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Books–The Gifts that Keep on Giving!

Every December and June I have a big book give-away for my students. I scout garage and library sales throughout the year, and I ask anyone and everyone for donations. So, I’m asking you, dear parents, to peruse your child’s book shelves. Are there any books that are no longer needed? If you can answer yes, please consider donating those books to my classroom book give-away for December. It will be held the last week of school before break. I hope to send every student home with at least 4 books.
Books–the gifts that keep on giving!
(Teachers–you may want to consider doing this for your classrooms, as well!)

MCTI–Michigan Career Technical Institute (Hint: It’s FREE)

I recently had the pleasure of touring the campus of MCTI, a FREE college option for some of our students/children with severe learning differences. They have many career path options. Students take an introductory 5-week class on pinpointing strengths and skill areas, and then they begin their chosen program based on those results. A few examples are Electronics, Auto Repair, Culinary Arts, Office Machine Repair, and Graphics. Programs usually take 1-2 years to complete and run 11 months of the year (they are closed in August).

All classes have text to speech capability (THIS IS HUGE!) and classes are offered in basic reading and math initially if your child needs that support. A few of the programs require a 6th grade reading level to be admitted, due to the complexity of the knowledge and skills needed to be successful, but most don’t.

Tuition is FREE, uniforms (if needed) are FREE, food and housing are provided FREE, books and all materials needed are provided FREE. It is a HANDS-ON experience in learning. Your student/child must be registered within the MRS (Michigan Rehabilitation System) network to qualify to attend. (Find out if your student/child qualifies! Give them something to work toward! You can never start too early on this stuff!)

The campus is located north of Kalamazoo near Delton. It is situated on a beautiful, clear swimming lake. Pontoons, kayaks and paddle boats are available (free) for students to sign out. Bikes are also available for check out (free) with bike paths nearby. The social calendar is filled with things like outings to movies or the mall, frisbee golf, and karaoke (with free transportation). The campus has its own bowling alley, archery area, and weight lifting room, as well as a beautiful pool, gym, and ropes course. The dorms are located on four floors of the main building, which also houses most of the academic programs. The culinary students prepare food for the campus restaurant, with no items priced above $4, but all cafeteria food is available for free.

I encourage you to schedule a tour of the campus, either with a student who would benefit, or on your own to keep in mind for future students. (Pressed for time? Check out their website http://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339-73971_25392_40242—,00.html.) I loved the tour and will be singing MCTI’s praises to all who will listen!

Surviving the Teenage Brain (book)

So what is up with the teenage brain anyway, and how do we survive this period of time in our kids’/students’ lives?  In The Teenage Brain,  Dr. Frances Jensen explains that a teenager’s brain is like a souped up sports car with no brakes.

The last organ in the body to mature is the brain, and that doesn’t happen until the mid- to late-20s.  The teenage brain also has more “synaptic plasticity”, meaning it has a great ability to learn, but addictions can happen more strongly and quickly than in an adult’s brain.  The teenage brain can’t “put on the brakes” as easily because it doesn’t have the ability to regulate itself as well.  While the brain is maturing and making connections, risk-taking behavior can be high.  Male brains tend to take longer to make these connections, which probably comes as no big surprise to any of us.

Sleep is also a key part in teen brain health.  If a teen is sleep deprived, his learning will be negatively impacted.  Our current school day schedule is not conducive to teenage brain health.

Stress also plays a big part in the developing teen brain.  Teens tend to be more anxious due to a hormone that is released in response to stress.  In adults this release calms anxiety, but in teens, it ramps it up!

So how can we survive the teenage brain?  We need to be very mindful of any kind of addictions in our teens, from alcohol and drugs to video game usage.  (Cocaine and gaming turn on the same areas of the brain.)  Educating our kids about their brain health and what is happening is an important step we need to take, and we need to encourage downtime for them to reduce stress as much as possible.

If you’re the parent or teacher of teens, you may want to pick up this book for a more thorough read.  Good luck out there!

Free! Teacher Talk Advantage Website is now free!

The Teacher Talk Advantage Website by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller is now free!  I have paid $60 for this each year and have gotten great value for my money, but now it’s free!  And it may be just what you’re looking for!
That site now has free articles, free instructional videos, free teacher talk quick tips, free research data, free forms to use, and free coupons for their books and seminars.


Here’s to a CALM and HAPPY 2016!

As a parent, I have searched far and wide to find really solid, usable advice on parenting over the years.  My sons are all grown up now and creating lives of their own but I still find myself using the information I have learned from Kirk Martin on a regular basis.  I apply it mostly to my classroom now, but as we all know, the job of parenting never, ever ends.

I posted the following blurb back in early 2013 and want to post it again in hopes that you may benefit from its content:

“With three teenagers and a myriad of things on my “to-do” list, my life is busy, and I’m guessing yours is too.  One of the best sources of information I have found on parenting and teaching is a website called “Celebrate Calm” (celebratecalm.com). Kirk Martin is a dynamic speaker and writer who puts out a FREE newsletter on his website. You can get FREE notices of new posts if you subscribe. You also get FREE access to all of his speaking engagements–which are also FREE, by the way. Churches or schools sponsor his workshops for parents and teachers. I have attended three of his presentations and he is always full of excellent advice and support for all of us. He really speaks to how to keep calm in your life, whether you are supporting a young child who is emotionally melting down, or helping your 15 year old who is having a “teenage moment”. He speaks of taking care of ourselves first so we can do the hard work of taking care of others. He often answers questions that parents and teachers pose to him–things that happen to all of us in our homes and in our classrooms. Did I mention how helpful this man’s words have been to me yet?  (A quick aside–his son, Casey, does speaking engagements directly for KIDS and he is really, really wonderful too.)  Kirk and Casey have produced some super helpful CDs for parents and kids.  You can find these on his website, if interested.)  Parents, check out Kirk Martin and “Celebrate Calm”, and take a step toward making your life more calm and manageable! Teachers, share this information with the parents of your students if you think it would benefit them. Once you do, let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!”

Happy 2016, Happy Parenting, and Happy Teaching!

Aimsweb Update–11/2015

I met with ERESA to get our Aimsweb 2.0 questions answered.  Important things to know as you go forward:

  • You may not enter scores any earlier than LAST WEEK.  If you’ve been saving your scores to enter them all in at the same time, this is what you’ll need to do:  First, enter in your benchmark scores for last week, even if they were from September.  Then add in each of your other testing scores each WEEK (instead of every two weeks) until you are caught up and can enter them every 2 weeks when you actually give them.  I spoke to a company rep and made a request that we can enter scores at any time, even as far as a year back.
  • When doing WRITING progress monitoring, your benchmark score is written as PROBE 1.  All subsequent testing should be written as PROBE 4,  ALL YEAR.
  • If you have blank spaces where there should be boxes when you try to input scores it means that you have not yet set a testing schedule for that student and subject so you’ll have to go back to do that.
  • You may change to “off-grade” progress monitoring, and when you do this, your benchmark scores will disappear and you will be asked to input new scores.  Use PROBE 4 for your benchmark score and continue forward.
  • Use the Benchmark area of the website to set schedules and the SCORE area to enter progress monitoring scores.
  • I am going to see if there can be a designated secretary in each building who will be responsible for inputting scores so you don’t have to.  I will keep you posted.
  • If you go into the system and your old scores are not populating or something else weird appears to be happening, you can call Tech Support.  However, tech support told me that the system is still glitching and to log out and try again the next day, and those scores will probably reappear…
  • Do not hesitate to call Aimsweb Technical Support at 1-866-313-6194.  They have been very helpful so far.

Super Brain Yoga–VIDEO

Watch this 4-minute video on Super Brain Yoga.  It is one simple 3-5 minute exercise that has you crossing the mid-line and it gets your students (and you!) moving–and smarter.  I’m going to try this with my classes this year and I’ll keep you posted!  Let me know if you try this with success in your classroom, too.

Hamburger Helper? Nah… Behavior Helper

Does this sound familiar–you have a child (or student) who fidgets, gets off track easily in class or at home, is very verbal at inappropriate times, and then doesn’t get his work done?

Here are some ideas for helping that child become successful, happier, and more accomplished at home or at school:

  • When your student arrives at the kitchen table (or the classroom) in the morning, give him a specific job to do (clean the white board, get out the cereal bowls) and thank him. This helps with anxiety by beginning the day with a sense of accomplishment.  In addition, he gets to feel good about helping adults.
  • During class, your student can sit on an exercise ball. If there isn’t money in the budget for this, try experimenting with him sitting underneath his desk or in a corner on the carpet to complete assignments or take tests, since confined spaces may make him feel safe.  If he needs more space and feels confined by having too many students around him, set aside a space just for him, if possible.  Again, anxiety reduction.
  • Place a sensory strip underneath his desk so he can fidget with that instead of nudging his neighbor.  
  • Provide him with “talk tickets” to reduce blurting out. This way he has (3) times to speak out in class, instead of the usual (much larger) amount.
  • Right after lunch, your student can lead the class in chair push-ups for 32 seconds. (Pick some number that is likely to get the attention of the whole class.)  This helps him meets sensory needs and lets him be a leader.
  • If you notice your student getting discouraged, ask him to refill your water bottle. This allows him to move, get a short break from what is overwhelming him, and refocus.  Or maybe your student just needs to get a drink down the hall.  This accomplishes the same thing–movement, getting away, hydration!  (So important for brain work.)
  • After recess, your student can clean a desk or two using the “wax on, wax off” idea of crossing the mid-line to help with anxiety, sensory issues and concentration. 
  • Try using “Brain Gym” exercises with your whole class to get everyone back on track, should the need arise.
  • For the next week, try giving your student a star, a smiley face, or a high five every time you see him practice self-control in your classroom so he comes home with positive input instead of negative.  You could make a home chart for improvement there, too.

Who knows, maybe Behavior Helper will become your next favorite recipe!

Agile Learning Spaces

I recently attended an edweb.net webinar entitled “Agile Learning Spaces” that focused on the redesign of learning spaces.   By having a changeable classroom in your school, you…

  • invite different thinking and behaviors.  (We want students to be content creators, critical thinkers.)
  • create space that INVITES that.  For example, rooms could have…
  1. rolling white board tables to move around for each situation (to use as tables or partitions)
  2. chairs that roll too, and yoga balls, bean bag chairs, and carpeted areas
  3. partitions to separate areas
  4. no “front” of the room
  5. tubs for making things

These would be rooms to use for the things that you can’t do easily in your regular classroom.  You could move the furniture around to make it work for a class of students, a staff meeting, or a whole grade level of students.

It was reported that students LOVE this.  Why?

  • Student Choice–They get to set up the room.  They have control.  This creates lifelong independent learners.
  • Movement–It allows movement of students.
  • Ownership–It encourages the ownership of maintaining the room, it pushes the ownership of learning onto the students.  How much of the room is messaged around the teacher?  Can the teacher make it a jointly held learning experience?
  • Inclusion–By inviting all students to be a part of this, it allows students to move, stand, etc.

The presenters describe students drawing ideas on white board tables during or after a story is read.  This gives all students a voice–even the ones who might not feel comfortable speaking.  When 8th grade English students set up their own space, they WROTE MORE, AND HAD HIGHER QUALITY RESPONSES.  They had a 10 minute writing block, and everyone stayed on task.  Just the act of asking the students to set up the classroom gave them buy-in.  When a 2nd grade math class used the room, they used wiggle bar stools instead of rigid wooden or plastic seats.  Their accuracy didn’t change but they finished significantly more problems when allowed to use wiggle seats.  Student productivity went up.

What does this mean for us?  In this age of budget cuts, it might not mean a whole lot, but maybe, just maybe some of you may incorporate some agile learning spaces into your classrooms somehow, improving the education of your students one little corner at a time.