Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Summer Reads Series: Autism in Heels

Aaaah. . . summer! Oh, how I love summer and having the time to READ!! I hope you've been following along our Summer Reads Series for Teachers! This third book is Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum by Jennifer O'Toole.
Autism in Heels is not a novel like our other Summer Reads series books. It is a fascinating, heart-wrenching, eye-opening memoir written by a brilliant woman who after learning that her 3 children had Aspergers, began to do more research on autism and was herself, diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of thirty-five. For the first time in her life, things made sense. Wow. Every teacher has probably had a male student with the label of Aspergers or autism, but it is very rare to have a female student with that same label. Why?

Autism spectrum disorders are currently more commonly diagnosed in males, with a ratio of about 1 female for every 4 males diagnosed. Because autism looks very different in females, most girls and women who fit the profile are not identified. One difficulty is that girls with autism seem to behave in ways that are often considered more socially acceptable for girls as opposed to boys.

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
I had so many aha moments while reading this book. O'Toole shares example after example of how she managed to look like she was fitting in with the social norms, while feeling like she was an observer on the outside. She was a cheerleader, went to Brown University as an undergraduate, was in a sorority, and earned her Masters degree at Columbia University! She seemed like the model student, yet she was deeply insecure, depressed, insecure, and affected on the inside. As teachers, how observant are we? Or do students fall between the cracks because they appear to "fit in"?

In the past, autism spectrum inventories often asked questions that were gender-biased toward males:  "Does the child perseverate on specific interests such as trains or transportation, schedules or statistics?" "Does the child obsessively line up their cars and trucks?" As O'Cooke refers back to her childhood, she states that girls were often overlooked on these inventories because they usually do not have cars or trucks as toys to line up! However, she used to meticulously set up her Barbies in elaborate tableaus. While girls with autism do have specific interests they perseverate on, they are more likely to choose interests that appear more typical and socially acceptable: animals, music, pop stars. This was fascinating and I couldn't help but think back on so many female students who may have exhibited these Asperger traits, yet they were unidentified! Reading this memoir also made clear, the importance of allowing student choice in how to demonstrate their learning, and the power of student choice in choosing topics to study in-depth. Lacking a natural sense of social cues and not being able to "read people" are also good reasons to teach social-emotional health during morning meetings and throughout the year!

O'Toole's memoir is eye-opening; you won't want to put it down! You will think back on the hundreds of students who may have been in similar situations or who thought differently. She shares her own struggles with an eating disorder and abusive relationships, and how having Aspergers and interpreting the world differently was related to those areas.

She has written books for children, specifically for those with Aspergers; to help them navigate social circles and to teach them to embrace their unique traits!
I've compiled a list of Autism Resources with links for you. Download your copy of the list HERE.

You can listen to We Teach So Hard episode 45 Summer Read Series: Autism in Heels HERE or click on the image below! We discuss takeaways from the book, as well as how learning about gender differences in autism and Aspergers affect students in our classroom. You don't want to miss this episode!
If you haven't already checked out the first two books in our Summer Reads Series for Teachers, you MUST! Click on the images below to read more about each book and for a FREEBIE!
I hope you're loving these books as much as I did! What else are you reading this summer? I'm always looking to add to my TBR (to be read) list!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Find Your Teacher Tribe

Spring is the season of graduations and new beginnings. It's a time for reflection and change. I've been in the classroom for 32 years and still continue to think about how to better my teaching practices. I've teamed up with some amazing teaching buddies to share 7 tried & true teaching tips.
I graduated with my bachelor's degree in December of 1986 and started teaching on an emergency credential in January 1987. I knew NOTHING about teaching or children, yet there I was! I'm sure I must have looked wild-eyed and frantic because the teacher next door, Elizabeth, took me under her wing. Not only did she fill me in on school policies and procedures, but she shared curricular materials, invited me to teaching conferences, and quickly became a sounding board for me. She was so knowledgeable about all things developmentally appropriate for kids. Having someone whom I respected as a teacher and trusted as a colleague is what helped me not only survive, but thrive.

Find your teacher tribe! In those first couple of years, Debbie and Claudia joined our primary team and we quickly became inseparable. We brainstormed together, shared new ideas, ranted and cried together, and again, Elizabeth became our mother hen. We each had our own strengths: creativity, organization, knowledge, attention to detail, enthusiasm. Together we developed fabulous teaching units and lessons, always cheering each other on. We eventually moved on to different schools and districts, but remain close to this day.

Two schools later, Charlena became my grade level partner. Although initially we were hesitant to teach together, we quickly began to share ideas and finish each other's sentences. We always laugh because she is louder than me so she had the reputation of being strict and tough, when in reality, I'm much more the no-nonsense control freak. She tolerates my often crazy ideas and just shakes her head as I take on elaborate projects or try new strategies. She keeps me grounded and more focused. We were both devastated when I moved schools to be closer to home, after 10 years of teaching together.

I wasn't sure how I felt about having a new teaching partner, but I lucked out when Danny and I became the fourth grade team at our new school. For 10 years, our classrooms were next door; we ran ideas by each other, we departmentalized for social studies and science. He relied on my experience (he was brand new when we started teaching together!) and I was so glad for his tech savvy and his genuine desire to help kids think critically.

All this reminiscing to say, my number one tip for surviving teaching is to find your teacher tribe! I would not be the teacher I am today, if it weren't for my teaching besties. Find those you can collaborate with, question pedagogy or latest teaching fads with, go to conferences with, and read the latest professional books with! (Oh and of course, to socialize with!) If you don't have that camaraderie at your school site, then find your tribe online. There are plenty of teacher Facebook groups or find like-minded educators on instagram or Twitter. Having your teacher tribe keeps you balanced, sane, and inspired!

To remind you of the importance of surrounding yourself with a support network, click on one of the quotes below. Download and print; put in a cute frame to keep in your classroom!
Check out the advice from my upper elementary teacher friends. Click on the advice to learn more about their tip for a successful school year and grab free reflection tools, checklists, questionnaires, and more!
Kerry Tracy of Feel-Good Teaching says, "Take the time to reconnect with your calling to get you through the rough patches!"

Tammy of Tarheelstate Teacher says, "At the end of the school year, reflect on your favorite lessons and experiences. Consciously plan to take what worked into the upcoming school year."

Tanya Yero Teaching says “Parent conferences are an excellent way to bridge the gap between school and home, but they can sometimes be a hard discussion to have. Here are six tips that will help you conduct successful, yet truthful parent conferences.”

Brittany Hege of Mix and Math says, “Incorporate call and response chants as part of your classroom management...It will work for you and is fun for students!”

Jeanine Schneider of Think Grow Giggle says, “The time spent building student relationships is the best time you will spend all year!”

Laura Hurley of Reading by Heart says, "Build decoding independence by giving your readers white boards and teaching them to 'operate on' words they want to decode. This tip shows you how."

Kathie Yonemura of Tried & True Teaching Tools says, “Find your teacher tribe!”

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Packing up for Summer

With summer drawing near, it’s so tempting to shove everything into boxes or cupboards and call it a day! But then we want to kick ourselves in August, when we are not ready to be back yet and we have to sort through all the things we shoved into cupboards! When you come back at the start of next year, you want to be able to find everything easily.
I'm blogging over at The Walking Classroom today and share tried & true tips to make packing up for summer more manageable. Head on over  to read more HERE.
Besides reading tips for end-of-school packing, listen to our podcast with more helpful ideas for a smooth ending: The end is in sight, and you have to think about packing up your classroom for the summer. Whether you're required to pack up your entire room for the summer, or tuck your teaching goodies away in cabinets and closets, this episode is for you. It doesn't have to be a headache. Listen in as we discuss ways we keep ourselves organized... or not (SOME of us are a little unorganized, but we get an A+ for effort). We laugh a little, and bitch a little, but you'll come away with a new idea or two! Click HERE or on the logo below to listen!
What other tips do you have? Please share in the comments!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Mining for Gold Gets Even Better!

Gold fever! It's what drew thousands of men to California in 1849 and it still sparks student excitement and dreams of wealth today!
It's difficult for students to fathom the tedious process of finding gold. After examining pictures of gold mining equipment and learning how each tool was used, as well as watching "how to mine" videos, students brainstorm for improvements they would make in mining equipment.
Using everyday materials from our STEAM box and recycle bin, kids worked in groups to design new and improved mining equipment. It was amazing how creatively they problem solved! This group below decided to combine a long tom with pan because they felt too much gold was being swept away in the river and the pan (with mesh) would catch the extra gold dust.
This group below felt a mining pan needed handles and a lid so when they vigorously swirled the water, sand, and dirt in the pan, the gold wouldn't fly out; LOL!
 After designing and building their new and improved mining tool, students used SketchUp to digitally create their tool. SketchUp is a 3D modeling computer program for a wide range of drawing applications.  Kids seem to pick it up intuitively!
 Next, each student wrote about their new design and the improvement features.
Click HERE to download Gold Mining Equipment STEAM Challenge planning sheets.
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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Tried & True Solution for Teacher Tired

We are in the home stretch! Once state testing is over, it's time to start winding down the year. Anyone else ready for summer?!
This teacher meme made me laugh out loud because it definitely reflects how I'm feeling at this time of the school year! LOL
What's the best way to deal with teacher tired? #thestruggleisreal  Let your students take over! Huh? Over the last couple of weeks of school, each student signs up to teach the class a lesson.  I love telling my kids that I'm done teaching and now they get to be the teacher. Their eyes open wide and they immediately begin thinking of all the things they know and are good at.  Students write a lesson plan (teachers in training!) and submit it a couple of days in advance of their lesson. I can review it and foresee any possible problems. Grab your FREE lesson plan pdf  HERE or by clicking on the image below. If you want a Google Slide version, click HERE
Every year I am simply amazed at my kids' talents, interests, and the range of topics. This is the perfect opportunity to allow students to shine in non-academic ways! In the past, students have taught their classmates how to draw anime characters, how to shoot a 3-pointer in basketball, how to fence, make slime, make bread with homemade butter, and how to fold origami!

One year, a student wanted to teach piano to the class. Undaunted by the fact that there was just one piano, she surveyed the class about their experience with music and piano. Based on the results of her survey, she categorized students into novice, beginner, some experience, and experts. She selected specific excerpts of sheet music for each student (!): the novices had only two notes that required only the right hand and she labeled their paper keyboards with notes. She differentiated for each student, up to those who take piano lessons by giving them sheet music that required using both hands (treble & bass clefs, that she labeled: right hand & left hand) and paper keyboards with no notes. After circulating while students "practiced" on their paper keyboards, she called students up to the piano to play their piece. Oh my goodness!! That lesson planning must have taken hours!! 
And don't you love your outside-the-box thinkers? When this student proposed his idea of teaching the class "How to be Awesome", I thought he was trying to be a smart-aleck. Wow, did he ever surprise me! He was completely prepared with a powerpoint presentation on the definition of "awesome". After introducing the dictionary definition, he asked for examples from students. Each slide built on the idea that you make yourself awesome because the definition is as unique as each individual. He also emphasized how awesome it is to be kind, caring, and treating others as if they are awesome! I was practically in tears, as he was teaching! Classmates were cheering :) #bestillmyheart 
Students get such a kick out of taking over as the teacher (& a better understanding at how difficult it is to teach when kids talk and blurt out!) and they gain new respect from classmates for their unique strengths! We all learn so much! (And it makes the end of the school year a whole lot more fun, as well as re-energizing the teacher!)

What special activities do you do to wrap up the school year? We want you to end the year with a celebratory bang! Check out these other free ideas for your upper elementary students and let us do the planning for you!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Health Topics Hit Home

Health always seems to be one of those subjects that is either hard to fit into the curriculum time-wise or I’m unsure how to assess it.
Our health standards not only focus on the more obvious physical parts of health, but also on mental and emotional, or family and social aspects of health. I'm blogging over at The Walking Classroom today to share ideas for all aspects of health. Walk on over! Click HERE or on the photo above.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Tried & True Bookmaking: Sewing Contact Paper Book

Although I don't sew much, other than the occasional hemming of pants or jeans (yes, my legs are short) or sewing badges onto my daughter's Girl Scout uniform, my sewing machine does get a lot of use for BOOKMAKING!
First of all, bringing a sewing machine into the classroom is amazing to kids:  it's a machine!! Plus having a hardback book with pages that are sewn makes it valid as a "real book", just like the hardback books in our class library! Since I tend to be lazy and try to eliminate steps, using contact paper saves the gluing step. Watch the video below for simple steps to creating these fabulous books! 

Depending on the pattern of contact paper you find, it makes the end papers look fancy!
This is the what the sewing binding looks like: (just like a "real book"!) 
Don't worry; if you don't have a sewing machine, you can use your trusty long-arm stapler! It is one of my "can't live without" classroom tools!
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
Let me know if you try this Sewing Contact Paper book!