Sunday, March 31, 2013

Once Upon a Time

I love teaching fairy tales!  Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for a happy ending, or that I want to believe in magic, but it is one of my favorite units of the year.
My teammates and I are starting this unit on Monday, but I am so sad that I will miss 2 days of the fun.  Our state tests, STAAR, begin this week, and I have been asked to administer the test to a small group on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I'm happy to help out, but I HATE writing sub plans and I really don't like missing 2 days with my class.  Plus, at my school, the art, music and PE teachers are also helping with the test so I have to plan for the time my kids would normally be in their specials classes. Yuck!

Here are some math games I created with a fairy tale theme.  I will introduce these to the class on Monday so that they will be able to play them while the sub is here.

Click here to download

I've also found something new to try!  I just recently learned about MentorMob through one of my Twitter feeds.  (I am loving Twitter for professional development!)  Yesterday I experimented and put together a fairy tale playlist.  Check it out!  (Edited to add:  It looks like the last link in the playlist won't work unless you have a Tumblebooks account.  Our district has one, and it is a fabulous resource!  Since I posted I recreated the playlist.  This is the final version.)

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

Happy Easter, everyone!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Resolution Reflections

As I was enjoying my coffee early this morning, the notification beep sounded on my phone.  Curious as to who else was up so early on a Saturday, I quickly checked.  It was a calendar reminder:  Blog about goal progress.
Back in August I wrote a post about my resolutions for the new school year (here) and set a calendar reminder to blog about them each month. Oops, that didn't happen!  I guess I've ignored most of the reminders so far!  But since it's a Saturday morning and I have no real plans, I decided to revisit my resolutions.

Organization:  I think I just have to accept that this is always going to be a challenge for me!  However, I have done a much better job of keeping my teaching table usable this year.  My math supplies are well organized but not particularly tidy right now.  I am using a paper sorter to keep my homework sheets and other worksheets/recording sheets organized.  For the past 2 years I would often find myself frantically searching for the day's homework assignment at dismissal time.  This year I know exactly where they are!  My desk is a disaster but I am hopeful that now that I have discovered all that Evernote  (see here and here) can do for me, some of my paper clutter might be eliminated.
I really need to get rid of all this!

Guided Math:  I still can't believe how much I am enjoying teaching math!  With my background as a literacy coach and reading intervention teacher, I never imagined that I would now consider math to be my strongest area as a teacher!
Math station fun from December.

Guided Reading:  One of my goals was to spice up my guided reading activities.  Thanks to Pinterest and TPT, my activities are now much more varied and fun.  Since most of my children are reading at or beyond grade level at this time, I'm thinking about conducting my reading block in more of a workshop format for the rest of the year.  I'd like to have my students work in reading partnerships or book club/literature circle type groups and really focus on having meaningful conversations about books.  I'll still pull groups, but they will be skill or strategy groups and not necessarily leveled groups.  Still planning it out in my head and gathering ideas from these 2 books:

Technology: With all of the new tools, apps and ideas springing up all the time, I don't think I will ever be exactly where I want to be with technology.  Personally, I am using more and more technology in my teaching every day, but I still need to do a better job of putting the tools in the students' hands.  I had hoped to have them blogging by now, but getting them to use individual logins and saving their work is a little harder than I anticipated. Plus there is just so much that has to be done in first grade! My kids did such a great job using the Ipod touches and Kindle during our Dr. Seuss unit; I just wished my Ipods weren't so old so I could download new apps.  Since the Kindle is my personal device, I'm hesitant to use it all the time at school.  (I don't want some tech-savvy little friend to discover Fifty Shade of Grey in my archived books!)  I have checked out some Netbooks to use and hope to do more, but I really need Ipads or the newest version of the Ipod Touch!  Our PTA is working on it for us so maybe next year!

So right now I feel pretty good about this year, and with 2 months left, I think there is plenty of time to work on those areas that need strengthened, at least until the end-of-year craziness sets in!

Friday, March 29, 2013

For the Love of Books

Several weeks ago one of my teammates told me about a new book she had just read to her class, Three Hens and a Peacock.  (This friend could open her own library with her extensive book collection!)  Anyway, she said her class loved the book and offered it to me to read to my class.  They loved it!  We had such a good time reading and just enjoying the story, and then, just like my friend's class, they wanted to know more about peacocks so we found a YouTube video to watch.

 This got me thinking about how we need to read more just for the joy of sharing a good book.  So many times I end up just reading books based on a theme or ones I have chosen to make a teaching point.  But there are many wonderful books available!  We read for many different purposes, and one of those is to read just for the love of reading!
With that in mind, I've set out to find new (to me) books that are just fun to read.  Here is one I read this week:

Even though I didn't intend to follow up with any sort of lesson, my class  wanted to "give back" to the teacher that shared Three Hens and a Peacock, so we wrote book review letters to her class during writing workshop.  (Unfortunately she was absent with a sick child and hasn't received them yet!)  By the way, I saved this letter to the student's notebook in Evernote and used Skitch to do the markups.  Skitch is great for making notes on the writing photo to highlight the features I want to focus on.

Not clear but she says, "We read the book Creepy Carrots!  I think it was funny.  In the story Jasper Rabbit loves carrots entil (until) one day after a baseball game the carrots start following him. Read to find out what's next."

I am now on a hunt for more new books to read "just for fun."  Please share your favorites!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tried It Tuesday

I'm linking up with Holly at the Fourth Grade Flipper and her new linky, Tried It Tuesday.

I'm going to piggyback onto my post from yesterday about Evernote to share how I used it to make an audio  recording note.

One of my students is who has been identified as dyslexic is really struggling with writing.  He fills up his paper with a lot of writing but then is unable to read it if he comes back to it later (and I usually can't either.)  I hate always marking up his paper, but if I don't, I can't make any sense of it.  I have put sticky notes on his work with the "translation" but they fall off.

So today I recorded him reading his writing to me and then took a picture of his work.  Now both are filed in his notebook in Evernote so when it is time to assess his writing portfolio, I can look beyond the spelling and remember his message.  The kids thought this was pretty cool, so I recorded a couple of others just for fun!
I used my phone (Samsung Galaxy S3) to record.  I selected new note and then choose "record audio."  Then I snapped a picture, added a comment and there it was!
This is what it looks like on my phone.

I can't tell you how excited I am about using Evernote this way (and how convinced everyone I know is that I am truly a geek!)  Seriously, it has inspired me to "beef up" my entire writer's workshop.  It hasn't been my favorite thing to teach this year and that has translated into less than stellar work from some of  my students. Maybe this is just the spark I needed to help them become strong writers!


Monday, March 25, 2013

Evernote: My New Love Affair?

Evernote and I have been hanging around each other for awhile now.  Occasionally I would find a teaching idea online and save it, but Pinterest took over and I rarely looked at Evernote anymore. Every now and then I would read an article about how wonderful Evernote is and take another look, but it just never clicked between us. I really thought I didn't need another place to store pictures of cute bulletin boards.  But after reading Alyce's blog post, which led me to Alison at Eberopolis, I was suddenly looking at Evernote in a whole new way and found myself very attracted!  (This sort of sounds like how I started dating my husband.  We worked together for about a year, talked occasionally, and one day I suddenly I started thinking "Wow, he's kind of cute. We were married a year and half later!")
Anyway, I spent a couple hours yesterday reading about Evernote and decided to try using it to collect data on my students during Writer's Workshop.  I installed the app on both my smartphone and Kindle Fire. I followed Alison's great tutorial and set up notebooks for each of my students.
Then I read Alison's post about emailing notes to Evernote.  If you put the right information in the subject line, the note will even be sent to the right notebook.  By this time, my family had decided I was nuts because I was just so darned excited when I tried emailing a practice note and it went right to the correct notebook!
So today I tried it out.  I conferenced with several students while they were writing.  Instead of taking notes in the 3-ring binder I set up for this purpose or on the sticky notes that I end up using because they are easier to carry, I just pulled out my phone and took my notes there.  (I think using an Ipad or tablet with a stylus  would be even better!)  I even took a picture of one boy's writing and emailed it to his notebook so I could look at it more later.
My mind is racing with other ideas for using Evernote- recording a student reading his writing, reading conferences, anecdotal records during math and so much more.  I think I am falling in love with this tool!
Have you used Evernote in your classroom?  Please share your ideas and link up with Alison for her Paperless Challenge.

Maybe soon my desk and teaching table won't look like this:


Sunday, March 24, 2013

3 Weeks/One Post

I can't believe it's been almost 3 weeks since my last post. I really have no excuse except I am a procrastinator! So here's a quick summary of the past few weeks:
March 4-8
We celebrated Dr. Seuss Week in first grade.  The best part of the week for me was successfully using Ipods and other technology for some reading activities.  My Ipod Touches are old, and there aren't any new apps that will work, but the kids enjoyed what I had.  More Ipods or Ipads are definitely on my wish list!  I also brought in my personal Kindle Fire.  That seemed to be a favorite activity.  Maybe more Kindles would be a less expensive alternative to Ipads?  On Thursday we had a "Read-a-Thon" and spread out our blankets to spend the afternoon reading, watching a Dr. Seuss video and enjoying healthy snacks.

March 11-15  Spring Break!

My husband and I went camping.  It was our first solo trip without any of our kids.  It was a wonderful week!  It was really cold on Monday and Monday night, but the weather was perfect the rest of the week.  Hubby fished while I read and crocheted, and then we hiked together and just hung out.  So relaxing!
March 18-22  Back to school!  Coming back after a break is always hard.  This year our report card grades were due so I spent a lot of the week doing some last minute assessments and running records.  I am so pleased with my kids' reading progress this year!  We also did an Exemplar problem in math for their math portfolios, and it was almost too easy for much of the class!  I'll need to search out or create some more challenging problems.  I haven't been as pleased with our writing lately so we will need to spend some time working on that the next few weeks.

Well, that's the past 3 weeks in a nutshell.  On to some Easter/Spring activities next week, along with finishing up our Texas unit and introducing telling time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Today Was Good!

Today was good.  
Today was fun. 
Tomorrow is another one.
-Dr. Seuss
I was feeling a little down yesterday.  I had planned to do a choice menu for Dr. Seuss week and had all kinds of great ideas.  But then I realized that the kids would probably need more than a week, and with spring break next week, there was no way to extend the unit.  So I was feeling like a bad teacher for not planning better and just wasn't as excited about Dr. Seuss week as I had been earlier.  But we started our unit anyway without the menu, and read a couple Dr. Seuss books and did a writing activity.  Keeping in mind what I've been reading in Dave Burgess' Teach Like a Pirate, I faked enthusiasm until I felt it!  I exchanged some of our word work materials for Dr. Seuss activities for the kids to complete during Daily Five. Instead of reading from our book bags we read Dr. Seuss books. I let our literacy block spill over into our afternoon which is normally our math time, and just did a short math lesson on the Smart board.  At the end of the day, one of my little girls said, "I can't believe it's time to go home.  It feels like we just got here 'cause we had so much fun today!"

Here's hoping tomorrow IS another one!

Sunday, March 3, 2013


I'm linking up with Farley for this month's Currently!

Listening: I am currently listening to silence!  I love getting up very early in the morning because the house it quiet and it is the one time of day I can be alone.  I love my family, I love my class and my friends at school, but I just need time by myself each day to think!
Loving: I am loving that we are celebrating Dr. Seuss this week, introducing letter writing, getting ready for fairy tales after spring break and then celebrating Earth Day.  These are some of my very favorite units to teach!
Thinking: I am thinking about our camping trip next week.  We pulled out our camper yesterday and started getting it ready so we can load up next Saturday and head out on Sunday.  I can't wait!
Wanting: I want a new laptop (and this is almost a need as mine keeps getting slower and slower.)  There are just so many choices out there that it's hard to make a decision. I'm leaning towards one of the new ones with touchscreens but I'm still not sure.
Needing: I need to do some reorganizing in my classroom.  By this time of year, my room always looks a little shabby.  Time to declutter!
Like: I really like computers and learning about all the great technology ideas out there.  I'm hoping to try Glogster with my class after spring break during our Texas unit.
Love: I love camping so I am really looking forward to getting away next week.
Hate: I really don't HATE Girl Scout cookies but I hate that I have no power to resist them!

Head over to Farley's blog to see what everyone else is up to this month!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Road Map to June

My team met earlier this week to create a road map for the 4th and final grading period that starts a week after we come back from spring break.  It seemed strange to be talking about end of the year activities.  This year has gone by so fast!
I have to confess that a couple of the math topics we have to cover are NOT my favorites: time and measurement. So I am going to have to work very hard to muster up some enthusiasm for these topics. As Dave Burgess explains in his book Teach Like a Pirate, above all, we need to show enthusiasm for what we are teaching.  If you're having a hard time doing that, fake it or change your focus.  Since I am very enthusiastic about teaching problem solving, I'm going to try incorporating as many opportunities as possible for students to use their problem solving strategies into these units.  (Great book, by the way!)

But as we planned out the month of April, I got very excited!  We will be doing some of my very favorite units that month.  Our literacy focus is folk and fairy tales.  I love this unit, and so do the kids.  We read and compare different versions of stories, write letters to characters, practice story mapping and retelling, and identify character traits.  We work on fluency by doing reader's theater, and write our own fairy tales during writer's workshop.  (Here's a link to a math game freebie with a fairy tale theme.) In science, we will be learning about life cycles and will have eggs that we can watch hatch into chicks!  Then at the end of April I always do an Earth Day unit.  This leads into an activity we call Reading Restaurant.  Parents are invited to come to our "restaurant" and listen to their child read from a menu of books.

Each classroom has a restaurant theme that guides our literacy activities for the weeks preceding the event.  My theme is "McNab's Mother Earth Cafe," and I go all out with the 70's feel in honor of the first Earth Day.  I even wear a flower child costume!
Have a groovy day!
Graphic from DJ Inkers