Saturday, February 27, 2016

Pencil Grips Review {& Giveaway}

Recently, I was contacted by Pencil Grips, Inc to see if I wanted the opportunity to review their family of pencil grips. I was thrilled to be asked and jumped at the chance to participate. Just a few days later, I got a box in the mail with two sets of grips for me to use, manipulate and ultimately, review. 

First of all, I had to examine how I was already holding a pen or pencil. Let's be real: teachers do a lot of writing! Despite the digital age we find ourselves in, I tend to spend a huge amount of time writing with paper and pencil. So much so that I often get hand cramps. I was, quite honestly, very much looking forward to trying out these grips and seeing if they would alleviate the problem.

 I do believe part of my problem is that I love to have my nails done in the salon. So my nails are not short. They aren't obnoxiously long, but they are longer than when I don't have gels/acrylics and that can very much affect how I grip a pen or pencil. So I decided to do an unscientific study of my own grip.

Exhibit 1: The "Thumb Tuck"
 I just picked up the pen and began to write, without really thinking about how I gripped the pen. I did this because I knew I would grasp the way I normally do. This is not an effective grip, does tire my fingers out pretty fast.

Exhibit 2: The "Finger Tuck"
This is usually the other way that I grip a pen. When I'm in a hurry, I tend to grip like this. It is also not very effective since my fingers can go numb pretty fast. (Who know how much I'd learn about how I hold a writing utensil by doing this??)

So after examining my "default" ways of gripping, I set out to try the grips I received. I used one type of grip for 3 days each while at school and at home so I could see, over time, if they really helped me with fatigue in the fingers and improved my writing efficiency.

Exhibit 3: The Original Grip

 The Original Grip is...well the original! It's pretty basic in design with no bells and whistles. It's very comfortable to hold and I used it first. Since I was sent two sets, I took a set to school and kept a set at home on my desk. I take a lot of notes the old school way (paper/pencil) for my doctoral program so I definitely had use for one at home too. I graded papers with it, used it while demonstrating work on the document camera and for pretty much every situation in which I had to write. My fingers never got tired and my hand didn't hurt at all, even during a grading marathon. (Pencil Grips: 1, Raye: 0)

Exhibit 4: The Pinch Grip

The pinch grip provides a different feel from the original grip from the slight top lip of the grip. It provides a resting place for those long nails of mine and kept them from rubbing against each other and getting in the way while I was writing. (Probably what contributes to my bad writing grip...don't want those nails clicking together because it's annoying and uncomfortable.) This grip was the second one I tried. I very much enjoyed how it helped me to keep a firmer...uh, grip on the pen simply because of that extra material at the top of the grip. No fatigue or numbness with this one either...and bonus, the red color totally enhanced my reddish/pink nails. (Pencil Grips: 2, Raye: 0)

Exhibit 5: The Crossover Grip
The Crossover Grip provides a much larger guard to keep your fingers in place and prevented me from crossing my thumb over like I usually do. The extra guard also helped me to keep those pesky nails away from each other which I liked. This one was my least favorite of the three but not because there was anything wrong with the style; I had no fatigue or discomfort using this grip, it just wasn't my favorite grip. (Pencil Grips: 2, Raye: 1)

Exhibit 6: Versatility
I was worried that I wouldn't be able to transfer these grips to a bigger writing instrument. As someone who loves to journal, write and of course, who grades a ton of papers, I get a fancy pen every 1-2 years from The Husband. The pen I got this year is awesome but quite slippery and difficult for me to keep in my hands. I was leery of whether or not the Pencil Grips would fit on this pen, but as you can see, they do. And it makes writing with this super fun pen even more fun. This particular pen writes so smoothly and I was very sad that I couldn't use it much before because it is so darn slippery. But with the Original Pencil Grip, I can write to my heart's content and a) my hand doesn't get tired and b) the pen stays where I need it to stay (namely, in my hand!). (Pencil Grips: 3, Raye: 1)

Verdict: Pencil Grips are a clear winner. They are comfortable, provide correct positioning of your fingers for both left or right hand writers and fit many different sizes of writing instrument. The Original Grip is my favorite because of its sleek design but all three of the grips are great. Even my left-handed husband took one to use for work and loves how it helps him have a better handle on his writing tool.

I'm pleased to announce that Pencil Grips would like to give you the opportunity to try their grips too!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Student Engagement

Sometimes I struggle to keep all of my students engaged. Yes, I'm willing to admit that. My 30 students come from my variations of family dynamics; some are educated, some are not. When your mom or dad can't help you with homework or school work because they are illiterate or did not do very well in school because of a lack of opportunity to learn, that can be really challenging! Wouldn't it be great if every student came to school prepared, ready to learn and with a voracious appetite for learning?

Of course it would!

That is not reality for many students, however. And while that can be super frustrating for a teacher, one can never assume what is really going on at home. We do assume and think the parents are lazy, don't care, aren't involved, blah blah blah. 

But really? Are we at their homes? No. Oftentimes you hear people say "parent-teacher conferences sure explain a lot"...and they can, but that is also a self-defeating attitude. If you assume the worst, you're likely to get what you wish for. If you go in with a positive attitude, you're also likely to get what you wish for.

Is every day peaches and roses in my classroom? Nope. In the past month alone I have dealt with lying, stealing (of a pretty pricey item), bullying and just downright disrespect and blatant disregard for learning. My students are 8 and 9 years old! Sometimes I do wonder what the @#$% is going through their little heads. However, I do not go in and just assume they are criminals, degenerates, future prison inmates, etc. 

And I will tell you that 98% of the time, my kids don't get in trouble in my classroom....they get in trouble in less structured areas (cafeteria, playground, specials classes, etc). They literally do thrive on predictability and structure. 

So sometimes it really gets my goat when they are not as engaged as I would like them to be. This is one reason I asked my literacy coach to help me with coaching and engagement strategies for my kiddos this year. Has the sun decided to just shine down on my classroom now and angels sing? No. I have 30 students of all varying levels. Sometimes just having 50% of them on task is a victory! But I have worked really hard to shift much of the accountability over to them so THEY can make some choices in their learning but also be as engaged as possible. 

I am not a fan of teaching to the test, but I do tell my students that these skills will be tested. One of the biggest areas my kids struggle with (and they did last year too, despite being a year older than my current friends) is answering opened ended math questions. I guarantee this is the sort of thing that will stump them on the big summative test this spring. We have been practicing it since the first week of school and I'd venture to say at least 60% of my kiddos still struggle with how to do it well. It's a tough skill!

Yesterday I had my formal observation. It was during math. We started with a whole group lesson with a literature connection showing how placement of commas can determine the meaning or interpretation of the sentence. Then we shifted over to show how the placement of parentheses can change the outcome of a math equation. We did a couple together on the back of their exit slip and then they got into groups and worked on two problems on their chart paper. I forgot to take pictures of the completed charts when we were done :( 

But it was amazing how quickly some of the kids caught on to how to figure out where the parentheses should go in order to make sure the answer to the equation was right.

As we were beginning to wrap up and all of the students were back at their seats, I asked them a question that stumped most of them. A few of them thought they answer was yes (and they were right) but they could not articulate to me WHY.

And that is the struggle....that WHY is so darn important! When considering the two number sentences that were identical in the factors and operations used with only the answer being different (wherein the objective was to figure out where to put the parentheses to make the answer be correct), when I asked the students if the placement of the parentheses on the top equation was right, would the bottom one always be right too. They were lost. They could not figure that out at all. 

This tells me that despite working on these types of questioning techniques all year, we have more work to do. These friends are not very analytical. Of course....I was not analytical at 8 years old either. But this is not the time for a debate on whether or not standardized testing is developmentally appropriate either..... :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Shark Tank

It was a ton of fun being a "bloodthirsty shark" on EdSurge's Shark Tank last night! I had several friends who viewed and send me messages afterward and said I was way too good at being a shark ;) They told us to ask the hard I did! 

I am excited to see the playback whenever it is available. It's so different when you're part of it over being a viewer yourself. It was really fun though. I'm glad I had the chance to do it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#iTeachBecause & Shark Tank

This week, as a lead up to Valentine's Day, my Voxer PLN and I are tweeting out #iTeachBecause notes each day.

It all started with a conversation about how ECET2 conferences have teachers share #whyIteach and those tweet out during the conference with your picture. We didn't want to use that hashtag because it is known to ECET2 and we wanted to be more original. As a joke, I suggested #iTeachBecause since it was the closest and it is the one that stuck because its meaning is quite obvious.

We are tweeting out each day leading up to Valentine's Day in an effort to spread the LOVE and JOY of our profession instead of the negativity that so often plagues social media when it comes to teaching.

You can follow me @RayeWood and join in on the #iTeachBecause movement!

Also one week from today, EdSurge is having a Shark Tank about products for ELL populations. Yours truly is one of the sharks! I'm super excited and we'd love for you to join us! You can register here

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Love Bugs

Yesterday the kiddos who earned Fun Friday got to make Love Bugs. I found lots of templates on TpT but I didn't want to pay for them so I looked through my supplies and found some construction paper and pipe cleaners and googly eyes and we made our own. It took a little creativity but they turned out super cute.

This might be my favorite thing about 3rd grade. They are still innocent enough to enjoy these silly little things. :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Currently {February 2016}

Listening: I've been catching up on Voxer messages since I left school today. I am SO hooked on this app, seriously. My PLN has increased so much since winter break and I love the chats we have about any and everything.

Loving: At the end of the summer, I bought Currently in the Classroom on TpT and I absolutely love it. I look forward to it each month with my kids. They are finally really getting the hang of it and their answers are so cute sometimes.

Thinking: Normally I would NEVER gripe about lack of winter. I am NOT a snow all. BUT this rainy, gray crappy day thing is not working out for me! I want some snow at least so my kids can get outside and frolic.

Wanting: I hate living in Michigan from January - March when the sun disappears for much of that time. It's SO depressing to see gray out the window all the time.

Needing: Seriously, where is my grading fairy?? LOL Just when you think you are caught up.....

Swooning: Yep, after almost 16 years this man still makes me weak in the knees. When I'm down, he listens. When I have a crazy idea, he listens and lets me run with it. Last Thursday I text him and asked him to meet me after work. We went out on a date (during the week!) and it was just fun and carefree. Not too many people are willing to just drop everything like that.