Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tynkering in 3rd

My new adventure this year is venturing across the building to the secondary side of school. I'm teaching THIRD graders!! I'm so fortunate to loop with my students (I have the same class, just minus a few that moved away and gained a few to fill those spots) but it is raising the bar for me to find new ideas and activities to keep them engaged. As I reflect over the first week, I want to share a few things we have enjoyed in 3rd already this year.

Before I begin, I cannot do what I do each and every day without my amazing team! There are 7 of us, 2 of whom I have worked with before. We are an eclectic group, with only 2 returning team members. We are a new mixture and I do believe we are pretty incredible!
For fun, one of my team members thought we should reenact that funny cartoon 'Why Science Teachers Should Not Have Recess Duty' We have fun, laugh, work and celebrate together!

For the first time in 17 years, I did not have crazy nerves on Meet the Teacher/Unpack Your Backpack night. Most of my students I had last year, a few I knew from other classes, only one was brand-new to our school. They walked in, gave me a hug or said hi and settled right in. They know how our classroom works, what I expect, what to look for. It was awesome and so much fun to see the children and families I'd grown to know and love last year return again for another year of learning together. Then the pressure began to rise. How do I make this year a different year? Yes, I know the curriculum will be different... but how do I make it new and engaging every day... again this year? I felt lots of anxiety. I want to be certain I'm not just teaching extended 2nd grade. This is my fear. What will I do to ensure a new learning experience THIS year?? I went for a walk at the REC to clear my mind and read this on the wall at the track:
Right then and there... I knew. This year will be GREAT!!

The first week was filled with reviewing procedures and expectations: 

*I read Dave Burgess's Teach Like A Pirate. I HIGHLY recommend this book. One of the suggestions is to begin the year with Play Dough on their tables but with a big note that says DO NOT TOUCH THE PLAY DOUGH - to catch their curiosity. Later, after welcoming the students, you explain the directions and turn them lose. Students should create something to represent themselves. (details are in Dave's book) After that, they share with others at their tables (not with the class, that can be overwhelming for some) then some can volunteer to share their own creation with the class. It is a fun, relaxing way to get to know everyone. I just walked the room and asked each student what they made and why.

*In order to get to know my students, I wrote some questions on chart paper and we did a SCOOT to allow students to answer. I have students who struggle with communicating their thoughts into written words, so some have drawn pictures. A few questions were procedural, like how they get home. The others were getting to know them and their goals for the year, like what do I (Mrs. G) need to do to support your learning this year. Getting to know each of my students is absolutely necessary. Without knowing who they are, both at school and outside of school, I cannot plan lessons or activities that are interesting to them. Knowing my students and earning their respect and trust is a Must Do so we can have a successful year of learning together.

*We are a 1:1 school and are fortunate with each student having an iPad at school as a learning tool. Part of getting started at school is reviewing how to use our learning tool properly, with good digital citizenship. We spent a lot of time discussing the right way and the wrong way to use our iPads at school. Once we had the expectations clear, we got started creating right away! We use our iPads in class as seamlessly as pencils or crayons.

*Upon returning to class from Specials one day, students found rolls of toilet paper on their tables. My directions were 'Take as many sheets as you think you will need.' and they were SO confused. 'Need for WHAT?!' they asked and I just repeated 'Take as many sheets as you think you will need.' Giggles and more giggles. It was SO silly. So they started making enormous stacks of toilet paper squares. Next time, I will give them a time frame so it doesn't go on and on. Once they started counting into the 100s I knew it was time to stop the activity. They were supposed to tell a fact about themselves for each square they pulled. We laughed and laughed. By this time, after the giggles and silliness, it was time to move on to the next thing so we just shared a few facts about ourselves and that was a wrap.  : )

*While reviewing Science Lab Safety, we used several methods of information delivery (video, songs, stories, discussion, anchor chart, etc) then tested what we knew using Kahoot! Kahoot! is a fun, interactive game to assess students. We had a good time checking our knowledge and discussing answers.

*Our superintendent Dr. Ryan challenged us all to spend a moment each Thursday to give thanks to someone for what they do. We celebrate Thank You Thursdays by using this topic at Circle Up and we write a note and/or tweet to someone thanking them. I think it is important to model this for my students, so they know who I am thankful for and why. They have the opportunity to do the same.

*One of my goals this year is to give each child a voice in our classroom. We do this each day by starting with a Circle Up. I read something this summer about having each child put their voice 'out there' each morning which allows easier communication throughout the day. Our Circle Ups have progressed so much! Last year I had a few that would pass almost every single time because they are shy or are learning to speak in English (I provide a sentence stem and they 'turn and talk' to practice with a buddy before speaking to the class). This year, they are ALL participating (another benefit of looping - they trust each other) Another outlet is our 3rd Grade Thoughts board. By the end of the week, I had students post what they thought about 3rd grade. It was insightful - some fears but mostly celebrations. As we continue on, I plan to make it more about the content but sometimes about their thoughts in general.

*Movement is important to me. My own personal children need to move, goodness... I need to move! I think it is always important but especially these first few weeks, after hanging out all summer it is hard to sit and work for a few weeks. So, we often use several types of Brain Breaks. Some are to practice our spelling words, sometimes we play Silent Speed Ball (we learned from our Principal, Dr. Cole), sometimes we walk around the building, and sometimes we DANCE! We love GoNoodle for Brain Breaks!

*We practiced all procedures often. One in particular is Read to Self. We made an Anchor Chart: find a smart spot to sit, have all your books ready, keep your eyes on your book, read the entire time and practiced... but it is REALLY fun to practice what it is NOT:
We had some good laughs with How NOT to Read to Self! Then it was time to Read to Self:

We practice this every day to build our stamina. Great readers!

*We are thrilled to have a buddy class to read to. I was so impressed that the first week of school, I had students searching for the perfect book - then practicing it - to read to their buddies. They had the oportunity to share their products (song, play, poster, game) with out buddy class about Lab Safety, since they are learning about it as well. So wonderful!

The first week is so exciting and I always enjoy getting to know my new students. This year it is absolutely fantastic just picking up where we left off. All these assessments are helpful but I know my students and I feel I have a better idea of who they are as learners already - however, I continue to ask for their input since I know very well how we change as learners constantly.

I'm excited for this new year! Each school year brings it's own challenges and celebrations. Throughout the year, follow our classroom adventures on Twitter @TynkeringIn3rd

How is YOUR year starting? Best wishes on an amazing year!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Happy NEW Year!

It's a new school year! Fresh supplies, clean carpets, complete sets of markers in boxes, sharp pencils WITH erasers, pointed crayons, shiny floors, new haircuts and clean lunchboxes. I'm super excited to begin my 17th year teaching in 3rd grade. I've taught 16 years in first and second grades - WOW! I'm very fortunate to have the opportunity to 'loop' with my students to 3rd (I taught them in 2nd grade, too) This is a new experience for me! So, let me share with you how I prepped for my new year. It all started with a new room and a ... wait for it ... WINDOW!!!! NO WINDOW for FIVE years was tough. In my opinion all classrooms should have a window. It is such a learning tool and BOY did I miss it! Our blinds will always be open. : ) So, I moved to a new room and we got new carpet so everything was boxed and moved for me.
Boxes, boxes, and more boxes...
plus the mandatory Sonic drink!!
One of my favorite things each year is prepping the classroom. Taking something a mess and transforming it to organized and neat and FUN!

Over the years, I've ditched my desk. All it did for me was hold stacks of paperwork I was avoiding, housed tons of supplies I really didn't need at that moment plus it was a clunky piece of furniture that wasn't practical. I don't need to sit at a desk and work - I need to be up to monitor or sitting to work with students. Since then, I've NEVER missed having a desk. Instead I have a u-shaped table. I keep my supplies nearby and have things I need on a shelf behind my table. Often my students like to sit and work at my table, even if they don't need my help - they will work solo while I work with other students.
Mighty messy this day but it also helps me see that if my table is messy
I have some work to do. My goal each day is to clear my table - or at least
 organize it. Why is there toilet paper you ask? Ah... to be told on another post...
I love these stools from IKEA! They are just $5 each and
my students LOVE to sit in them around the room.
I took out my filing cabinets, as well. Just a few years ago I had 2 entire filing cabinets of tons and tons and tons of papers. I realized I had full sets of copies I never even used! What a waste. Plus, much of it was outdated. In education, things change often. Saving a copy of an activity may work for another year but what if those students don't have the same learning needs as last year's students?? Then you have to find something new. And file that. And so it goes. Instead I have a box or two that hold very important ideas - mostly activities that I made or found on Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers (for free). But saving papers year after year felt ridiculous to me, plus filing cabinets are yet another waste of space in my classroom. Good-bye, clunky cabinets! Minimize. It feels good!

Several years ago I got rid of a behavior system/chart in my classroom. Like a decade ago, I changed it from names to numbers but that did not give anyone privacy. All students know each other's numbers plus you didn't have to spend much time in a classroom to figure out that 'you-know-who' is number 7 - without looking at the chart. Instead I now just write a quick note in a student's binder if I feel their parents should know of their behavior that day. I try to stay in close contact with parents. I also try to be realistic. I ask parents to keep in touch with me when their children are in need of extra empathy. However, not all parents can communicate that to me. I know this - we ALL have bad days. I have bad days that I hope no one is watching how I parent, teach or am as a friend. We adults sometimes forget that children have bad days, too. Sometimes you have a headache, sometimes your parents were up fighting or your baby sister had a fever and NO one slept in your home... we don't know what our students are dealing with outside of our classroom. Instead, I communicate with my students and their parents about behaviors as needed. I've never regretted this change. It makes our classroom environment feel safe and everyone feels accepted. 

In recent years, I've been working to transition my classroom from a traditional environment to a learning space with flexible seating. Each year I'm adding new options for my students, and really love when they give me input for ideas. 4 years ago I got rid of all the desks and started using tables. I feel they are able to collaborate and communicate more effectively since there isn't a boundary to their own learning space. At first there was a learning curve with supplies and where to locate books and such but we practice community supplies and store books in book boxes or crates at the end of the tables.

I learned a super trick from a coworker to write names in Sharpie on the tables, instead of using name plates. In the past, students would just slowly remove those name plates. Plus, they are expensive! By Open House, I'd have to replace them all. Now I just write directly on the table with Sharpie. You/Students can erase the Sharpie by writing over their names with dry erase markers and then you can wipe it with a wet wipe. All clean!

Some other things we have in our classroom:
*The Tiny Table: remove the legs from a table and students can sit on the floor. They LOVE this table!! Thanks to a Donor's Choose project, students have these wiggle seats. They can use these at the Tiny Table or while sitting in a chair or on the floor. They are perfect for students with sensory or movement needs, but most everyone likes them from time to time.
*The V.I.P. Table: I saw this idea here on Pinterest this summer. I thought it would be fun to provide a cafe-style seating option and added some fun pens, mechanical pencils and fun scissors for those invited to sit at the V.I.P. Table. 
*Lap Table (IKEA) and Floor Chair (Donor's Choose) are also in this photo and popular for optional work spaces.

*3rd Grade Thoughts: I wanted a spot where students could post 'Something That Stuck with You Today' but wanted to make it work with this precious speech bubble and matching sticky notes I found at IKEA this summer. 
*Book Nook: To make things exciting and different with the same students is a constant challenge for me this year. I can't pull from my Teacher's Bag-o-Tricks much because they've heard it all just a year ago. An amazing person in my PLN, Amy Henderson (follow her @iTEACHAmy ) shared an idea with my team to build up the anticipation of your library. Boy, did I EVER!! I covered the book shelves (with many, many new books I bought over the summer) with yellow butcher paper. I also used 'CAUTION' tape that I bought from Party City to close the entry. I had a few yellow cones and yellow safety jackets I bought at IKEA for props. On day 3 I had a HUGE REVEAL and I had way too much fun by being overly dramatic to my students about the exciting new objects behind the paper. We laughed and had such fun!!

After many long hours in the classroom, two FUN trips to IKEA, many stops at Mardel and Target... I'm proud to present our 2015-2016 Classroom:
Our learning environment... for now. : ) I always add things as the year goes on. I'd LOVE to add standing tables. I'm hoping students will try to use the book shelves for standing tables and then maybe we will have a design challenge later this year and create some ourselves. Plus I try to add ideas from my students as the year goes on.
I found a new idea for our Word Wall - library card pockets under
the board will hold Popsicle sticks with words. Students can
take the sticks to their work and use as needed.
I am so excited to have 2 white boards again!
This wall is our FOCUS wall for Anchor Charts
and ideas to share.

I added more lamps and fun lights over the last two years, two new rugs this year and a fun new chair for my sharing space. Some other ideas I've posted about here where I show how my students LOVE to work while in a laundry basket, sitting on pillows and upside-down crates with cushions, and our Share Chair.

Ideally I'd love more options. I would love to offer additional opportunities for flexible seating and I'd love to add a Video Booth. What suggestions do you have? I'd love some ideas and feedback.