomach.

While I was waiting to see if I would get a call back, I was looking for other jobs around the area but no one was hiring. I truly thought there was no hope.

I felt like there was no hope until my home district (the one I grew up in and the one I taught at my first year out of college) was planning on hiring a handful of new teachers because of new programs they were going to roll out.

Side note: This district came out with very different and creative school choices for families in order to keep enrollment high and to make sure everyone felt safe in whatever environment they would be in. Families had the choice to enroll their student in a full distance learning class, a regular in the school class, or a nature based class that is entirely outside. Because of these options, many students stayed in the district and many students enrolled in the district.

I was fortunate enough to get an interview and a job offer back at the first school I taught at 3 years ago in the town I grew up in. I will officially be teaching 5th grade this year and, as of now, I am 100% in the classroom.

Just because we get to be back in the classroom, doesn’t mean things are back to normal however. I am usually a teacher who loves grouping students and hates desks. I love having tables in my room so students can collaborate throughout the day. That is not an option this year. I have 26 students and 26 desks that are spaced strategically around my small classroom to create as much distance between students as possible. It’s crazy how much room that takes up.

Another strange thing about this year is I don’t just have 1 classroom, I have 2. If our school has to go to a hybrid model of learning, 1/2 of my class will be in 1 room while the other 1/2 of my class will be in the other. Luckily the rooms are next to each other and has a door that connects them but it will definitely be an interesting experience.

My room this year isn’t as exciting as I normally like it to be but I’ve accepted the fact that having a perfectly decorated classroom is the least of my worries. I still wanted to share some pictures of my room just in case anyone is wondering what a COVID classroom looks like in Minnesota as school begins.

We had our teacher workshop week this week and it was a very different workshop week than I’m used to. All of our staff and team meetings were centered around questions and brainstorming sessions on keeping our students safe and distanced. The weirdest thing I think we discussed this week was the idea of having scheduled bathroom breaks throughout the day so our classes don’t mix with each other. Being an intermediate teacher the past 3 years, I’m not used to taking a class bathroom break especially at certain times so that is going to be a challenge for me to get used to.

Our last day of workshop was also our first day of Welcome Back/Assessment Days. I’m used to having 2 full days of this but this year we have 3 in order to keep our families separated as much as possible. We get 30 minute time slots per family with 10 minutes built in between to clean. As nervous as I was to meet my new families and students it was easily the best thing that I’ve gotten to do since school ended last spring. I am so excited to get to work with kids in person again and meeting 8 of my new students just increased that excitement even more. It was also so refreshing to meet all of the families who were so thankful for all of the work we’ve been putting in. They were so appreciative over our efforts and were so understanding when I kept telling them that what I told them yesterday might change in a matter of days because things are changing every hour. That was definitely a highlight of my week.

It’s going to be a mess but I’ve realized that’s where everyone is at and it’s okay. We are all just doing our best and making the most of what we can. I’m just so thankful to have a job and to be able to finally teach kids in person again! I’ll be back next week to cover the first 2 days of school and all of the new challenges that will come with it including trying to talk in a mask all day.

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Distance Learning – Please Be Kind.

Hi friends! I hope quarantine and social distancing is treating you well (as well as it possibly can.) I’ve had a lot of time to sit back and think about certain topics during this period that I may not have spent much time thinking about before. I’m sure we’re all in the same boat. I wanted to share my thoughts about what it’s like being a teacher during this time. I am now ending my 3rd official week of teaching distantly and there have been some things that have worked well but a few things that have also bothered me, especially when it comes to working with parents in a new way.

I have been fortunate enough to have an amazing class this year. If you’ve been following along my 3rd year journey, you know how incredible my students are. I’ve also been blessed with amazing parents. I’ve had my fair share of interesting parents during my first 2 years teaching so this year, I have been incredibly grateful to work with supportive and cooperative ones instead.

During this period of distance learning I have been shown so much support from this group of parents. I’m constantly getting thank you emails from appreciative parents and words of encouragement on platforms like Facebook. I’ve also been amused in seeing parents around the country thanking teachers all over for what we do everyday. Teaching isn’t an easy job and it’s been so humbling to see others share their gratitude towards us during this difficult time. It’s funny though how so many positive and kind comments can be extinguished by one negative comment from someone who has a strong opinion over choices you make as an educator.

Like I’ve stated, today wraps up week 3 of distance learning here in Minnesota. I have had an incredible turn out when it comes to my students completing all of their work and showing up for class Google Meets meetings. One problem I have had is that some of my students are choosing not to log on to their IXL accounts for math. Most of our weekly math assignments are done on IXL because:

  1. Our school has spent a lot of money on subscriptions to the program.
  2. The assignments are directed exactly to the topic/lesson we want students to learn about that day/week.
  3. I can go onto my teacher account and see who has completed what assignments and what scores they have received on them. I also can see how long a student has spent on the site per day and per week.

It’s an incredible teaching tool that I utilize every day in my normal classroom. Some of my students however, have either forgotten to log on or have chosen not to do the assignments because they don’t think I have access to see what they have done.

Like I would at school, I have reminded my students DAILY about these assignments and have told them how I do have access to see what has been done and I know for a fact a handful of students haven’t logged on to the site in over 30 days. I have warned my students multiple times in the past 2 weeks that if they do not complete these activities/assignments I would be calling them out to check to see why this was not being done. All of my students have internet access and all of them have iPads that they usually use at school but are now with them at home. They also know how to access IXL because, like I said, I used this EVERY DAY in my regular class. In my opinion, there really isn’t an excuse as to why some of my students have not logged on in over a month. Also, the students who have not logged on are students who I know are more than capable of doing the work on their own. My students are 4th graders (almost 5th graders) at this point in their school career, they should be independent enough to do work without having someone else constantly tell them what to do.

Yesterday, during our morning meeting, I pulled up my IXL teacher screen to show my class how I can see who has and hasn’t done the work. I asked a few of my students why they haven’t been on the site in over 30 days. We talked about how this is their job and they need to be mature enough to take responsibility in getting their work done. I also told them that if they haven’t been on for technical difficulty reasons, to let me know and I’ll be okay with that, I just need to know.

Well apparently that wasn’t the right thing to do during our meeting because a few hours later I got one of those emails that make all of the nice and kind ones nonexistent.

I had a parent reach out to me telling me how inappropriate it was for me to humiliate my students like that. She began sharing statistics with me about the crisis we’re in and how I shouldn’t be shaming kids for not having things done. She also proceeded to inform me about how this leads to mental illness and how I don’t know anything about mental illness in children. It was pretty much an 8 paragraph rant about how I have scarred my students for life and how I have no idea about what my class is going through….

Needless to say, after reading this, I wanted to throw up. I immediately forwarded the message to my principal asking for advice on how to respond. Once I did that, I went and cried under a blanket on my couch for an hour until I fell asleep.

I know there are so many theories and philosophies on best teaching practices and how to motivate children but those are all just theories and philosophies. Unless you have been a teacher and have spent 8 hours a day with the same group of kids for almost 8 months, you have no idea what actually goes on. I have known my class since September (some, I’ve known for almost 2 years now because I taught this group back when they were in 3rd grade.) I know my students. I know who works well and who needs constant reminders from me. I know who has supportive families and who may not. I know that my highest kid may also lack the most motivation so I need to push him more than others to get his best work out of him. I know them better than almost anyone else. Any teacher can understand that. I don’t think it’s right to have an outsider criticize a teacher without being in their shoes and knowing what the teacher knows about their kids. Granted, if it’s a concern about their own child, it is extremely valid. But if the criticism doesn’t even involve their child, there is no reason for them to get involved without the facts. That was the case with this parent. The concern wasn’t even about their own student, it was about my class as a whole.

I take things way too personally sometimes but to have someone tell you you’re failing at the one thing you thought you succeeded at, is heartbreaking.

I also caution some of you to not tell someone they know nothing about mental illness. I think that was the part of the message that hurt me the most. Just because I don’t come out and tell someone I’m struggling with a mental illness, doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about the topic.

I grew up with a schizophrenic father and a depressed anorexic sister. I have struggled with anxiety my entire life and have also been on antidepressants for my own depression for almost 5 years now. For this parent to tell me I’ve scarred my students and have been a trigger to metal illness, is an insult to me. Mental illness is a HUGE part of my life and I am not afraid to talk about it. I know that, right now in our country, we need to take care of ourselves but we also need to try to keep things normal. If I let my students get away with doing absolutely nothing during this time, I’m hurting them more than when I encourage them to complete their work. By telling me I was hurting my own students, she attacked my self esteem and put me in a downward spiral hurting my mental health. Never try to tell someone they know nothing about this topic when you don’t know what the person your talking to is dealing with.

As teachers, parents, students, people, etc. we’re all trying to do our best right now. We’re all doing things completely new to all of us. Instead of shaming each other for our mistakes and thinking we know better than them, why don’t we help each other and support each other. Like I said, I have gotten an incredible amount of encouraging and kind messages through this time. The problem is though, it only takes one negative message to make the others meaningless. Don’t be the sender of those kinds of messages. Think about how you would feel if something like that was sent to you when all you’re trying to do is help.

Hang in there everyone. I know we’re all tired and frustrated over this mess but we will get through it. We just have to take a nice deep calming breath and go one day at a time. That has become my new personal mantra.

 

For more day to day action, go follow my teacher Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher!

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Distance Learning Week 1

What kind of world are we living in right now? We are now a few weeks into social distancing and a week into our shelter in place policy (for Minnesota.) I know all of us can agree that this is strange, insane, weird, scary, etc. There is no one word to explain everything that is happening. This week started something else totally abnormal and weird for all of us educators in the state, distance learning.

We were under strict guidelines that the past 2 weeks were designed to plan for distance teaching. We got 2 weeks to organize and prepare our new creative ways to get information across to our students. Monday, March 30th was the first day we got to “teach” our students. It has been a crazy week to say the least just trying to adjust to that.

I wanted to share with you what are grade level team came up with just because I thought it was pretty well organized but also because I’d love to hear other ideas on how to implement distance learning the best way possible. I know that what we chose to do is very different than what I’ve heard from other teachers in and out of our district. I would love to know things that worked well in order to possibly adjust some of the things we have set in motion just to make it easier.

We decided that as a 4th grade, we were going to do the exact same thing every week and use the exact same outline for every subject. We created a 4th grade website that had all of our information on it along with PDF’s for each week’s assignments. When we came up with this idea, we split into teams to put together 8 weeks worth of lessons for each subject. We have 10 teachers on our team so we split into 3 groups. One group worked on reading, another math, and the third social/science. We had a working Google Doc for each week where we wrote out each subject’s assignments. It took a lot of work, but once we were done, we had everything laid out for parents to see and use. It made planning lessons SO MUCH EASIER because I really wouldn’t have to.

We are lucky because we are a 1:1 district. Each student has an iPad to use. These have come in so handy during this period of time. We are also very much used to using platforms like Seesaw and Google Classroom because we use them daily with our students. This made assigning and collecting work super easy. Students were able to have access to our website and their homework on their iPads and had step by step instructions right in front of them on what to do and where we wanted them submitted. This was by far the easiest part of my week! I was worried they would be confused on where to find their homework and where to turn it in but there were no problems what so ever.

One of my biggest struggles this week has been trying to meet with my class virtually online. As a district, our students were given a new app on their iPads called Google Meets. It is essentially Zoom but the Google version. I had never worked with it before so I wanted to play around with it and give it a try.

Day 1 was kind of a mess. I wanted my students to all meet at a certain time so we could all talk and see each other. For some reason, half of my class weren’t able to get one. Day 2 came and I learned how I was able to see my whole class at once and how to help them see the whole class at once (you need a certain extension otherwise Google will only show up to 4 people at a time.) I attempted this but then something went wrong and I couldn’t see a single student in the meeting. By day 3 my students were getting bummed out because we were having such a hard time getting it to work. We tried one more time but again, something went wrong. I decided then to test out Zoom. We were recommended to use Google Meets but because I’ve heard of so many teachers utilizing this tool, I thought maybe Zoom would be easier and less chaotic. We had a Zoom meeting and it worked pretty well. Some of my students weren’t able to get one but it was more successful than our Google meetings. Sadly, I guess I was not supposed to use that because I was immediately reached out to and told not to use Zoom at all. I felt bad because I didn’t know we absolutely couldn’t use it.

I had my 5th Google Meets meeting today with my class and it finally worked! I’m just crossing my fingers it continues to work in the weeks to come. I love seeing my students and being able to talk to them and listen to them talk to each other. They need that right now. Heck, I need that right now!

This week has been stressful in so many weird and different ways but I did have 3 big take aways that I learned:

  1. I HATE sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen all day. I need to move and do something. I have had a massive headache the past few days because I’ve been on my computer so much.
  2. Technology is not always your friend (I’ve already known that but this week reenforced that tenfold.) Besides having students who were having trouble opening links, my WiFi crashed Thursday morning. That was literally the last thing you want to happen when you’re supposed to be teaching from home all day online.
  3. I MISS MY STUDENTS. This has been the longest few weeks of my life. I love my kids and I need to be back in the classroom. Seeing them this week has been nice but it’s still not the same. I would give anything to be back with them on a daily basis.

In order to keep myself preoccupied and somewhat sane, I’ve gotten many things done (which I’m sure you all can relate to.)

  • I’ve been able to read more books than normal. I usually don’t get a big chance to read in the school year but I’ve gotten a huge head start on my summer reading list.
  • I’ve spent a lot of quality time with my cat. It cracks me up though because I’ve given her more attention in 2 weeks than she’s gotten total the past year and she is more whiny and clingy than ever.
  • I’ve worked out more than normal. I usually have the worst motivation for that but being cooped up inside ALL DAY LONG has inspired me to get out (even if that means having to go for a run!)
  • I’ve been able to keep up on my laundry and cleaning! I’ve been cleaning things over and over just to give me something to do. I’ve also done so many loads of laundry, I don’t even know how my washer is still working.
  • I’ve binged on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, AND HBO. (Don’t judge okay, I’ve been behind on a lot of shows.) Tiger King anyone?
  • I also have been able to be a little bit crafty which I normally don’t have time for. I’ve been inspired by the #HeartsAroundtheWorld movement that keeps showing up on social media. I decided to join in by decorating my own window.

It’s a weird time right now all over the world. I’m constantly inspired by those who are sacrificing their lives to keep us all safe and healthy. For all of you in the health care service, and everyone working essential jobs, thank you. Our world would fall apart without you. I also want to thank all of the parents out there who are trying hard to adjust to the new normal of helping their kids with school while also trying to work. I could barely get things done with my cat around let alone a child. You are all my heroes.

Things will get better. Life will go back to normal. We just have to take this day by day and be so thankful for what we have.

 

For more day to day action, go follow my Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher. There will be some distance learning resources being shared over the next few weeks.

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What is Happening

Well well well…I feel like I need to share my thoughts on everything going on considering the education system is being effected pretty hard.

I know some other states are closing schools but Minnesota has yet to follow in their footsteps. Our neighbor state Wisconsin announced yesterday that they will be closing for the next week. Our governor has stated he is doing everything possible to prevent our schools from closing.

That being said, yesterday was INSANE because throughout the day, we were constantly getting updated memos on policies and procedures that we had to follow to keep our kids (and ourselves) healthy and safe.

Thursday night we got an urgent email saying that we had an impromptu staff meeting Friday morning with updates. We were told that the state had some basic policies we needed to follow in order to protect everyone. Most of the policies that were stated are already a thing we do in our school. One main thing that was different was that, as soon as our kids were settled in Friday morning, we had to show them a hand washing video. Parents had requested that we teach our students how to wash their hands. (Although, I have my own opinion on parents not teaching their own kids how to wash their hands, I do think that it was important for us to remind the kiddos on why hand washing is important.)

Another policy that we had to implement, was preventing the interaction between large groups of people. Ironically, yesterday our students were supposed to walk over to our high school to watch a musical put on by the middle schoolers. We were scheduled to leave at 8:40. We literally found out as our students were putting on their jackets at 8:37, that the musical was cancelled. It was pure chaos. My kids were so excited to go and I was so excited because that was 2 hours of no teaching time for me. Because of this, I had NOTHING prepped so I just kind of went with it!

We survived the unplanned morning but I still had to adjust my day to meet the new policies and procedures. During our meeting in the morning, we were told that we had to prevent intermixing classes that don’t usually interact. This was to prevent the spread of germs they’re not used to. Because of this, we had to stagger our dismissal times at the end of the day. It was so weird because usually with dismissal time, when that bell rings, the halls are CRAZY BUSY! When I released my kids yesterday however, the halls were DEAD!! It was eerily quiet and I didn’t like it.

I know these don’t sound too crazy, and I probably could’ve shared some more, but my brain is fried and I just can’t believe some of the stuff that is happening. Our hometown girls basketball team made it to the state CHAMPIONSHIP game that was supposed to be today and they couldn’t play because it was cancelled. How sad is that? I understand the precautions but it’s still heartbreaking thinking about the girls on the team and how hard they worked to get there. I’m also personally devastated because with the cancellations of ALL NCAA competitions and tournaments, college gymnastics is over already and that’s my normal Friday night date with myself. What am I going to do now!?

I hope all of you are being healthy and safe and are finding the nonexistent toilet paper to help stock up your homes (to lighten up your day, I found some pretty fantastic toilet paper memes on one of those Facebook ads that I think you may love Just click on the link!) Hopefully this all passes soon and are lives will be back to normal.

 

Also, to brighten your day, here is a picture of my lovely kiddos with their new monthly book! This should also put a smile on your face!

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For more day to day action, go follow my Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher!

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Hot Mess Alert

Well it’s been a hot minute guys. I apologize for being a little behind on posts but life has been crazy busy. It’s crazy to think that I was going to share on Valentine’s Day about our party, and now here we are 2 weeks later and there has been nothing. Today’s post is going to be a hodge podge of a few things I wanted to share with you so, bare with me.

First things first, I know Valentine’s Day was 2 weeks ago but I wanted to still share with you my absolute FAVORITE boxes made this year by my students! I for sure have a very creative group and it shows in their boxes. (Yes, I am aware that these ideas came from Pinterest but they’re still cute!)

Plus this amazingly adorable Harry Potter Valentine!

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As many of you know, February is “I Love to Read Month” so I like to do a few special activities to get my students in the spirit. My favorite art project to do with them is actually pretty simple. Students pick their favorite book and they recreate the book cover to share in the hallway. I mentioned us starting this in my last post but I finally have the final product read! I did this a few years ago and didn’t get the best result. My kids this year did PHENOMENAL! They loved this activity and most of them took their time!

The main reason I’ve been so behind on posting is because gymnastics season was coming to a close. We had our section tournament followed by the state tournament, so it was a whirlwind couple of weeks. I’m going to take a moment to brag because our team is so amazing! Our girls placed 2nd in the section (only the 1st place team advances to the state meet) and then we had 3 individual gymnasts to advance in the bars competition and in the all around. It was a pretty special and fun time getting to be there for the girls and bond with them in a way you normally don’t get to when the whole team is there. I LOVE gymnastics and I love this team, but I am so glad the season is over! I am exhausted!!

Another fun thing that happened this week was that our books FINALLY CAME IN THE MAIL!!! My kids were so excited to see the final product of the book they created! Last year my class made a book using something called Studentreasures Publishing. Students get a chance to create their own book. As a teacher, you go and order a kit to be sent to your school that includes everything you need to make your book. Once students are done writing and illustrating, you send the book back to the company and they publish the book for you! As a teacher, you get a FREE copy, which is such a cool keepsake. Families LOVE this and get the chance to order a book for themselves. My students have been on pins and needles waiting for our books to finally come back (we sent in our final product at the end of January) and were ecstatic when they did. I have to say, I am pretty proud of the finished product!

Finally, I would like to share something near and dear to my heart. This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Last year, I shared with you a post that explains the importance this week has on my heart. My sister has struggled with an eating disorder for almost 8 years now. I wanted to attach the link to that post for you in case you didn’t see it last year, or you wanted to reread about how nasty this disease can be and how to see the warning signs in your self or your loved ones. The post was called NEDA Awareness Week 2019. Go take a look if you’re interested. I will always be passionate about healthy lifestyles and loving yourself. This post, explains why.

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I know that was a hot mess of information but I feel super behind and had to share whatever I could that I have missed. I will definitely be back on my posting game now that life is somewhat back to normal! (Fingers crossed!!)

 

For more day to day action and activities, go follow my Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher!

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Fairytaletopia

If you’re anything like me, you LOVE read alouds with your students. Back when I was doing one of my teaching practicums in a 3rd grade classroom, I heard the most memorizing story I’ve ever heard (apart from Harry Potter of course!) The story was called The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. My cooperating teacher would read this book to her students during their snack time when I would be doing other tasks for her. I would be so distracted listening to her read the story, that I struggled to get my jobs done. As a 20 year old girl, I was hooked to a story written for young readers.

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The story is part of a 6 book series called The Land of Stories. The main premise of the book is about a pair of twins (a boy and girl) who magically find themselves trapped in the fairytale world. They get to meet all of their childhood heroes while working with them on a variety of adventures. It puts a fun and crazy twist on the fairytale characters we all grew up reading about. I HIGHLY recommend looking into reading this book to even your own kids. (Or just for your own pleasure. I know I loved it!)

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After hearing this read during my practicum, I knew this was going to be a read aloud in my own classroom. This is my third year teaching and I have read the first 2 books of the series every year. What I’ve found with all 3 classes is that they LOVE this story and can relate to the two main characters. The twins start off in the 6th grade and are complete opposites. The boy is the goofy, funny, and care free character that gets in trouble in school, but doesn’t understand why. The girl is a perfectionist who gets A+’s on all of her assignments and tests but doesn’t have a lot of friends. The two may be different but they are the best of friends and stick up for each other no matter what. Students find that they can relate to one of the two twins (or both) which makes the story even more fun to read.

I have not had a class love this series though, as much as my class now. They are OBSESSED and I love it. I see them reading the series on the side and are having discussions constantly about it. Somehow they’ve convinced me to read all 6 books in the series to them, which I haven’t done before because I wanted them to continue to want to read on their own (which, like I said, they are still doing!)

A few years ago, after I learned how much my students loved the series, I found a fun inferencing activity on TPT from The Teaching Twins that allows students to solve a fairytale mystery. The activity is about something going wrong at Cinderella’s engagement ceremony. The pack comes with interviews from famous fairytale characters along with finger print examples and handwriting examples they need to look at. I have used this the past 3 years and it has always been a success. They LOVE being able to solve a mystery that involves the same characters from The Land of Stories.

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Today, we got to start with reading witness interviews and looking at clues found at the scene. They each are working in groups of 3 to come up with their answer on who committed the crime. Tomorrow, we will finish reading the interviews we have left and then, as a group, they will each write a summary explaining who their main suspect is and why. I love it so much!! They have so much fun!!

We also are working on a project to celebrate “I Love To Read Month.” Yesterday, I told students they had to think of their favorite book of all time. They were then given a piece of white tag board and were told they had to “recreate” the cover of their favorite book. It melted my heart to see over half of my class pick a book from The Land of Stories series. They had so much fun starting this project and have begged me all day to give them more time to work on it. I can’t wait to share the final product with all of you!

It has been a fun fairytale filled couple of days and I love it! I can’t stress enough how amazing this series is and that you should definitely go take a look at it for yourself!!

PS. Happy Valentine’s Day week, teachers…may the odds be ever in your favor!

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For more day to day action and live projects, go follow my teacher Instagram page @lifeoftherookieteacher!!

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