May 1, 2018

How to BEAT the HEAT in Your Classroom

If I had to choose between heating or air conditioning in my classroom there is no question that I would choose heat. I work in a rural upstate New York district where the snow is plenty and the heat waves are scarce. But when we do start to melt into the furniture, I have a few tricks I use to help beat the heat.

#1 CLOSE YOUR BLINDS AND WINDOWS
I know, I know. People think that if you have your windows open it will allow for a breeze and circulation. That is true. But, if there isn't a breeze, all you are doing is giving a free pass for the heat and humidity to come barreling into your room. Keeping your blinds down and your windows closed will keep the heat and humidity out. If you can open the windows at night (when it's cooler) and then close them into the morning, that's even better!

The only exception to this trick is when placing a fan in the window. This can be tricky so consider the following options before setting your fan to full blast:

Option One:
If the temp outside is cooler than inside, place your fan so that it brings air into your classroom.

Option Two:
If the temp outside is warmer than inside, place your fan so that it blows air out of your classroom. (This works really well in situations when the hallway temps are lower than inside your classroom.)



#2 DRESS SMART (this includes your shoes)
Wear clothes that flow when you walk and will not stick to your skin. I have a colleague that despises skirts. But when the temps reach into the 90's she'll endure them because they give her more ventilation!

Avoid wearing jewelry that hangs down or will stick to you. This includes earrings and bangle bracelets. It's bad enough when my forearms stick to the tables, I don't want to deal with bracelets sticking to me too.

If you must wear "professional" shoes, keep a pair of flip flops handy. It's common practice for me to start the day in standard shoes and then switch to flip flops as the day wears on and the temps continue to rise. My feet may swell to those of Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Status but at least they are as comfortable as possible.



#3 FREEZE POPS RULE
It amazing how much cooler you can feel after a freeze pop. Grab a bundle and throw them in the freezer. When the mid-day sun starts to cook you like a pizza in an oven, go grab those freeze pops and cool down.




#4 FIND THE ICEBOX
We all have those spots in our schools that don't follow the average temperatures of the rest of the building. It can be a hallway or a specially air conditioned computer lab. Wherever it is, take your students there for a mini-field trip. Have them bring a book or bring a quiet activity they can complete. The break from the room's heat and a change of scenery can help when temps tip toward the top of the thermometer. 

#5 HEAD FOR THE HILLS
In those rare cases when it's cooler outside than inside, get out! I will have students bring a chair (or a blanket, or a towel from home) and a book and we head toward shade and breeze. Just like finding the icebox breaks up the monotony and the heat, heading outside will do the same.


Stay cool everyone!

April 15, 2018

4 Steps to Building Vocabulary

Vocabulary development can be such a challenge. Just with all other aspects of learning in a classroom, there are vast levels of development and the gap between the lowest and the highest can feel like the Grand Canyon.

But, regardless of how many groups you have, what their needs are, or how much time you have, the following four steps will lead to better vocabulary development.

Before you begin, designate a place for the students to see the words displayed. It can be a bulletin board, on a vocabulary card, an individualized glossary. Whatever you decide, get the words in a place where the students will be able to see them and access them later on for practice.

If you do choose to put them on a word wall, I recommend a Parts of Speech Word Wall. You can read about how I organize my wall here
Word Walls for Big Kids


1. HEAR the WORDS
Talk to your students. Designate a few minutes a day where students have an opportunity to hear the words in context and through conversation. Encourage them to locate the words on the wall. Or, have them tell you under which heading the word is located. At times, I also incorporate a gesture or movement that fits the word.

2. SAY the WORDS
New vocabulary is a challenge; when there are more than two syllables the challenge increases even more. But before I expect students to read or write new vocabulary, I give them plenty of chances to hear and then say the words. Have students talk to you and their peers about the words on the wall. What do they remember about them? Do they notice any patterns? Are there words repeated on the board? (It is especially fun when homonyms make it up on the board!) Each time a student has an opportunity to use new vocabulary correctly in conversation, they are building a solid foundation of understanding.

3. READ the WORDS
At the beginning of a new unit, students receive a 5-Square Graphic Organizer that has the newest words on the word wall. I give the students this organizer right at the beginning while still in the Hear the Words step. For some students, having a tangible place to visually connect to the words is helpful. Oftentimes, students will keep their organizer close throughout the unit and use it as a reference guide. 

4. WRITE the WORDS
Once the first three steps have been repeated often and fairly mastered, students will then have opportunities to write the words. Students can work individually or in pairs/small groups to make and break the words. 
You can read about those activities here: 
3 Ways to Use a Parts of Speech Word Wall

As we reach the end of the unit, or when students feel most comfortable with the topic, I invite them to add words from the text to the Word Wall. This final piece to building vocabulary is so rewarding. There are no "wrong answers" and the students have an opportunity to truly engage in collaborative discussion and decision-making. And, they really get a kick out of seeing words written in their own handwriting!

You can see the satisfaction in their faces when students have an opportunity to add to the Word Wall. It is no longer a landscape of emotionally detached jargon. Rather, it becomes a living, breathing entity in which each student holds a piece of ownership and pride.





December 9, 2017

Classroom Christmas Craft

How are your bulletin boards? Are they seasonal? Do they showcase student work? Keep reading to learn how I put together a bulletin board that gives the students a bit of a challenge while having some seasonal fun!

You will need:
  • watercolor paints (brushes, water)
  • 9 x 12 white construction paper
  • 9 x 12 green construction paper
  • tree and star templates (I made mine using heavy cardstock)
  • glue
  • pencils
  • scissors
1. Students paint various color blocks on the construction paper. Allow the paper to dry overnight.

2. Students trace the star and tree (without the holes) on their construction paper. I always explain that their placement of the tree will impact what will eventually show through the holes. So, fiddle around with where to place the tree. (Just be certain to leave enough room to trace the star too!)


3. Students cut out the tree and star.


4. Students trace the tree again (this time with the holes) on the green construction paper. Cut out the tree and the holes. Cutting the holes is very tricky for some students. I like to teach the "poke a hole with your pencil, then cut" procedure.


4. Students glue the green tree on top of their colored tree. I usually turn it over so the pencil lines do not show. And, add the star to the top!


Once the trees are done, I staple them to the board. This year I added the words "Merry and Bright". Michelle Griffo from Apples and ABC's has them available in her store. 

You can find them in the MEGA Bundle here:

Or, you can purchase just the Christmas Bulletin Board set here:

I simply printed the letters on colored copy paper, cut them out, and stapled them to the board. 

Final Bulletin Board
I've done this activity with students from kindergarten to fourth grade. I usually have classroom volunteers do the majority of the steps. It's a great way for students to practice fine motor skills, apply spacial reasoning, and have a seasonal craft to take home! Plus, it makes a really nice bulletin board!


Happy Holidays!

November 19, 2017

Giving Thanks 2017

Another year has passed and the holiday season is upon us once again. This is my favorite time of the year. Although I like to reflect on all the things to be thankful for on a regular and consistent basis, as this Thanksgiving approaches, I would like to especially thank someone who has made a tremendous impact on my life and my students' lives: Mary Beth from Brain Waves Instruction.

I learned about Brain Waves Instruction a year and a half ago. I started out using the free offerings and immediatly was impressed with the thoroughness and practicality of her resources. As time went on, I tried different resources (free and paid) and was amazed at the level of student response and engagement. 

Below is a sampling of what Brain Waves Instruction can offer you and your students:
(Grades 3-5)

My students (and I) love these! I use them for the awkward 10 minutes I have in my schedule between specials and when students need to leave to go to providers for Guided Reading. 

Students get one sheet per week. Terms are grouped by theme and students are asked to complete a vocab activity involving the term and then add their own doodle to reinforce the meaning. 

We go over the term and definition for 5-7 minutes and then the students get their "2 minute doodle". Each word section is short enough that I can fit it in. They are powerful enough that the terms and definitions "stick" with the students. It was a great moment last month when a student recognized the term "constellation" within their novel study and connected it to the Daily Doodle Mary Beth had created that was themed around outer space. What a teaching win!

(Intermediate Grades and Middle School)

I admit that my poetry "game" is weak. I am always looking for resources to make it easier and less painful. Mary Beth has it all! 

I teach 4th grade and most of her resources are designed for Middle School. But, I have found with a bit of slower pacing and introducing the nuts and bolts of the activity during small group instruction- fourth graders can do it.

I use this one to create an instant bulletin board in the spring. I copy the poetry paper on colored paper to give a bit more visual appeal to the board.


This was a great way to cover poetry and have some fun during Halloween. The students were having so much fun with the content and design of the resource, I don't think they realized how much they were learning.

(Intermediate Grades and Middle School)

I love EVERYTHING Doodle and Do! I am not exaggerating. If Mary Beth uses the term "doodle" anywhere near a resource- I want it!


Mary Beth offers a range of fiction and non-fiction skills. If you are looking for some carefully thought out, well paced instruction for a specific skill, you can't go wrong with a Doodle and Do.

These resources typically offer two options: use in a center or individual booklets. I usually have the Doodle and Do skill sets made into individualized student booklets (used during small group lessons). 

For added fun, I sometimes have the students work through the booklets using a flair pen. Doodle and Do + Flair Pens = Happy Students.

My students love Doodle and Do so much they will work on the "extras" during their lunch and recess.


AWESOME COLLABORATIONS

Along with her amazing stuff in her Teachers Pay Teachers store, she also teams up with some equally amazing teachers to offer collaborative goodies! 

Oftentimes, Mary Beth teams up with Jenny from Art with Jenny K. When these two get together I know I'm in for the best from both sides of the brain!

And, this past summer she teamed up with Rachael from The Classroom Nook to bring us "School Year Solutions: Getting Your Year in Gear".
Students set 2 academic goals and 2 social goals in September.
Each goal was written into a puzzle piece.
The puzzle pieces fit together to make their light bulb!
Mary Beth is also one of the coordinators for the TpT Flock (the annual Northeast Teachers Pay Teachers Meet Up). Her energetic personality and winning smile always makes for a memorable event.

Thank Mary Beth, for being an amazing individual and educator! I am so grateful to have met you! Your resources have helped make my classroom an engaging and meaningful place for me and my students. 


Happy Thanksgiving!

August 8, 2017

Classroom Furniture

We've all seen those classrooms with amazing furniture. Ya know, carefully crafted pieces that seamlessly mesh into their classroom environment. The furniture envy can run deep. I am especially envious of teachers that are allowed to have over-stuffed, fluffy items; the exact furniture in which I myself would want to curl up into and read a book. The fire code where I live prohibits such things. Heck, I have a better shot at a pit viper for a class pet than a rug on the floor.

This summer I decided to forge ahead and find some new furniture. Something sturdy and wooden. Maybe a bench. And a round table. I HAD to have a round table. Believe it or not, I've been at this teaching gig for nearly 20 years and have NEVER had a round table. I want one- now.

So, I began my pursuit. I didn't want to spend crazy amounts of money. I am fully aware of what is going to happen to this stuff once it enters my classroom. Thus, the ideal blend of economy and durability became my focus.

Initially, I figured I would need to do some serious mileage at yard sales. But, I was wrong. The internet makes shopping so convenient. I hopped onto a couple of social media sites where people post their stuff; an internet garage sale, if you will.

In less than a week I found exactly what I was looking for. I was even able to negotiate two different pickups the same day. Perfect!

Now began the process of preparing them for the classroom. I knew that to save money on the purchase I would have to buy items that needed some TLC. I decided to sand and paint them. 

Materials:
6' Ethan Allen Bench - $45.00
Wooden Table and 3 Chairs - $35.00
1/4 Sheet Finishing Sander [hubby's]
Sandpaper (40 grit, 80 grit, and 120 grit) - $5.00
2 1/2 Cans of Valspar Red Spray Paint + Primer - $5/can
2 Cans of Rust-oleum Black Spray Paint + Primer in One- $5/can
Brackets - $2 for 2 [located in cabinet/door pull isles in hardware department]
Tack Cloth - $2.00
THE BENCH
The well-loved bench came from a man who told the tale of how his family had outgrown its use. His children and grandchildren had used it throughout the years but it no long fit their need. Lucky me!

Step 1: Sanding
I didn't worry too much about getting down to bare wood or eliminating every ding and scratch. I knew I was going to spray paint and, let's face it, it's going to encounter a few more nicks and scrapes in this next life.

The electric sander did the larger parts. For the spindles, I hand-sanded using a smaller piece of sandpaper. The goal was to scuff it up enough to hold the paint. 
Step 2: Tack Cloth
This is an icky (yet important) step. Wipe the furniture down with a tack cloth. The cloth will pick up the smallest dust particles so the paint has a nice clean surface to adhere to.

To note: Tack Cloth feels "tacky" because that's its job. You will get a gummy, sticky feeling on your hands. But, it does wash off easily. If you want to avoid the sensory invasion all together- wear a pair of disposable gloves.

Step 3: Paint + Primer 
I chose to buy paint + primer. Faster and easier. I used 2 full cans for this bench. The trigger on these cans was so much easier than the traditional pointer finger release. These triggers are akin to a spray bottle trigger; you use your hand to squeeze rather than a finger to press down. I will look for that type of trigger for future projects.
Step 3: Done!
THE TABLE
The table came with three chairs. Initially, I planned to paint and use the chairs too, but after reconsideration, I chose not to. The woman I bought them from was kind enough to have the table taken apart when we picked it up. That made the painting process and transporting to school so much easier.

This table had an option for extension leaves with an opening in the middle. I didn't have (or want) the leaves. Remember, I wanted a ROUND table. Before I sanded and painted, hubby screwed two brackets into the underside to keep the halves from opening.
Step 1: Sanding
The table was a bit different because the table top was a veneer. But, I went ahead and scuffed it up to get it ready. I did use a coarser sandpaper (40) to dig down a bit more. Then I went over that with 80. Again, the aim wasn't a perfectly smooth finish- I just wanted the paint to stick.
Step 2: Tack Cloth

Step 3: Paint + Primer 
Valspar had a great red! I was looking for a particular kind of red that would blend with the other red in my class. Word of caution- check the back labels (not the UPC codes) because I accidentally picked up two "different" reds and did not notice until I sprayed the second, different red on the table. Thankfully, I had other cans that DID match the red that was already sprayed on the table.

I used 2 and half cans for the table. Once I was done with the red, hubby painted 2 coats of a protective clear coat.
Overall, I spent a little more than $100.00. My classroom now has an awesome bench and the much-coveted round table. Plus, I was able to customize the colors. This was a very easy process. The end result was worth the time and effort on my part to get the "just right" furniture and the "just right" colors. Who knows? I might start looking for the next project...I do have materials left over. 


July 19, 2017

What EVERY Teacher Needs

When I was a student teacher, my Master Teacher taught me a lot of things. But, there was one piece of advice that I would like to share with you. This simple suggestion has helped me through some tough days and even tougher years...
Keep Your Cards
I remember her opening the drawer of her desk and showing me dozens and dozens of cards and notes. Some were handwritten on sticky notes, some were elaborate greeting cards. All of them had words of praise and thanks.

She explained that there would be times in my career when I would get tired, when I would feel unappreciated. When I might not want to teach anymore. I couldn't imagine such a thing; but she was right.

Thankfully, when the darker moments of teaching happened, I was able to pull open my own desk drawer and sift through the cards and notes I had accumulated. I also have small trinkets and drawings that have been gifts as well. They are all a saving grace. The words and memories have helped keep me centered. They remind me of why I teach and they whisper words of encouragement when negativity shouts in my ear.
This year I am ditching my desk. I need to find a new home for my cards and notes. They have become my lighthouse in a stormy sea more than once and there is no way I am going to throw them away.

I have a Star Wars storage box that was a gift from a student a couple of years ago. It seems like a perfect fit.
With my desk gone, I will place my box in a place where I can always see it; where with one glance I can remember the positive impact I have had throughout the years. As future student teachers make their way through my classroom I will be sure to pass on the advice my Master Teacher gave me and have them start their own box of encouragement...starting with the card I give them.

June 10, 2017

3 Ways to Use a Parts of Speech Word Wall

So, you've created a Parts of Speech Word Wall. Now, what are you going to do with it? Keep reading to learn my top 3 fav ways to use one!

If you are new to Parts of Speech Word Walls you can read about them here: Word Walls for Big Kids

Using the fundamental sequence needed for language development (hear, speak, read, write) I use activities that address gaps, keep up the rigor, and offer differentiation. I use this sequence of events when using new words on the wall.

As with any new activity in a classroom, I model the expectation first. At the start of the year, I go through the steps slowly and deliberately. I use either a whole group setting (not very often) or my teacher-led rotation.

1. Speak in Sentences

When new words go on the wall, I like to spend a couple of days just saying them with the students. Some words they need to hear over and over before I can expect them to say them. For example: indictment, suffragist, abolitionist...

Once students are more comfortable saying the words, challenge them to create a sentence that incorporates one noun and one verb from the wall. If you have color-coded your words, students can sometimes find words that are related by subject a bit easier.

I sometimes use chart paper to show students the steps. The chart does help with discussion about noun/verb agreement and how the ending of words need to change based on the sentence we are saying or writing. But, overall, this is designed to be a verbal activity. The end goal is to get them to speak in sentences. Writing is later.

2. Making and Breaking Words
Once students have a decent handle on saying the words and speaking in sentences, I move into making and breaking words. This is a great activity to have students complete with a partner. 

Students are provided a set of letters and a mat. I time the activity and the goal is to make as many words possible using the provided letters. At the beginning of the year students struggle a bit with manipulating the letters and finding new words. However, a few rounds of practice and they become pros. I do provide a line at the bottom of the mat for the "bonus" word. (The word from which all other words are derived.) Students become savvy and understand to get the wall and find the bonus word first, then they arrange letters to add to the mat. 

I collect the mats and we take a few minutes to go over the different words students found. I also (sometimes) award the pair that found the most legitimate words.

3. Building Sentences
Now that students have a handle on speaking the words and have had an opportunity to manipulate the sounds and letters, it's time to write! Similar to the Making Words Mat, students get a Making Sentences Mat. Either working in pairs or independently, students choose one noun and one verb from the wall and build a sentence. 

When students have had enough practice speaking in sentences, they can usually fill in their mat without too much assistance. If they are really proficient, I ask them to enhance their sentence(s) by adding in more nouns or verbs, or they can select words from the Adj/Adv section of the wall.
By time students are building sentences they have had many exposures to and practice with the words on the wall. I like to keep words up longer than "necessary". I have found that some students like to mix and match words from different units of study. Some students like the comfort of already knowing some of the words on the wall. Other students like to have the extended time to challenge themselves with words that they didn't quite master during the unit. Once you get your wall going, you'll find the right flow for your classroom.

I'd love to hear from you! How do you use your word wall?