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! 

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