Sunday, August 24, 2014

Peek at my Week: The First Week of School

I am so excited about my first week of school. After meeting my students on Thursday evening, I know we will have lots of work to do, but I also know they are going to be a very fun group. After going back and forth about getting started sooner rather than later, I decided to devote the majority of my first week to community building fun. I tried to incorporate math activities in math time and lots of problem solving and cooperative learning. I really want to get a feel for how my kids work together and solve problems independently before we "hit the books", as the saying goes.

Here's a peek into what we will be doing the first week of school. Of course, this is far from everything. There are meetings about recess procedures, a visit to the library, a cafeteria talk, and the list goes on...but I wanted to give you the more exciting components of our week. I've also linked the photos and titles to allow you to locate these activities easily. There are some great blog posts, products, and freebies that I will be putting to good use this week.
My goal is to share a look into my classroom each week, and in a perfect world, I would follow up with photos of all of our fun when the week concludes. No promises on the photos...sometimes I am just having too much fun to stop and grab a camera, but I will try my best.

If this is your first week back, WELCOME BACK! I hope you have a fabulous transition back into the swing of things. For those of you who've already got a few weeks under your belt, only a few more days and you get a long weekend!

**UPDATE: Just realized this week's Peek at my Week does not allow you to click on any of the great links. I will work to add these as a list, and I will correct this error for next week!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Teacher Week '14: What?

Hello! Thanks for joining me this week as I participate in the annual Blog Hoppin Teacher Week. You've made it all the way to Friday! Today's post will be all about curriculum.  Along the way I will share some of my favorite resources...and for those of you who make it all the way to the end, you might be rewarded with a freebie or two.

Like many of you, my district has a scope and sequence provided to us through their website. This contains an outline of the year and really focuses on when we should teach each standard. They provide some lessons but have moved away from the required lesson format into suggested experiences. In other words, they added some wiggle room. This makes me SUPER happy because I love personalizing my lessons to my own style and the kids I get each year. When my group is artsy, I love to include more chances to get their hands on art supplies they may not have at home. When I have a group super into technology, I try to find the latest and greatest to allow the kids to try it out.

While the team at my current school divides and conquers for planning, I try to use bits and pieces from the shared lesson plans and my own stuff. It is part of what keeps teaching fresh and fun for me, and I have always had a hard time doing someone else's lessons because they feel so artificial. Therefore, I pick the ones that are most "me" and tweak the rest to be more my style. Last year I was in charge of planning for writing, but this year I am making the jump to planning science with a colleague (since I will be out for three months). I loved doing the writing plans, but I really look forward to creating some great science stuff this year.

That being said, I am going to give you an overview of my science curriculum this year. This is, of course, a starting point rather than a finished product. However, it should give you a good idea of where I see the year going. As I plan each unit, I will be posting some of my favorite products, blog posts, and pins that might be useful to you in planning so stay tuned for my Science Saturday posts throughout the year! Here's my at-a-glance for this school year.

Hope you've enjoyed joining me for Teacher Week '14. It has been a very busy week back with lots of PD and adjustments for my whole family. Now its time for a great weekend with lots of relaxation (ok, maybe some relaxation and some lesson planning). Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teacher Week '14: When?

This is seriously some kind of record for me! I feel like I am finally starting to get enough balance in my life to get back into a more focused blogging routine, and today I am writing my FOURTH post to link up with the Blog Hoppin' crew for Teacher Week '14. Today's focus is going to be focused on all things planning related. I'll give you a peek into my schedule and my classroom management system. So sit back and enjoy a quick look into my day!

So let's get started with the schedule. I seriously had the world's best schedule. There was a big block of time in the morning AND a big block of time in the afternoon, which should remain for this year. :Last year, my lunch backed right up to our specials so I was able to really get things done. It was absolutely perfect in that it allowed me to maximize my planning time so I am not dragging a ton of stuff home with me anymore (something I promised myself I would try not to do once I became a mom...Home is for Momma and school is for work). It was also great because Little Bean cannot be dropped off at her daycare classroom until 7:15 so I walk in the door at 7:30 giving me a total of 10 minutes before my students come in. They close at 4:30, so I need to be out the door by 4:15 at the very latest if I want to avoid the late fee. 

I feel like I have had to really learn how to work smarter within the confines of the daycare schedule because by the time I pick Little Bean up she is D-O-N-E. We make it home in time to eat dinner, do our bedtime routine, and down she goes. Therefore, there is no heading back up to work after I pick her up. This is our preliminary schedule the year based on what I've heard so far...I should know in the next few days how close this actually is to reality. (Fingers crossed because this one is pretty good.) 
I had specials at the end of the day once in the past, and it was AMAZING! I could get my things organized and ready for the next day. Plus it gave the kids a great outlet for their energy. I am super excited about this possibility, and crossing my fingers that this is the ACTUAL schedule. 

Seating Arrangements
As you saw in Tuesday's classroom tour, my desks are currently set into groups. This is not always the case. I consider desk arrangements to be one of the most controllable aspects of classroom management. If it isn't working, try something new. There are times my kids end up in a U-shape. Other years, I end up with pairs or rows. I don't throw anything out until it has been tried. Mind you, we do not spend all day in our desks so even when students are in rows they have 1-2 seatmates plus they move into groups for many different activities. However, some kids just work better facing forward or without people in front of them...or behind them...or on their sides. Yes, ladies and gents, I have resorted to the island paradise for certain friends who just have personal space issues that cannot be managed in a desk. Of course, my students also have the option to use yoga balls starting in late fall, so that also impacts my desk arrangement. Gotta have lots of room so no one gets injured during those first few weeks when they are figuring out the rules are in place for a reason. There is always one who falls off at least twice the first week before realizing that balancing with both feet up and no hands does NOT work despite the fact that we review the rules and they do so at home before signing a pledge to follow the rules. 

So to give you a little more information on the yoga ball deal, I have used them for about four years now after seeing some great results in my wiggle worm students with ADHD and my really active boys. The kids love them, and they really help my students stay focused while still getting lots of movement time. Instead of those kids who need many movement breaks (we've all had them... they are always out of their seat "sharpening their pencil" or throwing some mystery object in the trash, or just plain wandering), my students can rock or do small bounces on their yoga balls. This eliminates many of my behavior issues because they are out of their seats so much less. I've only had one student ever completely use his yoga ball, and this was only after more than a month of warnings and smaller consequences. Finally, it was just clear that this was NOT going to work for him, so I changed the plan. Otherwise, it has been great. Want to know more about the yoga balls in my classroom? Read more here.  

Behavior Management
My behavior management varies from year to year, depending on my class. I tend to be an inclusion classroom and get those kids who like to push the boundaries so sometimes I need more structure to my system. However, other years the kids really don't need extra incentives to be focused on learning so I don't put anything in place that isn't necessary. The point of the system is that it serves a purpose, no need to make extra work for myself. 

There are essentially three layers to my system: individual, team/group, and whole class. Usually I only need two of these at most. Let me tell you a little bit more about all three. 

  • Individual: This is for that one (or two...or three) kids who really need a personalized system to keep them accountable. You know who they are because you find yourself using proximity just to keep things moderately under control, and you are checking in with them every few minutes to ensure they are on-task and getting something done. For these friends, I use a behavior report card.  When I think a student will benefit from this system, the student and I sit down and have a discussion about how I can help them be more successful. I introduce their personalized document, and together we decide on a reward they'd like to earn. (My favorite from last year was my friend who got to have lunch with one of our local police officers because he wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.) Based on the reward, we set a point total necessary to earn the reward. I try to keep the initial rewards small and achievable to help students build on success. Larger rewards require harder work. Similarly, during these initial weeks I check in with the student every 5-10 minutes. While it seems excessive and like it would interfere with learning, I am typically already checking in with this student almost that often (if not more) with little result, so it is more about purposeful checking while praising small successes and reviewing expectations. In the end, when these kids turn around it saves me a TON of time and lets me focus on more than just that child. As the child progresses through the system, I increase the length of time between check-ins until I reach the point where I start to see behavior issues again. A student graduates from the plan when I only need to check in with them once in the morning and once in the afternoon. 
  • Team/Group: This system varies from year to year, but I focus on the idea of friendly competition. The groups work all week to earn the most points, and the team who has the most points at the end of the week, gets an educational reward on Friday during our afternoon rotations. I give points for lots of different things from being the first group with your materials ready to being most focused during work time. Really, I just watch for things that the majority should be doing and aren't, and I give points to the teams who ARE doing it. In the past winning teams have gotten the chance to do Mad Libs (love a good Mad Lib), use the computers to play math games or IXL, or play math or reading board games that I have from Lakeshore Learning. I try not to give "prizes" because I want the reward to be focused on learning, but I also think it is important to recognize those teams who are consistently doing the right thing instead of focusing in on just the handful who are making poor choices. 
  • Whole Class Compliments: I am going to be doing this one a little bit differently this year, if I end up using it. In years past, I have used a hundreds chart and each time the students earned a compliment from an adult (other than myself), I crossed off two numbers. A compliment from me was worth one. When we reached 100, the kids got a reward of some sort. However, I think I am going to do a more randomized schedule this year by picking a mystery number. Each time the kids earn a compliment one of them will select a number, if it is the mystery number the class will earn a reward. If not, I will cross it off and we will keep playing until the mystery number is selected. This might mean the class earns a reward after 2 numbers or 100 numbers, but it will really put more of an incentive for them than just needing to get to 100. I love the whole class system because it also serves as a classroom community builder. 

Of course there are ton more components to classroom management, and I wish I had time to discuss them all. However, by this point I am sure you are probably about ready to be done! Keep an eye out for more posts on this topic in the future, and leave a comment to let me know how you manage your class. I am always curious to hear how other people do things in their classroom.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teacher Week '14: Why?

Three days in a row! I can totally do this...right? I am now THREE days into Teacher Week '14 organized by the ladies over at Blog Hoppin'.

Today's big question is focuses on my organizational systems. This one should be a little more interesting to write. I definitely HAVE systems....explaining them might be a bit more tricky. However, I'll try my best. So here we go!

My binder is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! It is nothing fancy, but it saves me so much time. I started using a binder several years ago after reading about the one used by Leslie over at Kindergarten Works. I loved the idea so much, I emptied out an old, junk-filled binder from my very first year teaching and spent my planning period doing the initial set-up.  Since that first year, I've refined my binder to make it more user-friendly and personalized to my teaching style. However, it is still one of the biggest essentials in my classroom. There are a number of great Teachers Pay Teachers authors that have some great pre-made kits, but I opted to use my own design and create the items I really needed in my own format instead. In the next week or so I will be giving you a sneak peek into how I organize my binder. Still putting together the finishing touches once my class list is finalized and ready to go so stay tuned! 

So in my first few years of teaching, I set up my classroom to look good. The borders matched my theme. My pens were in a cup on my desk. I kept all my teaching books, binders, and teacher manuals on a cute little bookshelf behind my desk. Of course, after the first month of school, the pen cup was empty, there were manuals and binders everywhere, and the bookshelf looked like the picked over shelves of a store on Black Friday. Why? That's easy. I organized my room to LOOK good, but I didn't organize it to be good for my schedule! After the third day in a row going to pull the Words Their Way book off the bookshelf, I just left it in my small group space. The pens had gravitated to my kidney bean table, where I did my grading. The items had been moved to their place on convenience. 

Once I realized this, everything changed. I now keep two pen cups. One is still on my desk (old habits die hard), but I keep a second at my table for easy grading, along with my stampers and stickers. The binders I am using for the current unit have a spot in the area where I typically use them. The rest are tucked away in my cabinet, and I rotate them out as the units come. It really should have been obvious because I plan the students' space to be convenient, but I never even thought about how much it would help me get my ducks in a row as well. 

The Less Than a Minute Rule says that if you can complete the task in a minute or less, don't put it down until it is done. I do my best to live by this room in my classroom, and it has saved me a TON of time as a result. Where did it come from? It was actually a great tip I got from a principal I had at one time. In teaching there are so many things that arise out of no where. A form in your mailbox for the PTA, an email from your principal about scheduling a meeting, a book that needs to go back in its place. The list goes on and on, but there are also 545, 345 things you are supposed to be doing at any given time, right? So that note goes into a pile along with the book. Three weeks later the stack is as tall as you are and threatening to topple over with one wrong move. 
These days, instead of taking that PTA form upstairs, I quickly fill it out right there in the staff lounge and pop it in the PTA box. Check, done! It takes 30 seconds, and it allows me to delete the 10 reminder emails that PTA will send about that form over the next two weeks. That email? I open my calendar and give two times immediately. Sure, we may have to go back and forth about it to find an actual time that works (although, less so now that we have Google Calendar so I can see when she's already busy and schedule a time that is open for both of us.), but responding to the email is off my list of things to do in a minute flat. As for the book, I don't put it down! If it is a good time, I send a kiddo with it to the library...or I take it myself if we are headed into the hall. 

The best part about this is that I no longer spend my planning time trying to get the "to do" pile off my desk. Instead, I am able to use that time to actually plan (well, when I am not in meetings that is). Of course, it doesn't always work out that way...but even if 2 out of every 10 things get done immediately, it all adds up! 

This is probably the most time consuming of all my tips, depending on the current state of your organizational system. However, in my opinion, in this day of digital resources, this is also one of the best uses of your time because it will save you a ton of time in the long run.   If you are like me, you spend a chunk of time looking for new resources when you get onto Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers. You download it all, but then what? Some of it never makes it into your repertoire because it never makes it out of the download file...or you put it in that great "math" folder you've created, and never see it again because there are 4,356 files in that folder.  I propose a solution. I, too, have that lovely overstuffed digital math folder. Sure it is getting better (see the next tip for more on that), but I've decided to organize my files a little more strategically. Here's a screenshot of my desktop.

You'll notice my background is designed for organization. Sure, I miss seeing pictures of Little Bean when I turned on the computer. However, this system allows me to quickly and easily locate what I am looking for. I cannot take credit for this awesome design, but I can tell you is SUPER easy to do your own version. Just pop over to Moritz Fine Designs to pick up your free copy along with great step-by-step directions. 

I've also set up folders by unit rather than by subject. This lets me save materials I may use in a unit and review them as a group. It also prevents me from downloading 10 copies of the same file and not realizing it because there are so many files in the folder. I love this system because if I need some enrichment or extra practice, I can go right to the unit folder and find something to print immediately. There is no hunting! 

We are a profession of hoarders. I admit it is hard to let go of the printables you did that one year for that fun lesson...You'll use it again, right? I mean maybe not this year, but next year...or the year after. Nope, instead it lives in that binder/file folder/pile in the cabinet FOREVER, and it takes up valuable real estate in our already full classrooms. Therefore, my final organizational tip is all about clearing the clutter, and it is the perfect follow-up to the last tip because once your desktop is organized it makes this step a breeze! Plus this step takes maybe 5-10 minutes vs. the hour or so the last step might take some of you...or at least that was how long it took me. 
In my old classroom storage was at a premium, and I still found a ton of junk I hadn't touched in YEARS when I moved out. As you saw in my classroom tour, the new digs have a ton of great storage. It is definitely a benefit of being in a new school. However, even with cabinets for days I refuse to let the clutter accumulate. 

So here's my solution: at the end of every unit, I look through my files (both paper and digital). If I have haven't used it in the past two school years, I toss it. There are so many great resources out there, but I don't NEED all of them. So I fight my inner teacher hoarder and make sure the files are cleaned as I use them. The great part about doing it as I complete my units is I really know what I've used and what is just taking up space. I also know why types of things I would like to find more of so I can leave myself a note to look for more resources over the summer when I have more time. 

So there you have it! I'll see you right back here tomorrow.  Don't forget to stop by TPT to stock up on any back-to-school items you missed. You can get up to 28% off TODAY ONLY! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Teacher Week '14: Where?

It's Tuesday! Time to find out more about my classroom as I continue my Blog Hoppin' adventure for Teacher Week '14.

You'll have to forgive the mess, as I take you on my first ever full-on sneak peek into my classroom. We were only given access last week, and with Little Bean turning two and my wedding anniversary all hitting in the same week...well, I decided to put family first for the last week of summer. Unfortunately for me, that means there are some unfinished components that will have to get done before the kiddos come back next week. So without further ado, here is a picture walk of my classroom set-up this year. Enjoy!

So there you have it! Be sure to come back tomorrow for more Teacher Week '14.

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