Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Observed on Halloween!

Our district de-emphasizes the observance of Halloween. Mainly they don't want parties that infringe on instructional time and topics that might be violent/gruesome. Halloween is one of the best holidays (if not THE best) but I pretty much downplay it in class. I do leave them a little non-sugary treat, usually of the school variety. This year I found out that Plants vs. Zombies and the ADA were giving away the game for free. I knew my kids would love this and they did! Plants vs. Zombies is one of my favorite video games, I've played it over and over! The coupons are still good until the 10th if you'd like to get a free copy of the game or hand them out to your students. 

My principal stopped by to drop something off just as we were starting math. It was me, the para, and both resource teachers and we were starting our intervention group rotations. The principal saw the perfect opportunity to get three observations completed in one go and was there for about an hour. This was NOTHING like my terrible observation at the beginning of the year. Although it was Halloween it was PERFECT timing. My math rotation always runs smoothly and he was so impressed. We get immediate feedback through iObservation and he left excellent notes. The ladies in the office said that the principal was even raving about it later. Boom!

Oh, and NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow! Let the crazy month of writing commence!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Special Delivery

Like many teachers, this year has been filled with extra challenges. For many, myself included, this has led to extra frustration, stress, and anxiety.  Lucky me, I have a wonderful mom, who knew I was stressed, and sent a lovely bunch of roses to school just for me. They were even specially delivered to my classroom by the principal. What a way to brighten my week and remind me that we are all struggling and not to let things get me down.

I'm virtually sharing my bouquet with all teachers! I don't even have to mention the endless challenges we face each day, but you are respected for all that you do!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Note from Your Teacher

Do you send positive notes home to your students' families? I try to send a little postcard twice a year to my students' parents. It is a great way to recognize their good qualities and it makes them and their parents so proud. I have a drawer full of postcards and a little check sheet next to my desk to help me keep track of who I have sent notes home to. In the past I have even pre-addressed the cards with Avery labels so that they were ready to go. Plus, it's just great to get mail these days!

These are the freshly written postcards that are ready to be posted tomorrow!

I love that our new principal also asks that each teacher send a couple of names to him each quarter to call home. My two students that received calls were ecstatic, and one of the moms even posted her pride on Facebook.

What creative ways do you recognize your students?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Caution - Novelists Ahead!

The kids were back in school for 3 days today after 2 weeks and 2 days of their fall break! I was dying to introduce NaNoWriMo to them and it was the first thing we did the morning they returned. If you aren't familiar with NaNoWriMo, and missed my earlier post on it, then you MUST go back and read it.

This November my kids, as well as all of the 5th and 6th graders will be writing novels! As I introduced the program to my class you can see some of the students getting a bit worried and others really excited. By the time I have gone over the basics, have shown off my two complete NaNo novels, and conveyed to them my excitement, most of them were catching the NaNo bug.

Before the students returned to school I sat down with our new principal to give him a heads up on the program. When I finished, he sat back in his chair and said, "well, I have to say something about this..." At that moment I was thinking that he was going to shut the whole thing down, and then he said, "I'm joining you guys, I want to write a novel too." You cannot imagine my elation! I warned him that what he was getting into was intense, and that every 5th and 6th grader would know and be bugging him throughout the month. He assured me that he wanted in. 

Not only is our principal in, but several of the 5th/6th grade teachers are going to write too (but modifying their word-count, not the full 50,000). I've been trying to get the librarian to do it to for the past few years, but this year I think she is finally serious! When I went to tell the resource teacher her and a para decided that they too wanted to travel this perilous, yet rewarding, trek. 

Now, I realize that is isn't November yet, but it is critical for NaNo novelists to do some planning and preparing before November 1 comes knocking. Each 5th and 6th grader has a NaNoWriMo workbook that is taking them through the development of their characters and plot. And finally there is a great lesson on showing versus telling and how this helps improve writing and increase word count. The Young Writer's Program has great, and FREE, workbooks to download on their site. These resources would be great for many writing activities, not just NaNoWriMo. I've chosen only about a third of the workbook to use as we don't have time to get through everything before NaNoWriMo begins. 

On Thursday I helped students come up with their word-count goals for the month. Because NaNoWriMo is meant to help students send off their inner editor for the month we are not worried about quality (editing happens after November) but rather quantity. So they are simply graded on words written divided by their word-count goal. My students are always ambitious. Having done NaNoWriMo with students for two years already I kind of know if goals are too little, just right, or too much. I love that differentiation is already built into this as well! For 5th graders, 3,000 words is average. ELL, SPED, and struggling writers fall between 1,000 and 2,500 words and those students who love writing will be closer to 4,000 and above. I remind students that if they have sports, clubs, church activities, etc., that they may want to decrease their goal because they might not be able to write on those days. If students are really stuck on goals that I think are too much for them I tell them that they can have that for their personal goal, but we adjust their school goal. I LOVE their ambition, but I want to help them feel successful and not stressed out. It also helps to teach them about making appropriate goals for themselves. 

By Friday most of the class already knew what they wanted their novels to be about. I love their ideas and I love that the students spend their recess telling me about what they story is going to be about. They are so creative, and I love that most don't have that voice in their heads that we adults do, you know the one, the one that tells us our ideas aren't good. So, we jumped into our workbooks and began the creation of our characters. 

I have also been planning my novel. This will be my third NaNoWriMo, I was a "winner" last year and the year before. It is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever done. I don't plan on ever trying to publish my novels, but just knowing that I could write a novel in one month, and having just one copy for me, was enough to make me feel great. I HIGHLY recommend NaNoWriMo for adults and I think that the rewards for students are the greatest. In my years of teaching this one month makes even the most struggling and reluctant writers more creative and confident. So, get over to the NaNoWriMo and Young Writer's Program sites and get signed up. November is less than 10 days away!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Internet Safety and Cyberbullying

As we all know, internet predators and cyberbullying has been becoming more common as more people access the internet and as it becomes more advanced. It's scary, and my students have told me frightening stories over the past few years of things that have happened to them personally. Our school invites local law enforcement to come talk to our intermediate kiddos, but now our district also requires teachers to teach a lesson on internet safety and cyberbullying at all grade levels and they provided us with a lesson from NetSmartz. There was a video to watch and then a game to play afterwards. The video was slightly "babyish" for 5th graders, but they didn't seem to ming. Our class went through the lesson today and I/they would have loved to have discussed internet safety and cyberbullying more, but it was time to clean up for the week.

We used the NetSmartz lesson and it was simple yet meaningful. This site is full of great, FREE, resources and videos for kids of all ages as well as for parents (although it isn't too user friendly). You can use the pull down search to locate resources on other topics.

Included in the lesson was a safety pledge that included four rules to follow. The video goes over these and the game includes situations in which students decide which rule(s) apply. Then they take the pledge home and sign it with their parents.

I highly recommend checking it out and teaching your students about internet safety!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Interactive Notebooks - Social Studies

You know when you get in the habit of doing something, like going to the gym on a regular basis, and then something throws you off and it's difficult to get back into the habit. You might have good intentions and tell yourself that you will get to the gym and then it doesn't materialize, well, I was getting like that with blogging. For two weeks we were on fall break. I had a list of things to work on for school and had many blog posts that I wanted to write. But I couldn't get in the right mood to write them. Here I am forcing myself to post in hopes that it becomes more regular again.

Monday and Tuesday were workdays, which are great because you can ease back into waking up early and having a routine. The students headed back on Wednesday and we have been busy ever since. I have tons of things from first quarter that I didn't get to share. We'll see how much gets posted.

One of the new things I have been testing out this year is interactive-style notebooks. Last year I started getting into lapbooking and then found that interactive notebooks had a lot of the same elements. I even discovered that many of the foldables/mini books/etc. aren't that novel either. We set up all of our notebooks with a table of contents and most of the pages include graphic organizers, foldables, mini books, and more meaningful (and colorful) activities).

Today I wanted to highlight just a few from our social studies notebooks.

At the end of each quarter I ask my students to write me a letter telling me how their quarter went. I had several students comment on the notebooks and that they enjoyed the activities that we completed in them. I love that it forces students to read deeper (and not just skim and scan - like they might for a worksheet) and that they get to be creative. It's definitely more meaningful and, to throw out a buzz word, has built in differentiation!

And now, I am also getting back in the habit of going to the gym regularly and my yoga class starts in 25 minutes!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fall Break!

I absolutely LOVE being on a modified year-round schedule. Having two week breaks at the end of each quarter is a much needed time to rest, relax, reflect, and recharge for teachers and students. This past quarter has been the most stressful of my career and this break is is necessary! I haven't been feeling too well and I know that the stress is a big part of the problem. Going to see the doctor next week, but I've started juicing again and I'm going to give some B-12 supplements a try. So far I've spent some time with family and did some of this...

...and starting reading this...

Tomorrow I have a district training for Common Core ELA. Of course I'm a little bummed that I'm taking this over break (it was over break or during school nights) but I'm also excited to get more guidance on the transition to the new standards. 

Also, I have quite a few things that I want to blog about from first quarter, so hopefully the next week or two I can share some of the great things that my 5th graders have been up to!