December 11, 2018

Escape Santa's Workshop

If you’re anything like me, you’re always trying to find new ways to teach the same thing!  That’s what we do, right? 

We did a Halloween themed escape room activity and the kids loved it!  I decided I would give it a try and create my own. 

I knew I had to include a couple of problem solving and teamwork activities as well.  Cooperation is one of our focus character traits we are working on this year.   

The students made elf hats the day before.  They had no idea why they were making them,  but there weren't any complaints.  I told them it was a surprise!.

I really wanted to incorporate what we were working on in the classroom and what topics needed review.  Many of my students are still confusing nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.  I included the first three, but left adverbs for another day.  That has really been a beast to teach.

I have been teaching addition and subtraction math strategies and I wanted to see how they would do with regrouping.  I did differentiate the math for certain students.  I did not want the challenges to create so much frustration that the teams wanted to give up.

The last component was reading comprehension.  Students had to read a passage and then answer questions about the story. 

I think the prep time would have been shorter but I wanted to laminate ALL THE THINGS.  I  did want to make sure it could be reused next year.  I’m big on organizing supplies and materials for lessons and this was no different.  Everything had its place! 

 I initially wanted to go with groups of two but later decided on groups of three.  This helped with prepping materials as well as extra thinking power with the groups.  I didn’t let the children create groups, I made them myself.  This way I could make sure all the teams had a variety of ability levels included. 

They had to answer a clue  to advance on to a challenge.  Everyone in the team needed to agree on the answer and write it down on their own recording sheet.  They also came to me, the Head Elf, to get their answers checked.  One of my 2nd grade team members had the teams vote on one leader who would come up for the group.  I think I may do that next year.  If the answers were incorrect, they had to try again.  I did give clues to groups that I thought were struggling. 

The pyramid challenge (#3) was exciting!  It was funny watching the students attempt to make this pyramid without touching the cups.  They really worked together!  

The gift wrapping with one arm challenge (#5) was just as exciting!  The students figured out quickly that if they didn’t work together, the package was not going to get wrapped. 

It was fun for everyone!  I enjoyed watching them work together and laugh at their mistakes. 

You can find Escape Santa’s Workshop here.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

September 4, 2018

5 Tips For Back to School

It’s that time of year again! For many teachers around the country, school has already started or is on the verge of starting. There is so much to prepare for back to school. It’s likely that you’re already feeling overwhelmed and under prepared for the new school year. If you feel that way, don’t worry! You definitely aren’t along. However, there are some simple back to school tips that can help you enter into the new school year confidently. Here are four:

Start Fresh
It’s important to start fresh for the new school year. When you think “back to school,” you should automatically think about starting fresh. It’s the beginning of a new season, new school year, and meeting new students. There are several practical ways to start fresh. First, you should buy a new planner. A new school year means new school supplies! Clear out all of your old lessons, reorganize your classroom supplies, and remember that every class is different and deserves a fresh approach.

Connect with other teachers
Having a strong support system at school is crucial for the new school year, In fact, it might be the most helpful back to school tip I have! Connect with other teachers in any way that you can. Follow them on social media, participate in school committees, strike up a conversation when you see them running around campus preparing for the new year...everything helps! When you have other teachers in your corner, it makes the back to school season exciting and much less scary.

Procedures and Routines
Classroom procedures and routines need to be drilled into students’ heads at the beginning of the school year so they stick for the rest of the year. Prioritize spending significant time in the first few weeks teaching (and reminding!) your students about your classroom procedures and routines. Every teacher is different and the sooner they get used to how you run your classroom, the faster they will adjust. Remember that the back to school season is overwhelming for them too! Routine and structure can help alleviate the fear of the unknown.

Make it fun
Make the first few weeks back to school fun! Yes, the whole year should be fun, but the first few weeks are the most crucial. This is the time when you are just getting to know your students and they are just getting to know you! You are likely a bit anxious about teaching a whole new class and the students are undoubtedly feeling the same way about having a new and unfamiliar teacher. So make the back to school season fun and exciting! Put in the extra effort to create engaging lessons that your students will love.

The last back to school tip is to relax. It’s no secret that preparing for the new school year is stressful and time-consuming. However, you need to get enough rest so that you can show up on the first day refreshed and ready to go. Don’t worry too much about the small back to school details. Instead, find a new and exciting routine that works for you- and stick to it.

Hopefully these tips can help you start your school year off with a bang! Whether you feel underprepared or ready to meet your new class, these tips can help you stay positive and feel supported throughout the year. While these tips are designed for the back to school season, they can help you at any point in the school year. Never underestimate the power of a few simple back to school tips!  

Happy Teaching!  

July 1, 2018


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The summer slide is real folks!  The Georgia Department of Education states that there is a significant reading loss that occurs for most children when they are not in a formal learning environment or not engaged in any form of educational activities during the summer. Students can have up to a 2-3 month loss in reading ability over summer and lower-income students may suffer most due to lack of books in the home and transportation access to public libraries. Rural area students also lack easy access.

When kids are out for the summer they tend to avoid anything related to reading!  We fill out End of the Year slips that document their reading and math levels.  We all know how it feels when we walk back into the classroom and our students are not where they left off.  It’s a great idea to offer fun educational activities throughout the summer that are FREE.

We know that most parents aren’t trained literacy experts and most kids aren’t interested in sitting through structured summer classes!  It ’s important for us to encourage parents to do the best they can to help their kids keep practicing the strategies they learned during the school year.

Partnering of schools and public libraries has great promise for solving the summer reading loss dilemma.  Most public libraries will send a representative out to schools to discuss the summer reading program to get the students excited about summer reading. 

Create a reading plan with a theme.  There are a few Read Around the World summer challenges’ going on this year.  Have students pick a book that showcases a different culture or continent.  Check out the blog_____.  She has set up a Facebook page and the reading structure is set up by regions.  You can offer a small token to students who complete the challenge and return the log the next school year. 

Have students read a pre-determined book and create a craft that correlates with the book.  Students could read the book Me on the Map then create their own map of their summer travels around the world, country, or neighborhood. 

Give students the opportunity to create their own stories.  You can collect them in the fall and have the students read to your current class.  You can send home premade books created from handwriting paper with a construction paper cover.  The Target dollar spot had pre-made books once upon a time.  However, you know you have to purchase items in the Dollar Spot when you see them because they tend to sell out quickly without being reordered. 

It's hard to keep up a reading routine in a season packed with distractions and diversions. These suggestions will fit into a families’ busy schedule and make reading fun!  

What did you prepare for your students in order to combat the summer slide?

February 1, 2018

Books for Black History Month and All Year Long!

I know for some teachers it’s hard to discuss slavery with students no matter what age range they’re in.  However, it is necessary. We can’t just leave something out of history because it’s difficult to discuss.   Slavery had and still has an impact on us as a country.  It starts in the elementary grades with false or fake history.  We can tend to oversimplify it and our students carry this misinformation throughout their K-12 education.  Teaching slavery in the younger grades can be done.  Like most subjects, it can be built on and layered each year of their education. 

Our standards for Social Studies cover historical people like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin.  I have introduced slavery and how Africans were enslaved as part of those units.  There are a few books I like to use as well as some primary sources.  The following titles are a great resource to use in the classroom. 

This book is very poet and is based on Harriet's 'spiritual' journey.  She believed that God told her to free the enslaved Africans.  

A story of how quilts were used as maps for the Underground Railroad.

Dave was an artist, poet, and potter living in South Carolina in the 1800s.

A historical book describes Christmas on a pre-Civil War plantation from the viewpoints of the big house family and the slave quarters.
I like to use a couple of books about each topic when I teach.  I usually have the main or mentor text then I have another book that may complement the main text. 

Ruby Bridges was not part of the first grade Social Studies standards until this year however, I have always taught the history of Ruby because of her age when she integrated Frantz Elementary school.  That history is extremely relatable to my students.  Ruby Bridges is my main text but I like to include Busing Brewster and Separate is Never Equal.

I wish more books were made similar to Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue With Today's Youth.  

My students have so many questions when they learn about African-American heroes who are still alive.  I love the structure of the book in that the actual questions/letters are included.  Biographies and autobiographies are great but I believe this format is awesome! 

No matter who you teach your students about this year, start with a good picture book!  You can Google book lists or check out Pinterest.  I happen to love the blogger 
She gives updated book lists on a variety of topics as it relates to diversity and children. Charnaie has an excellent post on having the discussion about race with your youngest students.  Click the link above to read more. 

Sweetpeagirls offers a subscription box with curated items of books and keepsakes for girls of color.  She also has an IG page with book reviews and information about new releases.  

Teaching Tolerance has a webinar that you can view along with great lessons and resources that relate to teaching hard history.  They have multiple lessons for  K-12  students.
It’s difficult to explain our history but we are charged to help students understand how the present relates to the past.

December 31, 2017

HAPPY 2018!

Nothing like a new year to sit back and revisit the things you accomplished or still need to accomplish.  I like flipping through my journal and reading the moments that I captured on paper.  The entries make me laugh out loud as well as reach for my box of tissues.  Going back and reflecting on the past year gives me hope for things to come.   I know research says that most resolutions won’t be maintained for any length of time, but that doesn’t stop me from trying! 

As I look back at my list of resolutions or goals for the year, I actually accomplished quite a few.   Everything was something that I needed to maintain every New Year.  I think it’s more about creating habits or replacing bad habits until it’s a way of life.  Creating a mindset should be the main goal then everything else falls under that. 
So let’s see…I completed the Daniel Fast.  I’m actually going to do that again this year.  I believe it’s a wonderful jump start to detoxing the body and tuning in to the Lord’s voice. 
I didn’t read a book a month.  I think the original challenge was a book a week.  That was totally unrealistic for me but I couldn’t pull off one a month either.  The majority of my leisure reading was during the summer.  I did read a total of four books this year.  

I did take on a new attitude that I’m happy to say has become a way of thinking.  I count it all joy!  Even when things look dark and dreary, I’m learning that there is a lesson to be learned.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel sad or disappointed but my response is that I realize that there is a bigger picture and like always, this too shall pass. 

I fell short of the goal of pampering myself this year.  That’s definitely going back on the list! I would like to take advantage of the time off and travel more.  I did, however, invest in myself.  Some would argue that investing in one’s self is more important.  I think we need balance in all we do.   I went to a teacher conference.  I also took some self-paced courses online, read blogs and watched videos on how to edit and create digital products.  I created a budget and increased my savings while paying off debt.  I have already made plans to attend more conferences this spring and summer. 

I did write down the things that I accomplished each day.  I would make a To-Do list but then found myself doing things that were not originally on the list.  It felt good to write it in and then check it off!  I know that sounds silly, but it brought me joy!
All in all, I did pretty well with my “resolutions”.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself.  I have a brand new journal ready to capture the moments and ideas of 2018. 

What resolutions did you keep throughout the year? 

July 10, 2017

5 Books for Educators

5 Books for Summer Reading
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I absolutely love reading books!  My summers are scheduled with books that I have been collecting all school year!  I never have time to really devour a book during the school year.  I may read a book each night for a few minutes before I pass out, but it’s not like during the uninterrupted time of June and July when  I can finish a book in a couple of hours. 
There aren’t many genres that I care to read.  If someone shares a book and it’s fiction I tend to shy away from it.  It’s just not my favorite genre.  I really enjoy non-fiction, especially if it deals with history or social issues.  I save my fiction for movie watching! 
Here is a list of books that I think are very helpful for educators no matter what stage of your career you’re in. 

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School by Monique W. Morris 

This book will have you walking away in disbelief if you have never heard of the cases Ms. Morris describes in the book.  It explains the school to prison pipeline for black girls via zero tolerance policies that have been put in place.   Black girls are being criminalized in the place where they should be receiving an education as well as help to underlying issues.  The author talks about the struggle of  African Americans female to receive an education while dismissing stereotypes that society holds.  It’s a very enlightening read because so much focus has been put on black males that we tend to forget the impact of incarceration as it relates to black girls. 

The Essential 55 by Ron Clark

Essential 55
I loved this book so much that I used its tenets to create a product for my classroom morning work.  Mr. Clark is the founder of the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.  There was a TV movie made about his life as an educator.  The book talks about the 55 guidelines or rules for interacting with others.  This book made my list because I am a believer in teaching character education to students along with geometry, reading, and learning about matter.  The book discusses things like having self-respect and how we treat others.  These are things that many students do not receive at home.  You many not need to go through all 55 lessons but it’s a great starting point. 

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow

This book is non-fiction but it had me in tears throughout until I came to the end.  The premise of the book is that there is now a new caste system which replaces the Jim Crow laws of old.  The author goes through the history of America and its racism towards people who aren’t of European decent.  She also compares mass incarceration to Jim Crow.  The United States’ incarceration rate is the highest in the world.  Alexander also discusses how the War on Drugs is a complete charade.  When you read this book through the lens of an educator, you have a new understanding of why it is so important to make sure that children of color have an excellent academic foundation.    

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess
Get Your Pirate On!

This book is very inspirational and had me ready to stand on chairs and shout once I finished reading it.  It was all about student engagement.  I think this was the book that renewed my spirit for teaching.    Burgess offers practical techniques and innovative ideas that helped transform me as an educator. I think this is a great read for new teachers but a must read for us seasoned teachers that may have lost our way. 

Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching EverydayNo Matter What by Angela Watson
Check it out!

I found out about this book after researching Angela Watson who is the owner of the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week Club.  I had heard so many great things about the club I started researching Watson and fell in love with her ideas and techniques.  I submitted a video and was awarded a scholarship to take part in the club.  I’m all about working smarter and not harder and enjoying my workday because it will help alleviate stress.  If that’s you, this book should be your next read.  I’m such a book nerd that I have to take notes while reading.  I’ve almost written my own book with all the notes I have taken from this book.  It’s full of practical ideas and advice that can be implemented right away to get your passion back for teaching and make your day more efficient. 

Whatever you read during your summer break should be something that grows you as an educator but will also relieve the pressures that we go through as teachers. 

Enjoy your time off, it’s well deserved!!

May 27, 2017

First Grade Memories

The end of the year is a happy, yet sad time.  My students have become a family.  It’s amazing when I look back and see how they have grown academically as well as socially.  You learn their personalities, likes and dislikes, and anything else that makes them tick.

I wanted to start our memory books earlier but we just didn't have the time.  I wanted to do something different this year.  I usually have the students complete a paper memory book, but I don’t think they last very long.  To be honest, they really don't hold any memories.  I think the students need to see pictures to truly remember our first grade moments.  We do have yearbooks but many of my students don’t purchase yearbooks.  Even with the yearbook, there are only two pages dedicated to showcasing our class for an entire year! 

I take LOTS of pictures during the 180 days I have my kiddos.  I print at least four pictures out each month that shows a certain activity that we worked on.  I display them on a closet door. 

I also take pics of the students when they master a sight word list. 

I have an area in my room where the sight words pictures are displayed. I also like to send that picture through ClassDojo to parents.  

This year I let the students pick between 8-10 pictures to include in their memory book.  They shopped for pictures first. 

I would put more pictures out as each desk became empty.  I had almost 400 pictures available for the students to choose from!  I didn’t print these all at once.  I would print some each month and keep them in a file.  Thank goodness for the HP Instantink program.  Printing in color is now inexpensive because I don’t have to worry about running out of ink and the cost of the cartridge!

After my students picked out their pictures they taped them onto paper, using washi tape. 

I had a ton of washi tape that I ordered from Naeir.   The washi tape was easy for them to rip.  

We completed these in one day.  I would laminate the book as each student finished.  It took some time but I was able to complete all the laminating and hole punching in one day.  I used the smaller laminating sheets which I also purchased from Naeir.  The smaller sheets are thicker which made for a sturdy book. It was a great activity for the last few days of school when you want to keep as much structure as possible. The final project looked great!

I put the memory books inside their end of the year gift bag.  

My students were so proud of their memory books.  They really took their time in picking out the pictures and creating the books! 

Did you notice the ribbons?   I LOVED how they turned out!  My friend had ribbons from a dog show and she shared a set with me.  I ripped off the front and hot glued the cute classroom awards printout from Allyson Sutton Going Strong in Second Grade They fit perfectly after shrinking the awards a little. 

My students got a kick out of the awards! 
What type of memory books do you have your students make at the end of the year?