Saturday, August 31, 2013

Letter to Self: Teacher Edition

I've been teaching for six years now.  That's not very long, but I believe I've learned a thing or two in the past six years.  I have been reflecting a lot lately and thinking about things I could have done differently in my career.  I wish I could start over with the knowledge I have today.  If I could write a letter to my first-year-teacher-self, it would read a little like this:

Dear Ashley,
     Congratulations!  Your hard work has paid off!  You are about to step into your very own classroom.  Your dream is about to become reality.  You've wanted to be a teacher since you were 7 years old!  You grew up "playing school" and your dry erase board was your favorite "toy."

Before you begin this journey, there are some things you need to know:

1.  The students will be nothing like the stuffed animals you lined up in front of you to "teach" when you were younger.  Real school will NOT run as smoothly as play school.  These 5th graders will not sit still and hang on to your every word.  In addition, things will not always go as planned.  Interruptions will happen--fire drills will be announced at inopportune times, various critters (like snakes and mice) will find their way into your classroom and chaos will ensue, kids will get sick, spills will happen--just go with the flow and try not to get too frustrated.   

2.  Don't compare yourself to the teacher next door.  Yes, she is a fabulous and phenomenal educator and you will wish you could be like that.  However, don't discount the gifts and talents God has given you.  We all have different talents and gifts; use yours to the best of your ability.  Do not try to be Mrs. Thon.  You will not be a good imitation of her.  You're better off being the "original" Mrs. Bowman.  Besides, your teaching partner has 25 more years of teaching experience than you!  It isn't fair to compare yourself to her.   
3.  Learn as much as you can from this master teacher next door.  Ask her more questions than you already do.  Ask to observe her.  Take in everything she has to offer.  She will become your best friend...your BTF....Superwoman....and you will only get three short years to teach with her.  Take in every moment because she is the best teacher you will ever work with.
4.  Get out of your room and get to know the other teachers.  I know you feel isolated because of your location on campus, but make an effort to go to the other buildings and get to know the other teachers.  You will find great mentors and sweet friends.

5.  Spend time with co-workers who are positive and actually enjoy teaching.  Stay away from those who are negative, and be very careful what you share.  Remember what your 10th grade teacher told you--"If a person talks to you about others, he/she will talk to others about you."  This is SO true (even among adult teachers who should know better)!

6.  Don't be a chameleon.  Try to be yourself.  This is difficult for you, I know, because you want everyone to like you.  Well, the truth is, not every person will like you.  You have to accept this.  It's okay.  You will not be able to please everyone. 

7.  The students will get upset with you, but they will get over it.  Don't be a pushover when it comes to discipline just because you feel that the children will dislike you.  Correct behavior and don't let the kids get away with acting inappropriately.  You are not there to be their friend.  You are there to guide them, protect them, teach them, and act as a positive role model for them.  Don't be afraid to follow through with your behavior management plan.  Of course, the students will not enjoy negative consequences, but they will get over it.  Hopefully, they will learn something!

8.  Don't be intimidated by parents and parent/teacher conferences.  Most parents want to help; they are not out to get you.  You are members of the same team, and you have the same goal--to see these children grow and succeed this school year. 

9.  Pray a lot!  Pray for the students and their families, your co-workers, staff, and administration, and for your own spiritual journey.  You will see God in incredible ways this year (mostly through the lives of Jeanne Thon and Tammy Neel).  You will learn more about God's grace than you've ever known before.  Keep your spiritual eyes wide open.

10.  Try to rest as much as you can on the weekends.  Sunday nights will be difficult for you because you will be so excited about work on Monday morning that you can't even sleep.  Get used to this.  It won't go away for at least 5 years.  ;)  

Get ready for a great school year.  You will SO enjoy teaching!  You will have moments where you cry and cry because you are overjoyed that God placed you in this field and you can't believe how good things are.  You will also have moments where you cry and cry because it is so challenging and you don't understand why things are the way they are.  Teaching will not always be easy, but you will find it very rewarding.  

Enjoy the journey,
1st Day of School--First Year 
So excited! (Please excuse the mess; we had just moved in.)

Week 2 (August 26-30)

Our second week of school is over and I have a lot to report. 

At the beginning of the week, we created S.M.A.R.T. Goals.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.  We discussed the meaning of each of these words and developed one academic goal for this first nine weeks.  We created an Action Plan for our goal and will reassess it at midterm.  Then, we can adjust our goal, if necessary.  We will do this for each nine weeks.
I introduced the students to and
We had a lot of fun exploring these sites.
ClassDojo is going very well and most of my students have earned over 25 points!  I told them that I would give them their "secret code" once they earned 25 points.  With this code, they are able to make changes to their avatar.  I should have made it 50 points instead because they earned the 25 so quickly!

I distributed Bible reading charts to the students so they can keep up with how much Scripture they read in 5th grade.  There are many great Bible reading plans out there, but you can CLICK HERE to print the one that I gave my students.  It's very easy to use.

In geography, we learned about latitude and longitude and are practicing our skills by tracking active hurricanes in the Atlantic.  Usually, at this time of year, we have more than one storm to track.  Right now, however, there isn't much activity.  We know something will come up; hurricane season lasts 'til November. 
You can get free hurricane maps at your local news station.

Moving on to math...

I introduced math journals this week and we began putting them together.  I've never incorporated math journals into the curriculum before, so this is a new thing for me too.  We are using composition notebooks and the journals will serve as a resource for the students.  The journals will hold various foldables and notes which the students can refer to when they are stuck on a problem.  The children will also reflect on their learning by writing actual journal entries.  Here's what the notebooks look like so far:
I printed the cover from Teacher's Notebook.  If you're interested in this free download, click here.
I typed up this "instruction" sheet with the rules/reasons posted, and I modeled it after bits and pieces of information I found online.  We glued this onto the inside cover.
Inside the back cover, I hot glued a piece of ribbon to use as a bookmark.
Here's the start of our Table of Contents:
 And some of our work so far:
I'm excited to see how these develop throughout the year.  If you're interested in using interactive math journals, this teacher has the best info and resources.

The final thing I'll share from this week is our Marble Maze Challenge.  I tried this cooperative exercise last year for the first time, and it was a huge hit!  I decided to use it again this year.  It was also a perfect segue into reading as next week's story is titled, "The Marble Champ."

The students were given some supplies (various sized boxes, empty paper towel and toilet tissue tubes, tape, index cards, a marble) and a challenge--with these supplies, create a maze in which a marble can roll for at least three seconds before hitting the floor.  The students were divided into small groups and had 30 minutes to work:
Here are the mazes (two teams tied with a marble travel time of 5 seconds!):
For last year's post and explanation of this activity, click here.  

The class had a wonderful time with this challenge and a productive second week of school.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

First Week of School

I had a great first week of school with my new class!  I am really enjoying this group.  They are very sweet, obedient, and attentive, and that makes me one happy teacher!
This week, the children learned a lot of procedures.  I went over everything they need to know about how our classroom is supposed to run.  We learned day-to-day procedures, Crisis Management procedures (i.e. fire drills, tornado drills, code issues, etc.), and their favorite--rainy day recess procedures!  I don't want to wait until the first rainy day recess to have to explain what we do.  I showed the students our classroom board games and explained how to play them.  Then, I allowed small groups to play for about 10-15 minutes:    
The students learned how to play Clue, Sequence (States and Capitals), UpWords, and UNO.  They already knew how to play Connect Four.  Now, when our first rainy day recess happens, it won't be as hectic as it has been in the past (hopefully!).

Right now in geography, we are learning map skills.  I wanted to see how much the students already knew about the continents and oceans, so I introduced an activity called "Rip the World."  I wrote about this activity last year, so CLICK HERE for the details.  It's a fun and quick assessment. 
This year, I gave the students 10 minutes to complete the activity.  They had to label the continents, oceans, and the Equator and Prime Meridian. 
We also reviewed the states and capitals this week.  The students loved this video that I showed: 
Another thing we all loved--MATH!  We started a new math program this year--we are switching from Saxon to Math in Focus (Singapore Math).  My students really enjoy the manipulatives (both hands-on and digital). 
They also get individual dry erase boards to show their work on and this is so much better than pencil/paper dont'cha know?!  Over the summer, I had someone cut 1ft by 1ft square boards for me and they work very well.  
In writing, I shared that I want the students' writing to really "POP" this year.  I introduced figurative language, and we focused on onomatopoeia words.  To introduce the lesson, I gave each child a package of Pop Rocks:  
Finally, here's a fun video about figurative language:CLICK HERE (because the video couldn't be embedded). 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

First Day of School 2013

I'd say the first day of school was a success.  I had a great day with my new class!  I was so impressed with their behavior--I've never had a group of students SO well-behaved on the first day.  Can you believe I didn't even introduce my behavior management plan?!  I'm going to do that Monday.  I just didn't have to mention it yesterday! 

Oh yes, yesterday.  We did something a little different this year.  Our first day of school was on Friday.  I LOVED this idea!  I am always so exhausted after the first day of school, so it was nice to have a weekend to recuperate.  The first day is mostly about procedures anyway, so I feel that the Friday-start-day is wonderful. 

For the first week and a half, I really hit hard on procedures.  Like I said in my last post, I follow the suggestions in Harry Wong's book, The First Days of School, to a tee.  I not only explain procedures to my students, but I have them rehearse the procedures as well.  I think this was a new concept for some of my kiddos.  A few of them commented that they had never "practiced" procedures before; teachers in the past have just told them what to do.  For example, I explained how I want my students to walk down the hall (stay on the right side; hands by your side; straight line; no talking) and then I said, "Okay, let's rehearse."  We lined up and actually practiced walking down the hallway like I had explained.  When they followed the procedure correctly, I praised them and said, "Yes!  Now that's how I expect you to walk down the hallway at all times."  If a child did not follow the procedure correctly, I'd simply remind them of what I expected.  We did this for everything that I introduced: what to do when you come into the classroom, how to hand papers in, what to do if the teacher steps out of the room, how the teacher will quiet the class, etc.  To read more about my procedures, CLICK HERE.

When I shared with the class that I was going to teach them how to properly wash their hands, they all looked at me like I was crazy!  I explained how proper hand washing is important and then we began a little experiment.  (I think I got this idea from Pinterest.)  I passed around a piece of bread and had everyone touch it with their dirty hands.  We put it in a Ziploc bag and labeled it.  Then I had the students use Germ-X and passed around another slice of bread.  Again, we placed it in a labeled bag.  Finally, we went into the kitchen and I showed them how to wash their hands.  Many of them didn't realize that you're not supposed to touch the faucet with your clean hands after you wash them.  You should dry your hands completely and then turn off the faucet with a paper towel.  They also didn't know to wash your wrists and under your nails.  Once everyone's hands were clean, we passed around one last slice of bread and placed it in a labeled bag:
My students guessed what would happen to the bread.  We will have to wait a few days and see...

To break up the monotony of learning procedures, I led the students in a couple of Brain Breaks.  I have an entire Brain Break notebook that I put together and I also use videos, but on the first day I simply shared some Silly Songs with them.  I lead the Silly Songs myself even though I can't carry a tune in a bucket.  These kids better get used to me singing because I do it all the time! 

Eventually, I was able to introduce our math unit.  Our first chapter is on whole numbers up to one million.  I wanted to get an idea of the students' number sense, so I gave everyone a "secret number" written on a folded index card and told them not to show their number to anyone.  Some of the numbers were negative and then I had others listed all the way up to billions.  I rigged up a "number line" at the front of the room using yarn and two chairs and had the students come up three at a time and place their number in the correct spot:
The students did a great job and we had a good discussion about negative numbers and comparing/ordering numbers.
This year, I am assigning an "All About Me" Math Poster as a way for the students to introduce themselves.  I usually do an "All About Me" bag and they bring in items to represent what they like to do, etc.  Here's my model for the math poster:
Aside from math, I was able to teach a geography lesson on map projections.  I use an orange to demonstrate how it is impossible to take something round and flatten it out without there being any distortions.  To read more about this activity, click here.
The students had a great time with this!
To wrap up the day, I ended with a Hershey Kiss game.  I got this from my principal during my first year of teaching.  Have the students begin in a seated position and then have them stand up or sit down if they can relate to a statement you make.  For example, "Stand up if you are an FSU fan," "Sit down if you are an only child," etc.  The last statement should be something like, "Stand up/sit down if you received a kiss this morning."  Most 5th graders will NOT want to admit this, so I say, "Aw!  Everyone should get a kiss on the first day of school!" and pull out a bag of Hershey's Kisses. 
I think all my students left happy on the first day.  :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Orientation and Classroom Reveal

Today our school had Orientation and I was able to meet all but one of my students.  Tomorrow is the first day of school and I'm so excited!  I've heard great things about this group and I can't wait to get to know them. 
In this post I'll quickly share what my classroom looks like and then I'll have to get back to reading The First Days of School by Harry Wong.  I just love that book!  I read it every year before going back to school.
About a week and a half ago, I went back to my classroom and discovered it looking like this:

After many hours of work, this is what it looked like first thing this morning:
The yellow and blue balloons (our school colors) were put up just for fun; they were attached to a yummy snack of S'mores Trail Mix that I made for my students.  I put Golden Grahams cereal, mini marshmallows, and Hershey's chocolate chips in a Ziploc bag.  So good!  I printed the cute labels from Janis Noble's blog.    
I personalized a message for each child on a postcard and placed it on top of the general info for 5th grade.
I created a brochure of information for the parents because (if they are like me) they don't want to read through pages and pages of information--especially if they have more than one child.  I wanted to keep things short and sweet.  Here's my brochure that I made through Vista Print:
Okay, back to the classroom reveal.  In the corner just to the left as you walk in my room, you'll see this:
I love how my Dum-Dum sucker bouquet turned out:
On their birthday, the students will be able to choose a birthday balloon (attached to a silly straw) and select a couple of suckers.  They will also get to wear a birthday shirt (which I created through Vista Print):
If they don't want to wear the shirt, it can be placed on their chair:
Moving along...we are starting a new math program this year called Math in Focus (Singapore Math) and we will be using Every Day Counts Calendar Math to go along with it.  Here's my bulletin board for the month of August:
To the right of that is a student computer and the cubbies:
I edited labels from Kristen Doyle's TPT store and stuck them to my containers to keep things more organized:
I rearranged my room only slightly from last year--here's a small area where students can read:
Looking at the front of the room:
And facing the last wall (sorry if the balloons are distracting):
I did get a small book display this year so I can put informational texts there that relate to our units of study:
Finally, facing my classroom door:
I love the countertop space I have with this long bookcase.  For Orientation, I set out sign-up sheets for volunteers and I also placed "Helping Hands" along the edges.  These are things from my classroom wish list; I printed out items that I want/need and listed the approximate cost as well as where the item(s) could be purchased.  Parents could take a hand, if they wanted, and fulfill the wish list item.
Well, that's my classroom.  Gotta get back to reading now.  I'll let you know how the first day of school goes.