Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolutions Linky

I have stayed pretty low on the radar this winter break and I'm SO glad I have. I feel so much more relaxed, comfortable and rested. Thank goodness!

I'm VERY ready to say goodbye to 2012. It was not a good year for me. Sure, a few good things happened but mostly it was an emotional roller coaster that kept me on my toes more often than I needed. I suppose it can be classified as a bittersweet year. I don't like to be self-pitying. I like to be realistic. Reality is that everything that happened in 2012, especially in my personal life, needed to come out and happen. Especially the emotional crap I buried for so long. I'm freer and happier now than I can ever remember being and that is fantastic.

So with that, I'm really happy to be linking up with Jen over at The Teacher's Cauldron for her New Year's Linky.  Each linked up blogger is contributing two goals for 2013: one personal and one blogging-related. It's fabulous that it is separated because often we teacher-bloggers tend to combine everything into one (which leads to its own issues).

My Goals for 2013:
Personal - Finally take care of myself. I have a head start on this already because today is my 7th day without any soda of any kind (even my formerly beloved Diet Coke) and I feel so much better already. I am going to a weight loss seminar on January 12 and will really get a head start on my life change. Baby steps,you know? Last week I started with ditching the artificial sweetener drinks and this week I start my exercise routine back in gear. That way when I go to my WL seminar, I'm already a bit ahead of the game. (Plus with The Walking Classroom going 2-3 times per week in my classroom, exercise will be a snap!)

Blogging - I have seen very similar resolutions from many teacher bloggers and I have to agree. Many have said their blog goal is to blog with intention. To me that means I'm not worried about blogging if I have nothing really to say. I'm only worried about blogging (and commenting on blogs) when something catches my interest and I think readers might enjoy it. I think this is a worthwhile goal. I really enjoy blogging but as we all know, the real world comes first and sometimes convincing ourselves of that is hard. So my goal will be to blog with intention and focus on areas in the edusphere that matter to me (Common Core, evaluations, mentoring, student success, etc).

I invite you to link up with Jen if you haven't already. There are some great resolutions out there (and lots of blogs to begin to follow if you haven't already!).


Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Freebie!

Good afternoon bloggers! Today is my 12th wedding anniversary! Hard to believe how much has happened over the years!

Just wanted to quickly post and let you know my book is available as a freebie now through Sunday for Amazon Kindle! It's newly edited and revised so grab it while you can!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Life Change

I decided to (slightly) rename my blog to The (Un)Caffeinated Teacher. If you've followed the blog for any length of time, you probably know that 2012 has not been my best year. In fact, it has been downright horrible for the most part. 

From early February when I had one of the worst depressive episodes of my life to my Pre Midlife Crisis Crisis disappearing post mid-February to my hate mail in June to my surgeries, to finishing National Board (and not certifying by a mere 6 points) to all of the unsaid things that I didn't post here on this blog, it's been a year to forget. The only good thing was probably finally telling my story and putting it out there. My closet is now clean, my skeletons are gone. It's been a hard year emotionally, physically and mentally. I'm very, very ready to kick kiss 2012 goodbye.

That said, one of the things I am bound and determined to do to make 2013 the best it can be (and let's face it, nothing can be as bad as 2012 was), I am giving up Diet Coke and going to a weight loss clinic to help me finally shed years and years of emotional eating, binging and hiding from the real problems in my life. We have a different art teacher at our school this year and recently she posted on facebook a picture of her showing that she has lost a great deal of weight. I asked her about it at our staff holiday party and it turns out she was the exact same weight as I am now. If she can do it, so can I. I know a huge part of my tendency to be overweight is that when I'm emotionally distraught or upset, I eat. Diet Coke is and always has been my biggest vice. I know one of the first things the weight loss clinic staff are going to tell me to do is ditch the Diet Coke.

Interestingly as I have grappled with how and where to begin this journey, I have done a lot of reading about it. I've heard before that diet sodas can actually make you retain water and thus gain weight because of the aspartame and how it kind of tricks your body into craving the sweet taste. I would have to agree there. When I drink it (which is usually all I drink), I crave chocolate and other goodies more often. I finished my last 2-liter of Diet Coke on Christmas Eve. I haven't had any since. I've craved it like crazy (yesterday evening was particularly rough as I reached that 24 hour mark) but I haven't caved, even when I've wanted to.

So in 2013, I will be the UnCaffeinated Teacher and I will be on a lifelong journey to be happier and healthier. There is no time like now...when my emotional bags are finally empty and for the first time in my life, I feel free. I don't care about being skinny but I do care about living as healthy of a life as I can from now on. For my girls but mostly for myself.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas! May 2013 bring peace and happiness to you.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Prepping for my Student Teacher

Days later, I am still kind of in shock that I am getting a student teacher. I have asked every semester that I've been at my current school, usually for a TA (a half day teacher assistant, which is the semester before student teaching), but no luck. Apparently the coordinator from the university has been favoring teachers she knows will give the students a good experience. I can understand this to some degree but it's also unfair to people like me who've never had anyone and are dying to mentor someone for real. My principal went to bat and said the wealth needed to be spread around a little so here we are. I'm super grateful but also nervous as heck because while I've mentored new teachers before, it's been unofficial. They haven't been in  my room with me all day learning from me.

I may be a bit more nervous than she is! As such, I knew I wanted to do something for her. Partly because she told me that she was waiting on pins and needles to finally get a placement and partly because we're in this together--I want her to feel welcome and like part of the team.

Naturally I went looking on TpT for some inspiration. I found this packet from Rachelle at What The Teacher Wants. Bonus, I had enough credits to pay for it outright. It was just what I needed! Couple that with a trip to Target for some goodies plus a handmade sign by one of my students and my student teacher will have a great welcome on her first day!

Couldn't resist getting her her very own little bucket that I added her name too. I  love the Dollar Spot at Target!

This is the cover of the journal I found. I thought it was perfect!

Her binder and bucket.

The inside of the binder. (The welcome note the kids made will be in here too.)


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Student Teacher

I just found out this afternoon that I am going to have a student teacher this January-April! I'm beyond excited about it. I have wanted to be a mentor teacher forever and I'm super glad to have the opportunity.

I didn't think I would get anyone this time because I know the university doesn't like to place students in splits because it can be disastrous (ie the CT expects the ST to take over everything and teach both grades). Mrs. Principal asked me how I would handle having a ST and I said I wouldn't do that because I didn't think it was fair to them. The ST could teach my combined subjects (writing, science/social studies) and then flip flop for math and reading. It must have won over the coordinator at the college because I got an email letting me know I'm getting a student teacher in January!

The great news is, I will have an extra pair of hands so I can focus on better instruction for my kiddos. The not-so-great news is that she starts the DAY we come back from break. That isn't bad or horrible or anything....but it gives me less time to get things together to be ready for her. I want to be sure to make her feel like she's welcome and has a place of her own in my room. It won't be a huge place but I want to set aside a small spot for her so she feels like she's part of the team.

I had a chance to talk to her on the phone tonight because she's already home for the holidays (across the state) and she sounds very eager and sweet. I am so excited and thankful that she was put in with my class. She is going to love it and it will be a great learning experience for both of us, I'm sure!

I am going to get my craft on this winter break and make her a Student Teaching Survival Kit! I found some super cute ideas on other blogs for it. It will be so fun and will (hopefully) make her feel welcome!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Service Learning

We have been incredibly busy the past few weeks with finishing up units, preparing ourselves for a winter break and trying to cram in as much authentic learning as possible while the students are still able to focus and pay attention.

Two years ago I went to a service learning workshop in the summer and last year they helped my class and I complete a Magic Trash project. It was so much fun and my class learned a lot.

This year I wanted to keep the service more "in school" based. The League Michigan (who put on the training I went to) has VISTAs who help teachers and students coordinate service into their day. They have been phenomenal this year so far. I've worked with a total of 3 VISTAs in the last two years. They usually are only in the position for a year and then someone else steps in. So this year I've had a different VISTA than last year. I've had two I've worked with back and forth since school started.

They helped me write a Target Field Trip grant (which I just found out we were granted!). My 5th graders read "Leonardo's Horse" in our Reading Street series and one of my colleagues (who had 5th last year) told us that this horse is actually in our city at the Gardens. Well knock me over with a feather! I had no idea. So we wrote the Target grant (well the VISTA did for me) to have the children go to the gardens to see the horse, write poems/stories about it (coinciding with our poetry unit) and then sharing their learning with a K/1st grade class and teaching them to make clay models of the horse. SUPER FUN!

They have also helped to hook us up with Kids Food Basket. This is a non-profit organization that provides Sack Suppers to children in the city where I teach. My school has nearly 100% of its children eligible for free/reduced lunch and this program feeds over 5,000 children in the city every day for dinner. It is an amazing program. (And Mary K Hoodhood, the founder, actually won a Presidential Award from Obama for this!) Most of the kids in my school benefit from KFB and I wanted the children to learn that these suppers aren't just "free". They cost money that someone donates and a lot of volunteer time to put them together to ensure our students have a good meal to take home. Some students don't need them but many families who are struggling really rely on this program. 

We have decorated the bags that the Sack Suppers go into and this past week we did a trail mix activity. Miss Catrina from KFB came and worked with my 4th and 5th graders and led them in an activity where they bagged up trail mix that would end up in the sack suppers to be distributed to other schools. We did this right in the cafe area (which is in the front entrance area of our school) and many teachers and other classrooms saw us in action and it got them interested too, which is great! 

Here they are listening to Miss Catrina give them directions. You can see the front entrance to the school in the background. We were literally "center stage" for this!

Here they are bagging up and preparing to mix and bag the trail mix!

This is only about half of what they made! Each of those buckets has lots of little baggies filled with Trail Mix goodness inside!

Let me tell you how amazing it was when they counted the bags they had left and told my class they made 1,000 bags of Trail Mix! Enough to feed 4 schools worth of children in the Sack Suppers! How awesome is that?? What a humbling experience this was. The kids even cleaned up the floor like pros so our lunch ladies wouldn't hang a "Most Wanted" sign with my face on it for leaving their space a mess. 

I LOVE teaching at my school. Honestly. I have had some super rough kids in my classroom over the years but teaching my school right now just warms my heart. (I'm sure I've mentioned I went to school there as a kid, in the original building.) This area of the city is where I grew up. It means so much to me to be there and give back, especially given my own crap childhood. I will advocate for these kids with my last breath. However, I also push them to think about how what they do affects others. This is a perfect example. I'm sure none of them ever thought about how those Sack Suppers make it into their hands, they just know someone magically delivers them daily to our school. 

Now they have a little bit of sense of the time and effort that goes into it. I'm super proud of them and how well they did this and how amazing they were when Miss Catrina praised their efforts.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Yesterday was a day of tragedy, as we all know. I was in an SST meeting, advocating for two of my students to be tested for special education services when my principal came in the room and said there was a building on fire about three blocks away. We all looked out the window and smoke was just billowing up in the sky. We had inside recess due to the smoke. The previous day (when I had the day off), someone robbed a bank and was armed and on foot near our school. Later we learned which building had burned and that one of the families in our school lived behind that building. Due to the smoke and the proximity of the buildings, their home caught fire and is not livable. They lost everything. Mom, dad and four girls. Very sad for them and watching them walk away after school, just holding each other was heartbreaking.

Then I see the news and hear of the school shooting. The senseless act of violence, all of those innocent babies whose parents sent them to school and expected them to come home last night are now mourning, planning funerals and wondering how to get out of bed today.

I can not even imagine their sorrow, their pain and the feeling of utter bewilderment they must be feeling. It made me glad that before I sent my 4/5s home yesterday, I wished them a good weekend and told them I would miss them until Monday. It made me glad that my babies were safe today and came home as expected.

My heart aches for those innocent lives lost and the families and friends affected by such a senseless act.

My prayers and thoughts are with them today. May those beautiful babies rest in peace.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Walking Classroom

I am seriously forever indebted to Stephanie at Teaching in Room 6. I teased her that I need to put a note outside my door that says "my room is brought you to by Stephanie" because I use her calendar board, her spiral homework, and I learned about The Walking Classroom from her.

In October, Stephanie wrote about The Walking Classroom for the first time. I was very intrigued. I thought this was way too good to be true. You could write a grant to get these babies for free?? How could the world be such a generous place?? I am a huge lover of Donor's Choose and this program is very similar. The fabulous Laura (founder and my new hero) gets sponsors, you get the kits and the children learn. What's the catch you ask? Nothing! You take pictures of your students walking. You write a thank you note to your sponsor. You post in the forum on the website a few times a month. Nothing hard. Nothing I wouldn't do (well except the forum part) with a Donor's Choose grant.

I was all over this. Even though I teach both 4th and 5th, and quite honestly have now nearly double the 4th graders compared to the 5th graders, I wanted it so bad. So I filled out the information and kind of forgot about it with the MEAP and everything else. Not too long ago, I got an email from my new hero, Laura, telling me that my class had been selected from a long waiting list to receive a donated set.

Laugh if you want but I did a little dance behind my desk when I read the email. I was beyond excited. Thankfully, the equally fabulous Stephanie wrote a follow-up post about The Walking Classroom and how she has found a way to keep herself and her class accountable for the lessons. She offered some great printables for free with that post (check it out to snag them!) that made me even MORE excited about using this program.

I received my kit yesterday. It actually came Tuesday after I had left school (bummer!). I brought it home with me to check everything out. 
The teacher binder and a Walk Kit. I labeled all of mine with numbers (correlated to how I number my students) so each child will be responsible for their kit. We also plan to share them with the other two 5th grade classes so it was essential to label them in some way so that each one gets put back in the proper place. I labeled the front of the kit, the top of the kit and the WalkKits themselves (see below).

WalkKit #25. Is this or is this not the cutest thing you have ever seen in your life? They are so small and cute. I love it! The kiddos will put on the lanyard and the WalkKit will rest against their chest. Put the earbuds in and voila, you're ready to walk and learn! Everything is already preloaded so the hardest thing for me will be to remember to periodically check the batteries. Not hard at all! (*Note: each kit comes with a set of earbuds but since we are sharing these between our classes, my team and I decided to have the students bring their own earbuds. I am giving each of my students their own set for Christmas this year so that no one gets left out if they can't buy any.)

I am super, super grateful to have received this kit. First of all, it has SO MANY lessons that fit right into my curriculum for my 5th graders. Time is so pressed as it is that this will be a great way to get them outside for some fresh air (even in the snow) but still maximizing instructional time. Besides, they are much more likely to listen to a lesson presented to them by kids their age (which is how the podcasts I've listened to are set up) than listen to me blabber on all day. It's a win/win situation! They are totally aligned with the Common Core which makes it easy to convince administration that this is a worthwhile part of the classroom too.

I can't wait to get walking. The best benefit for me will likely be that *I'll* lose a few pounds as well and technically I'll be getting paid to exercise. Who can beat that? 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sassy Science

I don't know how it is elsewhere but in my district, teaching science and social studies can be a real pain. Not because we don't want to but because of the time issue. Our schedules tend to be weird and our specials are all over the place so those two areas are often the first things to go on the schedule. It's really wrong too. I feel really strongly about this now because I know that my 4th graders will be taking the science MEAP next fall and I want them to at least make some progress on the MAP in Science this year as well. 

So what's a girl to do? Buy stuff from The Science Penguin of course! We've done three complete units so far and I LOVE it. Here's some pictures from our latest one which is Electricity.

This is the packet that comes with the Science Weekly Five kit. The students add the name of the unit and complete a KWL on the first day of the unit. (This was taken at the end of the unit and thus is completed).

After we have finished each unit (we take 2 weeks for one unit since I only have 3 days for science), I give them a "quiz". I just ask them something about what they've learned. This one I asked them to describe what made the battery make the light bulb light up, looking for their understanding of how the wires and battery conduct electricity to light the bulb.

**Sorry it's blurry**
Here's a picture of the vocabulary station completed with the Four-Square on the right and the reflection piece on the top.

Here's another student sample from the electricity unit. I love his "Know" answer. Electricity is really cool
You can see at the very top some numbers. What I have the students do is take the bookmark that comes with the kit (which tells them which order they will complete the stations in) and write them across the top so they always know where to go each day since we only do them Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. This way I don't have to worry about them losing the bookmark and they always know where to go because its right in their notebook.

Here's his quiz answer. (Again sorry for the blurry.)

Here's station 1 (not finished) which is the Reading Comprehension station and station 2 which was creating the series circuit. They had to draw a picture of it and then write what they know about it. (This is where I got the quiz question basically because I was checking to see if they understood what they did.)

 Here is a group working on putting the circuit together to make the light bulbs light up.

Here's a group that is experimenting with making an electromagnet. Notice how that battery is on the table? It got very HOT so they dropped it! 

Completing the vocabulary station.

Another group making the circuit.

She made a mistake on the vocabulary so she's peeling the paper to reposition it on the right space.

This child is using the wire to make the electromagnet. The idea is to allow it to warm up and then see if the paperclips will move.

Working with the book from our science kits (where I borrowed the materials for this unit) to learn more about electromagnets and electric circuits. Some students chose to take notes on what they learned in the book so they could experiment more at home.

I don't even know how I stumbled across The Science Penguin on TpT but I'm SO glad I did. It has been very easy to set up and the kids get so much more out of the discovery learning. I love it. 

I just found out we're going to be piloting an online science program (the text and everything is online and there are experiments that go with it). I was happy to see that much of what my 4th and 5th graders need to learn aligns with the units I bought for the Science Weekly Five so I can use both of them concurrently. Anything that will help my cherubs to make some gains in science which is usually a low area since no one ever has time to teach it!


Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Fun!

Oh Friday, how I love you!

My Fridays at school are SUPER easy. I always try to make sure my Fridays are SUPER easy schedule-wise both for myself and for my students. We work SO hard all week that I like Friday to be more flexible and relaxing if I can.

I know I've mentioned all of the testing that we have with our Reading Street series. While I am all about monitoring progress, sometimes it seems like all we do is test. It frustrates the kids AND me (especially when one week they master something and the next week it's like they never heard of it before!). 

So while we do a lot of tests/quizzes on Friday, it's also FUN FRIDAY and I try to make it really fun. This is really easy too since only Mrs. A and myself even have class Friday afternoon (the other 3 teachers up on our floor all have a special class from 2:15-3 on Friday--lucky!).

Today went something like this:
8:20 - Arrival/Lockers
8:25-8:55 Math Quiz
9:00-9:25 Library
9:25-9:40 Spelling Tests (two at once in under 20 minutes--go me!)
9:40-10:30 Phys. Ed
10:30-10:50 Recess
10:50-11:45 Writing (We do a quick editing activity and then they do the Constructed Response test that goes with the weekly test)
11:45-12:30 Computer Lab (Online weekly reading test, then IXL math or games)
12:30-1:10 Lunch
**You're feeling SUPER sorry for me right now, huh?? hehe :^) 
1:10-2:00 Math/Economy/Make up Work
2:00-3:00 Fun Friday
3:00-3:09 Clean up and Adios!

It is the BEST Friday schedule ever. Since we have so many tests/quizzes on Friday, I actually have a lot of time to grade the previous work while they are testing. For example, when they are taking the math quiz, I check in and look over their homework. While they are taking the writing test, I grade their math quizzes and spelling tests. It's really awesome because it's a big load of work that I can take care of while the kids are meaningfully engaged in the other work.

Today for Fun Friday, we made Grinches! I didn't have nearly enough construction paper to make all of the copies that way but I made them on white copy paper (except for the grinch body which is on construction paper) and figured the kiddos could color them in. They took a lot longer than I thought they would but oh my, it was so fun! Since they aren't quite finished, I don't have pictures of them yet but I am going to sneak in some time on Monday to let them finish coloring them and then we'll hang them up in the hallway after school. I will definitely take a picture of that. They are just adorable, even when they are only white.

One of my 5th graders brought in some sparkle buttons and asked me if she could use them. She shared them with some of the other girls and it is so cute! Gosh, I love these kids :)


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Math Woes

As I grade papers tonight, I am finding myself alternately praising the work of my students and then shaking my head going "what happened here?!"

I find it very scary (terrifying actually) how LOW my 5th grade students are in math. I mean L-O-W. I'm about to scrap it and just reteach them all 4th grade math because they just don't get this stuff. It really freaks me out. This group is so unengaged in learning too which is  baffling. I didn't love school in 5th grade but I wasn't totally checked out either. 

Wednesday is a weird math day because we have about 15 minutes after lunch and then we head to the computer lab where we practice IXL math. Then we head back upstairs to our room and have about a half hour or so for math before we move on to social studies. Usually we math games or other sorts of review activities since it's hard to put a whole math lesson in with the split-up that we have.

We used the Book Club Shopping Order that Stephanie shared earlier this fall. I used it with my class once earlier this year and then again yesterday. My 4th graders just finished a unit on decimals and I thought this would be a great way to see if they have made progress. A few of the 4th graders are still having some trouble with the multiplication part and then carrying the balance down, but several did it perfectly and I'm super glad it "stuck" with them. (And now I have decimal tutors haha!) 

My 5th graders on the other hand. Wow. I just don't understand how they can collectively be this behind in math. I really truly am tempted to just scrap the 5th grade math altogether and teach them the 4th grade content because they are that low. It's disheartening though. WHY are they so low and WHY hasn't anyone stepped in and done anything?? I try the best I can, I do. But with 27/28 kids at any given time and double reading and math curriculums, my time is about half what other teachers have for the same content area. I'm not sure how I am going to help my kids get where they need to be....but I'm going to try. 


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Independent Reading

I had the highest hopes of fully implementing Daily 5 (er, 3) this year but with my split and the new components that we've been expected to use as part of our district's plan, it's been difficult. It's a bummer because I want to use it SO badly but it's really been a challenge for me to get it going. We did a great job with our stamina at the start of the year and building that up. Once I started working with groups though, forget it. :(

If I only had one grade, I would totally stick it out and revisit it. However, since I have two grades and therefore am doubling up on each part of the reading (double fresh reads, double weekly tests, double reading lessons each day, etc), there is just no way to get it all in with Daily 3, at least not the way I want to. If I had a bit more freedom with our reading program, it would be fine. With the components of Reading Street that we are expected to use, however, I'm not sure how ANYONE with a split could do it (and if they do all of what we're expected to do and use Daily 3, I bow to them because I just don't see how to work it unless I only teaching reading all day!).

Anywho, enough lamenting about what is what! I was digging through the loft in my barn this weekend for another resource book when I came across this in my totes up there.

Funny enough, I bought this book years ago...when I was teaching a 4th/5th split! I was a first year teacher with zero help (because you can't have TAs/STs as a first year teacher) and needed something to help me manage my class while I worked with groups. I had honestly completely forgotten about this book until I pulled it out over the weekend. It really does have some pretty neat and applicable activities.

I decided to give it a try with my kids this week and next and see if this is better for them while I'm working with groups than the stations and other activities we were trying to do before. The kids are great and really excited to learn but they are also loud. (I mean L-O-U-D!) This way the work is still meaningful and engaging but they are working more on their own than in a small group. Sadly I just can't let them work together when I'm trying to meet with groups because their noise level skyrockets (what can I say, they have a zest for life!).

I recall my first class of 4/5s (who are now sophomores and juniors!) loved these activities. They select a book of their own choosing and then select multiple activities to do with that book. There are 4 "must do" reading activities and then they select 2 of 4 of writing and skill activities and then an "art" type of activity. This time around many of the children selected to make a game from their book for the art activity. They just think it's fun...and aren't really realizing that its going to be learning too as they have to think of the rules, how many players, etc. 

I gave them two weeks to do the packet since there are 9 activities they will do (10 if you count reading the book). I like this resource because there are 5 different "fiction" contracts, a biography, a mystery, an adventure and a non-fiction reading contract. So throughout the next few months, we will be working on different kinds of books. Depending upon how this first one goes, we might do a biography next as that will put us in January and we'll be doing some things with MLK day, which is a great time to read a biography.

I'll report back on how this one goes with the kiddos.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Wow. Tuesdays seem to be a great day for me to check my email at work!

Last Tuesday, I got an email from Laura at The Walking Classroom letting me know my class had been selected to receive a donated set of WalkKits for our room.

Today I got an email letting me know that my grant proposal from a local Good Schools/Good Classrooms grant foundation had been approved! It was the very first "real" grant I had written and I wrote it the day it was due, about an hour before the deadline. I had been SO busy that I just hadn't had any time to really do much with that application except think about it. The day it was due, I made myself sit down and write it. We will get 15 iPod Touches for our classroom! (Enough for 2 kids per device.) I am STOKED. They will be able to use the math games that I already own from the Everyday Math company plus access which is a fabulous math website that we have a whole school subscription with. 

We will also be engaging our reading buddies with the devices as once my class gets a good handle on the programs and whatnot, they will be in charge of teaching their reading buddy how to use the programs also. THEN later in the spring, we will have a parent day where parents will be invited in and the kiddos will teach their parents how to use the devices as a real-world application type of thing. 

I'm super excited about this. There is SO much we can do with half a class set of these. Now I just have to get cases for them all so they don't get dropped and break! :)


Monday, December 3, 2012

Rewarding ESL Students With Some Class Time Fun Online (Guest Post)

Welcome to my first guest post! This post is written by Lenore Holditch and covers a topic that is true to my own passion for teaching. Enjoy!

Rewarding ESL Students With Some Class Time Fun Online

It's been awhile since I've worked with ESL students, but there is one thing I have found to be common among all levels of students. English as second language courses challenge students in a way that other curriculums don't. It may seem obvious, but as parents, peers, and even teachers, sometimes the true tenacity and discipline of successful ESL students is forgotten. Even students who struggle in ESL programs are putting in much more effort than an average student for whom English is a first language.

So why not take some extra time in class to have some fun? It seems like our host Raye is all about that and loves to incorporate a fresh and rewarding perspective in her classroom.

For all of us who teach and care for children learning English, taking advantage of the free online English activities available to us is an excellent way to add some joy to class and remind students just how well they are doing in their pursuit of the English language.

Here are some great resources I came across after combing the web a bit. I'm hoping some of them work for those of you who read this blog and that they may add a bit of inspiration for extra classroom fun!

BBC Earth has recently opened a channel available to all YouTube users. They provide videos of animals and natural habitats from all over the world. The commentary may be a bit over younger children's heads, especially in a British accent, but it is still a great way to take a refreshing and inspirational break throughout the day. Afterward you can talk with you students about the kinds of animals they saw, where they lived and what the animals were doing.

Dora the Explorer is a well-known children's cartoon that is geared toward learning Spanish. It is, however, also great for Spanish speakers learning English. Because the videos incorporate learning from a Spanish perspective, the lessons can be reversed, and Spanish speakers can get a review of the English words and sentence structures that can be substituted for Spanish phrases.

Singing silly songs is one of the best ways to learn English. In fact, I have a Korean friend who says she first started learning English by looking up lyrics to songs. Now she's fluent! Songs contain common phrases and word usage that may not be present in a typical English textbook. They are a fun way to repeat and practice popular English pronunciation and word flow.

Here are some fun English songs set to a backdrop of familiar Disney movie scenes. Students can benefit from learning and singing the songs, and they can also recognize some of their favorite Disney characters. It really helps to keep the students watching the video, and the lyrics often coincide with the actions, which is another vocabulary reinforcement.

Who doesn't love this classic video? And the unexpected plus side? There are no words! While this may seem like a waste of time in an English class, it is actually the perfect way to get students talking and filling in the gaps on their own. Try watching the video together as a class and then going through it once more and stopping to talk about the actions taking place. Then watch it a few more times just for fun. Print out some worksheets that break up the action into pictures that can be colored. Then have students label the scenes with the appropriate action.

This is an old-fashioned grammar game that seems like it would really do the trick. Students take turns choosing cards from piles on the table to create full sentences. The cards are divided into all the structures that make up a sentence: nouns, verbs, adverbs, and prepositions.  There are markers for capital letters and punctuation marks as well. This game looks absolutely excellent for sentence practice, and the children can say the sentences out loud at they are created.

Every teacher feels differently about board races. Some don't like the commotion of children running back and forth across the classroom, while others find it to be a fun way to take a break with the kids. Regardless of which side you fall on, there is something to be said for exerting a little physical energy and adding some pressure to get the right answer as quickly as possible. And you can always take the kids outside. This game is an example of a classic grammar board game. Try it or your own variation to see how well it works for your class. 

Lenore Holditch is a writer and researcher for She has experience in and out of the classroom, but her works has always revolved around education in some form or another. 


Saturday, December 1, 2012

What We've Been up to!

I'm becoming a weekend blogger. Sorry! It's been a wild ride so far this year and I've had to push blogging a bit to the wayside. Hopefully now things will settle down a bit.

Today I figured that I'd do a hodge-podge post of what we've been up to in our classroom.

My poor principal has a school of more than 500 students and over 30 observations to complete and she doesn't have an assistant principal. (So I should remember this when I complain about not having a TA or Student Teacher for my class!) Anyway she was also sick this week and had to still do the last observations as they were due by the 30th. The district is using STAGES software to allow the principals to do the observations and input notes and what they see in real time. It's actually pretty cool. Last year was the first year of using STAGES and the form was pretty basic as they worked out the kinks. This year it's pretty in-depth. Each teacher has to do a pre-observation form before the principal comes in for the observation and then after the observation, the teacher has to complete a post-observation about how they feel the lesson went (basically a reflection). I had mine on Tuesday during reading (that's what my focus goal area is, is to use higher questioning). It went super well and I couldn't have planned it better! My 5th graders were working independently at their desks and I was meeting with my 4th graders for reading. The previous day I had them read a short text in their book on their own and complete a short organizer to detail the main idea and details to support that. When I pulled them to my group, I had them pair-share with someone next to them what they thought main idea was and I listened. The girls right in front of me and different ideas and I was listening in so I used their difference of opinion in the lesson and we chatted about how we could prove if we were right. My kids were AWESOME. I was so proud of them, they took to the change immediately and ran with it. The observation went well and I was so happy to be able to reflect on that lesson and talk about how my students ran with the slight shift in the lesson because they were so into the discussion of how to go back into the text to find my proof (something we're focused upon in our district this year).


Last Sunday, five days early, I finished NaNoWriMo for 2012! I verified at 51,034 words! I wanted so badly to get my 80,000 words (50,000 for this one and 30,000 for my Young Writers one with my class) but with conferences and whatnot, that one just didn't make it. I'm not too upset about it as I WILL continue to write those short stories (based on my class) and will have them edited and probably publish it this spring. I will give each of my students a copy at the end of the year. (Hey having a publishing business has its perks!)

I made a TON of purchases Monday morning for the Cyber Monday sales. I purchased a lot of division and multiplication games as my 4th graders are going to start their multiplication unit and my 5th graders just finished a division unit but so don't get it. One of my favorite purchases was this one:

We haven't quite finished it yet due to a crazy afternoon on Thursday (assembly, etc) but they have had a lot of fun working on it and are getting excited about division, thank goodness! I also have a ton of center games and activities that I purchased that will allow my class to really get a good grasp on division. This will be great for my 4s because they will have already had a lot of exposure to division by the time they go to 5th grade and will be ready for it. 

We have been working with the Science Weekly Five (courtesy of the Science Penguin) and I am LOVING the short units! Three days per week my students come in, turn in their homework and get started on the day's station. It is fabulous! It allows the children to really get into the inquiry of science but also doesn't take a ton of time for me to set up and prepare (which is essential since we are SO limited on time because of our dual grade). This week we've been working with the electricity unit and it has been so awesome to see how excited they are (I have pictures but accidentally left my flip camera at school).

Fun Friday
When I first taught at my school two years ago, with 5th grade, my principal's supervisor told us that we weren't allowed to have "Fun Friday" because our kids weren't "smart enough". In other words, their scores were too low to allow us to have fun. I have such a problem with that mentality!! If school isn't fun, the kids won't buy into it and that is not cool at all. That supervisor now works with middle school (which is more suited to that "no Fun Friday" mentality) and we are allowed to have this short time to end our week again.

I bought a Grinch Glyph activity on TpT and am so excited to do the project with my class, even though they range in age from 8-12! They thought it was so cool when I was showing them the pieces. Sadly we didn't get to start it yesterday because I thought I had enough construction paper and didn't. Bummer! We will definitely be making them next week. I told the class we would hang them up in the hallway and one of my 5th graders said, "We're going to deck the halls!" I love those kids!

Earlier this week, I got the best email I have ever received. Laura, from The Walking Classroom, emailed me to let me know that my class had been selected to receive a set of donated classroom materials! Earlier this fall, Stephanie from Teaching in Room 6, had posted about how her class got a set of Walk Kits. I was fascinated by this idea and applied immediately for a donated set. I have used Donor's Choose religiously every year that I've been teaching (except my first one) so I am very much into writing thank you letters and sharing pictures with people who donate money to my classroom. I like to think this is a reason why we were selected--because I have ZERO issue doing this. I think it is a great way to get people excited about donating to schools and kids. 

It just so happens that the fabulous Stephanie had recently posted another post about her students using The Walking Classroom. I had to comment on it and tell her that I really need to put a sign on my door and tell everyone that she is my inspiration this year. Seriously! I use her calendar board, her spiral homework, her quiz forms that allow you to build groups based upon what the kids mastered and now Walking Classroom.  :)

I just wish I had more time to create my own materials. My multiplication groups is up on TpT/TN and I am going to make an addition/subtraction version since that is part of our Common Core standards for math fluency. I am also going to FINALLY create the division groups I have put off forever (I mean YEARS) because I know this is an area that my students need a lot of practice with. I have SO many ideas but just no time to create anything which kind of stinks, but my classroom needs to be a priority as well as my own children. If I wasn't teaching a split, I'd have a lot more time but it is what it is. Perhaps I will spend some time over winter break creating. Either that or if I can keep myself up on everything at work with my new planning schedule, I may have time for creating on the weekend which will be nice.