The Road Less Traveled

I did it today.  I took the leap.  I plunged into the deep end. I took the road less traveled.
I dropped the cover of the security blanket and quit my job mid-year to stay at home and take care of myself and nurture my spirit and soul.  As I told my husband, when I walked back to my car and promptly got on my cell phone, "I feel happily irresponsible."

I've actually been on a leave of absence for the entire second quarter.  Whether it was the stress of the parents, the ever changing standards, the administrative expectations, the overwhelming paperwork, or all of the above, it had chewed away at me like a mouse on a block of cheese and I was frayed.  I was suffering from virtually daily migraines and my lifetime battle with depression and OCD was becoming much more difficult to manage despite my medication, so it was decided by a group of people whom had my best interests at heart that I needed a break, and boy were they/we right.

The past six weeks off has been a gigantic blessing.  I've gone from having six migraines per week to having two migraines in 6 weeks.  That in itself is a life changing event.  Yet on top of that, my family tells me that they've never seen me smile so much.  I've been investing in myself and exploring my passions and hobbies and I finally feel awake and alive again.  It's so rejuvenating.

So after two months of no paychecks and living off my husband's salary while dealing with two catastrophes - our sewer pipe collapsing and needing to be replaced and our bulldog having to have emergency airway surgery - we decided we could take the leap, make the plunge, and travel the road, and so today I made the decision final.  It's a little scary, or should I say exhilarating, but I know it also isn't carved in stone.  Things change, life goes on, and if need be, I can be a "bread winner" again, but until that time is needed, I'm taking some time to invest in me, better myself, develop my passions, do what I love, and keep impressing my family with how much I like to smile now.
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Thankful for a Little Differentiated Math Practice



Thanksgiving day is quickly approaching, a time for discussing the history of the holiday and the meaning of thankfulness. It also means a lot of kids and teachers eagerly anticipating a fall break. It's always good to have a few extras on the side that blend learning into the seasonal events. One good example is this Thanksgiving color-by-number math practice activity.

This package comes with different levels of math skills from Pre-K all the way to eighth grade. There's bound to be a match skill sheet for every child in your classroom in this super-easy bundled package.

After 17 years of teaching 6th grade, I know that I can give an addition sheet to those IEP students who are still struggling with their first grade skills while giving the bulk of my students a sheet on least common multiples, the skill we've currently been working on in class.  And for the gifted kids who have already shown that they've got LCM down, I can give them a sheet on multiplying and dividing fractions.

The best part about all these exercises is that the look exactly the same at a cursory glance, so the kids tend not to notice that they're all working on different skills, or at least they don't give it a second thought.  Even better, all the sheets, regardless of the skill being practiced, work out to the exact same answer key making it super quick and easy for grading.  It's the best of both worlds.  You can differentiate for all the students, yet you don't have to kill yourself grading on the back end.

So not only does everyone get to cover Thanksgiving in multiple subjects, they all get to be thankful.  The students are thankful they got to complete some math problems in a unique way, coloring a picture as they solved problems,  and you can be thankful the entire break is not taken up grading papers, leaving time to enjoy friends and family.  I wish you a wonderfully relaxing and rejuvenating Thanksgiving.


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A Classroom Seating Strategy

Heterogeneous is to be diverse in character or content while homogeneous is to be the same kind or alike.  It is very important that we understand those two words and know what we are trying to accomplish before we, as teachers, seat our students.

I group heterogeneously, and I do so in a very systematic process.  It is a technique that was conveyed to me by one of my administrators, who had read it in a book.  I have since tried to find the book to give you the direct source, but to no avail.

To correctly utilize this method, you will need standardized scores for your students from any assessment you would like to use.  We take MAPS tests at our school every fall, so those are the scores I use to help group and seat my students.

You will also need to place the desks in groups of four (pods, rows, etc.) and mark the desks in such a way that every four desks have the same demarcation.  I use four colored dots (pink, green, yellow and blue), but there’s nothing stopping you from using animal stickers, planet stickers, numbers, etc.

Now, how does this work?  Well, studies show that I can bring up my lower students by pairing them with higher students.  Being exposed to the higher-level thinking processes, verbal expressions, and greater growth mindset of other students will often rub off on the lower students and result in some positive and lasting effects.  I need to be careful; however, as those same studies show that I can bring down my highest kids if I’m not vigilant and very purposeful in how I match those interactions. 




This is where the real work comes in to play.  If you’ve ever sat back and watched a dinner party, you’d notice that people tend to talk to those right next to them, on their left or right, or those directly across from them.  But what doesn’t happen very often is for conversations to start up diagonally.  Thus, if we place our highest and lowest students diagonally across from each other, they are less likely to affect one another.  Instead the low student makes connections to the two middle students sitting across and next to them, and the high student does the same.  Using the colors on the pod above for an example, the yellow sticker would be a student from the lowest group, green would be a kid from the third group, blue would be a kid in the second group, and the red sticker would seat the student from the highest group.

Step 1 is to list your students from highest to lowest score
Step 2 is to then split them into four even groups.
Step 3 is to take one student from each group and place them together into a pod.
Step 4 is to arrange your pod following the placement guidelines.

Now let me add one caveat here…our classes are already grouped somewhat by ability so there is not a radical difference between the top and bottom students.  If this was truly a heterogeneous group I would probably want to rethink my seating arrangement some more.

But I urge you to give this type of grouping a try and see what happens with your students and their overall abilities.  If you can raise the scores of your lowest learners simply by having them surrounded by higher learners, then it’s a win-win situation.



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