Friday, July 17, 2015

PD summer & a new curriculum for this upcoming school year!

Good morning! I am fresh off of a 3 day literacy institute (and professional development) about the new reading and writing curriculum that our district adopted for early childhood. With the 5 day science PD a few weeks ago, this is probably the most (Nope, it actually IS the most.) professional development I've done in the summer in the history of my career. I can honestly say that both were great calls!

My district adopted Making Meaning, Being A Writer, and SIPPS for the upcoming school year in K-2. My school had actually purchased the curriculum separately last school year with the intent to use it this upcoming school year in grades K-3. I am very excited about this new venture for two major reasons. First, we actually have a vetted, research-based, and effective curriculum. Now, maybe I'll have time to pursue my hobbies! Second, and most important, social-emotional learning is built into the curriculum. Talk about whole child teaching! Many of our kiddos (no matter their experience or privilege) come to us with major deficits in social and emotional skills. I find myself investing a lot of time coaching my kiddos in developing positive relationships, setting strong emotional boundaries, developing coping skills, and advocating for themselves in a productive and respectful manner. That one measly course on human growth and development does not prepare you for some of the social-emotional hurdles you will come across. I'm excited to get into the content a little sooner because those social elements, which often times are more important than the content and can make or break a lesson, are already built in.

With developing character, I've found a TON of success with Leader in Me (7 Habits of Happy Kids). I began implementing it in my classroom two years ago. I work with students who face a lot of challenges. I made a very conscious decision to emphasize character education instead of feeling sorry for my students or using their situations to excuse their negative behaviors. I truly believe that every single kid can learn. Sometimes, we need to peel back the layers and connect with their hearts first. I'm admittedly tough on my students, and I have incredibly high expectations for them. I'm not a fan of excuses, and I don't accept them. I definitely communicate with them in a warm, kind manner but they know from the moment they enter my care, that I absolutely will not accept anything less than their best on a given day. I understand their best may only be 50% of their true capability on some days because mom and dad may have had a fight the night before. Or, maybe they didn't eat dinner or maybe they're homeless. But if all you have is 50%, I expect it all. I take care to establish that safe space because I know that my classroom is the only place where some of my kiddos can actually be kids. You know a Ms. Peters kid when you seem them around the building, and that's not to imply that they are perfect. They aren't perfect. They make mistakes and poor choices; However, they are accountable for their actions, reflective, and willing to right a wrong.

How do you develop the whole child in your classroom? I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

SLPS Science Academy 2015

I am taking a small break from the #TPTSellerChallenge to blog about my experience at the SLPS Science Academy 2015. It's a five day science and outdoor education PD hosted by my school district. They've supported the PD for the past 3 years for SLPS teachers. The school year was the first year I'd heard of it. It was one of the best decisions I could've made!

I teach in a large urban school district with many challenges. Since I've started with the district (5 years ago), there's been a huge focus on literacy. Most of our district-wide PDs are reading and writing-focused. I totally understand why. We must improve our reading and writing (and math) achievement. That's for sure. However, the focus on literacy came at the expense of other subjects, i.e. science and social studies.

I took a very calculated risk in building science into my daily schedule. from my first year. The compromise was that I'd integrate and assess a literacy standard with all of my science lessons. I've definitely reaped the benefits of my cross-curricular approach, and this experience will no doubt take my science instruction to the next level. I received so many great resources to support my growth as a science and literacy educator.

The Science Academy was held at the Dana Brown Overnight Education Center, which is a part of the Shaw Nature Reserve. It was absolutely beautiful! I think the change of scenery was exactly what I needed to focus. I learned so much in those 5 days, but in the interest of time, I am going to focus on the major take away(s) from each day.

Day 1: Project Learning Tree

Project Learning Tree (PLT) is a program that focuses on environmental literacy and education. We received a 6 workshop and curriculum resources to supplement our science program. We primarily focused on trees during our training, and I will never look at a tree the same again! Trees are excellent story tellers. It's all in their rings. We completed an activity called Tree Cookies, where we analyzed the tree's story through its rings. My brain was firing with all of the literacy connections I could make. We also did an activity that involved close looking and observation. It was interesting because our engagement activity was to draw a tree from memory. Next, we took a close look at some trees and learn about tree properties. To wrap up, we had to draw a new picture that incorporated our new learning. Again, the literacy aspects of this activity flooded my brain: observing, writing with your senses...the list goes on. Below, I've included my before and after pictures.

I was amazed at the amount of growth and improvement within a 30 minute time period. I'm looking forward to seeing this type of growth in my students this upcoming year.

Day 2: MDC - Discover Nature Schools and Experimental Design

Discover Nature Schools is a curriculum developed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. The 3-5 unit called Nature Unleashed helps students learn about ecosystem through exploration of MO ecosystems. I really like it because it focuses on native plants and wildlife. For the past 3 years, I've taught those 'generic' ecosystems. I'm looking forward to exposing my kiddos to plants and animals native to Missouri. The units include a teachers manual (with assessments...and everything's aligned to MO Learning Standards..score!), student notebooks, and these brilliantly illustrated student  books. Even better, I can contact my local MDC naturalist for new student books every school year. That means my kiddos can mark up those texts. I foresee lots of writing in the margins during science this year. Close reading in science, here we come!

Experimental design has always given me LOTS of anxiety. Students are expected to be able to develop testable questions and design experiments. I've ALWAYS struggled with this, mostly because I have some helicopter teacher tendencies, particularly helping without being asked. We really dove in during the training. Susan, the Science Curriculum Specialist, did a great job making me feel more comfortable with experimental design. I definitely have more confidence (and less anxiety) that this is something that my students will be able to do this school year. My goal is to submit a science fair project this school year.

Day 3: 5E

Day three was mostly about the 5E learning cycle in science. We participated in a 5E lesson on the measurement. It was so much fun! The 5 E's stand for engage, explore, explain, expand, and evaluate. During the engage phase, the purpose is to hook your students with a short activity or demonstration. During this time, students can classify objects, free write, draw, etc. Next is the explore phase. During this time, the teacher is a facilitator, and students are provided with time to think, explore, and begin developing their own understanding through experimentation and investigation or reading authentic resources to collect information or constructing a model. After exploration, the teacher introduces formal vocabulary, explanations, new labels, concepts, and processes and skills. This the explain phase. We might consider this phase the "direct instruction" part of the 5E model. During the elaborate phase, students apply the information and new concept to a new activity. Finally, during the evaluate phase, students complete some type of assessment to show their new learning. This could be an exit ticket or quiz. You may have students evaluate their work from the explore phase and fix clarify any misconceptions or fix learning errors. Time flies when you're having fun, and time surely did fly during the lesson. Start to finish, the lesson took 90 minutes. I definitely don't have 90 minutes to dedicate to teaching one or two objectives in one day. Naturally, I would have to break up a 5E lesson over multiple days. I really enjoyed the experience and plan to use the format to develop my science lessons.

Day 4: Project WET and Shaw Nature Reserve

Project WET is organization focused on water education. It provides amazing cross curricular activities to teach kids about water and the importance of water conservation. We were supposed to complete a few activities on a float down the Meramec River. However, we've experienced A LOT of rain these past few months. The river was above stage, so it was unsafe. We still had a great day, though! Instead, we visited the children's area at Shaw Nature Reserve.

The wagon ride over
 Beautiful native plants
 Shaw Nature Reserve Outdoor Classroom

 Latest addition: The Fairy House

 The "Tree"mends bridge
Couldn't help myself! I had to cross it, lol.

The grounds were absolutely beautiful, and the children's area is the perfect amount of 'work' and 'play.' I am hoping to bring my kiddos out this upcoming school year to do some Project Learning Tree and Project WET activities. One Project WET that really stuck with me was the Sum of Parts. We basically we received a budget and piece of river front property. We could build anything we wanted on our land. We put our properties together and had an interesting conversation about run off and pollution....those poor downstream properties!

Day 5: Lesson plan presentation and science curriculum and materials

We spent the last day presenting the 5E lesson plans we created on Wednesday and Thursday. I was already on cloud nine because I'd one lots of swag throughout the week (including a tabletop pocket chart). However, I was not prepared for the goodies I received as we left....THREE QUARTERS WORTH OF SCIENCE MATERIALS AND TEACHERS MANUALS. Holy moly, I hit the motherload!

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and learned an awful lot. I will definitely keep you posted on my "science lab" this year. Have you attended any PDs that have significantly influenced your teaching?

Friday, June 26, 2015

TpT Seller Challenge: Wk 2: Dare to Dream

I've been participating in the TpT Seller Challenge hosted by  Teach Create MotivateSparkling in Second GradeThird in Hollywood, and Peppy Zesty Teacherista. This week's challenge is Dare to Dream. It's all about my hopes and dreams for my TpT store.

Since my store (and blog) is very new, I would just like to "get it off the ground." I'm not particularly looking to become rich, but it would be great if I could make enough to offset the cost of "classroom expenses." That would free up a decent amount of extra cash to travel (and save...hopefully for a wedding!).

I'd also like to make tons of teacher-seller-blogger friends. I really want to expand my circle, hear new ideas, "borrow" practices that work, and collaborate with other educators. I want new friends from all over the US and the world....maybe attend an international teacher-blogger meetup. 

I want to hear all about yours. What are you (TpT) hopes and dreams?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

TpT Seller Challenge Week 1: Makeover Madness

The TpT Seller Challenge is just what needed to get motivated! This week's challenge was to makeover an old product. The product I chose was an old one that I'd abandoned about a year ago (EEK!) called Multipli-dition. It's an awesome multiplication as repeated edition activity that I've used in my classroom for the past 3 years with great success. I created a free version of it last summer but never completed my full version. I was inspired to choose this product to revamp after I received a direct message from someone asking about the full version. Without further adieu, here it is....

Head over to my TpT store to have a closer look at it.

In addition to getting motivated with TpT (and blogging), I've been reflecting on this past school year and planning for this upcoming year. I had a lot of ups and downs last year, including my room being turned into a 3/4 split 10 weeks into the year, some exceptionally challenging behaviors, losing a few of my beloved kiddos to moves, watching some of my kiddos grow 1.5-2 years in reading and/or math, watching them grow and mature, and saying goodbye to students that I taught for two years (That was probably the most difficult part of the year! It will ache my heart a little bit to watch someone else teach them. I absolutely adored my "Loop Group.") We have lots of upcoming changes for the next school year. We are using a new reading, vocabulary, and phonics curriculum (Making Meaning and Spiral Up), modifying the math curriculum and instructional practices, and switching to a new system for student goal setting and tracking. Needless to say, I have a TON of work to do this summer and less time to do it because I'm teaching summer school. Oh...did I mention that my partner in crime teacher accepted an administrative position at a different school? It's so bittersweet. I am very happy to see her move up, but I am going to miss all of our shenanigans collaboration. Luckily, I have a great new partner! We seem to be very similar, and I think we're going to work well together.

Have a great Saturday!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Class Who Loved Words

Happy February! We're in the middle of two short weeks. Please pray for me! Short weeks seem to last twice as long. So two in a row? It's going to feel like a lifetime! This past week will be especially short because there's no school on Friday (PD), and our Festival of Friendship (school dance) and Valentine's Day celebration is Thursday. Basically, I had a 3-day instructional week. Instead of introducing new spelling words and vocabulary for word study, we're going wrap up our current vocabulary unit, and I'm going to introduce several new vocabulary activities. I'm sure they'll be happy to have some new Word Work activities.

Our first Flocabulary unit went relatively well. Some of my ELLs did not do quite as well as I'd like. I met with our head ESOL teacher, and she suggested some modifications to the unit assessment to better support those students. I'm going to provide a word bank for them for their next unit assessment. When possible, I am going to add visuals to vocabulary cards as well. Hopefully, they will do much better.

I am revamping the activities for my Word Work center. In addition to Shades of Meaning, I'm introducing 2 new vocabulary activities over the next 3 weeks. I happened across a wonderful bundle of word work activities for big kids by Chalk and Apples. The activities focus on developing word meanings. It includes 15 activities so far. Since it's pretty late in the year, I've picked 6 activities for my kiddos: Bubble Words, 5 Clues, Vocabulary Sort, Word Break Down, Picture Dictionary, and Link It. I'm introducing Bubble Words and 5 Clues first. Since I want to focus on learning how to do the centers, I am going to use last unit's vocabulary words. That way, they won't be so focused on learning new words and learning new activities. I've plotted on an awesome way to store my vocabulary words for the week. Look for pictures and a brief explanation in my next post.

And without further adieu, a peek into my room.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Happy New Year!

Greetings! To say it's been a loooooooong time is an understatement. Lots of things have happened (holidays, birthday - the big two nine, winter break) but nothing more important than my kidney table arriving a few weeks ago.

It's been so amazing! I'm actually able to sit down with my guided reading/math groups and engage them in a meaningful way, instead of hovering over them while they work. There are practical benefits as well. All of our stuff fits (lol). I'm pretty much in teacher heaven.

And now, down to business....

I wrote a post about improving my vocabulary instruction at the beginning of the school year. Honestly, I've been doing a HORRIBLE job, and it's come back to bite me in the rear end. My kiddos recently completed their winter benchmark for STAR, and it was absolutely horrible. Out of 24 students, only 2 increased their performance. I KNOW it's a vocabulary problem. For example, I have a kid who is really, really smart. His reading comprehension is phenomenal. However, his vocabulary is limited. Case in point....a letter he and another student wrote me during Daily 5 time.

This letter and their data was a swift kick in the rear end for me. Our district/school does not have a curriculum for explicit vocabulary instruction, so I wracked my brain over a solution.  The vocabulary fairies must have heard my cries because I received an email from Flocabulary advertising a free, 90-day school-wide trial. The heavens parted and an inner peace floated down over me like a spring mist. It's a site with tools for explicit vocabulary instruction through the use of hip-hop songs and videos. While hip-hop is definitely not my kiddos favorite genre of music, I know the catchy beats will help them retain information. And, I'll be able to get their feet wet with poetry before our poetry unit in April. Two birds with one stone...yes! I'd been dabbling with explicit vocabulary instruction through the weekly words units prepared by the lovely ladies of Second Story Window. Their Tools for Vocabulary Instruction pack is phenomenal. I'm adding an extra layer of instruction by using Flocabulary Word Up Project to teach more words, specifically tier 2 interdisciplinary words. I plan to use their sample teaching schedule as a starting point and modify it as I figure out what works and what doesn't.

Here's the sample schedule:

It seems like a pretty good fit on paper as far as daily instructional minutes. I dedicate about 25 minutes daily to word study. During that time, I alternate between vocabulary and spelling, which means I may need to extend the units about a couple days. For now, I'll stick to their plan and cross my fingers. I'm open to any suggestions on ways to improve my vocabulary instruction. What are some things you guys do in your classrooms?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I was nominated for an award ^_^, lil ole me! Thanks to Alexandria at Classroom Action with Ms. Jackson for the nomination!

1.  Why and how long ago did you start blogging?

I started my blog a few months ago after a year of excuses. I started blogging, so I could share my experience working in a large urban district and collaborate with other educators.

2. What one word sums up the heart of your blog and why?
Ooooh...this is a toughy! Only one word?! I'd say responsive. Like Mr. Sims from 90th Street, I try to find new and different approaches to reach my learners. 

3.  Is there something you learned late in your blogging journey you wished you knew before? 
Blogging is waaaaaay harder than I expected/anticipated. You MUST have a plan.

4.   What is your favorite past time other than blogging?
I enjoy reading and running in my very limited free time. I also enjoy spending time with my loved ones and nesting (crafting, decorating for holidays, etc)

5.  How many hours per week do you dedicate to your blog?  
Lately, maybe an hour. I must do better!

6.  What category of blog posts do you enjoy the most? 
I love posts that give me new ideas...and freebies too, of course.

7.  Where does your blog inspiration come from? 
My inspiration comes from my kiddos and all the other teacher bloggers who share their experiences and ideas.

8.  Which post that you've written are you most proud of? 
My favorite post is called 'Third Grade Champions'. Our school held a penny war to race money for ALS. We used the competition as a teachable moment (diplomacy). We strategized with the 3rd grade homeroom, developed a "war plan" and defeated the entire school. I was very proud of how charitable my students were. It was so awesome to see them bringing in all their spare change for such a great cause.

9.   Is there any post you have been planning to do, but have postponing it for a while now?
Yes, I've been meaning to blog about some of the management strategies I use to keep the learning flowing throughout the day. I also need to blog about my #SLANTbox experience. :-x

10.  What is your favorite aspect of blogging?
I enjoy meeting other teacher bloggers and collaborating with them.

Which recipe, project, or idea on my blog would you be most likely to try yourself? 
I'd most definitely try your math task cards. :-)

All done...and now, to nominate!

....more nominations to come. Everyone I planned to nominate has more than 200 followers. :-P

The Rules: 
Now that you've been nominated here are the official "rules" for accepting:
1. In your post link back to the blogger who nominated you as a thank you and "shout out".
2. Answer the 11 questions given to you (the ones I answered above).
3. Nominate 11 blogs that have less than 200 followers each.  Provide them with 11 questions or have them answer the questions above.
4. Let your nominees know they've been nominated and provide them with a link back to your post so that they can accept.
5. Send your nominator a link to your post so s/he can learn more about you as well.  (You can just put your post link in the comments below).