Thursday, 9 April 2015

She Who Plans, Succeeds

Image source:

My title, She Who Plans, Succeeds....because I like to put a positive spin on things...
Maybe it's not quite as eloquent as Benjamin Franklin or Winston Churchill but, it's true...
I plan.  And I succeed.  (Usually).  And I'm a "she". 

Here's the nitty gritty, down and dirty, bare-bones approach to planning.
There will be no "re-tweeting", pinning, sharing or even "liking" to these links.  Not likely anyway.
It is what it is.  Planning to cover my bases and ensure outcomes are met.

Do I plan like this everyday?  Heck no!

Can I?  Oh yeah.   I can and I will if it's what I need to do to prove myself to parents, colleagues, superiors and, even lil 'ole me (with a big conscience that every now and then demands that all my i's be dotted and my t's be crossed so I can sleep at night).

For the curriculum mumbo-jumbo (General Learner Outcomes - GLO's and Specific Learner Outcomes - SLO's) that I mention in my plans, refer to Programs of Study, Alberta Education , click on the appropriate subject and then the specific grade link.  This is similar to what my American counterparts know as the Common Core.

When I mention Permeation of Faith with Intent I am referring to the points of convergence between the program of studies and the Permeation of Intent Tasks, Virtues and Values created by the Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional Div. 4.  Find the Permeation with Intent and Grade specific curriculum maps here.

Lesson plans 

Read them, skim them, or skip them altogether.  I'm going to admit it,  I'm jumping through hoops here.  Although I do actually do almost everything I write in these plans every single day, I do not write it down every single day.  Not in this much detail.  Who has time?
So the plans aren't pretty.  But they did the job I asked them to do.  Isn't that what we're all really aiming for?

Language Arts 3/4 Paragraph Writing/Daily 5 Lesson

Social Studies 3/4 Venn Diagram Lesson

Weekly plans

Example of Week 5 plans from Teacher Binder
Example of Week 25 plans from Teacher Binder

These these are my lifelines.  These weekly plans keep me sane and hopefully will make me a very happy woman in years to come.  (At one point I thought that was my husband's job, but I'm quite certain these weekly plans are quickly and deceptively taking his place!)   At least in school they are.   I devote at least an hour a week to these plans and they are worth every milli-second.  Admittedly, they could be better, more outcomes-based, more detailed in assessment strategies and differentiation tactics.  (Look close at my photos and you'll see that even by mid-year I've been able to devote just a little more attention to the "Objectives" column!) For now, for my first year using them, they are good.  They are works in progress and the beauty part is, they will be used again, and improved upon.  They're digital.  They're neat and tidy.  They're color-coded!  The templates were purchased from the ever-so-organized, creative wonder that is Traci Clausen at Teachers Pay Teachers.

The first picture is an example of my first few weeks of school and the next is mid-year, just so you can see that although I'll need to open the document again and add/delete, assuming I teach the same thing next year, they are absolutely re-usable and improvable (now I'm just making up words!)

Such a time-saver!
Note: I create and use these with Excel.  Google sheets (which is what my link below is for) does not do these justice.  Although you're able to get a good idea of what goes on during my week, you can't fully understand how concise and practical these are unless you can view them in the 2-page spread which is why I've included photos.  Also, when you're in the google doc, you will be directed to the first blank template page.  To see them in use, you'll have to click on the light grey weeks at the bottom of the screen.

Example of Weekly Plans

Unit Plans

Let's call this the "High-school, No time for messing around, Specific language outcomes to be Achieved, Few Resources Available so Teacher makes her Own" French 10 Unit Plan.  circa 2005

Sit down, hold on tight and brace yourself...this is the "Drama Queen Third Grade India Unit Plan". So called because it was my first time trying PBL, and I absolutely loved it, hated it, shook my fists at it, got messy with it, but then sat back in awe as the student's metaphorical lightbulbs zapped on and off over and over and over and over again.  The connections were awesome.  Scroll to the bottom of plan to view actual student work examples.

If you build it, they will come.  A third grade science unit plan for Building Structures & Testing Strength.  It's nice to look at but sorry'll be hard to replicate as I don't have permission to distribute my main lesson plan resource.  I wish it was more practical for teachers in search of help but if you email me directly I might be able to hook you up! ;)

Year plans

I absolutely love the visual of this year plan format.   I purchased it from a very talented Traci Clausen at, where else?, TpT.  Here's the direct link: Year Planner: Back to School Curriculum Year Pacing Planner.  (And NOW it's available as a bundle!) I've used it with Junior/Senior high and now with split grade 3/4.

It is stuck right above my computer so I actually look at it daily and it is completely customized (Traci gives excellent instructions for inserting your own dates and subjects) for me and the 2015 school year.  I know you can't see much in the photo but if you open the photo as an image you can zoom in a bit and see that the grey vertical boxes are our days off and the larger blocks of colour correspond to the months.

Have I followed it to a tee, dutifully fulfilling each unit's timeline?

I wish...but I think it may need an electric shock prod and duct tape to do that, which would be far too difficult for Traci to supply!   But I do love having it printed in a four page spread above my desk computer. I actually look it at this way!  Although the default was excellent, once I waded through the very explicit instructions on how to customize it using Excel, I was thrilled at how specific I could make it.   

Here is the Google sheets version link (remember it's not as great as the Excel version but you'll get the jist just the same) 2014-2015 Year Plan At a Glance and here is the 20-odd page version which includes Alberta Ed Outcomes, Homeroom expectations etc.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Fantastic Flashlight Friday

I was once told that the"emotional bang for your buck" on any activity, whether it's a vacation for your spouse, or a five year old's birthday party is far greater when there is suspense involved.  The building up of wonder and excitement makes the days leading up to the event thick with, hello....Christmas!?  Some may say it's even better than surprising someone because that expectation is so packed with emotion that it makes an already fantastic occasion even richer.

Now, don't get me wrong...if the hubs surprised me with an all-expense paid vacay to Hawaii, bags packed, sitters arranged, work accounted for...I must say (LOUD & CLEAR ahem...husband...if you're reading...) I would not complain. 

But, you gotta admit, the build up to such a vacation...knowing how hard you've worked and saved and sacrificed adds a delightful perk to the whole trip before you even pack your suitcase. And let's not forget the little bits of showey-offey-isms you can drop oh-so-regretfully to the poor souls stuck in winter wasteland.  Insert heavy sarcasm here - "Oh, I'm soooo sorry, I wish I could but I simply won't be able to make your [fill in loathsome activity here] as I'll be in Hawaii that week."  Insert tight-lipped apologetic head shake.

It's a sad follow up to talk of Hawaii, but let me tell you, if you haven't lured your students in with Flashlight Fridays yet, here's your bait people.  Do it.  Do it now.

So the idea is simple.  And it's not mine.  Don't give me credit as it's all over Pinterest, although everyone seems to be thanking Joanne over at Head Over Heals for Teaching (so I will too!) and I'm sure pre-pinterest, crafty teachers did this all the time.  Heck, my hardcore grandma probably did it with candles and kerosene lanterns!

But here's my kicker...BUILD IT UP.  Trust me, if you don't, it's one of those lost opportunities you can never get back. 

On Monday, (if you have a reliable parent network as I am so very fortunate to have) send out a note requesting one mini-flashlight per child.  Don't tell them what they're for other than a classroom activity and to label them as they will be returned (and make sure the batteries aren't dead!).  Yes, the Dollar Stores carry them but a) I'm cheap b) I live 45 min away from the nearest store so that makes me lazy and c) this information is likely to leak to the kids and it's the start of something really fun.

On Tuesday, check if the note got home.

On Wednesday, the lights may be trickling in.  With the obvious questions..."Mrs. Weatherhead what are these for?"  To which you of course, innocently shrug and reply, "I can't say.  You'll have to wait." (Keep these in a safe place.  They are strictly for Friday and should not be allowed in students desks.)

On Thursday, remind students that they should be bringing their flashlights in tomorrow if they haven't already.  At this point, even if you are cheap and lazy like me, you really should run to the Dollar Store if you don't have an amply supplied junk drawer and ensure you have at least 5 flashlights for back-up.

On Friday, make a fun poster to greet the students (mine doubles as a window shade to cover the hallway light streaming in) and satisfy their bursting excitement by explaining to them that they get to read to themselves by flashlight for the first 20 minutes of class.   I let them grab their parkas to sit on as I don't have any cushions, pulled the blinds and shut off my computer to ensure maximal darkness.  Flick the lights a few times as they get settled and then, voila, total darkness, sheer silence, pure literacy magic folks.  Pure literacy magic.

**Full disclosure...I give my students a lot of rope (metaphorically speaking). 
Assuming they can't physically hurt themselves, I like to see what they do with it (stay with me, still metaphors). 
The first Flashlight Friday, they actually hung themselves.  It happens. (metaphors, people, metaphors)

After I explained that they could read on their jackets wherever they wanted in the room, they started building forts.  With whatever they could.  They're crafty like that.
Chairs, snowpants, our interlocking cushy mats, tables.  Nothing was left untouched.  As I flicked the lights to get them settled they focused more on their books and started reading inside their cozy abodes so I thought it was okay. Then, in a moment of foolishness, I responded to a colleague in the hall and got pulled into a conversation in another room.  Upon return five minutes later, my unadulterated magical literacy kingdom vanished into thin air.  Forts were being destroyed, chairs were being stolen, comfy reading spots turned into cramped quarters with five boys attempting to huddle under one table.  Not pretty, but in the end, just as much my fault as it was theirs.  This was new.  And like anything, this needs to be practiced.

The next Friday I was quick to point out that this was not "Fort-building Friday".  No mats would be harmed in the makings of THIS Flashlight Friday.  And wonder of wonders, I stayed in the room.  And read my own book.  By flashlight.   (cause you can't really do anything else except maybe catch a few zzzz's if you were up late marking the night before!) And it was fun.  Really fun. **

Who knows how long the magic will last but I will milk this for all it's worth.  Reading is so very important and if it gets just one more kid into a good book, then even the fort-building fiasco was worth it!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Great Reads to Keep up with Grade 3 Social (and beat the winter blues!)

I don't know about you but I didn't get a warm vacation this year.

In case you're reading this from a 2-season climate, I mean, that during my dead of winter, when I wake up and drive to school in darkness, peek out my blustery window to read the thermometer is quivering at -30 Celsius, and drive home in the same darkness, at no point, did I get to escape somewhere hot and sunny, sandy or salty.

I know, woe is me. I am so hard done by.

Not usually one to complain (too much!) I only write this to introduce my sanity-savers.  Books.  Specifically, historical fiction books.   Cleverly written novels that swept me out of the dark doldrums of a Canadian winter into the opulent palaces of India, the rolling meadows of early 20th century England, the bustling streets of Mumbai and the cliffs and cloudy mountain tops of the Andes.
Quote by Mason Cooley

And I might even be able to call them professional development!

I should explain how I came to choose these titles. Quite by accident actually but isn't most of life's mistakes just "happy accidents"? And aren't mistakes the only real way we learn anything anyway?

But I digress.

As I was searching through my public library's data base for additional titles for my split class of third/fourth graders, thinking some Peruvian folk tales on display might spark a little interest in their next Social Studies unit - literacy integration baby, it's all about integration! - I stumbled across some adult fiction as well.  At first I discounted them, as I can get tunnel vision when I get an idea in my head and I was trying to sift through the 400-odd titles to decide which ones may appeal to my crew.

And then it hit me.  I should probably read up on these countries too.  I knew I had a lot of learning to do having never taught these units before and one of my favorite ways to learn about new places is by whetting my appetite with a good historical fiction novel.

Sure enough Lucinda Riley's Midnight Rose took me back and forth through India, England, the 1920's and present day.  I devoured it and although I'm no book reviewer (you can look up the description and other reviews at your leisure) I will say that it certainly set me back a few days.  In a good way.  You know what I mean, don't you?  When you read until two in the morning every night for 3 or 4 days and still have to get up at 6 the next day, care for small children, go to school to care for larger children, come home and care for small children again and say hi to your husband every once in a while.  THAT kind of reading doesn't leave time for much else so it's the good kind, but it sets me back.

Shilpi Somaya Gowda's Secret Daughter took a little longer getting into but not because of poor writing - au contraire.   I'm a young mom of a beautiful daughter and stories like this pull tight on the heart strings.  In short, it touches on India's cultural preference for boys and sees the struggle a poor Indian mother must face when she loses one daughter and gives another up for adoption.  I know it's a fictional tale but I also know it's a reality for far too many.  So, I had to brace myself for it, something I don't always love doing in my night time (relaxing) read before bed.   All up though, a fantastic read spanning two families, one in India and one in the US and their struggles and victories.

Lastly, as we've moved on to our unit on Peru, I've signed out a slightly different genre but have been just as pleased and happily relocated to the Inca trail by reading Turn Right at Machu Picchu by adventure travel expert Mark Adams.  I have fully enjoyed his eloquent descriptions of Peru's breathtaking scenery with an equally eloquent sense of humor and hilarious self-deprecation.

I am so happy I stumbled upon them and just the concept of reading along with my students a "good-fit (topic-specific) book" for me is something I fully intend on doing more of.  In fact, I know I have to take this a step further and join them in marking them down my reading log, keeping a reading journal and sharing my thoughts, especially on books such as these.  In fact I am greatly inspired by Angela Watson's "10 Authentic Ways to Hold Students Accountable for Home Reading" who encourages teacher's to model this process.  Such a no-brainer but thank you so much for reminding me!

I couldn't help but end with a link to a fantastic freebie (who doesn't love FREE?) courtesy of Kara at Happy Go Lucky.  Aren't these free printable bookmarks just the greatest things to inspire some winter reading?
Thanks Kara! 

Monday, 9 March 2015

Goo Gone Goodness

Goo Gone is good. 

Goo Gone possibly saved my daughter from potential harm.  If I were a lesser woman, I may have said things I shouldn't have said.  I'm not sure that I am not that lesser woman, but I am sure that after foolishly letting my 6 year old daughter "have her way" with her third-row backseat window, I may have very well have lost my mind. 

And really, it would have been my own fault.  

After all, I gave her the sticker book.  Or, a very well-meaning mall Santa Claus did, but I condoned it.  Then, I let her sit all by her sweet-little self in the very back of the vehicle. Then, I saw how amused she was and I sat in glorious silence for a fairly peaceful 20 minutes, all the while knowing she was systematically peeling off sticker after adhesive sticker and decorating her window. 
Before Goo Gone
It wasn't until her brothers asked why THEY couldn't decorate their windows that I knew I must take those stickers away and remove them immediately if I wanted my vehicle to retain any amount of dignity. 

So, I kindly asked her to take them off.  

"You stuck them on there, you can take them off."  
"Oh, they don't come off?"  
"Lucky you, we have an hour's drive to your gymnastics lesson, you can work at it!"

And in her defense she did.
Or she tried anyway.  Itty-bitty corners came off and tiny scraps of colorful paper littered her backseat for weeks.

Time went by.

And maybe some more time went by.

And the car likely froze in the winter's chill and heated up in summer's sun and that lovely adhesive goo that makes stickers so cool anywhere else but my windows...just got that much goo-ier. Sticker.  Uglier. 

And so, one fateful day, armed with hairspray, goo gone, a razor blade and paper towels (and a little Rocky soundtrack playing in my head), I finally attacked the window.  This was no longer a child's fight and I had to put an end to it all.  Swiftly and concisely.

I started with the hairspray and let it soak for about half an hour.  I slowly and methodically sliced away at the sticker with my blade until I could get a grasp of the paper.  They peeled, but it wasn't until the Goo Gone made it's debut did my window actually come clean.  Un-gooey.  Residue-free. Clear.

After Goo Gone

This is definitely a product I can stand behind.  I don't have to buy it a lot but I don't ever want to run out of it.  After the sticker fiasco and I'm proud to say I'm a pretty quick learner and have not had to repeat that cleaning task, I probably use it the most to take labels off of plastic containers that I want to re-use.  I love those nut containers from Costco-turned canisters.   

How pretty is this from Lisa at Lewisville Love?   

She says she uses a blowdryer to get the labels off, but I stand by my Goo Gone.   It's simple, it's good.  It's Goo Gone.

Friday, 6 March 2015

No messing around with an Oops Sheet!

Much to my children's chagrin (although by the time they ever read my blog I should hope this little "issue" will be long-resolved) today's topic is bed-wetting.  Or at least a product to help you out during the bed-wetting stage. 

As parents of a six, five and two year old, unfortunately, this is still something we wrestle with nightly.  Both my older children have been day-time potty trained since they were about two years old.  The nights...well, that's another challenge altogether.  We've tried umpteen strategies and talked to multiple trusted medical professionals but so as to not bore you with the details of our urinary journey, I'll summarize by saying that we've accepted the fact that they have very small bladders and are incredibly deep sleepers. They are young yet, and we've had a few dry nights so we know it's not impossible and likely just a matter of time.

So we hope.

We dream of dry nights.

We savor the mornings not spent stripping the bed, washing, drying, re-making.  And savour any repeat mornings after that even more.  

Again, this really isn't a post about bed-wetting, after all, it's listed in "My Favorite Things" (which is kind the exact opposite of what bed-wetting is!) and as such I will now rave unabashedly about this sanity-saving product that has all my gold stars at the moment.

Oops! Sheet Queen Size
The Oops! Sheet fitted mattress protector is like no other.

It is soft, fits deep mattresses, never loses it's shape, is machine washable, doesn't crinkle when you lay on it, wicks moisture away, and here's the kicker folks: it's breathable.

I kid you not.

You will not wake up in cold (or hot) sweats after having slept on it for an hour wondering if you are suffering from a viral disease or just recovering from that bender you went on on Wednesday night at 7pm just before putting the kids to bed.

In a vacation house recently, I slept in a bed that had a mattress protector on it.  It was clearly not an Oops! Sheet, because I woke up a dozen times that night, feeling rather "princess-and-the-pea'ish" wondering who had conspired against me and put something under my mattress to cause me such distress.  I brushed it off thinking the new surroundings were throwing me, but on the second fitful night, after discussion with my husband, we both agreed something else besides geography was at play.  It probably doesn't help that my better half is also my "boiler-oven-half" which comes in handy when you're in a pup tent on Everest, but not so much when you're in a temperature controlled room with a ceiling fan and comforter at your disposal.

Here's the thing.  A plastic mattress protector doesn't just feel hot. It's as if it doesn't allow your body heat to self-regulate.  You're either terribly hot, or once you unveil yourself of all coverings, freezing cold.  Then you cover up again, and within minutes, that heat is trapped.  So, it's a viscous cycle.  I was shocked at how fast I would get warm, uncover, then get cold, cover up again, then hot, then cold, etc. Seriously, I was reminded of my last, fairly violent, round of the flu.   It was terribly uncomfortable but within minutes of stripping the bed on our third night, leaving the plastic sheet off and the regular sheets on, we both fell into a peaceful 37 degree Celsius (98.6 F) slumber.

So up until this last vacation I never really realized how breath-ability was so important to a mattress protector.  Here all along I was raving about how well the Oops! Sheet absorbed pee (of course it still felt wet on the fabric side but the flip side protecting the mattress was always dry, and so of course, the mattress was too).  We had the sheet on our kids' queen sized bed (that they share) so I didn't usually have a chance to sleep on it for long periods of time to notice this breath-ability factor.  I don't know if a child would have a disrupted sleep due to temperature, but if you had a light sleeper perhaps it's a consideration?  I, as mentioned, do not have light sleeping children and in most situations I consider this a blessing, but in the "I-just-peed-myself, rolled-over-in-it and still-didn't-wake-up" kind of situation, I curse it. 

Or perhaps my daughter is right...when I woke her the other night around midnight to try and go, only to find out she was already soaking wet (and still in sleepy stupor) she mumbled, "It wasn't me Mom, it was Flat Stanley!"

So...whatever your situation...pee, vomit, heavy-droolers or small flat bulletin board cut outs crawling into your children's bed and urinating ...Oops! Sheets are definitely your answer!  Here's the deets:

Go here to see of all the Oops! products, including all sizes of fitted sheets, car seat covers, underwear and sleeping bag liners. They ship through Amazon and are all kinds of efficient! Also to note when my first Oops! Sheet finally died it's slow death* to which I almost shed a couple tears for - true! - Roo sent me a new one for FREE just 'cause they're like that.  Now how cool is that!?

I actually bought mine on discount from, which for those who don't know is an e-commerce site that offers boutique-quality baby clothes, baby shoes & baby products at 40-80% off.  They have two deals daily (8am and 8pm) and there is no guarantee when or if the Oops! Sheet will make it's appearance again, but it's a great source to keep in mind if you can wait and want to save a few bucks.

Furthermore, for those locals reading my blog I'm going to send a shout-out to our local children's shop in Medicine Hat - Bumbleboo, one of the funkiest baby and children's stores around who also happens to carry them in stock.  Clearly, they know a good product when they see one!
Bumbleboo Medicine Hat

*Full disclosure.  My Oops! Sheet was not invincible.  After more than a year of nearly daily washings it did give up the goat.  It started to let moisture pass.   As mentioned above, after contacting the company (not so much to complain, just to let them know how good it was to us - an obituary if you will - and ask about proper care and washing, in case I did something wrong to lessen it's magical powers) I was thoroughly delighted to get a personal response within hours. In addition to advising me to wash in cold water and hang dry to extend the life, Roo (company contact) graciously sent me a new one, free of charge.  There is something to be said of a great product and a great company!   Advice was heeded and it should be noted that I'm kind of a "bleach-loving-boiling-hot-water-with-a-little-extra-soap-for-good-measure" kind of girl, especially when it comes to pee-germs (or pee smell...uggh!) so my washing and hot drying techniques WAS probably the culprit of my sheet's demise.  I'll try my best to wash in cold this time Roo, and it's a good thing summer is near because hang drying a queen-size sheet in the winter is a bit of a challenge!