Monday, August 31, 2015

A Successful First Day!

Whew!  Doesn't the first day go by quickly?!  I always overplan and then spend lunchtime trying to figure out how I'm going to make the rest of the morning fit into the afternoon along with all the afternoon stuff I had planned.  Not happening! :)

I DID introduce the book bins, start Daily Five (although I don't call it that because I have yet to get all five parts going in the same school year), and get the kids into parts of the classroom library.  They were so excited to get to pick their own books, and so disappointed when I didn't give them much time to read!  {Happy teacher!}

Choosing books:

Reading.  Engaged.  Delighted teacher. :)

Then there was some writing.  I read Franklin's New Friend and the kids wrote about how Franklin and Moose became friends.  It's a great story for the first day (or week) of school about not judging by appearances and about all the different ways we can make friends with others.

And on the first day of school, they worked on their first assignment COMPLETELY INDEPENDENTLY - because I was moving from table to table labeling pencils, glue sticks, and erasers to get those pencil pouches set up!  NO ONE asked for help (although I certainly would have helped if they had) and EVERYONE finished their work on time. 

(Insert collective gasp.)

Then, later in the day, I looked at their papers.  And ohmygoodness, look what I got ON THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!  Complete sentences!  Beautiful handwriting!  Punctuation!  Detailed pictures!  

{heavy breathing}

Check it out: pictures and captions and THREE sentences!

I gave them a choice to color or not.  They won't always get a choice - sometimes I DO want color - but today it didn't matter.  Choices are good, so I give as many as I can.

Oh, happy teacher. :)

Later was a math freebie from Amy Lemons, another great first day activity and subtle preassessment:

And then, before we knew it, it was time to pack up and go home.  I can't wait for tomorrow!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tomorrow is the first day of school!

Tomorrow is the first day of school!  I have all those day/night-before jitters: Is everything ready?  Did I think of everything I'll need tomorrow?  Will the kids be good, so I can be nice-and-happy teacher all day instead of having to discipline on day 1?  

A few years ago (many years ago) I found myself completely frustrated/fed up/angry with a child TEN MINUTES into the first day of school.  As in, I'd already had it with that kid.  Completely.  Fortunately, he (and the rest of the class) never knew that, but oh boy, what a way to start the very first day of a very long year! 

Needless to say, I don't want that to happen again tomorrow.

I'd rather have a repeat of last year, when my dream class walked in and stayed that way all year.  They were the kind of class that made me think, "This is the class I should retire after teaching - even though I'm no where near retirement - because I'm never going to have another class like this one!"  They were amazing.

I'm hoping for another year like that.  Perhaps it will start tomorrow!

Here's what this year's darlings will walk in to see:
The view to the right from the classroom door
The first thing in the door, fortunately/unfortunately, is a huge cart full of Chromebooks.  Yay! Chromebooks!  Ugh, huge cart.  They are brand new to us this year, so we'll be working them into our day slowly, but I'm very excited about all the possibilities.  Google Classroom, anyone?

Beyond the cart, against the wall in the corner, you can see one of my library areas (I have several).  This corner area is the "books in a series" section, where my new-to-chapter-books readers can read as many Junie B. Jones, Horrible Harry, Magic Tree House, or Rainbow Magic fairy books as they want.  They are mixed in with higher level series like Geronimo Stilton, The Secrets of Droon, and A Series of Unfortunate Events, to name a few.  There are also a few bookshelf sections that have authors instead of series: Dick King-Smith, Louis Sachar, Andrew Clements . . .

Easy books, organized by authors' last names.
Under the Promethean board are fifteen brightly colored crates of easy books, organized by authors' last name.  One of our first lessons this week will be how to find the author's last name on a book, because these easy readers AND my chapter books are all organized alphabetically.  And, unfortunately, the author's name is not always easy to find.

The view from the door to the opposite corner of the room
To the left of the board is the "teacher area" with my desk, files, computer, etc.  More on that later. ;)

The view from the door looking straight ahead

Yep, I just love those attractive green cabinets (really, not my color).  But they'll get covered up with student reading logs and other info as the year goes on, so for now I'm actually enjoying the bare look! 

Behind the green cabinets is our cubby area.  In the left corner, under the globe, is our sink.  Then we have more library sections and, finally, the "old" computer area right in front of the door.  I'm not sure how much use those computers will get now that we have Chromebooks, but I plan to still use them quite a bit because there are some things we can't do on the Chromebooks that we can do on those computers.  So they stay, for now.

Nonfiction books
The other parts of my classroom library are on the back wall of the classroom (separating the library has helped reduce traffic jams).  In the picture above, the green bins and the others on this side of the first rolling cart hold nonfiction books.  Each bin is labeled, but it's hard to see in this picture.  I'll try to do a future post with more details on each section!

On the second rolling cart, you can see some of the chapter books, separated by {old} dividers so the kids can sort by authors' last names.

The other side of the nonfiction cart is shown below:
Easy series books and some chapter books (in crates)

This side of the cart holds what I call "Easy series books," like Henry & Mudge, Amelia Bedelia, The Berenstain Bears, Noodles, and more.

Top shelf: chapter books.  Bottom shelf: picture books.

This cart holds the rest of the chapter books and half of my picture books - which, as you can see, are not organized well at all.  I have so many picture books that they are PACKED onto this shelf and one other, and it's hard for the kids to see the books, pull them out, or put them back.  I'm still working on solving this problem without adding more furniture to my room . . . yikes.

Table shelves!  Top shelf: whiteboards, socks, recycle bin.
Bottom shelves: book bins, Math Interactive Notebook bin,
and social studies books until they go into students' desks.

Each table of desks has a set of "table shelves" for storage and organization.  I got this idea from Jessica at Dandelions and Dragonflies and LOVE it.

  • No more books in desks, spilling out on the floor and taking up space - plus, I can see what books my kids have chosen to read!  The only books that should be in their desks are their social studies textbook, their guided reading book, and maybe their library books.  I've found that I don't have to wait at the guided reading table for kids to dig through their desks to find their books anymore; the book is easier to find since all the rest of the children's books are in their book bins.  Win!
  • When it's time to get whiteboards, they go to their table shelves and grab a board and a sock (eraser).  Their whiteboard markers are in their pencil pouches.  It's a very quick and efficient process to get and return those materials now, which means I use the whiteboards much more often. :)
  • The empty bin on the top shelf is moved to the middle of the student table when we're doing cutting/gluing activities - it's a scrap basket/recycle bin.  No more having 20+ children getting up and walking back and forth to the recycle bin!

And that's all for now.  I skipped whole sections of the classroom, but the year is young . . . and tomorrow is the first day of school!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Time to start getting ready!

Yesterday I went in to school for a few hours (this trip was the third this summer, and the last until the teacher workweek begins on Monday).  My goals were:

  • to finish getting my classroom library together (every year I have to rearrange a little to make space for all the new books I bought during the previous year - the shelves are just stuffed by the end of each year!);
  • to go through the copy boxes and sort/organize/cut;
  • to put the indoor recess games back on the shelves (may we not need them for the first several weeks, please!);
  • to clean off my desk enough to feel good when I walk in on Monday.
Happily, most of those things got done.

The classroom library is physically in place, but labels need to be made and I have to figure out how to help the kids put the books back in the right places consistently.  I'm still working on that last part; since I rearrange the library just a little bit every year, I risk having to undo next summer what I will do this summer, which makes it hard to get started. :/  But for now, all the books have a logical (to me!) place to go and they're all put away!  (Homework: make labels!)

Some chapter books had to move off the shelves into these
delightful new crates I picked up last week.
Now to make labels . . .

Copy boxes: at the end of each year, I decide what I want to use again next year and send it off to our central copy office.  For example, I use a quick grammar page each day at the beginning of reading time; the year's worth is already in my room and waiting, so I won't have to copy them during the year.
  • I use one page from my half-page handwriting packet every day for the first several weeks at the beginning of the year, so that's all ready to go now (DD11 cut them for me yesterday!).
  • We'll start with these math word problems at the beginning of the year to get the kids used to reading the story, forming an equation, and answering with a complete sentence.  The problems use basic facts (to 20) because the focus is on reading and understanding the problems and how to answer them using "easy" math (the word problems are hard, so the math is simple; once they figure out the story, they say, "That's easy!"). :)
  • At the same time, I'll work in these comparing word problems so they get used to all the different ways we compare numbers in stories (before hitting those 2-digit problems later in the year!).  These pages only use facts to 10; again, we're working on reading and understanding the problems in the beginning of the year.
  • When we finally starting adding and subtracting two-digit numbers, we'll need new story problems to practice our new skills.  (This packet is really the second grade math they've been waiting for -- but all those previous word problem pages got them geared up to be successful with these story problems!)  They're all ready to go.
  • During Daily Five, we work on writing using these journal pages from Sunny Days in Second Grade.  I run them off without making them into books (my kids last year were much more responsive to individual pages than the booklets - I tried them both ways), so my little helper cut apart the August/September pages yesterday.
DD11 cut all the handwriting pages in half yesterday.
Her almost-completed stack is under the pink paper at left!
She made an equal-sized stack of writing journal pages.

"I like using the paper cutter!" :)
The recess games are on the shelves, the desk is . . . well, the desk is NEVER clean, but it isn't awful right now.  Monday morning will not be too terrible. ;)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Success #3: Pencils solved, finally!

So it took me two decades, but I solved the pencil problem.

If you teach elementary school, you probably know about the pencil problem.  "I can't find my pencil!" "He took my pencil!" "I don't have an eraser."   The world stops, no work can be done, and all the easily distracted children hit the floor. "Is this your pencil?" "I found your eraser!" "Whose glue stick is this?!" "My shoe is untied!" 

And then there's always the "I have to sharpen my pencil!" right as I'm poised to start the spelling test and suddenly a third of the class realizes that hey, their pencils are dull, too! and within moments, my test-ready class is lined up at the pencil sharpener.

(Sometimes it's a glue stick problem. "I didn't do my interactive notebook today because I don't have a glue stick." (Why didn't you tell me this 30 minutes ago?) Other times it's a whiteboard marker problem. "I can't find my marker, so I can't do my math." (Oh, really.)  I always solve these problems quickly - hop up and get a replacement - but that 20-seconds-to-the-cabinet-and-back is enough to lose the momentum of a lesson sometimes.)

But always, every day, multiple times, it's a pencil problem.

The pencil problem got considerably worse each year, even as I did my best to solve it: I tried the sharpened/need sharpening baskets, we did "countdown cleanups" periodically during the day to get all those pencils on the floor, and I praised/rewarded students who took good care of their materials.  I even made pencils part of the morning routine: unpack, do your lunch check, sharpen three pencils and get three books to read.  Shortly thereafter, that routine became SHOW ME your three pencils and three books.  Nothing helped.  We still had multiple pencil crises per day.

Then, two years ago, I went through more than 36 dozen pencils in the first 8 months of school.  (We order them from the warehouse in shrink wrapped packages of six dozen.  I used at least six of those before Spring Break.)  My teammates and I lamented the lack of care the students seemed to have for these pencils that we provided, sharpened, picked up off the floor, etc.  "What can we do?" we asked. 

At the end of that year, I found "Winning the Pencil War" on TeachersPayTeachers.  Then I found pencils pouches online - on sale! - and decided the cost would be worth it, so I bought them for use the following year.

Last year, I got everything set up and started the first day of school.  We watched a modified version of this powerpoint to get things started.  I spent time the first day walking around with my Sharpie and labeling the pencils and erasers and glue sticks the kids had brought from home so that everything in the pencil pouch has the child's number on it.  I provided pencils, glue sticks, and erasers for the children who didn't bring them.  (I had PLENTY of pencils in the cabinet for that purpose.)  Everybody's pencil pouch came with a whiteboard marker with their number on it.

The amazing Pencil Pouch.
Front pocket: eraser, whiteboard marker, glue stick.
Back pocket: at least 8, no more than 12 pencils.
Picture a student's number written in Sharpie above the front pocket and on ALL materials. ;)

That was a Monday.  On Friday afternoon, I placed an empty basket in the center of each table.  We reviewed what was expected to be in their pencil pouches.  I gave them a few minutes to make sure they had everything in their pouch, then all those pouches went into the baskets.

After school on Friday, I collected the baskets and walked over to the pencil sharpener.  One pouch at a time, I emptied out the pencils (the glue stick, eraser, and marker go in the front pocket, so the pencils are the only thing in the big pocket - easy to pour them out into my hand and do a quick count) and sharpened them.  I replaced all the pencils in each pouch, added a sticker in the front pocket if everything was there, and returned the pouches to the baskets and the baskets to the tables.

Everyone got a sticker.

On Monday, they were thrilled.  I mean, it's a sticker.  I think it was sparkly.  It was the best thing in the world.

On Friday, I collected the pencil pouches again.  This time, one child had left out his glue stick.  No sticker.  But everyone else got their sticker.  Happiness.

Repeat.  Every week.  And do you know what?

(Brace yourself.)

I never opened that cabinet to get a new pencil for a child who had lost one.  Not once.

Not ONE extra pencil was given.

How on Earth - ? I started asking myself around mid-September, when we'd been in school for a month and I hadn't replaced any pencils.  (By this point the year before, I was on my second package of six dozen.)

Well, it turns out, the children were KEEPING TRACK OF THEIR PENCILS.  They were keeping - and using - the freebies we got occasionally from special guest programs.  They were doing their nightly reading homework so that they could bring in their signed paper every 25 days and choose a free pencil from my basket of prize pencils.  And sometimes they were bringing pencils from home.

Now, yes, sometimes a pouch was missing its glue stick, eraser, or marker.  And every so often there were only 7 pencils.  But by the following Friday, that particular child - whoever it was - was back up to 8 pencils, or had put the glue stick back in the pouch instead of leaving in the desk, and life was good again.

Now, here are a couple of things I'm doing differently this year as I refine this program for my class.  (Because last year was awesome, but isn't there always a way to make it better?)

1.  I'm going to put this picture on the screen on Friday afternoon (or on the collection basket I place on each table, or somewhere the kids can see it) so they have a visual reminder of what I'm looking for.  No excuses for forgetting that glue stick.

2.  You might have noticed that there are 12 pencils in the picture.  (Very observant, you are.)  Last year I had a few little girls who got into story-writing competitions after their reading work was done each morning.  Eight pencils were simply not enough to last the week.  So they added more.  I was fine with that until one Friday afternoon when one of their pencil pouches had more than 30 pencils in it.  Nope.  A new rule was added: No more than 12 pencils in your pouch.  So this year, we're starting with that rule up front: 8 pencils at all times, but no more than 12 ever.

3.  Nothing else lives in the pencil pouch.  A couple of children started keeping their scissors in their pencil pouch.  When I dumped out the pencils, the scissors would clatter to the floor.  Sigh.  Other children stuffed their colored pencils in with the regular pencils.  No, thank you.  (One clever child only had 7 pencils one week.  She slyly added her yellow colored pencil to the pouch so she had 8 yellow pencils.  I thought that was cute.)

4.  If a child is missing something, I'm going to place this note in the front pocket instead of a prize.  I'll circle or highlight the missing items, or write "scissors" on the bottom line.

(The note refers to a pencil box.  That's where each student's crayons, colored pencils, scissors, eraser shreds, and broken pencil tips (do your kids save those, too?) live.  It's also where the extra pencils stay until they move to the pencil pouch - so your children who arrive with two dozen pencils can keep those spares in their desk and replenish their pouch as needed.)

What if you do NOT want to sharpen pencils on a Friday afternoon?  If I had a special at the end of the day, THAT day would be collection day.  Kids go to PE last thing on Tuesday?  I'd collect pencil pouches on Tuesdays, sharpen during PE, and return them Wednesday morning.  My schedule hasn't worked out that way, but I'm finding I really don't mind sharpening pencils each week.  You could also ask a parent helper or student volunteer to do it for you. 

If you're still fighting the Pencil War, give Pencil Pouches a try.  Modify it to suit your needs, sit back, and enjoy!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Success #2: Back to school excitement

Ah, summer.  We've had an awesome summer.  It's been one of those summers where I have deliberately tried NOT to think about school - let's take a break from that, Amanda - and it's been wonderful.  In fact, I've been so good at "don't think about school!" that when I DID think about it, there was a little dread there.  "Oh no, summer is going to end eventually . . . !"

Well, I went in last week to drop off some purchases, make sure my furniture had been put back in the right place (our building service team is really good, but I forgot to leave a map and pictures this year, so I didn't know where everything would be - turns out, it was all exactly where I wanted it!), and do a little preliminary unpacking.  And guess what?  It was fun!  And now I'm ready to go back! :)

I brought home and labeled my kids' whiteboard markers tonight.  Exciting, I know. ;)  And I tried not to get all perfectionist about it (I only had 17 kids last year and I'm sure it took me much longer to label last year's markers than tonight's 24 - I was in get it done mode tonight!).  These markers are one of the things the kids will have in their pencil pouches (more on that another time), and the numbers - I resisted numbering my kids for almost 20 years and oh my goodness, it's just amazing - are simply taped on with packing tape.  Aren't they pretty? :) 

If you want them, feel free to pick up these numbers for your own use!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Success #1: I created a blog! Hello out there, wonderful teachers!

Well, here we go!  I'm excited to have finally gotten myself a blog, and a domain name, and maybe soon a real design up there at the top.  First things first, though. :)

I've been reading amazing teachers' blogs for several years, but I've never felt like I had the time to write my own.  (I still don't, but let's see how this goes.) ;)  The first one I found was Denise from Sunny Days in Second Grade, whose byline at the time was something like "a veteran teacher determined to stay passionate about our profession."  I loved it!  I want to be one of those passionate veteran teachers (you know who they are), not one of those waiting-for-retirement veteran teachers (you know who THEY are too, right?!).  So I followed Denise and soaked up her wisdom.

A little bit later, I found Amy Lemons, who writes Step Into 2nd Grade with Mrs. Lemons. Another amazing second grade teacher!  And whoa, the amazing centers and stations she has created for use with her class - I bought a bunch and my kids and I loved them.  Amy also inspired me to get a little more creative with Powerpoint and the things I make for my classroom.  

Then I discovered Kristin, the Teeny Tiny Teacher, who is now one of my favorite bloggers (her blog is the "dessert" when I'm reading at night!).  I can't talk about having 30 first graders (shudder) or reality TV shows, but I CAN talk about the things I'm doing in my classroom and at home and maybe, just maybe, someone else will be interested in reading my words the same way I devour hers.  Maybe. ;)

So here we go.

I teach second grade in one of the largest school districts in the US.  I love teaching and I've always known that's what I wanted to do when I grew up.  (My mom says I got off the bus after the first day of kindergarten and said, "I know what I want to be when I grow up!"  It has never changed.)

I can never stop teaching.  If I stop teaching, I have no excuse for buying the ridiculous quantities of school supplies, pretty markers, colorful bins, bright folders, and new children's books that I acquire each year.  So yeah, I'm pretty much in this for life. ;)

I also love to make things.  When I was little, it was a crafty thing; now, it's a crafty thing and also a computer thing.  Creating activities and worksheets for my classroom is a very happy way to spend time!  I love posting things I've made on Teachers Pay Teachers and knowing that other teachers are able to use them, too.  I'm spending this summer remaking a bunch of things that I made years ago, so if you follow my store, you'll see a lot of updates in the weeks to come. 

I love to read.  I don't allow myself to read during the school year because "just a little bit more" becomes "Oh, no, it's 2 a.m. and I have to get up in a few hours!" and I'm one of those people who NEEDS my sleep.  Or I get sick.  My body is pretty unforgiving that way.

I have a wonderful husband and two awesome children: a son who's off to college in a month, and a daughter starting middle school.  That makes them sound old and worldly, but really, they're just babies . . . sniff . . . see?

Every family has to have a matching shirt photo, right?!

And that's all for now.