Thursday, April 23, 2015

5 Tips to Pack Up Your Classroom

Anyone who has taught school knows that there is no tired like teacher tired, especially at the beginning and end of the school year. Even though the beginning of the year is hard, it's new, fun, and fresh. By the end of the school year, I'm not only physically tired, but I'm emotionally exhausted in every way imaginable. That's why year after year as soon as the school year winds down, I find myself cramming everything I have into cabinets and boxes, without paying any attention to what I'm doing or why I'm doing it. Then at the end of summer, I have no idea where my things are, and it takes me a ridiculous amount of time to get my room ready for the start of a new school year.

This year, I'm ending with the beginning in mind. As I pack and prepare to empty my room for summer vacation. This is the complete opposite of how I typically plan, but I think the extra prep will go a long way in saving my sanity when I try to get ready for a new school year.
Don't just cram everything in a cabinet or closet. Even though it would be so much faster, take the time to purge now. If you didn't use the item all year long, ask yourself if you think you'll really need it the following year. Seriously, can you imagine skipping this step at the beginning of the year? Sometimes I think most of my "clean out and organize day" is a result of mindless cramming at the end of the year. Just so you know, this is on older picture. I haven't done this yet, but I will...
I think it's also helpful to remember that to store the materials you won't need until the end of the school year in the harder to reach places. Remember, first out should be the last in.
Don't wait until you need your materials and manipulatives to get them organized. We just put away the fraction bars that we had used over and over again this year, and I was fairly certain that we had many incomplete sets. Before putting them away for good, I gave each student a set of fraction bars and we redistributed pieces until all of the sets were complete.
While this may have taken a few extra minutes, I'd much rather do it now rather than when I use them for the first time next year. We'll do this with all of our manipulatives (unless they don't need to be in a set). When is gets closer to the end of the year, I'll also make sure all of my books are in the correct baskets and none of my games have missing pieces. I'm always surprised at how helpful my students can be with this process.
Before I pack up my room, I like to go ahead and get everything clean for next year. Our custodians will take care of cleaning the floor and carpet, but I like to clean the desks, chairs, bookshelves, etc. I usually cover my bookshelves with an old sheet, so they don't get dusty while they are moved over the summer. Everything has to come off our walls except our bulletin boards, so I keep those covered with fabric too.
As I begin to disassemble my classroom, I like to keep a running list of things I'll need to remake for next year and a list of materials I need to purchase. There are always things that I have to replace each year, and it's difficult to remember everything when you're home, locked out of your classroom during the summer. I've found that if I write it down before I take it down, it's so much easier to stay on top of things. I also think it helps to take pictures of things you want to stay the same the following year.
Call me crazy, but I usually start thinking about the next school year before the current school year ends. Of course, I always plan on making lots of changes, but there are also things that I know I'll do. For instance, I plan to use my GA Studies Weekly again, so I had a few volunteers go ahead and separate the papers for me, because that is such a time consuming process. I may even make my hands-on math booklets now, rather than as I go. I plan to make my morning work folders too. Those are all things that take me FOREVER to do on my own at home, but with a little help I can wipe these things out quickly. I am NOT saying that I stop teaching and do these things all day with my kids. It's more of an incentive for students who finish their work quickly and correctly, because every single one of my students loves helping with this type of thing.

Please let me know if you have any other great tips for packing your classroom! I'm always looking for ways to improve!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fluency Passages

One of my absolute favorite resources is my fluency passages that are integrated with common third and fourth grade social studies and science topics. The passages have made a tremendous impact on my students' reading fluency, and I love the fact that my students are also reading information that we are studying in social studies and science. These passages are what my students take home as homework to read to their parents, or adult, every night.  However, over the years, I've noticed that my students have needed quite a bit of extra practice locating information in a text, as well as fluency practice. For some reason that skill gives my students so much trouble, not only in reading but in social studies and science too. This problem has led to an awesome update to my fluency passages!
I've written a set of text dependent comprehension questions for each social studies and science passage. After a lot of thought and deliberation, I decided to add the questions to a separate page, rather than on the passage itself. I wanted to leave plenty of room for students to answer the questions in complete sentence, and I also wanted enough space in the passage for students to indicate where they found the answer to the question. I have my students underline the sentence or phrase where they found the answer and restate the question to form a complete sentence. The first four questions on the comprehension pages are who, what, when, where, and why questions. The fifth question will require students to answer in a paragraph (there are a couple graphic organizers rather than paragraphs). Students will only need the information in the fluency passage to write their paragraph.

I've already posted the social studies comprehension questions, and I'll get the science posted as soon as the passages and questions are edited. I did add a little extra content to the passages, so you'll find that they're a bit longer than the original versions. If you already have this, you can get the new updates by downloading the passages again. If you don't want the new comprehension questions the product is still there in the original format too!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Letters to My Future Self

As the school year winds down, I always try to complete a few end of the year projects that will create lasting memories for my students. This year my students are writing letters to their future self, and this has quickly become my absolute favorite end of the year (or anytime of the year activity).

This writing activity gives students the opportunity to write letters to their future-self. Students will write a variety of letters on different topics and will seal the letters inside envelopes to be opened on a particular date or event. I allowed my students to determine when they can open each envelope in the future. I encouraged them to choose dates such as their 30th birthday, high school graduation, day of first job, and other memorable times and milestones. I was a bit surprised to see milestones such as, "When I get a girlfriend". I did make a requirement of waiting at least five years before opening any of the letters, because they were choosing dates such as the end of the school year.

There are 16 different writing/letter prompts that you can choose from. 

I had initially planned on taking pictures of my students' writing to share. However, much to my surprise my students are writing very reflective and personal letters. I expected them to be cute and fun, but the letters are full of raw honesty and emotion. They're also writing with the trust that no one will see the letters but themselves, so I've decided against using them on my blog. I always ask if I can look at them, and no one has minded, but that's a little different than sharing them here. I hope that in a few years I get feedback from these students about this project. I know that I would LOVE to have done this as a student! I cannot image what all I wold have written.

You can check it out here!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

3 Product Updates

Apparently I've been in a spring cleaning mood, because I have three new product updates to share with you. A couple of these are pretty major, so hopefully you'll be as excited as I am!

By far, my biggest update is for my Weekly Word Problems. At the end of December, I created a new version of my Weekly Word problems that incorporated a basic skills practice and a daily constructed response problems with the three existing word problems.
I was just playing around with the idea and had no idea just how much I would love this new update. It was exactly what my students needed for that extra push in solving multi-step problems to prepare them for constructed response questions. Once I got started, I knew without a doubt that I would need to create a new format for the rest of the year. I've already made and posted January, February, March, and April versions. They are in the individual file and included in the Weekly Word Problem Bundle. I've also finished August-December versions, and I'll have them posted as soon as I get them edited. If you already have the original version, you get all of these upgrades at no extra cost! Just download the newest version.

I also spent some time working on my End of the Year Memory Book. I loved my old book and how bright and colorful it was, but I just can't keep buying colored ink. I kept most of the content the same, added a few pages, and changed the graphics to all black and white line art. Hopefully, this will help ease your printing pain a little!
They can be printed as full size pages, but I plan to print mine in a booklet format. I'll be able to print front and back and then fold down the middle. You definitely don't have to print all of the pages, but I want to make our books a week long activity, so I'm going for it! I will not admit to having already starting printing these booklets:)

The last upgrade isn't quite as big as the others, but it was needed. I've updated the overall look of my Mass unit, because it looking just a bit dated. I think this is a little cleaner and student friendly. It still has the same hands-on lessons and skills practice pages, so the content is the same.

I've got another HUGE update that I'm beyond excited about, but I better finish it before I share!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Unshakeable: Take Charge of Your Own Professional Development

Since my first year teaching, professional development has always been one of my true passions. I've devoured countless books on reading, writing, math, brain research, classroom management, you name it, and I've read it. I feel that this professional development is part of what has allowed me to still feel passion and excitement toward teaching, even after 12 years in the classroom.

When I first read Angel Watson's newest book Unshakeable, I was so happy to seen an entire chapter dedicated toward professional development. I knew that would be a section of the book that would be near and dear to my heart.
I agree that one of the fastest ways to lose your motivation and passion as a teacher is to allow yourself to get in a rut and to do the same things over and over year after year. I have to change things up to keep myself on my toes and at the top of my game. Of course, I'm not saying that I completely change everything year after year. Instead, I like to find one or two areas that I want to improve on and I learn all that I can on those specific areas. I get overwhelmed when I try to take on too much too soon.

Too often the term "professional development" results in groans and eye rolls, because let's face it, we've all sat in countless meetings listening to a speaker drone on and on about something we really don't care about. However, true professional development should consist of what YOU are passionate about. When your learning about what inspires you, that professional development isn't mundane, boring, or draining. It's uplifting, encouraging, and you can't wait to learn more. Don't wait on your school or district to provide that professional development. You have to be the one to take charge, because we all have our own passions and learning needs.
One great way way to encourage professional development is through a Professional Learning Network (PLN). Informal chats with coworkers and others who understand your teaching environment can be a great source of professional development. You can meet with teachers from your area to discuss common trends in your schools. These meetings can be fun, informal, and will certainly require a nice cup of coffee.

I've found a tremendous support system through social media outlets. There are blogs, forums, and Facebook groups just for teachers, and I've received so much support and advice from each of the platforms. I think it's important to remember to focus on finding positive and uplifting groups, not groups where the only conversations are complaints where people are torn down, rather than lifted up and encouraged. Negativity needs to be avoided at almost all cost.

If you're fortunate enough to be able to attend a conference, be sure to do your homework! No one wants to spend money to hear a speaker that bores them to tears. Ask around, read reviews, follow the presenter on social media to get an idea of the conference is right for you.

When reading the book, I was fascinated about the concept of educamps. I had never heard the term or concept before, so that may be my next professional learning project! If you have any experience with this, I'd love to hear about it!

I'm a reader, so even though it's basic, my favorite form of professional develop is just reading new books. I don't read a lot of professional books during the school year, but I do try to make up for lost time over the summer! I think it would be so much fun to join a book club to share this learning with other teachers. I've seen these done through blogs, email, and actual meetings.

I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed Angela's book. She really did an amazing job giving practical advice and strategies to allow teachers to become "unshakeable" in their professions. You can find the book on Amazon by clicking the picture below.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Real Value of a Teacher

It's around this time of year when I start feeling over-worked, over-stressed, and pretty much burned out. Don't get me wrong, I still love teaching, but all of the pressure and stress catches up to me. I get so caught up in the details that, while important, can suck the passion and life out of any teacher.

Am I caught up with my RTI paperwork?

Am I serving all of my students appropriately for their tier 2 interventions?

Are my lesson plans written in the correct format?

What should I do about these new behavior issues?

Am I doing enough test prep?

Am I doing too much test prep?

Does my test prep actually look like the real test?

Will I have taught all of the standards before my students are tested?

Have I moved too fast?

Am I implementing standards based grading correctly?

Have I documented appropriately?

How can I motivate my students?

What should I do about all of these absences and tardies?

How can I squeeze in one more conference?

Where have all my pencils gone?

How am I already out of copies?

You get the picture. I get caught up in the details and start sweating the small stuff, as well as the big stuff.  It's sad, because I allow myself to lose sight of what matters most, and I question my value as a teacher. It's during this time that I think it's essential for teachers {me} to step back and reflect on why we teach.

I know it sounds cliche', but teachers have the unique opportunity to impact, shape, and change lives. That's a pretty big deal. We may never know the end results of our efforts or just how far our reach will go. I have to imagine that we'd be more than a little surprised and may feel a little more validated about all of the sacrifices we've made for our students. You may never hear these words but...You are important. Your students need you. Your work and effort is appreciated.

That being said, now that we are right in the middle of the most stressful time of the year, I want to encourage everyone to take time to reflect on what's most important and to look for the small joys in the day. It's too easy to allow outside factors to rob us of our passion, enthusiasm, and love of teaching. My goal for the week is to celebrate the victories, ignore the negative, and hang in there one more week until Spring Break!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

March Math Centers

March is here, which means it's time to introduce all new activities for my math math work stations. I typically, like to phase in a few stations at a time, rather than introduce 12 activities in one day, but that didn't work out because of our six recent snow days. I usually phase the stations in, because it's next to impossible to keep my students' attention for a long enough period of time to teach 12 different activities. I've found that when I hurry through my explanation of the centers, I pay for it later with student confusion and off task behavior. However, we all know that teachers have to be flexible and able to adapt, so I did what I could and we're now moving forward with some serious test prep stations!

Station 1 
This station consists of my Test Prep Task Cards which are all multiple choice questions that cover all of the third grade Common Core Standards. In this station, students use the error analysis form that I blogged about here (free form included) to find the correct answer, as well as to explain why the other three answer choices are wrong. This is a great way to help students find those tricks that appear all too frequently on standardized tests.

Station 2
In this station, students solve a variety of measurement problems including elapsed time, mass, and volume. These task cards are in my Spring Math Centers for Test Prep. I also plan to add a little extra area and perimeter practice to this station within the next week or two.

Station 3
I love these task cards from Rachel Lynette. I think that this set of task cards provides just the right amount of challenge for my third graders. Initially the task cards were a bit tricky, but not so hard that my students couldn't do them or became discouraged. Instead, they were just challenging enough to keep students completely engaged.

Station 4
This station is a great place value and forms of number review. It allows students to practice reading and writing numbers in standard form, expanded form, written form, and with pictures of base-ten blocks. These task cards are in my Spring Math Centers for Test Prep.

Station 5
This set of task cards is pretty self explanatory. It's a collection of spring themed addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division word problems.
Since the word problems won't take my students too long to complete, I added a a little multiplication and division puzzle activity that is a lot of fun. This allows students to review different representations of multiplication and division through grouping models, arrays, and repeated addition or subtraction. These are also in my Spring Math Centers.

Station 6
I wasn't sure if I was going to share this picture or not. If you look carefully, you'll noticed that I was using task cards for the wrong month! Just call it wishful thinking! I do have a March version that I'll have to dig out, because we weren't quite ready for April. This are in my Spiral Math Review Task Cards.

Station 7
I started using Xtra Math after Christmas, and I absolutely love it!!! I'll share more about this program in detail in the next few weeks. In a nutshell, it's a program that can be used on a computer or ipad that allows students to practice their math facts. Students start with addition and work their way toward subtraction, multiplication, and then division facts.

Station 8

This station let me know that we still have some more work to do with different types of graphs. There are six different spring themed graphs, and four task cards to go with each of the six graphs. The graphs included horizontal and vertical bar graphs, picture graphs with a key, and line plots that included fractions. I think the picture graphs were what gave my students the most trouble, so we'll be sure to squeeze in a little more practice. These are also in my Spring Math Centers.

Station 9
I love these math vocabulary task cards, because I think that vocabulary is such an important part of math instruction. I also like the fact that these task cards review important math terms through such a large variety of questions. My favorite cards are the analogy cards, because I love see my students think about the relationship between words. Students also have to find antonyms, synonyms, represent terms, and determine which word doesn't belong in a set of words.

Station 10
These task cards from Teaching With a Mountain View are some of my new favorites! They are all multi-part problems that require students to use critical thinking and to apply different math strategies. I think these are going to be a huge help as we prepare for the constructed response portion of our state test. 

Station 11
Station 11 had two activities from my Spring Math Centers. One set of task cards was a geometry review where students drew and identified different geometric figures, with a focus on quadrilaterals. The other set of task cards was a fraction review that emphasized comparing fractions with like numerators or denominators.  I allowed students to complete the set of task cards of their choice.

Station 12
For now, station 12 is my Scaffolded Time Task Cards. These cards begin with very simple time questions and then progress to more difficult elapsed time problems. Once students become comfortable with the more basic questions, I'll also add my Elapsed Time on a Number Line Task Cards to the mix.

I plan to keep all of these task card in rotation until we are finished with our state test in early April. We counted today, and we have March and one week in April and then it's testing week. We won't do stations during that week of school, and after that we'll start a whole new group of activities!