Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's Time for Time Off!

Well, my lovely readers, I made it through the first part of the year at my new school, and it was A-MAH-ZING!

Yes, there were some stressful times, but overall I feel very lucky. Part of that has to do with my awesome assistant teacher! We both drink tea on the reg, so I wanted to give her a tea-themed gift for the holidays! I decided to make a tea-wreath:

 First, take a cardboard box and trace a circle (I used the rim of a mixing bowl) and use a box cutter to cut it out. Cut a smaller hole in the center of the larger circle.

Cover the cardboard in colored paper.        Hot glue clothespins and decorate!

               Pinch the gift recipient's favorite teas onto the clothespins! 

To celebrate the end of 2013 (and the holiday season), I felt it was fitting to throw my students a fabulous party! Of course, I couldn't just give them a party...

A month or so ago, one of my students asked me if the class could "earn" a party. I thought about it. And thought about it some more. At first, I thought maybe they could earn a party by making sure everyone returned their homework, or collecting compliments from other teachers. But then I thought, those are things they should just be plain DOING without needing a reward for it!

Finally, it hit me! I wanted to reinforce some sort of academic skill. Something that we are practicing A LOT this year in math is showing our work and explaining our thinking. So that brought me to:


Students have the opportunity to earn a total number of points by the end of the month. If they get to that number, at the end of the month: PARTY TIME!

We began by saying they needed to get 60 points by the end of December (right before break) to have a party. Two mornings a week, we set out a "Problem of the Day" for students to solve, making sure that they followed the points guidelines to get the maximum amount of points.

Glad to say, WE DID IT! The kids voted on a movie/pajama party. I decided that because it was right before break, I would pump up the party vibe:

Of course, I wore my PJ's and fun fuzzy socks!
We made hot chocolate with marshmallows and added mini candy cane stirrers!
 I love popcorn, but I wanted to give them something extra-fun to snack on during the movie, so I made Apple Cinnamon and Caramel Chocolate Chex mix.

I bet you are wondering what movie we watched? I'll give you a hint:

Yup. Elf. BEST HOLIDAY MOVIE EVER. And it's rated PG, so totally appropriate for the kiddos!

I am proud of my students for accomplishing this goal, and so much else, during these past months at school. I am looking forward to what lies ahead in the coming year...

But let's be in the moment. I am REALLY looking forward to a relaxing vacay! My fiance and I are spending a few days at an inn on Maryland's Eastern Shore, followed by visiting friends and family in D.C. and NYC.  

Have a relaxing winter break, everyone! Happy New Year, and see you all in 2014!!!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's A Marshmallow World!

It's our first SNOW DAY! My alarm went of this morning and I was sure I would have to drive my butt to school, that the weather forecast was a bust, but I checked my email and NO SCHOOL!

My first reaction:

Two minutes later, I was obviously back in bed :)

After (finally) getting up a good 3.5 hours later than I usually do, I looked out my window to this beautiful scene:

Before, when I lived in NYC, I never enjoyed the snow because a.) we never got any snow days in the city b.) the snow always got dirty and slushy in a matter of minutes and never looked nice c.) walking around in it was disgusting!

Here in PA, the snow looks (and stays) beautiful and allows me to sleep in! Score!

For those of you who know me well, you know that I love shopping at Anthropologie. Besides the fact that the clothes are adorable and unique, I love that when you walk into the store you immediately feel something. The geniuses there do an amazing job making the customer feel like they are somewhere else (a cabin in the woods, a French cafe, a Brazilian beach...) Part of how they do this is by their music selections. Typically, when I leave the store, there is some song I have never heard before in my head that I go home and download. 

I have very eclectic music tastes, and I love Spotify, because for $10 a month I can listen to essentially all the music I want. It really makes my ride to work and sessions at the gym more enjoyable! I recently discovered that Anthro has a station on Spotify with different mixes and playlists. I immediately clicked play on their "A Merry Making Playlist". Since I am Jewish, I always feel a tad left out during the Christmas season with respect to music, especially since Chanukah was so darn early this year (oh yeah, happy belated Thanksgivukkah to all!)

So I have been on a quest to find fun and festive winter songs that don't necessarily highlight Christmas. (Not that I don't LOVE Christmas decorations and many Christmas classics!)

...anyway, Anthro playlist to the rescue! I found so many gems on this station that make me feel warm and festive! There is a great mix of old and new music, but I was particularly happy to find this classic little ditty. It certainly brings out the kid in me and reminds me of how much fun playing in the snow is!

Now, what is a snow day without hot chocolate? It just shouldn't be allowed! Although the bagged mixes are convenient, I really think homemade is the way to go! And it really isn't that hard!

 You will need:

1/2 C granulated sugar
1/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder
4.5 C milk (I use almond milk but regular milk is fine)
1/2 tsp vanilla (or any flavoring you have--peppermint would be yummy!)

First, add all of the dry ingredients and 1/2 C of milk. Stir constantly over medium heat until it begins to boil:

 Then, lower heat to low and add remaining 4 cups of milk. Heat until just below boiling. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla or other flavoring.

Pour into a mug, add marshmallows and whipped cream, and enjoy!

I plan on spending the rest of the day in my PJ's watching movies (I DVR'd Home Alone and Christmas Vacation) and watching the snow fall outside :)


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ordering, Sequencing, Organizing

Happy December everyone! I can't believe we've already passed through Thanksgiving and that it is almost time for Winter Break :)

This time of year, things can pile up pretty quickly at school. There is always a rush to finish up that math unit, complete the read aloud book or writing assignment, and finish up with our Social Studies theme before we all go off for a lovely vacation! I know a lot of teachers (including me) hate heading off for a 1-2 week break in the middle of a concept. I always like to start fresh in the new year!

In my classroom, we have been doing a lot of work with sequencing and retelling during our reading time. I began by introducing some ordering words to the kids by retelling my morning with the words "first, next, then, after that, finally".

Ex: First, I woke up and ate breakfast. Next, I washed my face and brushed my teeth. Then, I got dressed. After that, I got in my car and drove to school. Finally, I arrived at school.

I had the kids pair up and tell each other the sequence of their mornings using these ordering words. Then, kids retold their partners' morning routines.

After the students became familiar with using the ordering words, I read A Letter To Amy by Ezra Jack Keats. As a group, we used the ordering words to retell the story out loud. The next day, I read The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins. After finished reading the story aloud, I broke the class into four small groups. Each group got "cookies" with elements of the story written on the back:

I asked the groups to talk together about how to order the events in the story. I reminded them to think about "first, next, then, after that, finally". I walked around to each group and checked their sequencing. They all did a fantastic job! As a group, we decided which "cookies" belonged underneath the correct ordering words:

I find it is helpful for my students to grasp concepts if they are overlapped throughout the curriculum. Students are currently working on expository writing in the form of an interview. After students drafted questions that they wanted to ask their interviewees about a topic (based on research that we have been doing in the classroom), children recorded their partner's responses.

Before we began writing out our interviews in paragraph form, we talked about how to organize a non-fiction paragraph. We brainstormed what we knew about paragraphs and came up with these ideas:

- there is a introduction or topic sentence
- there are supporting details
- there is a conclusion or an ending sentence

I then had the kids break into small groups. Each group got a paragraph (similar to the activity seen here) where the sentences were cut into strips and rearranged. The students had to work together to organize the paragraph in a way that made sense based on what we know about paragraph structure.

Once the students got the idea about paragraph structure, they completed a graphic organizer (similar format seen here) to help them plan out their writing. To model how it should work, I made an anchor chart with some of the interview information that we collected:

When the kids finish the graphic organizers, they will draft a short expository piece and follow the writing process (demonstrated on the pencil in this previous post ). We are also experimenting with a new way to do peer conferences: TAG!

Kids pair up with their writing and give the following notes to their partner: 

T- Tell the author something you like about their writing.
A-  Ask the author a question about their writing.
G- Give the author a positive suggestion.

Before the kids move into the teacher conference, they must consider what information was passed along to them in the peer conference and make revisions. Then, they meet with me for the final edit!

 Even though we are almost halfway through the school year (crazy!), we are never done learning to be a classroom community that respects and cares for each other. I had been noticing some social issues (particularly with the girls in my class) with excluding, among other things. I decided that it was time to introduce a "sticky situation" container:

Kids can anonymously write a short description of any tricky social issue that they have dealt with (without using any names). Each Friday, I select one from the container and my assistant teacher and I model what occurred. We then ask the class what they noticed about what happened in the situation, and what suggestions or strategies they have to make the situation better. Then, kids can volunteer to act out the situation using the suggestions or strategies that were collected by the group. Hopefully, this will inspire kids to not only do the right thing in social situations, but learn how to advocate for themselves when something "sticky" comes up before they enlist the help of a teacher!

Let's hope this brings EVEN more peace and joy to our classroom (and the world) during the upcoming holiday season! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Go Away Germs!

Here's a math equation:

Kids + Germs = Sick Teacher

It is almost inevitable that at least once during the school year, I will catch something from the classroom. I still shudder when I think about my first MAJOR germ attack. It was five years ago when I began my first teaching job in a nursery classroom. I'm hoping that was the worst flu I will ever get (or hopefully not get ever again).

Since then, I have been around enough kids and classrooms to build up a pretty good immunity to most common colds, sore throats, and stomach bugs. Still, I like being healthy, so I try VERY hard to minimize any risk of those germs sneaking in and throwing into the stuffy nose, congestion-y depths that I so despise! Since it is getting into winter, these types of sicknesses are out and about!

I'm sure many of you do most of these things on a daily basis, but here are some things that I feel have helped me stave off any sicknesses (knock on wood!)

Obviously, one of the most important (and easiest) ways to stay healthy is getting a good night's rest. Sometimes this can be hard, if our minds are running through all of the responsibilities we have to take care of: lesson plans, wedding plans, grocery lists, to-do's...

I find that drinking a cup of herbal tea about an hour before I go to bed calms me and gets my body all warm and snuggly for bed-time. I'm a big fan of chamomile, but I recently discovered Lady Grey, a lighter, herbal-ier version of the classic Earl. I'm usually a tea purist, but I like adding some honey and a splash of almond milk to the Lady Grey for a little more sweetness.

I love this print. I totally want to get it to put in my kitchen!

Once I'm all cozy in my bed, I usually read a bit on my Nook . My fiance bought me the GlowLight version last year, and since he got it for me, all arguments about when to turn off the lamp have ended! The light is dim enough that he can get right to sleep (I am so jealous of his ability to conk out as soon as his head hits the pillow), but bright enough that I can read without straining my eyes. I have always read that it is bad to have the TV on right before bed, and since I stopped doing that, I have to admit, I've been sleeping a lot better! Plus, reading provides just as much entertainment as TV! Wow, that was SUCH a teacher thing to say :)

I am a compulsive hand washer, but I feel that I have to be in my line of work. When I am not near a sink, I rely on the convenience of hand sanitizer. I usually keep a small bottle on my desk, and it doesn't hurt that it comes in a cute, sparkly purple case that is pretty to look at (from Target). The sugar plum scent smells amazing (a mix of fruity/spicy), and kind of takes me back to my days of sampling all of those Bath and Body Works  holiday scents at the mall with my sister in the mid-to-late 90's. I even have hand sanitizer in my car that I use after I fill up the tank. I know a lot of people claim that using too much hand sanitizer is unhealthy, so I try to be conservative with the amount I use each day. Washing my hands so much gets them pretty dried out, so I like to use L'Occitane's lavender hand cream to moisturize. My lips also tend to get drier in the winter-time, so I keep one of these lip balms on my desk/next to my bed at home/in my bag as well (I think I have about a million different lip balms floating around our apartment/in my purses).

As soon as I feel a cold coming on (the slightest sniffle or need for kleenex in my case), I rip open one of these Emergen-C packets.

Vitamin C is great for your immune system, and it comes from oranges and lemons, so it's going to taste good. The fizzy bubbles are also kinda fun!

Drinking water is another super easy, obvious way to stay healthy. I fill up this 27 oz. water bottle at the beginning of each day and try to finish it by 3:00. After school, I usually drink another 16 oz. at the gym and then another 16 oz. when I'm home for the evening.

I also keep a stash of tea and an electric kettle in my classroom for quick, warming relief when I feel a sore throat coming on. I also always have my favorite cough drops by my desk for those times when tea just won't cut it.

Hopefully all of these steps will keep me, and all of you, my dear readers, on top of (instead of under) the weather!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Conference Week!


 I have to admit, I have a slight obsession with Shark Week. (Although my fiance/family might say it is more than slight) I look forward to that week every August (usually when I happen to be at the beach) to learn all sorts of new things about these under-sea monsters. Ahh....summer. So that begs the question: what's more nerve-wracking? Parent/teacher conferences or great white sharks?

As you all know, I like to stay organized and on top of EVERYTHING so I don't stress out about the amount of work. When I get stressed, I can feel like I am in the presence of a terrifying shark with terrifying, sharp white teeth! So here are my suggestions to make parent/teacher conference prep, and the meetings themselves, be smooth sailing! (How are you enjoying my nautical/oceanic puns?)

Remember that "Student Info" binder I told you about in my second post? Well, since the year started, I have been adding various work to each child's section. Spelling reviews, math check-ins, reading conference notes are all present and accounted for in the binder.  Then I marked pages with a post-it in their reading/writing notebooks and math workbooks to highlight their progress on work we have been doing in the classroom. Finally, I went through their folders for any worksheets/graphic organizers from reading/writing/social studies.

Remember that stripey portable file folder from the previous post I mentioned above? It was perfect for separating each student's work to take home for conference prep:

At my school, teachers are required to hold a 40 minute conference for each student. Monday through Thursday, teachers can have up to six conferences scheduled between 3:30-8:15 that families sign up for (with an hour for dinner which is nicely provided for us!)

So when do we prepare for all of these meetings? At my school, every classroom has a head teacher (me) and an assistant teacher. During conference week, the assistant teachers team up with a specialist teacher to hold down the fort for the week.

Where am I, you might ask? Well...I get each morning AT HOME, Monday-Thursday, to prep and plan for the meetings with parents in the afternoon. It has proved to be quite nice. I get to sleep in an extra hour or so, hit the gym, make some coffee and focus on all of my students and their progress so far this year:

Although I love Philly, there are definitely things about NYC that I miss. I always think fondly of my old UWS neighborhood favorite, The Muffins Cafe, whenever I drink coffee out of this mug. If you are ever on 70th and Columbus, stop in and get the chicken salad sandwich, or a latte with one of their homemade pastries. Amazing stuff!

Anyway, I made a plan for myself for the kids I would work on each day. I decided to spend the end of the week before conferences writing up notes for the families I was to meet with on Monday, so Monday morning I worked on Tuesday's kids, Tuesday morning I worked on Wednesday' get the drift.

I organize my conference notes into categories:

1. Social/Emotional
2. Approach to learning
3. Math
4. Word Study/Writing
5. Reading
6. Social Studies

When parents come in for the conference, I always have paper and pens available for them to take notes. I also had a bowl of leftover Halloween candy (what else I was going to do with it? Eat it myself?) for parents to snack on.

I begin the conference by asking the parents how they feel the transition to 3rd/4th grade has been so far. Happy to say, mostly all of the parents have said VERY positive things about their child's transition to my classroom :)  Then, I get into the nuts and bolts of academics!

Of course, not ALL conferences are calm waters. Parents can get defensive or hung up on something that they feel passionate about that may not be a priority at the school/in the classroom. My best advice is to acknowledge their comments positively and suggest meeting again to discuss the issue further (maybe with an administrator/school psychologist/learning specialist). Luckily, I only had ONE awkward conference, and I let my principal know soon after how it went so she was in the loop. We have to remind ourselves as teachers that we are professionals who know what we are doing in the classroom and why we are doing it. We trained for this. It's a waste of time to beat ourselves up over nudge-y or high-stress parents!

I hope this advice is helpful for those of you in the midst of parent/teacher conferences. I am looking forward to a relaxing three-day weekend!

I leave you with some final Shark Week humor for the road (9 months in advance--always good to be prepared!)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

As a kid, Halloween was always such a wonderful time! Halloween sort of lost its appeal as I got older and it became more about skimpy costumes and drinking too much. However, now that I am a teacher, I get to rekindle my love for Halloween with my students, when the holiday was all about creative/fun costumes, haunted houses, carving pumpkins, and of course....CANDY!

Schools where I have taught in the past do not recognize Halloween the way my current school does. Certain schools do not feel it is appropriate.  I remember the excitement around the Halloween costume parade at my elementary school growing up, and I was thrilled to hear that my students (and us teachers) participate in a parade at school on Halloween! The teachers are in costumes from the staff Halloween play that we put on for the students. This year, the play included skits from popular Aesop's fables. I was in "The Tortoise and the Hare" as a narrator, so I stuck with the Halloween theme by simply wearing a black witch hat with orange trim around the brim. <-- HEY! That rhymes :)

Since the parade didn't start until after lunch, I planned fun Halloween activities for the morning.

I had a Halloween Word Search for the kids at their table spots when they came in to school this morning.

During math, we had all kinds of fun games to play that involved using pieces of candy corn and m&m's as counters or place holders (that of course kids got to eat when they finished the games)!

In reading, we are talking about retelling stories and sequencing events in a story. We watched a silly  video where Goofy takes us through the process of haunting a house:

Then we filled out sequencing worksheets to practice retelling how to haunt a house successfully! Always comes in handy this time of year, I think....

If you don't already know, I LOVE BAKING! I didn't do it as often as I wanted to living in NYC because of the lack of space for working with my mixer, but now that I have a bigger kitchen, I am able to bake all sorts of treats! Halloween cupcakes are without a doubt one of my favorite treats to make. As soon as it hit October, I raided the supermarket shelves for Halloween cupcake decorations and ingredients:

I'm sick of just plain chocolate or vanilla cupcakes, so I decided I wanted to create a vanilla/chocolate swirl cupcake for my class Halloween treat. Since I don't have a TON of time, I went with store bought cake mix to keep it simple:

Isn't my spatula adorbs? I was in London with friends over the summer and snatched up one of Cath Kidston's signature backpacks. My parents were over in the UK a few months after I was, where my mom picked me up another Cath accessory. It makes baking so much more fun because of the cute, floral design! I couldn't wait to get into the kitchen and bake!

I mixed the vanilla batter first, scooped it into the cupcake trays, and then mixed up only HALF of the chocolate batter.

I put a dollop of the chocolate batter on top of the vanilla mix already in the liners.

                  ( I know, it kind of looks like doggie doo, but stay with me people!)

Then, I used a plastic knife to gently swirl the chocolate batter in with the vanilla:

Stick it in the oven at 350 for 21 minutes, and TA-DA!

Here is the end result, sprinkles and all:

The class LOVED the cupcakes, and are already asking when I can make them another cupcake treat! There's always Thanksgiving, my little turkeys :) 

I hope everyone has a fun-filled, safe Halloween! I can't wait to head home and hand out candy for the trick or treaters! I hope I bought enough, although I know that my fiance won't complain if there are a couple of extra fun-size Krackles or Mr. Goodbars around this weekend...

 Happy Halloween Pic

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Inspiring Quotes

Albert Einstein

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein


Recently, we had a staff in-service day ran by All Kinds of Minds, an organization that focuses on the science behind successful learning (and teaching FOR successful learning). At the end of the presentation, the educator put up this quote. The reaction I had towards it was very emotional.


When I think about this quote, I think about my students. My biggest challenge (and the most rewarding thing!) about being a teacher is that I have to figure out ways to incorporate many learning styles into my lessons each day. Some of my students respond better to written directions or visuals. Others are more comfortable with oral information. Some benefit from watching the teacher or another person demonstrate different activities. I try my hardest to engage each and every one of my students in lessons and activities based on how they learn best!


For example, with practicing multiplication facts, some kids benefit from practicing flash cards, so we created "multiplication rings" to take home and practice:

 Other students are physical learners, so to reinforce our facts, I play "aerobic multiplication", where I will write down on the board AND say a multiplication equation. The kids have to do as many jumping jacks/sit-ups/toe-touches as the product of those two factors.


Some kids are visual learners, so drawing pictures, like arrays, with the two factors as dimensions to find the product, keep them engaged in remembering facts.


 I also think about myself when I read this quote. My whole childhood, I was a "middle-of-the-road" kid in school. Not the smartest, but certainly not failing. Still, the fact that many of my teachers did not take the time to think about all of the different learners in their classrooms caused me to struggle. Maybe not academically, but with my confidence. 


I never thought I was smart, because I felt that learning did not come naturally to me. It came with studying, tutors, and lots of practice. Sure, not everything is going to come easily to everyone, and it is only normal that sometimes kids need to work hard to understand certain concepts. I have realized, after experiencing being in academic environments that honor and accommodate for different learning types post-high school, is that not ALL learning should be a struggle. I am POSITIVE that many of the concepts that were introduced to me in my primary and secondary school years could have been exciting and confidence boosting for me, if only teachers took the time to present them in more than one way. I now know what kind of a learner I am, and that brings me joy in learning new things every day :)


I never want ANY of my students to feel the way I did about myself when I was younger. This quote by Einstein reinforces my commitment to my students to make their learning experiences enjoyable, and to make them believe in themselves and their strengths! We are ALL geniuses! 

And because I can't leave without sharing something organization related:

Last year, my student's drinking cups (from Ikea) would always fall off of the small counter where I kept them. There just wasn't enough room for 21 cups on one small shelf!

This year I inherited this wonderful shoe hanging bag, which I intended to use for miscellaneous art supplies. However, I realized the pockets were the perfect size for the cups! Now, when students are done with getting a drink, back into the pocket it goes! No spills, and more shelf space. Win-win!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Native Americans, Numbers and Novels!

Happy October to all....even though this sudden spike in heat is reminding me more of the 4th of July than Halloween! I love hearing my students chat with each other about their costumes...can't wait for the Halloween parade to see what everyone ends up dressing as!

Last Thursday was crazy busy. We had a field trip AND Back to School night. Obviously, I had more than my typical AM cup of coffee that day!

We are studying the Lenape Native American tribe, so our first trip was to a nature center that has a model Lenape village. The students loved it! They had educators there dressed in traditional Lenape clothing to tell us all about the Lenape customs. Students were able to imagine themselves as Lenape Native Americans. We learned how the Lenape made tools and built homes, how they hunted and prepared food, and what games and activities Lenape children liked to play!

Clay was abundant in this region. Lenape children would use the clay that the adults used to make cooking pots to create animals and figurines to play with. Our class had the opportunity to make their own clay toys. 

We also learned about the structure and customs of Lenape families. Did you know that when a Lenape woman wants a divorce all she needs to do is throw her husband's tools or weapons out of their home? Talk about no muss no fuss!

(A traditional Lenape longhouse--no tools on the ground outside, so I am assuming this is a functioning, happy marriage!)

After school, it was a quick cup of coffee and prep for Back to School night. I generally stress about this in the days before, thinking about how to fill the time, but in the end, I always end up going over!

One thing I have learned from my experience doing Back to School nights is that PARENTS LOVE PAPER. Honestly, just throw a bunch of papers at them and they'll be happy:

At each child's table spot, I had out the following:

1. The child's published short story (our first writing assignment of the year)
2. A text-connections bookmark for parents to use at home when reading with their children
3. A copy of our group's schedule
4. A letter that the child wrote to his/her parents and an index card for the parents to respond (don't forget to provide pens!)
5. An overview of typical development for 3rd and 4th graders (adapted from Yardsticks)
6. The parent letter from our first math unit (with suggested "at-home" activities)
7. The parent letter from our first word study unit (with MORE suggested "at-home" activities)

After the parents got a chance to browse the classroom and respond to their child's letter, I had us all come together to play a game called "No Talk Toss" that I play with my students. It comes from the Energizers! book. I put a spin on the game for the parents. Typically, the game is played without talking so children can practice making eye contact and making connections as they throw a bean bag to a friend in the circle. For parents, I asked that once they catch the bean bag, they introduce themselves, who their child is, and a memory from their 3rd or 4th grade experience. It was hilarious and informative to hear what the parents remembered from their time in elementary school!

After we played the game, we sat down and I gave parents the overview of the curriculum. Reading, writing, math, social studies. The whole shebang. Fortunately, there weren't too many crazy or uncomfortable questions. Overall I think it was a success! I even received a few emails the following day from parents thanking me for a great evening--SCORE!


My 4th graders are really working on automaticity of their multiplication facts up to 12. We have been working on using facts that we know to solve for facts that we don't know. I had the students break up into groups to create posters with the five multiplication facts that were the most difficult for them to remember. I asked them to come up with a multiplication fact to "start with" that would help them figure out how to solve the "tricky fact".

Check it out! If you are having trouble with 12x5, just think about what 10x5 is. Then think about how many more groups of 5 you need to add. Two you say? Isn't that 10? Add the 10 to 50, and viola! The product of 12x5! 

Now...onto the organization segment of this post!

I have noticed that many of my students are not sticking with books during their 15 minutes of Independent Reading Time (IRT) each day. That makes things difficult for me, because when kids are constantly switching books, I never know a.) what they are reading and b.) if it is "just right" for them.

I decided to take action!

First, we had a conversation as a class about why people sometimes stop reading books in the middle. Some responses included:

- boring
- too many characters
- not what I expected
- I see another book I want to try

I introduced the class to our new system....DRUMROLL PLEASE......

Each child has an index card with their name on it. When they finish a book, they need to come talk to me so I can write the date on their card and the title of the next book they will be reading. If they are reading a book and want to abandon it for something else, they need to come to me as well and have a conference about why they want to stop reading their current book and begin a new one. If the reason seems valid, such as the book is too hard/too easy, I will allow them to choose a new book and record it on their index card with the date. Hopefully this not only keeps me up to date on what they are reading, but teaches them how to maintain stamina and get through the books they enjoy!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friendship and Connections

We are nearing the end of the third week of school, and almost into a new month. Time is flying!

This week has been rough for me personally. My dog, Angie, passed away on Wednesday, just a few days shy of her 15th birthday. The day we brought her home when she was just 8 weeks old was one of the best days of my life, and it will be difficult to come back to my parent's home and not see her waiting for me in the foyer as I walk in the front door :(

Each year, my students hear about Angie. I always have her picture up by my desk, and am constantly telling them stories about her.


Even though I didn't tell my students about Angie, I wanted to honor her in some way in my classroom (even if I was the only one aware of this)....keep reading to see what I did :)

 The past couple of weeks, I have been teaching my students about making connections to our reading. 

We began with making text-to-self connections. I modeled the "stop and jot" strategy as I read My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco. The students got the hang of it pretty quickly, and were jotting down connections in their reading notebooks that they had to Trisha and the relationship she has with her brother. The next day, I modeled using a venn diagram to make text-to-self connections while reading Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber. On one circle, I wrote Ira's name. On the other circle, I wrote my name. In the guessed it! What Ira and I have in common! 

My students practiced using the venn diagram in partners. I gave each partnership a picture book to read together. They did an excellent job recording what was different about the main characters from themselves, as well as the things that were similar. I was so impressed!

As many of you know, I have been reading The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School as our read-aloud book. The story follows a class of children and their teacher, Mr. Jupiter. Each chapter is a take on an Aesop's fable. To practice making text-to-text connections, I decided to re-read the chapter "Dance, Stanford, Dance!" which is based on the moral from the fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper": It is wise to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow. After re-reading the chapter from Fabled Fourth Graders out loud, I gave partners a copy of "The Ant and the Grasshopper" and a text-to-text connection worksheet.

We came together as a class to share some of our connections: 

Finally, it came time to make some text-to-world connections. This is where my "Angie Tribute" came in. I decided to do a read-aloud of The Two Bobbies, a true (and incredibly emotional) story of a dog and cat who, through their unique friendship, survived Hurricane Katrina after their owners evacuated New Orleans. Angie was such a good friend to people and other animals, I knew she would love this story!

 I decided that before I read the story I would ask the kids about hurricanes:

Not surprisingly, they had a lot of information to share! With so many hurricanes threatening the northeast in recent years, many of my students have prepared for one and/or watched newscasts with their families. After we brainstormed, I read the story. Throughout the story, my students would notice that the author was describing many of the things about hurricanes that they had added to the chart, like flooding, boarding up windows, and community helpers coming to the rescue for people (and animals!)

On that theme, I plan on ending the week (and our unit on making connections) with Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen. I want to reinforce to my students how important it is to make connections, whether that means to their reading, in helping other people, or to our very special, animal friends.

RIP Angie. I love and miss you. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

First Week Fun!

I can't believe this first week of school is already over!

I had a blast (and a good sweat) putting together my room!

Here are some "after" shots of my classroom:

I laminated sentence strips with our schedule and added magnet tape to put on our whiteboard for easy schedule changing each day!  Always a good idea to keep those kiddos in the loop...

Of course, it wasn't totally complete until my students came on Monday  :)

This first week was all about community building and getting to know my new group of students. We started the morning decorating name tags, and then did a version this activity from Pinterest. It was nice to get a sense of how the kids feel about coming to school and how they see themselves as learners (and also get them moving around the classroom). We did a few activities that required the students to move around, like this genre survey:

I wrote the genres individually on pieces of paper and put them around the room. I then gave kids a sheet of stickers. Any book genres that they read over the summer would get a sticker.

After everyone was finished putting on their stickers, the kids broke up into groups of 3-4 to count the number of stickers for a specific genre and color in the number on the bar graph (a sneaky way to assess how much the students remembered about bar graphs!)

Speaking of reading, this is the best read aloud to start the year with! My head teacher read it to the class during my first year as an associate teacher, and I totally fell in love with it. It's funny, clever and has many wonderful lessons. So far, my students have been laughing out loud and cannot wait for read aloud so we can hear more about this crazy group of kids from Aesop Elementary! 

After decorating our heart maps, we reviewed the writing process. The kids did a great job remembering the steps that we added to this super-cute pencil:

 Of course, this post would not be complete without some tips for organization!

I originally intended to use a dish-drying rack to organize my papers/handouts for each day of the week...until I opened up all of my ordering and remembered that I ordered this handy-dandy hanging pocket chart:

 The first five pockets are for Monday-Friday. The bottom two are for items that need to be filed and copies that need to be made. Of course, I realized I have a totally new use for the dish-drying rack I bought! I plan on keeping file folders filled with materials for the writing process (peer/teacher conference sheets, revising strips, spelling "try-it" sheets, etc.)

 Also, there is nothing I hate more than clutter (especially when it comes to student work!) I decided that the only way to avoid things piling up and getting lumped together is to separate each subject into three different bins: homework, finished work, and unfinished work:

 Blue for reading. Red for math. Yellow for writing/word study. Green for Social Studies. Conveniently, the folder that the kids will have for each subject matches the color of the bin!

So far, the kids are really upbeat about being at school. They even complained that they only had reading for homework! I'm sure that won't last long...but a teacher can dream :)

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