Priorities and End of the School Year

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Another school year has come to an end. It was a pretty great end if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, not every one of my students would agree on that which makes me sad, but more on that later.

Recently, through Nerd Fitness and through Fitness Blender I read/heard two amazingly simple and obvious phrases that set off light bulbs in my head that apply to teaching and to my outside life. The first one was about priorities and how what we say our priorities are versus what priorities we actually work towards are not always the same. The second is the fact that if we want to improve something about ourselves, we are the ones who have to do the work.

Priorities

What would you say your priorities are? What are your big goals that you have in your life that you want to accomplish? What’s your “raison d’être”? For me, it’s education, being healthy, my family, theatre, my friends, not specifically in that order.

Now think back on the last few weeks or even the last month or so and sit down and actually calculate where you spend the majority of your time and money (other than sleeping for time and necessary bills for money) and then you see what you have made actual priorities in your life. Do they look the same as your first list? Great. If not, maybe make some changes.

For me, most of my money goes to bills and my classroom which is fine. I spend too much time on the internet so I cut back a bit. Of course there are times when my priorities shift, like the last month has been crazy with stage managing an awesome show and then having the end of the year rush with report cards and everything. But it was an interesting exercise to see where I actually spend the majority of my time and money and whether or not they line up with what I perceive are my priorities.

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I had my students do something similar just with where they spend their time and far too many have their priorities centered around video games and being consumers (rather than creators) on the internet. I hope that some of them are able to take that new self awareness and make the choice to make some changes. But that’s the hard part.

No one will do it for you

This one was a HUGE light bulb moment for me while I was working out one day and it really shouldn’t have been but it was. I’ve been working on strength training but I was always holding back a little because I didn’t want to push myself too hard and then not be able to do the next exercise. I didn’t do burn-out rounds or extra reps or up my weight even when it was relatively easy.

It was like I was waiting for someone to come along and tell me do more, or push me to try harder rather than pushing myself. But of course, if I want to do better, I’m the one that needs to tell myself to do more, no one will do it for me.

This turned into a lesson in my classroom where I told my students that no one was going to learn the material for them. I can give them the tools and the space and some inspiration and motivation, but I can’t actually learn it for them. Neither can their parents or their friends. I saw some realizations cross faces which was great.

But not all of them got it. There’s one student who really didn’t get it in particular. We’ll call him Sam. He’s a great student who generally did well but often rushed through his work and didn’t do as well as I knew he could. There were some focus issues and other things happening at home but he genuinely wanted to do well but I feel like I failed to get the message of what learning is when it came to him.

I had all my students pass in one writing piece per month while we were in the English term. I reminded Sam of his May writing piece and he whipped off a single page story in about ten minutes, lacking periods, capitals all over the place, no paragraphs, very little use of interesting words. I marked it and gave it back with an approaching grade level mark.

Sam was brought in to my classroom after school by the VP in tears because he didn’t want to go home with a paper with a low mark. We sat and talked about why he got the mark he did and that if he wanted to, he could use that paper as a rough draft, make some edits, and pass in a better paper. Eventually he agreed. An hour later, just as I was about to leave, he came running in with a new paper (he hadn’t taken the rough draft or marking sheet home) that he had again written very quickly. I couldn’t give him a higher mark. In class the next day I sat him down while other students were working independently and went through the checklist carefully with him and explained what a good grade 5 piece should have.

Same day I also gave back a re-test he had written for math. He only managed to get one point higher than the first one and was upset about that.

“Sam, what did you do between the first test and the re-test?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you go over the first test and look at the mistakes you made and figure out how to fix them?”

“No, you didn’t tell me to do that. And it’s a different test so what would be the point?”

Sigh

Should be obvious but I guess not always to a ten year old.

He eventually re-wrote his writing piece again, this time taking more time and adding more of the details and punctuation that I had asked for. It was finally something that was an at grade level piece.

But what amazed me was that this student who is bright and generally “does well at school” hadn’t figured out that just wanting to “do better” isn’t going to change your mark. Trying again without learning from what you did wrong in the first place means you’re just going to keep repeating the same mistakes over again.

Well, time to work on some of my priorities and figure out my workout plan for this summer! Happy summering!

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Nerd Fitness vs Fitness Blender

This is another exercise related post instead of a school related post.

This past week, one of my friends stumbled upon this website called Nerd Fitness, and naturally, being the nerds/geeks that we are, we started looking at it and trying to decide if it would be worth trying out. I had been trying to get back into working out regularly, though I make lots of excuses of why not to based on weather, lack of energy and lack of time.

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I had moved my dumbbells upstairs to the living room since it’s too cold to workout in the basement but I’d only managed to convince myself to do a work out from Fitness Blender twice in the past month. Nerd Fitness seemed to be more about motivation, which is something I felt I needed, and a few other friends decided to try it out as well so I signed up.

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Another friend was visiting while I was debating this whole thing and so I went through some of the pros and cons with her but now that I’ve been using Nerd Fitness for a week, (and keep in mind this is only week 1) I want to share some of what I’ve noticed about both sites for anyone who might be considering using them or sometime similar.

Cost:

Fitness Blender – Free to use the videos as much as you want, and then preset modules are never more than $9.99 for six weeks worth of workouts. I found the modules well worth the price because they would lay out for you exactly which workout you should do in which order so that you aren’t focusing too much on one thing and not enough on another, and, like with NF, once you’ve bought one module you can continue to use it over and over as much as you like.

Nerd Fitness – $99 plus tax American but then you can use everything on the site for free forever and they have a money back guarantee. Honestly, this was one of the biggest drawbacks to Nerd Fitness for me. Yes, it’s much less expensive than a gym membership even for just one year and I can, in theory, use it for many years. Plus, paying that much gives me added incentive to actually use it and it makes me feel more entitled to let them know if something isn’t working correctly.

Motivation:

Fitness Blender – When I first tried FB in the summer, I felt very motivated to keep at it and used it a lot. Once I started working though, I had trouble staying motivated. The workouts can be quite challenging, which is great, but it meant that I could justify not working out because I would need to: change my clothes, get my equipment, figure out which workout to do, warm-up, cool-down, shower and change again. That kind of time commitment is difficult to keep after working all day and there’s NO WAY to motivate myself to work out in the morning before work.

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Nerd Fitness – This site is all about motivation through gamification of fitness and a lot of self assessment. Before you even get started, you are asked to look at your habits in terms of fitness and nutrition and what kind of person you are when it comes to trying out new fitness plans. The other big motivator is the community aspect. There are facebook groups for both sites but with NF I have other friends trying it out as well and that’s a HUGE motivator. It’s nice to be able to talk about how things are going with other people who are going through the same things. We’ve even decided to schedule a once a week outing and meal together.

The gamification aspect is also something that speaks to me. I like being able to “level up” my character through completing quests. Quests are things like Complete 10 push-ups or Go hiking with a friend. You can also set your own quests and create your own reward system. For example, I want to drink more water so I’ve set a quest to drink at least 6 cups a day for 5 days in a row and then I can go and buy myself some new tea. You get to decide which “class” you are as well and pick quests based on your class. I decided to go with Ranger because it’s a mixture of strength and endurance but I’m also going to do some quests from the Scout class for running and biking. (There’s no real option to chose to be a dual class Ranger/Scout but you can do quests from any class)

Workouts:

Fitness Blender – There are so many of them with so much variety! This is where FB really shines in comparison to NF. One aspect that I love about them is that it’s a husband and wife team and sometimes they do the videos together and they show modified versions of either easier or harder versions of the exercises they do and sometimes he does the easier versions and sometimes she does the easier versions. I like that they’re ACTUALLY doing the workout that you’re watching. You see them sweat, you hear them getting out of breath and not being able to speak when it gets tough. You see them lose count and have to change weights to something lighter when they need to. They talk you through the whole thing so you don’t need a timer or to count for yourself and they give you tips and pointers the whole way through.

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The disadvantages to FB workouts are: one, there are a LOT of them which can be overwhelming when you’re trying to decide what kind of workout you want to do. Two, there are way more higher difficulty workouts than lower which, again, can be challenging when you’re starting out. I wasn’t completely out of shape when I started and had been running for a while so at least my legs were pretty strong but I think for someone who is very out of shape the workouts would be more challenging. That being said, you can modify the movements and use less or no weight when you’re starting out and probably be fine.

The modules can help with this as well but one disadvantage of the modules is that they aren’t set up very well on your personal calendar. When you say you want to start one, it sets up your calendar to tell you which order to do which workouts in which week but not necessarily on which days. The one that I did had four workouts a week with three rest days, one of which was meant to be an “adventure day” of your choosing. That’s great but it set it up so that the workouts were four days in a row followed by three rest days so you would have to go back and fourth from one day to another to do your rest days between the workout days. There may be another way to fix this issue but I couldn’t figure it out.

Nerd Fitness – NF takes a different approach to workouts. It gives you a set of exercises to do in three circuits and a form to keep track of your progress. There are videos and explanations of how to do the exercises and how to modify them as needed, but there aren’t workout videos to follow along. Also, you do the workouts in an ABAB or ABCABC pattern for a few weeks before moving on to the next “level” of your workouts. I like that you can take your own time to do the workouts without feeling pushed to complete a certain exercise within a certain amount of time like you do with a video. And I also enjoy that you do the same workouts for a few weeks so that you build up your strength in specific ways before moving on. There also seems to be a good balance between cardio and strength within the workouts themselves.

Warm-ups and Cool-downs:

Fitness Blender – There are two different kinds of workout videos on here, those with warm-ups and cool-downs built in, in which case the warm-ups and cool-downs target the specific muscles you’re using in the workout, and there are stand alone workouts and stand alone warm-ups and stand alone cool-downs so you can mix and match on your own. I preferred the videos that combine all three into one because I don’t like having to go hunting for good videos.

Nerd Fitness – This is another big disadvantage so far with NF. There are two warm-up suggestions of series of exercises and two for a cool-down but the accompanying videos mostly just show you how to do the movements. The main cool-down video is better in that you can follow it rather than writing down the exercises or trying to remember them, but there’s no sound so when you’re doing something like downward dog or touching your toes, you don’t know how long she’s holding a stretch before moving on. I ended up coming out of the stretches early to look at the screen to see what comes next or missing the change to the next one. I find this the WORST part of NF so far and I think I’ll just use an FB warm-up and cool-down for my workouts from now on.

I also don’t like that they aren’t tailored to the workouts. They’re pretty general and get to most of the muscles you’ll be using but they aren’t as focused or specific as the FB ones so I found I’m doing my own stretches and warm-ups as well. And again, that’s fine, but where I’m paying so much for this site, I want more from it.

Nutrition:

Fitness Blender – FB is focused more on fitness than nutrition. When you sign up for a module you get a great explanation of some basic nutrition ideas. They are both vegetarian but not militantly so. They recommend what kinds of foods to eat before and after a workout, drink lots of water, try for less processed food, less sugar, more home cooking, all of those good ideas. They have some recipes and ideas on the site as well. And honestly, I don’t feel that the kinds of food I eat are an issue with me so this was fine for  me.

Nerd Fitness – Nutrition is a much larger focus with NF. Unfortunately, the founder’s main nutrition philosophy is Paleo which gives it a huge red X in my brain. And honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with the name. I think if someone said they wanted to cut down on carbs and dairy and processed food and try to eat more vegetables and protein I’d think “sure, if that works for you, go for it”.  I don’t want to go into a huge rant about the subject just now other than to say that I believe that different dietary choices work for different people and that if it works for you, great, but I’ll continue to eat my agrarian diet.

With NF you’re asked to keep a log of what you eat and drink to help you self-analyse the nutritional choices you’re making. You’re not asked to count calories or anything (thankfully) but just be more mindful. This part I can totally get behind. Also, I can see that I already make good choices all the time and can celebrate that. I don’t eat out very often, maybe once or twice a week, and I’m making an effort to make more of my food at home rather than buying pre-made food. I don’t drink any sugary drinks and very rarely drink alcohol and never coffee, only tea and water, so that part’s easy. Just finding ways to encourage myself to drink more water and not going through the school day without going to the bathroom can be challenging.

So there you have it. Two different approaches to fitness, both useful, both excelling in different ways and both aimed at slightly different audiences I think. NF is much more about motivation and overall well-being and nerdiness whereas FB is more focused on fitness through a balance of strength, flexibility and cardio. I’m going to continue to use both for the time-being with a more of a focus on NF while I improve my motivation with FB for some different workout options from time to time.

Have you ever used either of these sites or a different one for fitness? Let me know what you think in the comments.

When I can’t find a wheel that fits

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“Don’t re-invent the wheel. Look and see what other people are doing.

Yes, but what if the wheels I’m looking at don’t fit?

I’ve just spent two hours traipsing about the internet trying to find an idea of some good projects to do with my flexible math group. I’ve been given the most advanced group, the group that has a good grasp of number sense, and I want them to apply that information using technology to make projects. This shouldn’t be hard to find but it is. Too many of the links I’ve looked at are pointing at sites that no longer exist, don’t have enough information, aren’t targeted at the right age group or aren’t focused on the right outcomes.

Finally I decided I wanted them to do something real world, where they choose occupations, houses, cars, deal with bills and living expenses etc. We could do all kinds of math with that but I don’t want to leave it too open. I wanted guidelines and helpful websites to send them to for information.

I remembered that when my mother was teaching they did something called The Real Game that I thought was kind of what I was looking for. It comes close, closer than a lot of the stuff I looked at, but it’s also not quite right. It’s something that I would like to do with my whole class rather than just my flexible math group because it’s more interdisciplinary than just focused on math.

So I’m back at square one with this vague idea of having students somehow come up with an occupation, figure out their budget and start spending money, with each day (we have four days a week for four weeks) being about a month so they can see their budget change over time. I think this would be fun and interesting but I also need to work out the specifics rather than just saying – “Here, do this thing!” and seeing how it turns out.

Sticky situation

We’re getting ready for our second round of flexible math groups. Before the break we had the students write a test with outcomes ranging from grade 2 all the way to grade 6. All the students from grade 3-5 other than a few exceptions wrote it. We marked the test and as a grade 3-5 team we went over the results and grouped our students based on where they excelled and where they needed more support. We’re focusing on place value and basic number sense for this one.

When it came to writing up letters for students to bring home, showing them and their parents which group they will be in and what skills they’ll be focusing on, there was a bit of a disagreement about what to do. Some parents and some teachers wanted to know which grade level their child the skills their child is working on come from.

On one hand, I get where they’re coming from, kind of. I get that they want to understand whether their child is working at, below or above grade level before the report card comes out. And someone pointed out that we shouldn’t be sugar coating things for parents if their child is working below grade level. If I have a grade 5 student working at a grade 3 level, they should be aware before they see the mark.

On the other hand, I had a lot of emotions in my class when I gave them their letters telling them which class they were going to be in. Lots of questions about what teacher was teaching the “top group” and who was in what group and what grade level everyone was working at. I had a long discussion about how we all have skills that we need to work on and that it’s not a reflection of who they are as a person or even whether or not they are a hard worker or persistent, but that it just meant that on that one day when they took that one test we saw those particular skills needed some work.

I don’t know what would have worked better. I really don’t. Any ideas? We have one more flexible group coming up in a few months and I want to do this better next time.

Is it weird I’m excited to go back?

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Now I know that I’m not in a typical situation. I just got my permanent contract two days before the break, I have a great, though large, class this year with no serious behaviour issues and I’m still a (relatively) new-ish teacher at a great school. I get that I’m privileged. But at the same time, I can’t be the only one who’s looking forward to this week with more excitement than dread, right?

And I look at the memes with teachers hiding under beds, being coaxed out by husbands and giggle. And yes, I will miss getting up when I want (9am) and having a well made cup of tea while I read over my newsfeed before playing some video games and getting some things done around the house. I will absolutely not be happy getting to school before the sun comes up and leaving after it sets, but that will gradually get better soon. As much as I enjoy having so much free time, I am more productive generally when I’m busy and most of all, I miss my students.

I miss how excited they are to come to school. I’m sad that I didn’t get to experience my students who are new to Canada’s joy when we had those two big snowstorms. I miss their stories and their ideas and I’m excited to get back to learning and I’m excited to try out having a class pet and switching from Intensive French to the Compacted Curriculum and projects and Science and Writing and all those other subjects I haven’t taught in a while.

January is going to be a busy month, undoubtedly. I have to get ready for the change over and I have a group of students I’m taking to DramaFest in less than a month. I have auditions for our next community theatre show (Into The Woods! I’m so excited!) in two weeks. But it’s all good busy stuff that I enjoy.

So yes, tomorrow will be an early morning and I will be sad to not be able to roll over and go back to sleep when I see how dark it is outside, but I will be happy to have breakfast with my colleagues and get back to work.

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New Year’s Meme for 2015

I found this meme that I did in 2012 and thought it would be interesting to do it again and compare it to the one thee years ago. You can see the original post here.

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? 

I went to New York for the first time as an adult, played lots of new games and ate at a few new restaurants.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I exercised more this year, which I think I made a resolution about. This year I haven’t really decided. I want to blog more and get back to using a journal more but I need to work out the logistics before I can make a real goal for the year.

 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, a few co-workers and cousins had babies this year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No one very close to me this year. I’ve had friends and co-workers lose people close to them though.

5. What countries did you visit?

Just the US, but that’s more than most years.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

The biggest thing that I wanted to have in 2016 was a permanent contract and I have that now 🙂

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

I remember moments more than dates but big moments from this year would be going to NYC, our production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, finding out I got my B contract, and finding out I would be teaching at my school again.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Running a 5k for the first time was a pretty big thing for me. There were other things like Drood being a successful show that I’m proud of but that was a group effort, and having a great year of teaching was a big achievement but running was more of a personal achievement.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I’m not sure. There were lots of little mistakes throughout the year as there always are but nothing sticks out as a huge failure.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nope, I was pretty healthy this year. Not even many colds.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Books. So many books for my classroom and ebooks for myself and I’m pretty happy with my tablet. Oh and I’m happy I bought the Mass Effect trilogy games.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Lots of people. Lots of my students, both last school year and this, are fantastic and show me every day that they are amazing. My friends are wonderful and supportive. My family is the best by far.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Quite a few celebrities: Bill Cosby and Jian Gomeshi come to mind, Donald Trump and the terrifying things coming out of the US Republican debates. And a certain person who is making a friend of mine’s life way more difficult than he should.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Books, my classroom, travelling.

15. What did you get really excited about?

Our New York trip this summer, and our trips to Halifax, Drood, getting ready for Into the Woods auditions (we had to close auditions because we have 59 people auditioning!), sing-a-long parties, teaching at my school again, getting a permanent contract, trying new food, getting a pet for my classroom (more about that later), getting ready to take students to Drama Fest… there was so much good that happened this year.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

There’s just too many! Anything from Drood or any of the musicals I saw this year in NY or here in Fredericton, or from my running playlist.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– Happier or sadder? Happier

– Thinner or fatter? A little thinner, but more importantly stronger and more content with my body.

– Richer or poorer? A bit richer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Sleep?

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worry

20. How did you spend Christmas?

My husband and I went to Cape Breton to spend time with my family. We stayed with my aunt along with my parents and got to play fun games and eat great food with my aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s a long drive to get there and back but totally worth it.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?

I’ll refrain from saying anything too cheesy here.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Doctor Who

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don’t think so other than celebrities mentioned above.

24. What was the best book you read?

I re-read the Harry Potter series this year which was great as always. The best new books I read were probably the Red Rising series.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I can’t pick just one! I got to know so many new musicals this year. Drood, Light in the Piazza, Little Women, Fun Home, Beautiful, Something Rotten, Big Fish – it’s been a great year for discovering great musicals.

26. What did you want and get?

A permanent contract.

27. What did you want and not get?

Pregnant.

 

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

This is a big toss up between the latest Star Wars movie and the last Hunger Games movie.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 34 this year and we did a sing through of Light in the Piazza on my birthday.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Less worrying

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

Same as always, business casual – which BTW is getting harder to find new clothes because apparently dress shirts are out of style.

32. What kept you sane?

Running, friends, video games, books, cats

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I have a bit of a political crush on Justin Trudeau, our new Prime Minister, though it’s early days yet and I’m still only cautiously optimistic that he’ll keep being awesome.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The election this year was a BIG deal and the Syrian refugee crisis.

35. Who did you miss?

Cynthia and Yolande who still insist on living in South Korea. I was happy to get to spend some time with my friends and family in Halifax but I always miss them too.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I met lots of great new co-workers this year and a few new theatre people too.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

As a teacher – listening to student ideas and saying yes doesn’t make you a push-over.

As a person – saying yes to new experiences and adventures is important.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

“Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”