Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fabulous Finds!

Happy Easter!!

I am so excited to be sharing with you some of the amazing things I found this weekend.

My family and I go every 6 months to an antique fair in Warrenton, Texas, a small town just past Round Top. People come from all over the country to sell their treasures from the past and present. I gear up with a giant bag of delicious freshly-popped kettle corn and a sweet tea snow cone, put on my most comfortable tennis shoes and hit the gravel for three days of junk huntin'! Imagine row after row of this:

... that basically sums up the experience!

I love this place so much because you never know quite what you will find. People sell furniture, food, clothes, these creepy baby doll heads... I know, I had no words either.

But no matter where I go, I am always drawn to the same thing- school books from the past- or anything to do with education for that matter. I am highly intrigued by the kinds of things kids from different periods in time learned, how they learned it, in what kind of setting it was learned, how it was practiced, tested, you get the picture. I love to study which educational trends have come and gone and why, and just how the nature of 'school' itself has evolved over the years. I collect old school books, teacher's guides, practice books, all of it. As you can tell, I'm kind of a nerd. :)

So, one morning as I was meandering through booths of random stuff, I found these amazing treasures to add to my collection-  and I wanted to share them with you!

First up, I found these super cool (and super old) math problem cards. The title on the box read "A Thousand Regents' Questions in Arithmetic."

 I was immediately curious and upon looking inside, I found that it contained 1,000 math problems, each color coded by topic. The box said they were made for the University of the State of New York in 1880- yes- 1880!!! I was so excited to find this! I have never seen anything even remotely similar to this. Gold!

The problems inside were very complex. Here is a sample of two of them:

I was amazed at the level of difficulty- and this stuff had to be done without a calculator! I would not even want to attempt to do some of the problems in this box.

I also found a grammar book called Fun with Words: Step by Step in English. The inside cover said it was used by the state of Texas in 1940- neat!

I love how the book is written directly to the student, just like a teacher would be talking. I found this page about asking questions and it cracked me up! It talked about how there is a difference between asking a good question and a bad question. A good question is one that is polite and a bad question is one that could potentially hurt someone's feelings. Check out this excerpt- love it!

My favorite book find, though, was this book called Rural School Management from 1924. I stood in the booth flipping through the pages debating whether or not to buy it, working up my courage to negotiate the price- which I never do too well- and I decided that I just had to have it- and I was willing to pay full price! No need to haggle for this gem!

The book is written with the intended audience to be the teacher- that ONE woman who would be running the one room school house and teaching children from rural areas ALL the subjects in ALL the grades 1-8 in the state of Iowa. I cannot wait to read it. The women who were able to do this were simply amazing.

Knowing that this book was in the hands of the real women who tackled this feat gives me chills.

While reading the first few pages, I came across this paragraph in a section that was describing the characteristics of a great teacher of rural children, but it so perfectly describes what every teacher does that I just had to share it.

Is that not the most eloquent description of teaching you have ever read? I am hooked. I will be snuggling up with my blanket and this book tonight and inhaling that wonderful musty smell that can only come from an aged book :) No Kindle for this girl!  I told you I was a nerd!

Besides old books, I also found another fabulous item and I cannot wait to share it with my kiddos!

Apart from being a book nerd, I am also a rock lover! I love rocks- geology in general. I love that our small little planet can produce such amazing formations and transform the landscape in such spectacular ways. For a day or so I actually thought about changing my degree from education to geology because I am so fascinated by it all. Anyway, I digress...

In the middle of two booths selling massive architectural pieces, I found... an intact geode!! I have been wanting one of these since I was a little girl. I have collected several small pieces of geodes over the years, but I have never owned an entire rock that has yet to be cracked open! I found a guy that was selling all kinds of interesting rocks. He had the already cracked open geodes, but I was only interested in this baby: my very own geode!!

He had a big crate full of them and I got to pick out my very own! He even gave me a discount when he found out I was a teacher and my mom gave him the "it's for the kids" speech. Love it! I'm tellin' ya, sometimes we just have to pull the teacher card!  I felt like a kid in a candy store! Inside this baby will be thousands of tiny sparking quartz crystals! Hopefully it will look something like this..

I'm wanting to crack it open with the kiddos, so I should have a good time figuring out how to make that happen without a kid getting an eye knocked out by pieces of rock.  I'm seeing a full science lab with little scientists decked out with their gear in the near future! If I'm able to pull it off, I'll post pictures for sure!!

I did manage to take my mind off of school for a while! I picked up some cute things for the house, ate some amazingly delicious food, and spent lots of quality time with the people I love. It was a great weekend!

Now on to something that YOU can actually use-

I was blog-browsing, catching up on all of my reading after three days with no internet, and found these two great resources that AMC at Looking From Third to Fourth shared in her post about writing workshop last Wednesday. The link above will take you to her post where you can read about how she organizes her writing workshop materials- great stuff!

First: A personal thesaurus for kids to use when they write. This booklet contains synonyms for those all-too-commonly-used words like 'said,' 'walk,' 'talk,' you get the idea. You can print it free from
this website. The teacher who originally posted this - Mrs. Saunders- also shares some other great resources on her website.

Second: My Quick Word Dictionary- a booklet with pages for each letter of the alphabet (some pages have more than one letter) with frequently misspelled words and blanks to add words of your own. You can print it here from Lee's Summit School District Resources Website. This site also has some other good stuff for reading and writing that's worth looking through.

I'll be putting these two resources to use this week! Thanks again for sharing, AMC!

Well, it's nice and dark and the rain is pouring. I'm headed to my chair with my book and blanket. If I come across anything else in Rural School Management that's interesting, I'll be sure to share!!

Have a great rest of your Sunday!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Quick post today:

I'm planning on doing some work with my kids this week on providing supporting details for particular ideas in a text. They are still struggling on those wonderful questions that start with "Which of the following support that idea that..." Hopefully this organizer will help make that question a little easier to understand. I will create multiple choice questions that align with the organizer so the students can see the correlation. My apologies for the crummy picture quality!

Supporting Details

We will also be working on determining a character's feelings using direct and indirect clues in a story. We will be using the following organizer I changed a bit from this post from Get in the Fold. This one fits my kids a bit better than the original.

Character's Feelings

These organizers are versatile for any text! Click on the links above each sheet if you would like a copy for yourself!

Thanks to the wonderful Krista Wallden for the super cute borders and clip art! Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

You may be slightly confused by the title of this post- because by the most wonderful, I mean the LEAST wonderful time of year- we are in the midst of testing season, folks. To say I am excited is the absolute opposite of how I feel.

This is the time of year that we teachers dread- the time when that one little test looms and puts a damper on our mood, as much as we try to have it not affect us. Testing-related material is popping up all over TpT and Pinterest. Whether it comes in small batches or large ones, and as much as we try to pretend that testing is not the true focus, or try to cover it up or smooth it over with cute themes and clip art- it is still the focus. It has to be. That's reality. Our schools depend on our success on The Test.

Not all of our students come to school happy and healthy with all of their needs met. Some of them are lucky to have their parents home with them at night consistently and even if they are, parents who work three jobs to feed the other eleven mouths in the house can hardly be expected to sit down and read with each child. The situation I just described is a best-case scenario compared to what some of our kids deal with at home. Our kids who need the most help and parental support are the ones who are least likely to get it. Our students have bigger concerns on a daily basis that are greater than any one test. Now, I am not saying that these are the circumstances for every single child in our classrooms, they are not. Many of our  students have wonderful home lives.  But for some, these are the realities.

Some of you may think I'm lamenting- I'm not. Our students' current circumstances do not determine who they are or what they are capable of and in no way does it make any type of behavior acceptable. It doesn't mean that the expectations should be any lower for them. I believe in holding all students to a high level of achievement. What it does mean, though, is that while we teach students about inferences and character development, some are also learning to handle difficult situations- and that eventually affects their learning.

I say of all that to say this: This year, we are choosing to avoid any of the pre-test rituals we have observed in the past. We are approaching test prep with a grain of perspective. No big cutesy-themed "blitz" the week before the test, no bribe-based systems to get students to use their strategies and remember testing strategy chants, none of that. We will prepare them in a way that will help them be successful, but that will not portray a message that "they have been working all year for this one test." That is not what they have been working for. They have been working all year to become better readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists. They have been working to make sure they have opportunities to escape the lives they are currently living and ensure that they have a brighter future ahead of them. They are working to better themselves.

Most of you have already seen this cartoon, but it so perfectly summarizes the challenges we face as educators. Although this cartoon is a reference to standardized tests and how ridiculous it seems to expect a fish to climb a tree, we can instead view reaching the top of the tree as the ultimate goal- success for all students.

We are accountable for The Test.  I accept that. However, when a student walks in my classroom three months into the school year with dirty clothes, not a single school supply, and can barely read Hop on Pop, that child's true success will never be measured by any standardized test. That child is the fish that I must teach to climb a tree. Teaching all of our students – our fish, our elephants, and our seals, to reach the top is the ultimate goal – and hey, if they pass a few tests along the way, all the better!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Bit of Randomness

Warning: this post is random. I have some thoughts that don't necessarily go together, but also don't warrant separate posts. :)

First off, I wanted to post an update about our Knowledgable Knight activity. I created this activity a few weeks ago but we finally had the opportunity to do it last week. It was a hit! We were learning about silent letters, so to make things interesting, we pretended that the words had escaped from the Kingdom of Knowledge and had to be captured. I cut up word cards- some with words that contained silent letters, some without- and hid them under Easter grass. The Easter grass served as our 'forest' and the kids had to dig the words out and bring them back to the Knowledgeable Knight. It's amazing what a little Easter grass can do! This activity took a lot to prepare, but it was worth it seeing the kids' faces. Even my struggling readers were really focusing to recognize those silent letters! I think I may be pulling out the ol' Easter grass more often!

In other news, my blurt alert cards are working well. I decided that if a student collects more than three blurt alert cards in one day, they earn a lunch detention. My main target student has only earned one lunch detention once so far- so they are working. I love the visual reminder they give. Let's hope they keep working their magic!

Moving on....

This week we took mock tests to help prepare the kiddos for our state assessment in a few weeks. If you are in a testing grade level, you know how incredibly long and boring these days are- desks in rows and columns, no talking, no conference, lunch with the kids... blah. My kiddos did pretty well on the test- I was quite impressed! Some could have done better, but overall I was very pleased.

I say all of that to say this... today while we were taking a restroom break- which I hate doing with a burning passion and we only do on testing days like this- we were in the first grade hallway to sidestep the traffic jam in our third grade hall. In between holding my breath because the overwhelming stench of urine and walking on my tiptoes to avoid getting mysterious goo on my shoes, I witnessed something pretty incredible.

First of all, let me tell you about this one student of mine that has been very near and dear to my heart this year- I'll call him Ted. Ted came to me a few weeks into the school year significantly behind. He struggles in reading and struggles greatly in math. He is thoughtful, which takes time, and although others will produce an answer much quicker, when he finally pieces his thoughts together, he can come up with something pretty profound. I love this kid to pieces.

Anywho, while we were in the hallway, he asked me if he could go to his sister's classroom because she was in trouble and the teacher had asked him to come and speak to her about her behavior. This had never happened before, so I was a little hesitant. After asking a few questions, I let him go. He knocked on the door very politely, stuck his head in, and waited for his sister to come out. When she did, I saw the most beautiful sight.

Ted looked down at his sister with the most serious, yet still gentle, look and said, "What are you doin' in there?" The sister was obviously ashamed and was avoiding eye contact. He went on to explain to her, "You know you are here to learn not to play. You know you're probably goin' to get a whoopin' tonight.' He went on to talk to her and get her back on the right track- raised eyebrows and all. He was never abrasive, just steady and firm. I stood in awe. To see this kid take such an assertive role with his little sister, to first of all accept the larger responsibility of going to talk to her in the first place when he could have easily avoided it, made me so proud.

 I am again reminded of how important it is to see my students as people and to recognize those hidden leadership qualities in them. On a day when it would have been so easy for me to ignore this interaction, to look the other way and shush the others in line for the restroom- I am reminded of my larger purpose to not only be a role model, but develop role models.

Having this experience with Ted today and my experience with my negotiator last week makes my heart swell and renews my passion for my job. Yes, it is important to prepare my students to be successful for tests, but it is so much more important for me to develop them into honorable people and help them be the best they can be.  I owe a certain first grade teacher a HUGE thank you for giving Ted the opportunity to shine and I am so thankful I was there to witness it.

In this stressful time of year, I hope that those of you who experience the same stressors I face will challenge yourselves to remember your larger purpose as a teacher- to seek out qualities in your students that you may have never sought out before. Give your students an opportunity to take on a challenge you might not have presented them with in the past. I know I will be seeing Ted in a very different light from now on, and I'm excited to see what other qualities I may have overlooked in my other students.

Happy Wednesday! By the way, it's almost spring break!! :) Two. More. Days!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Our Classroom Economy and Store

This past week was super busy for me- we had a bridal shower for one of my teammates, it was Dr. Seuss Day, and for some crazy reason on Friday of the week before, I decided to start our classroom economy- not thinking about all the chaos that was coming up! Anyway, it all culminated on Friday with Dr. Seuss Day AND the opening of our class store.

Several years ago, I came across an amazing teacher who writes for Scholastic, Beth Newingham. She is simply amazing- and amazing doesn't even do her justice. You can tell how dedicated she is to her students and how she strives to make concepts relatable and fun. Her stuff has become very popular and I'm sure you already know of her! If you don't know who she is and would like to know more, you can check out her website here.

One of my most favorite things she wrote about was her classroom economy. If you would like to read more about it, you can view her post HERE.

In that post, she explains in great detail how her classroom economy works. Because economic principles are part of our third grade curriculum, I decided to start the same kind of thing in my classroom. It fulfills instructional requirements, but also provides students with real-life experiences of earning, spending, and saving money. Plus, it's a great classroom management system.

Two years ago, I started my very first classroom economy. I went all out making applications, detailed job descriptions, bought tons of items for our class store- the works. This year, it is much more condensed. :)

My students have already studied a bit on economics and we have had many discussions regarding earning, spending, and saving money, so this was the perfect time of year to introduce the classroom economy.

To begin, we brainstormed jobs that we believed would be needed in our classroom. Common things like a secretary, librarians, etc. were thought of, but my students also brought to my attention that we needed a negotiator- someone to mediate when issues arise in our classroom. This surprised me, but I loved it! Once we decided on the jobs, the kids applied for the position they wanted and thought they would be best at. In the past, I used a form that I printed up to make it seem very official. This year, to be perfectly honest, I decided to start this on an absolute whim-seriously- so the kids wrote the information down on notebook paper. They wrote their full names, age, birthday, gender, the position they were applying for, and several sentences explaining why they deserved the job and why they think they would be good at it.

***Side note: In case you are reading this and thinking how I have gone this whole year without having jobs in my classroom- I haven't. Students have been doing different jobs all year, but they never earned money. They just did various tasks out of their own willingness to help!  ****

After reading the applications, I assigned each student a job. I explained to the kids that for the first few weeks, everyone will earn the same amount of money. After we've had the system in place and everyone  has a chance to do their jobs, we will decide on a pay scale as a class. We will decide if certain jobs deserve a higher or lower amount of pay and why. For now, everyone is earning a salary of $10/week. There is no rhyme or reason for the amount- just an easy number to work with!

Throughout the week, students have the opportunity to earn extra money by earning credits. In the past, I have used this printable sheet from Beth Newingham, and maybe eventually I will go back to that, but for now, students are recording their credits and debits on an index card. Simplicity, people! Students can earn credits by being on task, following directions, and so on. Credits will be added to their paycheck amount. However, the beauty of this system is that students can also receive debits. Debits will be taken OUT of their paycheck. Students can earn debits for things like not following directions, receiving a blurt alert card, and other non-favorable behaviors. The total amount of credits they earned during the week (credits minus debits) are added to their weekly salary and are paid to them on payday. I am the only one who can give debits and credits, and I am the only one who can record them on the students' log sheets. I simply use tallies. Easy peasy. Students must keep up with their logs throughout the week. If they are lost, they must start a new one. This is a great lesson in organization and responsibility. I had one student who had earned almost ten credits during the week but lost his log before payday. You can guarantee he will keep up with his log next week!

At the end of the week, I wrote students a paycheck. Each student received a check made out to them. This template came from Beth Newingham's post.

You can grab the template for yourself HERE. They brought their check to me and received Koonce Cash for their check amount plus any credits they earned. I designed the Koonce Cash myself and printed it on colored paper. I also found a 'paid' stamp at Office Max. Each check was marked 'paid' after it was cashed. After cashing their check, the students took their money to the class store.

Our class store is made up of several items I got at Wal-Mart (bubbles, erasers, mechanical pencils, etc., some classroom coupons I downloaded for FREE from K. Dupre on TpT (you can get them HERE), and some random other items I had leftover from other years. It's a little bare now, but it will grow over the coming weeks. 

Each item is labeled with the price. I aimed to have baskets or some other sorts of containers... as you can see, that didn't happen! 

While at the store, students filled out a sheet that recorded their spending choices. They recorded whether they were buying items for themselves or for someone else, or whether they would save their money for a larger item. We had great discussions about short-term and long-term spending goals. This form also came from Beth's post. You can grab the sheet HERE.

This first time around, I was the store cashier. If a student bought something, I collected the money, made change as needed, and wrote them a receipt. I was super excited to find these sales order pads at Wal-Mart. They have the carbon copy (I know they say they are carbon-less, but I don't know how to describe the extra copy any other way- the extra copy?!) underneath, so I was able to keep one for a record of sale and give the other copy to the student as their receipt. The kids loved having a receipt and it made their shopping experience more realistic. Eventually, we will do reports analyzing various aspects of our store and our spending habits as a class. Next week, the cashier will be a student's job.

The kids stored their money, their receipts, and their spending report in their "wallet." The wallets are just envelopes with a label attached. :)

In a month or so, the kids will be completing a business project and the store will slowly evolve into one of purely student-generated products. For now, I will be stocking the shelves myself. I guess they deserve it ;) Just kidding!

This is just the beginning of many great things to come with the class economy and store. Like I said, it is a much more condensed form of the system I ran in the past, but I think I like it the way it is! It's manageable!

Do you have any suggestions on how to effectively run a classroom economy? If you have any tips or tricks, please share!!!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dr. Seuss Day!

Happy Saturday! I can't believe it is already March- seriously? I know I say this almost every post, but I just can't believe how quickly the time is flying by. It's almost spring break!!

Yesterday we celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday in our classroom. This is one of my most favorite days of the year! I love reading Dr. Seuss books to my kiddos because of the wonderful messages he sends to kids, plus, because it's poetry, it's a great way to sneak in extra practice with poetic devices! Love! Who says big kids can't have fun with Dr. Seuss?!!

One of my most favorite things to do on special days is set up the room differently than normal. I like my kids to face forward, so normally everyone is facing the front of the room and sitting in groups of two. To really shake things up and make days like this special, I move the desks to different places around the room- all spread out. Not only does it reduce the noise because students are facing in all directions, it helps keep them focused on their activity without being easily distracted by other groups. It's wonderful!

Each group of desks becomes a different station. Students move clockwise through the stations until they have visited them all. To guide the students through their day, I put together a packet that contains the directions for each station as well as a recording sheet when needed. I was so excited to find this computer paper at Party City and it made the perfect cover page! I downloaded  the Dr. Seuss font from FontSpace and whipped up the cover sheet.

I created the pages for the packet myself. I made them last year so it was nice to be able to just pull them out and copy. As students traveled to each station, they had to find the matching page in their packet and complete the response.

At one station, students read The Cat in the Hat and listed character traits for the Cat in the Hat and filled out a graphic organizer describing the setting.

At the next station, they read the book Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? and found examples of onomatopoeia.

Another station required students to read Green Eggs and Ham and answer questions about poetic devices, conflict, and theme.

At another station, students read a short biography about Dr. Seuss.

They read The Lorax,

and several other Dr. Seuss beginner books- which were great for fluency practice!

One station was a Dr. Seuss bingo game. I found the cards at Bingo Card Creator already made! Score! 


But by far, the favorite station of the day was the Cat in the Hat treat! Students had to follow the steps carefully to create their edible hat treat out of Oreos, icing, and Life Saver Gummies. I manned this station so we could discuss the importance of text features and also so I could help with that tricky icing dispenser! 


To end the day, I read my favorite Dr. Seuss book, Oh the Places You'll Go, aloud. I love the message it sends and it goes perfectly with our discussions about being proactive. 

I enjoyed this day so much. The kids didn't know it, but they WORKED! They read the entire day- even when they were making their treat! Even though these days take lots of work to prepare and set up, it's amazing to stand back and watch as students work independently through the stations. It's the kind of day that brings tears to my eyes and makes me so proud! 

We also started our classroom economy and had the grand opening of our class store- but I'll blog about that tomorrow! 

For now, I'm off to get ready for an Australian-themed gala to support my mom's service organization. Not sure what kind of outfit I'll wear... maybe I'll just go dressed as a kangaroo! Ha! 

Have a great Saturday!