Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Good Reminder

A blog post to remind me what my main job as a teacher is.

My students keep their backpacks on the backs of their chairs.

Some are neat with everything in their place. Planners are tucked in a pocket, snacks are zipped neatly into a pouch, and gloves and hats are snuggled into the nooks and crannies.

And then there are other backpacks. The ones that are overflowing, stuffed full and jumbled. Drawings and lunch boxes spill over the sides, and occasionally a pink stuffed animal peeks its head out.

There's one more category: the ones where I can tell that a child's life is in disarray. Papers are crumpled, extra clothes are stuffed inside, and it's pretty clear that no one has looked in their backpack since August.

When I walk around the classroom and I happen to catch a glance inside the different backpacks hanging on chairs, it reminds me.

It reminds me that it's my responsibility to provide the safety and structure that ALL students need - I know for some students it may be the safest and most structured part of their life.

It reminds me that I have to be patient and kind - I have to keep the whole child in mind, not just the student part I see at school every day.

It reminds me that, first and foremost, the people I share my day with are children - they aren't just mini-adults. They are still learning (in school AND in life) and I owe it to them to support them when they make mistakes, not turn it against them.

It reminds me to take a step back and *think* about the individuals who lives are represented in those backpacks - they need me to appreciate who they are and what they need.

Every now and again the universe sends me a reminder like this, just when I need it. It stops me in my tracks and makes me rethink. I smile at my students more, really listen when they tell me a story, and make sure that I give them grace when they need it. (And hugs if they want them...)

This beautiful mess of a job is so much more than imparting knowledge...and I appreciate the reminder.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

TPT Wishlist Linky

True confessions: I've never been out shopping on Black Friday. I know there's deals. I know people think it's fun. But all I have to think about is crushing throngs of people and I want to crawl under the covers.

Cyber Monday on the other hand? That's my kind of sale. Buying stuff from the comfort of my house, by myself, and still getting a great deal makes me want to get my clicking finger in good shape!

I know I'm getting my TPT wishlist ready to go so I can shop, shop, shop on Cyber about you? I'm linking up with Jen from Teaching in the Tongass to share some of the top wishlisted items from my store (and some things I can't wait to buy)!

Here are the top three wishlisted items from my store along with some of the comments left by customers:

This product is also part of a money-saving bundle with Triangles: Shape Sort with Shape Cards!

Earlier this year, this product was featured in a product swap I did with Kelly from An Apple for the Teacher. Check out her blog post to see what she had to say about it!

This is a great product to help students practice how to write a great response to a question!

Here are a few things on my personal wishlist:

I can't wait to get these cards! My kids need some reminders to use mathematical vocabulary in their writing and these will be perfect.

These look like the perfect way to challenge my students! Fractions will be coming up soon, and I am looking forward to getting these challenges in front of my students.

What's on your wishlist for the big sale Monday and Tuesday? Don't forget to load up that cart and then use the special code SMILE to get an extra 10% off your total!

Monday and Tuesday my whole store will be on sale for 20% off, including brand new products AND bundles, so make sure you click over and stock up!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Word A Day!

I am feeling really lucky this year. I have the kind of class that tries everything you throw at them, and does it with gusto.

Like when one of my students who visits our ESL teacher came back to class with a little notebook and explained that he was trying to find awesome and interesting words to fill it with. And he agreed to share this plan with the whole class. And just like that, everyone wanted a notebook to keep vocabulary in too.

Coincidentally, we had also just introduced the CAFE strategy "Tune Into Interesting Words."

Once this idea started to spread like wildfire, kids were coming up to me left and right wanting to share the words they found in their writing. Since we had a few extra minutes the first day, I let one person share a word they had found.

And since we are such a gung-ho bunch? It's become a daily routine.

Each day, during Read to Self, each person keeps an eye out for interesting words - they can be words they know, or words they don't. They record them in their notebooks...

At the end of Read to Self, one person volunteers to share their word, which I record on a sticky note.

Then, they read the sentence where they found the word. We do a quick turn and talk about what everyone thinks the word means based on the sentence.

A few people share out their ideas. We try to decide what part of speech the word is and come up with a possible definition.

Then, we use the classroom iPad to look up what the word actually means. I LOVE this Learner's Dictionary from Merriam-Webster. The definitions are much easier to use than a traditional dictionary - I hate it when you have to look up words in the definition to understand the word!
Once we know the part of speech and the definition from the website, we come up with a definition in our own words. I record it on a sticky note.

Then later, I will let the student who volunteered the word write everything on a card and we put it up on the board!

This has been such an authentic was to incorporate vocabulary into our day! If we don't have time to get to a vocabulary word, I hear about it! Everyone is involved, and I've already seen some of the words we discuss popping up in their writing.

I've never been great at incorporating vocabulary instruction into our days, but my students' enthusiasm and excitement has made this one of my favorite parts of the day! I can't wait to see all the words we will have as the year progresses.

If you are interested in your students learning a word a day I created a resource with directions, ideas for extensions and printables to help you get started. You can check it out in my TpT store by clicking the picture below.

How do you incorporate vocabulary into your day? I'd love to hear more ideas to help this time become even more effective!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

October Currently

It's been a while since I've joined up with Farley at Oh Boy! Fourth Grade for her monthly Currently link up!

Aaaaand...since my blog has been a big ol' desert lately, I was really excited to see that it's Currently time!

Listening: Our DVR has been on the fritz so I'm just now catching up on DWTS. Not sure who I like the best, but I think Bindi is pretty darn cute!

Loving: I drove home signing my lungs out today because I love my class, I love my school and I think my principal is pretty awesome. I love feeling happy each day at work!

Thinking: FALL!!! It's my very favorite season. Even though it's still pretty hot here, I have faith it will get cooler soon. Leaves are changing - that's my proof!

Wanting: Can't wait to haul out all the cold-weather clothing!

Needing: The only downside about fall? So. Many. Papers. If anyone wants to grade papers in exchange for very, very little money (read: what's in the change jar) or possibly just adult beverages, please let me know.

Boo-tiful: Changing leaves. Random emails from former students. (Feelin' the love!) Getting great feedback on a challenging math lesson. All gorgeous in my book.

Thanks for checking in over here! Don't forget to head over to Oh Boy! Fourth Grade and link up what's Currently going on with you!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Product Swap and a Giveaway!

Don't you just love it when you find a new resource that you know will make your teaching life easier? I know I do. Luckily for me, I met Kelly from An Apple for the Teacher during the TPT conference this summer, and let me tell you, she has some AWESOME resources.

Today, we are both blogging about a little product swap we did! I'm so excited to share Kelly's awesome 5th Grade Math Journal Prompts.

This year, I am working on implementing lessons through the Engage NY curriculum modules, and I LOVE it. But I was also looking for something to add to the mix that would help kids show their problem solving skills while using some of the amazing concepts they are learning through Engage NY.

Kelly's product really has great problems to showcase what students are learning in our daily math lessons. For each Common Core Standard, there are 4 journal prompts. The Table of Contents below shows each cluster of standards, but the journal prompts are for individual standards!

Not to mention, she gives some awesome ideas for HOW to use the prompts in your classroom! (I'll show you how I used them in a minute!)

I decided to use the first prompt with the whole class to reinforce a standard we had been working on:

Each page focuses on problem solving, creating a representation and writing a sentence with your answer. We had been working on using place value concepts to discuss how much each digit in a number is worth and why. So this prompt seemed like the perfect way to reinforce this idea and see how much my students had learned!

First, I had my class work with partners to discuss the problem and solve it. They were able to think of a model that worked for them and then get their equation, solution and sentence as well. I liked having them work in partners for the first one, since they were getting used to the format and it was new! (When we did a second one this week, they worked on their own.)

It was great to see them applying what we had already learned in a new way!

The best part? They LOVED it!! Here are some of the things they had to say about this activity:

"It was so fun to do. I like that it is organized." -Z

"I liked this activity because it helps keep yourself organized. The thing that was most helpful was the model." -C

"What was helpful was there as a spot for everything." -F

"I liked this page because I like my thinking organized. It was helpful because I  knew where everything was supposed to go." -J

"The boxes were big so I had room to write." -M

This product has been kid tested and it got glowing reviews! I would also give it my stamp of approval.

Students were able to take previously taught skills and concepts and show their understanding in a new way. I love that I can use something as a quick formative assessment to see where kids are in their learning! I can't wait to get on to other standards so I can continue to use 5th Grade Math Journal Prompts. Maybe I might even use some as a preassessment!!!

See?? The wheels are still turning.


Thanks so much to Kelly for swapping products with me! If you want to check out my product that she tried in her classroom, head over to her blog, An Apple For The Teacher!

An Apple for the Teacher

Are you looking for new ways for students to show their understanding?? Well, you are in luck. Enter below to win a copy of 5th Grade Math Journal Prompts and a $10 giftcard to TPT!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What's your new favorite teaching tool?? Share in the comments below!

Monday, September 7, 2015

SLANT Box Exchange Awesomeness

If you haven't had the opportunity to participate in the amazing SLANT Box Exchange put together by Jameson at Lessons With Coffee, I bet you will want to after seeing this!!

I was SO extremely lucky to be randomly paired with the fabulous Rachel from Mrs. O Knows. In case you weren't sure, SLANT stands for Sending Love Across the Nation to Teachers. And I could TOTALLY feel the love from Rachel. 

We knew each other a little bit already from some collaborative blogs and Facebook groups, but this was an opportunity to get to know each other even better. The theme was Summer Jam, so we decided that we would put together a box to keep summer going. Rachel asked me questions about my favorite music, hobbies, food and activities that make summer what it is. Before I knew it, she sent me an email to say my box was on the way!!!

When I got home and checked the mail, I found this adorable box full of goodies!
Rachel is so crafty! Even the box was super cute!
When I opened the box, I found a sweet note and individually wrapped presents! I'm sure that my mouth dropped open with excitement, because my husband asked me if everything was ok...

Everything was packed in so neatly, I was hesitant to even take stuff out of the box. But, I'm sure you know, I quickly got over it and started opening each one!

Each one had a tag with a note! So thoughtful!
Every gift was SO perfect for me. Rachel really took the time to get to know me, and made sure each present reflected that in some way. I haven't been so touched by a gift in a long time...I even got a little teary eyed while I was opening them they were so thoughtful. She paid attention to my favorite team (the Broncos), my favorite beverages (coffee and beer), my favorite snack (Chex Mix), my favorite music and more. Even if you didn't know me, after seeing the gifts in this box, you would totally know me!!

You'll notice the Chex Mix is missing? Someone else in this house loves it too....
I am so glad I participated in this exchange. I loved getting to know Rachel better, and hopefully making her feel as special as she made me feel!

Thanks so much to Jameson who puts this whole thing together. It's a lot of work and I'm sure it's not easy, but I really appreciate it because it gives us the opportunity to get to know other teachers around the world! If you are interested for next time, make sure to watch for upcoming sign ups by following Lessons With Coffee.

 Thanks again to Rachel! You made me feel really special! :-)

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back to School Blog Hop!

I'm trying hard to NOT be in denial that it is August. I'm not actually sure where the summer went. But here we are and back to school season is in full force. I haven't officially counted the days I left until school begins. But it's less than I would like to believe.

Luckily, I'm joining up with some incredible upper elementary bloggers for the Upper Elementary Back To School Blog Hop! It makes all this going back to work nonsense a LOT easier to deal with!

Throughout the hop, we will each be sharing some great back to school tips and freebies! Make sure you hop all the way through to take full advantage of everything these wonderful ladies are offering. Oh and did I mention there's a giveaway?? Make sure you enter at the end of this post!

Be Prepared: But it's ok to not get carried away. This has been a long time coming lesson for me. Every year when it's Meet The Teacher night and my room is still a huge disaster and the bulletin boards aren't done and the desks aren't just right or I have to shove a pile of stuff into a cabinet, I stress out. Like tears and sweat stress.

But last year, one of my teammates laid this little gem on me. "No one knows what it's SUPPOSED to look like. Do the important stuff and don't worry about the rest!" I was floored. Of course kids and parents don't know that I meant to have 5 more posters hung up or the library reorganized. I figured out what REALLY needed to be done before they walked through the door and everything else was just gravy!

The things I absolutely get done? I put out bins (read: empty cardboard boxes) to collect shared supplies. I write a note on the board directing students where to put the supplies they have brought. I have nametags on desks. I make sure the ugly bulletin boards are covered with paper and a border. I have a table with handouts for parents to take with them, and a bin of pens in case they want to fill anything out right then. I think that's pretty much it. Everything else is extra at that point!

Full disclosure: I like to make it look nice. But I have figured out that if the library bins don't have labels on them just yet, that no one notices (or will care!) on Meet the Teacher night.

Handouts: I mentioned handouts above. I usually just have a little table with all the handouts that parents might need before school starts - an information sheet about me, school calendar, extra school supply lists (just in case), and directions to sign up for Remind 101. I saw a great idea recently to have parents fill out a Google form with their information...which I am totally going to try to do this year!

I created an editable Instant Information form for you to fill in with your information and hand out to parents this school year! Quick and easy! Click over to download it from my TPT store. :-)

Wait, don't go yet! We are also giving away some TPT money to spend before school starts! Make sure you follow all these wonderful folks to get as many entries as possible!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I hope your back to school season is smooth and fun!! Make sure you hop over to Tammy's blog to get some zen into your teacher life!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Math Tips: Asking the Right Questions

One of my favorite parts of the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice is the attention paid towards getting students to actually think about the mathematics they are being asked to work with. 

That being said, after I read the Standards for Mathematical Practice, I sat back and wondered, "Exactly HOW do we support kids to do this kind of thinking?" I could have the greatest, most engaging math problem in the universe, and if I just threw it at them and walked away, I knew the results could be disastrous.

At the time, I was participating in some pretty amazing PD through my district and a local university. It was all about math and how we could improve students' learning and understanding in a variety of ways. One of the things we discussed was questioning.

Once we started having conversations about questioning, I knew that the questions I asked students (and they asked each other) could potentially be the key to the kingdom of having a deep understanding of mathematical concepts.

1. Have a Plan: This was probably the hardest one for me when I first started shifting my thinking about using questions more effectively in mathematics. How was I supposed to know what questions to ask? To begin with, I found a few "go-to" questions - I especially liked "How did you figure that out?" and "Why do you think that idea is working?" Each time I planned a lesson, I kept a few of these types of questions in my back pocket to help kids extend their thinking. I even put them up on posters or cards at the back of the room to remind me! When you know what questions you might ask ahead of time, it helps you to bust those bad boys out when you are circulating around the room or working with a small group of kids.
2. Think Like Your Students: After you make a list of the questions you want to use, start thinking about what answers kids might have. Think BIG, because you know they will say exactly what you aren't expecting! I've even made plans that go something like this: If So-and-So says _____, then I will ask _____. Be prepared for lots of answers, but don't get thrown off if they say something you didn't think of! Sometimes, I have to take a minute to think of how I want to answer or what I want to say, and that's ok! (Don't tell anyone, but I've even said things like, "I don't know if I completely  understand your idea yet. Can you give me a minute to think about it?")
3. Don't Rescue: As teachers, we HATE to watch kids struggle. It's painful and we want them to get it! But, I'm here to tell you, it's ok to let them struggle. That's where the real learning happens! Questions are a great way to fight the urge to jump in and rescue a child who is struggling. Use your questions as a way to push their thinking, especially when you just want to give them the answer or tell them the next step. Ask them a great question instead, so they can come to the idea on their own.

Here's a hilarious video about what NOT to do:
4. Let Them Lead: The best kind of questions are the ones where they get to take the lead, not the ones that lead them to the answer. (See video above?) I always know I've asked a leading questions when the answer sounds like a question! It gets to that point where the student is just saying what they think you want them to. A question that gets them thinking in the right direction, does just that! Gets them thinking and back to working on the task at hand. The more open ended your question, the more thinking will happen!
5. LISTEN! Last, but not least, LISTEN. Once you've asked them a great question, really pay attention to what they are saying in response. It can be really hard when you have a great toolbox of questions ready to go, but be prepared to just take the time to hear what they have to say. It's the most important part of the questioning process, in my opinion!

I hope that if this is a new idea to you, it will get you started! If you are already using questioning as a great instructional strategy, I hope it maybe gave you a new idea.

If you are looking for some ideas for questions to ask, you can check out these Math Talk Questions that are in my TpT shop.

I would love to hear your favorite question you use during math, so make sure and tell me in the comments!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Classroom Management: A Culture of Respect

I will never forget my first year as a teacher. I got a job late - and when I say late, I mean 3 weeks after school had already started. I was lucky though - a friend a knew a principal who was looking for a teacher, and that helped me get an interview. It turned out that the job was a split position - the morning at one school and the afternoon at another. It was one of the hardest years of my teaching career - even harder than the year I taught 36 4th and 5th graders in one room while having a sub once a week while I was mentoring teachers in my building. Well, ok. Maybe they are tied.

Anyway, the main reason I made it through that first year and even considered continuing as a teacher was the amazing support I got from the instructional coaches in both buildings. I know that not every new teacher is so lucky, so today I'm happy to be able to pay it forward (many moons later).

If there is one thing I feel like I handle pretty well in my classroom, it is management. My classroom is (usually) a good place to work, take risks and feel supported. (I think my students would say they feel this way.)

I have done a lot of the usual classroom management things: clip charts, flipping cards, and even points on the board, but I have found that none of these things are particularly effective unless you have some underlying classroom foundations. And that's where my tip comes in:

When I was a new teacher, I didn't really understand this idea. In fact, I don't think anyone ever talked to me about it. I thought respect meant that I was the only person in the room that got a say. I thought it meant classroom control. I thought it meant that everyone was quiet all the time. I remember feeling really panicked if kids were talking at all in my classroom during my first couple years of teaching. I felt like if I let anything go that I would lose complete control of the class. Boy, was that exhausting! (Side note: You know those back to school dreams you start having around this time of year? Mine are ALWAYS about an out of control class that I can't seem to get to listen to me!)

What I learned was that in order to get respect, you have to give it. I know that sounds simple. But it changed how I ran my classroom.

1. Let It Go
From the very beginning, I let my students know that I am not the only one in charge of things. Kleenex box empty? Grab a new one. No paper in the basket? Open up a new package and fill that bad boy up! Stomach growling for your irresistible snack? Go ahead and eat it. I started to let go of the little things - the things that don't disrupt others and let kids have the feeling that they can control parts of their day.

This doesn't mean I don't have boundaries. It just means that I respect them enough as people to take care of things. I have very clear boundaries. For example, they know that my Teacher Toolbox is for my teacher tools! They have their own supplies, so mine are off limits. But feel free to get in the kid friendly cabinet if you need new glue sticks for your table. They know where the line is because I tell them. No sense in making those things a secret!

2. Get To Know Them and Be Real
The other, even more important part of giving and getting respect is getting to know your students.  Older kids especially are masters at knowing how much you care - or how much you don't.

Get to know them. Talk to them. LISTEN to them. Understand them. Let them know that you are all on the same team and you have their back. It doesn't hurt to show them your human side - they love to know you are a real person. Silly, sad, happy, funny...

Fake mustache optional
Sometimes this is simple - lots of kids love to make connections with their teachers. But sometimes it's hard. Sometimes there's that kid (or kids) who doesn't trust adults or doesn't want to make connections. Guess what? Those are the same kids who need great classroom management the most. They can be your biggest ally or your worst enemy. By making the effort to show those students how much you respect and care about them, you will be improving your classroom culture a million percent. I always find that once they know you they will do just about anything for you, if you just ask. (Side note: This, for some reason, does not apply to asking them to behave for a substitute. I have not figured that one out yet.)

This year, I had that student. Every teacher before me told me how hard he was, and how much trouble he would cause our classroom. I got to know him. I enjoyed his sense of humor and I think he recognized that I wasn't judging him based on his past. Now, I'm not saying we didn't have our tough days, but he knew that I had a lot of respect for him and he returned it. The ultimate compliment came at the end of the year. He was sitting at my table working on a project and talking to a friend. He said, "The teacher never likes the class clown." (He meant himself.) I looked at him and told him I was a little offended by that. He made a face and said, "Well, not you. Regular teachers. You're not just a regular teacher." It made all that hard work to get to know him worth it.

As a new teacher, it can be difficult to give up control of those kids in the desks. It can be really hard to get to know the high-flyers who make your life hard. But if you can keep some of these things in mind, you might find that your classroom runs more smoothly!

If you have ideas about classroom management for new(ish) teachers, please add them in the comments!