Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Remembering Mom

I've been silent for the last couple of weeks because I lost my beautiful, vivacious, and creative mom.  Her passing was a blessing as she was fighting Alzheimer's disease and was still at the stage where she knew what was happening to her.  I can be happy for her because she knew what was coming, because she lost her mom to the same disease just a few years prior.  But I am heart-broken, too.  So please bear with me because I need to take this time to remember her. 

My mom made me the teacher I am today.  I grew up with "Puff the Magic Dragon" played on her ukulele, home-made Halloween costumes that we created together, magical trips to the library, and sing-alongs gathered around the piano.  I grew up having the red fire truck that I desperately wanted instead of the doll my dad's company wanted to gift me with.  I grew up wearing red, blue, green, and yellow.  I don't think I wore pink, ever...not because she avoided it, but because I didn't really like the color.  I grew up with my mom as my softball coach.  I grew up with my mom at every insufferable piano recital and talent show.  I grew up reciting my bad poetry to my mom as she made spaghetti.

I watched my mom teach oceans, rainforests, deserts, famous Americans, pioneers...I could go on and on.  But what made these units special is that she taught them with imagination.  When she taught about oceans, she turned her whole classroom into an ocean.  Her students lived in their imaginations as they conquered science, social studies, math, and language arts topics.  She made everything come alive with song, dance, theater, literature, and art.  I grew up watching her teach.  I was the typical teacher's kid...I spent my whole childhood at school.  And if I wasn't at our school, I was at my grandmother's school (her mother's).  It was impossible for me NOT to become a teacher,  I think.

I fought it for a long time.  I had journalism or piano performance in my crosshairs, NEVER teaching.  ANYTHING but teaching.  I was so focused on not becoming my mom.  But, my mom knew me, knew my skills and my talents; she had seen me with kids.  I acquiesced, but swore to never wear "teacher shoes," which at the time were SAS shoes. 

Losing my mom this week, I listened to countless people describe her and their interactions with her.  I learned from her students, some of whom swear she "saved" them.  I read testimonials written by former students and parents in her retirement books.  I cried, and I laughed.  The joke is on me.  Throughout all of my struggles to not become my mom, I became my mother's daughter.  To. The. Core.  I know she was proud of me.  I know she loved me.  But, I'm proud of her too. And, I miss her desperately.

I love you mom.



Thinking Critically With Economics & English Language Learners, Part 1

The other day, I was on my way to the restroom when I overheard one of my students walking back to class from the media center.  He said to a friend, "We have social studies next...YESSSSS!" 

My day was made in a matter of seconds.  We began a social studies unit on economics last week.  Is it silly that I'm having as much fun as my students?  It's the last subject I teach of the day, and I can't wait for it!

I teach in a unique classroom situation.  I teach in a multi-age newcomer program.  My teaching partner and I have 36 students, 1/3 of them are newcomers, brand new to our country.  The other 2/3 of our students are neighborhood kids, some of them are ELL as well.  This economics unit is the first social studies unit that our newcomers are fully involved in, so I have to really ramp up the vocabulary development so that it is "digestible" for everyone involved.

I began the unit by reading The Oxcart Man by Donald Hall.  If you aren't familiar with this book and you teach social studies, you need to be!  The farmer takes all of the goods he has made over the entire year to market.  Once he is at the market, he sells EVERYTHING, even the his ox and cart.  He purchases goods that he could not make with the money he earns, and then returns home to his family.  He and his family start the process all over again, making goods to sell.  I used this books as my mentor text!

I used the story and the illustrations (by Barbara Cooney...they are gorgeous!) to discuss the vocabulary goods, services, producers, consumers, opportunity cost, market, economics and scarcity. I introduced an economic graphic organizer set of posters that I had made, and gave students mini-copies of these.  Their task, in small groups, was to figure out the order of these posters.  They were charged with explaining their thinking orally to another group at the end of the activity.  Finally, as a whole group, we put the larger posters in the correct order and discussed them. 

The Oxcart Man and organizer activity took us about 3 days to complete.  At the end of the three days, I did a comprehension check. I decided to use the 3-2-1 Strategy from Making Thinking Visible.  This strategy was perfect for this.  I gave my students a graphic organizer I developed around this strategy.  They needed to write three words that came to mind about economics, two questions they had, and a metaphor or simile about economics.  For my newcomer students, this was the first time using this strategy.  The simile was difficult for some of them.  With these particular students, I wrote the sentence stem "economics is like ____________."  Two of them wrote "not enough," as scarcity was the concept that really stuck with them.  Other similes or metaphors from our student population included, "economics is like having a long Christmas list, but only getting some of it."  The simile/metaphor part of this strategy is my favorite thing about it, as I find it to be the most revealing about students' comprehension. 

The next three days, we continued to work with economics vocabulary.  Students sorted photo cards I had made into categories.  The first sort, they sorted into goods and services categories.  Second, they sorted them into producers and consumers.  Finally, I returned to The Oxcart Man to teach about natural, human, and capital resources.  Students then sorted the photographs again into those categories.  I also used youtube to access a video of the Swedish chef, from the Muppets,  making pumpkin pie.  Students roared at his antics, but they also were able to describe the economic resources he used in the video.

At the end of this exploration, I gave students another comprehension check.  This time, I decided to use the See-Think-Wonder strategy from Making Thinking Visible.  I used another strategy sheet that I developed to used for this.  Students were given a word bank of social studies vocabulary words.  They chose one photograph from the collection of photos I had given them to sort and focused in on it.  They were charged with using the social studies words to describe their observations, thoughts, and questions about their photo.

This strategy and organizer was easier for my newcomer students to use.  I think it was easier because it didn't require metaphorical thinking.  The word bank was a big help for them, too.

This week, our economics unit continues.  I've assigned a fairy tale each one of my small groups.  They have read the fairy tale together and will be working toward finding economic concepts in their tale.  I'm so excited about the next part of this project, I can hardly wait.  We'll be creating scenes from the fairy tales that illustrate economic concepts, using costumes, photography, and Power Point.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, please, please consider checking out my Making Thinking Visible resources below.  They have deepened my students' thinking and learning!

                                                                                Until next time, Teach on, my friends!
                                                                                Tracy @ Wild Child Designs


Finding Balance & Doing the Fandango

January 4th, back-to-school-day, arrived on the wings of song...Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody to be exact...the ring tone of my cellphone alarm clock.  I fandango'ed my way to the kitchen to feed my furry friends, downed a glass of water, and then saddled up Gracie, my trusty lab/pointer spastic walking partner for an early morning walk.  This was day one of my balance focus. 

"I have run marathons.   I quit smoking-COLD TURKEY!  I can do this."   This was my mantra as I walked past our downtown Starbucks toward our regular walking route.  The siren call of caffeine was loud and persistent, but I ignored it.  I don't like black coffee. I like coffee with a pint of cream and 1/2 a cup of sugar in it.  So, no coffee for me.  Somehow the cream and the sugar don't fit my new balanced lifestyle.

Seriously, all joking aside.  My January focus of finding balance this month is to reclaim my healthy eating habits.  But specifically, I need to follow the MIND-Dash Diet, an Alzheimer's disease prevention lifestyle change.  This means, I don't eat the huge quantities of sugar I crave on an hourly basis.  My mom is the third generation of her family to face this debilitating disease.  I don't want to be the fourth.  So, I have to do this.  Monday morning, I was on fire with commitment and determination. 

Then, I went to work.

Tuesday morning arrived, and I wanted to throw Freddie Mercury across my bedroom.  But, I didn't.  I went to the gym and completed my food journal for the day. 

Wednesday arrived.  Why does Wednesday ALWAYS wipe me out mentally and emotionally? I did not keep up with my food journal or my exercise. 

Thursday.  It was better, but I was really, really tired.

Friday.  Hallelujah!  I celebrated with sushi. 

Things I learned about myself and my balancing attempts:

1. I am an "all or nothing" type of person.  I remember taking an intermediate yoga class and forcing my body into the pose.  The instructor, a little Indian spitfire, scolded me fiercely, "Would you treat your best friend this way?" 

I would not.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were my eating habits.  I need to breathe, enjoy my food, the tracking of it and the gorgeous vegetables I'm now eating.  Sounds crazy, right?  But, it isn't. Check out the picture below. This is what happens when I don't force.  Yummy bean, basil, chicken, and tomato salad with balsamic vinegar, and I enjoyed every bite in the teacher's lounge instead of while sitting in front of my computer in my classroom.

2. For all my type A, over-achieving habits,  I'm an under-achiever when it comes to finding balance.  Maybe it isn't the all or nothing, type A, approach that works.  Personal trainer friends of mine tell me that it is actually the little, consistent efforts that people make on a daily basis.  Sigh. This is difficult for me.

This is my little weekly update.  Tomorrow begins another work week.  I know I won't be perfect, but I will be consistently baby-stepping.
To check out my balance pack for teachers, simply click the picture to the right. There's a free sample in my store for you too!  I'd love to hear how you're balancing your teaching career and personal life!  Until next time, teach on, my friends!
                  Tracy @ Wild Child Designs

You might be interested in reading the first in the series of my balance posts, as well as another teacher friend also writing about BALANCE! Check out these out!:

To read more from some awesome teacher authors, be sure to check out my colleagues' posts below.  Simply click on the posts that interest you!


Throwing My Heart Over the Bars: A Teacher Seeks Balance

"Advice from a veteran trapeze performer:
Throw your heart over the bars and your body will follow."

I once had a friend who could put both of her feet over her shoulders and hook them around her neck.  Then she would balance on her hands.  She would demonstrate this circus-freak talent whenever the wine was flowing, or in the passenger seat of my car when on our way to a girls' weekend.  Passer-bys would freak out at the spectacle, and she would laugh uncontrollably.  It is safe to assume that she appeared unbalanced in her balancing acts. 

Every year, I choose a theme.  I don't do resolutions or goals.  I choose a yearly theme for my life.  One year, I chose to focus on simplicity.  That year, I cleaned out clutter: Physical and emotional junk.  I let go of many of my complicating behaviors and toxic relationships.  Last year, I chose  health for my theme, and I quit smoking.  I went to the doctor appointments I had been putting off way too long. 

This year, my theme is balance. Although I love yoga, I am not flexible like my entertaining friend.  I can't balance on my hands, and I certainly can't balance on them with my legs tucked behind my neck.  Heck, I can barely get my legs tucked under me to sit on the floor.

My theme is balance because I have struggled with having balance in my life since I was a child. I am the kind of teacher who tends to eat, breathe, and sleep her job. I am a work-aholic.  I love to write, hence this blog. I love to create.  I love to hike and run.  I love to cook. I love paint and draw. I love to play my piano and Native American flute.  I love my family. I love my students. I love my friends.  I love...BUT my life is out of balance.  I think too much about the future and cry too much over the past.  I have trouble focusing on the present.  What does this cause?  It causes depression, unhappiness, and my favorite...anxiety.  I complete tasks and projects for work, for my family, for my friends, but I forget to take care of my basic needs: Eating healthfully, sleeping adequately, exercising regularly, and having fun. Yes, you read that right...having fun. 

I recently attended a wedding of a friend.  The DJ was phenomenal, and I danced with my girlfriends for the first time in years.  It occurred to me later that weekend, that I couldn't remember the last time I had had so much fun.  I really couldn't remember the last time I laughed uncontrollably or danced like my hair was on fire.  This makes me sad.  For all my efforts and love of life, I'm out of balance.   This year is about balance.  This year is about recapturing my joy.  I'm going to throw my heart over the bars!

During the first week of each month, I will be posting about how I'm finding balance in my teaching and personal life.  I'll be choosing a focus for the month, reflecting on the month before, and sharing freebie reflection and calendar pages.    So let's get started for January 2016!

My focus for January 2016 is reclaiming my practice of eating healthfully and moving my body everyday.  When I go into my hyper-focused state, I sit for hours writing or reading.  I order take out food or stay up too late. Mornings come too early, and I leave for work without a lunch packed, and often without eating breakfast.  I come home from school to piano students waiting in my driveway.  I teach until 6 or 7 p.m.  I eat dinner standing over the kitchen sink.  Then, I find a documentary on youtube and begin creating products, writing blog posts, or preparing for the next school day or week.  I may walk the dog, but with the apocalypse of the holidays, that has gone by the wayside, too. month, I'll be preparing meals ahead of time, and before I work at night or on the weekend.  I'm going to go out to eat no more than once a week.  I'll be using my super-cool calendar and journaling pages to track my progress.  At the end of January, I'll be writing about my successes and mistakes. 
These are the resources I'll be using this month.  One of them is free for you to grab!

This month, I am fortunate enough to partner with amazing educators on the topic of BALANCE.  Be sure to check out their ways of finding balance in their professional and/or personal lives. I'd also love to hear from you! How do you find balance in your teaching life?  Please take the time to comment and share YOUR wisdom.

                                            Until next time, teach on, my friends and Happy New Year!
                                                                                            Tracy @