Sunday, March 30, 2014

Linky Party

I'm so excited to be participating in my first linky party!  It was a busy week with second trimester report cards due by the week's end, but we had fun learning - as we always do!

     We had a blast making polygons out of straws and twist ties this week.  The kiddos were so excited to share their creations! My little engineers talked about the characteristics of each shape they made to make sure the were indeed polygons.  

     We had let our number sense soar with these adorable kites from An Apple a Day in First Grade (click on the link to get them for free).  These beauties have added a bit of colorful spring to our hallway!  The kiddos chose a number from 1-20 and then wrote their number in expanded form, drew the number, identified how many tens and one in their number, and also wrote the numbers to show ten more, 10 less, one more, and one less. 

     Good readers make connections and we reviewed these higher level thinking skills with this anchor chart I made to dive deeper into the texts we read.  I have noticed (especially when doing DRA assessments) that the kiddos were having a difficult time making connections to the text, especially personal connections that show a deeper meaning of the story. I have needed to spend a bit more time modeling this concept. We used the story The Grouchy Ladybug to make connections from the text to ourselves, to other text, and to the world.

     Do you use brain breaks in your classroom?  We have been trying out Go Noodle and let me tell ya'll....the kiddos love it! As teachers, we are so fortunate to be able to set up a free account! Each day we start off with 3 brain break opportunities (one for the morning, one midday, and one in the afternoon).  I make 3 tally marks on the board to signify how many brain breaks we have and if we maintain good behavior and good work habits, we are able to use all 3.  

     I also began using these behavior reward coupons this week, which I have for free in my Teacher's Pay Teacher's store.  Click on the image below to go to my store.  I'd love some feedback on these!  :)

  I was pleasantly surprised to see that my students are using these more than the prizes from the prize box!  They absolutely love them!  Some class favorites are:  Have lunch with the teacher, bring a stuffed animal to school, and be the teacher's assistant for the day.  I love how hard they are working to earn these!  Sometimes, it really is the little things.

Now it's your turn to link up with Molly and Deirdre!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Brain Breaks

      Have you ever had one of those years?  You know the type I'm talking about.  The class that no matter how many interventions you try, no matter how many clapping patterns, cute songs you sing, or how many times you ring the chime or shut off the lights they just keep talking. And talking. And talking.  While you are talking with them about listening while you are talking they guessed it....talking.  I feel like I have exhausted every strategy I know to alleviate the excessive talking and loud chitter-chatter.  Now, please don't get me wrong.  I love that they have personality and in no way do I expect or even want a silent classroom but it would be nice to be able to open our classroom door once in awhile.  It would be nice to do a read aloud without 15 interruptions.  Let's just say my class this year has a lot of personality.  I've had to pull out all the stops.  I have 17 years of teaching under my belt but I'm always learning new tricks and a few I've learned this year have really helped with classroom control.

     A great strategy for to aid in getting those "wiggles" out has been brain breaks.  I first found out about Go Noodle from the fabulous teachers I follow on Instagram.  The kiddos love it!  So, to bribe them as a motivator, we begin the day with 3 opportunities for brain breaks.  I make 3 tally marks on the board.  The class works together to maintain the 3 brain breaks (one in the morning, 1 midday, and one in the afternoon).  If they need too many reminders, are too chatty, etc. I erase a tally mark and they lose a brain break. I don't say a word I just erase the tally.  Let me just tell should see the looks on their faces.  So far, this has only happened twice.  Brain breaks have become highly motivational.

     It has been a loooong, cold winter here in New England.  There have been more indoor recess days than any year I can remember.  Adventure to Fitness is a website in which teachers can sign up for free with an email account.  This is an excellent site to help get kids moving with free physical activity videos that incorporate common core-aligned learning and fun!  Here is a brief video of the program.

     Another idea that I found on Pinterest was for behavior reward coupons. I do have a classroom prize box but I wanted some other options that wouldn't put a significant dent in my wallet.  I decided to make and try out reward coupons.  Let me tell you....this has rocked our world!  The kiddos love this!  They can choose a reward coupon for having 15 punches on their pink cards (see my tickled pink post ) in lieu of a prize from the prize box or I can reward them to a students.  I have given out reward coupons for hard work, showing responsibility, acts of kindess, and a myriad of other positive behaviors I may see in our classroom.  Lately, more students are choosing the reward coupon instead of the prizes!  The most popular ones are: Be the teacher's assistant for the day (the kiddos love being called Mr. or Mrs.), bring a stuffed animal into school, and have lunch with the teacher.  The reward coupons that I use in my classroom are free in my Teacher's Pay Teacher's Store.  Just click on the picture below.

Readers Make Connections

     We revisited our "Readers Make Connections" anchor chart this week.

     After reviewing what the concepts of text to self, text to text, and text to world mean, I explained to my firstie's that we can apply these high level thinking skills and reflections to any text we read.  To prove my point, I asked one of the kiddos to choose a book from our book shelf.  This book was chosen:

     What connections can you make to this book?  I loved the myriad of responses such as "Sometimes I feel grouchy" and "Sometimes my brother picks on me and I think he acts like the grouchy ladybug." One boy then chimed in with "I want to act like the whale when someone picks on me but then I know I'd get in trouble."  Wow!  Of course I got some responses that were connections but not exactly the connections that reflect a deeper connection to the story such as "I like ladybugs" or "I saw a hyena once."  This is exactly why we do these type of lessons and why I find them valuable to do as a whole group lesson.  The students that can make a deeper connection to the story can model these skills to those who still find this a challenge. What great teachable moments!  

     I was expecting some students to make connections to other Eric Carle texts as his illustrations are so unique so I wasn't surprised when this connection was made by some.  I was pleasantly surprised that some made a text connection to the story The Three Little Pigs.  One student said "This story is like The Three Little Pigs because the grouchy ladybug was like the wolf.  He was picking on other animals and then he learned his lesson.  This naturally led into a brief, but meaningful conversation about the author's purpose.

     Perhaps the most intriguing response by my students was their text to world connection.  One student made the connection that if everyone in the world stopped being grouchy, maybe there wouldn't be wars.  This prompted a few students to go back and think of some other texts about characters we have encountered in texts who have engaged in some type of conflict.  The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss was mentioned.  My favorite connection was the child who shared that The Grouchy Ladybug could be like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.  As this student suggested, maybe the grouchy ladybug doesn't want to fight all time.  Maybe he was just having a bad day.  

     Wow!  I am so impressed!  We have worked really hard on reading comprehension and making connections to the text.  I truly feel that if students can make a connection to what they read, they are more invested and if they are more invested, they will want to read more.  I can't wait to do more of these types of lessons and learn even more about my students and all that they are capable of!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Place for Everything

    I am a Mom to 3 boys.  Well actually, 2 stepkids and one of my own.  So needless to classroom is in many ways my sanctuary happy place.  I'll admit to being a bit very organized and that I work hard to keep an uncluttered classroom.  With the piles of Legos, matchbox cars in every room, and paper and markers strewn about my home, that leaves my car and my classroom as the only places left that I have to keep clean. Everything has a place and it works for me.  After all....

    So here's some things I do to make my life easier in my classroom:  My classroom consists of two primary colors- blue and green.  I chose blue and green because they are naturally "calming" colors and we all could use a little "calmness" in the classroom.  :-)  I have found that sticking to a two color scheme not only makes my classroom look neater, it also makes my life easier.  I leave the same bulletin board backing and borders up all year and just change the content of the board with student work as needed.

    I am so lucky to be teaching in a brand new school!  I really like this space above the students cubbies.  I use these blue and green baskets as "mailboxes" for the students.  The kiddos put all the work they have completed for the day, notices, homework, etc. in these mailboxes and then at the end of the day when we pack up, they take all their paper out and add it to their folders to take home.

       In addition to having mailboxes, students also have cubbies.  Each student has a plastic drawer with their name on it (clear adhesive labels).  Inside their cubbies is their ongoing work.  Each student has a red writing folder, blue math folder, purple Daily 5 folder for ongoing word work and writing, a yellow social studies folder and a green science folder.  They also store their ear buds for using with our classroom iPads in here.  Every week Whenever we have time, we clean these folders out and send work home.

     We use Everyday Math in our district and my first year I tried the "toolkits" the program suggested.  That lasted about a week and then pennies were falling all over the floor, rulers were being used as lazers, and I was about to lose my mind.  I then converted to these math bins.  I have 5 tables in my classroom with 4 kids at each table so there is a math bin for each table of students.  Inside the math bins are calculators, dry erase markers, socks (dry eraser board erasers), dice, ruler, and shape templates.  I found small plastic bins at the Dollar Spot at Target and so there are 10 pennies inside these small containers since the math program utilizes counts of 10 pennies frequently.  Each day a new "table captain" is assigned and he/she passes out the math bins, math journals, and dry erase board for their table before we begin our lesson.  In the picture above you will see my math bins, dry erase boards for math, and math journals.  The last two shelves contain word work for our Daily 5 rotations. 

I have two classroom libraries.  One for leveled readers (pictured above) and one for classroom books organized by theme, nonfiction, and fiction.  Students have book boxes that look exactly like these leveled reader book bins.  They can "shop" for new books for their book boxes weekly or bi-weekly (depending how much time we have).  I generally have the kiddos choose 6 books at their "just right" reading level and 2 "dessert books" of their choice from any one of the leveled readers bins and/or our other classroom library.

     My guided reading table pictured above, has chairs that I found last summer at Target on clearance for $5.  The green dots on the table are dry erase circles (how cool is that?!) that I bought on Amazon for $8. I love them because they mark the students' spots at the table.  For some reason I found that they had all these space at the table but they practically sat on top of each other.  Now, they have clearly defined spaces that also serve as work spaces.  We use wipe off markers and the green circles to practice writing blends, vowel sounds, work endings, tricky vocabulary words and more.  I really do love them and so do the kids.  They wipe off really easy and they have stayed on the table really well and yet leave no residue when you peel them off.  I will say that sometimes the precious cherubs need reminders not to peel them. :-)

     Just behind the guided reading table, and within my reach is this plastic organizing system that I bought at Staples.  I have all the materials I need for my reading groups here.  The pink sticky notes are the various numbered guided reading groups I see and in each of those drawers are the books we are working on at each level, folders that the students use for work they are currently working on (reading strategy charts, fluency drills and practice, and reading comprehension practice sheets).  I also keep my teacher resource materials that I need to conduct guided reading groups here too.  These materials are in a small 3 drawer plastic file placed on top of my students' files.  In here I keep blank running record logs, highlighting tape, story sticks, pointer fingers and more!

     Perhaps the most handy and the most used organizational tool I have is this plastic six drawer file system that I keep under my desk. It is labeled with each day of the week and there is one extra bin that I use for extra morning week and extra worksheets.  All the work that I have planned for the week goes into the these bins.  When I walk in on Tuesday, I open the Tuesday drawer, pull out the morning work that I filed in there after photocopying it the week prior, and add it to the table.  I then disperse homework into the mailboxes and put any other work that is in that drawer that we are going to use for the day, on my desk under my lesson planner to have ready for the day.  Easy peezy!

  I store my classroom supply of construction paper in files by color for easy access.

     Lastly, each student has a folder filed into a plastic, portable hanging file bin.  Within these files are a red folder for collecting writing samples, a green folder for collecting spelling and dictation work samples, and a blue folder for collecting math work.  This is my data collection and there's a lot of it!  Don't you love data?  I actually have 2 of these bins (one for last names A-N, and another for O-Z).  I like that these are in portable bins so that I can carry them as needed to meetings, parent conferences, and home.  I collect these work samples as data for gauging my instruction, reporting out on, conferencing with students and parents, and also for sharing with specialists, SPED staff and others as needed.

     Whew!  O.K.  I guess I am a little bit organized.  Hopefully, you have some ideas that may work for you and you have some to share with me, I'd love to hear them!  I learn so much from other teachers!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring has Sprung!

     This has been one loooong winter.  It seems like every week this winter we have had a snow day and a school cancellation. We've had more indoor recess days due to freezing cold temperatures this year than any year I can remember. 
      We tried channeling spring with our annual "Spring Activity Day."  The first grade at my school has approximately one activity day a month.  Apples Day, Pumpkin Day, Gingerbread Activity Day, Winter, Spring, and Ocean Activity Day are a few activity days we typically have.  On an activity day, we set aside a few hours and a few fun activities centered around a particular theme.  Parent volunteers come in to help and a great day is had by all.  Here are some photos of our Spring Activity Day this year:

We made boats out of tinfoil (if you try this I recommend small sized squares such as 4x4).  Students drew a picture to show what their boat looked like. They also predicted how many pennies it would take to sink the boat and recorded their estimates.

   We put our predictions to the test by placing our tinfoil boat in water and counting how many  pennies we added to the boat until it sank.  We also determined if our result involved using more or fewer pennies than we predicted.  We subtracted to get our difference in penny prediction counts and actual counts.  If you are are interested in the worksheet I found it from Lakeshore Learning. 

   Of course you can't think of Spring and not think of flowers and planting.  We reviewed the life cycle of a seed with this fun project.  The students enjoyed tearing construction paper to make the seed, soil, and parts of the plant and they used colored pencils for the labeling. They came out really cute! 

The duck was also popular:

     Last but not least, we made pussywillows by tracing and cutting out a vase pattern, drawing stems, and adding tiny bits of cottonballs.  They added the following poem to their projects:  "Close your eyes and do not speak, and I'll rub spring across your cheek" -Aileen Fisher

     Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I have been nominated for the Liebster Award

by fellow nominee Amy Labrasciano

 The Liebster Award is an award for new blogs.  Liebster is a German word that means:  BELOVED, CUTE, LOVELY, DEAREST, and WELCOME.

Amy's questions that she answered:

 1. What's your favorite TV show? 
See above.
2.  Any advice for other new bloggers? 
Forge your own path.
3. What is your favorite/most effective social media site? 
4. What blogs do you like best for creating/technology/selling tips?
Hmmmm..... I see an area for growth.
5. What new trend in teaching do you love? 
Purchasing all of my materials from TPT for teaching!!!!
6. What new trend in teaching do you hate? 
Evaluations! Evaluations! Evaluations! Then publishing them to the public without a true measure.
7. What is your favorite junk food? 
I have a sweet tooth. Anything with sugar.
8. What is your favorite thing to do over summer break? 
Travel.  Every year I take my family to a new state on vacation.
9. How much school work do you do over the summer (including blogging, reading, creating, etc?) 
A lot.  I work on something every day.
10. What would you do if you weren't a teacher?
Lay on the beach and read!!!
11. Do you have a facebook page? If so, have you ever done a blog hop? (Because I would love to be part of one! ;) haha! I do!!!!
I would love to do a hop with you:)

My Questions to answer from Amy:

1. What's your favorite TV show? 
  Flipping Out
2.  Any advice for other new bloggers? 
Don't give up.  It's hard but it's worth it.  This is a great community of helpful, supportive, and amazing teachers!
3. What is your favorite/most effective social media site?
4. What blogs do you like best for creating/technology/selling tips? 
5. What new trend in teaching do you love? 
Does Daily 5 count?  How new are we talking here?
6. What new trend in teaching do you hate? 
Assessments, new teacher evaluations
7. What is your favorite junk food? 
anything with sugar.  I am a sugar addict.
8. What is your favorite thing to do over summer break? 
Read.Go to the beach.  The two together is heaven.
9. How much school work do you do over the summer (including blogging, reading, creating, etc?) 
Ummm. I'm not sure I ever stop unless I'm sleeping.
10. What would you do if you weren't a teacher?
I have no idea.  I can't imagine doing anything but this.
11. Do you have a facebook page? If so, have you ever done a blog hop? (Because I would love to be part of one! ;) haha! 
I have a personal Facebook page.  Would love to do a blog hop!  So fun!

11 Random Facts about Me:

1.  I am petrified of elephants.
2.  I love to read though I rarely do.
3.  I was voted "Most Talkative" in high school.  Go figure.
4.  This is my second year teaching in a public school and my second year teaching first grade.  I have taught kindergarten my whole career.
5.  I HATE to exercise.  Hate it, hate it, hate.  Did I mention I hate exercising?  I only do it because I have to!
6.  I like country music.
7.  I have a little obsession with purses.
8.  I still cannot do percentages in my head.  Thank goodness there's an app for that.  I am sooo bad at math!
9. I talk in my sleep.  I cannot believe I just admitted that!
10.  Cape Cod is my favorite place on earth.
11. I can't swim.


My questions for you:
1. What's your favorite TV show? 
2.  Any advice for other new bloggers? 
3. What is your favorite/most effective social media site? 
4. What blogs do you like best for creating/technology/selling tips? 
5. What new trend in teaching do you love? 
6. What new trend in teaching do you hate? 
7. What is your favorite junk food? 
8. What is your favorite thing to do over summer break? 
9. How much school work do you do over the summer (including blogging, reading, creating, etc?) 
10. What would you do if you weren't a teacher?
11. Do you have a facebook page? If so, have you ever done a blog hop? (Because I would love to be part of one! ;) haha! 
The guidelines are as follows:
#1- Link back to the blog that nominated me.
#2- Nominate 5-11 blogs with fewer than 200 followers.
#3- Answer the questions posted to me by my nominator.
#4- Share 11 random facts about me

Spring Giveaway Extravaganza

Spring is on the way! least we're hoping it is!  Get in on our Spring Extravaganza!  Enter to win some fabulous giveaways from some fabulous ladies!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Touch Money

   Teaching kiddos how to count money is tricky!  I find that counting coins and telling time are two of the hardest mathematical concepts for my students to grasp in first grade.  Last week I introduced them to the quarter, following our mathematics curriculum, Everyday Math.  I am quickly learning that there is not much that is "everyday" about Everyday Math.  But....I'm not going down that dark, dreadful path :-)
    As I stood in front of my students using the Smartboard, as I walked around the room while they completed their math journals, as I called them up to the board to manipulate coins, I knew they were just not getting it at all.  Have you ever seen those blank stares?  Have you ever seen poor lost little souls looking at you like you have four heads?  Yup.  That was last Wednesday's Math lesson.  It's one of those moments as a teacher that I dread.  They. Had. No. Clue.  I walked around helping each student complete their math journal knowing I had to rethink this one.  As is typical, there were those that truly "got it" and there were those that were almost there, and then there were those that were just completely lost.  It's those kids I empathize with.  The truth is - I hate math.  I hated it as a kid, and I hate it as an adult.  I'm just not good at it and I never was.  Perhaps I have developed a bias against math.  Nonetheless, I feel for those kids whose minds just don't jive mathematically.
   So when a colleague told me about the TouchMoney Program at first I thought (ignorantly) oh here we go....another abstract, complicated, and confusing model to teach these poor kids to only confuse them more.  I'm so glad to say - I was wrong.  I have an enormous amount of respect for Jenn.  She's an incredible teacher so I decided to give it a shot.  I will never teach money the same way again!  Ya'll this technique rocked our world over here in Room D156.  They got it! The next day, after recess I introduced TouchMoney.  Ya'll.....their faces changed from the blank stare to the "Ohhhh I geeeeeeet it!" And suddenly I stopped feeling like the world's worst teacher.
    In order to succeed with Touch Money students must be able to count by 1's and 5's to 100.  They also need to be able to know the name and value of each coin .  Here's a link to a fabulous 3 minute video that explains the program.
     I went to the dollar store, purchased large paper coins for a buck to make my anchor chart and we were on our way.

   The premise behind the Touch Money program is that all coins (except the penny) can be counted using 5's.  These are TouchPoints.  Therefore, a nickel has one TouchPoint because it's worth 5 cents.  A dime has 2 TouchPoints (it is 2 counts of 5) and therefore, it's 10 cents.  A quarter has 5 TouchPoints with each TouchPoint being a count of 5 to make 25 cents.
   I used the anchor chart above to review the appearance and value of the coins as well as to introduce the TouchPoints.  Once I felt confident that my students could discern the appearance and value of the coins, I introduced the concept of the TouchPoints.  The placement of the TouchPoints is important.  Students should learn where the TouchPoints are, then how to draw them on the coins themselves, and eventually they should visualize the Touchpoints on their own so as to count coins without relying on pictorial cues
    I love the visual, concrete, and scaffolded approach of the TouchMoney Program.  My students have shown tremendous growth and success with this method and I will never teach counting money another way again!  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Just speechy!

      It has been a busy and productive weekend!  I have published my first two projects on Teachers Pay Teacher's!   I decided to start with projects that I have a need for in my own classroom. This first paid item is a parts of speech word sort.  The six page packet includes 3 mini posters (one each for noun, verb and adjective) as well as a word sort.  Students read and cut out the words and glue each word below the correct heading (part of speech).

      I begin the lesson by introducing each poster and after discussing what a noun is students write a noun on a sticky note and add it to the poster.  I repeat this process with the verb and adjective posters.  This can also be completed over a few days if that is your preference.  This activity aligns with the Common Core Standard for ELA-Literacy.L.1.1. and is on sale now in my store.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Informative Writing

I have a confession.  Informative writing is my least favorite thing to teach.  In an effort to make teaching it more fun as well as more fun for the kiddos to write, I needed a topic that would "capture" them. As is often the case, they make their interested well known.  After reading Clever Tom the Leprechaun

the kiddos were having a great discussion about how cool it would be if they could catch and trap a leprechaun.  Bingo!  I found my writing topic right there!  Thanks kids!  I looked all over to find just the right informative writing prompt with a spring thing that went beyond seeds and planting but I wasn't having any luck.  So I sat down in front of the computer and created my own informative/explanatory writing prompt that will be perfect for my first graders.  I have been noticing that the kiddos still need a lot of practicing using transitional words in their writing.  Informative/explanatory writing meets the Common Core Standards and it is something I will be reporting out on for our standards based report cards in a few weeks. So I'm getting some assessment done and they are having fun writing while doing it! This became my very first published product!  You can get this freebie in my store here

Sunday, March 2, 2014

If you gotta do it....have fun doing it!

Yup, this quote just about sums it up!  On the daily, ever growing "to do" list my lesson plans get put off and put off until I just can't put it off another day.  That is because they take me FOREVER. Ok well..... not forever, but pretty darn close.  I'd say they take me about 2 hours.  I put a lot of time and thought into what I plan.  Therefore, when scrolling through Instagram one day (because I'm an Instagram addict!), I practically fell off the couch when I saw the Erin Condren lesson planner.  I hemmed and hawed for about a week over it, checking it on the Erin Condren website, and dropping subtle hints to my hubby that I had to have this!  My husband is a very practical type of guy so I had to pitch my plea sale well.  On Valentine's Day he gave the go ahead to order the planner.  Let me tell ya'll:  I stalked the FedEx guy for a week and a half.  It was worth the wait.

First of all, could the package be any cuter?!  I'm obsessed with cute organizational products.  I just about slept with this lesson planner on my beside table.  Ok....I did.  It's not just a lesson planner. It has monthly calendars with plenty of room for writing on the dates, it has beautiful pages to take notes after each month, a "year in review" of important dates and a "year in preview" for me to record tidbits of the year ahead.  It has pockets for organizing papers, page protectors for important papers, checklists with foldable pages so I don't have to write my 20 kiddos names multiple times, and more.  I love the tabs for quick reference.  I swear I don't work for Erin Condren.  I'm just in love with this planner. I actually enjoy writing my lesson plans now (well...sorta).  I even have cute pens that came with the planner.  I will admit is was a heftier purchase but it was worth every penny.  I've certainly spent $50 on stupider things.  Ummm...don't tell my husband that, ok?