Monday, April 30, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Carmel

One day of testing down, five more to go. The testing doesn't even take all that long, but it sure throws a wrench into my system. It's okay, though. I am "being a feather" on this stuff, and luckily so are the kids. A few bullet points:
  • It was good to see familiar faces at the Wellness Fair yesterday. I spotted Will Hurdle, John Keen, Caleb Vahle, Xavier Cocca, Alex Baldwin, Ally Eaton, and Maria Saam, who, along with her mom, manned the station for the Relay for Life sign-up. If you haven't signed up for Relay for Life, do it now! Click here!
  • Speaking of Miss Maria Saam, she gave us a nice lesson today (with her hard-earned tickets) about Mr. Johnny Depp. That got me reminiscent about his glory days on 21 Jump Street, but all the kids know of that show is the goofy movie that came out a few months ago. Only my generation knows that was never meant to be a joke-show. But her lesson did lead us to realize that he really is a prolific actor, with roles such as Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Edward Scissorhands, and my personal favorite, Gilbert Grape.
  • All this week is testing! Breakfast! Sleep! Honestly, their homework is to sleep and eat. What more can they want? Wish someone would give me that kind of "homework".
  • Please please urge your children not to sweat over the testing. The more they worry, the more difficult it's going to be for them. And really, it's silly to worry about this kind of stuff because the worry does more harm than good.

Happy Monday, everyone. Have a good week!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What We Do When Tested

For this week, we will have about an hour of ISTEP testing each day. Please make sure your child gets enough sleep, eats breakfast, and dresses comfortably each day. That last one always makes me laugh--as though the kids come to school in suits and ties or high heels.

Anyway, just keep in mind that it's testing week. I won't send any homework home this week, FYI. When the testing concludes next Tuesday, May 8, I will return your children back to their regularly scheduled homework--for a few more weeks, at least.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

His Belt Is Also Black

Here it is, almost midnight on Saturday night, and I'm here telling you that my former student--and still member of the 5-1 family--Noah Spangler passed his black belt test with major flying colors. He threw people over his shoulder who outweighed him by a hundred pounds. He took them down and annihilated them. It was truly an impressive display. Every time I'd hear Shihan say, "Okay, next up..." after Noah was done, I felt so proud of him.

Today was a good day. It may be just the "good day" talking, but I think I want to throw some more of these "What I've Learned" posts up in the future. There are plenty to be had.

Anyway, congratulations, Noah! Welcome to the black belt family.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What I Learned About Teaching From Doing Karate: Day 5

On the day before my black belt test, I was as nervous as all get out, but one thing that helped a lot was a card given to me by my class. Somehow one of my students at the time, Ben Krege--who was already a black belt at my dojo, managed to get everyone to sign a big card for me wishing me good luck. I was so touched that I tucked it into my equipment bag to wish me luck. During the test, I would playfully open my bag and give it a thumbs-up.

Sometime over the week after my test, I laminated the card and to this day, it hangs in my classroom. It's one of those things I just couldn't take down after the big "educational stuff only" decree that went out at the end of last year regarding things that hang in your classroom. If anyone wants me to take it down--that card which gave me so much encouragement--they will have to go through an Adamson's black belt to do it.

One of my students, as we were lining up for the buses that day before, said, "Good luck, Mr. Carter!"

I replied, "We'll see. Hopefully I will get it."

To which she replied, "As far as we're concerned, you've already got it. No matter what they say."

That was a great feeling.

As soon as the test was over, I showed Ben that I had kept the card in my bag the whole time for good luck. He teared up, and that's when I realized that he had no idea what it would do for me to know that all of my students were pulling for me, no matter whether they knew karate or not. More importantly, that he had thought enough of me to take the initiative to make the card and have everyone sign it.

This is where I learned the power of encouragement. It is something I'm in constant battle to improve upon, but I really think this battle began right then and there. It's where I realized just how powerful a good, kind word can be. I do my best never to let some appreciation or encouragement go unspoken. But when I need shaken from complacency, I just think back to that day. I could have done anything at that point.

Never pass up an easy time to encourage anyone. That's what I learned from experience.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What I've Learned About Teaching from Doing Karate: Day 4

A lesson which has recently resurfaced in my classroom as well as in the karate dojo (almost simultaneously, interestingly enough) is that breakthroughs happen as the result of sustained effort.

For the longest time, I felt that my skills in karate had plateaued (to use a noun as a verb) to the point where it seemed like I was pretty much as good as I was going to get. I kept going to class, even though everyone else around me seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds.

But after a long time of continuing to go to class while the rest of the people at my level grew and got better and went to competitions in cool, far-away places while I would be stuck at home to teach for them at the dojo in their absence, something began to change. Suddenly, everyone was asking me what I was doing to get such power out of my karate. And it wasn't just that, but I really felt it too. I had no idea where it had come from, but I had a lot of power in my punches--a lot more power than had been there before. This didn't come as a result of a sudden push or sudden awakening, it was more like I had chipped away at a huge stone in the way of my progress for long enough that it eventually broke that big boulder in half and then it was suddenly obliterated.

I've seen some profound improvement in several of my students recently. That's just on the individual level. As a class, this group of kids has really come together and gelled into something really cool. I mean it. They're now more than individuals--they're really a unit. And believe me, this did not come as a sudden burst; this was the result of a lot of work. I'm proud of who my class is on every level. I like to think that if I have a strength as a teacher, this is it. But it is really never because of any sudden epiphany. It's always as a result of constant chipping.

After the Red Sox won the world series in 2004, there was an ad in Sports Illustrated (can't remember which company) that said, "Try hard enough for long enough, and your day will come." That quote has been hanging in my classroom ever since.

It can never be "I'll try harder next week..." It always has to be an uphill battle to the next plateau. Then it becomes a steady effort to get through the next plateau.

And something tells me there's a lesson to be learned about enjoying those plateaus while working through them. But that's for another time.

For Real True and Story True

Today in 5-1, we: discussed a poem called Soda Crackers (I was highly impressed with their feedback); had the kids synthesize movie reviews; summarized a murder mystery; drew connections between spiders and people, parrots and toast, peanut butter and a lamp, and finally fireflies and a campfire; read a book about a downed tree which turned into a spaceship (sort of); and for Math, we learned about linear equations. This is some pretty big stuff for fifth graders.

The kids have a writing assignment due tomorrow. Green reading books are in their backpacks unless they did the assignment last night. Spelling test and Theme Test 14 are happening tomorrow as well. Typical Friday at Woodbrook--one of the last "typical Fridays" of the year, because next week is ISTEP for one thing. Crazy as we roll toward the end. Let me know if you have any questions.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What I've Learned About Teaching from Doing Karate: Day 3

In the book Karate-Do, My Way of Life by Master Gichin Funakoshi, the author states six rules for ...well, it doesn't really say what the six rules are for. The chapter is just titled "Six Rules." I supposed this means that they're just for life, which does make some sense.

Anyway, my favorite one (and the most practical, in my opinion) is #5. It states: Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. I love this. It's hard to look at yourself as you really are, and probably a little embarrassing if you're like me. But as long as I try to focus on being more like what I admire in other people, I am always improving as a human being.

A couple years ago, I had a student who wrote me the most heart-rending letter (letters, actually) at the end of the school year. My first thought was, "Man, I wish I was who this kid thinks I am." My second thought was, "Man, I need to become who this kid thinks I am."

I made a list of the people I most admire. I listed them by name--there were seventeen of them--and then wrote what quality in them I did most admire. As I thought of more people, I would find the things I liked about them the best, and I found just by writing those qualities down, they started to sink into my brain and my heart.

I'm not saying this was some kind of grand miracle that forever changed who I am, but at least I had a kind of Platonic ideal toward which I could strive. And the thing about people is that there is a limitless supply out there, and nearly all of them have something about them that is amazingly cool. No reason to stop improving. No excuses either, for that matter.

One of the best things that we do at Woodbrook is called a "breeze through". We, as teachers, take the time to walk through each others' classrooms while we're teaching, and it never ceases to amaze me that every time I go into anyone else's classroom, I find at least one thing which makes me think, "Why didn't I think of that!? Duh!" I write it down and bring it back to my classroom immediately.

Never stop improving? Sound advice, no matter what your job.

Writing and Spelling and Dropping the Ball

For tomorrow, the kids do have their writing assignment for the reading tonight as well as their meaning exercise for spelling.

The biggest thing tonight, I guess, is the orientation at Clay Middle School. No one around here had mentioned it since we first got the information way back in, what was it, November? Anyway, I'm glad they got their information. Sorry about that!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What I've Learned About Teaching from Doing Karate: Day 2

As an adult taking my black belt test, we were expected to do some independent research and read up on all things karate. One of the books I read in the months before my test was The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It's some interesting reading with all kinds of practical applications.

One of my favorite practical applications was the following passage:

"Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten the battle will arrive exhausted."

I like this one because it made me think about how I start my day. No, I do not see your children as my enemies with whom I am doing battle (although they may beg to differ every so often), but I feel so much better on days when I arrive early to school, even if all my plans are laid out and all the copies made. I can't stand being late for anything. When I am late, I am always a little panicked and not in the right head-space to effectively do what I need to be doing. Planning ahead works wonders, and so does being on time. When you have the opportunity to do both, it's awesome.

Living Strong

Tomorrow is ride your bike to school day/wear yellow/Livestrong day here at Woodbrook. In addition to that, it's bring in your dimes day.

I told the kids that I completely forgot to hand them their reading writing response papers today, so they will get those tomorrow. I had them copied off bright and early this morning, but as the kids were getting ready to go home and half of them were lined up in the hallway already, I realized that I would have to put it off until tomorrow. They weren't upset.

Remember tomorrow: Ride: bike. Wear: yellow. Bring: dimes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Green Day

Tomorrow is Veggie Day for Wellness Week. For this, we are wearing green to honor Veggie Day. As a nice coincidence, it was Earth Day yesterday, so let the green flow.

Also, bring in nickels tomorrow! We're raising money this week for Relay for Life, which is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. While you're at it, click here to join up with Team Woodbrook and get out there and walk with us on June 2 and 3 at Carmel High School.

What I've Learned About Teaching from Doing Karate: Day 1

This weekend at my karate dojo is a black belt test. I was telling my sensei the other day that April 28th (the date of the test) is the same exact date on which I earned my black belt five years ago. He laughed that I remembered the date, but to me it was no joke. April 28th was a date etched into my brain as soon as I knew when the test would be. I was so nervous in the months leading into it, and so relieved when it was over.

A black belt test at my dojo is serious business. Mine was over four hours long, and you have to pass a rigorous physical fitness test, pass a history test, pass seven katas (click here if you don't know what that is), and then do three major self defense portions (single attacker, single attacker with a club, and three-man attack). Two weeks before this, I had failed my evaluation. I was convinced to go ahead and test to see how it would go. I didn't want to at first, especially not knowing how it would turn out. But after two weeks of grueling practice; eating, sleeping, and breathing karate, I felt like I had put in the preparation needed for the test. Needless to say I got it, but it wasn't easy. They didn't go light on me, and I wouldn't have wanted them to. It was a hard-earned black belt.

Karate, to this day, is something I highly enjoy, and the exercise is always a good thing. I've learned a lot from doing it, and it's been good for me to take my turn as a student. Of course, I also teach and coach karate, but I'm learning in classes that I take two or three times a week as well.

This being Wellness Week and a black belt test week, I thought I'd write each day this week about something I've learned about classroom teaching from karate.

So here goes lesson one: Be a Feather.

The founder of my karate dojo, Shihan Doug Adamson, once asked our class as we were preparing for the black belt test and working on self-defense, "Have you ever tried to throw a feather?" As you know, when you throw a feather, no matter how hard you throw it, it doesn't cooperate. It just goes with the flow, and bends with the wind, just kind of drifting to the ground, no more shaken than when it first drifted down when it was shed. He said, "Be a feather."

What he was saying on the literal level was that when someone throws a punch or comes in to attack, you should let your body be light and flexible, bending around their punch and maneuvering yourself into a favorable position to do some damage to your attacker. To apply this to everyday life, and furthermore to teaching, I've learned to be flexible. We don't go through a day where everything goes exactly according to plan. One thing I've taught the students in my class is that everything will go so much better for them if they can learn these words: "It's all good" and "Whatever".

Of course, this is much easier said than done. We can all work on applying this to our daily lives. But I can tell you that it makes me smile any time I tell the kids apologetically that plans have been altered due to circumstances beyond our control, and I hear, "It's all good, Mr. C."

I am still trying to learn how to be a feather, but thankfully, because I've passed Shihan Adamson's words down to my students, the kids are helping me out in the process.

A Force for the Better

Today we bid a fond farewell to Mrs. Priser, who took over for Mrs. Wampler last Christmas while she was on maternity leave. The kids have been talking lately about how they're going to miss Mrs. Priser. They are anxious for Mrs. Wampler to get back, but they have said that they wish they could have both. I totally agree.

Mrs. Priser has some possibilities for a job for even the remainder of this school year, so we wish her the best of luck. We hope she gets a job where she can help kids the way she's done here at Woodbrook over the past several months.

The Lists

Here's a quick post regarding the spelling lists for this week:

Mrs. Priser's/Mrs. Wampler's List:


My list:


More later! Sorry, but now I have to run!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Upcoming Items of Great Importance

Wednesday, April 25: Secretaries Day

Sunday, April 29: Wellness Fair, Woodbrook, 1-3pm

Monday, April 30-May 8: ISTEP Testing

Monday, May 7: Flex Day (no school...stay home and flex)

Tuesday, May 15: Track & Field Day

Wednesday, May 16: Choir/ORFF show; PTO Pizza Night at Cool River

Thursday, May 17: 6:45-7:45, Literacy Night at Woodbrook

Tuesday, May 22: Ruth Lilly Trip

Wednesday, May 23: 5th Grade Party

Thursday, May 24: Last day of the school year (sniffle)


The third graders did put on a really cool little show today about circus life.

We've seriously had a really great week this week. I can't get over it. They're all grown up.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Jumping and the Sewing and the Picking

Today we Jumped with Jill, picked through owl regurgitation, read about sewing machines, and practiced for ISTEP. Quite a day! It was another good one today, and I'm a happy man.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Today we had the Social Studies test over the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It went pretty well, the kids all seemed to have done well on it (from what I've seen so far).

The big news today was that we started dissecting owl pellets! I told the kids that they needed to be very careful, that the owl pellets had been sterilized, and gave them an idea (and a diagram) of what they might find. I was really happy with how "into it" they were. They would let me know about what discoveries they had made, and I told them that we were going to continue pulling them apart tomorrow. This is part of our "food chains" unit in Science, and it's one of my favorite activities of the school year. Ask your child about it if they haven't told you already.

The choir and the ORFF ensemble performed today for the volunteers. It was another crazy kind of day, but in the end, it was a good one. Have a great day!

In the Loop


At the Woodbrook Wellness Fair

April 29, 2012

This course will only be on the Woodbrook Grounds and can be completed at your own pace.

Great for first time Adventure Racers or Younger children.

Free to all participants. Do not have to be a Woodbrook student.

Sign up at the Lion Cub Loop Table in front of the bus doors starting at 12:45

Pick up your Lion Cub Passport.

Complete the Loop at your own pace. Parent must accompany child/children.

Return passport to Lion Cub Table for a prize.

I Love to Ride My Bicycle

Hike-Bike to School Day

Who: Any Woodbrook student and Parent Escorts

What: Skip the School Bus that day and bike or walk to and from school.

When: April 25, 2012 (Rain Date April 26th)

Where: From your house to Woodbrook Elementary

Details: Get a group of friends and parents together and hike or bike to school on April 25. A CPD officer will be at 116th and Haverstick to assist with crossings before and after school.

Please have children stay with the group. Obey all traffic rules. Make plans for after school transportation if not riding or walking home and communicate this to your child. Also make plans in case of inclement weather after school. Please do not call the school to communicate this to your child.

Sponsored by the Woodbrook Wellness Committee and PTO as part of Wellness Week 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Leaping Lizards

Ladies and gentlemen: Note that tomorrow we have a social studies test. The kids have had these notes since last Thursday (remember my big flub?). That's the only biggie for tomorrow. It will be relatively short, and we will review before we begin.

Wednesday we will have "Jump With Jill" in the gym. That's about all I know about it, to be honest, the name of the event.

On Thursday, we will have the third grade program performance in the afternoon. Math is getting to be a rare commodity this week.

More later, as I think of things I forgot to mention. But now I have to run. Hope everyone had a good weekend and let's make this a great week.

Wellness Week


April 23-27

During Wellness Week, the Wellness Committee will be raising funds for Relay for Life (American Cancer Society) as well as for Be The Match (National Marrow Donor Program). We will be asking students to bring in their spare change and wear colors and accessories to support the theme that day

MONDAY: Bring in your Pennies to support Relay for Life (American Cancer Society)

Wear a Hat to school to “Cover Up to Prevent Cancer”

TUESDAY: Bring in your Nickels to support Relay for Life (American Cancer Society)

Wear Green to school and “Eat your Veggies and Fruit to Prevent Cancer”

WEDNESDAY: Bring in your Dimes to support Relay for Life (American Cancer Society)

Wear Livestrong/Yellow/or Amazing Race to school and “Live strong in our amazing life”

THURSDAY: Bring in your Quarters to support Relay for Life (American Cancer Society)

Wear Purple to school and “Let’s help each other Be a Survivor”

FRIDAY: Bring in your Dollars to support Be The Match (National Marrow Donor Program)

Wear Mismatched Clothes to school and “Be the Match”

For every dollar’s worth of change (pennies, nickels, dimes or quarters) a student brings in, he/she can write his/her name on a foot to be displayed in the school to remind us that

“We can stomp out cancer”

If we meet our total GOAL of $2000, our very own principal, Mrs. Davis, has graciously volunteered to color her hair PURPLE and walk around the building of Woodbrook. She will walk an hour for every $1000 raised.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Off the Map

The kids will be bringing home a take-home test for Reading tonight. There are a few reasons I'm doing it this way. The first is that there was to be a test for Social Studies tomorrow (more on that in a minute...), and I was worried about giving two big tests in a row like that. If they don't have them done when they come in tomorrow, they will be allowed to do it using an open book, but not with any help. I told them that I highly suggested that they do it tonight.

Now, about the Social Studies test: I had called the kids back to the back of the room where they sat on the floor, and we reread/skimmed the chapter and pulled out the important information and I wrote it down in a composition notebook. During lunch, I dutifully made a copy of my notes for each student in the class, and brought them back and put them in the kids' mailboxes. Or at least I thought I did. This morning, I was preparing for the day when I found the perfect stack of two-sided copies of the Social Studies notes on overhead desk at the front of the room. Since these notes will make up the entirety of what is going to be on this test, and since I thought they had these notes two days ago, I'm actually going to move the test to next Tuesday instead. As hard-cased as I was about sticking to my "map" until the end of the school year, I have to go back on it and it's my own doggone fault. Luckily I've taught the kids to understand that flexibility will really work to their benefit.

Other than that, all we have for tomorrow is a Spelling test, and my Math class will have a quiz-test over two-step algebra equations. We've done this quite a bit and I'm pretty comfortable with the kids' ability to do this at this point, so I'm sure we'll see some pretty high scores on those.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Runaway Train Never Looking Back

Sorry about the late post today. We've been busy in 5-1 the last few days, and to be honest, there are no signs that it is going to be any less so right up to the end of the year. There's just no time, and too much to do. This is not a unique phenomenon to this year, but it never fails to surprise me as the end approaches.

If you have any questions or and confusion about anything from here to the end, please let me know. I will either get you an answer or I will find someone who can answer you. I realize how crazy things get on your end too.

Until tomorrow...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Stories About Nothing

Hello, everybody! I really like the book I'm reading out loud to the kids right now. The Aurora County All-Stars is "a book about nothing", as one of my former students would have put it. I like it for the same reason I like Garrison Keillor's "News from Lake Wobegon" segments and the Dave and Morley stories from The Vinyl Cafe. These are just stories about the interactions of some small-town people, a baseball team, and a pageant.

There is a Social Studies test on Friday. I have copied off all of the notes we took down as a class in the back of the room this morning, and I will give them out to the students tomorrow.

Tomorrow, you will see a writing page come home, similar to the ones you've seen before. We did one together to model for everyone just what I am looking for, how to use the checklist, etc.

They may also have some work in their white pages to do tomorrow for Social Studies. This will also help them prepare for that test.

You will notice that their spelling assignment for tomorrow is different from the one they've normally done on Tuesday evenings up to this point. This is a lesson I stole from a teacher at a conference a few weeks ago. They have the written instructions in their assignment notebooks and the examples I made and sent home with them today.

By the way, loved all those nail clippers yesterday! Thank you! (This will look like a really odd statement to anyone who just happens upon this blog...)

Hope everyone has a nice Tuesday evening!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Lists and Updates

Okay, folks, here's Mrs. Priser's list for this week's spelling:


Here's mine:


By the way, in Math today, the word problems we did were those "open-ended" style like we looked at in that video the other day. It lead to a lot of discussion, but I assured the kids that these were not the kinds of problems that would be on their test this Friday.

Getting Stretched for the Home Stretch

Hello, everyone! Long time no posting, but I really hope everyone had a great Spring Break. I had to admit to the kids when they walked in this morning that I was not ready to be back. Sleeping in is an easy thing to get used to. But now that we're all here, I'm glad we're all in for the home stretch on this school year.

We started a new book today called The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles. This is the first time I've read it out loud, and I like how descriptive the phrases are throughout the book--one of those things I didn't really pick up on when I read it to myself.

In Social Studies, we've been reading through a chapter on the Constitution. I've just printed off some extra material that I think will make it much more clear in the coming days. I told the students to expect a test on Friday over this material, and I don't think it's going to be the take-home kind of test.

I think what I'm going to do is give the reading theme test 13 as a take-home on either Thursday or Friday, just so we don't have testing overload right at the end of the week. Being in this home stretch, I've forgotten how "test-heavy" it's become in the past few years, so I will begin preparing the students for all of that really soon.

Later on, I will post the spelling list/s for this week. I need to get Mrs. Priser's list from her still.