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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

{Peek of the Week} A Peek into Sunny's 4th & 5th Grade Classroom

I have been receiving a lot of submissions for Peek of the Week, and I continue to be amazed at your willingness to share your classrooms (and all your hard work) and the way you have all made your classrooms your own.  They are all beautiful, in every way.

I am truly overwhelmed with the response to Peek of the Week, and please rest assured that if you have submitted pictures, you will be on the blog soon! :)

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Sunny.  Much like her gorgeous name, her classroom is light, bright, and airy.  And super organized. Looking at pictures of her room makes me want to curl up with a good book in one of her many cozy spaces.

Sunny actively posts pictures of her classroom on her Instagram account (@teachersunny).  There are so many wonderful ideas there, so be sure to follow her for even more classroom inspiration!

**I apologize in advance for the number of times I use the word "love" in this blog post.  I just have a whole lotta love for this sweet space!

Look at this super cozy classroom!  If you have room for a couch in your classroom, I so highly recommend it.  Students love it, and it is a great reward or incentive, too. 
Student couch and library view
I loved seeing the inside of her cupboards.  They are so organized, yet so realistic to keep up with.  Sometimes I see organized pantries on home decorating blogs, and I think, "WHAT! There is NO way I could ever keep that up."  I didn't feel that way when I saw this cupboard.  Love it!

Organized Classroom Cupboards
Sunny was lucky enough to get 10 Chromebooks from Donor's Choose.  Here is how she stores them.  (I keep noticing the sweet little decorations Sunny has all over her room.  They are so simple, but they add such a touch of home to her classroom.)

Chromebook Storage
I love this organized library!  She said, "Library organization inspired by LadyBug Files. 6 out of 23 bins of books plus more! I'm a hoarder of books!" 

Sunny's Organized Classroom Library
Here is a picture of her library in the process of getting organized.  It is such a huge job, but a classroom library is so worth it!
Sunny working on Organizing her Classroom Library
I should have called this one the Ikea classroom! :) She sure has made the most of their inexpensive and sleek-looking furniture. She wrote, "Pushed two $7 ikea side tables to make an area by my rug where students can turn in or take assignments or graphic organizers with them as they leave the carpet. And it has pencils for student who forget to bring one to take notes with at the carpet." 

Classroom Carpet Side Table Organization

Sunny said her students really enjoy reading at this window bench area.  Look at all those trees out her windows.  I think I'd love it, too!
Student window seats
 This is a great alternative to the expensive seat pockets from school supply companies.  Sunny wrote, "Felt chair booties and Home Depot chair pockets. I simply sewed the straps together and made sure it for snugly on the chair. Works well for chapter books!"  

Chapter books are forever getting lost and covers get bent when they are stuffed in a desk.  What a great idea this is.

Chapter book chair storage
Such a cook DIY classroom calendar Sunny made!  She said she used a $7 Ikea frame.  So easy to switch out the numbers and write important dates each month... and it looks great, too!
DIY Classroom Calendar
Yes, yes, yes!  Homework turn-in folders.  What a fabulous idea!  She stapled folders to the walls and put each student's number of a folder.  She can easily see who did and didn't complete their homework.

Homework Turn-In Folders
The desk in the corner of the next picture is actually a student teacher desk.  What a wonderful idea to give them their very own space, and make it look like a part of the classroom.  Not to mention it's super functional for students when there is no student teacher!  The small table in the middle looks like a great place for students to gather and read a novel together.
Student Teacher and Supply Area
 Here is another little organized space in her room.  Sunny said, "Ladybug Teacher Files again with the student drawers. I use them as reading drawers that hold their books, notebook, highlighters, post-its for readers workshop. I have one for each student. "

Student Organization
I remember when I first organized my math manipulatives and made them accessible to students.  It made life SO much easier, and I absolutely loved watching them in the midst of work walking over, grabbing a helpful manipulative, and solving a problem on their own.  It really taught them to be resourceful, and it made planning so much easier, too!
Sunny's Organized Math Manipulatives
 Look at her organized desk!  I am loving this!

Sunny's Incredibly Organized Desk Drawer

I love that Sunny has a picture book display in her classroom, even for "older" kids.  They absolutely still need those picture books, and let's face it--they still LOVE them!
Sunny's 4th & 5th Grade Picture Book Display

Binder Organization

Every teacher needs a little corner of the room for themselves!  This is Sunny's sink area and where she makes her coffee.  I love the fresh flowers.

Sunny has a clever alternative to the great, big teacher desk that so many of us are familiar with.  She wrote, "My desk area. Got rid of the big ugly teacher desk from the district and got myself a small ikea desk that is functional."  I love it because she still has a landing place for all of her teacher things, but it doesn't dominate the room.

Sunny's Teacher Desk Area
I love her 12th Man Flag!
 Thank you again, Sunny, for sharing your classroom with us!  It's absolutely wonderful.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Create Curriculum "Bright Spots" You Can't Wait to Teach!

If you need a teaching "pick me up" after a long week at school, I implore you to keep on reading, for  your own personal benefit, and for the benefit of your students...

When I first met Angela Watson last year, it was a little bit like meeting a celebrity.  You see, Angela Watson (who used to run Ms. Powell's Classroom) got me through student teaching and my first year in my classroom.  Her website had dozens of classroom ideas, inspiration, center ideas, and organizational tips all complete with pictures.  It was a one of a kind website, created during an era when there were no blogs, nearly a decade before Pinterest, and when it was a stretch to find pictures of other classrooms on the Internet, much less excellent teaching ideas.

I continued to reference her site for years, and when she made the switch to The Cornerstone for Teachers, I continued to be inspired by her.  Not only is she a talented educator, but she is an incredible author of several books.  Her latest book, Unshakeable, is like her website--an absolute must read for all teachers; new teachers muddling their way through their first year and veteran teachers who need a spark of inspiration will finish the book feeling refreshed and ready to face whatever the day may bring.

Unshakeable promises to teach you 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day... No Matter What, and it absolutely delivers on that promise.  It is a quick read, written as if you were sitting down and having a conversation with a mentor teacher.  Anecdotes, examples, and relevant ideas made it a page turner.

When I read through the titles of the chapters (which are the 20 ways to enjoy teaching), right away, chapter eleven resonated with me.

Angela points out that it is rare, indeed, for a teacher (particularly elementary school teachers who teach all subjects) to love everything they are teaching.  It's nearly impossible to expect a teacher to teach thousands of lessons each year and adore each one.  But we certainly can do our best to try.

I love her suggestion that you should spend more time getting ready for the lessons you aren't as excited to teach than you spend on planning the exciting lessons that you are eager to teach.  It is easy to fall into the rut of being great at what you're already good at, but it's our job as teachers to encourage kids to go outside their comfort zone...and the best way we can teach them that is by going out of our comfort zones right along with them.

This is so true for me.  As I was reading, I knew right away that I was often guilty of putting in so much more effort planning the things I looked forward to teaching.  In hindsight, though, that may not have been the most healthy routine.  There are a few things I do, though, to make my "curriculum lows" a bit more bearable.  Here are a few of my curriculum lows, and how I made them into my curriculum bright spots.

My lack of love for teaching science stems directly from my lack of knowledge.  I dread setting up the experiments and don't love teaching concepts I'm not comfortable with.  This is one of the reasons I came up with my Titanic unit! I LOVE the history of the Titanic, and creating science activities to go along with a passion seemed more natural.  Teaching buoyancy and water displacement seemed so much easier when I could relate it to something I was interested in.

When I taught third grade, regions got moved from fourth to third grade.  I remember the grimace on my face when I realized that space (a unit I LOVED teaching, despite my lack of love for science) was being replaced with regions.  When I sat down with my team to plan for the first time, I was very clear that I did not want to spend our days coloring maps.  We designed an incredibly engaging trip around all of the regions.  Each of us took one or two regions and created a big presentation and experience, then rotated students through the experience.  They made a scrapbook (an idea I got from beth Newingham) and we all, students included, had an absolute blast!  I loved sitting at home researching the specific region I was in charge of, and I went to bed each night excited to teach my kids about the region the next day!

In her book, Angela mentions angles and lines as one of her not-so-favorite subjects to teach.  She also gives great suggestions for figuring out how to add in these bright spots, one of which is setting a timer and spending an hour online searching for new ideas on how to teach these topics.  It's truly amazing what you can find on Google and Pinterest, especially with the invent of teaching blogs!

Geometry, as a whole, used to be on par with my feelings about teaching science.  When I was student teaching, the unit that I was asked to develop was...for geometry!  Ack!  It was a three week unit, and once I got into planning it, I realized how many FUN activities there were to teach geometry.  It has turned into one of my FAVORITE topics to teach because there are so many hands-on activities.  Had I not been forced to make a killer unit (since I was student teaching), I may have never found my love for geometry.

Aside from brightening up the things you DON'T look forward to teaching, make sure you still have those topics and units that you absolutely can't wait to implement!  For me, those units included fairytales (SO many activities!), figurative language, multiplication, graphing, and our city unit.  I tried to spread these out throughout the year so that I always had something to look forward to.

Angela also mentions making DAILY teaching bright spots a priority.  She lists great ideas, like lunch with students, breakfast with colleagues, etc.  Here are a few ideas I used to make a priority to make bright spots in each of my days...

Morning Meeting
I absolutely loved this twenty minutes of my day with my students.  It was an opportunity for us to greet one another, share important happenings, and give the students an overview of our day.  It truly built community unlike any other routine in our day and I rarely had any sort of behavior issue or conflict to deal with during this time.

Clean Up Wrap Up
We have a silent clean up/end of day policy in my classroom.  This may sound like a bizarre bright spot, but it was five minutes during my day that I could look around and all of the kids were working hard on their jobs and writing diligently in their planners.  The kids were happy and I was able to check in with students who needed it.

Eating in the Lounge
I'm hesitant to write this, because I know there is a lot of stigma attached to this for many teachers.  Eating in the lounge was consistently a bright spot in my day.  There was no negative talk or gossip, but there were lots of funny stories, chats about those delicious looking leftovers, and picture passing of kids and grandkids.  If you aren't comfortable eating in the lounge, perhaps find a colleague that you can share lunch with.  It was always a much needed break in my day, and I grew to just love the teachers I ate with every day.

Our school encouraged younger grades to pair with older grades each week.  We called them our buddies, and we met during the last 30 minutes of the school day on Friday.  The other teacher and I would come up with a relevant activity and off they went, busily working with their friends.  Most of the time, the other teacher and I would just sit back and watch while the kids enjoyed their time learning with their buddies.

Angela's book is full of practical and easy-to-implement ideas for making the most of each day.  You can check it out on Amazon, and be sure to stop by her blog to read all of the other blog posts to learn about all 20 ways!

Click here to read more posts in the 20 day book club!

Click here to check out her book on Amazon!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Encouraging EXPRESSIVE Readers {A quick and easy activity with a picture book!}

It seems all young kids have a book that they adore.  You know the one... it's the book that gets read every. single. day.  The one that they know all the words to.  The one with tattered edges.  Well, for my kids, it's this one...

Good Boy, Fergus!
I have read this book to my girls more times than I can count.  I adore listening to them read from memorization because it's just the perfect book for teaching expression, and boy oh boy, they sure are expressive when we are reading this book!

Good Boy, Fergus! is HANDS DOWN the best book I've ever come across for encouraging fluency and expression with oral reading.  It is full of different types of punctuation and the entire book is one big chance for students to practice expression.  I can't recommend it enough for your next fluency center, or just as a mini lesson with the whole class.  

Here's a look into some of the pages that I love so, so much.

If you are looking for even more fluency ideas, be sure to stop by my blog post with ten tips for teaching reading fluency!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

{Peek of the Week} A Peek Into Charitie's Science Classroom

Happy Thursday!  It has been a few weeks, but I'm thrilled to bring you Charitie's Science Classroom as part of my Peek of the Week feature!  I have received so many amazing submissions, and I can't wait to share them all with you!  You, my teacher friends, are fabulous and have such wonderful classrooms.  If you missed my first Peek of the Week, click HERE and see Aubrey's awesome classroom!

Charitie is friends with Ari from The Science Penguin and she has such an inviting science classroom with useful and meaningful decor.  It's so relevant and I can totally picture kids referencing everything that is in her room.

Charitie sent me her pictures in the middle of testing season, and I asked her to leave it JUST the way it was!  I specifically asked her not to spruce up. :)  She clarified that her tables are usually grouped but when she took this picture, they were separated for testing.

Here is a look at Charitie's shelving and storage.  I love what she has done here.  Open shelving can be SO difficult to make look nice, but she has done a great job with her colorful baskets.  It looks like everything has a place!  She wrote a funny little tidbit with this picture..."Please forgive the "table 1" lantern hanging on the shelf. A new student decided to jump and spike it down yet told me it fell by accident."

Charitie hand makes all of the letters that hang around her room.  Love them!

She has great anchor charts that I can tell students were involved in making! Those are the best kind.  She wrote that FF=CON is Fossil Fuels= Coal Oil Natural Gas

Again, Charitie was in the middle of state testing when she took these pictures, and she showed me how she covered them up.  I kind of LOVE this idea.  Since she color coded them originally, hopefully students can use the same colors that she covered them up with as reminders of what is behind the paper.  LOVE!

Two things stick out in this picture. Her ABCD Diagrams chart is simple and easy to remember but perfect for reminding students of the expectations for making great diagrams (perfect for science notebooks).  On the right of the board, she explained WED WWWI.  Weathering Erosion Deposition caused by Waves, Wind, Water and Ice.  I totally needed Charitie as a science teacher when I was in elementary school...

Charitie explained "PER" as Pathway, Energy source, Receiver--things needed for a circuit.  I had to check with my science expert friend Ari on SRCC, and it stands for "Sedimentary Rock-Compaction and Cementation"

As a teacher who admittedly really dislikes teaching science, I had a great time looking in Charitie's room.  She obviously makes science fun, and I can absolutely see myself using some of these in a general-ed classroom.  What great ideas she has!

Thank you, Charitie, for letting us peek into your classroom!  It is such a great opportunity to see classrooms for other subjects, too!

If you would like to send pictures for Peek of the Week, scroll to the bottom of THIS Peek of the Week post!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Titanic Lessons, Experiments, Activities, and More!

When I was young, I was never the girl who obsessed over boy bands.  I was the girl who obsessed over the Titanic.  Even before Titanic The Movie came out in 1997 and launched the world into a serious Titanic craze, I was fascinated with the ship and the disaster.  I even contacted another Titanic buff through AOL Message Boards (!!!) and received signed memorabilia from a survivor, pictures of grave sites and more.  

My fascination has never waned, and when I began teaching, I brought the Titanic with me.  Each year, I did a week-long study on the ship, and my kids absolutely adored it.  They were engaged every minute of it, and they felt so much compassion toward the lives that were lost.  It is such an amazing learning experience.

In my district, summer school is all enrichment based.  I designed a 3-week course on the Titanic, where we would do daily science experiments, literacy connections, and more.  I LOVED teaching this class just about as much as I loved learning about the Titanic.  I stopped teaching summer school when I had my girls, and unfortunately, I never took any pictures of the class back then.  I made it my mission this year to pull out my bins of materials and take pictures of some of the activities and experiments that we loved so much.  And here they are!  So many Titanic activities for you to do in your classroom.  Have fun and always, always, always Remember the Titanic!
Here are just a few of my Titanic buckets of supplies!  See that big metal rod on the top?  I use that to show students how thick the steel plates on the ship were.  It's HEAVY!  Not pictured are my dozens and dozens of Titanic books that we use throughout the study!
PLEASE NOTE: Many of the experiments I share came from a collaborative book that was offered online for FREE to educators.  The original site, Titanic Science, is no longer up and running, but you can download the FREE lesson plans *HERE*.  It is an AMAZING resource.  Truly phenomenal.

First, we make a Titanic waterfall book to record all of our fascinating information about the Titanic.  We keep this handy the whole time we are working on our unit.

Throughout our study of the Titanic, they fill in their waterfall booklets with pertinent information, glue pictures and maps in, write questions, then go on book and web quests to find their answers.  These are always well-loved and bursting with information by the time we are done.

Then, we construct foil boats and see who can make the sturdiest boat.  You can use marbles or pennies to see which boats can withhold the most weight.  We talk about what keeps a ship afloat and the characteristics of the sturdy and not-so-sturdy boats we built.

After we have had some fun with foil boats, we do a little water displacement experiment.  I fill a mini loaf pan full to the brim with water and place it into a larger foil dish pan.  It has to be RIGHT at the edge, or the experiment won't work. Then, I get a block or a piece of wood (the heavier the better) and place it in.  Of course, water pours over the age of the mini pan.  In theory, if you weigh the water that is displaced, it should weigh the same amount as the piece of wood that you put in.  This help them understand the science beyond water displacement and why ships can stay afloat.

Next, we talk about buoyancy and how it relates to the Titanic.  They start by dropping a ball of play dough (DON'T USE CLAY! It's too messy.) in water.  It sinks.  Then, they use the play dough to form a boat and make it float.  You can use the recording sheet for free HERE to go through the experiment  with your students.

At this point, the kids are getting excited to learn about the Titanic and have some good background information.  It's when I pull out the Titanic Passenger Tickets that they burst at the seems.  In that moment, they realize the gravity of it all--the fact that these are REAL people that this awful thing happened to, not just actors on a movie screen.

Each student gets their own ticket aboard the Titanic and we research our passengers.  Sometimes I wait for them to do their research until the end so that they don't know their fate.  I have done it both ways, and its a very powerful lesson, no matter when they research their passenger.

You can get the passenger tickets at my TpT store HERE.

At this point, we also start reading our books.  I have used several novels to teach the Titanic, but this Interactive History Adventure Book is hands-down a student favorite.  It is similar to a choose your fate novel, with different paths that can be taken.  We go through all the paths and they complete activities using a choice board.  You can see the choice boards at my TpT store HERE.

At this point, I usually have "tea" for all three classes.  I have parents donate food items that range from loaves of bread, cake, fruit, juice, and tea.  We have a first class and a third class tea/dinner.  I don't have any pictures of this, but this really drives home for the students the differences in classes.  I highly recommend that if you can get some donations from parents that you do this!  Sometimes, I tell the kids who have a 3rd class ticket (see above) that they can't eat the 1st class foods.  DEVASTATION!  Thankfully, they know I would never actually deprive them of the cakes and pastries, but the initial shock again shows just how different it was to be in 3rd vs. 1st class.

You have probably seen the next demonstration before, but it's a must for any Titanic unit.  It's easy!  Freeze a large balloon filled with water.  Let it bob in a sink, fish tank, or large tupperware.  It shows just how much of an iceberg sits underwater and why the visible tip of the iceberg is probably not what caused so much damage--instead, it is what they couldn't see that wreaked havoc on the poor ship.  I usually do several sizes of the balloons so that they can see that it happens no matter how big the berg is.

The students are always ready to get right to the sinking.  After all, it's the part they know the most about and are most interested in.  This watertight bulkhead Titanic experiment is hands-down my favorite experiment.  You will need lots and lots of 2 liter bottles (3 per group) and large tupperwares, sinks, or fish tanks.  Again, parents are a great resource for this. For full details of this experiment, see the Titanic Science guide that I linked to at the beginning of this point.  Here are some pictures to show you how it works...

First, cut a 2-liter bottle as pictured above.  On the top, you will make a square that does NOT span the circumference.  A small enough opening that water won't pour in the sides when you weigh your bottle down to be half way submerged. 

I always use marbles (because I had a surplus of them), but you can use weights, too.  Anything to put weight in your boat.  Put enough weight in so that the bottle cap is half way submerged.  Then, open the bottle and time how long it takes to sink.  NOT LONG AT ALL!

Then, cut the bottoms off of two more bottles.  These are going to simulate your watertight compartments.  Let your students experiment with different ways of using your compartments to section the boat off into three different parts.  After a few tries, try to TAPE THEM DOWN WELL!  Tape is a good variable. ;) 

Use the same exact amount of weight as you used before and evenly distribute it between the three sections.  Now, open the bottle top again.  The boat will start to take on water, but I have had some kids successfully keep their boats afloat indefinitely!  Others sink after one compartment fills up and then water pours over the others.  HINT: The ones that don't sink are the ones that make full enclosures with their compartments, NOT the ones like I have pictured above.  Remember that one of the reasons the watertight compartments were not really watertight was because they weren't sealed at the top, so once they were full and the boat started to dip, they spilled over the tops and eventually filled the entire boat.  

Here is a recording sheet that I created to use with this experiment.  You can download it for free HERE.

One of the reasons that scientists suspect that so much damage was done to the Titanic was the weak rivets that were used in her hull.  There are a lot of great articles about this theory.  HERE is one that I always read to my students.  It is something that rarely gets mentioned, but it's so important!

This Titanic experiment is another that I originally got from the free Titanic Science resource linked above.  It explains the experiment in depth.

You will need angel hair pasta, fettuccine, and air-dry clay.  This is meant to simulate the different types of slag used in the rivets.  Most students will hypothesize that the fettuccine rivets will hold up better...They are wrong.  Again, read the Titanic Science description of this one.

Here are the rivets ready to be tested.  We put them between two desks and see which ones can hold the most weight.  The teacher guide will suggest that you use small cups from applesauce or fruit, but we found that we could often fill those up before our homemade rivets broke, so I started using 2-liter bottles.

Eventually, the rivets will break.  This is a GREAT experiment, and kids get all riled up about something so small that could possibly have prevented such destruction.

There is a really neat activity in the Titanic Science book on plotting ice bergs and ice berg warnings. The kids always thoroughly enjoy this, too, and it's an eye-opener as students question why they did not heed these warnings! It's a great geography lesson, too.

Next, we lead into the discovery of the Titanic and what is happening to the ship as it sits below the surface.

We talk about rust on the Titanic.  We put nails and a few other metal items in a small bowl with regular water and salt water.  They will rust within 24 hours!  Imagine what would happen to the Titanic after sitting under the ocean for 100+ years.

Then, we get into some pretty heated debates... What to do with the artifacts and the ship on the bottom of the ocean floor.  We call it the Great Grave Robbing Debate since some people call it as much.  Again, there is a detailed lesson on this in the Titanic Science book.

I print out letters that I find through Google and place them in salt and regular water.  In other containers, I crumple them and tear them up.  Then, we let them sit for several days.  The more time it spends soaking in the water the better.

We talk about the difference between conserving and restoring artifacts from the Titanic.  They do their best to conserve some of the soaking letters and then also do their best trying to restore the ones that I have crumpled and torn.  In most cases, further damage is done to the "artifacts" as they try to restore them.  They learn just how fragile a process this is and why it is controversial.

This is another topic that students get VERY opinionated about.  Some believe that it is very wrong that people are taking pieces from the Titanic and others understand the artifacts' educational and scientific value.  We have always written a persuasive essay using student opinions on the issue.  There are tons of articles and videos about it online.  The sheets above are from my Titanic Bundle Pack and outline both arguments.  You can see the bundle HERE.

That is most of the experiments we do!  There are a few others in the book, too.  One I always use is where you use a water jug to show water pressure.  Another activity I do each year is to have students or teachers come in your room as a surprise and put on a two minute scene.  Then, ask your students about what they saw.  Many can't remember what the people were wearing, what they were talking about, etc.  This shows how difficult it was to get eyewitness testimony from those that witnessed the sinking. 

I always like to connect our units across the curriculum, and there is SO much math involved in the Titanic!  Several years ago, I created these Titanic Math Printables for FREE.  You can download them HERE for FREE!

FREE Titanic Math!
I also always have my students make a newspaper.  Unfortunately, I don't have any examples, but I use the templates from Scholastic for this Titanic Newspaper Letter Writing Activity.   Here is a link to that free resource: HERE!

Here is a picture of my lessons plans when I introduce the newspaper...

We also write Subject Predicate Poems about the Titanic.  I am always blown away at home amazing their poems are! Here is an example...

Laura sent me these pictures of her students' marvelous Titanic models that they made!  What a great activity!

I love that this student took note of only three of the steam stacks being functional! 
Well, that's about all I have to share right now!  For even more Titanic activities and Titanic lessons and Titanic reading passages, stop by my TpT store and check out my Titanic Bundle!  It includes almost everything you need (minus books and a few videos) to teach a comprehensive Titanic unit.

Finally, here are a few more websites that have GREAT content and ideas for teaching the Titanic!