Tuesday, September 25, 2012

If you're making mistakes...

I saw this great poster on Pinterest and it actually came from ModCloth. I just HAD to have it because not only is the quote perfect, but it is from Neil Gaiman who I adore (and we will be studying next month). ModCloth wasn't offering a print, so I made my own to hang up. I'd really love to buy a high quality print if they ever make it available.  

We only have 3 more days of school before we are on our two week fall break! Of course I'm excited, but mostly because I am in need of some good R&R. I'm also excited because that means November is right around the corner, and November means NaNoWriMo! Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It's only the coolest thing going on in November. 
NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and participants are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. They also have a Young Writer's Program and two years ago my class and I embarked on this journey. I wrote a 50,000+ word novel and they wrote novels aiming for their own word-count goals. My class and I did it again last year. I can't imagine not doing NaNoWriMo in the classroom. It's full of amazing benefits for the kids. They become more confident and writers. They learn to make achievable goals and write steps to get there. They become more detailed writers. They learn to be persistent. They become more fluent writers. And I could go on and on! Interested? Head over to the Young Writer's Program site. You can order your free classroom kit now!
Before we start NaNoWriMo we spend two weeks preparing. I use the YWP workbooks which are amazing, and free, resources. And here is where the amazing Mr. Neil Gaiman comes in (sidenote: I adore his wife too, and had the pleasure of attending her concert last weekend). If you are unfamiliar with this fabulous writer I suggest you check him out. He writes for adults, young adults, and children. His most well-known books for the upper grades are Coraline (which was made into a movie) and The Graveyard Book which won the Newberry Medal in 2009. When we review plot I read Neil Gaiman's The Wolves in the Walls. It is a lovely, but slightly disturbing, picture book that is just right for the upper grades. It holds their attention and each element of plot is crafted perfectly. The day before we start NaNoWriMo I show the kids the episode of PBS's Arthur that features Neil (called "Falafelosophy") and it's all about becoming a writer. How fitting for the program! 
I'll start blogging more about NaNoWriMo in the coming weeks.  I'd love to hear from other teachers that use NaNoWriMo in their classrooms and from those that may be trying it out this year! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Art Masterpiece - Pointillism

Art Masterpiece is the program that our school district uses for art instruction in the elementary schools. There are pre-planned lessons, one a month, that parent volunteers come in a teach. In each lesson the students learn about an artist, a style of art, and a specific piece of art by that artist. Last Friday was our first Art Masterpiece lesson of the year, and I just so happened to be out that day. I was a bit bummed because I love watching my students create, but I came back to some lovely artwork!

They learned about Pointillism and studied Georges Seurat and his Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The did their own Pointillism paintings using a cotton swab and they all came out so beautiful.

When I picked them up they were very wrinkled papers, so I had a parent volunteer mount them on some dark colored card stock. The Art Materpiece coordinators also provided us with a nice little description of the lesson which we also mounted under their work. My class came in the classroom this morning and oohed and aahed over their stunning pieces of art!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Order Bonus Points!

We did it! My class earned 7,000 Scholastic Bonus Points this month! I stumbled upon Laura Candler's guide to earning bonus points and thought it would be a lot of work, and it really wasn't. I generally hand out the book order once a month, and I don't push students to order from it, but it is always an option for them to order. In a typical year I usually earn about 1,000-2,000 bonus points which I promptly spend on more books for the classroom. I never thought I would ever put in a book order over $100, but today my class ordered $350.67!

Yesterday was the due date for the book orders and it came to about $254. The students were a bit bummed and really wanted to try to make the goal and several said they had lost their order forms. So, new forms were found and I had some genius students suggest that everyone bring in a few dollars to donate so I could choose some classroom books. I also told them that if they ordered over $325, I would order enough to get us to $350. I only had to put in about $2! My kids rocked it!

I don't know what I am going to order with the bonus points. I want to get the kids in on the decision making, but I know I need to get more informational text in my classroom library. Any suggestions on what to buy? 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Smarties Fractions

My math class is an intervention group. The majority of the students have an IEP, and if they don't they are at least one grade level below 5th grade and need a lot of extra assistance. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are great because I have a para and the resource teacher in there and we do a small group rotation. On Monday I typically teach whole group and introduce the concept for the week and on Fridays I take them to the computer lab to practice math facts, we review the concepts of the week, and then we complete an assessment.

This week we started fractions. I was a bit worried because I know that students often struggle with fractions and I haven't taught math in forever. We started off by discussing what fractions are and they did a great job of coming up with a definition together....Fractions are parts of a whole. Many remembered the names of the numerator and denominator and some even knew the connection between fractions and division. One of the girls walked in wearing a great shirt that was perfect for fractions. It had an image of a bubble gum machine with different colored gumballs. We used that briefly to remember what fractions were. Then I had them briefly discuss what they liked about fractions and many said that they were fun and enjoyed working with fractions. One said they like fractions because it was easily related to food! What a great segue to our Smarties lesson!

I had seen several Smarties activities on Pinterest/blogs/TpT but most were geared to the younger grades and didn't accomplish everything that I needed to. So I whipped up a little worksheet that we completed together, each student had their own unique pack of Smarties. First the students colored in what their pack looked like and then we wrote the fraction for each color. Next they ordered the fractions from greatest to least and I touched on reduced fractions and equivalencies. Then the students compared the fractions.

As we were working I thought of more that I could have added to the handout, but just had them flip it over and write it on the back. They first wrote their fractions in word form and then they wrote a simple word problem and wrote the solution. I thought it would be great to have them eat certain fractions and so had them put their Smarties into fifths (since there are 15 in a roll they had groups of 3). We talked some more about equivalent fractions and then they ate three-fifths of their Smarties followed by six-fifteens and they were all gone. The lesson went pretty well and the students enjoyed it. The part that they struggled with the most was coloring their roll in the correct order!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Comparing Integers

As I've mentioned before, I haven't taught math in several years, and this year I am teaching an intervention math class. I have 21 students in my math class and three days a week I have the resource teacher and aide come in for a full hour. It has been working quite well so far. This week we are working on integers. After getting some ideas from other bloggers I put together a really simple game. Each pair of students gets 40 integer cards, most of which are negative numbers. Each partner takes 20 cards and then they flip one over. Just like in the card game 'War', the card with the highest value wins.

I made some simple recording sheets for students to write their card value, their opponents card value, and then add the appropriate <, >, or =.

We played for about ten minutes yesterday and today and the kids are really enjoying it, I can tell they are also mastering comparing integers! You can easily whip up your own version of the game, or buy the one I created for a mere $2.00.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Treasures 4 Teachers

Treasures 4 Teachers is a non-profit here in Arizona. Teachers can purchase a annual membership for $35 and then have access to some excellent resources. T4T has a warehouse full of donations from businesses and individuals that are available to teachers. Over the summer a colleague and I decided to give T4T a try. We paid for our membership and then spent nearly 2 hours exploring. There are several areas of the warehouse: the free section, the fill a bag for $5 section, and the pay-per-item section.

Some of the great things we found included: binders, cardstock, file folders, books, hole punches, desk organizers, etc. They often have dry erase boards, bookshelves, and file cabinets at a great price. The stock in T4T is always changing because they depend on donations from the community. I've only had a chance to check out the warehouse once, but I plan on going again in the next month.

This past Saturday T4T had a big giveaway. All members had to do was drive up and we were handed a bag stuffed full of goodies! I considered not going because it is located a bit far from my house, but was glad I went because there were some excellent school supplies, and I'm guessing each bag was worth over $25 retail. Here is what I got in my bag:

Cap erasers
Mechanical pencils
Glue sticks

Thank you Treasures 4 Teachers for the awesome goodies, they will be put to good use by my students! If you are an Arizona teacher you can take a tour of the warehouse and see if a membership is for you.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Smoothing out the roughness

Tuesday was one of my toughest days as a teacher. I was already having a bad day....recovering from being sick, forgot we had staff photos in the morning, things weren't going as planned, I barely ate a few bites of lunch and had a growly tummy, etc. The icing on the cake was when our new principal came in for his first unannounced observation. It was the last hour of the day and everything about it was a disaster. I was (and still am) mortified and fighting feelings of inadequacy. I am my own toughest critic, and while my principal was nothing but kind and provided excellent feedback, I have trouble shaking some of the overwhelming feelings of failure. Tuesday night I was a mess of tears and emotions, but I went in on Wednesday with a plan, and the rest of the week went much smoother and I was less frustrated and frazzled.

I wasn't going to post about this because when I read teacher blogs they paint their profession as perfect and I didn't want to show my weakness. These teacher bloggers have classrooms that are colorful and nothing it out of place, their lessons are beautiful and engaging, they have time to create new resources, their students have perfect behavior, and nothing bad ever happens. I decided to post this because it is reality. Teaching is a tough job. We all have bad days, and I've come to learn that the best teachers are ones who reflect on their practices and strive to improve their craft.

Yesterday I woke up to a cloudy sky (I LOVE rainy days) and headed to work. Just before the morning bell rang the rain came crashing down and the students hurried into the classrooms. In our Arizona desert we get afternoon summer monsoon rain that is short lived. This rain was a steady downpour that lasted all morning and into part of the afternoon. Usually we don't get days like this at all, and when we do they are in winter. I propped our classroom door open and we worked quietly to the backdrop of the rain and thunder and let in the refreshing smell. It was a good end to a rough week.

I have so much I have planned to share (the good stuff that we've been up to) but I've been busy, and I'm still getting over this nasty cough. We've only got three more weeks of the quarter and then two weeks of break!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

6 weeks in!

I can't believe that we have been back in school for 6 weeks already! This week we had parent-teacher conferences and they were a breeze. Every single parent showed up as did most of the kids. I strongly believe that students should participate in conferences because it is their education and they need to take responsibility for their learning. I also work with some great families, and it was nice to chat with everyone, and meet the few that I hadn't already met.

Despite conferences going smoothly, the past two weeks have been rough...
* I have now been sick for the third time this school year. I have no idea why I keep getting sick, I've been teaching for ages and I never get sick like this, typically maybe once or twice a year. I guess I need to stuff myself full of vitamins and start juicing regularly again.
* Last Thursday the AC in my classroom broke, again, for the third time this year (are things happening in threes for me?). My class relocated to the library for that afternoon and then spent the next day in an empty classroom on the primary side of campus. For the most part my students did a phenomenal job being flexible and were generally well behaved, but Friday afternoon they were struggling to stay focused.
* This past week has been totally off. Maybe it was the move to another classroom the previous week, maybe it was the two full moons in a month, maybe the honeymoon period is over, or a combination of all of that. My students have been chatty and unfocused. Several received hefty fines as part of our classroom economy system, but they didn't seem to mind. This year I started to include team points and class multipliers as part of the economy system for students to earn additional money, and although this worked a few weeks ago, it was not happening this week. We missed recess to practice the quiet signal and line procedures, and they still struggled.

During conferences many parents told me that they like the economy system and that they give additional consequences at home when they see that their child received fines on their weekly note home. So, it was surprising that I saw them struggle so much. I'm going to try two things next week in hopes that behavior improves. 1. I spent quite some time today setting up a new seating chart. Usually I keep the same seating chart for the quarter, but I know that mixing the kids up at this point is going to alleviate some of the issues. 2. I created a Behavior Reflection form that ties directly into the classroom rules that my students created on the first day of school. I reference the rules often when I talk to the students, but I think actually having to fill out a form will make them understand more deeply how their actions are affecting others.

If students fill out the form and still struggle then I will be having them call home. I'm not one to send students to the principal, but that is an option if I am not seeing improvement. Any other suggestions for chatty and unfocused kids?