Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Volunteer Appreciation Gifts

This year, I had several moms volunteer their time each week in my classroom.  I had a copy mom, a grading mom, a mom who put the newsletters and student work together, and reading group moms.  They were a huge help and I wanted to do a little something to show my appreciation.  I found many ideas on Pinterest.  CLICK HERE to check out my "Gift Ideas" board. 
I decided to go with a "mint" bag and popcorn (and of course a hand-written Thank You note):      
I put a variety of mints in a bag and printed off the adorable, colorful tag from April's TPT site: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Parent-Volunteer-Appeciation-Gift-Tags-Cards-231826.   
I made the popcorn tags myself and attached a bow (not shown).  I also made this little note in a Word document, but the idea came from Pinterest:
My parent volunteers were amazing and deserved more than this!  Even though it wasn't much, I think they appreciated the gesture and I certainly appreciated their help!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Time Capsules

When I was in 2nd grade, my amazing teacher, Mrs. Reid, allowed us to create our own time capsules.  We brought in coffee cans for our capsules.  She spray-painted the cans and then we got to decorate them with super cute stickers to personalize them.  We stuffed them with drawings, writing samples, pictures, Q&A sheets about our interests, etc., and other work from the year.  She taped them up with packaging tape and told us we couldn't open them until we graduated from high school.

Here's my dinky little time capsule from 1991:  (Of course, it looked much nicer when I was 7 years old.  Most of the super cute stickers were torn off when I ripped away the packaging tape.)
Oh well!  It's full of fun memories!  I love seeing my 2nd grade handwriting and reading the funny things I wrote.   
I've cherished my time capsule and knew I would continue this tradition when I had my own classroom. 

Every year, I have students bring in coffee cans...I spray paint them...and we stuff them with various things from the year.  I've decorated them in many ways throughout the years, but recently started adhering our class picture to the can.  This year, I'm thinking of adding thumbprints to the cans and have each child sign their name next to their thumbprint. 
 I'll attach a note to the top, reminding the students not to open their time capsules until they graduate from high school.  Then, they will open their can and reminisce about their last year of elementary school. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

End of the Year Activities

Last week, I randomly came up with a fun activity that I had no idea would be such a hit!  On Monday, during snack, my 5th graders and I were talking about name meanings.  I asked the kids, "If you could choose your own name, what would it be and why?"  I would like to be named Lauren because I think it's a beautiful, feminine name.  After talking for a while, I suggested that the students come up with a name they'd like to be called and I would call them by that name on Friday.  They were thrilled!  I had no idea this was such a gift--I could have been using this as a reward during the school year!  Ha!

Anyway, Friday came and they had to get their names approved by me before they could write it on their nametag and stick it to their shirt.  It had to be an actual name.  I wouldn't approve "Iron Man" or anything like that. 

My boys wanted to be the characters from Duck Dynasty so I had Willie, Phil, Jase, Jep, and Si in my classroom.  I also had Elmer, Leroy, Carlos, and Sheboudaquay (I don't know where they came from!).  The girls were a little more serious.  I had Jessica, Mia, Rose, Miriam, Sadie, and Heather Mae. 

I called them by their new names all day.  The students would snicker when I'd ask questions like, "Elmer, how did you come up with 40% as your answer for problem #10?" or "Can you tell me the difference between monocots and dicots, Willie?"  It sounded so silly!

The kids were having so much fun with this and at one point during the day, I overheard a student tell another, "Man, I wish we could do this every Friday...or at least do something cool every day until the end of the year." 

That comment made me think.  I would love to do something special each day until the end of the year (I'm getting weary too, ya know).  It would be nice to have something fun to look forward to.  I quickly remembered an "End of the Year Activity" pin from Pinterest and decided to use the idea.
After school, I blew up colorful balloons (8 to be exact, since we have 8 days of school left) and hung them from the ceiling.  Each balloon has a sheet of paper inside with a fun idea/activity written on it.  We will pop a balloon each day and do whatever activity is listed.  My activities cost virtually no money and I knew they would be something the students would enjoy.  Here they are:
  1. Sit where you want for the day
  2. Hold one class outside
  3. Trip to the Treasure Chest for everyone!
  4. Popsicle Party (This was the only thing that cost me money, but a box of popsicles wasn't expensive.)
  5. Icee Attack! (We will walk next door to the Circle K and get Icees.  This is something 5th grade does once every 9 weeks.  Parents send in money for this treat, so it doesn't cost me anything.)
  6. Have a "Study Hall" so that you can finish your homework at school.  (Trust me; this will excite them.  I know it doesn't sound awesome, but they've been begging me for a "Study Hall.")
  7. 15 minutes extra recess
  8. $20 in tickets for everyone (The tickets/money is part of my behavior management plan)
Check out my "End of the School Year" board on Pinterest for more ideas:  CLICK HERE

Photosynthesis Activity

I am currently teaching a unit on plants and wanted to share with you an activity that I do with my students to help them better understand photosynthesis.  This is a skit called "Plant's Recipe" and I got it years ago from one of my former teachers (who got it from the book, The Growing Classroom, by Roberta Jaffee and Gary Appel). 

Here's the narrative:
It was another beautiful day.  The sun was shining brightly in the sky.  It shined its light all over, and it was shining brightly on the garden at our school.  Now, out in the garden in its soft dirt home sat plant.  The plant knew it was a beautiful day and wanted to take advantage of it.  It was going to be a great day for food making.  First the plant would gather all the ingredients, and then it would cook them up into food that would make it grow.  The food it will make is a sugar called glucose.

First, the plant stretched toward the sky and opened its leaves wide to take in as much sunlight as possible.  It would need lots of light to make food.  Then it took some very deep breaths.  It was looking around for just the right parts of the air.  Ah, yes, the carbon dioxide (CO2) floating in the air was just perfect.  CO2 would give the plant a very important part of the recipe.  The plant brought them into its leaves.  Now it needed one more ingredient.  For this it wiggled its roots around looking for water.  Ah, the soil was nice and damp.  It was easy to bring some water from the roots all the way up to the leaves where the CO2 and sunlight waited.

Now it was time to start making food (glucose).  The plant mixed the light and the CO2 and the water all together.  It was a beautiful day and it wouldn't take long to make lots of food!  Presto!  Pretty soon, it made enough food to add another leaf to its body.  The cooking is now over, and it's time for the plant to clean up.  The plant used up everything pretty well, but part of the CO2 is left over.  Oh, the plant didn't need the oxygen that was in the carbon dioxide.  So it can just send the O2 into the air again.  The plant watches it fly away.

This is similar to Reader's Theater; I have one narrator and I don't really use props...just construction paper "necklaces" that show the students' roles: 
My students really enjoyed this activity and it helped prepare them for their writing prompt: Write a narrative about the process of photosynthesis from the point of view of a plant. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review: A Dog's Life

I recently finished reading aloud the book, A Dogs Life: The Autobiography of a Stray.  My students loved this book so I thought I'd share it with you.  I have to be honest, this is the first book I've read aloud to my class that I didn't read for myself beforehand.  This book was suggested in our writing curriculum and I was only going to read two chapters in order to show the trait, organization.  Well, the kids were begging me to read the rest, so we ended up finishing the book! 

I was interested in the book at first because of the author.  I remember reading Ann M. Martin's The Babysitter's Club books when I was younger and really enjoying them. 

I was very surprised as I read aloud A Dog's Life.  This story is so sad and heart-wrenching; I could hardly take it!  My students, however, were very engaged and loved the emotion and drama.  At one point, I asked, "Why do you guys like this book so much?!"  Some of them liked that it was told from a dog's perspective...some of them loved the imagery...some of them just liked the drama and wanted to know what would happen next.  I was ready to put the book down and pick up something positive that wouldn't make me want to cry!

Here's the plot and resolution (from Wikipedia):  "Squirrel is a stray puppy who lives in a shed behind the summer home of a wealthy family, the Merrions, with her mother Stream and brother, Bone.  When Stream disappears, Squirrel and Bone set off on their own.  The puppies are picked up by highway travelers named Marcy and George, but are then abandoned and thrown out of a car window [near a mall].  Squirrel and Bone are injured; Bone is taken away by other shoppers, leaving Squirrel, never to be seen again.  Squirrel joins forces with another female stray, Moon, for a short time.  Later, after being attacked by stray dogs at a gas station and being with each other for some time, the pair are struck by a car, killing Moon and injuring Squirrel.  This time, Squirrel is taken to the vet, where she is spayed and her broken leg is treated.  She is renamed Daisy and adopted by a family for the summer as their summer dog.  In the autumn, Squirrel is once more abandoned.  She continues to wander for years.  Then Squirrel, now an old dog, wanders to an old lady's house.  Then the old woman, Susan, sees Squirrel and takes her in.  At the end of the story, Susan finds Squirrel cold and starving in her backyard and tries to coax her in.  Susan had a dog named Maxie in the past.  Squirrel, now an old lady herself, refuses to come over, and Susan has to gain her trust by leaving food out and gradually moving closer each day.  When she finally gets Squirrel inside, she decides to keep her and renames Squirrel "Addie."  Afterwards, Susan and Squirrel, both old ladies, enjoy the rest of their lives together."

I know Martin was trying to open our eyes to the problems facing stray animals, but it was just brutal for me to read.  I asked my class if I should read the book next year to my new class and they all shouted, "YES!"  Even though I wasn't a huge fan of the book, my students raved about it. 

You may check it out for yourself to see if you'd like to read it to your next class.  :)  If you're tender-hearted towards animals, be sure to have Kleenex nearby as you read! 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Literature Circles

Each year, during the last nine weeks, my students participate in Literature Circles.  This year I decided to call them "Book Clubs" because "Literature Circles/Literary Circles" just doesn't flow off my tongue as well.  This activity is very structured even though I act as a facilitator when the groups meet.  I'm sure you already know about Lit. Circles, so let me just explain how "Book Clubs" work in my classroom.

I divide my students into three groups and assign a book to each group.  In the past, I've divided students by ability (based on their fluency scores).  This year, I allowed the students to choose which book they wanted to read.  Some people ended up with their second choice, though, because I could only have so many students in each group.  The three books I chose this year were:
  • Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg 
I always use Running Out of Time...and plan to continue using it.  It's that good.  For my "higher level" book, I rotate between Tuck Everlasting and The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.  I've also used Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare for my "middle group." 

Each child receives a packet and I explain all the job assignments before we really begin (I usually explain parts of the packet a little each day, during the week before Book Clubs start). 

Here's my cover (Some of the sheets I found online; others I made myself.  I decided to take pictures instead of attaching the documents because Google always gives me trouble.  Just click the pictures to enlarge them.  Anyway, I found the cover sheet online somewhere):
The next page in the packet is my original grading sheet.  I check the students' jobs each day and assign a point value (0-10) based on their work.  I do give zeros if they show up to class with no assignment. 
A reading schedule is next.  I make up the schedule for each group.  They are not allowed to read ahead.
I also create the job schedule.  Groups may have 5 or 6 students.  I added the "Literary Luminary" job for this group:
This page is helpful in explaining how to behave when you meet with your group.  I found it online but I can't remember the source.
These are my expectations:
Tips on how to converse with your group:
More of my original tips/expectations:
I created each job sheet.  Yes, they are very detailed.  I wanted everything to be clear so my students had no question about what they were expected to do:
Sample homework page for the Discussion Director:
From another source:
My Summarizer sheet:
My Illustrator job sheet:
My Word Finder job sheet:
Each Friday, the students take a vocabulary test based on the words that the Word Finder comes up with (there is a different Word Finder each day).  I always check the words and definitions so that the students are studying the right information.  The test format is always different and my tests always require higher level thinking.  No matching words and definitions in my class!  They must be able to use the words in their own sentences, list synonyms/antonyms, etc.  Yes, this requires me to make three different tests (for the three different groups) each Thursday night, but that's just the challenging nature of Book Clubs.  I can't even use the same tests from year to year; the words are always different because the students choose the words. 

My Connector pages:
My Literary Luminary pages:
Finally, I typed up the order in which the students should present in their groups:
I told ya it was pretty structured!  Now, when the kids begin to discuss, I monitor the discussion but stay hands-off for the most part.  I will jump in and make a few comments or share a few connections I had to the story.  The discussion time usually last about 15-20 minutes and then I allow the students time to get started on their reading for the next day.  Some students are able to finish the reading and get a head start on their nightly assignment.  It is rare that a student completely finishes his work in class.   

To wrap up Book Clubs, I assign a final project.  In the past, I've assigned skits, but this year I assigned a PowerPoint presentation.  I know PowerPoint is a little outdated, but my students are focusing on that in computer lab, so that's what I'm having them work with.  Here's the rubric I created:
Finally, the students will give me feedback:
And that, my friends, is an overview of this year's Book Clubs.

Friday, May 3, 2013

National Day of Prayer

Each year, my students participate in the National Day of Prayer event at the capitol.  This year, we attended the prayer rally and even sang for the governor!  We also took part in the Bible reading marathon, which we do every year.  On the Sunday before the National Day of Prayer, the "Word Proclamation" begins--this is where people sign up to stand on the steps of the capitol and read aloud from the Bible continuously, from Genesis to Revelation.  People read day and night, around the clock.
I signed our 5th graders up to read for an hour and 15 minutes yesterday.  Each child took a turn at reading Scripture and we actually finished the book of Revelation.  Usually, a microphone is provided.  Due to inclement weather, it was taken down and the students had a tough time hearing the readers.  The kids were still on their best behavior and did a great job waiting for everyone to finish.
Once the reading was over, we had snack and headed inside the capitol.  We had to go through security before making our way to the 22nd floor where the prayer rally was held.  We all had our Bibles with us and one security guard said, "Oh, don't worry about scanning those Bibles.  You can bring them on through."  I passed through the metal detector and asked, "Sir, have you ever seen the movie, The Shawshank Redemption?  He replied, "That's my favorite movie!"  I said, "Well, then, you should know that you need to be checking those Bibles!"  ;)  I flashed a smile and he just chuckled.

We had a great field trip downtown and the students recognized the privilege they had of being able to read aloud from God's Word and pray in public. 

Here are a few more pics from our trip:
From the 22nd floor
View of FSU's campus

Two of my students being interviewed
Governor Scott and his wife