Sunday, September 30, 2012

Happy Fall, Y'all!

I just LOVE fall - the weather, the foods (hooray for pumpkin spice!), the cozy clothes, the football games, the holidays (including hubby and I’s anniversary)!  And even more, I love how teaching little ones makes the season and holidays much more exciting!  Our first grade curriculum naturally lends itself to some seriously fun fall activities that may just be my favorite part of the year.  

Our school has a Fall Festival, where the kids dress in western attire and perform square dances that they learn in music class.  This takes the place of a Halloween celebration, which I consider part bummer and part blessing.  After all, as cute as my kiddos would be in their Halloween costumes, getting 20 of them in and out of those costumes would probably be pretty crazy!  So, we do the dancing thing and spend the rest of the day with fall-themed read alouds, crafts, movies, and treats.  Works for me! :)

Another fall favorite coming up is our field trip to the Pumpkin Farm.  The kiddos get to take home a pumpkin from the patch and learn about other fall crops.  To prepare them for the trip, our October science lessons are centered around the life cycle of a pumpkin.  In  math, our school curriculum features lessons with apples, using them to learn about counting, addition, graphing and the fraction one-half.  It's all just so festive! :)
We kicked off our fall activities this past week with a few fun apple lessons, including this awesome applesauce tasting activity from Melissa at  Thanks for a great freebie, Melissa!  My kids (of course) loved it!

Applesauce tasting.  What a hard day's work. ;)
Choosing their favorite!

Our graph.  Cinnamon was the clear winner!
Stay tuned for more fun fall favorites!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

And this is why it's worth it.

For whatever reason, this week has been very frustrating.  I felt extra swamped with work, and I felt like my kids weren’t acting in the positive, promising ways I’d seen them act the past few weeks.  The week went slow, I felt blah.  And then one of my sweet students brought me this letter, and I smiled the entire day.  I remembered why I love what I do.  Yes, kids give their teachers letters and drawings often, but this one was just extra awesome to me.  So, instead of sharing one of the other posts on my to-do list, I will share this.  Happy Friday! :)

P.S.  If you're looking for a way to store all those keepsakes from your little ones, check out my free "Teacher Love Notes" binder covers here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Catching Up... And a Freebie!

Wow, these past few weeks have been SO busy!  Each time I think of a post I’d like to write, I spend my evening with a school to-do list instead!  The changes in my classroom and curriculum this year sure have required some extra time and effort, but I must say, I am beyond happy with them all!

I already raved about our initial Daily 5 launch, but I feel like I must continue!! My firsties have now built stamina with Read to Self, Work on Writing, and Word Work (in that order), and I am just so, so thrilled with this program.  Comparing these kiddos to past groups who did not do Daily 5, they are much more independent in reading and writing and more willing to read and write, with a calmer atmosphere all around.  For example, we have a writing workshop time separately, during which we focus on Common Core writing genres.  I taught Narrative the last few weeks, the same way I always have, and this time around I was so pleased with what the kids did independently!  Without waiting at my side for spelling help!  Without whining that they didn’t know what to write!  Without turning in work that was obviously done with little effort!  Writing time is quiet and focused…I don’t know how to act!  I am so excited to see how much we will accomplish this year!

Speaking of writing, we began our writing workshop this year by creating our Heart Maps.  Heart Maps showcase what’s in a student’s heart – all the most important things!  Students use these any time in the year when they need writing inspiration.  They turned out so cute!  Here is mine:

Click here to get my Heart Map download.
 Another new addition this year is Math Workstations, inspired by Debbie Diller.  We haven’t completely launched these yet.  We have learned 8 or 10 math games and talked about workstation expectations with an I-Chart (inspired by Daily 5!).  The plan is to put workstations into action this coming week….stay tuned!

One last new addition, definitely needed this year…and a freebie for you!  I could tell from day one that I had two boys who were going to test me with bathroom visits.  We’re talking asking every 20 minutes, all day long.  With the little ones, it’s always hard to tell whether they actually have to go or just want to roam the halls, but I knew we’d have to do something to help them go less frequently.  So, I created Restroom Passes for them - 4 cards for each boy, labeled with their name, 2 for morning and 2 for afternoon.  I laminated the cards and put them in their desk pockets (also used for our Reminder Cards and Positive Point cards).  The boys know that they get these 4 chances each day, and otherwise may not go to the restroom (unless it is a REAL emergency).  We’ve been using the cards for about a week, and they immediately helped!  If you’re having a similar problem, I hope these cards will be useful for you!  

Click here to download the Restroom Passes.
That’s all for now!  Week 5 begins tomorrow… Have a happy Monday friends! :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering 9.11

"Remembering 9.11 Also Means Teaching 9.11"

This was the title of a story shared by our local news station today, about an 8th grade class who did a great project in rememberance of those who lost their lives that day.  The title of this story really resonated with me.  Although my firsties weren't alive eleven years ago when the tragedy of 9.11 happened, I think it's important for them to understand the events.  But while it's a hard topic for any group, it's especially hard with the littlest ones.  This morning, we spent about an hour remembering and honoring in a few different ways...

First, I shared the website "September 11th Through Children's Eyes" with my class, which can be found here.

This site is a museum to show how kids felt who were directly affected by the tragedy.  Although not everything on here seemed appropriate for my kids, I read them an interview with a first grader in a school near Ground Zero, and we looked at drawings and other reflections posted by kids in the school.

Next, I read September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right, which was written by a first grade class in Missouri. This book touches on the events without going into much detail and has kid-drawn illustrations.  The main message of this book is that on September 12th, the day after the tragedy, the kids still came to school to find their teacher smiling, and they still were cared for and loved.  It also tells about the ways that Americans supported each other afterwards.  I've used this book every year that I've been teaching and plan to continue using it!

Next, the kids and I talked about the heroes of 9.11 and made connections to heroes in their lives.  We brainstormed a list of those people, and then they wrote about them.  (I have tried like to crazy to find the TpT seller who offered this for FREE!  If it was you, please let me know so I can give you credit.)  I was pleasantly surprised by their writing - even the ones who have been uninterested in writing so far really did a great job with this.  Here are some of my favorites:

My hero is the President because he calms people down when they are upset.
My hero is hospital workers because she helps people.
        My hero is my Dad because he fights the bad people and saves our lives and he's good.
My hero is the cops because he catches bad guys.
My hero is my uncle because he is in the Navy.

Last, the kids each traced their hand to create a class heart, which we displayed with our writing in the hall.  This made for a great hallway display, but more than anything, I'm glad my kids asked questions, shared comments, and genuinely seemed to care about this important lesson.  <3

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hooray for Daily 5!

We launched our Daily 5 lessons today!!  If you’re not familiar with Daily 5, it is a literacy framework by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  Not a curriculum, more of a schedule.  The Daily 5 activities are Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work, and Work on Writing.  In my experience thus far (only 7 days into the school year, but still), the Daily 5 is AMAZING!  I’m so excited that our district Curriculum Director is on board with grades K – 5 adopting it.  When I read about the Daily 5 on fellow teachers’ blogs and then saw the awesome resources that were being created on TpT, I knew this was what I needed!  I was ready for a change from my not-so-effective center routine the last few years.  I read the Sisters’ books, attended a workshop over the summer, pow-wowed with my colleagues about the day-by-day plan for our firsties, and I was ready! 

Yet, after meeting my class the first day of school, I have to admit I was a bit worried.  The Daily 5 operates in a way that the kids work completely independently in rounds of reading, writing, and word work.  Well, it seems that I have a group of EXTRA-social little ones this year, and I had begun to have visions of Daily 5 rounds full of me yelling out “Quiet, boy and girls!” and “Please do your job!”  Nevertheless, I went into the first lesson with a clear plan, wanting so much to make this successful for my class.

And, TA-DA!  I was SO pleasantly surprised by the turn-out of our first Read to Self lesson!  You know how sometimes, no matter how well you prepare for a lesson, the actual delivery of it just doesn’t turn on well, whether it’s because of you, the kids, or because of some other factor (1 of 250 different things that can interrupt the flow of your schedule)?  Well, not to toot my own horn, but I totally ROCKED this Read to Self intro!   I remembered to hit all the important concepts at the right times.  We made a fabulous I-Chart, and we discussed the 3 ways to read a book (read the pictures, read the words, retell the story).  We did inappropriate and appropriate models of Read to Self behaviors, with the kids being actors and actresses.   And then I released the kids for their first practice, with a goal of 3 minutes of Read to Self time.   
The I-Chart we created on our Smart Board

After about a minute and a half, one of the kids called out to a friend to share something from her book, and I immediately called the class back to re-group.  After “checking in” with the kids and rereading our I-Chart, I sent them back out to try again, with a goal of 2 minutes this time.  And not only did they do wonderfully, they RAVED about it!  They loved it!  They wanted to do more of it!  They were “right in the middle of something and didn’t want to stop reading!!”  Music to any teacher’s ears. J 
Reflecting, I am glad we had to stop and re-group in that first lesson.  It set a precedent for the kids and demonstrated how important the I-Chart behaviors are.   And, I’m so proud of them for what came next.  I think back to Independent Reading time in my classroom last year (10 minutes each day) and realize what a huge difference these lessons make.  This group was more focused reading independently on the second day of school than my last year’s group was in May or June!  We will build our Read to Self stamina tomorrow!  Hooray for Daily 5! J

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First Day Fun!

Okay, so today was not actually the first day of school.  It was last week, when my blog was still in creation mode.  However, I did write this post on that day, when all those crazy awesome first-day thoughts were still fresh in my mind.  Here goes…

Year 3, Day 1 of first grade today, and I was the usual mess of first-day emotions this morning: excited, anxious, nervous, and really, really sleepy.  Thank goodness for my vanilla coffee with sweet cream creamer. J  (Yes, I have a serious sweet tooth.)  I always manage to forget how tiring brand-new firsties are!  PHEW, what a whirlwind!  Thankfully, I had no criers, no pukers, and no lost children.  What I had was 20 kiddos - 12 girls and 8 boys - who were super excited to be at school, and I know this because they talked about it ALL day, non-stop. :)  I love this lively bunch, but my goodness, do we need to work on listening when others are speaking!  I had fully intended on taking pictures all throughout the day to capture our special activities, but realized at 2:00 that I had yet to take a single one … Anyhow, here are the highlights of our special “first day agenda"…

After the wild hustle-bustle of arrival, introductions, and all that fun stuff, we read First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg.  This one's about a teacher who feels nervous about coming to school on the first day.  Very cute!  (And my kids just could not believe that a teacher would be nervous, lol.)  After the story, I shared Babbling Abby’s Jitter Juice poem and drink with the class.  I just mixed Sprite and Hawaiian Punch, but my teacher friend across the hall put lemonade in one of those large beverage dispensers beforehand and showed the kids how she added food coloring – the “special ingredient” - to make their jitters disappear.  Brilliant!  But, I guess my way was sufficient, because afterward, I only had one little boy share that he still had "a bit of jitters!" ;)


The other piece of Abby’s Fun with Firsties packet that we did together was the “First Graders” tree map about what first graders can, have, and are.  We did it together on the Smart Board, and then I printed out copies for the kids to take home and share with their families.  This activity was fun, engaging, and short & sweet. J  Here is what my kiddos added to the map:

Next, I taught the class our first few Brain Breaks and Attention Grabbers.  Those were a hit, as I expected!  The brain breaks are totally necessary, for the kids (AND me) every 20 - 30 minutes.  Our favorite attention grabber so far is "Macaroni and Cheese...Everybody Freeze!"  Thanks, 3rd Grade Thoughts and Miss Nelson!

In the afternoon, the class and I spent way too much time discussing classroom and school procedures, of course.  This always feels a little tiresome to me (are they even going to remember any of it?), but it must be done!  One of the most important discussions we had was the creation of our our Classroom Pledge and the introduction to Reminder Cards.  The kids signed this poster, pledging to follow our rules.

               The Reminder Card set can be purchased from my TpT store here. 

We ended the day with a few ice breakers and a check-in about how the kids felt about first grade so far.  One little guy exclaimed, "First grade is not at all like I thought it would be!  I just thought I'd be sitting here doing boring work all day!!"  I was glad to squash those thoughts.  First grade is anything but boring!

I must say, I’m glad Day 1 is over… and I hope they remember at least a bit of it on Day 2. J I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little overwhelmed (and wish for my lazy summer days) at some point today, BUT, as I was driving home reflecting on our day, I caught myself constantly smiling … and that’s all I can hope for.  We’re going to have a good year. J