Sunday, September 10, 2017

I Love You, California

If you live in California, you know the beauty and diversity of our state. Luckily, my husband is always up for an adventure and he gets just as excited as I do about experiencing the various regions of California. So it's not unusual to find us taking road trips to the mountains, desert, and beach (or even driving through the Central Valley; lol)
Labor Day weekend found us driving up the coast to Lompoc, to visit La Purisima Concepcion Mission, California's 11th and most restored mission. We battled the traffic to get there, but it was fantastic once we arrived!  Although I love that Hubby indulges my love of history, our youngest daughter  (7th grader) was not exactly excited about being dragged along . . .  "MOM, 4th grade is over! I already know all about missions" (or at least the 10 we had already been to). "See?"  (pointing) "That's the campanario, the bell wall. There's the church with the pulpit that the padre talked from. We've already seen the blacksmith shop and the weaving room in every mission . . ." (imagine all this being said with a roll of the eyes and in a whiny tween voice; LOL) I have to admit, however, I was impressed she remembered all her mission architecture!
Anyway, the point of that story was that the different regions of California are easily accessible, so I'm always surprised when my students seem to not know much about their city, let alone the state they live in.  A terrific way to assess what your students know before you begin to teach geography is to ask them to draw their state and everything and anything they know about it. They are encouraged to label cities, attractions, bordering states, etc.
Hmmm. . . this is a great pre-assessment and gives me a lot of information about prior knowledge. 
The range of knowledge and experience amongst my class also becomes evident by this simple drawing. I save the maps and have them repeat the assignment at the end of the school year.  It's always amazing to see their progress and understanding of California!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

3 Tried & True Tips to Keep that Summer Feeling

Happy September! Wow, where did summer go? Well, I’ve actually been in school for the last three weeks, but it never fully feels like school is really here (at least in my head) until Labor Day! How to keep that summer feeling? Read on!
What is it that makes summer such a sweet time of year? It's that feeling of relaxation and lazy days. . . now that's hard to do when there are lessons to plan and papers to grade, but. . .
Always keep a good book on hand! I tend to get so caught up in reading only professional books about education or read only children's books during the school year! I truly have to force myself to read "just for pleasure" books for me! I don't have much extra time to read once school starts, but I keep books loaded on my iPad to read on the go (and on the Kindle app on my phone), as well as an audiobook loaded on my phone through the free library app: Overdrive.  I continuously update my Goodreads "to read" list, so I'm never out of book suggestions!

Here are few that I read (or listened to) over summer: (You can see they're a mix of adult fiction, memoir, young adult fiction, and non-fiction)
 Make time to exercise! In the summer, I'm so good about taking early morning walks, or practicing yoga, or getting out to bike ride. Once school starts, however, I'm back to bad habits of not having enough time making working out a priority.  (Now mind you, I am in no way imaginable, a hard core fitness fanatic, so forcing myself to spend 30-45 minutes sweating is a CHORE!! And I hate sweating!)  Having a good audiobook or podcast on my phone makes me eager to get outside to walk and listen, even if just for half an hour (because that's all the time I have!)  I feel so much better and start off the day with a clear head.

Another fantastic and QUICK tried & true tip is pilates! I discovered The Balanced Life with instructor, Robin Long, an online pilates community. First of all, Robin is absolutely adorable. She's positive (but not too cheery, especially in the mornings!) and encouraging and all her workouts take only 10-30 minutes! That's it! I've noticed a difference in my strength & flexibility, and it's such a great start to the day that I don't mind getting up earlier. (And if I'm being truthful, I EITHER walk OR do pilates, but not both unless it's the weekend. . . sigh. . . I wish I was one of those people. . .)
I'm such a visual person; my last tried & true tip is to keep those summer memories alive through pictures and images! I keep favorite summer pics on my phone and I've turned a few into my phone home screens, so I can breathe and smile at the calming scene. Download one (or all!) of the home screens! Just click on the image below (and obviously the image will not have all my screen shot info: time, date, wi fi, etc. LOL)
Remember to take care of YOU and make time for yourself! If we're grumpy, our students quickly pick up on our bad mood! Happy teacher = happy class. You can check out more great ideas on my Teacher Care Pinterest board or check out my 4-part blog series on The Well-Balanced Teacher.
Here's to keeping that summer feeling all year long!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

3 Tried & True Parent Communication Musts

Keeping my school families informed of class events, upcoming assignments & deadlines, school activities, as well as student behavior, is a top priority. Since I tend to be a little bit of a control freak like things organized, I'm proactive (& I don't like excuses), giving plenty of advance notice and reminders to my families.  While I do have a class website which takes a little more time to upkeep, here are my top 3 tried & true  QUICK parent communication musts:
If you look around, most adults have their phones with them at all times & they will quickly read texts because they are usually short and immediate. Remind is a FREE website and app that allows you to send reminder class text messages to parents. A couple of great features: you can schedule future messages, and parents do not have direct access to your phone number. There is noticeably greater parent participation at events and less forgotten deadlines, etc. 
Class Dojo 

Another great feature about Class Dojo is that you can share and have access to other teachers and classrooms at your same school site. My 4th grade partner and I have access to each other's classes because we departmentalize for Social Studies and Science; our students know that regardless of which class they are in, we uphold the same standards and same accountability. There are tons of new resources available such as short videos & activities on growth mindset and empathy, digital student portfolios, and photo sharing (think Instagram for the classroom).
 Newsletter Template
If you want important class news to be remembered (& posted on the refrigerator) or for those families who do not have internet access, I make sure to send home hard copies of the updates I have posted on our class website. Click here or on the sample below for your FREE editable template! (Make a copy or download BEFORE editing, please!)
What tools do you use to communicate with parents? 

Friday, August 11, 2017

3 Tried & True Community Building Activities

Spending precious class time on non-curricular activities seems counter-intuitive. But developing trust within the classroom and fostering relationships is well worth the time spent and critical to a smooth school year. We start off each day with Morning Meeting (think preschool circle time, but big kid style), greeting each student and making eye contact, followed by a team building activity.

Here are three tried & true activities to build community and connections amongst students (and teacher)!
The Cup Challenge:

The Cup Challenge takes minimal prep time and is a great practice in using teamwork!! Divide students into groups of 4. Give each group 6 large plastic cups, a rubberband, and 1 piece of yarn or string 12”-18” long. Demonstrate how to tie the string to the rubberband, forming 4 corners. This will be used as a tool, as each student pulls their yarn, stretching the rubber band larger.
The group sets up their 6 cups: 3 mouth down and 3 mouth up, balanced on each other. The goal is for students using only their rubberband-yarn tool (no hands) to move the cups into a pyramid (base of 3 cups, 2 cups, 1 cup on top). Teams must use collaboration and community building for this to work!
Not only is this lesson so interesting (and entertaining!) to watch, but observing which groups actually work together to be successful is eye-opening!  Working together (or not) is very evident in certain groups; but students will now understand this necessary skill!

Skittles Positive Affirmations
When your kids see a bag or little dish of Skittles sitting on their desks, their curiosity will be piqued! This is a great activity to get students to focus on their positive attributes, as well as to learn a little more about each other.
Hula Hoop Pass

This is a simple, yet effective activity to get students working together. You need 1-2 hula hoops (available at Dollar Tree or borrow from a kindergarten teacher!) Students stand in a circle holding hands. (Okay, I have to admit. . . this is the hardest part of this activity. . . I simply tell my kids there's no such thing as cooties & "get over it and act like fourth graders") Anyway. . . the rules are simple:
1. Students must keep hands joined.
2. Without using their thumbs (as hooks), they must pass the hula hoop around the circle, back to the starting point.
Your kids will LOVE this activity! It's hilarious to watch their bodies bend, stretch, and contort to pass that hula hoop. We use a timer to see how long it takes to complete the circle and they quickly learn strategies for working together!

If you have a little more time to devote, creating a class mission statement is a FANTASTIC way to create unity and community. You can read more about this process here.
What do you do to build community with your students? I'd love to learn new ideas; comment below!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

3 Tried & True Picture Books to Begin the Year

Getting my brain wrapped around going back to school. . . I've noticed my attention span has definitely gotten shorter. . . so I thought I'd do a QUICK mini-series to help you get back into the swing of things!
I don't know about you, but I LOVE picture books! I've read them to all ages and grades (& to adults!) Here are 3 of my tried & true books to begin the new school year:
Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair is a funny story that emphasizes the importance of reading. As someone who hasn't regularly watched TV in about 18 years (I know. . . I'm the oddity), I'm always fascinated with how much TV is too much TV. In the town of Triple Creek, the townspeople watch TV day and night. They watch it when they're eating, working, playing, and sleeping. They even use TVs to teach the kids at school. But when Eli's eccentric Aunt Chip (who refuses to own a TV) discovers that her nephew and her neighbors don't remember how to read, she pulls the plug on the whole town, using books that have been piled high to build a dam to spread the magic of reading all around. This is the perfect book to begin setting up a classroom culture of readers and book lovers!

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Giveaway to Start the New Year!

Helloooo! It's somehow already August and I'm sure you're in full-blown back to school mode! (Although I just walked into Michael's today and not only saw Halloween merchandise, but some Christmas displays!! Eek!?)

My family and friends are always dismayed and shocked at how much teachers spend out of their own pockets for their students and classrooms. To help you out, I've teamed up with some fantastic teacher authors to give away a $75 TpT Gift Card!! Yep, $75 can buy a lot of curricular materials!
Be sure to enter & good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Learning from the Best

The important thing about writing is. . . having a strong model to emulate! I love reading well-written picture books to my class, as we learn the language of writing from authors. A favorite book to use as a mentor text  comes from the series, Discover America State by State by Sleeping Bear Press. Each book focuses on a different state, with a simple rhyme for each letter, as well as informative text in the sidebar.  G is for California: A California Alphabet by David Domeniconi is a fact-filled, beautifully illustrated book. My class loved it so much that they wanted to write their own version!
In this alphabet book, each page is set up with an upper case & lower case letter, a sidebar with facts about the topic, a 4-line rhyming poem to introduce the topic, with a large illustration. 

Together we brainstormed for what we had learned about California during the year, then sorted the topics into alphabetical categories. After selecting which topic they wanted to write about, my kids got busy! It was a bit challenging to write a 4-line rhyming verse about the topic they selected, but with peer suggestions, they did an amazing job!! And since (of course) I had more than 26 (letters) students, we added digraphs as pages: ch, th, sh, wh, wr and kn. 
After writing the poem, students began to organize and write their informative rough drafts. We went through A LOT of revision, especially to form writing into coherent paragraphs! Typing their final copies took a while. . . we formatted the width to fit into the sidebar. Since my kids wanted to make this unique and special, their idea was to draw then watercolor the illustrations. . . this was not as easy as they had anticipated!! But the effect was still beautiful! Lastly, I got scrapbooking stickers to use for the capital and lower-case letters on each page. Voila!! A memorable class book!! 
What books do you use as Mentor Texts for writing? I'd love to hear from you!