Monday, September 14, 2015

Anchor Charts

Every summer, I pull out books or order new ones...or both. I study my craft in teaching. I look for ways to improve over the previous year. This year, I latched on to Fred Jone's classroom discipline books. Loved them. They really spoke to me. One of the things that really responated with me was this idea of training the helpless hand raisers. They are the students that constantly have their hand up, as if you can be their personal tutor all day long. They cannot seem to do the work unless you work through Every. Single. Problem. with them. We've all known students like this, and I was quite intrigued with his solution. One of the solutions that Jones mentioned was to use was visuals. Using visuals in the classroom can make the students more independent, he said. I have had some visuals in the past, but I decided to go all out and give it a whirl. In math, I have been creating visual aids. And now, instead of always hovering to help, I can refer my students to  a visual aid that is based on the lesson they are learning. Sometimes it even gives step by step directions. Now instead of spending so much time with each student, I can have them look back and learn to use resources to help themselves. Retention is increasing, people! Then I am free to walk around and check for understanding. And the students are building independence. I call that a win-win.

I found a cute rounding chart and rounding model that I used this year called rounding coaster. Rounding seems to be a bit hard for most kids to understand, but with this baby, I've seen a lot more understanding. I found this great visual aid that I copied here. And we did a page like this in our interactive math notebooks. It's a free printable.

Monday, August 31, 2015

My New (Old) Read-a-loud Find

This year I have found the perfect series of read-a-louds. It's been a collection of books that has sat virtually silent in a corner of my library for the past six years. We quickly blew through the first in the series and have nearly completed our second. It is a series that keeps the students on the edges of their seats. They love the mystery, they laugh aloud at some of the things that the kids in the books are faced with. And I love stopping in the good spot and hearing them beg me to continue reading. And most of the time, I make them wait until the next day. I LOVE cliff hangers. This little series is actually a series that I grew up reading, or rather, hearing on the radio. Every afternoon on our way home a show called The Captain's Club came on at 4:00. And the second half of the show was a reading of The Sugar Creek Gang. 

After reading the first book in the series, I introduced the students to the procedures of our classroom library. And guess where they headed? You guessed it, to the box of books from the series, The Sugar Creek Gang. They made quite a dent in that book box. There are something like 36 books in the series and I have never, in six years seen anyone finish one. But after reading them aloud, they were in high demand....even disappearing from student's book boxes upon occasion...oops.

Oh, and I should mention that The Captain's Club still plays on Moody Radio. I knew this, but did not tell my students. Well, one of them came in to class all excited about hearing The Sugar Creek Gang on the radio. How fun.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Creating a Year-Long Theme: How-To

This is how I get started on looking for a year-long theme. I try to look for ideas that are fairly broad and can incorporate a wide range of subject areas. Some of the ideas I have done or looked at in the past are: jungle, brainstorm, circus, camping, travel, castles and robots. I use Pinterest as I gather ideas. Pinterest is a great tool. I enter the key words for the topic I am looking for such as circus decor or circus theme or circus classroom. I pin things that I think I can use to my classroom theme board. After that, I start working on any of the ideas that I want to incoroprate into my class.

When I have a strong idea, I start in on the curriculum. I try to find ways to tie things together are much as possible. For instance, this year, my theme is travel. We are also studying the regions of the U.S. in social studies....perfect! We're going to pretend to travel around the U.S. using different forms of transportation. Check out Beth Newigham's social studies. I incorporate hats, and try to build simular experiences such as making an airplane when we fly away or a boat to sail on, anything to make it seem more realistic. Since social studies is a perfect tie in, I start there. Then I move on to other classes and see how I can incorporate them. 

Reading is easy to tie in. Since I teach third and 4th grades, I can use chapter books. I look for books that can support my travel theme. I look for books that go along with the different regions we'll be studying. For instance when we study the Southeast, I have some books picked out that will feature an ocean theme. Or I could use my Who was Neil Armstrong biographies to incorporate our study of NASA. Another great option is Because of Winn Dixie, which is set in a small town in Florida. When we move into the midwest, a perfect book would be Little House on the Prairie or Sara Plain and Tall or Charlotte's Web. During our study of the midwest, it would be great to use some books about the Iditorod. We could even track the race since I'll be scheduling this unit during the Iditirod race. Our Southeastern theme could incorporate books about the wild west. The Northeastern theme could incorporate biographies about our founding fathers. Or historical fiction set in the Northeast such as one the the books from the American Girls collection.

Writing is an easy to match up with my theme. I can use Flat Stanley as one of my reading books and since he is mailed across country, I can use the book to teach letter writing and have each student mail out their own Flat Stanley paper dolls to our friends or family and have them mail them back with information about the state or town Flat Stanley visited. We could write personal narratives about our own travels, even if our travels did not take us outside of the U.S. For information writing, we could write about famous Americans from differnt regions we are currently studying. 

For science, I try to look at the different topic we need to cover for the year and have match them up with one of the social studies themes. When we are studying the Midwest (America's bread basket) I will also teach a unit on plants. During our Southeastern unit, we will be studying about animals, focusing specifically on ocean animals to tie in our reading study of ocean books. The northeastern tour would be a perfect time to tie in a study on states of matter and simple machines (since the inductrial revolution happend there). For the West, we could study human bodies, the west hosts the only blue zone in America, where the people are the healthiest and live the longest. We will also study health and drugs during this unit.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Creating a Year-Long Theme: Top Ten Reasons

A year-long theme is one of my favorite things to set up when getting ready for the new school year. Here are my top ten reasons why I use a theme for my classroom.

10.  It's fun. It creates a spark of fun in the classroom and I like starting with a fresh idea and decor each year.

9. It creates memories for the students. They remember the different themes as they have passed through the classroom. They continue to talk about it. I hear previous students, when checking out the current year's theme, talk about last year's theme..."Oh remember when we had a circus theme? I loved the circus tent. It was so fun!"

8. It inspires others. Teaching with a theme inspires others to push the limits and create a spark in their spaces too.

7. It's a creativity spark. Just like when teaching writing, I tell my students to start with a tiny seed idea and not a watermelon idea, a theme helps to narrow the scope of my curriculum. It gives me direction and a jumping off point. Then I start to get all my creative juices flowing. And I find the perfect ideas to bring my theme to life.

6. Old students will spread the word that your classroom is the place to be. Word of mouth is the best testimony of what is going on in your classroom. I've found students, current, previous, and future ones to be excited when they step into the classroom and find out the theme for the year. Also previous students like to peek into our class to catch a glimpse of what our theme is for the year. 

5. It promotes a sense of community within the class. Students are enjoying a common experience that is unique to our classroom. They are proud of the way it looks and the excitement it envokes. I hear them talking about it. 

4. You can spend more time in class on one topic because you can cover many standards on the curriculum with integrated learning, which leaves more time to go in depth. Win!

3. It makes planning for the year more effiecent. Lessons from various subjects can go together.

2. Integrating curriculum is best practice. And teaching with a theme makes it very easy to tie things together. Students have a chance to go more in-depth into the topics you are teaching because they are learning about them. not just once, but several times throughout the day. Otherwise, they are learning seven or so different subjects throughtout the day and each one is related only to itself. 

1. The students get seriously excited about it. And afterall, isn't that what it's all about? If I can have my students walk into my classroom, take one look and be excited about the learning that will happen here, I have just won a huge battle. Then I work hard to keep them excited throughout the year, but that's another story for another time.

To me, these are all very good reasons why I continue to push myself to create themes that will add excitement into my classroom. There is nothing better than students excited to learn and for me, this is the first step toward that goal.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Year Long Theme Part One: OverviewAll

Using a year-long theme in my classroom is a passion of mine. It started many years ago when I ran across this book Creating a Year-Long Theme .

It is a great starting point. Then later, I stumbled across this blog. I really loved how she took the year-long theme and used it in the classroom decor.

So I started small. I think the first year I used the sports theme. The kids enjoyed it. About 5 years ago, I moved schools and in the last 3-4 years, I have gotten my themes up to the level that I have wanted. If you are trying this for the first year, I recommend starting small. But every year, add more into the theme. Incorporate content areas. I teach in a multigrade 3rd and 4th classroom and so I will have my students for two years in a row. I cannot use the same theme every year, and I think I would seriously get bored of that anyway. So for now, I have created a four year rotation of themes and have gone all out in planning them. I have a brainstorm theme. a circus theme, a woods/camping theme, and this year I am putting together a travel theme.

Here is a sneak peek of some of the items I am working with for the theme this year. I will be adding a few other touches here and there when I get into my classroom and will share those photos here.

My color scheme is going to be teal, pink, and gold. Think tassel banners and hot air ballons, plane garland, maps, and travel themed posters. I will post pictures of my room next week when I finish it up.

But for now, you can take a look at last year's camping theme (more here.)

And here is a picture of the circus reading tent I created for my classroom when we had the circus theme. I do not currently have any other photos of my classroom or circus theme from that year because I lost all the files on my external hard drive and am waiting to repair it. 

What I have learned is that teaching using a year-long theme matters. It matters to the students. They are excited about the decor and theme for the year. And that's always one of the first things I hear them ask me each year before they see the room...."What's this year's theme?" And it matters to me. I enjoy the continuety and fun of a theme with matching decor. 
What about you? Are you thinking of a theme this year? Share if you like.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

School Bags

I have found that in years past, I have a ton of things to bring home. And all that adds up to a lot of weight and bags too heavy to carry. And too much stuff to complete in one night anyway. So this year I decided to purchase a smaller school bag. One that will not hold so much. One that will hold the right amount for me to be able to complete in a night. Introducing the Scout Bag. This is the Pocket Rocket Bag in the Panky pattern. And I LOVE it.

Here's what I love about it. First of all, it's super cute. Love the fun and funky pink paisley/flower design with black straps and trim with white stitching.I love the 6 deep pockets. The top zips. There is a flap of pockets inside. The flap has one zipper pocket, one open pocket, and a tiny clear pocket with a snap that would fit a thumb drive or SD card or a few coins. The material it is made from feels like a recyclable shopping bag or Ikea bag, only extra thick. I don't love that, but it is sturdy and will probably be much easier to keep clean than fabric or canvas. Overall, I am really happy with my purchase and I am looking forward to carrying this stylish bag (purchased on Amazon) for my first day back to school...and the entire year.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Homework Club

Let me just start by saying that as a general rule, I do not assign daily homework. Sure there will be an occasional assignment here or there, or a project, but I generally believe that students are at "work" all day, and they need some down time when they get home....time without having to do more work and practice that really in the long run does not increase their ability much and leaves you wondering who really did the assignment in the first place. So every year when I tell my philosophy on homework to my class, I get a cheer. With that said, there are many students who do have homework daily because what is assigned in class doesn't get done, so it becomes homework. 

Students that have a difficult time staying focused in class are also the students who generally seem to have a hard time completing it at home as well. So I felt the need to try something to help my students want to complete their homework. One year I tried homeworkology. It's a form of Monopoly that some teacher created to help the students be encouraged to complete their work. I have tried it before and while it was fun, I found it hard to maintain. I needed something easy.

After searching Pinterest, I ran across the idea of a homework club. It's basically a board with numbers. Each student is assigned a number. Each month, all numbers are placed on the board and students can start fresh. If they turn their assignments in on time, they stay on the board. If not, their number comes down. Students who stay on the board all month are treated to some special activity, food, or gift. Some of the things I've done in the past are: special pens, sunglasses, hotchoclate, cookies that they get to skip an assignment to decorate, and cupcakes.

If a student makes it all year without any late assignments, the prize is bigger. Last year I had only one student and they received the game Blokus as  a grand prize.

I created my own version of the homework club because I wanted it to match my theme for the year. So I printed out two giant jars that say "Homework Club" and I typed numbers on some lightning bug clipart. So I have two jars of lightning bugs for my homework club board. When a student doesn't turn something in, their bug leaves the jar.

I like that the homework club uses numbers so that students do not know who the other numbers belong to.

How do you handle homework in your class? Do you use some type of incentive? Leave a comment below telling me how your handle homework and  include your address if you'd like to get a free copy of my homework club jars and fireflies. Please leave a comment by the end of the month to get your free homework club printable.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hitting the Road Running

I do this to myself every...single...year. Come back from Christmas vacation the day before I have to go back to school. Last year was much worse. We crawled into bed around 1AM, making my 5AM wake up time oh so much fun. This year I was a little smarter. We came home around 5PM and I had a few hours to settle it helped that I was left all my assignments ready for the day back. Overall, I was tired, but things were definitely easier this year.

One of the things we've been up to lately in class is studying writing directions (how to paragraphs). I introduced this in a fun way that the students could just not resist. Passing out gum and allowing students to chew it in the classroom has a way of making something exciting. We read about the history of gum and also used this little packet to write about how to blow a bubble.

We're doing one more piece of direction writing in class with a how-to make rootbeer floats peice. Can't wait to surprise them with that tomorrow. Coming out of a long weekend, we need to spice it up and have some more fun.

Next week, each student will be presenting a recipe project to the class. They will make a no-cook recipe (such as smores, trail mix, salad, no bake cookies, etc.), show us how to make it, and create a poster with directions and the recipe. They will also bring a sample to share with the class. I know a lot of public schools do not allow students to bring in homemade items, but my private school does allow it, so I'm feeling fortunate about that. I'm sure we'll have some good eats.

Here's a recipe book cover I've put together to compile the recipe book for the class.