Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day

Today was the day students returned to school. I have a large class--26, I don't mind it, but our line to go anywhere is just never-ending! :) They seem like a really bright, fun group of munchkins. Some of my favorite moments:

1) We made a school bus snack and the child asked for the graham "crapper"-yes, I'm easily amused :).

2) I was told numerous time how pretty I was-my hair, my skirt, my earrings, my hair--you get the picture. If they were older kids I'd think they were kissing up to get good grades, but I know it's just the innocence of Kindergarteners.

3) I asked some really good higher-level thinking questions during our story and they had good answers.  

4) I had many volunteers to be helpers.

5) I think we are really on our way to establishing a classroom community.

6) Many left saying they loved their new class. Sometimes getting them to come back day #2 is harder. Students who have never been to school before don't always realize this is going to be  regular occurrence. :)

7) I got the best e-mail from a parent --I had her daughter in my class several years ago and she said she was really happy I now was going to teach her son. That her daughter still thinks of me as her favorite teacher and she does too. Have to print that out to refer to later.

Overall a really good day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Too Good Not To Share

My sister sent me this blog post and I thought it was really heartwarming-especially for those of us who teach the little ones. Don't be discouraged by the title of the article--it's not what it sounds like, trust me! :)

They really do put you on a pedestal. I had some former students come visit yesterday during our Meet-and-Greet night-I love seeing them grow up and am very glad they still remember me fondly! :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Classroom Photos (Finally!)

I know I'm a little late to the party, but it took me awhile to put the finishing touches on my room. (Honestly, there are always finishing touches to still work on-and please do not look in my closets)! I tried to incorporate the Wizard of Oz in every nook and cranny.

What do you think?

My Word Wall

Close-up--the students can take the words to their seats to use in their writing or with workstation activities.

The Library

I'm going to use yoga for brain breaks this year.

Workstation materials-still not really organized yet.

For their leveled readers-I put copies of the decodable books in the pockets so the kids can read books on their level during independent reading time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A New Kind of Parent Communication

So I  was in our pre-service training this week and one of the teachers was talking about how she did dialogue journals with her students each week. And it hit me---why not try to do them with parents???? I could send the little composition book (decorated of course) home on Friday and ask them to read and respond at one point in the weekend. I could give them direct feedback on what we did over the week, anecdotes about what their child said or did and then what we were working on.

Has anyone ever done anything like this? Did it work? I don't often get feedback from parents regularly, but the more I thought about it, I really didn't ask for it either. This would be a way to communicate with questions/comments that come up throughout the year.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Keeping Them Challenged

I was putting together a presentation for our pre-service and thought I'd share some of the ideas that I was using. I've posted some of them before.

With all the reading adoptions and programs we are required to use, sometimes that rigor gets lost in the shuffle. I am very lucky to have an administration that allows us to "supplement" and not follow the scripted curriculum verbatim. We see kids with such a range of abilities and we are doing them a disservice with that one-size-fits-all mentality.

Anyway, as I start to plan for the new year I have a few things I keep in mind:

1) Make critical thinking fun! It doesn't have to be a chore. Give the kids an object and let them come up with a new use for it. Pencils and crayons are perfect for this in the beginning of the year. I do it a lot with holidays as well. You can start as a whole group discussion and move on to something they can do themselves.

2) Give it a new twist: after reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See we do one whole group for school-Miss Trayers, Miss Trayers, What Do You See and then the students make up their own. So this is one that's Comfy Couch, Comfy Couch--and all the things it sees is furniture.

3) Use open-ended questions to introduce a topic. When we talk about the leaves changing for fall, I ask the kids to come up with a creative reason why they change-not a scientific reason, but a creative one-it can be silly. They will say fairies paint the leaves, or something to that effect. And then I will tell them the real reason. It can be anything-why do ladybugs have spots? What happened to the dinosaurs? Where do rainbows come from? What do cats dream about?

4) Do art with them. I know I've posted this before, but it's so important that they learn how to be creative. Let them choose what color to paint the sky. Let them express their vision.

5)  Give them time to play. I know this is controversial today. Kids love to construct things. You can make it rigorous by giving them pictures of actual buildings or setting parameters of using certain shapes. Where will the future architects come from? Not to mention, it's just plain fun for them.

Just look at the masterpiece below and tell me that was not a challenge to build!

6) Use different products. Have them do an interview or make a commercial. Make dioramas and trioramas. Create books. Write skits. Draw blueprints. Make comic strips. Write a song. They can do it! Even in Kindergarten. We want to instill in them a passion for learning and seatwork is all pencil-and-paper--that doesn't work for many kids. Plus I love seeing kids who struggle academically excel in activities that are varied this way. It gives them confidence.

I do a lot of these things selfishly--I just love to see what they come up with. Often they think of ideas I never even considered. Let your kids show you what they can do! :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

How Perfect!

So I was planning on using Mr. Potato Head to collect compliments for my class. When we completed his face, we'd celebrate with a popcorn party or something. It's been on my list to pick one up, but I keep forgetting-I go back to start pre-service on Monday, so I thought, I'll just order one from Amazon.

Look what I found there! How perfect for my theme! :)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Well, Got Some Bulletin Boards Done Anyway....

Let me preface this by saying I am not very good at bulletin boards. I love coming up with ideas for them, titles for them, shopping for borders, but when it comes to actually putting them up-it takes me forever to get it right. The paper is always just inches too short. The border corners don't match up. The letters aren't straight. My wonderful mother came in to help me out today and they came out better than they ever have, although for me, that's not saying much. :) Here's what we came up with:

This is the board just outside the door.

                                                       I know I'm still missing a letter (and the dot over the "i")-I'm going to have to make another "e" somehow. Still debating whether I like the fence border.

I am in love with my Word Wall! The kids take the balloons (where the words will be) to their seats to 
use in their writing, so it's interactive.

Obviously not quite done yet-ignore the tubs and workbooks! But at least the furniture isn't still piled up in 
a heap in the corner. :)

What do you think? I definitely feel a little better-our Meet-and-Greet is Wednesday and meetings Mon-Thurs all day-so no time in-between besides this week to the room. It was making me very anxious!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Today's Project

You may not know this, but I'm one of those people who loves to look at crafts of things people made, but I'm not really very crafty myself. I admire and say I'd love to do that, but I know it will never happen. I love to paint, to create-just not very good at it.

I've seen lots of first day pics where people make frames that the kids hold up for a photo. I'm thinking since so many parents like to take pictures on the first day, this year I'm going to try that idea. My theme being the Wizard of Oz, this is what I came up with (it's just a plain wooden frame that I painted-I tried to get my dog Ruby to pose in it, but she wasn't having it-no kids to try it out with) :

I know the lettering is not perfect (believe me, it wasn't for lack of trying-I repainted the white many times! :). But I think it will serve its purpose. The first picture in the kids' portfolios can be them inside a rainbow instead of over it! 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Classroom Management Idea

It always amazes me where teachers can find inspiration. I was flipping channels today and an episode of Supernanny was on (love her, by the way). She was telling the kids about a something they could make to send to their grandparents, but I think I'm going to do it this year for management.

I always keep track of"superstars"-the kids can earn stickers on their chart for behavior above and beyond. The reward is eating lunch with me in the classroom on Fridays (don't ask me why that's an award to them :) or taking home our stuffed "buddy" for the night. Now I know some don't believe in reward systems, however, I feel like most of our attention is put on kids who are misbehaving and we reward them immensely when they actually do behave. I feel badly for those kiddos who are always doing the right thing and not always getting credit for it. 

This year,  I'm going to use cut-outs:

Draw lines on it to make squares. When all the squares are full I'm going to put a stamp on the back and mail it to their homes. It's a positive note home with a twist! They love getting mail and what a way to show off their excellent behavior. I'm excited to try it out.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Welcome Letters

Do you send something out to your kiddos before school starts? I feel really lucky this year because usually our rosters aren't ready until the last minute, so we can't do this. Sending out a letter on cute kid-paper and a puzzle piece for them to decorate and bring in the 1st day. Hey, perfect for filling up those bulletin boards right away!  Hopefully the letters will allay some first-day jitters, the parents will at least know who their child's teacher is.

We officially go back on the 20th for pre-service week, but I'm super-anxious because our Meet-and-Greet will be 2 days later. I don't know about you guys, but we don't have time to go work on our rooms during those first few days of meetings. I was going to go in early and work on it anyway, but it's no fun having such an important deadline. I want to get the room done, but I also want to do it right and organize. I know myself, I can get it to look nice, but don't open up any of the closets! :) Getting in and purging what I don't need is an important step-I know I won't do it later on during the school year! But it will all come together. I'm excited to get my Wizard of Oz theme up-I've had a ton of borders in my trunk since June--that's not like obsessive, is it? :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Keep Art In Schools

That's a bumper sticker or something, right? I don't know about you guys, but our kids do not get enough exposure to art. We no longer have an art teacher for our ancillary rotations. With all the emphasis on preparing for state tests, with rising accountability-I see more and more teachers straying away from incorporating art.

Our district curriculum doesn't include art at all-even for early childhood. I know that the state has standards for it, however, it's not considered something important or in some cases, even something acceptable to spend time on. But of course, I've been teaching long enough that I can be kind of a rebel. *innocent smile*

Art is one of my passions! I could spend all day in a museum. I took an Art History class in college my senior year as an elective, if I would have taken it my freshman year, I might have changed majors! :) I really cannot resist imparting that on my students. My kids know who Michelangelo and Rivera are. By the end of the year I can say-make a collage or watercolor a picture and they know exactly what that means for them to do.

I think if we want kids to have creative minds when it comes to problem-solving or writing-it starts with artistic expression. Now, I'm not talking about a craft (where the teacher cuts out all the pieces and the students glue it together and all the products look the same-I don't have a problem with those kinds of activities, however, that's not art). I'm talking about kids creating what their imaginations allow them to create-there are no rules in art in my classroom. One of the things I love about doing art projects with kids is seeing the variety of ideas they come up with! Where to start? Here are some ideas:

1) Self-portraits--love these! Paint them, make collages of them, use leaves and sticks from a nature hike, use snacks (they even make these curly-cue cheetos now that are perfect for hair!). Self-portraits make great additions to portfolios and if you do them on a monthly basis-you can see remarkable progress.

2) Watercolor-this is not a messy activity-water and paint. The kids are fascinated by the way the water turns colors, they love mixing colors to make new colors-let them experiment a little bit. I love seeing their faces as they paint. By the way, I have had many a student who have never even held a paintbrush before (one tried to paint with the plastic end of the brush)-so you do have to go over everything in the beginning, but they pick it up very quickly.

3) Clay-there's more to art than paintings. Show them some famous sculptures-let them create a Dr. Suess character or a new kind of insect. Talk about hands-on learning!

(this is a new candy they invented after reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

4) Collages-now this one, they have to develop patience for. I would start with something small like their face or a penguin. Some get frustrated with tearing paper and really want to cut it-I let them do it. Some just glue huge pieces on and say "I'm done"--I let them do it. But some of them will come up with really unique, beautiful mosaics. 

(you can use all kinds of different materials-these are snowmen-sometimes they go a little crazy with the beads and bobbles-but it's their vision).

(dyed macaroni shells)

5) Painting with various things-cutting vegetables or fruits to paint with, leaves/rocks-it can go along with your units. Kids are taught that they can use unconventional things to make art. I want them to be at the beach over the summer and see a seashell and think-I could paint something cool with that. It stays with them!

Will it be a little messy? Absolutely. But everything is washable and I tell the parents in the beginning, the more messy an activity, the more fun it was, right? 

And when I have to justify doing an art project to the standardized-data-police, I can always state a writing objective-they just write about what they made. :)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How To Hook 'Em

And yes, I am in Texas, but I'm sorry, not referring to the UT gesture:

I'm referring to how to "hook" the attention of kids so they are engaged in a lesson!

So I sat down to actually get some planning done today. I didn't get very far...:). I just can't get my brain into that back-to-school mode yet-I'm not sure why.

One thing I do want to change this year is to plan a lesson better beginning to end. Teaching Kinder I know we have jam in a bunch of objectives to each lesson (I think I counted 154 reading objectives just in the 1st 9 weeks of our curriculum :0 ). Between you, me and the lamppost, I "wing it" in lessons way too often. :) I want to clarify better before the lesson exactly what we are going to be learning about-remember lesson cycles---an opening. These are some openers I hope to implement this year.

1) Puppets! Going along with learning also being fun-what kiddo can resist a puppet to introduce a concept. Here are just a few examples of some to make. I do have a cache of leftover felt and craft foam, this is a perfect use for it!

Perfect for introducing a character to them or a unit concept like spiders!

2) Video clips: I don't think we take advantage of these as much as we could because we feel like if they are "watching tv" then it's not a learning activity. But let's face it, these kids are the digital generation! Sometimes it's the only way to "hook" 'em! There are many, many choices out there-we all know YouTube, TeacherTube and Discovery. This is a new one I discovered-some of the videos look a little boring, but it goes along with my philosophy of incorporating "wonder" into our class:

3)  Cartoons and comic strips. I will fully admit it-growing I would sit beside my parents reading the newspaper and this was the ONLY section I would read. Sometimes you really have to think to figure out the joke. If I was introducing a dinosaurs unit-maybe something like this....

4) Podcasts-even though it's just listening-there are sooooo many out there on soooo many different topics. One idea would even be to have an older student from another class record something or a student in your class who is considered an "expert" on that topic. Great even just to review--yesterday, we went over strategies for comprehension-let's listen to Johnny describe what we learned.

5) Photographs-it may be the amateur photographer in me, but I LOVE to use photographs in the classroom. In math you could show a pizza cut into pieces illustrating fractions--the ideas are just limitless.

6) Storytelling. I have been reading so many awesome ideas in blog posts this summer, I am inspired to incorporate this activity more often. Kids are natural born storytellers and story-listeners. I can't tell you how many of my parents know the name of my dog, not because I talk about her to them, but because I'm always telling stories to the kids. Maybe Ruby can be turned into some sort of superhero this year!

What are some unique ways you introduce lessons? I'm really looking for some fresh ideas!