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!

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