Sunday, December 11, 2011

Experimenting with our city garden!

Last week, while we were reading Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert, we decided it was time to harvest our radish crop. We planted the radishes back in September and have been keeping an eye on them over the past few months. We are lucky enough to have a dedicated staff member (our "Garden Guru") who is always coming up with ways to bring the garden into the classroom and provide hands on experiences for our students, who otherwise probably wouldn't get to "get dirty" in a garden.

We periodically checked in on our radish crop after recess and the children couldn't believe how such tall plants could grow from tiny seeds. I am reminded of last year's corn crop and how big my students' eyes grew when they got to harvest the corn.

Our "Garden Guru" helped us pull the radishes up from the ground. We explained that growing vegetables is an never know what exactly might happen. Some children pulled up huge, beautiful, plump, red radishes, and others pulled up a lovely ball of dirt. Our "Garden Guru" did an excellent job of showing just as much excitement for those students that harvested a dirt ball, as those with a yummy radish. It was amazing to watch my class embrace the concept "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit!"

Upon coming back to the room, I had the students break up into two groups; those with a radish and those without. Here we are holding our radishes or our lovely dirt ball...
Proud Radish Group
Lovely Dirt Ball Group

Our Radish Crop
We graphed "Did you pull up a radish?" and talked about our results and how they have to do with the unpredictable nature of science. The students enjoyed making the graph, but what they were really waiting for was to taste their radish crop. I took the radishes home, cleaned them up a bit and brought them back to school.

Our "Garden Guru" suggested eating the radishes with some bread to cut the taste. What a good idea! I cut the radishes in front of the children and we talked about our observations. Finally they got to taste them. I was SHOCKED! Every single child not only tasted them, but when we made tally marks showing how many children liked the radishes, everyone raised their hand. They ate the entire thing! I don't know if it had anything to do with them feeling attached or having a sense of ownership to their radish, but if so we should have children grow all their own fruits and vegetables! I was so impressed.

It was a wonderful experience and something I know we will be talking about all year. It shows the students that science is applicable and all around us. Science is not just something that we talk about for 2 weeks and then switch to the next standard on the pacing guide. My students were making connections across standards with these radishes. I can't wait to embark on our plants unit later this year because this background experience will provide a huge hook into the unit. Thank you to our "Garden Guru" who I could not have provided this experience or written this blog post without!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Place Value: Regrouping

We are deep into the world of place value. I'm so excited to teach this standard because I think it is going to help finally solidify a lot of my student's number sense. Here is a quick look at how our "regrouping" lesson went today. I started off by showing students this anchor chart on the carpet. We talked about how "regroup" means to take ten ones and trade them in for 1 ten. The hardest part of regrouping for my students is understanding what to do if there are ones left over. They tend to want to trade all their ones in for a ten, even if they have more then ten.

So we played this little game from Debbie Diller's book. I like introducing the idea of regrouping with unifix cubes because you can model how to take ones and actually build them into a ten. During math work stations today I taught students how to played "First to 100". There are some basic management strategies that are important to model before releasing this game into independent math work stations.
  • It helps if you teach the students to roll the dice into  a container to keep it in control. 
  • Also, I noticed today that my students had a hard time picking up the number of ones associated with the number that they rolled. (It didn't even cross my mind that this would be tough. It seemed easy enough!) I modeled how to help other members of the group make sure that they are picking up the right number of ones. 
  • Then comes the hard part of knowing when to regroup the ones into a ten. (The point of this game is to get 100 cubes.) After each person's turn I asked them if they could regroup yet? How many do you need to regroup? How many are in a group of 10? Can you make a group of 10 yet? What does it mean to regroup? Believe it or not I got a lot of blank stares to these questions. We will continue to practice!
My students didn't want to leave the table. Looks like this math station will be a hit!

This student is counting his tens and ones and deciding if he can regroup yet.
This student just rolled the dice and picked up his tenth cube, so now he can regroup into a ten.

Farmer Mack Nugget: Where would you hide your turkey?

Today (and yesterday) was one of those days! At the end of the day today I accidentally dropped a bag of money all over the floor by my math manipulative shelves. As I knelt down on the floor to pick up the coins, I realized how quiet it was with my head in the corner of the room picking up pennies. Suddenly this monotonous chore was a relaxing excuse to sit in the corner of my room. I just wanted to curl up in a ball in that exact spot. It has been one of those days.

But here is a positive take away from this hectic week. We have a retired teacher who returns to our school monthly as the "Book Fairy." She wears these ridciulously, gawdy prom dresses that she got on sale at the department store and reads a new story to each class once a month. Then we get to keep the book she reads for our classroom library! So far we have three books in our "Book Fairy" basket in the library. The children LOVE reading these special stories on their own time. We even blog back and forth with the Book Fairy in between visits. 

 Anyways, last week she read Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey. In case you haven't read it, this is the tale of a group of children who go on a school field trip to the turkey farm, and end up rescuing the turkeys by sneaking them away from Farmer Mack Nugget under their shirts. It is a very funny story and the children get a kick out of how fat the students get with a turkey under their shirt. So for writing we wrote our own turkey rescue tales. Each child got a clip art turkey and wrote where they would hide their turkey. Their writing was very cute!

This turned out to be just the calming activity we needed yesterday so we could all recover from some major and unexpected interruptions in our schedule. My children are very familiar with the word "flexible," and how to apply it to situations. Add it to the vocabulary wall!  Writing often calms me down. Perhaps why I am writing this blog post right now as I sit on my couch at home.  I hope to pass this sense of calm onto my students on days where they have a lot to process. Writing and drawing can be such a therapeutic act!

This is my favorite because this child was not writing at all at the beginning of the year. Look at that growth in concept of word and all that spacing! She would hide her turkey in the bath tub.

I would hide my turkey in the closet so my mom couldn't find and roast him. HA!

I love how this student thought to turn her turkey over so it could lay down in bed!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanks & Giving


As we enter this week of Thanks and Giving, I thought it would be a great time to sit down and blog about all the things I'm thankful for...because after all...there are many things on my thankful list. And then I found the Thankful Linky Party at What the Teacher Wants! First off, I too am thankful for Saturdays and Sundays. I love waking up to the quiet morning and sipping my coffee while catching up on my Kindle read of the moment. I feel like I wait all week to just sit still, and my body cherishes that quiet time where no one needs me and I know everything is taken care of for the moment. This morning I felt the warm sun on my face and it brought instant peace to what has seemed like a crazy life lately.

I love my family and my amazing
husband who puts up with my crankiness and crazy ideas (and I with his). I am so thankful and excited to see my sister this Thursday and spend 4 days with her. I am thankful for my mom and dad and their unconditional love and support. And I can't forget my Rocky who greets me every morning with kisses and a wagging tail.

 I am thankful for my group of students this year and that I have the opportunity to work with them and make a difference in their lives. As frustrating and exhausting as it can be, I know that my job makes a difference.  I can't imagine building a career that doesn't touch others. I feel very blessed and very thankful as this holiday season approaches!

What are you thankful for? Link up with Rachelle from What the Teacher Wants at Thankful Linky Party.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Spicing Up My Morning Message

It has been entirely too long since my last blog post, but... I think things are starting to calm down in my first grade room. My big goal when I started this year was to focus on creating a classroom community. I have been using "Being a Writer" and have found this to be a good resource for teaching respect and responsibility during writing. The majority of my class has responded well to the social skills objectives that "Being a Writer" builds into the regular writing lessons, something that many of my students are severely lacking.

Another resource that I am LOVING right now is a Scholastic resource called "Trait Based Writing" by Maria Walther and Katherine Phillips. Not only is it a great compilation of all the "famous" writing experts (Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray etc.) but they also provide TONS of examples on how to spice up your morning message and work in those writing objectives during the classroom meeting. Today instead of writing my typical, "Good Morning Class, Today is ... " message, I wrote this:

I am orange. You can make pie with me. I have seeds. What am I?

I explained that each clue is a sentence and we talked about how many words were in each clue, as well as the uppercase letter at the beginning and period at the end. It was like I saw light bulbs going off over 20 little heads. They started to see that I have to put the period at the end of the sentence or else the clue didn't make sense and wouldn't help them solve the riddle. In other words, the concept of a clue helped highlight the importance of writing complete sentences and marking the end of a sentence with a period. I also had students add one more clue to our list of clues. They came up with "I am round." We counted the number of words on our fingers, then I drew the lines for each word, and lastly the students came up and wrote each word on a line. Not only did I manage to keep their attention throughout the entire morning message, but I found another way to explain how words and sentences work together. It was a great opportunity for differentiation too!

This Scholastic book is a great resource, especially because you can download a digital copy from Scholastic's website. Walther and Phillips have outlined all different writing lessons by month! They include morning message ideas, genre studies, and 6 + 1 trait based lessons. What really impressed me about this book is how the authors discuss incorporating journal writing, writer's workshop, reader's response, shared writing, writing for sounds, and morning message into an already packed day. I highly recommend this resource, especially because you can read it month by month when you are looking for some writing inspiration.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Night Before First Grade

I think the first week of school is one of the hardest to plan. I feel so much pressure to teach policies and procedures clearly so that students understand how the room will work. I also know that the first six weeks and even the first day alone are a huge predictor regarding the tone of your room.  I have to say that writing my "Procedures Manual" over the summer was a huge help in pulling together my plans for the first week of school. Since I already had the little details thought through, it was easy to plug procedures into my plans for the week that need to be explicitly taught.

I'm nervous tonight, but a veteran teacher told me that if you aren't nervous something is wrong. I'll take the butterflies in my stomach as a good sign! It's been a long summer of planning but tomorrow it will all be worth it. I can't wait to meet my class and set the tone for a great year in first grade!

Here is a link to my first week's plans. {Auntie, if you are reading this please look them over and let me know what you think!} Nothing too special, but I always like to look and see what other teachers cover during the first week. The picture above shows some of the read alouds that I plan on using to reinforce our class rules/good citizenship.

That's all for now. Good luck to all the teachers going back to school tomorrow. Time for me to go plan my first day of school outfit!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Classroom Finished!

View of whole room from the door
After what feels like months of planning, my classroom is finished. I LOVE IT! One of my goals this summer was to reflect on my classroom space and procedures and think about how to improve the inner workings of my room. I think careful planning, looking at other teacher's classrooms, and coming in early has helped me achieve my goal of creating a warm, inviting, and organized classroom. I'm even more glad I started working on my room a few weeks ago since Hurricane Irene decided to arrive last weekend.
Room 102!

Although I was going for a polka dot theme, here is my apple door. I think it is important for students to see their name right away and start recognizing that we are all in this together this happy bushel!

Below is our whole group carpet area. I love that I incorporated a spot for the smart board without taking up space on the carpet. Of course that desk hanging out on the carpet will be moved! 

Here is my "teacher space." I had previously used my teaching table as my desk and probably will still do most of my work their, but I like having a small corner to stash my stuff and keep little fingers off of certain things.

Here are my math station bins, numbered 1-7. I also keep all my math manipulatives, math read alouds, and any other math materials on or around this shelf. Next to this shelf is a small round table for push in tutors or other small groups that need a place to work

Math Station Supplies

Student Work Display
Above the lockers is my student work space. It was a very easy and quick way to transform an oddly shaped bulletin board. Each student will have a designated black square with a clothespin at the top. I plan on slipping their work under the clothespin and voila! Student work display!

Re-purposed ABC Station
Last but not least, I thought I would share this little project. I inherited this set of drawers and was going to just throw "junk" in it. Instead I decided to make it my ABC center. Each drawer is labeled with a day of the week. Students will simply pull out the drawer for the week, bring it to the table and complete the activity for that day. This will prevent confusion over what students are supposed to complete on each day. That's all for now! I hope all my space planning has paid off. For's time to rest before planning for the first day of school on Tuesday : )

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Classroom Almost Done

 I got A LOT done in my room yesterday and today. I would have gotten a lot more completed if it weren't for the earthquake?!? I'm just glad I was in my room without students and that everyone is safe!

Here is a picture of my whole group area from the door. I'm so excited for this carpet because I am going to assign each of my students a seat according to their class number. I just love how the carpet has squares already on it, which makes it easy to define personal space and send children back to their seats. ("Everyone sitting on a purple square may go back to their seat.")

I have also moved my word wall to the front of the whiteboard. I rarely write on the whiteboard so I figured this would be a better use of space. I love the mini red pocket chart attached with velro on the front of the big book/chart paper stand. I plan on using this when I introduce whole group sorts.

The main feature in the front of the room are my student mailboxes. I am embracing student numbers this year, which has allowed me to pre-label a lot of things in my room before actually getting my class list. Hopefully I will finish up on Thursday, before teachers must be back for training on Monday. More pictures to come!

Teacher Talk Tuesday!

I'm joining the Linky party over at Blog Hoppin'. As a teacher entering my third year teaching first grade, I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask for advice; on the other hand, it's amazing what you can learn in a relatively short time! And I'm so happy to help new teachers because I was just there. Here are my words of wisdom to a new teacher:

1. It is easier to start the year off with a stricter face, and then back down later in the year then it is to start off too nice and have to tighten the reigns later in the year. I'm not saying you need to be mean, but I have found it useful to be direct, clear, and business like from Day 1. 

2. It is important to build trust with your students. Take the extra time to do a Morning Meeting each day and don't cut out the team bonding activities. I find it useful to do a few of these games throughout the week, especially in the beginning of the year. It is crucial that your students trust you as well as each other. I tell my students I trust them (until they give me a reason not to) and love them all the time. The First Six Weeks of School is a great resource for new teachers because it gives example lesson plans for the first 6 weeks of school. These 6 weeks are the crucial window where you need to spend a lot of time teaching routines and procedures. I highly recommend this book for all new teachers!

3. Sit down and right out your policies and procedures for each part of the day before school starts. Over at Clutter Free Classroom you can find a great resource to help teachers think about all of the different elements in a day that require specific procedures and expectations. After you write your own procedures manual, take the time to plan out direct lessons where you model and reinforce each of them. It takes some front loading, but I promise it will make your life easier!

4. Laugh with you students! I have found kids love to see their teacher's true personality. I'm big on sharing feelings so students see that their actions affect those around them, even their teacher! It's amazing how good a child feels when their teacher smiles at them!

I have loved writing this entry because it is nice to reflect on the things you have learned. It's easy to get bogged down in all the aspects of teaching you have yet to perfect. But I suppose "perfect" may never happen! 

To see the other linky entries hop on over to Blog Hoppin!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

These are a few of my favorite things!

After spending the better part of today revamping the look of my blog, I figured I should post something to make my time worth while! Yesterday I received my alumni magazine from JMU. I usually flip through it causally and then toss it, but the cover story for this issue immediately caught my eye. It read "Resucing Young Readers: How one JMU grad student, a professor and an elementary school faculty are removing roadblocks." I read the story, which outlined how one professor is working with a local school district to implement RtI (Response to Intervention) across the district. I began researching the professor mentioned in the story and of course ended up a million clicks away from where I initially began. {Side Note: I'm a research junkie and love to see what people are studying and consequently finding out in real classrooms. We are all researchers in our own studies every year as we look at different problems in our classroom and try to find the most effective way to solve the problem.} Anyways, back to what this post is about. Here are some of the resources that I found while I was checking out the JMU study. It prompted me to write this entry about some of my favorite resources, both new and old,  as we embark on a new school year.
  • I am currently reading Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith. Although he teaches 5th grade, he understands and is very up front about the challenges that teachers are facing today, especially in urban school settings. This is a great book for a younger teacher to read because he illustrates through his own teaching experiences that becoming an effective educator takes a great deal of time and in fact a good teacher never feels like they have reached perfection. It's okay to do things the wrong way before you figure out the more effective way. He says, "That's the beauty of the job: You can learn from your mistakes. You can get better. In the process you may even stumble upon precious moments that can allow your students to soar higher then they ever thought possible." Last year I often let my failures get the best of me. As frustrating as this can be for a young teacher with a Type A personality like myself, it is important to remember to focus on the small moments of success. Based on my three years of teaching I can definitely see how eventually these moments add up into a rich collection of experiences. And experiences just take time. I am loving this book right now and feel it is a must read for new teachers as we start a new school year!
  • Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning {Vanderbilt University}I found the "Teachers/Caregivers" tab to be especially helpful. There are scripted stories for teaching certain social situations, tools for working on emotions and tips for developing behavior support plans. If you read my earlier posts, then you know that I am desperate need of integrating a social skills program into my daily lessons. I think this website out of Vanderbilt combined with my Making Meaning program might be a great combination!
  • While I'm posting about helpful websites I've come across this summer, I figured I would also share this document created by my aunt. She is a fantastic veteran teacher and created this quick guide to routines that can make transition time and management a breeze. She reviews some basic attention getters, especially great for newer teachers. This was helpful for me to read over and remember how explicit I need to be. 
  •  I LOVE the Florida Center for Reading Research site. Do you all use this? It is a great resource with tons of ideas and printable reading activities. They have activities that are great for student centers and hit on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. I like this site because on days when I'm not feeling super creative, they already have materials prepared for just about everything. Just print on colored paper, laminate and voila!
 That's all for now. Up tomorrow... writing my policies and procedures manual! 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Behavior Management Revamped!

As I say goodbye to July and all of the wonderfully summery things I have done, I'm feeling my creative teaching juices coming back. Here is what I have been working on tonight. I loved my behavior board from last year, and I just created this quick little document to explain how it will work to parents. I'm curious what consequences and rewards you have found effective, especially in an area where there is less parental support. I LOVED the "Beehavior" Catalog Idea from First Grader...At Last!

Here are the stickers I made for students on blue...super easy and cheap : ) My kids loved stickers last year and these have a message they will surely want to share and be proud of!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reflections From My Beach Chair...

There is nothing like reflecting with people you trust (and who are removed from your specific school setting) while sitting on the edge of the ocean in your beach chair. I have decided that this is where I do my best "thinking." My family has a lot of teachers in it, so I had some great discussions with them while I was away. I thought I would share some of my "a Ha" moments before I get back into the meaty topics of blogging.

First of all, it feels so good to have been able to sit back and relax these last few weeks. After coming off of a tough year and then that being complicated with a possible job change...I was burnt out. I have decided to stay at my current school and I am confident and excited about my decision. This will be my third year teaching first grade and I know it will be the best yet, because I have learned SO much over the past two years.

After pow-wowing with my family of teachers, I decided I wasn't nearly as explicit with my classroom procedures and expectations as I needed to be this past year. I knew that I needed to have procedures and teach them explicitly, but I'm not sure I really understood what explicit meant. For example, I taught how I wanted students to ask to use the bathroom, but  I didn't review what to do when they walked out of my room. This resulted in numerous bathroom discussions throughout the year and a lot of headaches. Eventually we resorted to taking class bathroom breaks because the behavior was getting out of hand. This year I am going to take the girls into the bathroom and review step-by-step what to sounds slightly crazy, but I think this is what my students need. It is crucial that I make my expectations very clear to them and assume they do not know what to do. Then hopefully they will want to please and do the right thing and will follow through.

My next epiphany came a few days later while walking up and down the beach; I need to find a way to teach social skills within my read aloud time. My aunt suggested Making Meaning. It sounded like the perfect way to combine classroom procedures/social skills with comprehension strategy lessons. Plus, it comes with a very explicit teacher's guide for me. Although I typically think I can do a lesson without a guide, I have realized that it is helpful to use some of the guides to help me learn the explicit language the children need to hear.  Come to find out...I already have Making Meaning in my room! As a new teacher a few years ago, I was overwhelmed with all of the materials in my room, so over the past two years I have focused on using our HM reading series, Words Their Way, and guided reading resources. Making Meaning will definitely be one that I incorporate into my whole group lessons this year!

Our conversations continued back at the beach house one night. Although I know I need to be CONSISTENT, it's not as easy as it looks! We brainstormed several ways for me to stay consistent, including ways to get the class's attention. I like the "call & response" type attention getters because I think they help the students know exactly what it should look like when I need their attention. We also talked about brainstorming a list of rewards that students could earn when they follow through with my expectations. My aunt suggested rewards are more meaningful when the students come up with them and what they want may be so simple, the teacher failed to think of it.

These are just a few of my reflections from the past week. I am already feeling re-energized and excited for the new school year!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Very Excited!

A few weeks ago I hosted a Stella & Dot trunk show for some of my teacher friends. It was such a great way to unwind and talk about something other than school on a Wednesday night. Needless to say, I fell in love with this company and am so excited to start my own Stella & Dot business. Although I could very easily spend hours in front of my computer working on school related projects, Stella & Dot will be another creative outlet where I can also earn some extra money...and all teachers need that! Click on the picture below to see this irresistible line!