Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mining Room Transformation

I had been noticing that the students in my room have been obsessed with rocks. At recess, they have spent a good portion of their time digging rocks out of our playground. So I decided that it was time to do a study on rocks. We are just about finished with our unit now and I decided to do something fun for the day that would also help me wrap up my unit in an engaging way. Enter the room transformation...Half days are my favorite time for room transformations. Today was a half day and also one of the other teachers in my class teamed up in my room for a day of mining.  To create the feel of a mine, I blocked out all the windows with rock-like shapes to make it dark inside the classroom. Around the doorway, there were rocks and some sticks of dynamite (made from pool noodles) and a train track leading in through the doorway. Inside, we scattered rocks and other rock memorabilia around the room. It was a super simple setup that made a huge impression. I also purchased some geodes that we could crack. I got enough so that every student could take one home. Each student got a hardhat with a light. We turned off the classroomlights and had sounds from a cave playing in the background.

We had some rock snacks that the students could enjoy.  

The students were split into groups and we took students through different rotations with various rock activities. 
Students collected and studied the smallest rocks...dirt and dust.

We made sedimentary rocks.

Checked out rocks under a microscope...

We also put a rock through several different tests to find out more about their properties. 
During the final rotation, students were able to learn a little bit about famous rocks around the world (such as Mt. Rushmore, Stonehenge, the Great Wall, etc.). Students chose a rock to observe like scientists. They examined closely with magnifying glasses and wrote details about their rocks.

It was a wonderful way to culminate our learning. And what a great experience the students had! What do you do to engage your learners and make learning fun?

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Wild Card Review

Be the wild Card

Think about the last time you heard a student beg to go inside from recess or not want to go out because he/she is so excited to be doing whatever activity you have going on in class. That's one of the best feelings a teacher can have...to hear your students beg to learn more. If we are honest, it probably doesn't happen as often as we'd like. So, how can we increase the amount of times we hear that? Enter, the book The Wild Card. It's a new best-selling book by Hope and Wade King. They are married teacher powerhouses that teach together at the famous Ron Clark Academy. 

This book is a game changer for student engagement. There is so much creativity in this book. My favorite topic is covered (as a means for engagement is room transformations). For several years, I created an extensive classroom theme for the year. Students looked forward to it and could not wait until my classroom reveal each year. Past students loved to look in during the first week of school to see what the theme was for the current year. 

This year, I decided to do something different. I was trading classrooms and starting to teach a new grade level. I decided to keep things super simple by going with a theme based on some basic colors instead and just throwing in a few accents of llamas...one of my current favorites. The excited feeling of a theme was a once-a-year thing. But what if you could create that feeling more often, throughout the year at unexpected times?

So in their book, Hope and Wade both have amazing classroom themes, but beyond that, they incorporate special themes throughout the year by creating temporary room transformations. I ABSOLUTELY love this model as a way to shake things up within the classroom and create a sense of excitement. 

I have used a few of their ideas inside the walls of my own classroom. Some of the transformations I have created have been: 
1) a chemistry carnival to celebrate our learning during a unit on states of matter
2) a surgery room during our unit on contractions: students operated on words by performing surgery and taking out some letters to create a new word that was a contraction. Words were tied together with apostrophes they wrote on bandaids.
Some other room transformations that I have also done are:
1) A Greek day during our study on the summer olympics. Students were invited to dress in togas and we spent the day learning about the culture of the ancient Greeks. You can see that over here.  
2) My most recent transformation was my football transformation. I created a football theme that took a bit of time but was pretty easy. We used it to review content on a 1/2 day.

One of the things that Hope and Wade talk about in their book is to create excitement by being unpredictable. When they don't know what to expect (especially on the delivery of the content) the students will be excited to enter your classroom each day. So I encourage you to reach for this book. You will not be able to put it down. It has so many practical ways that you can change things up in your classroom to create an atmosphere of engagement. And when you have engagement, the students WILL want to learn.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Football Room Transformation

So a few years ago I decided to turn my half days into fun days of learning. First, a lot of parents don't send their students to school on half days, which I get. But that makes it hard to continue with learning when you know you will have to reteach the missed information to many students while trying to continue on with the curriculum. It makes much more sense to introduce some type of fun learning or review. 

A few years ago, I decided that for that year, I would introduce students to different countries on half days and do a bunch of hands-on learning about the country to make it fun and engaging.

Today, I wanted to push myself even farther with a room transformation. I have done some before and they are so much fun. Students love them. So since the super bowl was yesterday, I decided to focus on a football theme as my transformation. 

The great thing about this transformation is that you can use it for any grade or any subject area. A couple of years ago, I did a small football theme during the super bowl, but this time I wanted to bring my A game.

I started by researching ideas on Pinterest. I did not find a lot of ideas, but I did take a lot of inspiration from Pocketful of Primary, a YouTuber.

For the set-up, I purchased a huge green tarp on Amazon. It was seriously so big that I had to fold it a bit to get it to fit inside my classroom! I then added lines with masking tape. Then I added some numbers to some of the lines to show the yardage lines. I also purchased a referee shirt and whistle and paired it with white pants and my Chucks. Over the door of my classroom, I hung streamers that the students had to enter through. This was a simple way to build excitement and make it feel even more special.

Here is a run-down of how our day went. We started out by doing the Star Spangled Banner. We also watched a video version of the book, Game Day by Tkii and Ronde Barbar. It's a great read.

Afterward, we drew a name out of a bag. (I had previously divided all my students into groups of five, since I have 20 students in my class.) As I called my students one by one, they were able to open a folded paper with their name on it. Inside, it told them which color team they were on.  

The first activity we did was one that I got over here. It was a freebie from Pocketful of Primary. I started with five bags filled with related items. One bag had school items. Another had things that you might have while watching a movie. There was one all about hair styling and one about the beach. I also had another bag with sports things that I used whole class to guide them through the process of finding a topic for the bag, the details, and then coming up with a main idea sentence. The students did really great. We have been studying topic and details in writing lately, so this was the perfect way to reinforce what we've been doing. When you put each set of items into a sports bag, it ties in nicely with a football theme.

The second activity we did was a twist on one from Pocketful of Primary. I got the idea, from her, to create a multiple choice game by labeling small footballs from Dollar Tree with the letters A-D. Each team got four footballs, preferably in the color of their team (although I wasn't able to match all the team colors, so I just chose another set). I added a field goal that was made from pool noodles. We focused on vocabulary review for this game. I divided a small easel type whiteboard into fourths. In each of the fourths, I wrote one letter from A-D. Afterwards, I chose four vocabulary words and put one word (which was written on a card) under each of the letters (A-D). I read the words for the students and then called out a definition that matched one of the words. Students worked as a team to figure out which vocabulary word went with the definition I had given. Then one students, who was chosen to play quarterback, put on one of these cloth helmets that matched their color. That student had to bring one of their footballs that had the letter that matched the multiple choice for the word their wanted to choose. The student then threw the football through the field goal, scoring a point for their team. After each round, students rotated the helmet so that all students could be the quarterback for a round.  

The final activity that we fit in today was one that Pocketful of Primary used. We started with a popcorn container full of subtraction sentences. Each subtraction sentence was wadded up and put into the box, making it look like popcorn. Next, I set up paper bags labeled with numbers up to 20, one number per bag (in hindsight I would use popcorn boxes instead of bags because they kept falling over and you can get a set at the Dollar Tree for one dollar for I think two boxes.) Students worked as a team to solve one of the problems and then they had one student run to the bags, find the correct answer, and drop it inside. You can just give students a certain amount of time, like ten minutes, to do as many problems as they can.

We had another activity that we did not have time to complete. I will allow students to do that tomorrow because it goes along with the math unit we just completed. It this scoreboard game by Pocketful of Primary. It uses double digit subtraction by finding the difference between the two scores listed on each scoreboard. As groups solve one of the problems, they have to bring their paper up to the teacher for it to be checked before going on to another problem.

To end the day, I had football themed muffin tins that I filled up with popcorn and two football shaped candy corn candies. It was a great way to celebrate our learning and engagement throughout the day. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Getting Ready for Valentine's Day

I just love Valentine's Day in the classroom. It is just so fun. I love the crafts, making things for parents, exchanging cards, and all the pink. I love the candy, the excitement, and the games. Here's some of my go to favorite things to do on Valentine's Day.

1. I love Valentine's Day boxes that the students create. A few years ago, I started having students create Valentine's Day boxes with their families at home. Each year I cannot wait to see their creativity. Some of them are pretty simple and some are elaborate, but they are all so fun to see. Here is one from last year.
How amazing is that little owl? And the feathers were all made from hearts....super cute! I just sent out the project this Friday so my students can get started. I just can't wait to see this year's boxes. It's a great way to store all of those cards, pencils and candy that the students bring in to share with the class. Here is a blog post from last year with more ideas. 

2. I love doing this simple Valentine's day activity with conversation hearts. Students get a small box of the hearts and a writing paper. They create a story or a letter and use the conversation hearts in it. I did this way back in the day when I was in school. I always remembered how fun it was. Now I do this with my students. I enjoy hearing their stories each year after they write them. 

You can get this activity for free by clicking here. I have used this resource even with my firsties when I used to teach them. It is still something I could use in middle school or even high school too. Different age groups would just do longer or shorter stories.

3. I love the stories around Valentine's Day. I like to collect different stories to share this time of year, but these two are some of my favorites. This one is super cute. It's called Will you Be my Valentine? You can find it here.

This one is my number one top all-time favorite for Valentine's day. If you have never read it, you need to get your hands on a copy right now. It's called Somebody Loves you Mr. Hatch. you can find it here.

4. The games are so fun. In the past, I have enjoyed doing Minute to Win It Valentine's Day games in my class. My class has had a lot of fun with them and so have I. You can do a search and find a ton of different games but here is one example of a bunch of different options. 

5. I love giving cards. I try to put a lot of thought into the cards I give. Sometimes I have done a candy craft card to give out and that can be a lot of fun. This year I made several different cards. I'm really loving llamas right now so I created three different types of llama cards and also some flamingo cards. Here is what they look like. You can find them here, here, here, here, and here

So that's how we celebrate in our classroom, what about you?

So this year, as every other, we loaded up our family and headed off to experience something we would otherwise NEVER get to experience...a WHITE Christmas! Everything always seems to go well for us until (and this happens EVERY year)...someone gets sick. So this year has been the craziest of all. Usually just one of us falls prey to the sickness, but this year, every. single. adult. fell ill. The rest of us just got a cold...which is miserable, but at least you can still do things. But my husband came down with the flu and has had it since Wednesday! I'm so glad that we made good use of the time we had before he fell prey to the sickness. It is however putting a damper on our enjoyment of the snow that has been falling the last two days. It's like a winter wonderland out there, people, and we are stuck inside. First of all, we do rent a car, but my name is not attached to it. And secondly, being raised in Florida does not necessarily give you confidence to navigate hills in the snow. So, we have a car but can't go anywhere. Sigh....but at least we are together and I can go outside and walk around. There's a school not too far up the road and I think I will walk over to take the kids sledding at some point after lunch today, otherwise we may miss 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas Holiday Math Games

I know you feel it too. Excitement is in the air. Students have shorter attention spans. School can seem like a drag to them as they anticipate the upcoming Christmas break. They (and let's face it....you) are barely hanging on. 

It's time to bring even more activity and fun into the classroom to conquer the wiggles that come around every year at this time. With that thought in mind, I decided to turn some of my math lessons into games and activities that get my students working with partners, doing games, and getting in some movement around the room. The engagement has been so high in my class while implementing these fun activities with my second graders. 

Bring some sanity back to your class at math time with my Common Core aligned activities. Be sure to check these games out at my TPT store here: Math Activities Pack or they can be purchases individually here, here, and here. Sign up for my give away on Instagram over here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Winning the Communication Battle

Communication can be a battle even in the best of circumstances. How much is too much? How much is not enough...am I right? In the case of communication, I always think more is definitely more....and better. 

I'm not a natural communicator. I am usually quiet. So this is an area I have had to work on. I usually think about communication when I have a parent that I have heard horror stories about from previous teachers. I obsess and make it my second job to find out what makes them tick...what are they looking for. What makes them happy and what upsets them. Often times, I find that it boils down to communication. Several years ago, I knew of such a parent that was coming up through the grades with her child...until I was staring at the year I would have her, like a deer in a headlight. 

I decided that I was going to become a communication super-star that year because that is what I found her to need most from a teacher. And so I went about researching and devising a plan to help our communication be open and so that we could have a great working relationship. That work paid off and that parent is one that I still consider my friend even all these years later.

My communication methods and processes have morphed over the years. Some have stayed the same, some have been tweaked to meet my current needs, I have added more and in the process, I am growing as a communicator and educator.

So here are eleven of my tips for being a better communicator.

1. Start the year with a positive phone call home. A quick phone call at some point during the first week of school is ideal. It gives you time to make a positive connection while students are generally on their best behavior and before any problems arise. I usually just tell parents that I am enjoying  having Johnny in my class. I try to point out one specific thing to praise. Then I close by telling them I look forward to working with them and if they ever have any questions or concerns to please contact me right away. 

Done...simple. And parents enjoy a first and happy phone call. This is especially true with parents who are often the recipient of many negative calls because their child may have had problems in the past. 

While I usually do this at the beginning of the year, I have also done this throughout the year as well. 

2. Communication Binders are a necessity, especially in the primary grades. I am telling you that this is the number one way I won over my "tough" parent. I know this because her friend told me. She was on the school board and took it there to show the other members and suggested that it should be a requirement that all teachers do a communication binder. 

My original binder was a M.O.O.S.E. binder that was an acronym for Management of Organizational Skills Everyday. Through the years, I have made all kinds of different covers for the binder, but the important thing is what is inside. I used to have the students keep a lot more in there, but I have paired it down to just the essentials. I start with a one inch binder that has the clear plastic sheets in front and back. I slide my cover in that usually has a picture to match the classroom theme and the school calendar goes on the back cover (our school gives a new monthly calendar at the start of each month). At the very front, I have the students keep a zipper pouch. This is perfect for sending little things back and forth between home and school. It is especially perfect for sending lunch money or money for field trips. With the zipper, you don't have to worry that something might get lost. 

The other thing I have students keep inside their binder is a folder. We use the homework folder that you can find here. This is a folder that all teachers are required to use in our school. I do like it because it also has a clear pocket on the front and back where you could slip your newsletter or anything else that you want. It has two pockets inside marked with keep at home and return to school. Our folders did not come hole punched to fit in the binder, but it was easy to do that myself.

I use this folder to send returned work home each Friday. I also send home the newsletter and new spelling list for the upcoming week. Parents always know where to look. 

When I taught 3rd and 4th grades, I also required them to have a planner inside to write their assignments. We got the full 8 1/2  x 11 inch ones that had holes and could fit in the binder. Here are a couple of binder covers that I have in my TPT store here and here.

3. Have a rockin' newsletter. This is so important. In the past, I have not had a set day necessarily to send home the newsletter, but this year, I wanted consistent communication and I saw this as a good way to achieve that. In the past, I formatted my own newsletter (sometimes with the help of my husband. But then I purchased a template that was cute and attractive for my newsletters. The newsletter template I purchased felt a little small for the details I wanted to include in my newsletter, so I just whipped up a template for the back and do a full front and back sheet. 

Just today I got positive feedback on my newsletter. The one thing the parent mentioned liking most was the details. I included details on the back to show what we are learning and how you can help. The newsletter goes through many of the core subjects and breaks it down so parents do not just see that we are learning about jobs, for instance. They can see that we are specifically learning about why we need jobs. I let them know that we are working on needs and wants and and finding out how jobs can supply those needs and wants at home, at school, and in the community. Then I give them a section that shows ways they can reinforce that skill at home. Going back to my example about the jobs....I put simple things that parents can do or talk about with their child. The parent can choose whether or not they actually do it, but some parents want more...they want to keep the learning alive in their homes and this will give them a simple way that is not stressful. So for the job topic, I might put things like...talk to your child about things your family needs. What things do you want and how does your family decide when to spend money on something the family wants. Talk to your child about your job and how it provides for your family. Point out what needs are taken care of when your child completes a job at home. 

4. Pictures speak a thousand words. Take pictures in class. Parents love to see what their child is doing throughout the day. I try to take pictures of anything interactive or fun...or even students doing quiet work like when they are engrossed in a book. I share them on the school website and will even email them to the parents on occasion. You could include them in your newsletter too.

At the end of the year, give each parent a cd of pictures from throughout the year. What a treasure that is to them.

5. Keep a binder for parent communication. You can document what you have talked about with a parent and when. You could even document the method that you used to communicate and of course the date. This gives you documentation on any discussions you have had during the school year in case you need to refer back later. I keep a page for each student in ABC order. Then I can include any letters that I sent and document any other conversations. If I run out of space, I can just add another sheet with that child's name. I used a one inch binder and one of my binder covers from this set.  

6. Send positive notes home + positive texts often. Seriously, who doesn't love to feel that you value their child and see what is good in them? The parents will be on your side when they know that you are looking for good. I made it my goal to send two positives every month for every child. I don't think I've quite met my goal, but I have sent notes home fairly often. And of course parents love this. I even had a parent tell me that I can feel free to tell them negative things too. I created these little notes to use in my classroom and have received positive feedback on them from parents. 

Parents these days also text a lot. So send texts too...you can even include a picture here or there. 

7. Have positive parking lot conversations. As you tuck students into cars during car line, send them off with a quick positive something from the day. Address the positive comment to the parent. They will leave the school with a smile on their face for sure.

8. Look forward to conferences. LOOK FORWARD TO CONFERENCES! Usually I do not take my own advice. I actually get nervous and have butterflies. I'm always relieved when they are over, but when I look back, I am usually very pleased at how the conferences have turned out. In all my years of teaching, I have had very few bad conferences. This year, as a part of my conferences, I specifically asked parents if there was anything they would like to see me doing in class that I am not currently doing. All of them assured me that what I was doing was what they want me to continue to do but giving them an opportunity to tell me ways I could improve is a great way to show that you are flexible and willing to grow.

9. In your report cards comments use the model: good, needs work, good...like a sandwich. In other words, tell the parent something good that the student is doing. Then share what needs work. Finish it off on a good note with something else that is positive. Sandwiching the work that needs to be done between two good comments takes the sting out of hearing about the need for improvement. It softens the blow. Make it a rule to always notice more positives in your students than negatives. Then share those positives.

10. Send follow up letters from parent teacher conferences. This year I decided that I was going to send letters thanking parents for taking the time to come in to discuss their child's progress and just recapping some of the main talking points of our time together. Again, I try to keep the tone of this letter positive, focusing on mostly what the child is doing well at within the classroom. It's the little things that make a difference.

11. Send thank you notes. Anytime a parent sends you something personally or for the class, be sure to follow up with a thank you note letting them know that you appreciate it. If a parent spends time helping out on a field trip or program for your class, send a note to thank them. People like to feel appreciated and a quick hand-written note is easy and effective.