Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Ins and Outs of Teaching a Virtual Math Class

I get a lot of questions about the math program that I teach. I don’t think I’ve ever really even tried to fully explain it to anyone before now. Truth is, whenever I tell people that I teach an online math program, people usually get a really weird look on their faces and seem to automatically start questioning the successfulness of it. They don’t understand how it could possibly be beneficial to cut into two and a half hours of regular classroom math time for students to learn math online. Nor do they understand what exactly it is that I do with MY time all day. I mean... obviously the computers must do all the work, right?

These assumptions are similar to the feelings of many teachers in the district at the beginning of the year when we first incorporated Reasoning Mind. Only a handful of Title 1 campuses adopted the program this year. I had no doubts. I knew from the stats and reputation of the program in so many other districts alone that it was going to do big things in math for our students. It also probably helped that I completed some master's work in Educational and Instructional Technology a couple of years ago. I’m naturally a fan of what technology can do for education! Nevertheless, when someone starts asking me about my job, I usually just say that I teach 2nd-4th grade math and leave it at that. It's just easier that way.

So, in case you’re interested in this sort of thing, here’s what ACTUALLY goes down in my classroom.

Every second, third, and fourth grade class comes to RM three days a week for 45 minute blocks of time (fifth graders receive ALL of their math curriculum through RM, but are taught by a separate RM teacher).

In a sense it really is a futuristic virtual classroom type atmosphere. Students access their lessons by logging in to RM City.

Within RM City, the students learn new math material, solve problems, e-mail the teacher, submit homework, and earn points for the efforts with which they can use to collect virtual prizes. The "RM Genie" is there to support and cheer for them along the way.

Students spend the majority of their RM time learning new material and working problems in Guided Study. New objectives are taught in a storylike setting by several vibrant RM City characters. These lessons are followed by a chunk of problems that check to see if the student has a good understanding of the new material. After submitting an answer to a problem, the student is given immediate feedback along with a detailed step-by-step solution to the problem.

Every student progresses through the program at a different rate. Students who are doing well are progressively given more difficult problems to solve. If a student is doing poorly in an area, the system will automatically have him/her complete the lesson again.

The students are required to keep daily notebooks in RM class. They write down key ideas from new theory learned as well as document their work. They are given tests at different points in the curriculum to ensure that they have been taking their notes.

I have incentive plans happening all around the classroom to keep my students engaged and excited about their work. We keep track of class goals, personal goals, class competitions, and high streaks (number of problems solved correctly in a row).

Students earn points in RM City for solving problems correctly and meeting goals. At the end of class on Fridays they are given the option to spend their points in the virtual shopping mall. Their purchases are used to decorate their personal "Great Hall."

There are several steps that RM students are instructed to take before they ask for help. They have hints available as well as a great virtual library resource that includes past lessons and a math textbook. As a third option, students who are excelling in the program (Genie's Helpers) are allowed to help their peers and answer any questions while I’m working with students who are struggling.

Since (on a good day :)) the students are able to work mostly independently, I spend the majority of the class period completing interventions. Only occasionally do we have a whole-class lesson. Most of my math instruction is completed one-on-one or in small groups. I’m notified any time a student is struggling. The RM teacher interface allows me to run all sorts of reports to track student progress. I’m able to view specific problems that each student has missed, so we can go over everything again together. It's SUCH a great concept!

I document my interventions on the spreadsheet that I made and love oh so much.

I’m only just now reaching a point where I feel like I am truly utilizing the program to its fullest potential. It has really been a learning process and I’ve spent many many hours in training with other RM teachers from around the district. Overall, I think the program has really won most everyone over by this point. Even the students seem to enjoy math a lot more and have also drastically improved their mathematical abilities. I’m definitely a fan of what this program is doing for education and I can see a new technological future for classrooms down the road!!

And before I go I have to show you the OCD computer wallpaper that I made for the student computers yesterday...

Can you imagine how beautiful my life will be if it actually WORKS? I'm so excited about it!

Whew. That's all folks.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Weekend

I hope this Monday finds everyone well. Easter weekend was pretty eventful. Chelsea & Seth came to town for the first time in months so we spent a lot of time on the patio at Mom and Dad's. 

Andy came to town for the first time in months as well. On Friday night we had a group iChat with Rob all the way in Brooklyn which is always a (somewhat awkward) treat. I love technology!

There was also a lot of puppy time...

Some Easter egg hunting at the farm...

A little four-wheeling action (where I nearly died. don't let Chelsea drive. psycho driver)...

Typical timed pictures...

And, best of all, hornet swatting. There were massive amounts of enormous hornets swarming around the barns. Rather than hunting down the hive, my Granddad has apparently taken up swatting the hornets with small pieces of wood. Seriously one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Taking them down... one hornet at a time. So the guys decided to help him out. 20 dead hornets in one day!! The hive will be done-for in no time. No doubt in my mind.

And then I got an extended weekend by finishing Easter off with a stomach bug. I definitely loved Easter dinner while it lasted though. :) 

Now to battle the TAKS test! Hollaaaa.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday again.


Today is one of those days when I just really haven’t felt like being at work. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most other districts have the day off today. Maybe it’s just spring fever. Who knows, but it has been a rough one. When you’re a teacher, I’ve noticed that you don’t really get the option to slack off for a few minutes in an attempt to get your motivation back. It’s impossible to be lazy when you have 20+ children to answer to. I love this job, but it can be pretty tough on my un-motivated days.

It’s so hard not to let your frustration show after 5 second graders in a row ask you how to solve a problem such as this:

b = 7
2 + b = ?

Sometimes I just want to pull my hair out. “Child, it says b is 7! Right there!! How do you not see it?!?!?!?!” Times like these I think that perhaps 2nd graders shouldn’t be expected to understand algebra. But instead I have to patiently explain for the thousandth time that b and 7 are the same thing.

Or when seven hands are up at the same time and I'm feeling overwhelmed. And when I’m finally done answering every question, another hand goes up. And it just keeps going and going.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has been having motivation issues lately. TAKS will finally be over after next week and then we can get to the fun stuff. If you think about it, please remember to keep students and teachers in your prayers next week. It will be a tough week for all of us.

I just have to keep focusing on the bigger picture. Every day. I’m determined to finish strong!! Must be positive. Must be patient. Must. Keep. Going. Summer is so so close!

But until then, TGIF! Happy Easter!! I hope everyone has a beautiful, relaxing weekend.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dream Overload

It seems like a common theme in my life. I spend more time dreaming/planning out my future careers than I do actually involving myself in the current one. 90% of my dream careers involve me starting my own business of some sort. I want to do something that is inspiring and will allow me to be creative. Back in the day I thought teaching was the perfect outlet for creativity. Somehow that flexibility has been completely removed from the classroom, which is why I feel like this profession is not as fulfilling as I need for it to be.

I know it's normal for people to dream of new careers, but is it normal that I basically obsess over it? I spend hours upon hours researching how to start a business and dreaming about how I will decorate the business. I have spreadsheets for all of my ideas that I have slowly added to over the past several years.

I want to own a clothing boutique.

I want my own cupcakery.

I want to own a floral company.

I want to design paper goods.

I want to be an event planner.

And I want to design cute hair pieces.

I want to keep going but I’m already embarrassed by the length of this list.

Problem is I’m not a risk-taker. I can plan and dream all day, but when it comes to actually taking a leap of faith (quitting my day job), taking out a loan, and barreling full-speed ahead… well, I’m just a big huge chicken. I've tried to determine which of my ideas would involve the least risk, but they are ALL risky. A large part of me thinks that this is the time of life to take risks because I don’t have as many responsibilities as I might have later in life. The other part of me says it could be a life-altering mistake.

So I continue taking the safe route. Working for the man. Wishing that I was doing one of the things that I’m completely passionate about. Spending every second of my free time at my actual job researching my dream jobs. Creating spreadsheets and pinning pictures on inspiration boards.

Hoping that maybe one day I'll have the guts to do something about this.

...And then there are my dreams of going to nursing school. But we won’t even go there.

Don't be a drag. Just be a queen.

I don't know what Lady Gaga means by that phrase, but for some reason I like it. Maybe I should write it across my mirror. Except it would need to say, "Don't be a drag. Don't be a queen."

Heaven knows I can be a drag. And a queen. And a mixture of a drag and a queen.

I think I'll make today Drag/Queen Thursday. Several of my terrible qualities. Unveiled. Judge me if you must.

Drag: I clip my fingernails every single day. I don't want any part of long fingernails. They have to stay as short as humanly possible at all times. Non-existent cuticles.

Queen: The top half of my big toenail tore the other day and was only hanging on by a tiny piece on one side. Rather than clipping it off and sporting a hideous half-nail with my summery sandals (the horror!), it was super-glued back down and then painted over. Amazingly it's still standing strong! And my foot doesn't look like a freakshow!

Drag: I only wash my hair every other day. Not necessarily out of laziness. I have good intentions by doing this... such as hoping that my hair will be healthier because of it. I try not to think about the fact that I have bad hair days 50% of the time so that I can have good hair days the other 50%.

Queen: If I decide to do something besides leave my hair straight for the day I'm going to need a good 20-30 minutes to make sure it's perfect. If I'm curling my hair I usually re-do every strand several times until it becomes what I consider flawless (only to fall 5 minutes later). And goodness knows I should never wear my hair in a ponytail. Nothing takes me longer to perfect. I usually put it up and take it back down at LEAST five times before I think it's do-able. Normally it takes way more tries than that though.

Drag: If I'm not working, I have absolutely no variation in shoe choice. None. If it's winter, I wear my Sperry's with every outfit. If it's summer, I wear my Rainbows with every outfit.

Queen: But don't think this means that I don't collect shoes. My collection of ballet flats and sandals is embarrassing.

Drag: I've worn the same earrings every day for four and a half years. And a variation of the same three James Avery rings. Nothing more. Since I've worked strictly among women for several years, I have had several comments on the lack of jewelry in my wardrobe. Apparently it's not normal.

Queen: Don't even get me started on the number of flowery/sparkly headbands that I've collected over the past couple of years.

Drag: I have a collection of seven American Apparel deep V t-shirts. In seven different colors. There are seven days in a week. I put one of them on as soon as I get home from work every day. Nothing else gets worn whatsoever. This has been life for the past THREE years.

Queen: Have you seen my closet? Errr... closets?

Drag: I try to get in the habit of doing some sort of major physical workout. I really do. And I do really good for about 2 or 3 weeks in the spring/fall. But in the summer it's too hot to run. In the winter it's too cold to run. I don't have a gym membership. Dance is only one night a week. Summer came early this year. Fail times a lot.

Queen: I DO force myself to do a crunch workout/leg workout on alternating days. Failure to complete my daily workout means a nagging feeling in my brain that I am unable to shake. I absolutely must not skip this daily work out or I feel like I have failed for the day. Just one instance of OCPD showing through.

BOOM. Roasted.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


When I was six years old my family got our first dog; a Golden Retriever named Shadow. He was a wonderful dog and just sweet as could be. We took him on all sorts of adventures with us. As a child I thought there wasn't anything that he couldn't do! The year after I moved away from home my parents got another Golden Retriever puppy named Emmett. Emmett and Shadow were the best of friends despite their 12 year age difference.

One summer my family went on a cruise so we had some friends across town (whose dogs happened to be Emmett's mother and sister) keep Emmett while we were away. Shadow stayed at our house because he was just getting too old to leave. When we returned to the states, we learned that Emmett had escaped our friends' yard and began a long journey across town towards home. They didn't know where he was for a few days. Luckily a mail woman found him somewhere in-between their house and ours, read his tags and kindly dropped him off with some neighbors. It was so Homeward Bound-like of him.We've always believed that he tried to run home because he wanted to be with his best friend Shadow.

Shadow passed away at 14 years old. We were all very sad to see him go but we knew it was his time and that he had lived a great life. Less than a year later, Emmett began to get very sick. He lost a ton of weight and the vets all seemed to have a different reason as to why. One weekend I went home to visit my parents. I wouldn't even walk to the gate to pet him because he was so skinny and awful looking. It made me too upset. My Mom and I convinced Dad to take him to the vet. He was rushed to an overnight clinic but didn't live through the night. It was an absolutely awful weekend.

We still aren't exactly sure why he got so sick at the young age of three. My Dad was very close to him too and somehow throughout the whole process he felt like Emmett's death was his fault. That he should have rushed him to the clinic sooner. It was extremely hard on both of my parents.

Even though I never lived at home with Emmett, I loved him more than I have ever loved another dog. Even typing about him still makes tears stream from my eyes. Two years later I still miss him all the time. He was the most loving and happy dog that I have ever known. The most heartbreaking thing about it is that he was only with us for a short time.


That was a REALLY long story all meant to explain that I have really wanted another Golden ever since Emmett passed away. I've been keeping my eye out for puppies for a few weeks now. On Friday night (when I was supposed to be studying) I found out that someone in Abilene had put an ad online for ten puppies! I immediately knew that I had to go see them. We went the next day and of course I was sold as soon as I saw the little ones running around.

This is baby Jake:

I chose him over his 9 brothers and sisters because he was the biggest and the fluffiest. The lady selling them said he was the most loving. I hope I made the best choice. :) Both of Jake's parents were on site and his Dad is ENORMOUS. We'll see if Jake will get that big.

He was pretty lethargic the first day... I think he missed his mommy. :( Khan (an Aussie that Ethan rescued a couple of years ago) has done really well with Jake and has been very patient with him so far. The second night, Jake decided to escape the back yard through a gap in the fence. Luckily I heard him screaming at the top of his lungs at the front door. It really scared me that he could have gotten lost so soon, so now he has to be watched nearly all the time and has to sleep in a kennel at night. I hardly got any sleep last night because I kept having to get up with him. We'll be lucky if Ethan doesn't kill me before this training process is over.

My goal is to get him fully trained this summer. I'm 100% positive that it will all be worth it in the end!! Anddddd I have rambled FAR long enough. Better make an abrubt ending. Peace out.

Friday, April 15, 2011

TGIF Donuts


What is it about Friday mornings that makes me feel like I'm entitled to eat something unhealthy for breakfast? I'm pretty sure I've had either a donut or a cinnamon roll for breakfast every Friday for the entirety of the school year. Maybe I'm just drowning my sorrows because I miss my Friday morning HSC bean and cheese breakfast burritos terribly to this day.

Regardless, TGIF! The greatest thought of my Friday mornings is that I'm done with my 6:15 alarm for the next two days. You would be amazed at the difference I feel knowing that I have to wake up at 6:15 again tomorrow... on SATURDAY... to take my exam. And I don't take naps so that's not a solution. It's going to be beyond rough, people. Beyond rough. But then it will be done.

Happy weekend!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Memorial Service

I had such big plans for the blog today. I even miraculously remembered to grab my camera cord this morning because for once I wanted to use my real camera instead of the camera on my phone.

While taking my morning shower, I was making the mental note to remember the camera cord. It got me to thinking about the day I got my camera... almost 4 years ago to the day. I still love it as much as the day I got it.

Fast forward to an hour later. I got to school, put my stuff away, and went to grab my camera so I could snap the necessary picture. I dug through my purse and... no camera. Missing. Gone. My camera is ALWAYS in my purse. Has been for the last four years. Tried to stay calm. Ran back out to the car. Not there. Checked my cabinet in the classroom. Nope. Called Ethan to see if it was at the house. Of course not.

But I already knew that. You see, I don't put things in the wrong place. That may sound snobbish, but it's just the truth. Everything has a place. If something isn't at it's home base when I go to find it, then it typically means the item has been forever lost.

Good thing my planning period is the first part of the day, because I cried all of my makeup off. That poor little camera will never know how much it meant to me. It was there for all of the most beautiful moments of my life over the past four years. Most of those pictures are still saved on the camera to this day. I don't know where it is now, but I know it will always be missed.

Goodbye, Canon SD1000. You were very loved. Thank you for being there for many of the best moments of my life and giving me memories that will last a lifetime. I hope your new owner treats you better than the theif that he or she is (because we all know that there's no way this loss was MY fault).


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fav Week Evs

I’m having to take a little life hiatus this week because I have to study for the ESL certification exam that I’m taking this Saturday. It’s no bueno. I had forgotten exactly how much I loathe studying. It’s not really the actual studying part that I hate… it’s the inner guilt that I feel whenever I do ANYTHING besides study. I tend to put off the initial study session for as long as possible because I know that once I start, I’ll never allow myself to stop (at least without stress and guilt).

And yet I keep considering nursing school as my #1 back-up plan if I don’t survive the teaching cuts.

Sometimes it’s so annoying to be me.

I’ve been setting up camp in the guest bedroom because it’s my favorite room in the house. I had a “closet room” at my old house, a closet as big as a room at my old duplex, and now I have the guest bedroom which houses my closet. I don’t know why I usually end up spending a large portion of my time near my closets, since I don’t change clothes all that often, but to each his own.

At least there’s a TV so I can have Sex & the City and FNL re-runs playing in the background.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Awkward/Awesome Thursday

I've been skimping on the Awkward/Awesomes lately. It's hard to think of awkwards during less awkward weeks. I've been told that awkward things only happen to me because I think that everything is awkward. Perhaps this means I'm getting less awkward.

-The other day I was laying out in the back yard when I heard my little old lady neighbor come outside. I've known her since I was born because she was our neighbor way back when my family lived there.
The fence on that side of the yard has literally been around longer than I have and has absolutely NO privacy. I closed my eyes and hoped she would just go on about her business.

A few seconds later I heard something, popped my eyes open, and noticed her peering through the pickets. She started laughing and told me that she didn't even see me back there... she was just looking to see what the dog was doing. Then proceeded to have a conversation. All the while I was just dying inside and hoping that her eyesight was good enough to at least realize that, even though I was wearing a bathing suit that nearly matched my skin tone, I was, in fact, wearing a bathing suit.

-Last week I had to present at a workshop for the other RM teachers in the district. My program coordinator had asked me to present a spreadsheet that I've created to help me keep up with the students that I intervene with each day. My old job was all about spreadsheets so I turned into a very OCD spreadsheet person. Honestly I figured everyone was going to be bored out of their minds because naturally I assumed that everyone must already make spreadsheets exactly the way that I do. Because duh, it's the best way. 

I got to the front of the room and word vomited through the whole presentation in about 10 minutes. I finally looked up to a room full of completely blank stares, mumbled something about how they all must think I'm really anal, and then asked if anyone had questions. After all of the awesome stuff that I talked about, it ended up turning into a lesson about how I HIGHLIGHTED the names on my spreadsheet. I digress.

-Thanks to 5th grade TAKS, we have been allowed to wear jeans FOUR days this week. Yes, I did say FOUR!

-Pinterest. I'm in awe with everyone else's collections. I want my own account but I don't know how to get an invite. Or why you would need an invite to join. But whatevs.

-I posted a few of my headbands on Etsy a few weeks ago but lost interest as soon as I realized that you're supposed to promote your shop in order for your items to actually show up in searches. I figured I would try to mess with it again this summer. Yesterday morning I woke up and had an email telling me that someone had randomly purchased one. I was totally caught off guard so I stressed all day about how to mail it (hate going to the post office)... plus I had wanted to keep it to wear to Tech football games... yadda yadda.

Only I would be stressed rather than excited about something like that.

Anyway, at least I know now that it's possible to sell things on there. I can't wait to spend a little time putting a shop together this summer!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"As long as we dare to dream and don't get in the way of ourselves, anything is possible."

I've had an unfortunate craving for McDonald's french fries ever since I saw another teacher eating them last week. Today I must shamefully admit that I gave into the craving.

Please don't tell my sister. Dieticians apparently have issues with fast food.
She gave me a 5 minute lecture the other day when I asked her to go through the drive through at Whataburger so I could order a coke. I've never felt so ashamed of myself.

The pure indecency of people who visit fast food joints!

In other news, this morning I was happily browsing through my favorite blogs when I spotted the following pictures:


...And that's when it occured to me. Some people in this very country actually LIVE on a real life beach. I'm not talking the beaches of Galveston. I'm talking about gorgeous, summery, straight out of the movies types of beaches.

Here I am, glancing out of my classroom window 75,000 times a day (maybe I have more in common with my cats than I thought) thoroughly enjoying this view:

I mean, at least I have a window to look out of, right?

When I could be looking at THIS:


Every single day. Why has this never occured to me? Someone actually LIVES in that yellow house! I'm pretty sure life would be perfect if I lived on West Palm Beach. I'm absolutely sure of it. Now I must find a way to make it happen by the time I retire. Please hold me accountable.

Potato Wedges

I have an obsession with potato wedges. Put a plate of them in front of me and I will eat chow down on them like there's no tomorrow. Sneak them onto a platter with all sorts of delicious meats and veggies, and I will choose the potato wedges every time.

I don't think I've ever shared a recipe on here before but I guess there's a first for everything. What better first recipe post than a potato wedges recipe? I found it in a cookbook that I got from Crate & Barrel. Make them. Trust me, you won't have regrets.

Potato Wedges with Garlic & Paprika
3 lb. potatoes, unpeeled but well scrubbed
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika (or just regular paprika if you're boring like me)
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
coarse sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

If the potatoes are large, cut in half lengthwise, otherwise leave them whole. Put them in a large saucepan of water with the bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil, add a heaping tablespoon of coarse salt, and cook just until tender, but not completely soft. Drain & let cool slightly.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut into wedges. Put in a large dish and add the oil, garlic, oregano, paprika, and salt (to taste) and mix well with your hands until evenly coated. 

Arrange the wedges in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees until browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle with pepper and parsley and serve hot.

Monday, April 4, 2011

# 200 Baby

1. As of this weekend, the front flowerbed is officially full of brand new baby flowers. I can't wait to watch them grow into one massive flower chunk! I am a little sad that the yearly planting is now complete though. What am I going to do on the weekends now? I know what you might be thinking... and no, I'm not going to finish painting the house. The nine month hiatus is still going strong.

2. My principal called me into his office last week and (after a minor heart attack) let me know that my job is "currently secure unless something changes." Yes... currently. I wasn't sure if I should be happy that I survived the 2nd round of cuts or terrified by his choice of words. A few probationary teachers at my school have already been told that their contracts will not be renewed. Some of them have been here longer than I have which makes me wonder why I (as well as some other first year teachers) have been given the opportunity to stay around and they haven't. I'm sure those teachers are wondering the same thing.

3. I am still so thankful that my principal saw potential in me even though I was a dreaded 1st year teacher. He hired me along with six other first year teachers at the beginning of this year. After a dozen interviews following graduation where I was told that I was a great candidate but they were ultimately going to hire someone "with more experience," I started to feel like I would never get a chance to be a teacher. It's frustrating when no one will even give you a chance just because you're young.

4. Only seven more Mondays. Seven Mondays more.

5. Is it contradictory to talk about how thankful you are for your job and then follow it up with a countdown to summer?

6. This is my 200th blog post. I can't decide if that's a good number or a bad number considering that I've had this blog for around 400 days. Glass half empty: There are 365 days in a year. I posted less than 200 times in one year. Failure. Glass half full: 200 / 400. That boils down to 1 post every 2 days. Winner winner chicken dinner.