Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Two For Tuesday

I love a good sale so I am linking up with Chalk One Up for the Teacher's Two for Tuesday bargain.

I have a new product in my store: a novel lapbook project.  I used it for the first time this past year and the kids really enjoyed their final products.  You can read all about it here.

My second product can be used two ways:  as a game or as task cards.  I think it is really important to build number sense with percents---and being able to quickly determine 10% and 50% of any number is a valuable skill.

 Thanks for stopping by....  :)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Back to School in a Flash: Favorites

I'm joining the Back to School in a Flash Linky Party that some great bloggers (Ramona Recommends, the Not So Wimpy Teacher, and Fancy Free in 4th) have put together.  It was hard to choose just a few things as I am a bit of a school supply collector--there are just so many great products out there!

I bought these dry erase pockets on Amazon toward the end of last year.  The kids loved to use them and I loved the fact that they were durable.  We are going to try Eureka math this year, so I think that they are really going to come in handy.   

My second favorite thing are InkJoy pens.  I love the different colors and the smooth way that they write.   Office Depot had a great sale on them last year---I am hoping that they will repeat it, so I can replenish my supply.  I am pretty hard on felt tip pens, so the ballpoint ones are a better choice for me in the long run.  

I love these composition books from Staples for our writing journals.  The covers are durable and lightweight--which is great if I ever have to take them home.  I prefer these to spiral bound notebooks because the kids don't really rip the pages out.  They are a few cents more than the standard composition book, but worth it to save me the aggravation!

It has been fun seeing teachers' favorites!   I have a few things that I have added to my Back to School shopping list.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Daily Journal Writing

Now let me preface this with a disclaimer...I hated daily journal writing as a kid.  I absolutely hated having to do it.  I don't know why.  I love to write.  When I am struggling with something, I write about it.  I enjoy writing stories and notes.  In looking back, I realize that I have always preferred written communication to oral--let me read about it or write about it instead of having to listen to it. 
So, I have never been able to put my finger on why I was so resistant to daily journal writing.  Maybe it was too open-ended for me, or maybe we were given too much time and I ran out of things to say.  I can't remember....but I do know that I didn't enjoy it.

But now, with the shoe on the other foot, I see the benefits of it.  Daily writing is a good thing for students.  It encourages them to think, to process their thoughts, to communicate.  I worry so much that my students aren't given enough opportunities to talk--especially at home.  Getting information from a pre-teenager can be difficult in the best of circumstances--especially if you are "just an adult."  But in today's society,  parents are tired from working long hours for little pay,  kids focus on screens constantly (cell phones, tablets, televisions, etc.,)  the "family dinner table" is non-existent in many of my students' homes.  

In previous years, I would have the students work on spiral reviews in math and Language Arts when they walked in the door.  I needed time to take attendance, give a few extra minutes for my tardy students, deal with those unexpected last minute things, etc.  However, I was finding that a) I was spending too much time going over them, and b) the students who needed the review weren't doing the review.  It was frustrating and didn't feel like it was a good use of time: theirs or mine.  Especially as I was going to have to redo them all to align them with the Common Core.  So, after much discussion about the pros and cons, my teammates and I decided to try a daily journal instead.  

Well, let me tell you...I loved it.  I had a few kids who were like me as a child, and they hated writing in their journals---I just kind of let them be.  I encouraged them to write, but I didn't make too much of an issue about it.  However, the majority of the class really got into it  The prompts were varied:  some were though-provoking, some involved math, many were fun and/or high-interest.  (I always knew when I had a great prompt by the number of hands that shot up when it was time to share.)  But the best part was that they allowed me to get to know my kids on a much deeper level this year.  I know the writing and the sharing (which we did daily as well) created a sense of community in the classroom that was priceless.  It made it easier to teach and made it easier for the kids to learn as it helped establish a fun and safe environment.  

Although it still needs a few tweaks, I will be keeping this as a daily routine next year.  I put the prompts on an editable PowerPoint file--let me know if you would like me to send it to you!  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Novel Lapbook Project

When I was a little girl, I loved it when my teachers would assign me a project.  It didn't matter what the subject as long as it had an element of creativity in it.  Education has certainly changed since the 70s, but my love of the project hasn't!  Although now I see it from a different perspective.

I teach in a Title I school in which 85% of our students are socioeconomically disadvantaged.  When it comes to projects, many do not have the at home support that I had growing up.  As an educator, it is important to keep in mind that many students are working alone on projects without an adult to guide them, or perhaps the support is there, but it is limited.  Projects need to be designed to be accessible for all students, no matter their backgrounds.

Beyond that, standards and expectations are different. My shoebox diorama in 1977 would depict a favorite scene from a book with a sentence or two about it.  I think if I had to make one now, it would have to include a well-written summary free of personal judgments or I would have to use evidence from the novel to describe the scene in depth.

I have seen lapbook projects all over Pinterest and TPT, and I knew I wanted to have my students try something like that as a culmination for books we had read. I had assigned my students a variety of what I called "Classic Books"--books that I remembered reading from my childhood.  My kids were all about the "latest, newest thing" this year and I wanted them to understand that "old" does not equal "bad."  So I gathered up some beloved books written before 1985 (30 years or older was my guide) and hooked them in with some book talks.  And, in spite of themselves, they really enjoyed reading them (and begrudgingly conceded my point.) I needed a book project that I could apply to any book and would meet my 6th grade standards.  I found a few great ones on TPT but none specifically designed for 6th grade--so I decided to create one myself.

I was pretty pleased with what most of them did.  Here are a few pictures of some of them (I forgot to take pictures and when I remembered only a few kids still had them at school.)  I would love to give this product away to the first five people who leave a comment below or email me at ihavetwoquestions@yahoo.com.

Friday, July 3, 2015

One Size Doesn't Fit All

If you have ever bought a "One size fits all" shirt, you know that, while it often holds true in theory, the reality is that the shirt really doesn't look good on most people.  For some it is way too large and on others it is too tight.  The shoulders might encroach into the sleeve area and it could hang too long on the torso.  Instructional materials remind me of those shirts.

As I continue my journey into the Common Core, I am looking at working with my third set of instructional materials in math.  Next year we are going to try Eureka Math.  I attended a district training on it and have spent the past few weeks looking over the materials.  There is much I like about it, but there are also parts that are worrying to me.  And it has been that way with all of the instructional materials I have been given for many years now...even before Common Core.

Over the years, I have come to realize that just because a text book presents the material in one way, it doesn't mean that is the correct way to teach it.  As professionals, we need to look at the materials we are given with critical eyes.  Just because something new comes along, it is not necessarily better.  In fact, it might be worse.  It also just might be worse for the group of kids you have in your classroom this year...but it might be perfect for next year's students.   And the following year might require a combination of things that "have worked before" or maybe something entirely different.

Give yourself permission to do what is best for the students in your room--trust your instincts.  Design lessons that get to the heart of the standard, make them as engaging as possible, allow for struggle for that is when real learning occurs.  Start small....as it will get easier.

Teaching is an art, not a science.  It is not about trying to put the same shirt on every student, but instead, it is about bringing a variety of different outfits into your classroom.  It is about encouraging some students to design their own get-up because they are ready for the challenge.  And it is about giving extra support to those who don't feel comfortable in their clothing.

A textbook, no matter how well-designed, will never be able to do that because a textbook doesn't know the children.
But we do.