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Showing posts from 2018

#SOL18 Make the Most of Your Time Here

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"Make the most of your time here." -Amy Krouse Rosenthal
I.

I love to look at the "On This Day" feature in Facebook. What pictures and videos did I post years ago? What was happening exactly a year ago? I see my children when they were babies, sometimes hear their baby voices and giggles. When they were those ages, I somehow thought I would always be a mom to little kids. Now, as Megan gets ready for kindergarten and Alex approaches second grade, I'll be an elementary school mom. I'll blink and they will graduate high school. There is not all the time in the world. 

II. 
It seems every day I wake up to a story that breaks my heart. I've been following 5 year old Avery in the "Bravery for Avery" Facebook group. Avery had brain cancer and passed away on Mother's Day, leaving her twin sister, younger brother, parents, and countless family members and friends. Her mother documented the journey of her illness and death through photos and posts. It w…

#SOL18 Lessons from Flowers

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"this is the recipe of life said my mother as she held me in her arms as i wept think of those flowers you plant in the garden each year they will teach you that people too must wilt fail root rise in order to bloom"
-rupi kaur
On Mother's Day morning, my daughter Megan earnestly said to me, "My heart pumps with love for you." At five years old, I find that sentence to be incredibly poetic as well as amazingly sweet. She followed up with, "I don't only love you on Mother's Day- I love you every day!" My son, Alex, made me a bookmark which he colored with effort and care. His handsome face is on the bookmark, too- a school picture from earlier in the year before life took a turn. 
On the day before Mother's Day, we went to the garden store and picked out beautiful, colorful flowers to plant in a new patch of soil we had the landscapers create near our recently redone walk. I now have lots of hours of planting before me! I've never been much of a …

#SOL18 Welcome Sunshine

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Welcome sunshine.
Welcome fresh air.
Welcome windows opened.
Welcome short-sleeves.
Welcome flip-flops.
Welcome the smell of barbecue.
Welcome late sunsets. 
Welcome green grass.
Welcome flowers.
Welcome ice-cream truck.
Welcome Little League.
Welcome playground.
Welcome a new season. 


Welcome hope.

#SOL18 What Does Morning Work Look Like?

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Teachers, talk to me about your morning work. I have varied what I've done and am still trying to figure out the best way to start our day. Sometimes I have a math exit ticket as a morning assignment. It includes only 2 problems to do and it is based on our lesson from the day before. When students finish it, they are free to read, draw, write, or use a chrome book to create a Buncee presentation, blog, add to their digital reading wall, etc. Some mornings I ask students to write on their blog. Some mornings I ask students to update their digital reading wall. Some mornings we make a birthday card for a classmate. The work is no longer than 30 minutes at the max and students come in on a staggered schedule so 30 minutes would really just be for the student who first walks in the door. 

There is a little boy I know and love who goes to school a few towns over from where I teach and he is a third grader, too. His morning work lasts 40 minutes to an hour. It includes at least four ass…

#SOL18 A Poem for Teaching

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Just when I was missing the routine of blogging, Tuesday rolls by again. The March SOLSC has ended, but Poetry Month has begun. I can't take on another challenge, but I am eagerly following what Amy Ludwig Vanderwater writes each day at The Poem Farm. This month, Amy is writing 30 poems about the constellation Orion, inspired by her book Poems Are Teachers

Her first technique was a list poem. If I were to take on Amy's challenge, I would choose "teaching" as my one subject to write in different ways. Today I'm trying a list poem.

Teaching

Planning
Crafting
Trying
Revising
Deciding
Listening
Affirming
Reminding
Refocusing
Inspiring
Reporting
Debating
Changing
Growing
Laughing
Crying
Sighing
Smiling
Planting
Hoping
Believing
Imagining
Loving
Dreaming
Doing
Learning
Teaching


#SOL18 Day 31 Goodbye to You

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Goodbye to you, March Challenge. Goodbye early morning wake-ups, adjusting workout routines (or skipping them) to make more time for blogging. Goodbye trying to find the words and delicately balancing what my heart needs to write and what my brain thinks I should publish.
Goodbye to you, fellow bloggers. Your stories touched my heart. Your words made me think. Your passion for teaching inspired me to be better.
I'm sorry I didn't get to read more, comment more, but what I read was glorious. Our country will be saved by teachers like you, I'm sure of it. 
We will meet again, 
on Tuesdays.
And we will meet again,
when next March comes. 
Till then...

"Who can say if I've been changed for the better? Because I knew you, because I knew you, I have been changed for good."
-from "Wicked"


#SOL18 Day 30 Good Friday and Easter Sunday

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How is it almost April?

Time seems to have stopped somewhere in mid-January when our lives changed with a phone call. While I was just starting to come up for air, a second surgery dominated the Winter Break. A month has gone by, and now we are closing out March. 

Spring.

Today is Good Friday. As a Catholic, although a somewhat lapsed one, today is the day where evil seems to win. A dark day, a sad day. A day where a friend betrays you and hope dies. The beauty of Easter Sunday is that hope never dies, that evil never wins, that good triumphs and redemption is possible. 

I need Easter more than ever this year.

I am tired of the greedy and selfish dominating the headlines. I am tried of school shooters. I am tired of Russia and collusion and doctor's appointments and guilt and sadness and fear and worry and wishing with everything in my heart that I could redo a certain day in January. 

I have been trying to be strong and most days I am. I know many have more challenges than me, more pai…

#SOL18 Day 29 My Mom

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I always advise my student writers, "Show- don't tell." So I could tell you about my mother, but maybe this example will show you what you need to know.

On a particular day last year, I drove to my parent's house to pick up my children after work. My mom comes to my house every morning by 7:15 to help get the kids ready for school. Later, she picks up Megan at preschool and an hour later picks up Alex from his school. She watches them until I get home from work, which some days is later than I should.

 I walked in to find Megan wearing a tissue paper hula skirt, twirling around. But what's more, all of the many dolls she brought, including her stuffed animal dog Star, were sporting the same mini-versions of the pink tissue paper hula skirts. My mom was wearing her reading glasses, deep in the work of creating another hula skirt for another doll. It was a scene I will never forget.

What can you infer about my mom from this example? Would you conclude she is patient, …

#SOL18 Day 28 Shiny Time Cleaning Club

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Last night's Facebook wishes reminded me of a Slice I could write! It was my friend Linda's birthday and on her wall I posted:"Happy Birthday to the Co-President of the Shiny Time Cleaning Club". 

In elementary school, Linda and I were best friends. We would often have play dates at each other's houses, where we would play Uno and "bet" with Skittles, play school, plan holiday concerts (another post for sure!) and work on our business- The Shiny Time Cleaning Club. 

We had a real receipt pad for this business and we served as Co-Presidents. The Shiny Time Cleaning Club would do chores for money. Laundry folding was fifty cents. Unloading the dishwasher was 25 cents. Everything was quite reasonable and we felt very grown-up and business-like doing these chores. 

What I wouldn't given now to pay someone to do my laundry, dishes and more each day! Maybe it's time to tell my children about the Shiny Time Cleaning Club and see if they want to be the new…

#SOL18 Day 27

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I've made it to March 27th before needing to write the "I am stuck" post. The "I am blank this morning but I showed up and got it done" post. I've sat here, writing and deleting, looking around the room for inspiration, looking into my heart for what to say. Some words are not meant for publishing right now. What else feels worthy to write about? 

The clock ticks and takes me closer to the time I need to shower and begin the day. A work bag filled was barely opened. Fluency cards I thought I'd hole punch and put on rings remain exactly where they were when I dropped them on the floor yesterday afternoon. So. Much. To. Do. Never. Enough. Time. 

Breathe. 
Type.

I'll be looking for inspiration today so tomorrow I'll have a story to tell. Have you easily found topics for posts or found yourself stuck too?

#SOL18 Day 26 #Blessed?

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Growing up, I didn't even know what the Internet was until the end of high school. My childhood and teenage years were all pre-Facebook and social media. In my mid-twenties, I joined Facebook and now use social media regularly. It just seems natural to post photos of my celebrations and funny things my kids say and do. 

However, I do know that Facebook posts often just showcase the shiny, clean part of one's reality. A person's life is nuanced and, as the saying goes, into every life a little rain must fall. We all have our pain and challenges, though you might not know it by scrolling through Facebook.

One hashtag really annoys me. #Blessed. It just feels so arrogant to me. As if God has selected you out of everyone to make your life pain-free and joyful. As if those who have sick children, crummy spouses, addiction, debt, diseases, and more are not in the #Blessed club. (Sucks for them!)

I'm all for gratitude. I'm all for appreciating the happy things in your life a…

#SOL18 Day 25 Happy Birthday Grandma

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Today my Grandma would be 92. She passed away at 89, just 3 months before her 90th birthday. Having a Grandma as a constant, loving, joyful presence in my life for over 35 years is one of the most precious gifts I've ever been given. 

Grandma and Grandy's house was like a second home growing up. I can close my eyes and see every part of it. I can remember being in the kitchen while Grandma cooked and sipping a cup of tea together in the dining room with always a sweet treat to accompany it. I remember the den upstairs, where she would sit in her cozy rocker and I would often lay on the couch and fall asleep after a long day of teaching. In my single, child-free days, Grandma and I had a Wednesday dinner standing date. I would show up and she would cook for me! We would watch Seinfeld reruns, or Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals, and game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. I remember the porch, where we would sit and watch the cars passing by. 

Grandma was there for every …

#SOL18 Day 24 My Red Pocketbook

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A trip to Target New pocketbook and sunglasses My soul is restored. 
 My red pocketbook was jaunty and hopeful in September. My red pocketbook took me through the holidays. My red pocketbook accompanied me during scary and uncertain times. My red pocketbook carried file folder of medical papers and held books and toys to entertain my son while we waiting for procedures. My red pocketbook led me from one season of my life to another. 
I'm ready to put my red pocketbook away. Today I bought a new pocketbook with spring flowers. Time to look towards the sunshine. 
(I bought sunglasses too, because it's going to be sunshiney from here on out. Got it, Life?)

#SOL18 Day 23 The Making of a Reader

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When I was younger, 
I never knew my reading level.
Didn't know there were books
I wasn't allowed
to read.
I loved to read
and so I did
every chance I got. 

I would peruse the library
An open invitation
to choose 
anything I wanted.
Books were my friends
And each one 
a possibility.

I found series books.
Cam Jansen,
Ramona,
Polk Street School,
Bunnicula.
Then later
Sweet Valley High
Babysitters Club
The Fabulous Five.

I read all the time.
No one asked me
to jot on a post-it.
No one asked me
to summarize 
in my notebook.
No one asked me
to pick a book
at my level.

Somehow,
someway,
I still understood
the books I read
enough to want
to keep reading. 

In school
we read
whole class novels
I hated.
Where the Red Fern Grows.
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Books I did not enjoy.
"When can I go back
to my own book?"
I thought.

The school books
were always sad
And my books
made me happy.
I didn't want to read 
about dogs
or being alone
on an island.
I wanted to read
what I wanted to read. 

School is not really
where I became a reader…

#SOL18 Day 22 The Bright Side

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Two unexpected snow days, despite the calendar saying Spring has arrived. Two days lost of my spring break, now down to only 3 days instead of the 7 we were supposed to have. 

Really, I could be negative about this.

But sipping a hot, delicious cup of coffee in cozy sweats as mounds of snow pile up outside my window, I am grateful for a relaxed morning. Grateful my mom doesn't have to shovel and drive in this weather, just to come and help me get my kids off to school. I'm grateful they have the day off too- we could play games together, snuggle, and enjoy the gift of an unexpected snow day.

When negative thoughts, fears, and anxiety weigh me down, the only thing that lifts the sadness is gratitude. Seeing the blessings. Noticing the silver lining to the clouds, the rose that is there through the thicket of thorns. 

So cheers to this snow day- may it be the last of this year! 


#SOL18 Day 21 Quote of the Day

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"To hold a pen is to be at war." -Voltaire 
Every morning, a quote appears in my inbox through the magic of IFTTT, which I still don't fully understand. I love quotes, and so I enjoy reading a new one each day. Yesterday morning Voltaire's quote came, on what was the first day of spring. Interesting choice.
And now I try to process it. Does the quote mean that you are at war with yourself when you hold a pen- fighting to decide what to say and how? Slaying the demons known as Writer's Block? 
Does he instead mean that the pen is your weapon against the battles you choose to fight- maybe injustice? The pen is your defense of those who don't understand you or aim to hurt you? 
In my third grade classroom, we have a Chief Inspiration Officer (CIO) as one of our jobs. This person selects a quote to share with the class. We used to write them on a picture frame glitterboard, but after a few crashes with glass strewn in the classroom, I've switched to digital means …

#SOL18 Day 20 School Projects

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Last week, I texted my sister a frantic SOS. My son's class is celebrating the 120th Day of School (first graders have moved on from the 100th Day of School- that's SOOO kindergarten!) and each child was asked to make a creation with 120 objects to wear to school that day. We first got notice of this long before March, which would give us more than enough time to complete it. However, life has been....busy, to say the least. So March 20th was rapidly approaching and I had no idea how to make a shirt with 120 things on it. 

My nephew is in third grade, so this is not my sister's first rodeo. She had tons of ideas on what Alex could wear for the 120th Day. I begged her to make it for me and I would owe her big. She came up with an adorable Ninja t-shirt. 



When I went to pick this up at her house, she had a huge poster board on the floor for my nephew's latest school project- an Olympics theme visual. He already had a huge travel brochure project (Hello- 1985 called and wan…

#SOL18 Day 19 A Near Miss With the Leprechaun

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"I don't think leprechauns ALWAYS come to people's houses," I try to convince my children on the car ride to play at their Grandma's house.

"No, they do. They leave you chocolate coins. And sometimes they make mischief," Alex informs me, quite certain. 

I'm filled with dread. It is already St. Patrick's Day. If a leprechaun was supposed to come, it probably should have been this morning. The kids had talked about making traps, but we watched Ferdinand on Friday and we went right to bed when it ended. No traps set out. No thoughts of a leprechaun coming to visit. I really thought we dodged the whole issue. 

But now they are sure he will come tonight. And so I add an errand to my list- stop at CVS and pick up chocolate coins for the kids. 

Fast forward to Sunday morning- I'm finishing my blog post. There was a nagging feeling that I had an idea yesterday of what I would write about, but I could not remember, so I went with questions about my reade…

#SOL18 Day 18 Teacher Question- Reader's Notebooks

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A few summers ago, I read the book A Handful of Stars with some other amazing educators online. Our goal was to write about our reading and share the different ways we did it. I remember the awesome sketchnotes and the different charts and pictures teachers created to show understanding. Writing about reading didn't feel like a chore and seeing other teacher's ideas made the book more powerful. 

I haven't been able to transfer this experience to my classroom. 

This is my 4th year teaching third grade but I still don't have a clear idea of what my student reading notebooks should look like. There is an expectation from my district that each book a student reads will be somehow written about in the reading notebook. Colleagues and friends I talk to who teach elsewhere say they find that stifling and would hate to write about every book they read. 

It makes me wonder: Is the notebook a place of accountability, where a teacher can make sure a student is reading what he says h…

#SOL18 Day 17 The Flower

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Friday is often "Family Movie Night" in our house. We have a "smart TV" which includes Amazon right on it. Most of the time, we select a new movie to buy to add to our Amazon library of movies. We are building quite a collection. I always encourage my children to watch one of our purchases again, but they always seem to want a new movie. It's way cheaper and more convenient that actually leaving the house to go to the movie theater, and by Friday, I'm usually fine with spending the money to have some snuggly couch time with my 7 year old and 5 year old. 

Last night, Alex chose Ferdinand, a movie based on the story of the flower-loving, peaceful bull. Near the beginning of the movie, there is a part where the young Ferdinand is trying to protect a little red flower that he found. The other bulls don't understand his peaceful ways and pick on him. One bull angrily stomps on the red flower, crushing it. Right at that moment, my son's eyes filled with te…

#SOL18 Day 16 My Neighbor

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My neighbor is moving. I will be so sad to see her go. When we moved into our house in 2009, her husband Al was alive and well. They welcomed us, showed us tricks about our house that they've learned from their house. When I locked myself out before we even moved in, they let me come into their kitchen and wait for the second set of keys to be brought to me. 

Norma bakes cookies for us, especially when my husband shovels her driveway in the snow. She remembers everyone's birthday with cards and little gifts for the kids. She used to sit on the front lawn with Al around sunset, watching the cars drive by and the kids play, her sipping wine while he drank a beer. 

Al passed away in 2015 and Norma is looking for a smaller place, a one floor home. She will probably be leaving by April. She's been cleaning out her house and offering us different items she finds. 

I will miss her smile and quiet kindness. I know the move will be good for her, but it's another chapter closing. …

#SOL18 Day 15 Dear Megan

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As I type this, in just a few hours, my little girl turns 5. After laying with her until she fell asleep, I crept downstairs to wrap her presents. One present was the book Dear Girl by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and her daughter, Paris. (Such a beautiful book- a must buy for a special girl in your life.) Here is my birthday letter to my own dear girl, Megan:

Dear Megan,

When you were younger, and trying to understand the words "son" and "daughter", I told you that you were my daughter and your brother, Alex, was my son. You replied  that you were my "son-shine". And really, that is the truth- as much as you are my daughter, you are also my sunshine. Light in dark times. A warm, snuggly hug. Radiant. The center of my world. 

From the start, you've surprised me. You've been a miracle to me in every way possible. You are funny and bubbly and so quick. You use words like "duplicate" in everyday conversation. You know all the Pokemon characters becaus…

#SOL18 Day 14 Piku

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It's Pi Day! 3.14. While I am not a huge lover of things mathematical, I've enjoyed celebrating Pi Day in the past with my students by writing Piku. Piku is a type of poetry that is like haiku. Instead of the lines being 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables, they are 3 syllables, 1 syllable, 4 syllables. 

Here is my Piku for today:

Dark morning
Still
I am blogging

Report cards
strewn
across table

So much time
to
complete each one

Due Monday
so
Weekend consumed


Have you tried Piku? Happy Pi Day!

#SOL18 Day 13 Happiness

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Happiness.

In the movie Trolls, Poppy tells the Bergens that happiness isn't something that you get externally- it comes from within. You find it inside yourself. 

Growing up, I wanted everyone to be happy. I hated when there was any discord. If my parents were arguing, I would speak to each separately to get them to see the other person's perspective or to make some concessions. 

Isn't it the ultimate irony, then, that I find myself in a situation where no matter what I do, there is a person in my life who is never happy with me. No explaining, cajoling, reasoning bends this person. 

It's a painful place to be, to have a person deeply rooted in your life, finding you to be so displeasing in every way you wish to be pleasing. 

When I was younger, I read a book called If Life is a Game, These are the Rules by Cherie Carter Scott.  The idea is that life will keep presenting you with the same lessons over and over until you learn what you are supposed to learn. So perhaps my l…

#SOL18 Day 12 The Decision

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The room is pitch black. The covers are snuggly and warm. My eyes feel so heavy. Snooze has been hit twice and now it's decision time: Do I get up to workout or stay asleep?

There are so many decisions to make, all the time. When it comes to health and fitness, for me, this is the area that takes the hit- I'm tired of making decisions, so I'll grab what looks good, my comfort foods, the nearby chocolate. The regret always comes after. 

A Facebook friend has recently been shedding weight at a very fast pace. Her posts about fitting into her jeans again after only 3 weeks had me intrigued. A private message revealed she's doing a program that involves 2 meals a day as a bar or a shake. The weight is pouring off her and she's not exercising yet. The program is very expensive- $400 for the first month, then something like $250 each month you are buying shakes and bars. 

It was tempting. To not make decisions- to just have a shake or bar ready for me. To have weight just f…

#SOL18 Day 11 A Short, Sweet Haiku Slice

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Haiku
Birthday girl turns 5 Nails, toes, baking cupcakes too Another party!

#SOL18 Day 10- Visions of Math Centers Danced in My Head

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5 am

I don't need to get up this early today. But here I am, awake, with an idea on how to better organize my classroom and put together math centers. For the last 4 years, each student in the class has been assigned a math toolkit by number. If your class number was 6, you would take the clear plastic shoebox labeled 6 and all your math tools would be in there: base ten blocks, tiles, plastic clock, etc. So I have 24 or more of these in the front of the classroom.

But here's the thing- we really don't use them. If we need a tool, it's mostly in small group and I just grab them from any bin and then try to remember where to put them back. I'm thinking it would make more sense to have the baggies of all the base ten blocks in one large bin, the baggies of all the tiles in another large bin, etc. Students can still find the tool they need when they need it (they never seem to take tools to solve problems) but it wouldn't be all individualized. This would free up al…

#SOL18 Day 9 Fri-Yay, Conference Day!

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Blogging packets? Check.
Projector? Check.
Speakers? Check.
Chromebook? Check.
Various plugs? Check.
Excitement? Check, check, check!

Today I am attending the Spring LILAC Literacy Conference, sponsored by the Nassau Reading Council and the Long Island Language Arts Council. Kylene Beers is the Keynote Speaker in the morning! I will be presenting a workshop on Fostering Voice Through Blogging with my friend and Long Island Writing Project colleague, Evelyn. 

I've become more comfortable presenting mostly because I push myself to do it often. Also, because I believe so much in the notion that blogging gives students a voice, an audience, a purpose- and it's fun! I would love to help teacher see the possibilities of blogging and how it can enhance what they do. Presenting on a topic I believe in and put into practice in my classroom seems a little less scary. 

I'm looking forward to attending workshops, listening to the keynotes, talking with other educators, and being in a room wit…

#SOL18 Day 8 Letter From Hasbro

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My daughter Megan turns 5 a week from today. Her birthday party theme is "My Little Pony" and the ponies have become her favorite toys lately. A couple of weeks ago, she was talking with my mom about the pony Trixie. She wanted Trixie to have a spell book. My mom suggested they write to the toy company Hasbro who makes My Little Pony. Megan dictated the letter and my mom wrote it. They mailed it, along with a picture Megan drew.

Yesterday in the mail, this arrived:
No toys or coupons with it, but still fun to get mail addressed to "Miss Megan Sokolowski" and she loved that the "management team" would consider her idea to make a spell book for Trixie. 



Before Megan has turned 5, she understand that writing is a powerful tool for expressing your opinion and trying to make changes. To be able to express your ideas well in writing is a critical tool in life.

#SOL18 Day 7- Innovation Lab

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I stood in the middle of the room, taking in the scene around me. My third graders, all 24 of them, were all busy at work on their individual projects. Cutting. gluing, measuring, bending, tinkering, sketching. No one asked to go to the bathroom or get a drink. No one arguing. No one looking bored.

We were in the Innovation Lab, something new my district has tried this year. It's a large space with cool furniture- rolling chairs in neon orange and green; a separate meeting area with comfy cushion seats, couches, and a large interactive smartboard (but the new sleeker, flat ones...do they have a name?); large wooden bookshelves to house all the projects the students create; shelves filled with pipe cleaners, straws, paper towel rolls, markers, glue, crayons, felt and more. There is a glassed in area with a green screen, too. 

The Innovation Lab is run by the librarian and the enrichment teacher...and me when I'm in the room with my class. The idea is to let the kids engage in tho…