Sunday, September 29, 2013

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Whew! I survived a very long week.
This past week was parent teacher conference week. This entails 2 half-days for students and 2 extra long days for teachers. It also means higher levels of stress, lots of extra talking, extra paper work, and sadly, extra comfort eating simply due to the out-of-whack/off-balance week. It also means extra stress on the family.
My husband was a huge help picking up my sons from school and entertaining them, while I stayed at school late. We had a funny moment as my oldest relayed information back to his teacher about why he did not do his homework until the next morning with me. He told his teacher his Dad could not help him since Mom got home so late, we did it right before school. She knew he had been home all afternoon with his Dad, so she questioned why he didn't work on it with his Dad. His clever response, "My Dad has not been in a school for a long time so he could not help me." Ha ha! Funny guy forgot to mention how Dad tried and he kept procrastinating!
For the most part, my conferences went very well. I had a few "Bite my tongue," "Are you serious?" "Who is in charge?" moments, I really cannot complain. I also learned a lot of interesting things from parents, and have made some adjustments already. It is amazing what you gain from a 20 minute chat with parents! I have a funny feeling most of them feel the same way, so I am thankful that our school system gives us this opportunity 2 times a year.
I still have a few conferences this week with our translator, but they will be during the day and will be a piece of cake. I really appreciate that our school recognizes that we need a chance to meet with all families, and have a translator who helps us reach out to our non-English speaking parents.
This year, behavior has really been an issue in my class. My biggest complaint is talking, which leads to not listening and not following directions. And yikes, transition times are killing me.
So, I have had to use some techniques I neatly packed away in my old teaching sack.
Rearranging Desks
Lately it is mostly due to some negative behavior amongst peers. Everyone has a right to learn and not feel threatened or like they are being teased. This has also became an important tactic to split up the chatty ones.
Assigning spots in line.
I had a small group who lingered back in the room or at the back of the line disregarding school rules of walking quietly. They felt it was catch up time and would walk in a herd down the hall. I also have some kids infringing on personal space and we actually ended up with a 4 boy pile up in the hallway. Having assigned spots has helped tremendously!

I revamped my schedule. I noticed that they are more distracted in the afternoons after lunch/recess and it was almost impossible to pull them in to our lessons. Our social studies lessons were being cut short. They are making it through science, but as 1 student reported they love science, it is fun.
My solution was to move my social studies to right after our language arts block, before lunch. We will at least get started on the lesson and at most have to close it up after recess.
But instead of walking right in to an academic lesson from recess, we will take a brief 15-20 minute break and complete our independent reading block. On Friday, we did not get the full reading time, but at least we got through the social studies lesson. I hate to sacrifice independent reading time, but I figure as we adjust they will settle down and our stamina will increase. They need the quiet time to recover from the highly social lunch/recess block.

I have switched science to the end of the day, since they are most interested in science. I also decided we would prep our notebooks in the last few minutes of class so we are ready to go right at the beginning of our next class. One student even came up with the idea of them being rewarded with a point for their student chart if they can stay focused, and getting to keep that point to start the next day. I thought it was a great day and totally went with it.
Points, what do you mean student point chart?
I am not a fan of token economies and I don't believe in rewarding students with candy or prizes for doing things that they should be doing because it is their job. However, as I am learning, that is not how they are being raised or what they are used to. They are used to having carrots (candy/prizes) dangled in front of them as motivators. Of course that means I am running in to issues.
They are not necessarily self-motivated or driven to do what is right because it is what I expect of them. I have some really great kids and we work together well individually or in small groups, but as a whole they are not encouraging each other to do their best. They are easily pulled in to negative situations/drama/distractions. Things that used to work are not working this year. So, I had to come up with some plans to increase our learning.
I read a great blog by Teaching With Style about Whole Brain Learning and teacher/student points using the Scoreboard. Check out her blog for some freebies or the owl themed free posters created by Teaching With Style here.
Since reading that blog, I noticed that other bloggers were writing about using similar techniques, a huge relief that I am not the only one facing dilemmas in the classroom!
It is working for me. I am praising good behavior and getting the class to pay attention to my expectations. They are also becoming self-aware and are making changes for the sake of their leaning, not just to get a prize. Of course, when I told them about the rules and what we would be doing they wanted to know what they would get if they won. {sigh} Well, you learn more. {not good enough} So I had to offer a little something.
If they have more points than me by recess they can skip the lap we all walk at the start of recess. I feel the lap is important for their health and fulfills our teacher directed physical education requirement, but I have to pick my battles right now.
If they have more points than me at the end of the day they can earn a paper link to our class chain and when the chain reaches the floor we will have a little celebration (game time, snacks, etc.) They can still earn links for compliments from other teachers. This was not happening and instead I was receiving negative comments when I picked them up from their special area classes and lunch, so I needed them to strive for keeping all their teachers happy.
I know adjusting behavior takes time and I am staying strong. I see glimpses of the light at the end of the tunnel. I am working to stay prepared and a step ahead to prevent disruptions in our learning. Perhaps that is why I was exhausted at the end of this week, reached for the snacks, and spent Saturday catching up on my DVR!
Going forward, I will keep charging ahead with the whole brain learning, make my social studies lessons more engaging, help them strive to be their best, and keep encouraging them to inspire each other with good behavior choices.
As for my own stress level, it is back to my workouts with co-workers and watching what I am eating!
Hope you have a great week and a week with great behavior from all your students!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Donors Choose Project

I have really been interested in using more technology in my classroom. I really want to use educational apps and encourage student creativity with technology but do not have an iPad nor the funds to purchase one. After thinking and debating, I decided to give Donors Choose a try. I submitted a request last week and received notification last night that my project was approved and posted. Yahoo!
Now, the awkward and uncomfortable part, asking for donations. I feel weird asking for money, but I know people are always looking for a way to help and I figure if someone is looking for a special project or a worthy cause they might decide to donate. Every donation until October 2nd will be matched at 100% up to $100. $1 = $2, $5 = $10, $10 = $20 and so on. So even a $1 donation will go a long way!
I will definitely be contributing and will be searching for some projects to contribute to. If you are interested in donating check out my project here.
Do you have a project you are trying to get funded?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Social Studies Mentor Text - Civil War

Happy first day of autumn! I can hardly believe it is September 22nd, and it seems impossible that we are almost through the first 9 weeks of my school year. I feel like time is evaporating.  
This is the first year, in a long time, that I have been responsible for teaching all of the subject areas to my students. Previously, I teamed with a co-worker and we split the responsibility of science and social studies. Since my best teacher teammate retired last year, I have been flying solo. 
I believe that students should have time with both subjects daily, and prefer not to teach one subject for a few weeks then teach the other. There are plenty of teachers who pull this off well, but it does not work for me. I also worry that my students lose touch with the content when we do not discuss the subjects daily. The downside is it is tough squeezing in all of the social studies and I am constantly working at the best way to teach all of the concepts. 
I always find myself wanting to tell all of the story behind the content so I get really in to the concepts. The kids fall in love with the stories too; they ask great questions, so I really have to watch the clock. 
The conundrum of time means that I have to be creative. One of the best solutions is to integrate social studies stories in to language arts time. This week I will use 2 books from one of my favorite authors, Patricia Polacco, to integrate the social studies curriculum. 
Civil War is still our main focus and I love the chance to tell stories for them to see the personal connection to a time they are finding hard to relate to. (I am so impressed with this groups' questions related to slavery, they really are flabbergasted at the concept of selling people and treating people like property. Their question of, "Whose idea was it to sell people in the first place?" gives me hope that bondage in our world may end if these kids have any say about it.) 
The first book we will read is, Pink and Say

We will discuss the plot, setting, and theme from the book. We will also use the story to review the confederates and union soldiers, their mission and what they were fighting for. 
I always emphasize this line from the book when reading it, "Touching the hand of Lincoln is symbolic for hope for a better future and a country without slavery." 
That line makes a great mentor text sentence for us to continue our discussion of structure. 

The other book we will read is, Just In Time Mr. Lincoln, where two young boys find themselves transported back in time to Antietam. 

The pictures in this book and the urgency expressed by the characters helps you feel the devastation of the era. This book clearly expresses how horrid war is, and that killing is not glorious. 
We will discuss story elements while reading this book, but also pull out the historical events from the Civil War. 
If we do not run out of time (we have 2 early release days this week and a mock writing test) I would really like them to create an acrostic poem using Lincoln. Ideally, I would love them to create them on the computers, but if time is tight we can write them out by hand. Read Write Think has an acrostic poem online tool activity that is user friendly. 
If you are looking for a video on Abraham Lincoln, I found one through neok12 that focuses on how he helps to fix the problems of our nation. 
In addition, I found a great resource with text connections and quizzes online. Check it out here. The activities are conducive to independent exploration or a small group exploration. 
What text do you plan to use this week in your classroom? Looking for some mentor text ideas? Check out the links at Collaboration Cuties

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Late to the Five for Friday party!

I tried so hard to link up yesterday to the Five for Friday party, but technology was shooing me away from my computer. I may be a little late, but still determined to join!

So happy to have our first standardized test done. Woohoo! CogAT done, check! All went well, no drama, no issues and we all made it through. 
It seems like this year we are flying and hardly have a chance to breathe, it has been 1 thing right after another. An email from my favorite AP summed it up well, "I was waiting to send this out when there was a lull in activity, but it seems there will never be a break. So here we go..." 

She is right. Up next, Parent Teacher conferences this week. I need to get moving on my reading and writing continuum reports for each student. They are electronic this year, which will speed up the process. This is the earliest we have held conferences and it just seems like it is too soon. Unfortunately not everyone signed up for meetings. I am wondering if our attempt to streamline and do things digitally is the reason. Hoping for a smooth week and no drama during conferences. 
Special Education. A word that can send people running and screaming. It brings up all sorts of emotions and varied reactions. Since becoming an educator I have learned to view special education differently, but isn't that always the case when you are more informed? The most phenomenal impact on me though was how it changed when I became a mother. 
We all want/envision/hope/dream that our children will become the next genius/president/Nobel Prize winner. We see the potential in our children and dream they will achieve great things. When someone sits across from you and tells you that may not happen without lots of effort and your child may need some extra support to be successful in school it can hit you hard. You might have had some suspicions and worries, but that information is still never easy to swallow, no matter how much you might have already known. 
I honestly think what made me a better teacher was becoming a mother, and more so having to face that my children will not be the class valedictorian. Don't get me wrong, I would never tell them that, and I encourage them to strive for being the best they can be, but I am realistic. I see where they struggle; I see that they are normal kids, and recognize that they have some weaknesses. Furthermore, I know that the schools can help them work with their weaknesses. So having a teacher say, "We need to evaluate your child for a learning disability." does not freak me out. Instead I am thankful they care enough and have noticed that something might be off, and that they can be helped. If my children were perfect geniuses I might have false expectations of other kids, and be unrealistic in what I believe they should/could do. 
So as a mother of a child in our special education program, I am striving to help my students the most I can. I also try to help their parents understand that serving their child through special education is not the end of the world. They will not be labeled by their peers, nor will they receive a second-rate education. I am prepared, I can be empathetic, and I have experienced the process in their shoes already. 
This week I had to help break the news that we need to pursue some more testing. I had to help them cope with accepting that special education may be in their child's future. But most of all, I let them know that their child will be receiving the best education possible, and it is important we do not turn the other way because their success is our goal and I want the child to see that they are capable of great things.  
This week I also had to sit and have someone tell me that my son qualifies for support through special education. I was so thankful that he is going to get the help he needs in speech. I am thankful we are addressing this now, so he may be more successful when he starts kindergarten. I know this is the right direction to go because he will receive fewer services if we address this issue now instead of ignoring it. Since he is not my first child to go through the evaluation process and I worked collaboratively with special education I was well prepared for the news. Once gain, thankful that my county offers a program to support my children's needs. Early intervention is the key and I know in a few years both my sons will be stronger students because of the services they received. 
I recently read a blog about and I decided to explore the site. I signed up and I am in love with the on-line lesson plan book. It is a total bargain at $12 a year, and you can earn free months if you get colleagues to sign up. I am terrible at writing down lesson plans once the year gets started. I make plans, get going, and with all the craziness the last things to be recorded are my actual plans. Little bits and pieces get written down, but most of the time my plans are random bits. The nice part is you can print lesson plans for the day when you have to leave sub plans. If you are required to list standards with your lessons they have all the standards available. You can also attach files to your plans, perfect if you work on files on your home computer and then need to access/print them on your work computer. Perfect solution for attaching all my great Teachers Pay Teachers purchases since they are always too big for me to email to my work account. Here is a little picture of one of my plans - I only wrote a brief amount for my lesson since it was the introduction day.

An absolute perfect planner for me!   
What have you done this year that has been a perfect solution for you?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ahoy mateys! Yo ho ho, it is talk like a Pirate Day!

Yo ho ho mateys! After a few days of standardized testing and assessing our cognitive abilities, I decided to offer my young shipmates a chance to play around like pirates today. Of course, my blogging friend Bethany deserves lots of credit for the inspiration, instead of talking in passing, I embraced the day and made some activities for my little mates. Thank you Bethany for the reminder to seize the day and have fun like a pirate!
Check out Bethany's blog for her awesome events today and links to the other shenanigans around the shipyard.
This morning the pirates aboard my ship were sent on a mission to find a pirate partner. Then they received the "message in a bottle" in which they had to do some decoding. The fun Hello font by Jennifer Jones required some serious map work since some of the characters are very similar.  Always Love Me a chance to encourage common sense thinking! Love me more a chance to ask, "Does that makey sense?"

The secret message let them know that today was "Talk Like a Pirate" day and they should study their spelling words in their best indoor pirate voice.
I was really impressed with the teamwork to unveil the message and the quiet pirate practice. Too bad me was out of gold, they certainly needed some booty rewards!

To continue on our mission to find some pirate fun,  the kids got some time to spend with a few pirate mates while practice with their decimals.
They played a quick pirate math game on a quest to be first to unbury the treasure.

Using a treasure map as a game board, they took turns saying decimal numbers in their best pirate voices and wrote decimals in expanded form. They also compared some decimals and shivered me timbers finding equivalents. All were spared from walking the plank, and had fun speaking pirate math.
Want to join in the pirate fun? No booty necessary, download the game for free from my TPT treasure box, don't forget to shiver me timbers by leaving some pirate love!

After a week riding the rough seas, this was a fun way to learn. It was great seeing the kids, almost too cool for school, working together and having some yo ho ho fun!

Don't worry, there is still plenty of pirate booty to be found! Try it tomorrow with some of the great ideas linked up at Bethany's pirate party!
Thanks to "My Cute Graphics" for the cute pirate pictures and Jennifer Jones "Hello Fonts" for the fun characters and pirate font! Love the circle from Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Designs.  Thank you to Bethany for the cute Pirate Party picture.

What sort of treasure did you explore today?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Stress and Trying to Stay Afloat

The school year is full swing and I can feel it! It is always hard to keep up with the swing of everything after a summer of doing things at my own pace. A summer of being caught up and taking care of the smaller things is definitely over. Now I feel like I am running behind on everything. Laundry is piling up again and I have to prioritize everything, unfortunately that means some things get left undone or half-done. This week was particularly challenging.
A 2 week long on-call for jury duty is an evil joke to play on a teacher. I am sure no one can really give up 2 weeks of their life so easily, but writing sub plans for 2 weeks is not fun in any aspect. Luckily I only had to report on 1 of the days, and had to call in on the rest. The day I missed turned out to be the right day to miss too, because some major classroom drama unfolded. My wonderful administration swooped in to remedy the situation so that I returned to a better scenario.
I am still on call this week, but have my fingers crossed that I won't have to report since we start standardized testing this week, 3 days of the CogAT. (Fun!)
My body let me know it was not so thrilled with the amped up activities and decided to put me on alert. The signals were received loud and clear and I have been slowing down to recover. I spent Saturday in bed, sleeping to recover from some of the physical exhaustion. I know my brain needed the rest and although I am behind on some house chores, it was just one of the things I had to do so I can keep going.
One of the ways I am keeping up with my lesson plans is using  I can work on them from home and school. I really love that I can attach documents to my plans and they have the standards available to attach to my plans. This past week I printed off my plans for the sub, a definite time saver! If you are looking for a new lesson plan book check it out.
I know I cannot do everything, so I must prioritize and take care of the bigger things and most important things. I want to keep going with the blog, but it is unfortunately on the lower end of the priority list.
Case in point is that I cannot finish this post without being interrupted by my own kids. Usually I can sneak in a little time to myself, but this morning that is not going to happen.So to prevent upset feelings and a rise in anxiety in the house I have to cut this short. My youngest is trying to be patient with me but his hunger and desire for pancakes is not going away while I type.
So until the next time, take care!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Science Interactive Notebooks

I made it my goal to use interactive notebooks this year. It requires some up-front planning and organization (all good things), and I am extremely happy with how things are going.
So far I have learned that, I have to train the kids to glue with less glue. And unfortunately they need to cut our faster. Because they are slower working, I am saving set up time and spending more time on content by pre-typing many of the essential notes and when possible they glue in pages in advance of the lesson.
The students then spend the majority of time adding key details and underline/circle/highlight key details that they feel they need to pay closest attention to. Instead of waiting for them to copy, or hoping they write down notes, I am able to discuss concepts in more depth in the short 35 minute period we have for science. As we move past key concepts, I think the notebooks will also give us time for labs. Deep down I hope they will become more proficient at searching for information when looking up answers.
We have interactive textbooks so I use their workbooks to practice close-reading techniques. I am hoping that the interactive notebooks, the labs, and the close reading of text will results in more retention of concepts and greater knowledge. I know I have won 1 girl over, because she said, "Wow, I like science this year!"
On my end I am planning and creating like a mad scientist! I want the content in their notebooks to be valuable so I am researching and creating notebook materials that will add to their learning. I know that I won't have to put in this much time next year, instead I will be able to tweak my notebooks. In the long run, all this work is worth it!
This weekend I finished up my animal and plant cells packet. It includes cell diagrams, graphic organizers, compare/contrast charts, and a quiz.
Usually I have my students draw (copy) a picture of a cell, but some never finish or they take forever to finish. Instead, I will give them a pre-made picture, they can color it, but adding the picture to their notes will not eat up my teaching time, instead it will be a more productive lesson. I bought the clip art from Poppydreamz Digital Art and added the labels. They will receive a sheet with the lines and the terms will be at the bottom for them to attach to the cell.

Before we leave for my in-laws today I am trying to get my plant classification unit completed, but I am not sure that will happen. During the hour-drive hour I am going to try to draw out the charts and visuals I want to add. I am not an artist, so it might be a complete disaster, but I am willing to try.
Here is a picture of one page form the unit that I have already completed.
Non vascular plants with flaps of plant divisions.
Students will select pictures to add to their notebooks. 
I plan to have the kids look for images when we go to the lab and show them how to copy an image and print them for their notebooks.

I have a motto in my room, "If they take the time to print it, take the time to read it." The same goes for their notebooks, if we take the time to add it, take the time to read it/review/use it. I am hooked on these notebooks and am working hard to make them for my students so we maximize our learning time.
What have you done with interactive notebooks that you find useful? What is your favorite notebook activity? Want more ideas? Check out the great Back to school Interactive notebook links at 4mulaFun
Interactive Notebook Linky Party
Back to School Interactive Notebook Linky Party