Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Near the Door...

I thought I'd talk about this picture for a minute...or five. I'm in a blogging mood tonight. (This is probably my "pencil sharpener." See below.) What should go by the door? Surprisingly, there's a lot there, and I've never thought about it before.
  • For starters--emergency escape procedures. That's what the posters on the wall are. The red card near the bottom is where the fire drill card is to record the date of the drill and who is there...or not there. Tape a class roster to the back in case you ever have a "guest teacher."
  • If you have a window in your entrance, I've heard you are supposed to cover it up as part of lock-down procedures. Does any one know this for sure?
  • There's a mirror under the black owl. This is new to the classroom, and I've discovered that the kids LOVE it. It's near the door, so they can only ever get a "quick check" as they come in and out of the classroom rather than "preening." Easy dollar store find. Use the foam mounting tape.
  • That wooden block on the wall just near the bright blue container was where our classroom pencil sharpener is...was. I found out that the newer pencil sharpeners are usually made from recycled parts of old sharpeners. When we had ours, it had to be replaced a lot because it kept breaking. It's also well-known that the kids like to use it when procrastinating. I actually asked the custodian to remove it and I put in an electric pencil sharpener. It has done wonders for the classroom--not a lot of procrastination with an electric pencil sharpener. If you don't want yours removed, I got this idea from a colleague--put a plastic sandwich bag over it when you don't want it to be used. That works very well, too. I still use that idea with the electric.
  • There is laminated black paper around the pencil sharpener (or what used to be the sharpener). The wall is dry wall and go figure...pencil sharpener + drywall = pencil holes and writing on the wall. Put laminated paper around it and there's no more holes and writing. They won't write on the wall farther away from the sharpener.
  • Put a poster behind the trash can. School trash cans are made of good old metal. Whether the wall is dry wall or concrete, those cans scuff the wall. Put a poster there or more laminated paper to protect the wall.
  • Put a small outdoor mat underneath the trash can and/or pencil sharpener. This protects the waxed floors from getting all dirty. It's not the custodian's fault if there is A LOT of dirt there. Heavy pencil marks on the floor will not scrub off unless you strip the wax and put new wax down.
  • Carpet squares are underneath the table. If you do not have any, it's a great idea. Usually you can have them donated to you by your local home improvement store.
  • Speaking of donations...AAA recycles their maps every few months. Ask for them to save them for you and give them a date when you'll pick them up.
  • Hall Passes: another great idea. Never thought of it until last year, but...if you do think about it, it is kind of gross that they take those to the bathroom with them. lol I started this last year, thanks to another colleague's idea-sharing. Have them put the pass on their desk instead. You still know where they are, the bathroom is in use because the pass isn't on the wall, and who is out, but the pass no longer gets bathroom germs.
  • My favorite poster on the wall above the light switch?--"I don't GIVE grades, YOU EARN THEM." with a picture of me on it. =)
  • The welcome mat at the door--so inviting. (Don't get a grass one, very messy.)
  • Pink sign hanging from the table in the lower right corner?--"Bear Cave." That's a reading nook. Kids LOVE crawling under things.


Modify and Accommodate?...Okay.

It's the seventh day at school where I'm at, and I was just thinking that interims were due in 3 short weeks time. I thought maybe several readers may be in the same boat, and that now would be a good time to share some modifications/accommodations/tidbits I do in the classroom. I strongly believe that children need to feel successful, no matter how small that success may seem to you, the teacher. I try to do everything I can to help my students feel that success.

A friend of mine asked me once to share some of the "tidbits" that I use in my classroom at a staff meeting. I thought that I would share some of the things I do with you. I'm always looking for ideas to use and would appreciate any comments/posts of the same sort. They may not be modifications/accommodations but they are always helpful. Not all of my own ideas are of the sort. If you have a question, feel free to ask. =)

Here are some simple things I do that I can think of off of the top of my head.

  • A lot of IEP/RTI students are visual learners. There is always difficulty transferring information from the classroom board to the paper. An easy fix--I tell my students that they are more than welcome to move closer to where I am any time they choose to. The classroom carpet is situated in the front of the room for this purpose. I also have carpet squares they can use.
  • Self-Made Tests--If you make your own test for a particular topic, the test CAN and SHOULD be modified, and color-coding is a good idea. I also sometimes will create a test with 5 problems as opposed to 10, there may be less choices, there may be picture-answers instead of words. Also, allow students to draw a picture instead of write if they need to. Below is a simple continents and oceans test that I modified to help my IEP/RTI students. The concept is still being tested, but the modified piece is "friendlier." If students have difficulty writing a lot of words, I work with them to number their choices and then have them put the numbers in the boxes. Abbreviations work well, too.

  • Ready-Made Tests: What if the tests go with a program we use like Everyday Math? Do I have to take that test and create a new one? I haven't. Again, color-coding is key, and I do a lot of highlighting. I also shorten the test or extend the students' time. The questions meant to drive your instruction?--I usually don't ask my IEP/RtI students to do those because I know they will need help with those concepts any way. I WILL ask them questions, now or later, if I want to check their progress or analyze what they need help with.
  • Multiple Choice--Highlight half of the possible answers, eliminating the other half.
  • Two-Column worksheet with words on one side and answers/definitions on the other side--color-code them to group them: i.e., 4 are orange on both sides, 4 are green, 4 are blue, etc. In essence, they are taking several smaller tests rather than one big large one. 
  • Highlight important information and questions.
  • If the class writes 6 sentences, have them write 4.
  • Shorten spelling lists. Focus on word families.
  • Writing--They dictate and you write or they can have a partner (the one always finished first with good quality work) write for them.
  • Writing--You write it in pencil. They trace it in marker. Again, they can have a partner for this as long as the partner writes neatly. Below is an example of a writing project we just did. One student has Asperger's and the other does not. The writing looks good on both of them.

  • The students above also sit beside each other in class. This is a great tool to use in the classroom. Do you see how it can be helpful?
  • Reading--"Books-on-Tape." There's no reason why a student can't feel like part of a group because he/she cannot read at the same level as the class. Usually struggling students have very good comprehension skills and are able to join a reading group with some partnering, help from the teacher, and a good book-on-tape. If I can't get a book-on-tape, I make it myself.
  • Reading--Make a "modified chapter book (or grade-level book)."  Write in a book? Oh, no!...Ohhhhhh, YEESSS! I've not tried this particular idea in the classroom. In truth...I came up with it as I was editing this post. (I did say they were off the top of my head...) Since I'm on a color-coding kick, why not try highlighting a chapter book. Highlight the book the night before as you read it, only getting the sentences that you believe help with comprehension, eliminating extraneous info. Ask the student if they see any other important sentences that need highlighted. What a great comprehension conversation and they get great lit. at their grade level! =)
These are a few of my "tidbits" I use in my classroom. I tend to be an "in-the-moment" girl, so, as I find myself using other things in the classroom I promise to share. If you see a child sitting in the back of a room and being discluded, help out by sharing some of these ideas and your own. (Also, see how color-coding can eliminate all the words not highlighted and still give comprehension? Always allow them to ask questions and feel COMFORTABLE asking them.)


Enjoy your Labor Day!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Classroom Forest Makeover

It's the night before school starts. Boy, am I tired. We had a teacher professional day today with the staff getting ready, and then I spent the afternoon and early evening doing some fine tuning for my classroom. Below are some pics I took today of my classroom makeover.
I put a welcome mat at the entrance to the classroom to greet the kids.
Classroom Door

I turned my table to add to the length of my desk. I had Lowe's cut me a piece of pegboard and attached it to the front of the desk using cable ties. The letter boxes, I got from Target. They were plain black, so I added washi tape and decal stickers and attached them with pegs. I created a classroom letter for the kids to read. The flag says "Don't give up the ship." It's the Battle of Lake Erie flag. I ordered all my flags a few years ago from an online flag store. (Sorry, don't remember the name.)
This is the calendar wall and behavior chart. I staple a desk calendar to the bulletin board and write all birthdays and important dates on it to save time later. The brown circle is the birthday wheel I created earlier. We also have the state seal and statehouse, a poem a friend gave, some words of wisdom on cooperation. The behavior chart allows kids to move up or down to allow them to improve and not feel "stuck." The markers are to mark their "color" in their agendas.
Brain breaks. The empty bucket is to put used activities so they don't have to repeat the same ones all the time.
Birthday pencils.
Treasure box and desk nameplate I made. (The all-important blue Thermos coffee mug in the background. A definite must-have. ;)
Classroom window. I made the curtains to go with my color scheme (Sorry, the pic is so dark. I'll try to get a better one later). I decorated the wall with kids' bedroom sticker decals from Target. The flags are greate for social studies lessons and Veterans' Day. They are the branches of the military and the American flag. There is one hanging terrarium in the window right now. There will be two more. I just got them today. =)

 The "Fishing Hole" reading nook. There are more flags in the back. They are all the flags that the US has ever had. The larger flag is a copy of "Old Glory" from the Battle of Fort Sumter. I put some stuffed animals in the chairs. They are good for reading time and test taking (stuffed animals are comforting). The black crates will get filled with recent read alouds and popular cookbooks (Kids LOVE looking and reading cookbooks and are always asking me to get more, even reluctant readers. Also, 3D books are great. The rule is to prove they read it and then they get 3D glasses.)
Owl bathroom mat I got from Target to mark the "Fern Gully" reading nook. Easily movable when it is not reading time. My dad is going to give me a small kids tent to put in the back.
Student table. The pink basket is for trash. I thought this would help them stop throwing garbage in their desks. There are 2 ginko leaf flyswatters for pointers, rulers, scissors, glue sticks, and crayons.
Classroom sink with some more wall decals my friends gave me for my birthday. I love them!
A view from the front of the room. There's the state flag (the flags make teaching social studies more fun). There are clothespin hanging from the ceiling. I usually put up large "baseball cards" of the kids that connect to our theme. They are similar to the "All About Me" activities. Pictures of each kid are on one side and the "All About Me" activity on the other.
A view from the back of the room.
More sticker decals from Target. I put up a mirror that I found at the Dollar Tree for the kids to look at themselves (they like to do that at this age level). A friend gifted me the black owl. He is also a chalkboard. I think I might put a piece of whiteboard tape on his belly since they are less messy, and use it to write a simple message of the day for the kids. He is the "Guardian of the Mirror," a rare breed of owl from Ga'Hoole.

There you have it, my classroom in a nutshell. Hopefully, I was able to give you some ideas. I will post some specific DIYs that I did later. Right now, plans for the first day and sleep are priority. =)

Have an OWL-standing school year!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Fingernail Folly

I think I'll stick with being on this one...

So, I thought I would try the latest fingernail painting fashion and make decorative polish, but it turned out that I just ended up with a "teachable moment."

I used pink and brown polishes since those are my classroom colors this year. I painted my fingernails pink and gave myself a french manicure with brown and added some playful dots. Lol...after the french manicure, I was skeptical...after the dots, I was appalled. I remember telling my husband, "I feel like my fingers have some sort of growth or disease."

After all that work, I wiped it off, deciding it would look better on canvas, and went back to one plain old color...
This I can live with.

The point: You never know if you are going to like something unless you try it.

In this case, I didn't like it, and I don't have pretty pink and brown nails to share with the class. But...I DO have an experience and "teachable moment" to share with them. =) Feel free to share/steal/embellish...

Decorating Tips

I have been working hard trying to get my classroom ready for the first day of school, which happens to be Wednesday. It's not completely done yet, but all the little odds and ends should be done by tomorrow. I hope to take some pics to share with all of you.

In the meantime, here are some things I discovered while decorating my classroom:
  • Windows--Check if your window sills are magnetic...I wanted to hang things in the window this year, and I discovered that the top of the window sill is actually magnetic. If you are going to hang something light, like student writing, a hook magnet might work. For me, I'm hanging glass terrariums. I used magnetic hooks and outdoor mounting tape. This makes it permanent, but I'm confident it won't fall, which is a really good thing since it's glass. (It is probably a good idea to pop the magnets out first, because the glue holding the magnet in will eventually give way.)
  • Concrete brick walls--Clean them with rubbing alcohol...Hanging stuff on those things and keeping them up seems to be a constant battle. I know some teachers in my building use hot glue guns. If you have access to an outlet and a glue gun, try that. I have not tried it, but they all assure me it comes off clean. Me? I discovered from reading different  packages that if you clean the bricks with rubbing alcohol first, it helps things to stick better. It really does work, and then I just use frog tape or painter's tape. (FYI, take the rubbing alcohol home when you're done and clean the walls when the kids aren't around. Kids are not allowed to have access to this. Safety first.)
  • Assigning students numbers--Use calendar numbers...A lot of teachers assign their students numbers rather than putting their names on things to allow anonymity, and especially if something is going to be used year after year like a book box. I decided to go with this idea for the things I reuse, but I really didn't want to have to write numbers on everything. I wanted something printed rather than written. A simple solution--use the ready-made calendar numbers (hopefully no one will ever have a class bigger than 31...) They also do sell sticker sheets of just numbers in the scrapbook section at your local hobby store. They didn't seem like a readily available item (I got the last sticker sheet), so it might be better to order online.
  • Pinterest--If you are an avid Pinner and are looking for ideas for the classroom, don't forget to check the home section. Most of us are really good at thinking outside the box, and can turn a home idea into something for the classroom. In fact, I get more classroom decorating ideas from there than from the education tab.
  • Air Plants--These are what are going in the glass terrariums. They won't be ready before the kids get here, so I'll post it now. To be honest, I'm not a plant person (they usually die on me), but I thought air plants might be a good alternative. If you haven't heard of them, they are rootless plants that you spray or give a "bath" to once per week, and they don't need soil. They are small and come in a lot of different varieties. I'm sure it will provide great learning opportunities, too. If you are going to try them and get the terrariums, the tip is to order "votive candle holders." They are the same as "terrariums," but way cheaper. You can even use those clear plastic tree ornaments. Google it. They are fun!
Here's a pic of one of my air plants and the terrarium/votive holder. You can keep the terrariums plain like this or add decorative rocks, wood, moss, etc.

That's all for now, hopefully the classroom will be done tomorrow, and you will see pics to help give you some more ideas.

Have fun on the first day of school!!!!!!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Birthday Wheel

You can now get the symbols from my birthday wheel off of my "Freebies" link.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Time to Start Planning

Okay, so looking at the calendar, it's probably time to start planning the school year. For me, I have about 2.5 weeks before the kiddos walk through the classroom door. Some may feel it's "crunch time." This post is for me and for you. (I like to remind myself of things, because if we're not careful, even us veteran teachers can start to panic right about now.)

It is "crunch time" but DON'T start to PANIC. Think about this--our school year is wonderfully divided up into months, holidays, and perfectly segmented nine week periods and semesters. Divide your work up like that, too. Don't try to do it all at once, do a little at a time. Less is more, right? I'd rather see a teacher take the time planning one thing to make it "the best thing ever" than to see him/her take all of their magnificent ideas they have collected over the summer and years and make them "so-so."

This is the time of year I start drawing a map for myself. Think about what needs to be implemented all year. That is probably your priority, lesson planning and projects can come later. If you are going to have a theme, that is important but divide it into things that need doing before the kids arrive and things the kids can help with. Don't panic if all your stuff is not up at the beginning of the year. In fact, do this dividing up with all of your to-do's. Ownership for the kids is a big deal!

Here's more of a run down of what to start thinking about now. I like to get things done ahead rather than waiting last minute. Waiting is like "cramming" for a test for me and with that comes anxiety, stress, all those "nasties." So, if you are like me, "get 'er done," so you have time to relax and don't panic. You have at least TWO MAJOR PROJECTS to start working on now:
  • The first big event for most of us is probably Open House. Start planning what you are going to do.
  • Theme: what can the kids help with?
  • Rules: the kids can and should come up with these. You can always "guide" them to what you are looking for if you think they are missing an important rule. I teach 4th, so the upper elementary guys have had a lot of experience from previous grades. Every year they come up with a rule that I didn't think of but is great.
  • Procedures: start outlining these so you can teach them to the kids. What to do for each subject time, schedule, lunch, recess, etc. You know the drill.
  • Read-alouds for the first week:  Make a list that includes daily picture books and a chapter book if you do that. (Don't make lesson plans yet. Save it for when it's closer to "opening day." You need to get the other stuff done first and it needs to be fresh in your mind.)
  • The Summer Olympics: If you are going to teach this in your classroom, better start planning lessons (if you haven't already).
  • Decorations and classroom layout: start getting your classroom looking the way you want it to look when the kids walk in the door. Don't worry about anchor charts or anything that you need to teach, but start working on desk/furniture arrangement, behavior charts, etc. (the essentials). This is one of your BIGGER projects. (Ooooh, this might be IMPORTANT. This is a word of advice straight from my students: They absolutely love all the decor, BUT too much is a distraction, especially posters. PLEASE keep that in mind when you do all your "Pinterest" decorating. Don't make your posters and anchor charts "wordy." Don't have "blasts" of colors everywhere, pick a couple of colors and stick with them. Here's a good thought: "If it's too gaudy for your home, it's too gaudy for your classroom." Don't put up a lot of "un-necessaries." Remember, being a student is their "job." Help them do a good job by not getting in the way. If you are unsure, ask a colleague, or better yet, when the kids get to the classroom, make sure they understand that they have the right to ask for something to be taken down if they feel it is distracting. And make a rule that they are not allowed to do that for the first week because they need time to adjust. That's for the kid you know will ask you to take something down as soon as you explain the "distraction right.")
  • What major events do you need to start thinking about? Make a list and start thinking about them, but not necessarily planning lessons and projects (just yet). Here's an initial list of some "majors" I came up with (I am the "social studies" teacher and a major history buff, so I tend to need to start planning these now: Olympics (we already mentioned), it's an Election Year, 2012 is the 200th birthday of the War of 1812 (I'm an Ohioan so that's a big issue), Veterans' Day and Constitution Day (these are both "must teach by law," and I'll probably give specific ideas on these later)...I think that's good. You can see the fall is jam-packed, and I didn't even mention Columbus Day...(Don't panic. That's going to be my mantra for us, lol.) (See, I went back and gave it a soothing blue mantra color. =))
  • Second BIG project: Now's the time to go meet with your team. Collaboration is so important. Your team knows exactly who you are and what you're going through. Build a relationship with them (if you haven't) and go out to eat or get a drink. This is more of a reunion meeting than a planning meeting. Don't go in with your guns blazing thinking you're going to get down to business, that is the wrong mind-set. Meet to reunite your team. It's a "love-thy-neighbor" meeting. (You're teachers so you're conversations will eventually turn to planning anyway, but know that's NOT why you are meeting.)
So, I'll stop now so you can digest the above. Notice I didn't say to start making lessons (unless you consider the Olympics). You have time for lessons later. Hope my advice helps. Enjoy the rest of your summer! It's not over yet, so don't switch entirely to work mode yet. Proof--I'm leaving for a vacation on Wednesday =)