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Happy School Year, everyone!

You guys, I am so excited for this year. Putting aside the two-week adjustment period of late night planning that always happens when we first get going and having very little free time (a state which, I know from experience now, always passes as things mellow out the first month), I have such a good feeling about where we’re headed in 2014-2015. We’ve made adjustments to our vision, emphasizing a growth mindset this year and celebrating challenge, effort, and self-evaluation.

Eric’s solidly in Pre-K now, and with another year on him, he’s ready to work alongside his sister. I can see his maturity, and he doesn’t ask to leave the table as much this year. Katie just entered 2nd grade, and I can see the growth in her approach, as well.

I’ve been working on growing my pedagogy, too, and made decisions this summer to introduce math and science journals. We love our Harcourt math, but when I really want to target Common Core types of questions, I strike out free form and we use the math journals. I think this is a happy compromise, so far. Katie has made comments already about liking the journals and feeling like she gets to be more creative in these subjects. I filled a huge basket with unique pens, journaling supplies, glue, stickers, etc. I pull it out only for journaling, and the kiddos go bananas to get to the basket. I bought a bunch of special papers and pens for use in English, with the idea being that we write all the time in so many different ways: letters and reader responses and lists and poems and more. We’re getting away from worksheets and feeling freer this year to show our learning in different ways.

We’re using diagnostics and pre-assessment this year more as a tool than we did in the past. For example, I had Katie work through a Chapter 1 math test and some sample problems from each lesson. Her goal was to find the hardest topics she could in Chapter 1, and then we celebrated. I made a big deal of it. Easy stuff? Nah…we don’t want to spend your time on that, Katie, I said. Let’s target this topic, instead. I use a thumbs up/sideways/down system for her to communicate her feelings of comfort about certain topics. The new approach seems to be working quite well and frees her up (an important thing for Katie, very important) from worrying about doing everything perfectly. I am communicating to her that I am not very interested in what she can do perfectly, and neither should she be…if she wants to grow. (This makes perfection uninteresting and therefore less stressful). Let’s go after the weak areas and use those to grow our brain muscle.

Found a weakness? HUZZAH! YES! Let’s attack it, as a team. This is our modus operandi this year. (It’s the same one we use as runners, and so we’re really walking the talk here). Everything is an opportunity for growth, not judgment. I’ve always believed that, but I am really attending to my language this year and being more thoughtful about types of praise, how I frame tasks, and how I involve her in goal setting.

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Katie’s favorite subject is math, and she wants to be a nurse.

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Eric wants to be an engineer when he grows up.

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A new addition to our curriculum this year: piano lessons. We take lessons at a home studio. Couldn’t be better. Both Katie and Eric are reporting high degrees of interest in their lessons and are showing as much by wanting to practice anywhere they can. We’re aiming for 10-15 minutes of practice a day between weekly lessons. A few blips here and there with that plan so far, but we’re still getting into our new schedule a bit.

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Katie is starting to learn tricks during her riding lessons now.

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She has also begun French, a language I took in college (along with Latin—I had Spanish in high school). We are using Rosetta Stone. She finds the software incredibly friendly.

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We are both training for Long Beach (Katie has a kids’ race the weekend of my half in October). There are certain intervals we can do at the track together, and we love that time. Great bonding for us.

Soccer also starts for her next week. She is the next size up in cleats, which we obtained today.

Eric starts an art class next week right after Katie’s riding lessons. Both kiddos are still also taking gymnastics recreationally.

It’s going to be a busy fall! So much opportunity for growth and finding passion… And most importantly, maintaining a mind-body balance.

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Yesterday we took a field trip with my mom to Santa Ana to the Discovery Cube, a children’s science museum. Loved it. I couldn’t recommend it more. So much to do! Favorites: laser harp, earthquake labs and seismograms, dinosaur garden, rocket lab, gravity balls, the eco friendly shopper game, an electric Jacob’s Ladder, the tornado, the wind machine, and so so much more. This place has not been on my radar, which leaves me wondering how I could have missed it all this time? Anyway, we know about it now and are thinking of returning very soon. K and E took their science journals and collected information throughout the day; today we scrapbooked some pics in their journals.

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Math journals are daily and a huge hit this year. I differentiate these. To do that, I start with Katie’s standard and work backwards to a pre-K or K standard for Eric. Going well so far… and like I said, it is a place to practice those iReady (diagnostic software in use by our charter) Common Core-ish questions, whereas our Harcourt really does not format those questions all that similarly. Since we don’t use Saxon, I think we might be at a disadvantage when it comes to Common Core assessment. This journal, along with an enrichment class Katie will take on Fridays at the Springs iShine campus, is my way of attempting to address what I view to be a discrepancy at the moment.

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On Tuesday I had a nice English lesson all ready to go. As usual, we started the day by reading on the couch before it was “time for school.” During our reading session, we discovered how awesomely rich one of our recent library books truly is. We started riffing, and I threw out my plans and went with the spontaneous lesson. We were able to pull in a Dickinson poem, using simple geometric shapes in art to convey emotion, a nonfiction article about bullying (which we tied into a lesson on “main ideas”), and we still got our reader response standard taken care of. I put a bunch of prompts in a bowl (a bit pre-vetted, I admit), and Katie picks one at random. She feels such control over that, and not like the command to write is coming from on high. It was a lovely morning. Riffing with the kiddos is my favorite. Sometimes the best thing we can do with plans is to lay them aside to seize the teachable moment. There are so many ways to work in standards; as a teacher I have to acknowledge that my path may not (is not) the only way. My goal this year is to completely balance fiction and nonfiction selections. For every fiction, a piece of nonfiction with it… I also printed out a stack of book report forms. Katie reads all the time now. She can finish a book a day, at least, if given time. She is plowing through the Boxcar Children right now. Over the summer, she read 25 substantial chapter books on her own, so we’re a go here. She has found a passion for reading. Now, to get Eric there… He is showing all kinds of signs for reading. We’re hitting the phonics big time right now with him, beginning sounds and sequencing and all that. We’ll see… My basic idea is repeated methodical exposure, and we’ll see what happens.

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Phonics game on the driveway, practicing short vowel sounds. We drew the vowels in the rectangles of the driveway, and I would say a word. They had to run to the rectangle with the vowel they heard.

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This was actually our opening volley, a few days before our charter officially began for the year. The kiddos were eager to start, and Bill was back at work, and school just felt right. We set up our science journals and did various magnet labs all day. We fished for magnetic objects, made a compass, magnetized objects, and played around in general with attraction and repulsion. The journals and the heavy hands-on aspect of this day, I hope, set the tone for our year with Katie and Eric.

Tomorrow is Friday, and after a bit of a morning here, Katie will FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER attend a set of three enrichment courses at Spring’s iShine campus. She goes to her first class (math games), has her packed lunch, and then attends a science lab, followed by nature art. She initiated asking for these classes last spring, and we are excited. I don’t feel sad or worried or anything except joy that she is embracing her learning and independence tomorrow. Her classes fit her perfectly, and I cannot wait for her to experience the joy of taking her backpack and lunch to a real classroom and getting the best of both worlds. It’s good for her, and she needs the experience of relying on herself like that. It’s a big deal to change teachers at any age, and she has three different teachers and classrooms tomorrow as a 2nd grader. I just can’t wait to see what she thinks of it. I can share her for one day a week, although I will miss her. Eric will benefit from some one-on-one time, though, I think, too.

My exercise schedule is fully in school mode, too. I am up at 4:30AM (5:00 AM by the latest) to run, swim, and lift weights. I have a race this weekend (a 10K at Disneyland). I don’t know what I was thinking scheduling a race the first week of school, but I have kept up the training. I told Bill that I will get up however early I must to keep training. He has to leave for work earlier this year because he no longer has first period prep. So that’s earlier for me, too, but my health is a priority, and I will do what it takes. After this race on Saturday, I ramp up my mileage in prep for the half marathon. I run 30 mi a week right now (and swim at least a couple hundred laps), but after this 10K Bill is talking about ramping it up to 40 and then 50 mi weeks. This will necessitate twice-a-days, but that’s fine. The Long Beach Half is extremely important to me for some goals I have lately. Whatever it takes. We only get to live once, so we have to bring it, right?

It’s a busy year! I love autumn so much. Happy back to school, everyone!

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