Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ready to Go Back???

Here it is, just days before returning teachers has to report back to school and I feel like I have little to nothing completed.  I haven't even touched my classroom yet.  The items I have purchased for the upcoming school year are still piled on my horseshoe table waiting to be put in their place.  My desk and shelves, refrigerator, and other furniture (i.e. student desks & chairs) are just piled together on one side of the room.  Oh, how am I going to get this daunting task of having my classroom ready for school, let alone meet the teacher night ... next Thursday!  There is a good reason I am not as prepared as I have been these past 4 years ... see my mom had a procedure earlier in July and I have been temping for her job until she gets to return, which will be July 31st.  Don't get me wrong, making some additional money until I get my first check of the school year is welcoming but, yikes I am going to be rushing to get everything done.  I could be managed if I was allowed to only work in my classroom until then but, of course, there are the back to school staff meetings which take place on Monday & Tuesday.  So, that leaves Wednesday & all of Thursday to get my classroom into some assimilation that I am prepped and ready for the impending school year.

While I have been working I did manage to get two big things checked off my To-Do list.  I was able to get my classroom information packet done as well as my syllabus for the 1st Trimester.  I used a program I learned about from Pinterest called Piktochart to create the information packet.  I turned out really nice and quick to learn and maneuver around.  As you can see by my finished product ... it's eye-catching.
To get it to print in PDF format you have to pay $40/year.  But, with a little ingenuity and knowledge of Microsoft programs I was able to get it to go on 3 sheets of paper, quite nicely.  I just wanted to give students and parents an idea what will be introduced this coming year and what content they will be expected to learn.

I also informed students and parents to the new formats which will be introduced in the curriculum like Google Classroom, Genius Hour, and Hour of Code.  I wanted the parents to know their student will be entering into a content rich school year and how all this information will be learned.

Alongside the creative information packet for the students and parents, I also finished my syllabus for the 1st trimester.  My administrator doesn't require one, or they have yet to mention we need to have one, but what I have learned from my previous school it is a valuable tool to help keep parents and students apprised on what they will be learning and expected to know by the end of the grading period.  Just like posting the schedule is beneficial to the students and to avoid the never ending questions of "What are we doing now?" or "When is this subject over?" or my favorite ones "When is lunch?", "When is school over?".  Having a syllabus for the students allows them to track what they are learning and what they will be learning next, and what will be covered the 1st grading period.  Below is what my syllabus look like which I will have available on Meet the Teacher night as well.

Hopefully, these will help avoid some of the questions and allow me to focus on the curriculum and create a more open line of communication between student & parent, as well as parent & myself.

Here's to the new school year !!!  Good luck to us all!!!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Genius Hour???

As my planning for the upcoming school year continues I have taken inventory on what I would like to implement in my classroom.  Since I get the privilege of having Chromebooks in my classroom, the world is my oyster.  I love doing Project Based Learning but that is usually what I believe the students should be learning about, then the idea of Genius Hour was introduced to me by a colleague at the end of the last school year and I was intrigued.  So, I decided to do a little research on the topic and educate myself before resolved to implement it as part of my curriculum.  Needless to say, I am hooked!!

Genius Hour is a product of Google who allows their employees to use 20% of their workweek to research and learn about something they are passionate about as long as the result benefits the company.  This thinking has found its way into the classroom and is igniting an excitement for learning in many students around the nation and the world.  Why wouldn't I want to implement this in my classroom?  One of my goals every year is to have my students promote to their next grade feeling they learned what they needed to be successful in my class and had fun at the same time.  I want to make our school year together one of their most memorable educational experiences.

There are 3 key instructions that need to be followed during Genius Hour, or as many others have coined it Passion Projects.

1.     It must use a driving question.  
·        It cannot be what are Giant Pandas?  But, instead, why are Giant Pandas endangered and what are we as people doing to help them out?
2.     It must involve research.
·        This can be either with technology, books, resources, video, or any other reliable source for which information can be obtained to learn about the topic in question.
3.     The product/end result or other compelling artifact from the project must be shared/published.
·        This will usually be shared with classmates but, maybe use one project and host a Gallery Walk and share the students' work with the school, parents, and community.

Throughout learning about Genius Hour I came across a few YouTube videos which helped sway me to wanting to have this as part of my learning community.  Take a moment to watch each of them and you will be persuaded as well to find a way to allow this great opportunity to find its way into your planning as well.  Again, it is only 1 hour per week is all you have to allow for a more learning and engaging classroom rich with inquiry and student ownership.

With all this creativity, inquiry and learning demonstrated how could you not be motivated to change the learning for your students if the resources and curriculum planning is available.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Let the planning begin...

Summer school came to a close last Thursday, and the 4th of July holiday has passed... so all you teachers know what that means - Back to School planning!  That is where I find myself these days.  Looking at blogs and getting ideas how to set up my classroom, activities for the first few days, processes and procedures I want to integrate or tweak, and making sure my classroom wall embellishments are completed.

I don't know about you but there is always that anxiety ... what am I going to do with my students that first day of school?  My administrators want us to go over processes and procedures for the first 2 weeks of school but, seriously??  I could understand doing that with the younger kiddos but 6th graders, I believe they can learn as they go.  Yes. it is very important to set straight the expectations with your students what they are going to experience as a new 6th grader in your classroom but for 2 weeks ... especially when my district sets out doing baseline/benchmark testing the 2nd week of school.  We got some learning to begin.

So, as I was perusing the pages of Pinterest (my secret obsession ... got a few minutes to kill ... troll Pinterest and file away the ideas) I came across a blog from The Thinker Builder on Setting the Tone of the classroom within the first 10 minutes of the first day ... and there was a really good idea/activity to use while the students are getting settled in on that fated first day.  To read all about this interesting way to start the year click on the image to your left and you will be linked right to this interesting way to plan the first few minutes of the new school year,

I don't know about you but I absolutely fell in love with the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  My 4th graders liked it but I don't think they understood the real meaning behind the story.  So. next year with my 6th graders I am going to read the book with them as a book study ... hopefully starting the first week of school so on that note Pinterest showed me this delightful treat which I want to incorporate in my classroom with my students.  Click on the lower right image to get the free download for these "kindness cards" which you can print and use.  I want to initiate their use first with my students then encourage them to distribute them among their classmates and staff throughout the school.  Sometimes making someone else's day a little brighter will bring wonderful joy to your own.  I really want to help guide the students to think about the well-being of other people they interact with on a daily basis and not just themselves.  I believe in turn they will find they help themselves more than they would ever know.

These are just a few things which are going through my mind or I am jotting down in my notebook to remind myself of what I could potentially utilize those first important minutes, hours, and days of the 2017-2018 school year.  What ideas have you come across?  I would really like to get some collective ideas which we could potentially use to make the school year start off smoothly and enjoyably.

I really hope to hear from some of you ... any of you...

Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer School insights...

Sitting here, watching my students in summer school maneuver through lessons and learning how to do coding I am already thinking ahead for the 2017-2018 school year.  I have been fortunate to work with a really good group of kiddos.  For the most part, they want to learn and apply themselves to their learning.  But, there are the times where they waver off task and it gets a little frustrating.
 Summer school in our district only lasts 16 days (M - Th for 4 weeks) it amazes me how easily they get off task when we have worked intently to make the curriculum fun for these few days.  Our administrator, when given the option to select students for summer school,  advised us to select the kiddos which almost tested proficient on the benchmark post-test at the end of the school year.  We could not send the kiddos which these 14 days would not make an impact on their comprehension, students on a behavioral plan, or students who received services.  But, unfortunately, other administrators did not heed these suggestions by the summer school director for our district because I have a couple of students who are WAY BELOW grade level and are completely clueless on comprehending the content expected to get through these few days.  I really feel for these kiddos, like they slipped through the cracks and they are going to continue to struggle and be behind their classmates throughout their educational life.  I work with them as much as I can but, their understanding of the basic math facts is so low that they, unfortunately, will not be close to their peers when school starts.

This leads me to think about my incoming students.  What levels are they going to be at?  How are their reading skills?  Math skills?  Learning motivation?  Which ones need intense behavior
monitoring or who needs a lot of intervention when it comes to the expected content they need to leave the grade knowing?  The curriculum has already been set for us... our district has converted their overall curriculum plan to utilizing the EngageNY ELA & Math.  Alongside the EngageNY Math, I will be implementing the use of, the online element of  EngageNY Math.  A colleague of mine used it in conjunction with teaching the Math lessons and her class had the highest Math scores in the district by the 3rd benchmark test.  I have seen it work, so I want to implement this in my class as well.  Especially since I will be one of the Google Classrooms at my site - which I am extremely excited about.

I am anticipating a great turn out next year and I cannot wait to get with my 2 other teammates and get our calendar and curriculum in order for the next year.  Hopefully, they are as excited and ready to hit the ground running as hard as I am.  The anticipation is really killing me.  I haven't been ready for a school year to start since my first year of teaching...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The next phase in my career....

As teachers we are self-proclaimed life-long learners... or at least that is what I self-proclaim.  We are constantly encouraging and guiding our students to learn and become well-rounded beings of the world but, are we adhering that to own purpose in life?  So, with the recommendation of one of my District teaching mentors, and sitting through the Professional Development workshops on the topic I have decided to "walk the walk" and begin the journey of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.  The area/content I have settled on is Middle Childhood Generalist.  I have my BA in Elementary Education, my Master's in Elementary Education so it was either pursue another Master's Degree with a focus on Reading Specialist, which I am finding is a position that in many districts are expendable, go forward for my Doctorate, which I really have nothing I want to write a thesis on at this time, or seek National Board Certification ... which I finally settled on.  I am taking this journey with 3 other colleagues in my district, one who happens to be a close friend so I have the educational support, now it's just deciding where to start.

If you haven't looked into it, do and don't get intimidated.  After a lot of dissection, discussion, and combing through the dialogue and expectations it is going to be quite a bit of work but, doable - definitely doable.  There are 4 different elements to complete before you get the privilege of adding the title behind your name.  The 1st element is a test with 3 constructed response questions and a series of selected response questions.  The 2nd element is where you focus on your work with one or more students and how your instructions, strategies, and differentiation helped them improve and become more successful in the Writing/Literacy area for a specific period of time, for my specific area it is 3-4 weeks of instruction.  The 3rd element is teaching practices in which you are videoed giving instruction at 2 different times and detailing the why, how, and what next to show planning and interaction/climate of your learning environment.  Finally, the 4th element is a reflection of your teaching practices through the classroom, the school, and community; especially in a more leadership role.

  This is going to be a GREAT undertaking but it is something I am really motivated to take part in.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Books! Books!! and more Books!!!

Well now that I have the opportunity to return to my favorite curriculum... if you haven't picked up on it yet it's 6th grade, it is time to refresh some of my teaching resources.  I get so many of my resource books from this wonderful business here in Arizona called Treasures 4 Teachers.  It's a non-profit organization which collects donations from businesses which can be recycled and repurposed by teachers for classroom use.  There is a section of resource books as you enter the facility and you can put as many as you can desire or select in a bag which you fill and it only costs $5 upon checkout.  Way in the back of the store is a section which is filled with items for free these include 3 ring binders in a variety of sizes, empty shoe, and tissue boxes, magazines, and other items.  This is a wonderful place for teachers here in Arizona to get their classroom set up and the resources we are in need of for pennies on the dollar.  I LOVE THIS PLACE.  It does require a $35 membership fee to be paid annually but, the savings is well worth it 5 times over!!  Because of this wonderful group, I have almost 2 cabinets full of teaching resource books, and not to mention the electronic resources I purchased from TeachersPayTeachers I am inundated with options of creative ways to teach the expected content.  Even with this abundance of resources I still find myself buying more.  I hate textbooks so I do everything in my power to find resources which will be engaging but not found within the permabond covers of a textbook which here in my district are at least 15 years outdated.  Here are pictures of the new treasures I purchased through Amazon and Carson Dellosa to help revamp and rejuvenate my curriculum.

Here are some of the new books for my collection.  These will be used for my Social Studies curriculum because here in Arizona we focus on Ancient Civilizations for 6th Grade.  This content is why I love 6th grade so much.  There are so many different projects and ideas that come from this content which is rich in content, history, and culture it is really engaging for the students.

I am really excited to use Interactive Notebooking this year.  I have already asked my administration for 6 composition books for each of my 35 students because we all know they will not buy enough or the ones you are expecting no matter what you put on the back to school supply list.  So, to appease my Type A issue, I made sure they had exactly what I wanted to ensure success upon utilizing this strategy to learn the expected content.

Finally, I want to use more differentiation since students show their "What I Know" different ways.  So, in turn, I am planning on using the option of Menus for performance assessments.  I plan on using a lot of performance assessments next year.  This allows a lot of integration, cross-curricular, and problem-solving strategies to come into play.  Along with my wonderful opportunity to create a paperless classroom with Google Chromebooks next year I cannot wait to get started.  I know I am going to drive my teammates crazy with everything I want to implement.  I know I need to do it in steps and little chunks at a time but, I think by mid 2nd trimester we will be in a great rhythm and the students will show wonderful growth and retention of the expected content.

I am so excited for this next school year to get started... now if I could just get my Donor's Choose project funded I will have an amazing year to the wonderful start so far...

Monday, June 19, 2017

I'm Back!!

Well, that didn't last long!!!

I know I have been absent from my own blog but, when your heart really isn't in the content you are teaching it's kinda hard to write on it.  I love teaching and that is what kept driving me this past year.   I don't know what it is about the 4th grade age group but, wow their mouths don't stop.  In the past, with my 6th graders, yeah they talked, a lot of time when it wasn't warranted but, seriously I these 9-10-year old mouths/jaws should be exhausted because they were non-stop last year!  I liked my team and there were some highs last year but getting used to a whole different age group, curriculum, school, and administration did not leave a lot of time or drive to keep up on my posting.... and for that, I apologize  - to those who actually read my ramblings on...

Now I am excited and rejuvenated for the next school year.  This will be the first year I will be teaching in a contained 6th grade class since my 1st three years of teaching 6th grade was semi-departmentalized in which I focused on ELA & Social Studies.  Now, I will be covering all subjects so I say ... Bring it On!!  My Pinterest boards have been getting refreshed with new content and removal of some old (4th grade Social Studies especially).  I will keep quite a bit of what I did with my 4th graders this past year as a resource for interventions and scaffolding for content which some of my lower students may not have mastered as expected before entering  6th grade.  Planning has begun and it has created quite an excitement for me.   I LOVE 6th GRADE... the content and the kiddos.  I know there is the chance of great drama and anguish but, I deal with it really well and the kids seem to really get me at that age.

I already have my 1st activity of the 1st week of school planned ... I am going to do an Escape Room activity to help create teamwork, collaboration, and community with my new group of students.   I actually completed the activity with my summer school colleagues and  I LOVED IT!!  the thought process, critical thinking, and  challenge  presented  to get through the tasks to "Escape" was fun and gave a great sense of  accomplishment when you were able to solve a series of problems which in turn allowed you to earn your freedom.  Along with this activity will be a series of community building activities which will segway into starting the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  I fell in love with this book last year and want to have my 6th graders read it and implement many of the teachings and lessons which are integrated with the book towards our classroom environment.  This will also allow us to have a field trip in November when the movie is released in theaters to see it on the big screen then compare/contrast between the book and the movie.   Anytime I can use a movie to enhance a lesson I am all over it!!  Mary Poppins for setting being a background character, a montage of Disney movies to help hone in theme, comparing/contrast the literature to the movie... all that fun to help solidify the expected content is one of the many tools in my arsenal to help my students achieve success for the year.

See, I jump from one area to another because I am that excited to get the 2016-2017 school year started and back to my wonderful and delightful 6th grade.  I cannot wait and I will try to make this a better habit ...  I need to reflect and grow and this platform will give me just the avenue to do this.

On another note, I have decided, along with 2 other colleagues to pursue our National Board Certification.  Please pray for me as I begin this journey...  hopefully I will still retain my sanity and some hair when it is all done.