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!
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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!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Teacher Appreciation Giveaway

It's Teacher Appreciation Week and you don't want to miss this!
Prize: 10 Teacher "Must Haves" prize pack including: Mr. Sketch Markers, Flair Markers, Personal Laminator, Dry Erase Pockets, Dry Erase Markers, Astrobrights Paper, Sharpies, Ticonderoga Pencils, a Wall Calendar, and a $50 Teachers pay Teachers gift card.
Giveaway Organized by: Kelly Malloy (An Apple for the Teacher)

Co-hosts: An Apple for the Teacher, MM Bilingual, Debora Marines TeachMagically, Cara's Creative Playground, Amanda's Little Learners, The Craft of Teaching, Jackie Crews, Sugar Cube Learning Resources, Stephanie Rye-Forever in Fifth Grade, Teach with Hope, 180 Days of Reading, The Literacy Garden, Sandra Naufal, Teacher Jeanell, Sliding into 1st, Teacher Mama School, Tried and True Teaching Tools, Third Grade Giggles, The Chocolate Teacher, Sarah Griffin, Peas In A Pod, Heart 2 Heart Teaching, It's a Teacher Thing, Teacher Gameroom, Save the Teacher, A Plus Kids, Digging Deep to Soar Beyond the Text, It Happened in 3rd, The Literacy Garden, A Place of Story, Kindergarten Is Crazy, and Knowledge Mobile.

Rules: Use the Rafflecopter to enter. Giveaway ends 5/8/17 and is open worldwide.a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, April 29, 2017

California, Ho!

California, ho! The rush to California was a critical part of California's history, even before the discovery of gold.
Learning why and how pioneers traveled to California in the 1840's is always an exciting time. Thanks to Rick Morris at New Management, we end our unit with covered wagon races. Be sure to go to his website to download his very clear and explicit directions for how to make covered wagons out of a piece of cardboard and one sheet of printer paper. (And if you don't know Rick yet, he is a teaching GURU! All of his ideas are so helpful and teacher-friendly! Check him out!)
After making their covered wagons, we "raced" to California. Using string through the top of their wagons, students have to maneuver their wagons over the "prairie grasses" and across the Sierra Nevadas (plastic cups covered in butcher paper, taped onto cardboard). Some years,  they have to cross raging rivers also. They learn what a difficult and treacherous journey the trail to California is!