Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year, New Blog Design, and a Linky!

Can you believe another year has gone, and by gone I mean FLOWN by?!? 2012 brought its share of heartaches and challenges, but as the new year approaches, I am ready for whatever comes my way!

I have to say that I am absolutely loving my new blog design!!!! Megan over at A Bird in Hand Blog Design  did such a FABULOUS job!!! You like?!? She was such a breeze to work with and FAST!!! If you are thinking about changing up your blog, or like me, beginning a brand-new design, do it!!! You will not be sorry!! Check out her work. She is amazing!

Thank you so much, Megan, for your incredible work!!!! I apologize for the blurry picture! It's the best I could do at the moment!



I started this blog as a way for me to document the happenings in my classroom. I have to admit that I do not have the best memory, and when I say to myself, "Oh, I'll remember this next year," you can be sure- I forget!!! Having this blog to look back on has been amazing for me! I love to scroll through and remember the things we did in our classroom AND it will prevent me from forgetting the things I want to remember!!

I say all of this because when it comes to linky parties, I always get excited at the chance. But then, I remember that I have only been blogging for a few months, and I really don't have that many crazy exciting things to share. However, the second point of me creating this blog was to push myself to go above and beyond what I might normally do - find creative ideas and try them- and my main source of inspiration is.... you guessed it! Other blogs!! So, with this new year, I am going to try something completely new and link up! Yikes!!

Thank you, Jen from The Teacher's Cauldron for starting this linky, and thanks to Stephanie over at Third Grade Thoughts for inspiring me to join!!


This linky is all about resolutions. To keep it brief, because I could go on forever with resolutions (lol) I'm going to share one for blogging, a personal one, and one for my classroom.

To begin, my BLOGGING resolution this year is to simply do more of it!!! I am a beginner blogger and I love the experience of blog world and everything that comes with it! Writing, reading, sharing, etc! I want to do my part in contributing as much as I can!!

My PERSONAL resolution is to have more discipline. I know that seems very vague, but I need discipline in so many areas of life it's ridiculous!! I need it when it comes to being more healthy, working LESS, relaxing MORE, etc. I, like most teachers out there, have a tendency to work myself to the bone and forget to take care of myself in the process. So, if you know me personally, I'm going to need a few kicks in the pants over the next few months!!!

And even though this is not a part of the linky requirements, I'm going to add in a resolution for my classroom. My resolution for my CLASSROOM is to create more meaningful experiences for my kiddos. I want my kids to walk away from third grade and have memories that will last them a lifetime and the knowledge that hopefully stuck with them, too! Creating those experiences is not easy, and requires work, but my kiddos deserve the best from me! Thanks to all the wonderful teachers who are so graciously willing to share their ideas on their own blogs, I feel like I already have created a few good memories this year. Now to keep that up for the rest of the year!!!

That's it! Three resolutions! Let's see if I can find the discipline to work on those (as I sit here eating M&M's...)!!

If you would like to participate in the linky, head on over and link up!!!!

I hope that all of you have a truly wonderful New Year. Take some time to reflect on 2012, the happy, the sad, and all the in between. Challenge yourself and your students to set goals and then keep yourself disciplined to stick with them (or find a really good friend who doesn't mind being a relentless coach to help you out- and throw away your junk food)!!

 Enjoy this break and spend time with your loved ones!!

Happy New Year!!!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Holiday Week Recap

 We made it to Christmas break!!! I cannot believe how fast this year is flying by. It's hard to believe we are already halfway through the year.

Last week was a whirlwind of activities in our classroom. After three days of testing, we ended the week with a little bit of holiday fun! 

I have to start off by saying how much I appreciate the blog world and Pinterest. It was around Thanksgiving last year when I first discovered both and my world was completely expanded by all the wonderful and creative ideas floating around. I appreciate the teachers who are willing to share their ideas with everyone else via the web. I have many people to thank for our holiday activities! 

The Grinch visited our classroom Wednesday afternoon and stirred up some trouble from the very beginning. (Please ignore the drawn-on feet. I couldn't find them, so I had to draw them on!) He mixed up some of our words! The kids had to work to unscramble words that we frequently use. They loved it! Some of those words were really tricky! 

Once the kiddos restored order in our room by figuring out the words, we read the story How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It doesn't matter how many times they have heard it before, it is always a hit. Of course, now that they are in third grade, we focused on how the Grinch changed and grew as a character. Gotta fit in those character traits! We made a chart with adjectives that described him at the beginning of the story and the end. We discussed the turning point of the story and why the Grinch changed. Thanks to Cara Carroll at The First Grade Parade for the idea!


The kids then made their own little organizer of how the Grinch changed. On the left side of the paper, they described the Grinch at the beginning of the story, on the right they described him at the end, and at the bottom they wrote a sentence explaining why his heart grew three sizes. The bottom is cut off in the picture below, but the student wrote "The Grinch's heart grew three sizes because he learned that Christmas is not all about gifts and all, but it is about being with your family and friends." Perfect! 

 

We then talked about how all of us sometimes get in a "grinchy" mood. The kids wrote ideas of how to make a Grinch grin. I got the idea from Deanna Jump's Grinch unit, but I ended up drawing my own face, which is why it looks the way it does! Ha! This is why I am a teacher and not an artist! The kiddos drew their own hats and cut them out. Too cute! 


On Thursday it was all about gingerbread! I LOVE gingerbread stories and I love reading to my kiddos, so gingerbread day is my absolute favorite! 

To begin our day, I introduced the class to Gingy, our gingerbread friend who was visiting our classroom. The kids loved him immediately and he became an exciting conversation starter. 


We started by reading three different versions of gingerbread stories, The Gingerbread Man, The Gingerbread Cowboy, and The Gingerbread Girl. After reading each version, we filled in a chart that compared the characters, the settings, the refrains, and the endings. I had one large chart on the board and the kids had their own chart to fill in as well. Another thank you to Deanna Jump for this idea! 



After reading all of the stories, we took a restroom break. When we returned, Gingy was gone! He had disappeared and left a clue in his place. He explained that he didn't want to be a treat, so he left! The kids immediately decided we had to go out and search for him. So, we followed the clues he left for us around the school, and we ended up back in the classroom where Gingy had decided he belonged. He had also left us some yummy treats! A big thank you to Jodi at Fun in First for the scavenger hunt clues and to my wonderful instructional coach, Mrs. Carroll, who helped make this wonderful surprise happen!! 


After the kids enjoyed their treats, they interviewed each other to see which of the gingerbread stories was the class favorite. It was no surprise that the wise Gingerbread Girl was the winner! 


To wrap up the day, the kids designed their own ginger person and wrote a descriptive paragraph describing them just in case they decided to run away! 


I had so much fun watching the kids during these activities. It was a nice break from the usual hustle and bustle of hard work and testing! 

Another special element in our classroom this year was our holiday village. My amazing mother collected these beautiful pieces throughout her career as a special education teacher, and when she retired she passed her collection down to me. Together we set up the village after school one day and the kids were so surprised when they walked in and saw it! 


The village is made up of several ceramic buildings that were designed for kids to enjoy. The pieces are a part of Department 56's North Pole Collection and include a Play Doh house, a Barbie house, a Crayola house, and several other pieces with child-like themes. The pieces are beautiful and they all light up. Several have moving parts which the kids were fascinated by! Seeing the expressions on the kids' faces when they saw the village for the first time was priceless! I let them oooh and awww to their heart's content. Thank you, mom, for allowing me to continue this magical tradition with my kiddos! It is sure to be a favorite for years to come! 


Our party on Friday was a huge success. Of course, being the absent-minded person I am, I didn't take a single picture! It was a flurry of ornament-making, gift-giving, and pizza-eating! 

Now to enjoy a nice long break and rejuvenate before the hectic spring semester! 

I hope everyone has a truly relaxing break, a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!!!! 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Potpourri

Well, I haven't posted in a LONG time- mainly because I was without internet for two whole weeks! Insane!  It's amazing how dependent I have become on the web to keep me going. So what did I do with my *free* (lol) time?? Did I wisely spend it reading books on my reading list? Did I use the time to get a jump on plans? Nope! I caught up on my TV. Sad, I know. It just goes to show how much I rely on the blog world and trusty 'ol Pinterest for inspiration and motivation!
I feel like I can also blame my laziness on the fact that we have been in a testing frenzy. Science, math, reading, grammar, you name it, we are testing it! Our poor kiddos are earning their break for sure!! 

While we were reviewing for our grammar test, one of my little ones wrote this sentence- it cracked me up and I had to snap a picture! 



On a completely different topic, we have been discussing acts of kindness this week. I love all of the ideas floating around. I was really inspired by Stephanie's post over at  Third Grade Thoughts.
As a class, we came up with ideas of how we can show kindness to others. I threw in some extra contributions from my Light 'Em Up jar thanks to Judy over at Kindertastic. I printed out her pages of ideas, laminated them, and stuck them in a random jar I found. I used my handy Xyron machine to turn the label into a sticker and stuck it on. Head over to her blog to download your free copy!

 It was so nice hearing the kids share all of their wonderful ideas of how they can be kind to others. We made cards for teachers telling them how much we appreciated all of their hard work The kids were so excited when they were able to hand deliver their cards, and hopefully the teachers were, too! Let's see if my kiddos can keep it up for the rest of the week and the year!!! ;)

On another random note, this week has been bitter-sweet for me. As I think about the tragedy that occurred almost one week ago, I am reminded about how precious each and every day is with our kiddos. Even in the most frustrating moments (like when they bubble their answers wrong on their test! ARGG!!) I have to appreciate the charge I have been given- to educate young minds and prepare them to succeed in a world that is rapidly changing. I can only do my best to try to teach them how to be the best they can be and hope that they will carry that knowledge with them as they grow into adults. 

As a teacher, especially an upper elementary teacher, it's sometimes easy to get so wrapped up in things like test scores, Scantrons, showing work- you get my drift- that it takes an event like last week's to stop us in our tracks and remind us of our real purpose. 

Yesterday, I was finishing up the book My Teacher is an Alien with my afternoon class (an absolutely wonderful book, by the way!). For some reason, I decided to forego my rocking chair and I sat down criss-cross on the floor with the kids huddled closely around me. We sat like that for a good thirty minutes, completely wrapped up in the story. It is those precious moments, those moments when 18 innocent faces are hanging on my every word waiting to hear how the story ends, those moments when the kids are ever-so-slightly inching toward me because the suspense is almost too much to handle- those are the moments that are absolutely priceless. Those moments cannot be planned for, they cannot be forced, but they are the ones that stir our hearts and re-ignite the fire to teach. Sitting there inches away from my class, I had to stop myself from getting teary-eyed. I feel so blessed that this is what I get to do everyday. 

My heart breaks for the community of Newtown and the parents of those innocent victims- for the children who will never hear another story read aloud to them by their teacher or their parents, and for the teachers who will never experience another moment like that. I know that I will appreciate every minute I have with my kids even more than before.

I'm going to sum up with this prayer I found at Religious Prayer:


To all of you teachers, take time to enjoy your kiddos these last few days- even through all of the pre-Christmas chaos! 

Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Loving Memory




Twas' 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38,
When 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate.
Their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air.
They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.
They were filled with such joy, they didn't know what to say.
They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.
"Where are we?" asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.
"This is heaven." declared a small boy. "We're spending Christmas at God's house."
When what to their wondering eyes did appear,
But Jesus, their savior, the children gathered near.
He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.
Then He opened His arms and He called them by name,
And in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring.
Those children all flew into the arms of their King,
And as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace,
One small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face.
And as if He could read all the questions she had,
He gently whispered to her, "I'll take care of Mom and Dad."
Then He looked down on earth, the world far below,
He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe.
Then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,
"Let My power and presence re-enter this land!"
"May this country be delivered from the hands of fools."
"I'm taking back my nation. I'm taking back my schools!"
Then He and the children stood up without a sound.
"Come now my children, let me show you around."
Excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran.
All displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.
And I heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,
"In the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT."

Written by Cameo Smith, Mt. Wolf, PA

The students and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School who lost their lives will forever be remembered. May they rest in peace. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wow! Did You Know??

For the past few weeks, we have been studying expository texts. I refer to them as "expository" texts rather than just general "non-fiction" because it gives a more specific reference to the type of non-fiction we are reading. Anywho, I have been having an absolute blast learning right along with the kiddos!

I have been reading my few fav find, Strategies That Work, and I was reminded that- duh- kids should be directing their learning and asking the questions, not me. It's crazy how we lose sight of the basics when we feel the crunch of stress and testing! The authors of the book provide some great sentence starters to help kids write down the information they learn when they read expository texts. By the way, this book is full of great information. It's a must-read for any reading teacher. A blog post about this book will be coming soon :)


It is true that expository texts provide a wealth of information and can sometimes be hard for kiddos to grasp, and that kids need to understand the importance of text features and how they help readers comprehend, but most importantly- kids need to realize that you can learn so much COOL stuff from reading expository texts!!! At the end of the day, I want my kiddos to crave reading more expository books so they can fill their minds with interesting facts about our world and quench their curiosity.

To stimulate that excitement, and to tie in text features, I created a little recording sheet that my kiddos will be using to record their learning when reading expository texts. Kids use sticky notes in my room to record their learning, but I like the idea of having a central place where all of their thoughts can be stored on one page.

We will use this together as a class when we read a text, but I am also thinking about putting it in a station. It's versatile! I am going to have the kiddos glue the small cards in their reader response journals to serve as prompts for recording their learning and laminate the larger poster for the station and to hang in the room. The note sheet provides a place for the students to record the facts they learned, take note of the text features the author used, as well as record questions they still have about that topic.

If you would like your own copy, click any of the pictures below:






Tomorrow, we are reading about animals and how they use a variety of tools. I can't wait to hear the kids' reactions and read the cool facts they write down!

Now to finish my growing mountain of laundry and get ready for the days ahead. Just a few more weeks until a long, relaxing break! Hang in there!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hello Engagement!!


After seeing Rachel's post on Facebook, I decided to write a quick description of one of my all-time favorite activities that works well for any subject at any part of the day.

Whenever you feel like the kids need a break, you need to transition, or you just need a breather, it's time to bust out the quiz-quiz-trade cards!

Quiz-Quiz-Trade is a strategy that was created by Kagan Cooperative Learning. You can check out their website here. They have written several grade specific and content specific books with loads of ideas on how to use cooperative learning in the classroom- and LOTS of resources already made! They are AMAZING!!! Every strategy is created with engagement AND social skills in mind.

Here's how it works:

Every kid in the class gets a card. One one side of the card is a question of some sort. You can really make this in any form. I have used elaborate cards with typed up questions with answer choices and I have also used cards with just a single vocabulary word - the choice is yours. On the other side of the card is the answer the the question or the definition if you choose to go the vocabulary route.

On your call, students stand up and hold their hands in the air. They find a partner and high-five them. They greet their partner by saying "Hi, partner." Did I mention this a great way to incorporate social skills??! Give students a cue about which person will quiz first- longer hair, taller partner, etc.

The partner who goes first holds the question side of their card out to their partner. The partner reads the question (or whatever information is included on the card) out loud and answers the question. If they answer the question incorrectly, I tell my students they must tip before they tell the answer. They must use phrases like, "Good try, try again, " or, "that was a good try, try again." When the partner gets the answer correct, the partner asking the question provides a praise. We made a poster of "Ways to Praise" that lists different ideas the students can choose from to praise their partner. The next partner then repeats the process by holding up their card, tipping if needed, and praising after an answer is provided.

After both partners have quizzed each other (hence the "quiz-quiz" part of the title), they trade cards. They then high-five their partner again, tell them "Bye, partner," put their hand in the air and move to find a new partner, taking their new card with them and repeating the process over and over until the signal is given to stop.

I cannot tell you how amazing this strategy is. The kids are 100% engaged and they can go at it for several minutes at a time. It is PERFECT for those pesky transition periods where you need to pass out materials, take up papers, or just take a second to breathe! You can do this with any content. It is so versatile!

I wish I had more pictures to share- I will try to take some tomorrow and share more resources!









Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gingerific!

Well, I partially reached my goal. I had imagined making a mega gingerbread pack with math and language arts stuff... but then reality hit! You know the feeling?! So, what I have instead is a word work pack- still with a gingerbread theme!



If you are interested, this pack includes five word work activities, all with super adorable gingerbread graphics. Antonyms, synonyms, homophones, contractions, and prefixes and suffixes are included. I just finished printing, cutting, and laminating so they are ready to go! Click the picture to check it out in my store. :)

I hope you had a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving!!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Time to Breathe!

Well, friends, it's time to take a little break! Ah! An entire week to step back, reevaluate, and PLAN! It is hard for me to truly stay away from school stuff, so with this break, my work is just beginning!

I LOVE this time of year. I especially love all the seasonal fun that can be brought into the classroom.  Something about having cute centers and clip art on worksheets makes everything more enjoyable!

If you love gingerbread, keep your eyes peeled because sometime within the next week (yes, I'm saying it here so I can hold myself to that deadline!) I will be posting a new gingerbread-themed pack with math AND literacy center stuff plus some random gingerbread-y things!

For now, I have a little gingery synonym game to offer. It's free! Click on the picture to get your copy!



I hope all of you have a fabulous Thanksgiving!!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sailing Through Text Features!

Last week, we started our unit on expository texts. I love this time of year because we get to read all kinds of wonderful texts and learn lots of interesting facts! Before we could dive completely into expository texts, we took a few days to examine the text features authors use to help readers better understand texts.

To show the kiddos just how important text features are, I first gave them an article to read that had no added text features- just the title and the words. I used an article from one of my Scholastic News issues and just typed it up- no pictures, no color. The kids read through the article with a partner and we discussed what we read and found evidence that the text was in fact expository. This particular article was about a kid who survived the Joplin tornado and sparked lots of interesting discussion. :)


After the conversation ceased, I told them I had a second article I wanted them to read. I passed out a "new" article- which in fact was the exact SAME text but as it appeared in the Scholastic News Magazine- text features, colors, and all. By the way, if you don't have access to Scholastic News, it is definitely worth the money! They are wonderful!  The kids started reading and a few seconds in recognized that it was the same article!! Lots of kiddos said 'Hey! This is the same thing!" I gave my best, "Are you sure?" look asked the kids to explain how this was the same article. It looked completely different!!


And so began our discussion of text features!

We talked about which of the two texts the kids would be drawn to read if they had the choice- the text with no pictures and color or the one with. Of course, they all exclaimed emphatically that they would choose the colorful one. We had wonderful conversation about why they would choose that one and why an author would take all the extra time and energy to add all of those wonderful extras to the article. I was  pleasantly surprised to hear their insightful answers. The kids had a great appreciation for text features after our discussion!

Once the idea of text features was introduced, we dove into to studying the most common text features readers come across. We read a different article, also from Scholastic News (oh, how I love those things!) and as we read, we added the text features we came across to our 'Sailing Through Text Features' book. The kids cut out the features they saw and glued them underneath the description. The kids enjoyed getting to add their own examples to their books and anytime we bust out the scissors and the glue you can guarantee excitement! If you would like to take a look at this book, you can check it out here.



This year, I wanted to focus more on headings as important text features. Headings are such wonderful tools that help readers make predictions, quickly find information, and understand the important ideas in sections of text. At the end of last year, our team had the idea to cut up an entire article and have the kiddos reassemble it and match the text features to the different parts of the article. I loved this idea and I was so excited to try it this year. I knew that I wanted to focus on headings, so I chose an article that would force the kids to match sections of text with the proper headings.

The kiddos received baggies with pieces of an article cut up. They had to reassemble the article and match the sections of text with the correct headings.



 It was a hit! The kids had to read carefully and think about where each heading belonged and explain why. This article was tricky and required the kids to recognize key words and details that matched the text to the appropriate heading. They were so proud when they had the article fully assembled!





In the coming weeks as we read more challenging texts, the kids will repeat this activity with a longer article with several sections of text that need to be matched to headings. Also in the coming weeks, we will continue our study of expository texts and become expository experts using strategies like drawing conclusions, finding cause and effect relationships, and finding main ideas! Fun times to come!

Two more days and then a week-long break! Can I make it?! I hear Dory singing loud and clear, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!" Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Whirlwind Trip- and a Big Win!

Well, we are back in H-Town after a fast and furious weekend trip to Chicago! We had been looking forward to this trip for so long, and it turned out to be better than we could have ever imagined!

We started off by doing a little sight-seeing around the city. Our hotel was in the PERFECT location and everything was within walking distance. Of course we had to see the infamous 'Bean' in Millennium Park...




 and we enjoyed the beautiful architecture of the city as we cruised along the Chicago River.







The bridges amazed me- we actually went under one RIGHT as it was closing- to say I was nervous is a huge understatement!! Thank goodness those men knew what they were doing!


After the cruise, we headed over to the famous Gino's East Pizzeria for some Chicago deep dish! It was well worth the wait!!




We walked along the Magnificent Mile- and yes it was magnificent! It would have been even more magnificent if I had an entire day and an unlimited budget to shop! But, it was still fun to window shop!

We took a much longer than expected walk along a path that followed Lake Michigan and headed to Navy Pier. It was beautiful! We had a nice crisp breeze and amazing views as we walked (minus the incredible amounts of duck doo doo on the sidewalk- you can see all the brown spots in the picture below). :)






Navy Pier was huge! I'm sure we walked for at LEAST a mile down that pier- if not, it sure felt like it! We had a great ride on the Ferris Wheel and enjoyed the view of the city at night. Gorgeous!



But of course, the highlight of the trip, and the reason for the trip in the first place, was the Texans game at Solider Field. As I mentioned earlier, we had been looking forward to this trip since October, when I gave Jeff this trip as his birthday present. For weeks, I had envisioned us wearing our Texans gear, wrapped up cozily enjoying the game with a cool breeze in the air. What we got was NOT that. What we got was W.E.T. Plain. Old. Wet!

We spent a good amount of the day on Sunday enjoying some drinks and watching both the other NFL games AND the ominous black clouds overtake the city. As game time grew nearer, the more nervous I got. I kept looking out the window as the sky darkened and I just knew it would be horrendous weather.

As we walked toward the stadium, the rain started and it did. not. stop. Ever. At all! Of course we were beside ourselves with excitement from being in the famous Soldier Field! It was so elegant all lit up for Veteran's Day.




Surprisingly, there were a ton of other Texans fans roaming the stadium decked out in their gear. We made our way to our seats (which were 12 rows up from the field-yes, be jealous!) and watched the team warm up.


My man, JJ Watt, was warming up on the field. He was SO going to come over and get in the picture with me, but then he got busy.... ha! I can only imagine! This is as close as I could get without jumping the rail (which I totally could have done!)


We got to see a lot of the players up pretty close before the game started. It was awesome! Barwin is HUGE!!


And through it all, it rained. Not a downpour- just a steady, non-stop, never-ending, relentless (did I use enough adjectives here to capture it?!) drizzle. Luckily, we had stopped by a local Target earlier in the day to pick up some rain suits. The flimsy ponchos we brought from home would NOT have cut it! We may have looked like we were skiing, but they sure did help keep us semi-dry!!



We were surrounded by Bears fans and I was nervous at first, but they were very polite. Of course, they didn't have much to say after we got the win! The game was absolutely awesome! I had to quiet Jeff a few times to ensure we didn't get punched, but besides that, we cheered our team to victory! It was incredible! Excuse the blurry pictures, I was so afraid of ruining my phone in the rain!




We stayed after to congratulate the team as they made their way back into the locker rooms.



It was such an amazing night. We are so proud of our Texans and how hard they fought, even through the annoying rain!

Now it's back to reality and the daily grind tomorrow! A few more days of fun with the kiddos and then we get a break for Thanksgiving!!

Have a great week and congratulations to all you Texans fans!!!