Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 6th 2012

Summer is here again!!  Yay!  My favorite time of year, late spring/early summer.  Not only as a teacher, but just because of the weather and nature.  Where I live everything is lush, green, beautiful this time of year.  I expanded my garden this year and am anxious for my zinnia and snapdragon seeds to get going.  I just realized I left my sprinkler this morning on the seeds, so hopefully they benefit from my oversight.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ups and downs 9 weeks in

Balance.  It seems most times in our lives we are struggling to find balance.  For instance the last time I blogged it was with one day to go before students arrived to school. Now time has flown and I found myself struggling to find time to reflect and blog even once let alone regularly.  The normal hectic school schedule has set in.  And before I know it, we are ending the first 9 weeks!
However, I do really want to share how the year has gone so far with the balls. This year I have 123 students 41 freshmen and 82 sophomores and the balls have gone over pretty well.  On the whole students seem to like them.  The balls are more colorful and invite more movement.  It is natural to allow yourself to roll with the ball and stretch out at times rather than constantly fight the movement of the ball and remain upright.  Especially if you are someone who is flexible, has any nervous energy, or are 15-16 years old!  Honestly, most of the time the movement doesn't bother me as long as students return upright and it is a one-time movement while I am teaching.  If it is an obvious distraction then redirection is necessary.  At times there is some pretty regular, rhythmic bouncing by a number of students during class.  It isn't really all that distracting as long as it doesn't seem to spread.  At times it does spread,...kind of like a yawn.  One student will start with a small bounce, then will gradually bounce a little higher, so then the students around him/her will begin their own bouncing.  So, I do have to stop occasionally and ask students to settle down.  Sometimes though I will see their bouncing as a que that they need to physically move, so I will tell them all to take 5 big bounces so we can expel some of that nervous energy and move on with the lesson.  This seems to work well and they quiet down again as we continue class.
In conjunction with the minor distractions I noticed that for the first four weeks, the only time I saw a student use a chair was in a few classes where I had to have three students at a table.  A chair is necessary at those times because three balls are just too wide to fit at one table.  And so that was the way it went for a few weeks.  Everyone sitting on balls except for a few students in a few larger classes.
Now though, some students have begun to switch out the balls for the chairs when they come into the room.  I think the old adage is true that people want what they don't have.  The classroom seems to be no different. For instance in another classroom at Norris a fellow high school teacher has all chairs and only one ball, so the students fight for who gets to sit on the ball.  Recently in my class it seems that the opposite has started.  Some students want to sit on the chairs rather than the balls.  I know for a select few there are injuries that make the chairs much more comfortable than the balls.  The balls do require your core muscles to work more and you need to maintain posture yourself rather than relying on the back support of a chair.  This constant muscle tightening can be uncomfortable if you have a pre-existing back injury.  Freshmen and sophomores seem like they would be too young for back problems, but a few of them do have daily back pain. this point I am debating on where to go from here.  There is not enough room for both the balls and the chairs, so taking out 5-6 chairs each period and the shuffling that has started to happen between periods of both the balls and the chairs has become a bit of a disruption and has made it more difficult for students to walk around the room.  The room is already crowded with the large tables and the balls, so to add extra chairs just compounds the problem.  I do not want to move the chairs out though, as I know if will be more difficult to move them again and get them back should the balls not work out for the full year.  At this point I have a feeling I will be placing more rules on allowing students to pull out chairs prior to class.  The disruption and pulling out of chairs and the rolling around of the balls has become more than it needs to be.

On another note it is rather interesting when people enter the room and see the balls on the tables.  Some people have a tendency to lean on them or flop on them chest first and roll on the table top.  It is funny to watch students react this way to the balls, but it is even better when it is a well respected high school teacher.  I don't know what it is about the round shape of the balls but it is as if they are inviting people to give them a hug.  These 'hugs' while humorous to watch tend to demolish the feeble foam plate holding the ball in place on the table.  Inevitably when the person leaves the ball then slowly rolls off the table and I am left looking at what is left of the plate now flattened to a pancake.  So rather than replenishing the supply of ball stands and tossing foam plates into the landfill each week, I was trying to do my civic part and recycle them for as long as I could.   At first I was using masking tape to tape the plates back together.  These repairs would typically happen about once a week, usually on Friday afternoon so the ball stands were standing tall for Monday morning.  However, these repairs were obviously not a long term fix.  Some of the luckier plates only required a few strips of tape, but at times the worst casualties required tape all the way around the plate and even stacking two of them together when one was too far broken to hold up the ball on its own.

 Okay, so at what point is it more cost effective to replace the plates than purchase the tape it takes to maintain them?  Then, the idea of what to do with all the ice cream bucket lids I have in my cupboard came to me!  Those would work perfectly for the balls rather than the now downtrodden taped foam plates.  So, now, the ice cream bucket lids with exotic titles such as Chocolate Chip and Cookies and Cream are the official ball stands for room S-8.  The balls continue to be 'hugged' when newcomers enter the room, but the rather sickening crunch of the foam is gone and so is the constant triage with the masking tape.  The ball huggers leave and the balls stay neatly balanced in the lid on the table top!

Plus those ice cream bucket lids are so much classier than taped foam plates!  =)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

1 day to go!

 Well here we are, the last day of summer before students come tomorrow.  I have some mixed emotions about tomorrow's first day of school.  Any other teacher out there will agree with me that not many days of the year compare with the first day of school and the roller coaster of emotions that lead up to and accompany that first 8 hours.

Excitement,...dread,... and everything in between.  The emotions with 1 day to go, typically have a wide range and occasionally come in mixed bunches that don't often pair up.  Emotions such as excitement followed immediately by dread, with some panic at, "What am I forgetting?!"  Sometimes feelings of disappointment that the summer 'To-do list' didn't get done, coupled with excitement of seeing former students and meeting new ones with a little of Cannon's 'flight response' to try and capture the most of the last fleeting moments of summer.  On the whole many emotions seem to come together more naturally; fear and anxiety are often found together.  Sometimes panic and nausea are thrown in on the side, depending upon the individual and his inherent and learned behavior to the stimulus.  Some emotions such as exuberance and jubilation match up with a little euphoria and giddiness thrown in.
If you step back and think about it for a moment, emotions are awesome when you consider their power in our lives.  Consider how many decisions you make each day based upon how you're feeling, or how that particular decision will make you feel?

Today though, with 1 day to go until school starts, I am feeling more on the excited-thankful-calm and slightly nervous side.  We had open house last night in the high school, which is typically geared toward freshmen and new students.  Upperclassmen are welcome to attend as well, but not many do, (their last free non-school week night probably shouldn't be wasted by going to school!)   So as a renewed freshman teacher (I taught English 9 four years ago) I met some of the incoming freshmen last night at open house.  It is always interesting to meet these youngsters and see their energy and social skills in action for the first time as a high schooler.  It is a night of anticipation and excitement as everyone makes their way back to school for another year.  The potential is there and everyone can feel it.  And, I am happy to say, the students I met last night all had similar emotions when I met them and they noticed the exercise balls in the room.  A common response I heard was, "We get to sit on balls?! Cool!"  "YES!!"  I thought to myself.  They can definitely feel the potential, and so can I.  After seeing their initial response and riding that brief wave of affirmation, it was interesting to watch them as they contemplated the idea of sitting on balls all year.  A few students, I'll admit didn't seem to waiver from the enthusiasm, which I found encouraging, since we are in here for the next 9 months.  I may need to call on those enthusiastic individuals if the tide becomes rough at some point in the year.  A few students though, you could see were considering what a year on balls for chairs would REALLY look like.  Not that I saw dread or fear, although one student mentioned she would probably fall off on the first day, but perhaps a little quizzical, as if they aren't sure how the balls will impact the class as a whole.  Will the students who seem to have behavior issues take the balls and run with them, causing chaos and uproar, so the class resembles the ball pit at McDonald's?  Or, will the theory hold true that the balls require more energy to sit upon, thereby increasing students' focus, creating the ideal classroom setting that all teachers with 1 day to go pray for:  a productive class where everyone is working quietly with sunshine streaming in and birds singing outside the window.  Hmmm, I have a feeling that the days to come in the 2011-2012 school year could see a little bit of both...but for right now, I am enjoying the preparation of this day and the potential of what tomorrow will bring.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

11 days and counting...

 As we head toward the start of school thoughts, dreams, and prayers become focused once again toward school.   School starts in 11 days, the balls are all blown up and ready and waiting for students to come.  I am currently planning out my bulletin board, and I have my first semester curriculum pretty well planned out,..but I do have some trepidations as we draw closer to Day 1.  I know the schedules are not quite finalized, they probably won't be done for another week.   But when I check my class numbers I currently have one section with 35 students in it. Hmmm... Interestingly, my first concern isn't necessarily teaching that many students at one time, although it does concern me a little.  My first thought is I do not have 35 balls or room for 35 balls at the tables in my room.  Visions of ball, chair, ball at each table are coming to mind as I picture housing that many students in one room as well as four bodies to a table that is best suited for two to a table.  35 really isn't feasible with the size of my room and the tables I have.  However, my faith in the scheduling powers that be (Shirley) is fairly strong.  I know I won't have 35 students in one class, but I do not know just how many less than 35 I will have.  So the thoughts, dreams and, definitely the prayers, will continue.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Exercise balls

my room during the summer before the balls
So, the talk of incorporating exercise balls into my classroom as chairs for the last 15 months has now become a reality.  The time to talk about it isn't over yet, by any means.  I am sure there will be many comments made when teachers and students come into my room and realize they are sitting on balls instead of chairs.  It will be an interesting change considering the chairs I have now are actually very nice chairs as far as school materials.  The chairs I currently have are padded and the backrest reclines a little, so students love them compared to the metal and hard plastic goldenrod colored chairs in all of the other rooms.  Overall, my room is pretty comfortable with carpeting, oak laminate computer tables that seat two instead of individual desks, and subtle color on the walls.  In some ways I feel like I am rocking the boat by adding the balls as chairs.  Students in the past have done a fair job at taking care of the chairs because they realize their other option is the plastic goldenrod chair.

So, this year with the exercise balls, could be interesting in how the balls will change the dynamics of the room.  The balls I am using are two sizes to help cater to the different heights of students.  Half of the balls are 65cm and the other half are 75cm.  Depending upon the student's height depends upon what size ball they will be most comfortable sitting on.  The 65cm size is recommended for individuals 5'6"-6'0" and the 75cm for 6'2"-6'8".  Now, in looking at those heights I must say we do not have giant people in Nebraska.  Not many of my students fit the 6'2"-6'8" range, probably only one or two a year, but in conducting research many sources ( CORRECT FITBALL SIZE)  recommend a larger ball rather than smaller.  And in trying to determine exactly what size balls to order in order to best fit the classroom, I thought going with the larger size would be a better idea.  I am also assuming that I will need to pump up the falls somewhat frequently in order to maintain the correct size.  So I thought by buying larger sizes I should give myself some added room for error, and a larger ball is probably much more comfortable than a ball that is too small.  No one enjoys sitting in a chair for long when your knees are above your hips, so I wanted to make sure that didn't happen in my room with the balls.  My goal is to have students use more muscles when sitting in my classroom, not to make them uncomfortable.

So, last week 8 boxes of TKO exercise balls arrived in my classroom thanks to  Each ball came with it's own little hand pump to blow it up, so I enlisted some recruits to help me blow up the balls.  With the promise of a trip to a local pool in exchange, I took my two children and a couple of their friends to school to begin the process.  The instructions mention blowing up the ball 80% initially and then waiting 24 hours to blow it up completely.  This recommendation allows the material to stretch properly in order to reach the correct size and to maintain the correct size over time.  So, we cracked open all the boxes, took out 28 balls, and began pumping.  I must admit it was tiring work and the kids did great at blowing up the balls even while their biceps were whining and their triceps were screaming.  So, we now have 28 balls sitting on 28 chairs blown up 80%.  Next week will be the trip out to school to blow them up the rest of the way followed by an afternoon at the pool.
Hunter blowing up a 75cm ball
Ian's enthusiasm is obvious!
The girls still smiling!

80% of the way there!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


16 years ago today I married my husband.  The day started off chilly, and misty with an occasional drizzle.  My grandma who had flown in from Mesa, Arizona was freezing.  Growing up in Kansas and Nebraska, she had remembered Nebraska summers as hot and humid, and so had packed accordingly.  However, June doesn't always act like summer.  She, my favorite aunt Pam, and I woke early and headed out to find some breakfast while the rest of the family slept.  We found a small family cafe in town and snuggled ourselves into a booth.  I remember distinctly thinking how special this morning was.  Not only was it the day I would marry the man I would spend the rest of my life with, but it was sharing time with family that I didn't often have the opportunity to spend time with.  This breakfast outing was just the beginning...