Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wonderful Wednesday

wonderful wednesday...I love you!

My kids absolutely love Wonderful this is not a prize basket sort of thing. It is a way I can give feedback to the kids and let them know I care. Do I use candy as a "treat"? Yes, but not for a special few - for everyone. 
Here's what I do...

I sat down at the computer one night and brainstormed all the things I liked about my class. I tried to pick things that were academic, social and just good manners...The list is ongoing at at the end of the blog you can get a freebie! 

IMAG0535.jpg First, print off several copies of each page. (I like to print it on colored paper.) Cut them into strips and clip together with a paper clip or put them in an envelope. Then lay them on a table top so you can see them all. I like to see all my choices when I pick them...

     Next I call each child individually to the table and pick out a saying that specifically fits them at this time. I also give a piece of candy…that never hurts. However, this year I have a diabetic student and this has caused me to "rethink" the candy treat...maybe next year the slips will be enough?

     I have found that all kids do something good every week and giving them recognition is a powerful tool. I never leave anyone out and I never make it a "backhanded" compliment. My kids love this and keep them taped to their desks! If I forget, they remind me..that says something, doesn't it? 

Here is a freebie for you to try!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Field Trips

Field Trips
Are you still allowed to go on field trips?  Nothing is more engaging than a field trip done well.  In Fredericksburg, we are surrounded by many historic locations. This past week we went to visit Mary Washington's house (George's mother!).  When we were there the students were treated to very engaging lessons using real artifacts and replicas that the students could touch and see and even smell.  We loved seeing the actual mirror that Mary Washington would have used!

At the Apothecary shop, we were amazed to hear the stories of how the doctor treated patients in the 1700's - leeches were especially cool! We even got to act out getting our arm that's engaging.      Our last stop was at the Rising Sun Tavern where we learned more about how people traveled back then.  It was very interesting to see how the wealthy were treated vs. the every day folks.  

One of the tips I have to share today is our field trip form.  This was originally created by Lori Kania a teacher at my school that we use every year.  You can get it for FREE by clicking here.
Hope you can use it!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What about enrichment?

Enrichment...ah a thought from the past...remember the days when we could enrich our students with multiple experiences that would engage and excite them everyday?  Long before state standardized testing ruled the day, we used to believe in educating the whole child.  One of my fondest memories was the year we had a summer enrichment program for at risk students where the theme was flight.  We used this theme for math and reading activities, as well as exposing them to a hot-air balloon launch, sky divers at the school and a field trip to Dulles Airport to watch the planes take off.  You know what was so exciting for them was going up and down the escalator (which we do not have in the small town of Fredericksburg, Va.). 

Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do about ItStill, when you look at the research with children in poverty (especially Eric Jensen's book) you will note that one of the best models is exactly what we did 20 years ago...Enrichment. I happen to teach at a school like most of America that has about 30% low socio economic students mixed with 60% middle class and about 10% upper middle class.  What we have found is that ALL students benefit from an Enrichment model. 

Let me share with you a sneak peek into last week's Multicultural Day.  When testing became such a demanding thorn in our side we used to have a Multicultural Night - where students could come and learn about cultures around the world.  Guess who came? Mostly it was full of our middle/upper class students with a few from our lower economic population.  So we were enriching the enriched.  Does that make sense? Last year we decided to do it during the day in school.  So that ALL kids could participate. 

What was the plan?

  • Each grade level chose a continent to focus on (we choose North America). Then each class picked an activity to expose the children too.  We asked for food donations and artifacts too.  My class did New Orleans' Mardi Gras and we had King cake, mardi grass beads and made mardi gras masks.  It was fun! 
  • Each fourth grade class then rotated into my room for a thirty minute rotation while my students got to experience the culture of Canada (complete with curling), Guatemala (worry dolls craft) and America (basketball fun!). 
  • At the end of the day all classes met for a group gathering in the gym where we sang a song or did a dance or shared a chant that related to our cultural experience.  My class sang "When the Saints Go Marching in".  Each class made a mini flag or banner that they carried in to showcase our area!
  • Although it was exhausting, it was so rewarding!
A Scottish Flag
This year we focused on the cultural influences that shaped Virginia....Scottish, English, African, German and Irish. We made a PowerPoint that showed the countryside and showcased the cultures.  We have an amazing substitute teacher who is Scottish and she brought in some wonderful artifacts to explore.  Here are some pictures of the day...
A spot of tea and biscuits...

 Students rotated through
stations where they could taste some tea and biscuits, view a Scottish Flag, learn words from Scotland, look at books from Beatrix Potter a famous Scottish author....

We learned Scottish words like Crabbit
She had kilts they could try on and a real fiddle they could play.  The boys loved to wear the kilt and try to practice the Scottish dances we had seen on You Tube.  We even talked about the Scottish Highland games - such fun!

So next time you are bogged down in test prep think about this model and how you could fit one day of Enrichment into your month.  It may be just the break you and your students brains need...
We played a real "fiddle".... 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Picking your battles....

Ever heard that expression? Yep! Use it all the time - as a wife, a mother and a teacher.  And if you are a teacher who works with real, live, children - you have had to do it too!  Some things are simply not worth arguing over...nobody will win. 

I think back to when I was a new teacher and "thought" I could "control" a situation by being the authority.  Do you know what happened?  A lot of power struggles!  I was usually the one egging the student on without ever knowing it!

I have learned a lot over the years from some wonderful resources....Responsive Classroom being my favorite as I have mentioned.  I also learned a lot from the students themselves as well as my own sons at home.  When I finally stopped "fighting" to be in charge, suddenly I was in charge.  Now I am not saying be permissive and let them run willy nilly all over you. (No, those are the dreams we have in August!)  But instead, let go and live a little.

I have spent a lot of time making sure that I have taught my kids routines and procedures, that they know what to do and what my expectations are for sure.  But what do I do when they break them? Well that it a little problem or a big problem?  Let's talk about little problems today...

I use a lot of humor.  Simple? is.  Not sarcasm - that's different but humor. We laugh together and if they are being ridiculous (as fourth graders often are - he took my spot!!!)...then I say "Spots? Who has spots? Chicken pox?" They realize they are being ridiculous and we drop it. 

Other times I answer their complaint with a simple "Gosh, that must bother you. I'm glad you told me." And then I walk want to be heard, acknowledged and listened to. 

Sometimes I lay it on the line - "Do you think you are maybe over reacting?  That's pretty normal for boys this age to do or say?"

And above all else, I change the subject and ask them about something they are interested in or working on in their life outside of school.  How was your basketball game?  Did you watch American Idol last night? Have you heard Adele's latest song?" 

I don't know if it works for everyone, but it works for me - Pick your battles! It will help your relationships flourish....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Energizers with Older Kids...absolutely!

When I taught K-2 for the first 18 years of my career, I was always dancing, singing and basically standing on my head.  When I moved up to work with the older kids I thought this would change.  It did change...but not like I thought it would.  Where before we danced because we were loaded with energy and were dancing and moving all the time anyway, now...we need to move because the kids start to zone out. 

Yes, the same kids who couldn't sit still to save their souls ... now glanced at me with a "I don't wanna do anything" look.  You know...let me sit still so I can be ignored and I can maybe even fall asleep??? Oh, no...not in my classroom.  So I began using energizers with them during transition times....especially in between content areas - switching from social studies to science. Too much sitting isn't good for anyone. 

Responsive Classroom has an excellent website on YouTube featuring some of the best energizers. I love this because it shows me how to do it...because I might forget it once I leave the classroom. 

Here is an example of "Mama Shark"....  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Do you do Morning Meeting???

 Do you do Morning meetings?  I am a huge fan of The Responsive Classroom. (  In fact our school started using this approach eight years ago and it has made a definite impact on how we work with kids.  One of the first things we do each day is Morning Meetings.  In Morning Meetings we start with a greeting, a share, an activity and a morning message.  I think this is a great way to start the day and naturally leads to building relationships with your students and between your students. 

HomeLet’s talk about Sharing….taking the time each day to share is a great way to get to know your students.   Every Monday I make sure I put aside 10 minutes for the students to share one sentence about what they did this weekend. We sit in a circle and share one at a time.  I find that this has an extra bonus of helping kids learn how to summarize!  After everyone shares, we go around the circle again and have the opportunity to ask a classmate a question or comment on something said.  I find this teaches kids to care about each other and builds friendships and also empathy.

Then, we do it again on Friday but this time with a cheer.  “Hey there _________ the weekend is near.  What’cha gonna do when it finally gets here?”  They love to do this the last 15 minutes of school on Friday and quite frankly so do I.  It gears us up for the weekend and ends the week on a great note!

The rest of the week I keep it pretty open.  Some days I ask “Does anyone have news to share today?” Sometimes an exciting event may happen on a Tuesday after all!!! Other days we share an idea we learned from last night’s homework, study guides, vocabulary or reading for an academic touch.

 To view more information about Morning Meetings and Sharing in particular visit:

Monday, February 20, 2012

It's all about relationships....

     Imagine sitting in a room with 24 other people and a dictator who tells you what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  No one knows your dreams, your interests, your hopes, and your fears.  Would you want to spend 180 days in that room?  No way…

        We learned long ago that relationships matter.  Students need to feel like they are a part of the classroom and that their thoughts and ideas are important.  They need to be able to take a risk, share news about their home and their interests and communicate with others.  If students aren’t more than a number or grade, they will miss out on so much!!!  And guess what?  So will you!

        Now anyone who reads anything about working with students especially students who live in poverty knows that relationships are the number one factor in student performance.  But has anyone ever thought about how it affects the teacher?  Think about it…teachers who take the effort to get to know their students tend to enjoy teaching more.  It’s true!  Some of my best memories include tears of joy with my students when parents return from deployment or (sadly) jail after months of discussions about how much they miss them.  Ever listen to a student belt out a tune because she thinks she is the next Adele? How about conversations the day after American Idol??? Oh yeah….we know!  We love to hear about baseball games, soccer, gymnastics and dance.  Sharing trophies and medals are part of our daily existence.  Have you ever thought about how it makes YOU feel?  In a word…joyful!

        Now teachers are always saying…but that takes TIME. The four letter word in education is TIME.  How do we do it and do it effectively without causing you to lose your mind?  I don't have an easy answer for this...but I will share some stories from my class in the near future...Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A place to call home...

I have had a wonderful time with my blog since August.  I tried to do another blog just after Christmas to showcase my materials from my Virginia Studies lessons, but somehow that didn't quite work.  So I thought what I needed was a place to call home for all the rest of my ideas....I am currently working on the beginning stages of a book using many of these ideas with my colleague and bestie Sherrie Roland.  We envision this to be a book that provides insights into our day and how we use best practices to keep our students motivated and engaged.

Some topics to explore will be...

Social Studies
Smartboard activities
Community building

and don't first love, science!

I hope you will join me on this endeavor...