I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Monday, April 29, 2013

Screen Free Week

I am celebrating National Screen Free Week with my students over the upcoming days.

This means

*No Facebook
*No TV (except for the news at the gym)
*No Blogging

So, what's the purpose?

*To make more time for friends & family
*To enjoy the outdoors or a good book
*To pray more

Sounds pretty good, right?

So...Are you up for the Screen Free Challenge?

See you back here in a week!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Funday

Well, technically today was my working day - the rest of the weekend was time spent away from school work, my computer, and my stresses.

Friday night started my weekend out with a bang, as the students (4th-8th grades) at our school performed "The Wizard of Oz Jr." in front of a packed auditorium:

They had been working so hard for the past few months, and it really came together in the end. I think my favorite part was when the Wicked Witch was saying her line, "Do you see that hourglass? That's how long you've got to be alive. And it isn't long my pretty" - she smashed the hourglass in mid-sentence, and the audience couldn't help but laugh. It belonged on a true blooper reel. (Maybe you had to be there, but it was pretty darn funny.)  

Plus, the costumes (some rented, some made by parents) and the set (painted by students) looked great!

On Saturday, I talked with both my parents on the phone - I had called to wish my dad a HAPPY BIRTHDAY! :) And then I was off to Service Day with my Church. Over 500 parishioners participated in the event, and we went in groups to different agencies and places around the city to do clean-ups and such. I was with a group that helped with the garden area of a local women's shelter. We pulled loads of weeds, planted new flowers, picked up trash, swept around, and overall beautified the place. (I'm not going to lie, though - too much kneeling and up and down made my legs feel pretty heavy today.) It was nice to be part of a group and yet also get some time alone during parts of the day too. The weather was perfect to be outside!

When we returned from our respective places, we celebrated Mass together, and then we had a pizza and pasta dinner over in the school hall. We were all pretty tired by then. In addition, caked in sunscreen and not having showered that morning (I know, too much information - sorry), I was extremely excited to get cleaned up. It was a quick turn-around, then, and I was meeting up with my sister to head out for drinks to celebrate one of our Church friend's birthday. A little loud in the bar, but it was still fun. (And on the way home, Marisa and I managed to have an adventure finding an ice cream shop that was open - eventually, success was ours!)

And that brings me to today - another beautiful day (weather-wise) that started with a morning jog along the lakefront path. I took a quick trip to Target to get a few things, and then Marisa came over to FINISH up the ACE unit we've been working on. (Woo hoo!!) We then both worked on our respective grading, lesson plans, lit prep, etc. before I took her home.

Still trying to figure out what I have yet to do before tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the week - we're going SCREEN FREE at school, so I am also trying to do so at home too - no Facebook or Pinterest, and no T.V. either. We'll see how the kids and I do...

I do hope you have had an enjoyable and relaxing weekend too. :)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Remix...and Rhyme It



What a wonderful Thursday night - it was well-spent at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre seeing "Othello The Remix." The theatre itself was small, and the cast was amazing.

It definitely brought back fond memories of Shakespeare in the Park back home - yes, those were the good old days - and it most certainly brought quite a few laughs tonight. (Yes, it is a tragedy, but they played it pretty lightly.)

And the whole show was done in rhyme.

Ohhhhhhhhhh snap.

Worth it. 100% worth it.

If you live in the area - or are planning to be in Chicago before June 15 - do yourself a favor and go.

(And the Garrett's popcorn was an added treat, for sure...)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Responding to Student Concerns

Being a teacher means being vulnerable.

All day. Every day.

And it means genuinely listening to students' concerns.

Take today, for example. We were prepared to have our regularly scheduled Community Circle to discuss our school's upcoming "campaign" for Screen Free Week, but a student raised her hand and thoughtfully asked, "Why, in the other class, do they get to doodle while they are taking notes and we don't?"

Well, that question came out of the blue. (It's amazing what bothers and concerns these students sometimes...)

But we discussed it. (And most of the students had pretty strong opinions about the topic.)

My co-teacher and I waited awhile and let them take turns getting it all out, and then I told a quick story - a story that showed I had made a mistake. (That's vulnerability for you - nothing like pointing out your own mistakes to a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds when they are usually eager enough as it is to point them out for you.) It also showed why doodling is often more distracting than helpful...

Yesterday (literally), I was in my weekly Pillars class learning about the Sacraments, when, in the middle, I found myself doodling. I got more involved in what I was designing on my paper than what I was listening to going on right in front of me. When I finally realized what I was doing, I turned my papers over (because I was embarrassed that I had all those pictures on my paper and it looked messy), and I quickly read the board in hopes of gaining some understanding of what I just missed.

No more doodling for Ms. Foyle.

I have no doubt that doodling helps some students, but many of our students get so wrapped up in highlighting their name tags, playing with their hair/pencils/anything nailed or not nailed down, "sneaking" books when they should be listening to directions, poking holes in their literacy boxes -You get the picture, right? - that they don't really listen or engage in what we are talking about. And so, as my co-teacher and I wanted to make our kiddos understand, if these students start making unrelated pictures on their papers during class, they may be having more fun, but they're probably not learning quite so much.

This did lead us into another discussion of how we can incorporate more opportunities for art (and, yes, even doodling), movement, and creative outlets in our classroom, so now we (teachers) are on a mission to create those opportunities every day.

It's time to hit them with our best shot...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Concept Map - A Novel Idea

We tried something new today in fourth grade - it's called "concept mapping," and I got the idea from a blog post over at All Things Upper Elementary. And since we are in between finishing up our unit on economy (with a Powerpoint project being completed this week) and starting our next one on the Midwest, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try this out.

So, I previewed the activity with them, showing them (and explaining) what a concept map essentially is. After taking questions, I proceeded to put the list of economic terms on our SmartBoard. Then, I passed out one large piece of chart paper and a marker to each small group (5-6 students).

Then, I gave them about 15 minutes - and, truth be told, they could have gone on for another 15 minutes. Minus the couple of students who were more interested in their erasers or other things in their desks, the students were engaged and debating the whole time. I was impressed. I did minimal guidance, mostly making sure all students were participating (again, there always seem to be those select few who like to zone) and not arguing. The hardest part for them was figuring out what to write on the arrows connecting the terms.

Afterwards, I called them back to order, and they shared with the whole class. And then, we debriefed - why did we do this activity? One student hit it right on the head - we were stretching our thinking. (In my words, we were using higher order thinking skills.)

Here's a glimpse at what some of the groups came up with:

first group's concept map

a close up of the one above - you can see how they tie the terms together

another group's concept map

showing how advertising is affected and plays a role - some included pictures instead of words on the arrows to connect terms, which worked fine!

another close up - this time on globalization and its related terms

I've come to learn with this group of students that there is no such thing as an independent and silent activity after lunch. That's why amidst the craziness of the afternoon, this activity was a saving grace. Independent Beatitudes review? Not so much...

I'm excited to explore more possibilities with this concept mapping activity - I'm pretty sure we can use (but not overuse) it in just about every subject.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Knowing the Shepherd

Fr. Manny gave a wonderful, thought-provoking homily at Mass this evening, and he started out with this story (that I proceeded to come home and find on the internet):

"I once heard President Hugh B. Brown relate this inspiring story: Sometime ago a great actor in the city of New York gave a wonderful performance in a large theatre, at the close of which there were rounds of applause. He was called back again and again. Finally someone called to him, “Would you do for us the Twenty-third Psalm?”
“Why, yes. I know the Twenty-third Psalm.”
He recited it as an actor would, perfectly, with nothing left to be desired as far as a performance was concerned. When he was finished, again there was thunderous applause. Then the actor came to the front of the stage and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, there is an old man sitting here on the front row whom I happen to know. I am going to ask him without any notice if he will come and repeat the Twenty-third Psalm.”
The elderly gentleman, of course, was frightened. Trembling, he came to the stage. Fearfully he looked out over the vast audience. Then, as though he were at home only with one, he closed his eyes against the audience, bowed his head, and talked to God, and said:
“The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Then changing to address the Savior directly and intimately:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil: my cup runneth over.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” [Ps. 23:1–6]
When the old man finished, there was no applause, but there was not a dry eye in that house. The actor came to the front of the stage. He, too, was wiping his eyes. And he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I know the words of the Twenty-third Psalm, but this man knows the Shepherd.” (Adapted from Hugh B. Brown, The Quest, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1961, pp. 335–36.)"

Wow. Thanks Fr. Manny.

How Much Left?!

7 weeks + some odd days left of school

How did we get here this fast?

May's right around the corner (whether the weather tells us this or not).

On the one hand, I am ecstatic - this is mostly due to the fact that I will be spending the summer at Notre Dame, which is a place of peace, inspiration, and learning. It will be a great experience to help out around the ACE office and to spend a "retreat" of sorts away from the busy-ness of the city.

On the other hand, I am in "worried teacher" mode, thinking that we can't possibly hit all the standards and topics we need to by the end of the year. How did we get so behind in Math? Will we have time for our state research exhibition? Can we squeeze in one more round of Literature Circles?

On the other hand...there is no other hand!

But seriously, everything seems to be winding down and yet winding up at the same time. The emotions and related behaviors our students will be feeling and exhibiting these final weeks are ones I don't even wish to dwell on yet. It's going to be one heck of a rollercoaster ride, that's for sure.

Are these kids ready for 5th grade? Some days I believe so, but most others I think not. (Let's hope they have a growth spurt in maturity over the summer.)

Oh, the joys of teaching...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pyramid Built!

We did it - we made it to the top of our Pyramid of Success! (It only took a few months - granted, we only read 2 or 3 blocks per week...)

What is the Pyramid of Success? Legendary Coach John Wooden actually wrote a kids' book for it:

Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success

It's about practicing different qualities/values, or "building blocks", that help you succeed in life. These blocks include qualities like self-control, loyalty, enthusiasm, and poise. And one of the cutest aspects of the book is that there is a short rhyme to remember each block.

After we finished reading, we invited the students to reflect on the building blocks they most need to work on. (Some students still need to work on humility and honesty, but that's another story.) We had a pretty good chat about the pyramid, but then the bell rang, signaling that it was time to go home. I hope they keep this book in mind and also take it to heart.

We shall see...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Keep a Poem in your Pocket...

Did you know Thursday (4/18/13) is national Poem in Your Pocket Day?

In honor of such a wonderful holiday, this is the poem (handwritten, though) that I will be carrying in my pocket:

(I might pick a more kid-friendly version to hold onto as well. We shall see...)

What about you? What poem will you carry?

Heck, if you can't think of one, you can try this one. <-- It's downloadable in an easy-to-cut-out format!

Yes, keep a poem in your pocket and a picture in your head...

(And here's a post about why we need poetry in schools.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

3 minutes...

I was watching a TED Talk (I only listened to the first one of the playlist) this morning, and one thing the speaker encouraged his listeners to do is to spend 3 minutes in silence each day. (But if you can't have silence, have quiet - that works too.) Really, 3 minutes is not that much time, but there is something to be said for it.

In our society and in our homes (and schools, etc.) it seems that every moment is being filled with some kind of noise or attention or conversation or television program. It almost seems that if you're silent (for an extended period of time) something must be wrong with you. Trust me, my students think sitting in silence is a punishment - "think time" becomes torture for some. I just don't get it...

Being a teacher, I've learned to appreciate the silence. Being in a big city, I've learned to appreciate the silence. Being a constant on-the-go young adult, I've learned to appreciate the silence.

How do I find silence? It's hard when I'm surrounded by kids and co-workers all day, and it's hard when I come home to an apartment with roommates. It's hard to find silence when I hang out around town or go to a function at Church or with friends. But I get up earlier than I need to so that I may sit with my cup of coffee and the prayers in my heart and just be.

Yes, in the wee small hours of the morning, when the whole wide world is fast asleep...that's when I find the silence. That's when I feel closest to God. That's when I'm a good "listener" and when I can get recharged for the day.

What about you? How do you find your silence?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Happy Friday...

I've been sick this week, so my brain has been quite fuzzy...and the thoughts really haven't been flowing. So, I leave you tonight with a sweet quote from a famous American author:

It was only a sunny smile, 
and little it cost in the giving, 
but like morning light 
it scattered the night 
and made the day worth living.”

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Happy Friday! I hope you have a beautiful weekend! (Remember to smile...)

P.S. My sister sent me this video - it's a good one on creativity - check it out:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Little C.S. Lewis Wisdom

"It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go...and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.... It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy."
~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

One of my friends posted this a few days ago on Facebook as a status, and it really struck me. Sometimes I think I get wrapped up so much in trying to remember the good times (and keep hold of them) that I miss out on what's right in front of me.

It's so easy to do, especially when where we've been has (for the most part) been really great.

But one thing I think C.S. Lewis is trying to point out is that you can't really ever get the feeling from an experience (especially from childhood or any "firsts") back - but if we learn to let go, something just as wonderful (and new and different) will come along - it will be a new thrill, all ours for the taking. Keep the memory, but don't strive to relive it.

Let us remember to let go and, in the immortal words of Dory ("Finding Nemo"), "just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Not quite back to reality...yet...

Back to Chicago...but not quite back to reality. 

Got back Friday night, made a quick turnaround, and met up with some friends at a local dessert & drinks bar. And, as its description implies, there were plenty of delicious dessert-flavored drinks and desserts to go around. And there was plenty of laughter and good conversation too. I love my Church friends.

And, speaking of Church friends, Saturday (after MOC & groceries), I spent the afternoon and evening at a charity pub crawl (#beatMS) - it was a ton of fun, especially considering I'd never done a pub crawl before. Here's some evidence of the good times. (Yes, mom, we did take pictures.)

Today, though tired, I felt pretty good (and thoroughly recovered), and I met up with some friends from Arizona. (I taught their children in fourth grade.) They were in town for the Holy Cross ordination in South Bend this weekend and are flying out of Chicago this afternoon. It was a delicious pizza- and pasta-filled lunch, and I am very grateful for their generosity and friendship. (Yes, Maria, I am talking about you!) I do miss Arizona - must start planning a visit there soon...

The weekend (and spring break, for that matter) is coming to an end this evening. I have a few things to do to get ready for school, and then I will be going to Mass and, afterwards, watching the Notre Dame women's basketball team play UConn in the Final Four. Let's go Lady Irish!

This past week and a half has truly been a blessing, where I have been fortunate to be surrounded by lots of family and friends. It's weeks like this one that help keep my life in perspective, and I am so very grateful to know so many people full of life, love, and beauty!

I pray now that I may take this energy into the upcoming weeks of school...The alarm is sure going to come early tomorrow...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

VACATION coming to a close...Monday morning looms ahead

Spring break is coming to an end...

Pretty sure this is how I'll feel this upcoming Monday:

but I need to remember...


Monday morning is going to come too fast...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Message to Relax...Literally

Don't mind if I do...

Perfect timing for spring break, I might add. Nice.

Thanks PF Chang's...