Thursday, June 25, 2015

Building Minds, One Bag at a Time

Every year I come up with new goals for myself or my classroom for the next year.  This years goals are:
  1. Student-led Classroom
  2. Incorporate more literature and technology
  3. Have more family involvement
I'm already working on goal number one with Learn Like a Pirate and I've got some new ideas and activities up my sleeve for goal number two (thanks to some of my BBBs!).  Goal number three was a big one and I wasn't sure how I wanted to go about it but knew that I needed the help of Donor's Choose (LOVE THEM!).  They are a wonderful organization that allows teachers to post projects that will benefit their students and people all around the world can donate to those projects!

I know people are busy and have lives/multiple jobs and if that is the case, I want to capitalize on their time at home then!  I have lots of parents who want to help their kids but aren't really sure where to start or what to do and sending home a review packets isn't really helping anyone (especially if that student wasn't getting in class that day either).

My solution?  Family Learning Bags!  Think Literacy Bags (mixed with other subjects and activities) meets Family Game Night meets The 7 Habits.  That's a lot to think about, I know!  Let's have a picture, shall we?

Oooohhhh!  Ahhhhhhh!

We are a Leader in Me school and Habit 7 is Sharpen the Saw!  In a nut shell that means taking time for you.  Do what you love to relax your mind, heart, body and soul.  These bags will have activities to do all of those things with your family: books, games (educational - some more obvious than others), recipes, activities/crafts, and more!  With these bags I'm hoping to help students reinforce skills, bring families closer together, introduce everyone to new activities or topics they wouldn't normally be exposed to, and chances to sharpen your saw!  Now that I have my own little family, I want to spend all my time with them and I definitely don't want to be grading papers while I'm doing it.  I can only assume my student's families feel the same way about homework during family time.  Who wouldn't rather be playing a game than doing math problems on a worksheet?!  Click here for more information on the project!

Usually I send a letter home to kids and get the donation ball rolling but since we're not in school, and I would love to have these ready to go the first week of school, I'm coming to y'all for help.  I believe in these bags so much that I wanted to do a giveaway to help promote them!  If you donate even a dollar to this project for my kiddos, you can enter in the drawing to win your choice of any MINI sign from Tallahassee Sunday!  You can also use the match code SPARK to double your donation!  

This is the one I have!  Let me tell you that this was not an easy decision!  I couldn't decide if I wanted the apple (red or green), the pencil (SO many options there - polka dots, chevron, glitter, etc.), the puzzle piece (my heart will always be with my ASD kids), or make a custom one!  They also have signs for other special area teachers!  Even a cute band-aid if you work in the clinic :o)

Thank you so much for any help you can give my kiddos!  I know they will be very appreciative, along with their families!  Don't forget to use the match code SPARK to double your donation!  This giveaway will end on Sunday, June 28, 2015, so enter while you have a chance!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sunshine State Book Review: PIE

The second book in my Sunshine State Book Review is the one I was most excited for: PIE by Sarah Weeks. I just LOVE pie!  Mmmm... pie!  I even had a pie bar at my wedding since I don't really like cake all that much.  Look at all the deliciousness!!!

See, I even had Mmm... pie written on my ice cream spoons ;o)

Back to the book!

Summary from Scholastic:
While Alice's Aunt Polly, the Pie Queen of Ipswitch, passes away, she takes with her the secret to her world-famous pie-crust recipe.  Or does she? In her will, Polly leaves the recipe to her extraordinary fat, remarkably disagreeable cat, Lardo... and then leaves Lardo in the care of Alice.

Suddenly, the whole town is wondering how you leave a recipe to a cat.  Everyone want to be the next big pie-contest winner, and it's making them pie-crazy.  It's up to Alice and her friend Charlie to put the pieces together and discover the not-so-secret recipe for happiness: Friendship.  Family.  And the pleasure of doing something for the right reason.

This was a very cute story set in 1955 about a little girl trying to find her place in her family now that the only person who really loved her for her is gone.  It's a great story that shows how all your "special little quirks" that make you you, isn't something to be embarrassed or ashamed of, but embrace it and see what amazing things can happen!  There is also a little mystery, Nancy Drew style, thrown in there with a GREAT twist at the end!  You might have to explain a few things since it is set in the 1950's but not much.  It definitely won't deter their reading or understanding if they read this on their own.

There are TONS of great characters in this story, all with their own quirks.  I think this would be a perfect book to discuss character traits and why you think characters are making the decisions they are making (motive).  There are also some good sections early on in the book that lend itself to foreshadowing.  My friend Joanne over at Head Over Heels for Teaching has this fabulous product to promote higher level character analysis!  The best part is you can leave it up all year long and add to it as you read more books.  It's something I am definitely implementing next year!  Click on the image if you would like more info or a set for your own classroom!

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Historical Fiction (not a lot of history though)/Mystery
Lexile: 930
Grade Interest Level: Grade 3-7
Pages: 192
Skill: Character Traits, Foreshadowing
Food: Pie (there are all sorts of recipes in the book!)

If you would like a copy of the award for reading this book click here to grab your free copy!  There are three different versions: SRC test, AR test and just reading the book.

Next up for review is Athlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Learn Like a Pirate: Peer Collaboration

Now we're getting into the nitty gritty of what PIRATE really means!  In this section we find that the P stands for "Peer Collaboration."  Again, this is one of those things that I kind of prided myself on.  You could walk into my classroom and see students collaborating together.  At least I thought you could.  From reading this I'm starting to think that sometimes they weren't necessarily collaborating so much as just working together; which is fine and dandy sometimes, but not what I want.

We as teachers have to set the stage for a collaborative community.  A place where we are hands off (No more micro-managing!  This will probably be the toughest of them all, lol.), give lots of support and feedback and set our goals and expectations high.  The second I read this I instantly thought of the company GOOGLE.

This video reiterates how the employees come up with ideas talking with people from other departments, how the bosses are very hands off and trust their employees, how they are a family, etc.  Everything this book talks about!  Fair warning, the end of the video does talk about how Google promotes women in the work place, so that might not necessarily be as relevant to your students if you decide to show them this video.

Just a few changes in your day to day occurrences can end up having a big impact!

1. Encourage Leadership with Give Me Five:  This gives students to power to interrupt at any given time.  Now, the southern girl with matching manners in me instantly broke out in hives. BUT he makes a valid point.  A lot of the times the kids will interrupt what you are doing to ask you something, tell you something or share something and that interruption could cause the student you are working with to lose focus.  Of course now all I can think about is Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter,  "OOH, OOH, OOH!" You know we've all got one...

By giving students the power to interrupt you are letting them become leaders.  Telling them it is okay to share what they have found so no one else runs into that problem.  It is okay to ask different students for help.  It is okay to clarify something we are learning about or ask questions.  Even when they interrupt and it is inappropriate, that's a teaching moment!  Show them how to do this correctly, it will take some time.  When you allow this to happen you will see a significant change in how much they rely on you to tell them what to do and how they become problem solvers and leaders themselves.

2. Space that Encourages Learning:  Let them roam free and pick a spot in the room they want to work in.  This is something I do A LOT and it works out fabulously!  If another group is too loud my kids make the executive decision to get up and move themselves, no hinting from me or anything.  I mean, look back at that GOOGLE video.  Who wouldn't want to work in tent!?  You don't even need fancy settings like that, trust me, your kids will love to just get out of their desk and lay on their tummies.  But if you do feel the need to have a cool space, you can always add an igloo!  Get it, cool space??? Punny, I know ;o)

3. Responsibility Partners: And I shall call you Accountability Partners (because it's part of our 7 Habits lingo - Sorry Paul!).  A lot of you probably do something for this already: clock partners, phone partners, Popsicle sticks, etc.

This will not always be a normal partner scenario though, in fact sometimes you're not even working with them!  They are there to make sure you are on track, bounce ideas off of, or even ask for help.  "How are you doing?  Do you need a water break?  What do you think of this?" and back to their assignment they go.  They are responsible for each other which gives them an interest in one another's success!  Paul suggests you keep responsibility partners for a while so they get to know one another and feel comfortable in their pairing.  This partnership really helps keep your students on track and in charge of each other (leaders anyone???).  Loving it!

4. Classroom Meetings: This is something we will be starting this upcoming year and I am very excited about it!  Paul suggest that this is where you talk about class issues and solve them together.  This is also the place and time you will really talk about how people are different, what they can bring to the table and empathy for one another.  When kids understand differences they are more accepting of others.  This is not something they are necessarily born with, some yes but not all, and we need to teach them this concept.  In the book he has a lot of ideas and topics for this category but one thing he recommends is a WONDERful (man I am on a roll!) book: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, to help you show and teach your kids these skills.  Click on the image to learn more about this amazing book!

5. Competition: Don't make the focus of your classroom the end result, the grade, completing the task.  Make it about the process, the learning.  As I was reading this section and he was talking about how he could see competition having a negative effect on his classroom, I thought "my kids handle it well, so no worries there" but it's not a matter of how they handle the winning or losing, its how they get there.  When I assigned problems it never failed that my kids would always split them or one person would find the answer.  No matter how many times I tried to explain that that wasn't the purpose or that's not how I wanted it done.  I realize now I was not starting off with a good foundation and I was making the end result more important than the learning.  This was a HUGE eye opener of a section for me and it's really probably the smallest section, lol.

Needless to say, big changes are coming my way and I'm excited to implement them and I think the kids will really be excited by these shifts as well!  Again, if you have not gone out and grabbed this book, you must!  Click on the image below and you can have it at your door in two days time ;o)  Got to love Amazon Prime!

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts along the way!  Next up is the I in PIRATE...  What do you think it stands for?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Learn Like a Pirate: Student-Led Classrooms and Concerns

Ahoy mateys!  Every summer I read at least one professional development book for school.  This summer I was very excited to see that there was another book in the Teach Like a Pirate family: Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz.  I absolutely adored Teach Like a Pirate, so how could I not love this one?!  As I read this I realize it is PERFECT for the Leader in Me model at our school!  Paul in fact even mentions it a few times in the book ;o)

I'll be joining some other amazing teachers for this book study thanks to The Primary Gal!  Click on the images below to see what everyone else thought about these sections! I am going to try my best to condense these as much as I can since I combined them into one post.

What is a student-led classroom?
"A student-led classroom is one in which students make decisions and choices throughout the day without consulting the teacher."  Everyone in the classroom appears to have equal power and equal say in what happens, although they understand that you, as the teacher, have the final word.

For the most part, I thought I had a good chunk of my day as "student-led."  Even reading through some of the concerns, I didn't feel like a lot applied to me so I thought I had this in the bag!  I. Was. Wrong.  I'm on the right track for the most part but it is not as amazing as it could be and that is my goal for next year!  Paul gives you some really great tips, ideas, words to calm your nerves (lol) and videos to help you through this process.

Is my classroom a student-led classroom? Eh.

Yes, my students make decisions but they aren't always the best choices (GASP!) and they don't always think about how their actions will effect themselves, their peers, or even me.  Reading through this book has shown me by taking control they are really starting to see things in a new light.  They are actually taking control of the class (interruptions and all - this makes me a smidge nervous as there is a fine line between teaching moment and bad manners, but Paul says it works so I'm going with it!), teaching each other, helping each other and learning from one another!  I've got a lot of work to do but I'm very excited for the journey and I think my kids will be too!

Don't worry, it's not a free for all!  You still have teacher led time (mini-lessons) and there is also collaborative work time and time to reflect or synthesize.  This is a scary endeavor to embrace wholeheartedly though, let's be honest.  We're teachers.  We're perfectionist and micro-managers by nature usually.

Here are some of the main concerns (not all mind you):

  • "I'm worried about giving up control to my students." (Let's be honest... WHO ISN'T?!)
  • "I can't do this.  I'm definitely going to make a lot of mistakes and fail." (Yep!  We sure are!  But that's okay because we can use them as teaching experiences and if your kids see that it's okay to fail and try again, they won't be as hesitant to embrace this experience with you.)
  • "There's just too much at stake.  I can't risk this not working." (If you fail at a student-led classroom, you end up with a teacher-led classroom! At least you tried!)
  • "This will be too much work.  I can't take on another thing right now!" (Hopefully your kiddos will take on most of it after a while.  That's the whole point.  Consider this the epitome of the "work smarter, not harder" saying.)
  • "I'm overwhelmed.  I don't know where to begin." (Begin by getting this book! It's amazing!)
  • "But won't my room get loud?" (I have a love/hate relationship with my loud room.  Love that they talk and collaborate and really, they are a little family because of it.  That being said... they talk and collaborate about things that are not necessarily academic or even what were working on sometimes.  You probably don't have kids like this in your room, lol.  I need to find my happy medium.  All in all, I'd prefer talking to no talking.)

There are many other concerns and Paul addresses them all beautifully in the book.  By the end of the chapter you have this wonderful self-confidence that you can do this... and you can!

This won't necessarily be easy.  It will take LOTS of practice for your kiddos to be comfortable making decisions without you.  They are used to "perfect classrooms."  Where the goal was to make the perfect choice, the perfect grade, etc.  Here, you want them to make good choices and do well, but you want to see improvement, growth, thinking, taking risks all while being comfortable enough to make those decision and feeling safe with their choices.  Make sure to show praise for making an effort, even if it didn't go as planned.  For this to work, your students need to feel safe with you (and not in a "I got your back in a fire drill" kind of way).  They need to know you care about them as people: how their soccer game went, what their hobbies are, working one on one with them throughout the week, etc.  If they know you care about them, they will strive to make this work.

Every day you'll want to provide learning opportunities and show them what a student-led classroom looks like.  Because as new as it is to you, it's definitely new to them too!  Some things, like the interrupting, you are going to have to show them when and what is appropriate to interrupt for and what isn't.  And this will take you more than one day.  More than one week even, but you can do it!  You will have some push back from your students, co-workers, maybe even admin.  It's going to take work but by the second semester, you'll see a student-led class in action (Paul says so, so I'm taking his word and keeping my fingers crossed)!

All in all I'm very excited for this journey and I hope you continue along with me and the other fabulous teachers over at The Primary Gal's blog.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sunshine State Book Review 2015: Fortunately, the Milk

My first Sunshine State read of the summer is Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman.  You might recognize his name.  He also wrote The Graveyard Book.  I have to tell you, this was one wild, crazy, adventurous, imaginative, stupendous, wonderful, and quick read!  I'm not even going to try and summarize it for you because this description on Amazon from Booklist is amazingly spot on!

"A little boy and his little sister awake one morning, milkless. Their mother is away on business, their father is buried in the paper, and their Toastios are dry. What are young siblings to do? They impress upon their father that his tea is also without milk and sit back to watch their plan take effect. But something goes amiss, and their father doesn’t return and doesn’t return some more. When he does, finally, he has a story to tell, a story involving aliens; pirates; ponies; wumpires (not the handsome, brooding kind); and a stegosaurus professor who pilots a Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier (which looks suspiciously like a hot-air balloon). There is time travel, treachery, and ample adventure, and, fortunately, the milk he has procured is rescued at every turn. Gaiman’s oversize, tongue-in-cheek narrative twists about like the impromptu nonsense it is, with quick turns, speed bumps, and one go-for-broke dairy deus ex machina. Young fills the pages with sketchy, highly stylized images, stretched and pointy, bringing the crazed imaginations to life with irrepressible energy. Children will devour this one, with or without milk."

It is very funny and will definitely keep kids on the edge of their seats to see what happens next!  The illustrations are very intricate and well done as well.  I haven't decided if this would be a better read aloud (because there are so many twists and turns and it occasionally jumps back to the present when Dad is telling his story- but you only know that from the font change) or if it would be better for kids to read it by themselves.  I feel if they read it by themselves they would probably devour it in one sitting (which is not a bad thing) but they might get a little confused with plot twists or some vocabulary, depending on their reading level.  Although, if you read it aloud, don't wait too many days in between readings (like your students would even let you!).  There is a lot that goes on in the story and it might not be as easy for some to remember or catch up.

In the past we have always done a Sunshine State Feast (click here to read more about it) but sadly last year it didn't happen because of various reasons but one being... I wasn't there!  Oh, maternity leave :o)  That's okay though, it just means we'll have to have a bigger and better one this year since my 4th graders will be in 5th and we combine forces for the Feast!  That being said, whenever I provide you with the information below and you see the category for "Food," that's what I'm referring to.

Genre: Science Fiction
Lexile: 680
Grade Level Equivalent: 4.3
Pages: 128
Skill: Sequence/Chronological Order
Food: Milk (are you even surprised???)

One of my all time favorite things is when a book or movie says the title in the book or movie!  This book says the title A LOT!  I LOVE IT!!!  At our Feast we will have a Trivia Game (thanks to one of the books being Olivia Bean Trivia Queen) and that is one of the questions: How many times does Fortunately, the Milk say it's title in the story?

Earlier this week I posted Sunshine State Awards for your students if they read one of the 15 books.  If you would like a copy of the award for reading this book click here to grab your free copy!  There are three different versions: SRC Test, AR Test and just reading the book.

Next up: PIE by Sarah Weeks!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Made It: Sunshine State Awards

It has been a while since I've last linked up with Tara from 4th Grade Frolics for Monday Made It but I'm excited to be back in the swing of things!

As some of you know last year our school started Leader in Me.  We were just kind of dipping our toes in the water if you will, but this year we are going full force (especially because this year's symposium is in our county and they will be visiting our school!).  Some of the changes that we are making are to our Leadership Notebooks.  You can find more information on them here.  We are changing up our tabs a little and one of the new tabs is "Victories" and (obviously) that is where we will place our achievements!

So my first and only (Listen, I've got a new baby.  Making at least one thing a week is progress!) Monday Made It is Sunshine State Awards for the Victories section of our Leadership Notebooks!

Here in the ridiculously hot lovely Sunshine State, we have a yearly reading program called Sunshine State Books.  Every year 15 new books from all different genres are selected as the latest and greatest for 3rd-5th grade and 6th-8th grade.  When I taught 5th I always let my kiddos start to read the 6-8 selection after they finished the 3-5 selection, but now that I am in 4th I will only be focusing on the 3-5 selection!  Here is this year's line-up:

We try and make as big of a deal as possible with reading these books because the state brings in fun voting machines at the end of the year, we have a Sunshine State Feast for our grade and our Media Specialist throws an amazing party if you read all 15!  What better way to keep the motivation going than with Sunshine State Awards every time you read one of the books?  I've already earned one!  Hey, teachers get victories too! ;o)

I created these beauties using Kimberly Geswein Fonts and clipart from Creative Clips.  And because I want to share the love and motivation, I am giving them to y'all for free to use in your classroom!  You don't even need to be a Florida teacher to still read these goodies!  Just click on the images below to download your freebie :o)

Here are the 15 certificates if you use SRC Tests and your media specialist bought them for these books (which ours does every year)!

Here are the 15 certificates if you use AR Tests in your school!

Don't use either of those programs?  That's okay!  Here are the 15 certificates that have no test attached to them!

I just printed them off on colored card stock and called it a day!  Now they are just waiting for student's names to go on them :o)  If you are curious about these books, I always do a review of them including what foods we eat at our Feast based off the book, skills you can incorporate and much more.  The first review is coming up this week and it is for Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman.

Hope you enjoy!