Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Math explorations

I am a huge advocate of the use of manipulatives and hands-on exploration.  Right before spring break we dived into volume.

Our first day was focused on exploring cubic volume with cubes.  It was such a great opportunity to watch them struggle through the challenge sheets and learn from one another with no pressure of assessment.  

Their task:

They had a great time exploring with cubes.  I also frequently allow them to work on the floor and move around.  They're ten and need to wiggle sometimes.  I might as well embrace this and provide these opportunities in the classroom.

They had a specific task sheet (for accountability).  I gave them ten minutes to explore, then they shared with a partner (Kagan hand up, stand up, pair up, and share).

One group was super excited that their blocks were ASU colored!

After a day of exploration, we dived into strategies, formulas, and problem solving.  We spent a few days on regular shapes before diving into the irregular ones.  I posed the problem as a challenge and let them struggle as a team.  Most groups figured out that they could find the volumes separately, then add them together.  

They had so much fun exploring volume.  Instead of just giving them the formula, I felt it was more important for them to have hands-on practice exploring exactly what volume means.

Who says math can't be fun?

Monday, March 30, 2015


Yesterday I tried something new and to say it didn't go well would be an understatement.  

I signed up to run a vendor booth at the local mall to sell Jamberry.  I paid to rent the table and then had to purchase display stands and black sheets.  I spent hours preparing for the event and asked other vendors for their tips and tricks.  I made signs, prepped for give aways, got samples ready, and practiced my set up a good half-dozen times. I felt nervous, but ready.

I spend most of my day teaching, which means getting students excited and interested in things when sometimes they don't want to be there. I've done a few Jamberry parties to varying degrees of success. I figured this vendor event would be a piece of cake!

I got to the event two hours before it was starting to set up.  The table I rented was not there. I spent forty minutes trying to track one down because the coordinator was not responding.  Mall security just brought me one (thank goodness) and once the coordinator showed up, my concerns were brushed off. I am not impressed.

I was also double booked for the same spot with another vendor.  Her table (and chairs) were also not delivered (and she paid for them as well), so I shared.  Another vendor didn't have his table.  As someone with a background in event planning (student council, being an RA, being a teacher, hosting a bunch of baby showers and bridal showers, etc), I was not impressed by the logistics.

Before the event started, I was already a nervous wreck and super frustrated by the series of events. For seven hours, I stood on my feet, trying to talk to people.  I applied about fifty samples. I had a raffle. I smiled and said hi to everyone who passed.

People were super rude. I sold two items, making a ten dollar profit for the entire day. I did everything right, according to all the direct sales articles I read.  But, despite all my preparation, the event flopped. I failed, big time.

I'm glad I tried.  I learned that supporting myself and my family on direct sales is not something I want to do because it's too much rejection and too unpredictable.  I don't have a thick enough skin for this.

I'll still be doing Jamberry, but just events with friends I know and online parties.  I don't think talking to strangers and putting myself out there in a vendor event is my thing.  I tried, I failed, I learned something about myself. I guess I have to be okay with not being amazing at this.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Teachable Moments, Part 1 (field trips)

A large part of teaching relies on being reflective of one's practices.  Some lessons I've bombed and that's alright. I made corrections and retaught it with a different strategy with a different outcome.

Sometimes I embark on various different tasks and when I'm done, I realize there was a much more efficient way to get the job done.  Here is part one of teaching lessons I've learned the hard way.

Field Trips

I completely messed up paperwork for my first field trip.  I didn't know I was supposed to collect permission slips by a certain due date and that you're supposed to call and remind parent chaperones a few days ahead of time. I didn't know you should have a back-up wait list in case the parents are unable to attend. I didn't know you had to clarify a dress code with chaperones and inform them that infants and other small children are not invited.  Reading the list, most of these things are common sense...but they weren't to me.  

My undergraduate degrees are not in education.  I started teaching at 21.  I was a first year teacher, on track 1 (meaning I started three weeks later than everyone else due to year-round schedules) and I didn't have a good mentor.  My mentor teacher was quite hostile and took it upon herself to try to make me look incompetent at any given opportunity.  So many of the things "I should have known"...I didn't.

So, newbies, here's your field trip helpful hints:

1) Have your permission slips spell checked by admin.  

2) If you're taking chaperones, make a note that just the chaperone is welcome (and not younger siblings).  Have chaperones fill out contact information.  Include a blurb that indicates if more chaperones volunteer than are allotted, you will be holding a lottery system and have a wait list.

3) Send reminder slips and/or phone calls to those chaperones a few days ahead of time.  It's very frustrating to learn the day before that the mom you were counting on is no longer attending.  Have a backup plan (and a back up, back up plan).

4) If you have to collect money, check with your office administrator about receipts.  One school just wanted a white receipt turned in daily while another has the teacher write out receipts for each child.  In most cases, money is turned in daily. Ask first to make sure you know what's expected of you.

5) The print roster option that's available in most electronic grade book systems?  Use that.  Print off one and use it as your master list for who has turned in what.  Way more efficient than a post-it note list of who's done what.  Even better, staple that list to the outside of a folder or manila envelope.  Keep everything (except the money) related to that field trip inside.

6) Reward students that bring back slips or money on the first day they can.  The more that are turned in on time means the less work you have to do (tracking down the slips, sending home second and third copies, making phone calls, etc).

7) Make sure you tell the specialists that you are taking a field trip, that way they aren't looking for you.  They appreciate the heads up (and in some cases, the extra prep).  If possible, see if you can switch preps with another grade and have your specials when you return.

8) Make sure to check the master calendar before scheduling to make sure there aren't any assemblies.  Again, speaking from experience...ask first.

9) Whenever possible, schedule field trips for a Thursday or Friday.  It's difficult to get kids mentally back to classroom procedures after an exciting field trip, so choose your date carefully whenever possible.  

10) See the nurse and get trained on any emergency medical procedures beforehand.  One of my students has diabetes, so I learned how he checks his blood sugar, what to do if it's low or high, and who to call when.  See the nurse before you leave for a field trip to take the necessary materials with you.  Take band-aids and tissues just in case.

11) The emergency backpack that's in most classrooms?  Take it.  For me, it's obnoxiously red and quite old, but inside it contains student information in case of emergencies.  Put any medical supplies inside along with a set of flash cards.  

12) Plan for a debriefing period after the field trip.  I like to set aside 10-15 minutes to let students talk out what they learned.  Set a timer and after that, move on with instruction.

13)  Inform the cafeteria and order sack lunches just in case.  For the most part, field trips will be taken in the morning.  In our district, buses are expected to be back by 1 pm (to start making pick up rounds at schools).  Depending on traffic and where lunch falls, you may want to order sack lunches for everyone.  The ideal situation is that you're back in time to have a normal recess and lunch, so you get your teacher lunch too.  However, on field trip days this isn't always the case.  Be prepared to have the kids eat outside, picnic style, while you and the other teachers take turns running to heat up your lunch.  Eat outside with them. It's one day, it'll be okay.  Plus it gives them the chance to run off their extra energy before continuing on with your day.

14) Wear appropriate shoes and take your cell phone, just in case.  Sunglasses and sunscreen aren't a bad idea either.

15) Make student groups strategically.  Those troublesome students? Don't put them together.   If possible, don't give yourself a group of students.  Plan to be the emergency chaperone and take any students who are off task and need to be separated from the class.

16) Speaking of chaperones, check how many you're supposed to take.  Special education classrooms and general education classrooms have different legal quotas in terms of chaperones to students for field trip purposes.  Some students may need a one on one chaperone.  

17) Ask if there is an additional fee for chaperones.  Include this in your budget numbers and for bus purposes.  Make sure any cost for chaperones (like admission price) is disclosed ahead of time, usually on the field trip paperwork.

18) Whenever possible, try to have both male and female chaperones.  This makes the bathroom situation much easier to manage, especially if at an event with the general public.

19) Make sure you fill the chaperones in on any expectations before the field trip.  An easy way to do this is to send a reminder slip to the chaperones before the field trip, outlining what to expect.  Be sure to include if there's any behaviors to watch out for in your students (behaviors, medical situations, etc)  One year, we took our fifth graders to a baseball game for an anti-smoking presentation.  One of the chaperones bought a beer during the game.  We had to quickly intervene and share that this wasn't appropriate for the field trip.  Again, a lesson learned the hard way.

20) Enjoy yourself!

Veteran teachers, anything to add to the list? 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Break Goals

It's almost spring break (HALLELUJAH) and true to my type A personality, I'm making a list of what I'd like to accomplish.

We just bought a bunch of furniture and are getting ready to buy security doors, so traveling anywhere was out of the budget.  We just had two fabulous mini-vacations with family in Arizona, so that was our spring travel adventure.  B doesn't really have any vacation days and I'm content to have a staycation here.

Spring Break goals:

1) Finish rewatching Friends on Netflix.  This has been our nightly relaxing time.  We just (finally) finished HIMYM (yes, I know it ended almost two years ago but we were getting caught up).

2) Finish Parks and Rec.  I haven't been emotionally prepared to see the end of this glorious show go, so I've been avoiding it.

3) Try a new restaurant for date night.  A few new places popped up near us so I'm excited to try them.  As an added bonus, most are breakfast food places.

4) Restain the bathroom cabinets.  Last summer I restained all 37 (yes, 37) kitchen cabinet doors.  Using the same kit from Home Depot, I'm going to turn the oak bathroom cabinets into a soft gray, antique color.  There are 8 doors, so I expect this to be a 2 day project.  While we're there, we'll set up the measuring for security doors as well and hopefully get those installed too!

5) Doctor's appointment.  Since I hate taking sick days and making sub plans, I try to schedule all my doctor's appointments for school breaks.  It works out well.

6) Finish going through my closet and actually take the pile of clothes and shoes to Goodwill instead of letting them accumulate in a bag in the garage.

7) Finish the small tasks I've half-way started:  Shredding, filing, organizing receipts for next year's taxes, cleaning the guest bedroom, organizing all my craft stuff.  Oh, and grading.  Grading essays is quite time consuming, so I like to just do five or six a day.  That way they don't start to blend together and I can make sure I'm grading fairly.

8) Try a new recipe or two.  Maybe just one. Let's not get too ambitious here.

9) Put away St. Patrick's day decor and decorate for spring. 

10) Girls lunch date(s)?  

11) See new babies (?).  Five of my girlfriends are due within the next six weeks so if any of these new bundles of joy have arrived, I want to go see them and smother them with love!  

12) Finish the books I'm reading.  One is for professional development and one is for pleasure.  I know which one will be read first!  

13) Cancel my gym membership.  I need to find a new gym.  Now that my gym buddies have moved, it's harder to justify the 20 minute each way commute.  I'd rather start running in my neighborhood and doing yoga.  Plus I think a few of my coworkers belong to a small gym that's literally 5 minutes from work (meaning ten minutes from my house).  This seems like a much better option.

14)  Change my pedicure.  My Jamberry mint chevron wrap is holding strong at four weeks, but I think I want something pink.  (Applied March 7th)

15) Make a new front door wreath.  I made this one for a friend:

And I'd like one for myself!

16) Spend a whole day in pajamas!

17) Start crafting their end of year and testing treats :)

What are your spring break plans??

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Five days

Spring (and its allergens) have officially hit Las Vegas.  It's pleasantly in the 80s and that magical time of year when I need neither the heat nor the air conditioning on inside.  I simply open the windows, run fans, and the temperature is fabulous.

We've taken the students outside to read a few times because it's so lovely outside.

This gorgeous weather makes for irksome behaviors and lots of parent teacher conferences.

While most of the country has already had spring break, we are sitting at five days out.  Five long days.

Here's the gist of what's causing their spring madness:

1) The fifth graders are getting the elementary version of island-fever.  

They've been to their middle school (which is across the street) and registered for next year's classes.  They've seen all the clubs and activities that are available to them as sixth graders.  Most are starting to experience puberty and all the roller coaster emotions (and smells) that accompany these natural changes.  They feel they've outgrown elementary school and are ready for the next step.  Some are excited while some are terrified.  I've set out my "how to deal with middle school bucket" and made myself available at recess to talk about middle school myths.

2) Testing season is soon.  

We have a large pep rally soon and the primary classes are adopting the intermediate ones to sponsor with messages and little treats.  I will be digging out this:

to read to them.  We'll be talking about testing strategies and crossing our fingers for perfect attendance.  This year we'll be taking the SBAC, which is all online...which presents a whole new set of problems.

3)  Their emotions.

 I find that i need to, on an almost daily basis, re-establish our classroom norms.  On any given day, I say any (and all) of these things:

No child, you can't stand up and run out of the classroom bawling hysterically.  If you don't feel well, ask for a nurse pass. I am not a mind reader.

No child, you can't choose to do none of your work and still expect a reward.  

No child, you can't roll your eyes at me and expect me not to call you on that. There will be a card change and a hallway conversation.

 No child, you can't pull your tooth out and bleed all over your test as a strategy to get out of taking it.  A clean, blood-free one will be waiting for you when you return from the nurse.
No child, you can't take a bathroom break right when the class returns from recess.  

No child, you can't try to sneak off for a ten minute bathroom break every time we are ready to take a timed math quiz.

No child, you can't try to use the bathroom three times in the afternoon because you don't want to read your book.  If you keep asking, you're going to the nurse because something may be medically wrong if you insist you must use the bathroom every twenty minutes.

No child, you and your best friend can't both go to the bathroom together. I'm female, I know you want to go outside and giggle.  One at a time, nice try.

4) The excitement.

We've got several guest speakers lined up.  Field day is this Friday.  We're watching The Lightning Thief in the morning (because we finished the novel) before doing this activity as a table team.  Math is hands-on and reading is integrating history (American Revolution).  They are simply so excited about every thing we are doing.  Every little thing.

You know when Oprah would give away free things and the audience goes absolutely wild?  That's what teaching fifth grade is like.  It's exhausting.

Five days.  I can do this!

March Madness, Teacher Style

Our own version of March madness has hit.  

Many of the teachers, myself included, have been stricken with an awful stomach bug, flu, and sinus infection trifecta.  I had to leave work early on Thursday for the second time in my career.  I'm so thankful that my grade level each took a few of my kids and were incredibly supportive.  Still, I wanted to fight through my illness and (foolishly) believed that since my temperature wasn't quite 100, I could stay and work.

I took a sick day on Friday (which always raises red flags) but actually wanted to be there. I missed a guest speaker (a doctor) talking about the negative impact drugs have on the human body.  Our next writing research project is on human body systems (see what we did there? High five for planning!)  My day consisted of a conference call in about a student, lots of medicine and breathe (DoTerra essential oil), and a half dozen naps.  Saturday consisted of a teacher training (all I did was sit) and helping a friend move tile (again, all I did was sit in the truck and be supportive).  As of Sunday, I'm starting to feel a little better and hoping for an easy week.  But this next week is the one before spring break, so we shall see...

There is a sense of martyr-ism with most teachers I know.  We, and I acknowledge that I am not only in this category but practically leading the whole parade, are such perfectionists that when it comes to trusting another person (especially if you don't know the substitute), it's darn near impossible.  There is a huge sense of guilt over leaving your students with another adult or feeling awful because you dumped more work on another teacher's plate.  I've had my prep sold several times this year because other teachers didn't have subs. There is hours of work put into sub plans and preparing powerpoint or smartnotebooks, all your copies, the whole time crossing one's fingers that 1, the job is actually picked up and 2, the substitute follows your plans and doesn't do something absurd like make up their own idea of what your students should learn that day.

(Substitutes going off book happens...a lot.  I get that part of teaching involves capitalizing on teachable moments, but at the same time, I know exactly where my students are in their educational journey of mastering the standard.  Don't throw something weird at them for a one day lesson that has no connection to anything else they've learned. That's not okay.)

 At the same time, I know it's something that I have to work on and get over because in the future (maternity leave, when I have kids), there will simply be days I can't go in to work and that will just have to be alright.

For every day that I'm gone from my classroom, it involves about two hours of prep work (for a six hour, eleven minute day with the munchkins.)  When I return, there is the joyous task of figuring out what actually got accomplished, what I need to reteach, and what students made unsavory choices and will spend their next recesses inside with me.

I don't know of any other job that requires this much work to prepare for a missed day. #teacher problems

Five days til spring break!


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Things I love about my classroom

A fellow teacher, former coworker, and adorable new mom Katie posted about her favorite things about her classroom in her blog, which inspired me to do the same.

Scholastic Book Orders

I love how excited my students get for the book orders.  I love that teachers get free coupons and reward points based on the parent orders, so I get to stock up on new books for my students.  This year I've noticed they're obsessed with the "Who was..." series, which is great!  I've read a few of these informational texts and they're very student friendly.  If you're looking for books on a specific person, I'd try here first.

Plus every few months or so, Scholastic includes coupons for the students.  If they spend $10, they get a coupon for a free book (under $5).  It's a pretty nice way to encourage reading.  Plus the prices are cheaper than local stores, which is always a bonus!

Class Competitions

We are a Reading Rangers school and use AR to gauge students' comprehension on their independent reading books.  We are in a competition within the grade level for the highest engage time and the highest percentage. 

However, this competition isn't enough for my students.  We have additional competitions within our classes and across the grade level.  Our current one is a race to 50 passing tests (85% or above) between the girls and the boys.  However, the catch for this one is that any time someone scores less than 80%, that team loses a point.  The kids are loving it!

Other successful competitions include:

-race to 100 100%s
-race to 100 points (each book is assigned a different point value depending on it's complexity and length)
-table team percentages

What competitions do you have with your students?

Class Dojo

I joined the class dojo train late this year, so I am currently only using it as a reward for reading rangers.  For each 100% students earn, they get 2 points.  85 or 90% gets 1 point, filling a badge earns 3 points, and graduating earns 10 points.   They are motivating one another to be in the top five, which is excellent.

Next year I will be using this exclusively as my classroom behavior system.  As helpful as the card system is, I'm over it.  With class dojo, I can reward specific behaviors.  More importantly, I can easily share the information with my students' families, which increases our home-school connections. 

Plus, it's free!

Our Anchor Charts

I haven't done the best job at posting pictures of all our anchor charts (there are a lot!) but I am proud of them.  I make them with the students and they have mini-versions in their notebooks for reference.  This year I stepped it up and have them color-coded.

Teal: reading
Yellow: foundational skills (fluency, phonics, word parts)
pink: math
white: novels

I love that my students have internalized that these are a resource designed to help them learn.  They often ask to go up and look at the charts for clarification (success!).

I ended up just stapling them on top of one another since we're out of space.  I don't have any cutesy inspirational posters up, but still ran out of wall space!  

Classroom Library 

For the first time in my teaching career, I had to level my library.  I used the reading rangers program to level my library (school mandate) but I went beyond that. I grouped my library by genre in adorable book buckets:

I've had a little bit of backlash because it's not organized by fiction/informational text or by point value.  For me, it's more authentic for readers to pick a book a book based on the topic instead of the length.

The Map

I love the map.  I love the postcards.  But more importantly, the map is getting my students so excited about geography and the other 49 states.  We are able to make connections with literature and informational text by linking the postcards with the locations named in books.  They are getting excited about colleges and starting to think about their options for their future. 

What are your favorite parts about your classroom?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Reading Week Recap

It's been a while dear readers, and for that I apologize.

Life got in the way.  

Since I last blogged, there's been a few nail parties, baby showers, and new students that have soaked up a majority of my free time.  I've begun spring tutoring and book club with my students, in addition to a teacher book study.  (I love learning and was given hot pink post-its and can write in the book, so why not?!)  Plus...it was reading week.

For those of you not in elementary school, reading week is a magical and exhausting time.  Our librarian did an amazing job of putting together various activities, including:

  • daily DEAR time (drop everything and read)
  • mystery readers
  • book bingo (which we won, by the way!)
  • assemblies
  • guest readers, including members of the Air Force and from our local news stations
  • door decorating contests
  • a scavenger hunt
  • lunch with a loved one
Oh, and the Scholastic book fair.  Oh, and every day was a spirit day.  Oh, and book club started that week, in addition to tutoring.  Oh, and the fifth graders took their panoramic picture for the year book.  Oh, and the fifth grade team was in charge of the First Friday breakfast for the teachers, so we decorated the lounge and had a plethora of yummy breakfast foods.

Oh, and we toured the local middle school, so add that field trip in there.  While on the field trip, I was confused for a middle school student, by a middle school student.  Not the best for my ego, but I'm glad I can blend in with teenagers...oh wait, no, I'm not glad.  At all!  College and high school are fine, but middle school?! 

I am exhausted.  This week, I wore crazy socks, was both Medusa and Batman, rocked Dr. Seuss stripes, and was a minion. 

My crown of snakes.

 I went to Fresh and Easy before school Friday (for last minute breakfast items) in not just a Batman tee shirt (because that would be socially acceptable), but full on boots, yellow tights, a cape, and a utility belt.  However, once I clarified with the cashier that it was reading week, she understood completely.  She has a first grader, so my ensemble made sense.  I must say, cross walk duty was interesting when dressed like this:

We did finish our novel The Lightning Thief, bringing us up to two completed novels this year.  I don't think I'll start another, but instead continue with "Teaser Tuesday" and start reading aloud novels...but stop at the intriguing parts.  Mean? Yes. But if it sparks their curiosity and makes them want to continue reading, then I've done my job.

I do have to make permission slips for them to watch the movie "adaptation" since it's PG.  The movie is so ridiculously different from the book, which prompted me to make this, which I'll be using with them.  I'm glad things have worked out timing wise, because I'll be showing the movie on the Friday morning before Field Day, which is the Friday before Spring Break.  I know they'll have extra short attention spans, so I might as well hook them with multimedia elements.  Plus it's directly related to the 400 page book I read to them, so it's academic.

I however, am in need of a nap.  It's barely ten am, but all my weekend grading is done (huzzah), chores are done (hoorah), and I've got a late night with friends planned.  

15 teaching days until spring break, hallelujah!