Saturday, June 30, 2012

Blog Swap and Hop

Hello readers of Elementary Matters!  Welcome to the Top Teachers' Blog Swap and Hop!  Today I'll be guest blogging at Conversations in Literacy, while Michelle from No Monkey Business...Just Bunches of Learning blog is guest posting here!  Here's Michelle's post...

Hi "Not So Elementary" friends!  I am so happy to be guest blogging for Sally today!  My name is Michelle and you can find me over at No Monkey Business...Just Bunches of Learning blog.  I'm a 22 year teaching veteran that's taught K-3rd.  I'm currently in a 3rd grade position and love it!  I'm originally a Kentucky girl, but moved to TN about 8 years ago.  I'm a die hard Kentucky Wildcat fan in a Tennessee Volunteer nation. (It's not pretty on Fridays when everyone sports their orange and I'm obnoxiously in my royal blue!)  :-)

If you keep up with the current trends in Education by state, you know that my current home state of Tennessee has been in the "hot seat" lately with rigorous teacher evaluations and improving classroom practices.  TN just implemented the TEAM model, where monetary bonuses are given to teachers that score high on their evaluations (which also include test score data and professionalism ratings). This past year I was selected as the Lead Teacher in my building, meaning I had to assist with these new evaluations.  Of course, I have to receive them myself, so I can't get away from the 100+ indicator rubric no matter how hard I try.  :-)

As teachers have worked on improving practices, closing a lesson effectively has been in many discussions (and on the teacher evaluation rubric).  What drives this discussion (and the rubric) is making sure that students master what we teach them.  Sounds simple enough, huh?  However, often times teachers (myself included...guilty as charged) teach their hearts out with an impressive 'hook' to lure the students in, present the concept in a meaningful and engaging way, then assign something that they may not even be able to look at for a day or two.  In the meantime,  keep moving with the material because the curriculum says you have to. (Sound familiar?)  The big picture here is if we don't take time to quickly assess their understanding right then and there, we lose valuable insight to what our students are learning from us.  Two days down the road when I am able to grade "Johnny's" work and see that he didn't understand something, he's possibly 2 days behind if the concept continued to build and he didn't get it from Day 1.  As a result, our teachers are working really hard to gather instant feedback through strong closures in their lessons.

I thought I'd share a FREEBIE with you that demonstrates some of my favorite ways to close a lesson as strongly as you began it, and get quick feedback on where your students are after you've taught a concept.  I don't think any of this is NEW NEWS, but what I did was take some good closing strategies and create something I knew I could use with my kiddos in the classroom.  One of my favorites is the 'Parking Lot."  What teacher hasn't been to workshop where the presenter asked you to park any questions you had on a post it note and put it in the "parking lot" (a poster or chart that said PARKING LOT on it), so he/she could look at them and answer your questions before you left for the day.  They wanted to make sure you 'got' the material, right?  I took that idea and brought it back to my classroom with mini "parking lots."  All you need are some 5x7 clear plastic picture frames (one per table) and a copy of the clipart parking lot I created, some post it notes, and you're ready to go!  My students LOVE a good excuse to use post it notes.  You can use this idea for questions, comments, explanations, examples, illustrations, or whatever you want them to show you at the end of the lesson.  It's very similar to the "Exit ticket" system where students place their exit tickets on a poster before moving on.  I like this version because I can do a quick walk around the room to see who has "parked" a correct answer or example and/or who's still driving around lost.  ;-)
Another favorite (and yes, it involves post it notes too!) is the "Give Me a . and a ?" at the end of a lesson.  Students have to write a quick statement about what they've learned and question they could ask a 'buddy' about their learning.  Some great peer tutoring/discussion takes place if a student can't answer another student's question.   The great thing about these is that they both can be geared up or down depending on what grade you teach.  It may look more like pictures and examples for the youngers, but involve more writing for the olders.  

These are just a couple of quick, fun examples that help close a lesson with the teacher gathering immediate evidence of student understanding.  I've got these and a few more for ya' in a FREEBIE  "Let's RECAP" packet that you are welcome to grab from my TpT store.  :-)
In the future, I hope you'll "swing" on over to my blog sometime!  Feel free to come grab more freebies and/or just stop in to say HI!   
A huge THANK YOU to Sally for letting me share and hang out with you all today!  We'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, and/or additional ideas on what works for you when you close a lesson!  

Bananas for freebies and friends that let you 'guest post!'  

Now that you've seen Michelle's wonderful guest post, check out the blogs of all these other wonderful teachers!  Be sure to check out Conversations in Literacy, where I'll be guest blogging today!

Friday, June 29, 2012


Today is the day for announcements!  First of all, come around tomorrow for the Top Teachers' Blog Swap and Hop!  Sixty four teacher/ bloggers have been planning this for several weeks now!  We're all guest blogging for each other!  I suspect you'll be finding freebies and informational posts at all the stops along the way!  Be sure to check out Conversations in Literacy where I'll be guest blogging tomorrow.  Michelle from  No Monkey Business...Just Bunches of Learning blog will be posting here.  (I've already seen her post, it's fabulous!)

Announcement #2:  Good news and bad news.  The Six Digit Giveaway is over.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that we have a winner!  Congratulations to Sara V,  Check your email, Sara, you've got loads of goodies coming your way!

Freebie FridaysAnnouncement #3:  Be sure to check out Teaching Blog Addicts Friday Freebie page!  I've posted my Mapping Freebie over there!  Plus, there are loads of other great freebies there, too!

Announcement #4:
I'm working on a new blog design!  Don't worry, it will be the same quality blogging, but I figured, I've been here almost a year now, I'm ready for something unique!  It shouldn't be too much longer, but it will be worth waiting for!

Can you believe it's 4th of July weekend?  Wow, this summer is going waaaayyyy too fast for me! Hope you're enjoying it!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Music in the Classroom

I play a lot of music for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I play "fun music", just to lift the spirits of my students. I find I need to do this a lot in the morning, since they come into the classroom sleepy. Fun music usually brings smiles to their faces, and that's a great way to start the day, isn't it? (Click any image for a link to Amazon.)

I have loads of collections of Party Music just for this purpose. I don't yet have these yet, but I'm looking to add them to my collection!

I also like to play quieter music, for those other times when they really need to concentrate on their work. I bought Music for Concentration years ago, and I play it often. Sometimes I even play it when the kids are gone, during my planning time. It really helps. This company has several others along the same lines, including Music for Productivity (Which I have, and love!). Music for Learning (which I want!), and Music for Thinking (which I also want!) 

 I also like to play music connected to what's going on in the world, or connected to what we're learning. 

Around every patriotic holiday, I play patriotic music. I have loads of great music for those days! 

When I was celebrating the Olympics, this CD came in handy. The children loved listening to the National Anthems of other countries. Of course, when our own national anthem played, we always stood up, no matter what we were doing! 

I play this around St. Patrick's Day. 

I play this around Cinco de Mayo. 

Music helps make a real connection to whatever children are learning.
What music do you play in your classroom?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Good Things are Coming Our Way!

I just wanted to let you know of some exciting things that are happening!

First of all, this very evening, some teacher/ blogger friends and myself are having a facebook posting party!  Stop by the Elementary Matters facebook page, and you might just find yourself some great stuff!  (Maybe even a freebie!)

Second, next Saturday, June 30th, many of my teacher/ blogger friends and I are having a Blog Swap and Hop!  That means that I'll be guest posting on someone's blog, and another blogger will be guest posting here!  If you look at the links at the bottom of this page, you'll see some of your favorite bloggers are involved.  It will be a great day to hop from blog to blog, read some great blogs, and perhaps even pick up some freebies along the way!

Thirdly, I'm mighty close to 100,000 views on Elementary Matters!  You can expect a celebration when that happens!

Finally, this is the surprise that I kept until now:  just for reading this post, you can download my Two Rainbow Games for free! There are two different games (with a rainbow theme) where the children come up with adjectives to describe nouns, or adverbs to describe verbs.  It's suggested for grades 1 - 4.

You can click the image, or click HERE for your freebie!

Have a great day!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener - Review

Guess what I just got in the mail... a brand new pencil sharpener from Classroom Friendly Supplies! As many teachers I know, kids and pencil sharpeners tends to be one of my pet peeves.  (See this blog post for more pet peeves!)

The first thing I noticed was that I got the "groovy green" sharpener!  The blue one they sell is nice too, but I get excited about green.

I quickly took the sharpener out of the box and admired it.  Luckily, I'd heard it was a little different from ordinary pencil sharpeners to use, so I'm glad I watched this video.

I proceeded to find a few pencils that needed sharpening, and got to business!  For each pencil, one needs to pull out the metal plate in front.  This eases its way back into place as the pencil is sharpened.  When putting the pencil into the sharpener, one needs to pinch the two black pieces together.  This holds the pencil in place, which is a good thing because one hand is needed to grind, and the other hand is needed to hold the sharpener in place.  The hand grinder is easy to turn, and I expect the children will have no problem with it, once they get the hang of it.

Then I proceeded to sharpen every pencil I could find in the house... they all came out perfect!  It doesn't break the lead, or sharpen unevenly.  Plus, it's kinda fun!  

There are several things I really love about this sharpener:
  1. It makes a really sharp point!  The kids won't need to keep coming back, since this will keep them busy for quite a while!
  2. It doesn't let you "over sharpen"!  The sharpening mechanism stops when the point is at the correct length.
  3. It seems like something the children can be successful with, and can do independently.
  4. As far as sharpeners go, it's very quiet.  It's not silent, so you'll be disappointed if that's what you expect, but it's much quieter than those electric pencil sharpeners that sound like a dentist's drill! (I can't help but hold my jaw when I hear the electric pencil sharpener grinding away!)
  5. The tray for shavings is very easy to empty and return to its place.  (The kids can do it without my help!)
  6. It's green!
  7. Did I mention that it won't let the kids over sharpen?

There's really only one thing I don't like about this sharpener:
  1. The sharpener comes with a clamp.  I tried the clamp on several tables in my house, but didn't have any luck holding the sharpener into place.  I still needed one hand to hold the sharpener, and the other hand to grind.
I did hear something about super glueing it into place so it won't move.  I'll have to do that when I get it to school.

The true test will come in September, when the kids come back from summer vacation.  I imagine I'll have to take time for a demonstration and some guided practice.  It will fit right in with my demonstration and guided practice times for the stapler and staple remover.  I do find that a little extra time at the beginning of the year to discuss what to do as well as what NOT to do saves our school tools in the long run.  For example... do NOT put crayons in the pencil sharpener!  (That has killed several sharpeners, along with "too small pencils".)
There's been more than one electric pencil sharpener that had to be unplugged because a "too short" pencil got stuck in there!  (Holding my jaw just from the memory of the sound!)

I definitely recommend going to Classroom Friendly Supplies and check out the sharpeners.  I suspect this will last a good long time!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Can't Wait to Use This Resource!

I found the coolest resource today on Pinterest!  On the West Baton Rouge Parish Schools website, there is a series of "Content Trailers".  These are "mini-videos" to spark an interest in topics.  What great hooks!  The best part is, there are hundreds of them!  They are categorized by grade level (Pre K - Secondary) and by topic. (Literacy, Math, Science. Social Studies) These are some examples of videos I'm excited about:  American Symbols, Healthy Eating, Hand Washing, Fractions, Time, Homonyms, Adjectives, and Story Settings!

The videos themselves are well done.  They are simply photographs or graphics, accompanied by music.  They give the children a "taste" of the topic, just enough to "wet their whistle".  It doesn't take the place of the teacher, it simply hooks them in.  You can believe I'll be using these in the fall!

Another side note:  I made my school district's Technology Newsletter! Of course, it came out the second to last day of school, when most of us were deleting any email that wasn't absolutely essential, but luckily I took the time to read it, and I hope perhaps a few others did too!  Click Here to see the whole newsletter... I got almost a full column on page 3, complete with links!  I hope at least a few people saw it!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

For the 35th Time, Ending on a Monday

I just finished my 35th year of teaching, and I am proud to say  I enjoyed another year.  I not only survived, but I'm happy about how it went!

I'm kind of glad our last day turned out to be on a Monday.  I know it seems silly to come back to school for just a Monday (especially since it's a half day) but I really liked the way it turned out.

The week before school got out was crazy.  My report cards were due for inspection at the beginning of the week, so I worked all the previous weekend on those.  (The report cards we use are quite complicated, and really do take that long!)  Then I spent my afternoons planning my End of Year Academic Olympics activities, and tried to find some time to get ahead on end of the year packing. At home, in the evenings, I was typing up this year's Memory book.

I was determined to stay Friday evening until the custodians kicked me out at 11:00.  I had dreams of having the whole room completely packed up except for the few things I'd need on Monday.  My "gentleman friend" (I'm far too old to have a "boyfriend") came to help at about 4:45, and I was pretty wiped out by then.  Most of the school supplies were in boxes, and I had set aside the few things I'd need for the last day, but the place was a mess, with a lot to be done.  He was amazing, piling boxes, carrying stuff to my car, and keeping my spirits up.  We finally called it quits at 6:15, when I was pretty much a vegetable.  But my room was in good shape.

Our last story for the year!
I had no school work to do all weekend... that was a very strange feeling!  My report cards were done, printed, folded and packed.  My cumulative folders were stuffed and marked.  I was all planned for Monday, and my only paper work - the Memory books - were run off and waiting.

By the time Monday came, I was rested! I wasn't stressed about finishing the packing, since I really got a lot done on Friday.  So I got to enjoy the last day with my students!!!!  I honestly don't remember a "last day" where I wasn't overtired and stressed about finishing.

It's a quick day, so I didn't want to waste any time with the children.  As they came in, I had them work with partners on individual whiteboards.  Some played hangman, some played Tic-tac-toe.  As long as they were thinking, I was fine!

We had our morning meeting, and I read them one last story, then showed them their Memory books.  After choosing a gel pen color of their choice (I bought a selection of 24 colors) I gave them 15 minutes of Independent Reading time. I insisted they spend some time alone reading the memory book before the conversations/ autographing began. They were fun to watch when it came to autographing each Memory book.  I also got to autograph most of them, which I was glad to do.

What's in the memory books? A couple of weeks ago, I asked the children to write a comment about each of their classmates.  I also asked them for their favorite things about second grade, favorite things about the school, and ideas for things to do during summer vacation.  Since not all children were allowed to be photographed, I took the photo for the cover of their hands (idea from Pinterest!) And I took a picture of each child holding their favorite book... in front of their face.  I wasn't about to have all the children's pictures except one!  Here's my picture from the Memory book, with their comments for me beside it.
This is my "picture", and what the children had to say about me.

At 10:00, our PTA has a tradition for the last day of school:  ice cream sundaes!  We lined up for the last day of school tradition (Thank you PTA!) and enjoyed our last recess together.  I gave the children some time for centers when we got back.  I had a few books still out so they could have partner reading time.  I kept out the math cards so they could play math games, and the white boards were still out for playing Hangman.  No brilliant skills were discovered on this last day, but they were involved in activities to practice the skills they've learned, and I got to enjoy them for one last day.  At 11:45, we all lined up for our 5th graders' final walk, then they went off on their buses for the last time this school year.
Click the image for this freebie.

It was completely a fabulous day.  I eventually finished packing my room, and checked out for the school year.  I've done a lot of sleeping since, and I'm starting to catch up on the housework I haven't done in months.  But it was a very good day.

I thought you'd like a little freebie from my kids.  Here's a copy of their "Things to do during summer vacation so the TV won't suck out your brain" list!  Enjoy!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Totally Engaged Students

Are you familiar with Whole Brain Teaching?  I discovered it online last fall while I was exploring information on how the brain learns.

This is the first video I saw on the topic:
You may notice in the video that the instructor (Coach B from WBT) keeps the students totally engaged, and uses many of the important brain based learning strategies: talking, using emotions, visuals, movement, teaching chunks of information, giving immediate feedback.

The above video shows students much older than the ones I work with.  If you go to the Whole Brain Teaching website, or simply search "Whole Brain Teaching" on You tube, you'll find loads of videos of Whole Brain Teaching methods used with every age.

As we're finishing up the school year, I had asked the children to list their favorite memories from second grade. At the top of most of the lists:

  • The Scoreboard
  • The Improvement Wall
  • Super Speed Math
  • Super Speed 1,000 (Sight words)
You guessed it, these are all straight from Whole Brain Learning!  The best part?  It's all free!  

I've been going to their weekly webinars since last fall.  (Almost every Tuesday at 8:00 Eastern)  I've learned so much!  All these webinars are available to watch on their site.  I do prefer the live broadcasts, since you're able to comment and ask questions, but they save all the programs, and they have most definitely enhanced my teaching.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let the Games Begin!

We had the first day of our Academic Olympics today, and we all had a great time!

We started with our Opening Ceremony first thing in the morning.  The children were dressed in their country's color, and carried their banners and flags.  I also had my teacher assistant carry the Olympic Torch and an Olympic flag.  The countries lined up in alphabetical order, just like they will in July in London. I carried the American flag at the end of our parade, after all, that's where the "host nation" always goes.  We marched up and down all the hallways.  Many of the other students and teachers peeked out of their classrooms to wish us well.

When we got back to the room, we made a big circle with all the countries.  Each academic athlete touched the Olympic flag while they recited the Olympic Oath and the Olympic Creed.  (I copied these almost word for word from what they use at the Olympics, with a few slight changes.  I added the word "academic" in front of sports, and I left out the part about performance enhancing drugs.)

After the Oath and the Creed, I had all academic athletes shake hands with each other and say the words:  Let the games begin!

We held several contests today!  The team events we had:
  • brainstorming
  • math puzzle 
  • banner design
  • reading endurance (they earned points for the team if they were focused on reading when I checked)
  • Group phonics scoot
Then we also had a couple of individual events:
  • reading with expression (Judged in 4 categories... volume, expression, clarity, and presentation)
  • math facts (both addition and subtraction)
Then we had medal ceremonies!  I let the first place winners stand on chairs, and as that country's national anthem played, I placed medals around their necks.  I still get all goose bumpy when I think of their faces as I placed the ribbons around their necks... they even did that little "head dip" to allow me to get the ribbon around them, and they picked it up and looked at it proudly, just as I've seen Olympic athletes do!  (I'm a sucker for ritual, and the kids really loved it!)

Well, it was a VERY busy day, and we still have more tomorrow!  I wanted to share a couple of papers I made up for my Olympics, just in case you get any inspiration for end of the year activities, or summer fun!  Click the image or click HERE for your Academic Olympic Freebie!

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