Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Power Of Positivity

This is the apple container that currently houses all of the Nerds candy in my classroom.

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

A few months ago, my fourth graders were involved in another highly engaged discussion when I threw at them a very challenging question. As I waited for my students to think about the problem, I began to contemplate if the assignment was too challenging.   As educators, we have all heard it many times before; a rigorous classroom will produce higher performing students, but had I gone too far this time? Had I finally delivered a lesson far beyond their capabilities?

I remained patient for a few seconds as the class pondered in silence and then a shaky hand went up a few desks back. The two-pigtailed little girl made me smile as she recited the answer I was waiting to hear. I was so proud of her for answering such a challenging question and it was at that very moment that I realized that my students’ capabilities are only limited by my expectation. Benjamin Bloom, himself, would have given her answer a standing ovation. My smile soon faded as I heard a voice in the class say, “What a nerd.” The little girl’s smile also vanished as her intelligence was discouraged by a fellow classmate.

As an adult, nothing bothers me more than when a person is discouraged by their peers for going above and beyond the call of duty. Being an “over achiever” is sometimes seen as a negative thing by some people, when it should be encouraged.  This behavior is evident in a lot of people’s reactions towards other people’s success and as a society, we are so quick to bash the person who stands out in a positive way, than provide words of praise for their continuous effort to grow.

This reminds me on how excited I used to get about my Science fair projects, but nothing used to dishearten me more than when my own peers made fun of such activities. Making comments like how stupid it was to participate in such time-consuming school rituals was so unnecessary. They did not know that I was so excited about being involved in the fair that I used to start my projects at least a year in advance.  Yup, total nerd alert right here.

Anyhow, I came home that night and wondered for hours on how I can change the culture in the classroom where a little girl can never get dispirited for knowing more than her peers.  My frustration reached its peak when I thought of how unfair it was for that little girl in my classroom to feel the way she had and it seriously brought me to tears when I realized that since she is a regular Honor Roll student, that she had probably experienced a lot of similar situations and will continue to do so for many years to come.

So, I sat down and started to think of how I can make being called a nerd a cool thing in my classroom? How can I make it where a fourth grade student that is being challenge with seventh grade content material be proud of the fact that she got the answer right? What can I do, as an educator, to create an environment so positive that you would want to be called a nerd?

Later that evening, while grocery shopping with my Mother, I still could not help but feel frustrated at the thought of a child being teased for being smart. Going through the aisles, I came across the Valentine candy and my eye caught a bag of mini sized Nerds candy packets and it hit me! I figured out a way to make being called a nerd in my classroom a cool thing.

The next morning, when the first child answers a tough question, I looked at him and said, “Wow, I just love it when a person is a nerd and knows such a hard answer. You, my dear, deserve a Nerd.” I tossed a mini packet of Nerds candy his way.

Yes, incentives work, but my goal was not just to give out candy with this project. My goal was to turn an insult into a positive phrase. Today, I am very happy to announce that being called a nerd in my classroom is not only a cool thing, but a titled more sought after than any other award. My students are proud of being able to answer tough questions.

As educators, we will come across a lot of misbehavior over the years, but what we need to always do is get creative with how we react to certain actions.  Our tone and our comeback need to be in a less authoritative voice and more of a kid friendly message that makes them understand that certain things are not appropriate.   The power of turning such dissenting phrases into a positive title makes it one of the best incentive I have ever incorporated into my class.  I will always have a high expectation on my students’ academic and social skills, but the expectation I have on myself for creating an environment that is safe for all of the students will remain higher.

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Five Things Every Home Office Needs

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

Whether you are a Teacher or a Freelance Writer, having a home office is a very important part of your career. As the co-owner and founder of Opal E Event Planning LLC and a full time elementary school teacher, I have found that my home office is a crucial part of my success. My “organized mess” keeps my working environment structured and in its own way motivates me to get creative. Here are five things I feel that every home office needs.

1) Reference Material: This includes book, journals, studies, and any professional resources that are relevant to job.  I like to also keep binders of professional articles that are relevant to my career.  Unpack some of those college textbooks, too. If you took a class in college that is relevant to your current career, then the text book will have some valuable resources for you to reference too over the years.

2) Office Supplies: You’d be amazed on how much paperclips, staplers, and tape I go through on a regular basis. Knowing that I will use these particular items also reminds me to keep an eye out for any discounts that may take place. Little tip: The back-to-school sales are a great time to replenish your home office supply list.

3) Clear Thinking Space: Make room for your random thoughts. This can include a bulletin board, cork board, or even a dry erase board. Make sure you’ve got some type of visual aid where you can collect random thoughts as you go.

4) Organization: Even though it is your personal space, make sure you organize on a consistent basis. I’m guilty of this one, but the more time you invest in filing things back and labeling the correct material, the less time you’ll waste later when you need to quickly located that very important item. You also will not spend money repurchasing items that you already have, but cannot find. Wasting time and money should never be your goal!

5) Internet/High Speed Connection: Make sure that your home office has a few available outlets for your chargers, phone, fax, laptop, etc.  I learned this the hard way when I first decided on which room in the house was going to have the fortunate title of being my home office. Taking care of these technical items will help enhance your home office and increase your ability to work productivity.

Your home office will go through a lot of phases over the years.  It is not only the place that should motivate your creative juices to stream to new heights but also create an environment that’s aligned to your personal taste and style. Make it efficient!  Make it professional! Most importantly, make it your own!

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Earth Day Ideas For Teachers

My students made these awesome bird houses for Earth Day.

My students made these awesome bird houses for Earth Day by reycling their milk cartons from lunch.

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

As a teacher, I love celebrating Earth Day because it is so vital for my students to understand the importance of being environmental friendly. Here are some great ways to encourage your students to reuse, reduce, and recycle, regardless of grade level.

Lower Elementary

  • Reuse: Have each student create an Environmental Social Contract that she or he can take home to share with their family. The contract can list three things they can do to help the environment. For example, turn off lights when not in the room, shut the water off when you’re brushing your teeth and never throw trash on the ground.  Send a newsletter to the parents, asking them to have a discussion with their children regarding Earth Day and the importance of creating Environmental Social Contracts.
  • Plant a Tree: A great project for the younger students can begin with learning about the plant life cycle.  Purchase a package of tree seeds from your local nursery and have every child plant a seed in a cup. Have the students water the seed for the next couple of months in class. During this time, the students can monitor and measure growth. Have class discussions on all that is needed to grow plants. Once the plants start to sprout and the weather is a little warmer (for all of you Michiganders), have the students take their trees home to plant in their backyards.  This project will give you a great opportunity to incorporate a Science take home lesson. Teachers can demonstrate the different parts of a plant, photosynthesis, and even have students do a reflective piece in Language Arts. I love those cross-curriculum moments!

Upper Elementary

  • School Garden: Your school can begin a school garden.  If a community garden seems like too much of a commitment, you can have your students and parents plant flowers around the school community, instead. Planting flowers will brighten up the school and give a great opportunity for your parents to get involved.
  • Paper-Mache: Here is a great way to recycle old newspapers. You don’t have to be an art teacher for your students to make a fun paper-mache project. This project can cross curriculum with Social Studies by making a globe or even prepare for a class play by making masks.  Send a letter to your class parents, asking them to donate old newspaper and before you know it, you’ll be ready for crafting.

Middle School

  • Community Clean-up: Students in grades six to eight can help with more hands on projects like community cleanup.  A few years ago, my students helped transform an abandon alley that had not been cleaned in over twenty years. The transformation was remarkable. The work that the students were doing was so powerful that members of the community came out to help us clean the area.  This is a great service learning opportunity to add to your lesson plans.  When the students come back to class, have them write a reflection on how their actions can motivate other members of the community.
  • Bird Boxes: Have your students reuse their milk/juice boxes and reconstruct them into bird houses.  This can be done with a multiple of other household items that would regularly be tossed away.  All you need is some scissors and a bag of bird seeds and you’ve got yourself a great lesson.

High School

  • Recycling: Start a recycling program with your students. Raise funds to purchase a few recycling bins to locate all over the building. Make sure you place one in the lunch room. You would be surprised to discover how many soda cans do not get recycled during the typical school lunch hour.
  • Compost:  Having a school compost bin can go a long way, especially if your school donates it to a local farmer or your school’s garden.  The students can creatively decorate the bin and encourage the school-community to get involved with their mission.

College Students

  • Community Hours: College students are always looking for creative volunteer opportunities. Some, especially those that are part of Greek life, are also required to do a certain number of volunteer hours for their membership. Check out local organizations that have multiple projects taking place in your area and get involved!
  • Paint Tires: Reuse those abandon tires near the local elementary school and turn them into colorful flower pots. Paint the tires with bright paint, get a few bags of soil, some already bloomed flowers and you’ve got yourself a great opportunity to brighten a community. Partnering the college students with the elementary students would be an even better addition to an already awesome project.  Talk about positive role models!

Whether you are painting tires or cleaning up a local park, the ideas are endless when it comes to celebrating Earth Day with your students. These projects are creative and fun. Most importantly, they will give your students the opportunity to understand the importance of taking care of the environment.

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