Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Watercolor Resist Painting for Kids

Every other Wednesday evening at church I try to come up with an arts based project for the kids to create. I am NOT a fan of coloring sheets and I don't like having kids make things that are messy, going to be messy at home or that the parent's are going to be forced to keep forever. And, I want the project to either reinforce what Doug preached about the previous Sunday or introduce what he will be preaching on this Sunday.

So with those parameters, I found this painting on pinterest that was perfect.

But, knowing that I had three young ones that would not be able to write the verse easily, I wanted to make the project more accessible.

So I opened up a word document and used a block letter font and wrote the verse pretty much like it is on the inspiration piece.

Once I got the words positioned on the paper, I changed the color of the lettering to yellow.  (Tip.. use yellow ink/pencils anytime you need to be able to see the lines, but you need to be able to paint over them. Yellow colored pencil/printer ink hides.. graphite doesn't.)

I then printed the verse onto watercolor paper.  You can purchase 9x12 watercolor sheets inexpensively. You can then cut down to 8 1/2 x 11 if your printer won't accept larger paper.

The first step is to use a white crayon or white oil pastel and completely fill in the inside of the letters. The was in the crayon resists the water. This process is very individualized, as the kids can choose not to fill in the entire letter if they don't want too. I like keeping the edges of the letters a little rough but filling the rest of the letter pretty solidly.


Once the letters are completely filled in, use watercolor and paint the paper.  At this stage, I suggest more paint, less water as you want to protect the paper from bubbling up too much.  You can always add more water to the brush, but keep it simple.


All of the kids had fun and painted their paintings completely differently.




Besides wanting the kids to have opportunities to create art, I have learned that busy hands create open minds when it comes to learning.  Sure, I could make the kids sit still and then tell the kids the story of Samuel and Eli. I can make the kids look at me and be quiet and "respectful." But they will probably not remember much of anything.

On the other hand, I can have the kids make art that reinforces the story and as they are working, they are listening to the story and asking me questions.  The kids never look at me and there is no way to know that they are paying attention. But when they finish their project, they have a deeper understanding of the story and a connection that lasts.


And this is why I love art. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Austin 3M Half Marathon. Done!

For the last couple of months I have been getting up EARLY and training for the 3M Half Marathon in Austin, Texas. It was advertised as a great course to get a PR (personal record) on because it had a net downhill elevation. So some of my running friends and I decided to take a stab at it.

Last night I met my running buddies down in Austin and we strategized running intervals and game plans for the day.   

My plan was to run 3 minutes steady, run 1 minute fast and walk 1 minute... over and over for 13.1 miles!

Here we are at the start of the race. Actually, here we are waiting at the never-ending port-a-potty line!  We were in this line for the national anthem.. for the start of the race... and for an additional few minutes!


Here I am at the start of the race! I decided that I was going to ENJOY this race! Yes, I had a time goal, but this race was about the enjoyment of running.


The crowd of runners, even starting almost 8 minutes after the gun was crazy. 6000 runners starting at the same time makes things tight.

And the road stayed congested with runners the ENTIRE  RACE!

I realized 4 minutes into the race that in the course of turning down my audio cues so that they weren't constantly going off in runkeeper, I accidentally turned off ALL cues. Ugh. So I had to watch for my friend Alisa that was trying to hear her cues in the crowd or just go on my own.  I did both. Thankfully I was wearing my Garmin, so I took a 1 minute walk break every 1/2 mile.

After dodging in and out trying to not get hemmed in, I gave up pushing for the elusive goal at mile 3 and just decided to try to get a personal best, but to have FUN! 

Which meant that Alisa and I after passing this cool pirate, we turned around and WENT BACK and got a picture.  His sign said Run Yer Booty Off!


Along the way I tried to say thanks to all of the volunteers and police officers working the course. I stopped and got a raw carrot to gnaw on from a little girl's goodie plate that she had out for runners. I took a grapefruit from another neighbor close to mile 12 and was so thankful for that burst of fresh fruit!

Below is from mile 10.5  It was that crowded the entire race! I was amazed.


As we started on the last mile of the race we turned into the University of Texas campus. Here is a mariachi group playing for us!

And here is the final few hundred yards of the race. It was fun running towards the state capitol to finish the race off!

Done.

My official time today was 2:09:44.  My goal was 2:05, but I am very happy with this!  That's a 6 minute PR off my fastest official race time.

So the question asked is will we run it again? YES!

But.. I'll go in better prepared.

It was a net downhill with only a couple of big hills... BUT... it was really a rolling hill course. As one would expect from Austin, Texas. Knowing that, I'll train for rolling hills, not downhills.  That is a big difference.

And, I'll have a better idea as to where to start the race and how to run it. The crowd was soo thick. Apparently there are a lot of 2:10 runners in Austin.  I got hemmed in and stuck behind groups of runners repeatedly. Not sure how my strategy is going to change for next year, but I'll be thinking about it.

And what about the "swag bag?" It was GREAT! But would you expect any less from a 3M sponsored race?  I was disappointed that the 3M Half reusable bag was missing from my bag. boo. But other than that, I'll be using the gifts for sure.

What's next on the running horizon? COWTOWN!!!  

Friday, January 23, 2015

What have I done?

I've gone back to grad school.

Oh my.

I'm taking 12 hours this semester. ( It's 2 classes at a time in 8 week chunks.)

This is week 1.

I may throw up.

What have I done?

On the bright side, in a year I'll have my Master's in Educational Leadership and have my principal's certificate.

I may not sleep for the next year, but hey, I've never been a good sleeper :0)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Differentiation DOES Work

James R. Delisle’s article “Differentiation Doesn’t Work”  in Education Week absolutely hit a nerve with me.  His statement “differentiation is a failure, a farce, and the ultimate educational joke played on countless educators and students” to be honest made me mad. 

I agree that differentiation is hard and incredibly difficult in a classroom of mixed ability students. But to say that differentiation is a failure and a joke is ludicrous and I felt like I had been slapped in the face!

Why? Because creative differentiation not only WORKS, but is sometimes the ONLY glue that keeps a classroom running and students achieving more than they ever thought possible.  Is it easy? NO! But curriculum that provides creative approaches to education and gives students choices about their education is crucial if students are to be met at their current educational level and then be challenged. In my opinion, this is the very essence of differentiation.

To say that differentiation doesn’t work, is a copout. It’s like saying because some students struggle to read that we should just stop teaching reading.  Instead, we have to say that maybe the way we approach differentiation needs to change.  Or maybe the expectation that teachers would know how to differentiate needs to change. What I do know is that the traditional model of lecture, take notes and give a test doesn’t work for students if we want them to be the best self that they can be.

Why am I so adamant that differentiation works? Because after spending the last 15+ years in the public school classroom teaching everything from 3rd grade special education Math to 8th grade Reading to 12th grade Economics and a dozen other subjects in between and afterwards, I KNOW that if we want to reach students we have to do things differently.  And to be honest, I am tired of always hearing what doesn’t work and that we have such a hard job so woe is me. NO! We have the BEST job! Yes it is hard! Yes, things aren’t always great and sometimes things happen in our classrooms and in our schools that are crap. And sometimes it’s because we have crappy curriculum and no support. But you know what, at the end of the day, I can adapt my crappy (or lack of) curriculum and I can work through times when I feel like I am being sabotaged by administrators. Because my students are worth it!


I could give you some of my real-life tried and true differentiation strategies. For those of you out there that might care, my differentiation strategies are really a blend of differentiation and choice-based learning. What I have learned is that when given options, students will self-differentiate effectively most of the time. I might have to eliminate a few options for the students, but a choice in differentiation strategy creates individual by-in and ultimately yields better results.


But here is the caveat… in order to create this environment, you have to be willing to think outside the box and be willing to give up the worksheet that you made ten years ago! Even harder, the “bundle” that you spent all summer working on has to have embedded alternatives in order to give you the flexibility to reach students. We have to let go of the mindset that things HAVE to be done a certain way or they are failures.  Because my gravy, does it really matter what students use to process when working with a manipulative if they master the concept? Does it really teach students to be creative writers if the only poems they are allowed to write are a,b,a,b patterns?


So here are the most common statements against creating individualized lessons and my response.
  •         “I have 100+ students; I can’t give every student their own assignment.”
    •    No, but you can create a sheet of options that allow for the different skills students have and their interests.  When teaching Agamemnon to around one hundred 9-12 grade theatre arts students, I created a project that allowed for the skill level of students AND their interests. The assignment sheet listed 10 options, like “write a new ending to the play.. 40 points” and “research the Ancient Greek culture and explain the role of the chorus (essay, powerpoint or speech)”.. 50 points as well as stuff like “draw a mask for one of the main characters..10 points.” If there was a basic piece of the assignment that everyone had to complete, I would make that a required element and assign points. Then I would meet with students and they would tell me their plans. Lower achieving students might have to earn 80 points and I would guide them to maybe not do a research paper. On level students would be required to earn 100 points. Yes, this is a time consuming approach. But SO WORTH IT!! Students who didn’t think they could understand a Greek tragedy not only understood it, but were able to adapt the play into a reality tv series and act out a scene!

  •    My curriculum is bundled and if I do “fun” things I won’t get in the required lessons.
    •     Why are “fun” things not valued? Why are required lessons boring?  Example: when teaching Economics instead of having students take a paper/pencil test on the economic impact of WWII, I gave students three options. 1st option, take the traditional test. 2nd option, create their own version of a ration book that rationed cell phone minutes. Students had to come up with the guidelines for the rationing, how it would work and all of the details that would go into rationing their data/minutes. 3rd option was interviewing someone who lived through this time period and create a report (written/documentary/powerpoint) from this original source.  The overwhelmingly majority of the students created a ration book. The hardest and most time consuming option.  Even better, these required elements were “fun” to the students.

  •    I’m not creative.
    •     Then ASK FOR HELP!!!!! Explain to your students what you want to do and ask them to help you come up with creative options. You would be shocked! Their assignments will be much harder than ones you would come up with. It has been years and years since I taught 3rd grade special education inclusion math. But what I remember the most is that while they were NOT interested in counting blue bears, they created a “store” and counted money and did fractions and everything imaginable in order to get Legos to build with! Blue bears did nothing for them. Legos did.


In the end, I realize that differentiation is hard. 

And by definition, my brand of creative choice-based learning with a differentiation approach is probably not classic differentiation. But I’ll take my brand, my students are worth it.

And for the student that is struggling in written expression, being given permission to verbally say his essay into a computer, spell check it and print it and then using his printout to look at, copy in his own hard to read handwriting, his very own legitimate essay, that is a win. 

Will he pass the state mandated writing test with this approach? I don’t know. 

But what I do know is that by differentiating today, he gained the courage to try next time. Sure, as the teacher, I could have demanded that he write his essay like everyone else. But what would have happened? At best, the student would have turned in something that I could “accommodate” to a 70. At worst, the student would have been reminded that once again, he wasn’t “good” enough.

A lose never translates to a win. And saying that differentiation is a farce is saying that students aren't worth the trouble. Personally, that’s not why I got into education..

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Smoothie Madness

I have become nuts for smoothies over the last couple of weeks.
After years of HATING them!!
In fact, as an adult, I wouldn't even try them cause I have NEVER liked smoothies.

Well, over the years, my running friends and sisters would talk about smoothies and how much they love them and drink them everyday and all that jazz.. I would just grimace.

But our local women's running club had a New Year's Eve run and my friend that is a nutrition guru brought some of her smoothie for the group. I figured I could try it. She doesn't do dairy and since that's why I don't do smoothies as I can't stand the texture of yogurt, I figured, what the heck.. I might as well try it.

Here I am. Yes we captured the experience!

I was SHOCKED! I liked it! The texture of the fruit and vegetables didn't bother me at all!

And so began my journey into wellness.

Over the last two weeks I have had a smoothie everyday! Except for one day as we were out of stuff to make one and the day just didn't go right.. I made crappy food choices.

So I am committed! 

I feel better and I've lost 4 pounds in two weeks!

Amazing.

My girls are even drinking smoothies!

And these aren't smoothies for the faint of heart.. these are REAL fruit and veggie smoothies! 

Take a look at my go to smoothie recipe. It's a little longer process, but I really like the taste.

1. 1/2 cup almond milk and an orange. Pulse together.

2. Add spinach, carrots, grape tomatoes, a little avocado and some water.

3. Strain. This is a personal choice as I love the flavor of the orange but I don't like all of the pulp. And I want the real thing and not orange juice! This may not be a needed step if you have a good blender. I had a Ninja blender that I was using (as seen in the below pictures), but it wasn't making the veggies smooth enough. Nice blender but I think there was too much area for the veggies to move around and not enough force to break up the particles. I got a new blender and it is amazing.. now the pulp is creamy and not pulpy (is that a word?)

4. Add a banana, some frozen peaches and strawberries.

5. Blend.

6. Pour.

7. Enjoy.
 

The above smoothie color isn't pretty, but it is yummy. Notice that I didn't add any sweeteners. I don't really like it sweet. The fruits make it plenty sweet in my opinion!

After more than a full week enjoying smoothies and seeing that I really will drink them, I decided to get a blender made for smoothie making.  Oh the difference! It was incredible!!

I got the Nutribullet Pro and WOW! Look how beautiful that green is!!!


I am still straining the veggie mixture, but instead of needing to because of the grit, I am so that I have room for the fruit! In the old blender, once it was strained the mix would give me less than a cup of liquid. Look at how much liquid I have from this mornings mix! 


Once I added the banana, strawberries and peaches I had 20 ounces plus!

And a TMI sidenote: I've always had stomach/gastro issues. Too many salads in one week were not good. This has been an issue of mine on Weight Watchers. It's hard to process that many uncooked veggies. Well, the smoothies are no trouble. I feel better than ever and my system is happy. I'm sure its because I'm straining out most of the fiber and bulk, but hey, I've taken a giant leap into healthy eating, the "grit' will come later!