Thursday, March 27, 2014

March Madness: College and Conflict


March Madness is such an appropriate title for this time of year. Of course, I love the NCAA basketball games, the "bracketology", and the friendly rivalries, but it is also kind of a crazy time of year with its own madness:  student behavior issues, tired teachers, lots of meetings, and long days!

Lately I have been dusting off some of my behavior interventions in preparation for the friendship spring fever that inevitably crops up at this time of year.  I have my Problem Solving card ready that I wrote about in my "Free Fish" post here.  I also created a Rumor Blocker reminder card for my upper grade students as a follow up to my Steps to Respect lessons in third, fourth, and fifth grades.

I use these cards to give as student resources following individual counseling sessions, mediations, or small group sessions dealing with friendship issues.  I will be adding both freebies to the Life on the Fly Store.

In addition, our school recently implemented a STAR ticket program as a positive reinforcement system (PBIS) to motivate students to make good choices.
I am the lucky TV personality that gets to call winning tickets on the news broadcast each Wednesday and monitor prize patrol outside of my office.  In addition, I started a new small group behavior intervention where students earn points for doing homework, earning STAR tickets, earning verbal compliments, attending daily check-ins with me, and making it throughout the day with no tallies.  They can then redeem them for one of the fun activities on my reinforcement prize menu (token economy system, anyone?!), which mainly consists of group activities we do together such as an iPad game lunch, recess games, or working on a technology project together.

I also decided to kick up the fun factor related to March Madness and created this bulletin board linking future college choices and geography with the basketball tournament. When you scan the QR code, it takes you to an updated NCAA tournament bracket.


I also found these great mascot sheets and shared them with my upper grade teachers so they could do a map search with their students on a rainy day during recess or as a filler activity before lunch or specials.  Happy Counseling! ~ Angela

Monday, March 24, 2014

Let's Get Virtual!

Last week I was able to share my "Beyond Career Day" presentation as part of the NC School Counselor's Association Webinar series. Although I found it a little odd to present with no face to face contact or audience feedback (I'm not used to that as a counselor!), it was a great experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it!  I had initially posted about this presentation after the NCSCA fall conference, but I added some middle and high school content for the webinar and wanted to share the newest version.  You may not be focused on career interventions right now with the EOGs and middle school transition fast approaching, but it will be a good resource to file away for summer and beginning of the year planning next school year.

One of my FAVORITE updated resources that I included is this website where you can go on virtual college tours at select campuses across the United States.  There are colleges located in each geographic region of the US, and enthusiastic college students take you on walking tours to see classrooms, residence halls, the library, athletic fields, and other important landmarks on each campus. I am planning on allowing my fifth graders to sign up for the college tour of their choice and let them go on a "virtual field trip" during lunchtime between now and the end of the year.  It will be a nice addition to my Career Cafe lunchtime speakers and could be an engaging activity for students at every school level.  Get virtual and let me know how those tours go!
Happy Counseling! ~ Angela

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Courage: A Specialist's Resource

This is Part Two of my COURAGE lesson post.  You can find Part One here.   I teach Kindergarten lessons every day and also have a rotation of lessons in upper and lower grades so I am ALWAYS looking for creative and fun ways to teach character traits, bullying prevention, social skills, and academic habits. I really strive to make my time with students memorable and meaningful while incorporating cooperative learning, art, literacy, and interactive discussion....whew!

For these courage lessons, I focused more on choices --- like doing the right thing even when others are not and trying new things--- rather than showing courage in the face of failure and making mistakes.  I used the video clip A Bug's Life for both the K-2 and 3-5 lessons, which many school counselors use.

Third- Fifth
My upper grades lesson starts out with a brief  A Bug's Life clip  as the hook. I ask the students to brainstorm what character trait they think was shown in the video clip. Then, I move on to the courage definition slide for pre and post data. Most of the time, older students have the definition down pat, but I like that it shows growth from my previous years' lessons focusing on that character trait.

Then, I introduce the Robert Frost quote:

We discuss what "taking the road less traveled" really means for students and then we talk about historical and current figures who would fit into that category.

Next is the fun part.  I put the students in teams and give them character dilemmas that could happen in elementary or middle school.  Each team has to come up with 3 or 4 possible choices for their assigned dilemma.  After we have finished, I show them an OPTIONAL video clip from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indiana Jones has to take a leap of faith and walk on a bridge that is invisible....if you are a child of the 70s or 80s, you will know what I am referencing! I happen to have this clip on a character education DVD that I have had for years, but you can also skip this part.

I made this pathway out of bulletin board paper and cut out feet so the class can share the different choices and pathways for each character dilemma previously discussed in their teams.  The person who makes the choice for each dilemma that is most courageous gets to wear the Indiana Jones hat. Gotta use props!!!

Finally, the students write specific ways they can show courage on "the road less traveled" at school and home on these footprints:
Kindergarten- Second

My primary grades lesson starts with the courage definition, as always, for my pre and post data. Then, we discuss historical, pop culture, and current figures who show courage. The discussion helps give students some context clues about what the definition could mean.

Next, we cut to the Bug's Life clip. I show it for less than three minutes so that I am following the Fair Use Copyright Law. After some discussion about Flick, Hopper, and the Princess, we apply courage to behavior at school (and a little at home) with pictures on the Smartboard.  I really emphasize trying new things such as food, sports, and games as a courageous behavior in this part of the lesson.  The kids come up to the board and interact with the Smartboard throughout our discussion.

Finally, the students create a work product comparing how Flick show's courage in the movie with how they show courage in their lives.  I included artwork and a descriptive sentence so it can be differentiated for different grade levels and students.

If you teach any specials at your school (like me!) or go into classrooms once a month (like me!), it's nice to have lots of different choices for character trait lessons.  I have added these resources to the Life on the Fly Store here in case they will be helpful to you.  All K-2/3-5 lesson plans, work products, and two Smartboard lessons are included with the Bug's Life Activity Packet.    Happy Counseling!  ~  Angela

Monday, March 10, 2014

Drop it Like it's Hot...... on Dropbox

I really should be on a commercial for Dropbox. I have my family using it, I have my co-workers using it, I even have my PLC collaborating with this tool.  So, when I saw that SCOPE -- the School Counselors' Online Professional Exchange--- needed a professional school counselor to write an article about how they use Dropbox, I naturally jumped at the chance.  If you don't know about SCOPE, created by Dr. Erin Mason, check it out here.  This free resource that features free technology tools is a great place to get ideas (and FREE is our favorite price!).  They also have a fantastic list of school counselor blogs and best practices for school counselor technology use.

 You can check out my Dropbox article by clicking on the image below.
                                   Enjoy and Happy Counseling! ~Angela

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dare to Make Mistakes!

Sometimes I think that Pinterest has ruined us all.  We can now create the perfect birthday party, organize the perfect children's craft, create perfect home decor in six easy steps, and find perfect outfits for every season or occasion imaginable.  Does the average person stand a chance anymore?! Now, don't get me wrong, I LOVE PINTEREST, but I think the push to do everything perfectly is starting to seep down to our children. I have never seen so much perfectionism and anxiety in my students as I have this year.  I worry that students' self-esteem and love of learning is being dampened by high-stakes testing and the pressure to perform ALL THE TIME.

So, I decided to conquer this concern during the month of March as I planned my COURAGE character trait lessons. I have written about courage before in my Character Education Remix post here.   However, I usually teach it from the angle of standing up for yourself or making good choices even when others don't.  This time I wanted to really focus on showing courage in the face of failure, in the face of imperfection.

My lesson was created around the book Beautiful....Oops!  by Barney Saltzberg.  If you do not already own this book, RUN (do not walk) to your nearest bookstore or library and check it out.  Or, you can purchase it here.  I actually bought this book for my niece and my daughter and then decided it was perfect for school, too.  

I presented this lesson to Kindergarten and first grades but differentiated with some optional activities so I could add rigor to the first grade lessons.  It would also be great for second grade. I started with my pre-survey to see how many students already knew the definition of COURAGE.  Students vote for the answer they think is the best definition at the beginning and the end of the lesson so I can note growth in their character trait knowledge (data!). 

With my first graders, I added the optional activity of giving a riddle and asked them, "What do a slinky, microwave, silly putty, fireworks, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookies have in common?"  Anyone, Anyone.....??? The answer is they were all made by MISTAKE!  I had jigsawed an article about all of these inventions and gave one laminated section of the article to each of my table groups. The students read the short paragraph about their one invention and then summarized what had happened with the whole class.  I really wanted to incorporate some reading comprehension into the lesson and using a nonfiction piece of literature worked great! Depending on reading levels, I had to help some groups more than others, which is why this activity could easily be transferred to second grade.

Next, we talked about mistakes and had some discussion about what they are and how students feel about mistakes. This discussion was critical because I made sure students mentioned mistakes they have made at school like writing a number backwards, reversing letters, reading a word incorrectly in a book, etc.  I even had them give me a thumbs up or thumbs down to tell me if they thought it was OK or NOT OK to make mistakes. 

Finally, I read Beautiful....Oops!  I loved hearing the students gasp as they saw how a ripped page or holes in the book had been turned into something amazing and beautiful. Seeing the author's perspective of mistakes and discussing his attitude towards them was really eye opening for the students.  Afterwards, we practiced turning "mistakes" I had made on the Smartboard into something new and exciting (like this line that was turned into a hat, mountain, and mustache).  All the while I was emphasizing how important it is to LEARN from mistakes and how they allow us to be more creative, better problem solvers, and more mentally flexible.
My final work product was for ALL the students to get to turn a "mistake" into something beautiful. Here is one of five versions of the template I created for students to complete as well as some of the student work and WOW is all I can say! From princesses, to our school building, to oceans and elephants, they far exceeded my expectations for the creative things they could make from a line, squiggle, or right angle.   You will notice on the last student work picture that I had them add the sentence, "I drew a ___________________." underneath their completed pictures so they could incorporate writing.

 I do have my Beautiful....Oops Activity pack available at the Life on the Fly Store...check it out here! The lesson plan, Beautiful Oops templates, a link to the "invention" article, and an emailed link to my 8-page Smartboard lesson are all included with the activity pack. I have to say it is one of my most favorite lessons that I have ever taught!

DARE TO MAKE MISTAKES and enjoy! Happy Counseling! ~ Angela

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Guest Blogger: Get Ready for Testing!

                          *Check out new vinyl at the Life on the Fly Store

 I'm starting a new series of guest blogging on Life on the Fly.  Collaboration isn't just a "buzz word" for me, it's what I live and breathe each day.   I want to share what counselors all across the state (and nation) are doing at their schools and give different perspectives of how you can implement an effective school counseling program. Maybe you have a great idea but don't have the time or desire to write a regular blog; this is your chance! If you would like to share a great idea and be a guest blogger, let me know.

Rebecca Atkins is a veteran and brilliant school counselor at Cameron Park Elementary School in Hillsborough, NC. She previously worked in Wake County and has been the school counselor of the year for NCSCA and Wake County. She has a blog connected to her great Cameron Park school website found here.

I am so excited to do a guest post here at Life on the Fly.  Angela and I know each other in "real life" so I am stoked to be able to that we can now connect blog-style.

With the increase in pressure related to standardized testing, I have doubled my focus on academic counseling and support.  In the past, elementary counselors didn't do too much with academics and seemed to learn towards the feelings side of things.  Well, my friends, the writing is on the wall and passing the test academic success is the number one things on everyone's minds. 

Over a two weeks span I am going to be starting academic groups for 51 students.  Whew- have I lost my mind?! Maybe! I run groups for 3-5 during lunch and will be having 3rd, 4th, and 5th academic groups every day except for Thursday (Lunch Bunch Day).  I have already talked about how I choose students and how we focus on goal setting over on my blog.  I thought over here on  Life on the Fly, we could talk about some of the fun activities that we do and even include a FREE PRINTABLE!

Adults aren't the only ones feeling a lot of pressure! s The kids are being crushed by the amount of pressure they are under.  This is in elementary school!  As part of our academic achievement group, we talk a lot about handling stress and pressure.  Of my 51 students starting the group, almost half had teachers rate handling stress and pressure as one of their top two areas of concern.  Because of this, we have 2 sessions related to managing stress.

How does stress affect our brain? Bottom line- stress is bad for our memory.  What is learning? A lot of remembering! To make this point we watch a YouTube video about scientific research into stress and memory.  We discuss why stress is bad for memory and how memory is related to learning.  The kids in the group are always really interested in this connection and eager to share their stresses. i ask students to write down things that cause them stress on a post-it.  While they are working, I divide the white board into four quadrants:  home, school, friends, and other.  When students have finished a post-it, they can place it in the appropriate quadrant.

Once our white board is full, we read them aloud -- stacking like items together -- and brainstorm ways to manage that stress.  As the students talk, I write their ideas on the board.  When we're done we have a list of ideas about managing stress.  I take a picture with my phone and print the picture to place in their group folder.

In our next lesson, we pinpoint a big stressor:  test anxiety.  Since this session is towards the end of the group, it usually takes place a few weeks before our big state-mandated test.  Test anxiety is on everyone's minds!  To make it fun -- we play a game! Here is your amazing FREE PRINTABLE! To play -- each person rolls a die and then completes the calming strategy listed.  When you've rolled that number you can cross out the picture.  First person to cross off 6 numbers wins! If you roll the same number twice, you get to practice that strategy again!

I hope you find these stress lessons helpful! For more information, please feel free to contact me at  Have a stress-free end of the school year!

     Awesome ideas, Rebecca! Enjoy and Happy Counseling! ~ Angela

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