The body I wish I had…

I somehow doubt there are many woman (maybe even men) out there who don’t wish they could change something about their body. We all could like to be taller or thinner or have different hair or less acne. People long to look like Barbie or Jennifer Lopez or Hermoine Granger, but today as my left ring finger throbbed, I decided I might just have the most unusual case of body envy ever. Before I got RA, I might would have said one of those ladies listed above. You know who I would have traded bodies with today? Mrs. Potato Head.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Our dear friend has finally lost her marbles. But I woke up this morning with an inconsolable pain in my left ring finger and one of my toes. As I was rubbing the finger, massaging it, and even at one point putting the knuckle in my mouth to sooth the ache, I realized, “That chick, Mrs. Potato Head, has the right idea. I would pull this damned finger off right now if I could.”

Tell me you wouldn't just love to be her?

Tell me you wouldn’t just love to be her?

If I’m honest, this envy of the dear wife of Mr. Potato Head started before now. I remember when I had my knee drained and a cortisone shot put in it, I was lying in bed and just couldn’t be still. I was resisting taking any pain meds, and BJ said, “What are you doing?” I thought for a second and answered with all honesty, “I think I’m trying to get away from my own leg.” If I were Mrs. Potato Head, that would be easy. Just snap that leg off, leave it in a corner for a while, snap it back on when it’s feeling better.

There are other perks to being Mrs. Potato Head. I have a face that tells on me. My thoughts are written all over my expression. I’ve tried for years to fight it. Now, it causes even more problems because my expression may have nothing to do with what a person is saying or doing. It may not be telling on my thoughts about the other person, but the expression  of pain or frustration on my face is read the wrong way. If I were Mrs. Potato Head, I would just snap on my happy face and roll on.

That face changing business is no small matter. I think everyone could agree just being able to go from sleepy and tired to awake and rested in a quick snap would be worth whatever money it would take to be changed into Mrs. Potato Head. I can just picture it now. I wake up groggy with hands too sore to fix my hair or make-up. No problem. Just snap on my extra set of hands, use those hands to snap on my face and make-up, and voila! I am ready to go. Think of all we could accomplish in a day if getting up and ready were that easy.

Being Mrs. Potato Head would be really helpful during cold and flu season. When that sick person wants to shake hands with you and all you can think is, “Oh, let’s hope I don’t catch whatever that is, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings,” you just shake hands. Then snap that hand off, pop it in a Ziploc bag, and snap a clean hand on. Problem solved.

I am notorious for misplacing things. I really should wear cargo pants or a fishing vest every day so I can keep up with the various things I put down in people’s classroom, at friend’s houses, and in public places. If I were Mrs. Potato Head, I would  have plenty of storage every where I went. Sure, the location of Mrs. Potato Head’s storage is unfortunate, but I think I could learn to deal with that.

Mrs. Potato Head has exactly the right set-up to use at my job. Teachers are always needing an extra set of eyes. I already amaze kids with my uncanny ability to “know” what they are doing when I’m not looking. (They really do think that we are either dumb or their tricks are something new). How much more effective would it be with an extra set of eyes snapped on the back of my head? And I don’t even have to explain how useful all those extra parts would be as a mother.

I do have one thing Mrs. Potato Head has, and that’s a husband who likes her just the way she is. I’m very blessed he loves me the same even though this disease has changed me. I know it wears on him, just like it does me, but he never complains. Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head have been together 61 years, and I feel confident my Mr. Potato Head and I will make it at least that far. Our little spuds are pretty amazing, too.

BJ and I on our wedding day, if things had been a little different.

BJ and I on our wedding day, if things had been a little different.

Reality is that this is the body I have. So, since I have learned to love the straightness of my hair and the shape of my face and the length of my legs as I have gotten older, maybe I can learn to love the part of me that is sick, too. Then, I can even let go of envying Mrs. Potato Head.

Our Take on Paper Bag Floors

I have a long standing, bone deep hatred of carpet. When we bought our house, we chose it because of the view and access to the river. I wanted the carpet gone when we moved in. They aren’t in the best shape, and even the tile in the kitchen and bath aren’t laid correctly,  but there simply wasn’t the time or money.  We have hemmed and hawed around about what to do about the floors. Now, to make matters worse, we have a sweet little dog who often has accidents. He particularly has accidents in the girls’ room.

This all led to us deciding to start pulling up the carpet and doing something. However, we have major renovation plans for this house in the next 5-10 years. It seemed silly to spend a lot on flooring that would have to come up when we put our long term plans into action. My Best Man, BJ, found this interesting flooring idea. At first I was skeptical, but as I read about it, I liked the idea. It’s inexpensive, it’s durable, and if you damage an area a year from now, you just fix it with a little more paper, glue and poly.

Of course, one project always leads to twenty more. I will have a future post about the full room remodel, but I wanted to share our take on paper bag floors. There a dozens and dozens of videos, tutorials, blog posts, forums, free PDFs, and more to tell you the steps for doing paper bag floors. I will add links to a few of my favorites at the end of this post. Rather than give you directions, I want to share the tips I learned on this first room.

1. Read several sets of directions. You will find that each set of directions has a different take. Also, there are different glue/poly formulas for different sub-floor types.

2. When they say you have to get the floor clean, then cleaner, then cleanest, that’s true. I took that seriously, but what I didn’t take into account was that “stuff” would just work its way out of the corners. Especially in the closet which had never had any sort of trim along the bottom. In the next rooms, I plan to shop vac the corners and edges several times.

3. How you handle the paper affects how each piece looks. Pieces we soaked in glue, then wrung out were darker than pieces we painted with glue on both sides and pieces we manipulated a lot to get to fit into a certain place. We didn’t mind a mottled look, but the difference was significant. Choose one way, stick with it.

4. Do a small room first. First, you may not love it, but that’s not a huge deal. If you don’t love it you just lay something else over it. However, as simple as this process is, there will be a learning phase. Learn in a smaller space. After we stained, we weren’t happy. So we laid a new layer of paper. That isn’t a big deal, except that it was a big room. In a small room, we would have seen we didn’t like the stain and spent a couple hours re papering. The big room took a couple of days.

5. Think long and hard about stain. This was the part that gave us the most trouble. First, we decided to go with water based stain. That was unattractive and difficult to spread. We read about oil based stain, but every post commented on it taking days and days to dry. Some said even after days, it was still damp, but they put on the poly anyway. That seemed unwise to us. So we decided to go with Polyshade, which is stain and polyurethane mixed. Sounds perfect, right? Sure it was great, if you want to feel like someone shot napalm in your sinus cavity and like the look of horrible streaks and pools of color.

IMG_1521

After coming to the conclusion that we did not like it, since we don’t own a family set of military grade gas masks, and we wanted the floors to actually be nice looking, we opted to not stain it at all. We are just as happy. If you decide you want yours to be a different color, investigate methods that involve dying the paper with dyes such as Rit. This seems like a more logical process to me at this point. You can also use decorative or other papers.

6. Projects like this get me into trouble. No one likes me to do things that hurt myself, and me being the Type A personality insists on doing things completely. Here is my advice to make this job less painful, even if you are a healthy person. Fold up an old towel and sit on you rear to lay the paper. Your knees will thank you. Set a timer and get up to walk around often.

7.  Take the time to push the extra glue out from under each piece you lay. Even a fairly “dry” piece will have glue pool under it. Use your palm or a wallpaper roller to push it out. None of the directions I saw, said this. Also, I think if you have concrete floors, it would be wise to do a layer of poly before you start. The first round wrinkled more than the second round, which we laid over the poly we didn’t like.

8. Crumple a lot more paper than you think you will need. A lot. Think you’ve crumpled more than enough? Crumple a lot more.

9. Lay the edges first. Both rounds of laying the paper, this was the easier way.

10. Use this stuff.

Varathane

We actually brought home a totally different Polyurethane at first than we ended up  using. By chance, the Best Man, saw this stuff at a store when he was picking other things. He bought it. I was so glad. First of all, its a floor grade poly. Second, it’s LOW ODOR. About the same a regular wall paint, but a slightly different smell. I cannot emphasis to you how out of control the fumes can get on the poly. Since most directions recommend 8-12 layers of poly, you will be spending a lot of time with this stuff. We used a gloss. If we end up not liking it, we will re coat when we do the next room.

BJ’s advice was to not worry about the cloudy white spots that appear as you spread the poly. Those dry clear. Just be sure to smooth out drips. Also, don’t shake the can. You will get bubbles. You will need an applicator specifically for water based poly. The others may work,  but you will get fuzz. Nobody wants fuzz, right? It is synthetic material. It looks like this.

Floor pad

Here are some of the tutorials we used.

This one has a lot of detail. She has wood sub floors (we have concrete).

This blog is the one I referred to the most. Plus she has a sense of humor. That’s always a plus.

This person didn’t stain either. However, theirs is lighter than ours. She also has a video.

This is the finished floor. Once the rest is complete, I’ll post about the whole remodel. And, I haven’t forgotten that I owe you all some more Common Core posts.

IMG_1523

11 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Rhuematoid Autoimmune Disease

I am sure this isn’t the first time this post has been made. However, I have wanted to post it for some time. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in April 2012. In the past 18 months, I have realized how little anyone really knows about what other people go through. I don’t expect everyone to get it right every time. I just hope this helps those around me learn.

1. Rheumatoid Arthritis really isn’t about the arthritis part. In fact, there’s quite a campaign to stop calling it that at all. It’s really Rheumatoid Autoimmune Disease. It’s an autoimmune disease, not damage. Yes my joints hurt, but at this point they don’t look like a damaged joint on an x-ray. That may come, but that is just the a piece of the puzzle. The joint inflammation came from my immune system deciding to go into overdrive. In the most basic terms, it’s like my body decided I have the flu. Forever. So, in addition to the joint pain there is fatigue, brain fog, and a lot of other fun stuff.

2. My immune system is suppressed. I have become a serious germ-a-phobe. I didn’t used to be. All the treatments available suppress the immune system. Both the medications and the RA suppress lung function. I’m not allowed to get live vaccines. I am very susceptible to infections of all kinds. I’ve been blessed up to this point in a way. My inflammation has stayed high enough to keep my white blood count high. However, that is dropping every time I go to the doctor. Pro: I have less inflammation. Con: My immune system is weakening. I need people to be aware of that.

3. It’s not the same from day to to day or even hour to hour. I am a sarcastic person. So, I have a little trouble when someone says, “But you seemed fine yesterday.” I want to say, “I noticed!” The trouble with this statement is often the tone, not the words. It’s a tone that you use with your children when you think they are faking an illness to keep from a chore or school. I wake up in a different body every morning. Throughout the day, if I sit in a weird position for too long, end up doing something I shouldn’t have, or the mood just hits my immune system, I can have drastic changes. One common problem is when I go to workshops. The loooooooong sitting in chairs I didn’t pick turn me into a rusty stick person. And yes, I do know which ones are rolling their eyes behind my back.

4. I’m tired. Yes, I know we are all tired. When the girlies were tiny and never slept, I was tired. When I was busy and didn’t sleep I was tired. But, I could eventually rest. Now, if I rest I may wake up and feel rested for a day. That’s rare. I am not claiming to be more tired than anyone. What I am saying is I am always tired. So, when you’re planning a night out, and I seem less than excited to join, it’s not that I don’t want to spend time with you. I am digging deep for the energy. Here is a great post about this feeling, called Spoon Theory.

5. I don’t really want to hear about your grandmother’s crippled hands and wheelchair. It’s not that I don’t care or empathize. It’s that it horrifies me. This is like someone saying, “I have breast cancer,” and you list everyone you know who died from it after slow and painful treatment process. I am FULLY aware of the possibilities of my future. I am also aware treatment process are constantly changing and improving. In the beginning of my illness, I was at a store. A very elderly woman with quite twisted joints (though I don’t know what caused it), fell with her cart right in front of me. I saw it coming, and I was too stiff and slow to get to her. I look at everyone’s hands. I notice who’s look painful and damaged. I have plenty of reminders of what can happen. Please don’t list more for me.

6. Take care in how you give advice. I don’t like to say not to give advice at all. Advice is a form of caring and attempting to help. However, tread lightly. Being pushy is a sure way for me to start singing the national anthem in my head while you talk. I also become weary of people telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. Particularly people who don’t spend everyday with me. I also am aware of the countless natural therapies, some of which I use. However, at the end of a lecture about a natural remedy, I usually feel like the person is telling me I am doing it wrong. I want to scream, “DON’T YOU THINK IF I COULD BE HEALED WITH A SIMPLE SUPPLEMENT I WOULD????” I do believe many of those options are helpful, and can even be used to treat people with mild symptoms. Understand this, my symptoms are not mild. Ask questions first. Most of the people doling out advice no little to nothing about my actual symptoms and what I am doing to treat this disease.

7. My children are fine. First of all, I don’t like hearing about how they are more likely to have this and other autoimmune diseases. As much as I hate this for me, I hate how my diagnosis affects those I love. However, my children are fine. I promise. Yes, they have to be a bit more physically independent. Yes, they are aware that mommy hurts. Tell me how this is going to ruin their lives. No, wait. That’s the point. Don’t tell me.

8. I know you’re sick of me talking about it. However, I get sick of hearing about some of the things you talk about. That’s what people do. Talk about the things on their mind. It’s what’s on my mind. I try to limit what I say. I try to not bring it up.

9. Nope. No one in my family has it. This one doesn’t really irritate me. It’s just a common question. As far as I know, no one in my family has it. There are a few people in my family have significant autoimmune diseases. Researchers believe this may be linked.

10. I try to have a sense of humor about it, but I am sensitive. I try to  have a sense of humor about this. I have to because frankly sometimes it’s funny. It’s also healthy to laugh about it. However, sometimes it strikes a nerve. I don’t blame the person. It’s just part of living with this. I don’t want my friends and family to stop joking about it. I just want them to be aware. It’s not their fault. Sure there is the occasional badly timed or poorly worded jab or joke. Most of the time, it upsets me because of my thoughts. Not yours.

11. I have to rely on a lot of people and I am not good at that. Doctors and nurses and lab techs and family and friends and coworkers. So many people that I have to rely on. I am a fiercely independent person. I refuse help I truly need. If I let you help me, take that as a sign of serious trust.  I am deeply grateful for the support network I have. I cannot imagine struggling through this alone or surrounded by people who expected me to struggle through it myself. My husband has helped me carry this burden more than I could ever explain. I am learning to ask for help. The gratitude that comes with this is immense.

While I truly would love to not have this disease, and I often long to live in a body that doesn’t constantly frustrate me, I am grateful to have been diagnosed in this era. This disease isn’t a death sentence anymore. I am also grateful for people who try to understand. Thank you for taking the time to learn a little!

Common Core vs. Arkansas State Standards Take Two: Math

Math! It’s the subject we all love to hate. I heard you groan. Dan Meyers, math educator, says, “I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it, but is forced by law to buy it.” I think a lot of people can agree that was true for them in school. I know growing up I was sure I was bad at math, wouldn’t get it, couldn’t get, and it must have been because I lacked that gene. You know which gene. The math gene.
Turns out, I was wrong. My first teaching job was math, science and social studies with 3rd grade. My family laughed. Loudly. In my face. They took bets as to when I would get fired. Turns out, we were all wrong. I get math fundamentals. At least I do now. Now that I have seen them taught from the ground up and used them frequently.
Math education has been heading in just that direction since just before I stepped on to the playing field. Mathematicians and experts on mathematics education have repeatedly proven and preached that we have to move past calculation and formulas and algorithms to get to what math really is. Math is the language that makes sense of our world. Math is a daily part of life. Math operates of very logical and meaningful processes.

www.corestandards.org/Math
Common Core takes that view of math and turns it into action. One of the major differences between AS and CCSS is that CCSS has the standards, but it also lists and defines 8 mathematical practices. These practices are behaviors of mathematical thinkers. They are habits such as “attending to precision” and “making use of structure.” Not only are these practices given, they are considered equally as important as the specific skills listed in the standards.
So what? Who cares if we have specifically listed habits of mathematical thinkers? I do. This is a game changer folks. Highly trained math teachers were aware of these concepts. Outside of that group of people, I venture to say few teachers had a functional understanding of these practices. Listing them and holding everyone accountable for learning these behaviors means every student has access to skills to become better mathematicians.
The CCSS also changed the game in another way. Skills taught in specific grade levels have been moved around. Some in very minor ways, and some in major ways. Rather than teach a lot of skills at every grade level, the CCSS authors set out a plan for mastering specific skills at developmentally appropriate grade levels.
For example, probability was a part of 3rd grade expectations in AS. In CCSS it has moved to 5th grade. Rather than teaching the basics of it in 3rd, then a little more, then a little more, students are introduced to the concept in a specific grade level. They then learn it from conceptual (using manipulatives and concrete objects) to application (word problems and scenarios) to abstract. All of this happens after students have had an in-depth education into number systems, place value, and computation.
All of this moving came with a serious hurdle. This hurdle is haunting teachers. It’s keeping them up at night. There are gaps. While the idea to phase in the implementation was good, it still was not perfect. Students have to play catch up in some areas.
The change in grade level for specific skills has also caused some brain drain for teachers. Elementary teachers have so many strategies to pull from. These strategies can be used in many ways. However, we get well practiced at which strategy pays of the most with specific skills. All new skills in our grade level means we have to recalibrate. Often it also means skills we have to relearn as well. We are just like you. If we don’t practice it, we don’t remember it.
There has long been a debate among educators, mathematicians, and community members about facts. Should students learn their facts? Is it necessary? Shouldn’t they just learning the meaning of the operations? The authors of CCSS say the whole argument is unnecessary. Reality is that fact fluency (quickly recalling basic facts) and concept development go hand in hand. They are both important to math education. While students should learn the meaning behind the operations, and they should learn the meanings well, they also need to develop quick fact recall. Otherwise, they become bogged down with computation during complex problem solving.
I know most of you are having flash backs to math class. Barely staying awake, you listened to lectures and formulas and solved problems in a textbook. Common Core shifts away from that. Students will be expected to solve real world problems using mathematical reasoning. We have been teaching students test taking skills and how to apply formulas. Now we will be teaching how to use math to figure out a scenario. Students will be expected to reason through multiple step problems, not multiple choice.
I haven’t heard from any of you out there, but send questions if you have any. I have posted links below. I’m also going to post a couple of videos.

Common Core State Standards vs. Arkansas State Standards Take One: Reading

After our history lesson, the real question anyone should be asking is, “So are these standards any good?” This post will compare the standards Arkansas had in place and the Common Core State Standards. I have never had any experience with standards from another state, so I can’t help you there! Also, we won’t be discussing high stakes testing here at all. For the sake of time, I will abbreviate the Arkansas Standards (also called Frameworks) as AS and the Common Core State Standards as CCSS.

                The AS were fairly good compared to other states. During the reign of those standards, we rose to 5th in the nation in education. The standards weren’t the only reason we did, but they played a role. States are ranked based on several factors. We rose to 5th in the nation overall while still ranking in the lower 1/3 on parents who graduated college and have a strong educational background. Pretty awesome. It also means you can tell anyone who bad mouths our education system to…well…you know.

                Those standards gave teachers direction and a very clear expectation. The AS were very specific. For example, students in 3rd grade would be expected to read 110 words per minute with 94% or better accuracy on a 3rd grade reading passage by the end of the year. No guessing what is expected there.  The standards also kept grade levels from “double teaching”. Very specific skills were taught in very specific grade levels. While there were a few flaws, I didn’t think they were lacking much. That was until I saw CCSS.

                CCSS were, at first, overwhelming. Frankly, they still are a little overwhelming, but before long I realized they were overwhelming because they were new. They are also very different. However, as I became familiar with them, I realized they were more than new. They were new and improved.

 In the past, I had often felt as if there was no time to really discuss, analyze, and debate because there was simply too much to cover. I had to leave a topic before spending long on it simply due to the fact that 3 other topics had to be covered, and they had to be covered quick! A major difference between CCSS and AS is the number of specific standards. The CCSS teach deeper, not wider. Now there is time to spend weeks discussing and digging our hands into a topic or idea. Six weeks to read about and discuss an “Essential Question” along with the details surrounding that question? That was music to my ears.

One of the first concepts that made CCSS endearing to me was the increase in the emphasis on non-fiction literature. CCSS expects a 50/50 split between fiction and non-fiction reading in the elementary grades.  AS had focused heavily on fiction literature and comprehension.  As an avid reader who visits book stores on vacation for fun, this didn’t occur to me as problematic. That was somewhat narrow minded of me. The majority of reading that will help someone in life is non-fiction. Further, there are whole groups of children who often don’t enjoy fiction. As much as it makes me cringe, it’s not a crime to prefer non-fiction. In fact, it may be very useful.

So, where would all that non-fiction literature instruction naturally lead? To more subject integration. Life and learning should not exist in separate boxes. This is just good teaching, but it was less possible with AS. The standards were too specific and there were too many to connect them. Attempts were made with varying success. However, integration of topics and subjects is a major emphasis in CCSS.

AS made a good effort at building upon previous grade levels in the area of literacy. However, CCSS took that to a whole new level. The K-5 Literacy CCSS are often an extension of the same standards. That really is how reading development unfolds. Not as separate chunks of skills and concepts, but as a ladder. (I attempted to find comparable AS to complete the chart, but they are no longer available online, and I long ago gave up my paper copy.)

Here is an example:

Kindergarten Standard

With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.

 

First Grade Standard

Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.

 

Second Grade Standard

Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text

 

Third Grade Standard

Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

 

Fourth Grade Standard

Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

 

Fifth Grade Standard

Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing

inferences from the text

 

Another strength of the CCSS in the area of reading is that the bar was raised in the quality of literature to be read. The authors of the CCSS define very clearly that they expect more complex text to be used than have been in the past. They define text complexity as quantitative (based on a reading level), qualitative (is it worth reading), and matching the reader to the task. This is a new element to standards for teachers. In AS there was no comment as to the quality of text. There was no written expectation that the teacher choose books that are relative to the students. In CCSS this is an individual standard that applies to all grade levels. While that is best practice, it certainly left the door open and didn’t put very much demand on textbook companies.

That isn’t the only way CCSS raised the bar. The CCSS expect teachers and students to use text that are simply at a higher reading level. I have a mixed reaction to this. I have no problem with the teacher reading high level texts to students, and students having the opportunity and encouragement to read them, too. However, there are many students who struggle to read at such a high level. While I am glad that the expectation is high, it remains to be seen how much of that expectation will turn to frustration.

A component that was not prevalent at all in AS, was analyzing, debating, and looking critically at texts. While there were a few AS that expected students to analyze, they were weak and not the resounding goal. CCSS ask students to do more than read. They ask students to do more than read well. They ask students to do more than read well and regurgitate facts. They ask student construct opinions on high quality text that has meaning to the student and the outside world. Is that not what we want informed citizens to be able to do? (Is that not what we want to be able to do!?)

So, it isn’t hard to see where I vote on this topic. CCSS are a better set of standards. As teachers and students move through the transition to these standards, it’s important to realize there will be bumps. The teachers are working to learn the standards and new methods of helping students. That means some days there will be confusion. Test scores will fall (gasp!). However, students will still be getting a better foundation in reading than they ever have.

Here is a link to the CCSS for English Language Arts. Next week, I will post about the other literacy standards: writing, listening & speaking, and language. I will be posting on the other subjects in my next, then moving on to testing, special education, testing and other issues. I haven’t heard any questions, but feel free to send them my way!

A Lesson on Common Core State Standards

A Preface

                I set this blog up over a year ago, and I really haven’t had time to post anything. However, as more and more questions about Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are sent my way I think this is an easier way to post my thoughts. Before I even start, I have some ground rules. Any teacher who wants to keep her sanity sets up the rules and expectations before even launching into any lessons.

  1. Be Patient. This is going to take some time. It will take more than one post for me to say all I want to say. Once I post, things will continue to change so there will be more to discuss. The posts will be long. However, if you don’t have time to read this, you certainly don’t have time to have an opinion on the matter.
  2. Accept that this is a complicated issue. There are whole books written on this topic, and I am not claiming to have read them all. I am a player in the game, which is more than most people feeding you information can say. I try to stay informed, but I am fully capable of making mistakes and having misinformation. I know very little about High School, but as I learn I will be making edits.
  3. Outside of the school I am entitled to opinions. In the classroom, teachers are supposed to be careful about their opinions. However, this is not a classroom. I do not feel the pressure I do when I am in front of students to keep my opinions to myself. This is a blog, not a textbook.
  4. I welcome open debate and thought provoking conversation. As a teacher, I take enough verbal abuse from parents, community, and the media. Here, I don’t have to take that. I will call you out and send you packing..
  5. Do your own research, but do so carefully. Education is undergoing major changes on MANY fronts. It is easy to get wrong information or intentionally misleading information. Go ahead and read other people’s opinions, but read the primary source information, too. I will be including links to sites I use.

Part 1: Just What Is Common Core? A Brief Modern History Lesson

                                Simply put, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a set of standards. Nothing is ever really that simple, though. Standards have been a part of education since before I became involved. That has not always been the case. There was a time in teaching when every teacher or school decided what was taught. That had pros and cons. We are not here to debate the need for standards to exist at all, as it would be a frivolous conversation at this point in the game.

Standards came about as a way to address deficits in education. Standards were also needed in order to set up standardized testing. Pressure arose for districts to become accountable. For that to happen, there had to be a list of what they were accountable for teaching. Each state developed standards and testing. In Arkansas, standards and standardized testing have been around a long time, and the Benchmark Exam, in some form, has been around since the late 90’s.

It is crucial at this point for you to understand that standards and standardized testing are not the same thing. The standards are written, usually by a non-profit or state funded group. Then a separate entity, almost always a company that will make money is commissioned to create the test. Standards are the list of goals and expectations. Standardized testing is an assessment process to determine if those goals and expectations have been met. Standards existed before Common Core. High Stakes testing existed before Common Core. Federal involvement existed in education LONG before standards, high stakes testing, and Common Core.

Fast forward through about 20 years of local standards. Fast forward through conversations about the quality of each state’s standards, the validity of the high stakes tests, and much more. Fast forward through increased demands from the Federal Government for all children be proficient in the same way. It’s relevant to where we are now. However, it’s far too much information to cram into this spot.

All of that led to some states coming together to write the Common Core Standards. More specifically The National Governor’s Association decided to create a set of standards. You can read all about that history somewhere else. My point is, they weren’t federally written, but they were initiated through a national organization. That’s an important distinction. Further, they weren’t initiated by educators, but politicians. They were written by educators and professionals in specific fields of study, such as mathematics.

The way Common Core Standards became so prevalent so quickly is Race to the Top money. This was a Federal initiative offered to states. In education, money is something we often have to hunt down. This large sum of money was highly sought after. One of the stipulations for this money was the state had to have adopted “college and career ready standards.” There were a few of these out there for the taking or states could write new standards. Most applicants for Race to the Top money chose Common Core State Standards. In the end, not everyone who adopted Common Core even got Race to the Top money. However, most of those who adopted CCSS in the process of getting Race to the Top money have kept the standards. There were other reasons states chose to opt into CCSS, but this is the most common reason. Arkansas applied for Race to the Top Money and did not receive it.

Once the state of Arkansas decided to adopt CCSS, a plan for implementing had to be put into place. The state chose to implement in phases. K-2 implemented first, then 3-5. I cannot comment as to the implementation for other grades. 9-12 was mandated to implement this school year. It is important to understand that new books and curriculum aren’t out at this phase in the discussion. There are maps and suggestions, but no true curricula.  A later post will discuss this further, but not yet.

This plan was better than a slam everyone at once model. Common Core builds each year. Also, while literacy typically just went deeper, math made major changes in the grade levels where topics are covered. So, even with this progressive implementation, it is a difficult move. This is the case any time there is a change of this scale.

Now, here is where things get really messy. When Common Core standards were issued and adopted and implemented, standardized testing that aligned with the CCSS was not available. This caused a huge problem, and much of my daily frustration with the process. We were to be teaching one set of standards and testing an entirely separate set. This is a HUGE, MASSIVE, ENORMOUS problem. I will also discuss this more in depth in a later post.

In the beginning, the state department planned to hold districts “harmless” for their test scores. At about the same time someone (I honestly cannot tell you if the state department or a testing group), produced crosswalks. These documents claimed quite a large correlation between Arkansas State Standards and Common Core State Standards. However, it didn’t take long before it was apparent that those crosswalks were little more than key word searches. The correlations were weak at best. This made the use of the old Benchmark tests while we were teaching CCSS a problem.

At this point in time, I felt very little stress about the move to new standards without new testing. I felt massive amounts of money would be wasted on the tests, but understood that change comes with difficulties. As long as I wasn’t going to be judged by the wrong test, I felt ok with it.

Then, Federal mandates voided the “harmless” plan. This is a complicated topic, but basically we still had to be accountable to a high stakes test in order to be in compliance. No test is ready for CCSS. The state had to have a plan in place for identifying under performing schools according to test scores. So, all the old Benchmark exam pressures returned, but I wasn’t teaching Benchmarks anymore. I was expected to teach Common Core Standards. Basically it amounts to reading a map of Florida to get around in Utah. It confuses parents, community members and even teachers when we are torn in different directions.

At this point in time, the State of Arkansas is on its last year of Benchmark Exams. We have given Benchmark Exams for 3 years in which Common Core Standards were implemented. Some districts are piloting the new tests, but these scores will not replace their Benchmark scores. The new tests will be in place next year, according to current plans. Officially, all public school teachers in the state of Arkansas are teaching the CCSS.

I have many more posts planned including my take on the quality of the CCSS, the new assessments, special education and CCSS, and more. However, it would be difficult to touch on these topics without some background knowledge. I welcome your questions, but please remember your manners. As a homework lesson between now and my next post, I suggest you go take a look at the Common Core standards.

Common Core Standards – www.corestandards.org

              Arkansas Department of Education FAQ page on CCSS – http://www.arkansased.org/faqs/faq_categories/common-core-state-standards

The National Governor’s Association –  http://www.nga.org/cms/home.html

What’s in a name?

Hello, there! Being the first post, I suppose introductions are in order. Most of that is already on my About Me page. What isn’t there will become pretty evident through the course of my posts. This blog is just a peek into my life and thoughts. My goal is for it to be a holding place for all the things I want to say or write. I have never been good at keeping a journal, but since this is more directed and purposeful I hope to be more diligent. Rather than telling you the basic, boring statistics about me, I would like to explain the name for my blog.

Several months ago, a friend of mine said, “I got you something. It’s nothing big.” I love gifts. They don’t have to be pricey. They don’t even have to be nice. Some of my favorite gifts are literal junk that children have given me. There is just something touching about a person taking the time to consider you and give you an object. (Go read “The 5 Languages of Love” if you don’t get it.) So my heart was all fluttery in anticipation.

She reached down into her bag and pulled out a white box. Inside was a bracelet. It was black leather with a metal section with “It is what it is” printed on it. Perfect. She giggled and said something to the effect of how often I use that phrase. Hmmmmm. I hadn’t noticed. The next day, when I showed it to the para in my classroom, she chuckled and said, “That’s so you!”

That got me to thinking. Do I really use that phrase so often? If so, why? Then I realized, it really is my basic mantra. I have recently been made aware that I am a “control freak”, and have called “bossy” since childhood. Whatever, they are leadership qualities. While those qualities have served me well, the fact is some days no amount of determination, will power or diplomacy will change things. Sometimes, it just is what it is.

Also, I am a strong believer in honesty and self-awareness. I tend to call a spade a spade, lay all the cards on the table, whatever euphemism you choose. “It is what it is” would just be another way of facing the facts of a situation. I think many people would be vastly happier if they were honest with themselves about their lives, what they want, and what it would take to get there.

So, as I pondered a name for my blog, I went through a lot of ideas. Most of the good ones were already taken! Being a southern girl (though I am working on reducing the effects of Southern Belle Syndrome) I use a saying for everything. Sure, “It is what it is” can be a bit trite, is definitely redundant and obvious (of course it is what it is, what else would it be?!), and is usually not very comforting, it basically suits my frame of mind.

Check back for more posts, and if you don’t like them, well I bet you can figure out what my response would be!