Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Sunday Blues - Looking for the Positives

I read recently about what someone called "The Sunday Blues"...  that down feeling you get on Sunday when you realize that the weekend is almost over and it is back to work the following day.  I even came across an article about it HERE.
This is my dog, Peeka...  feeling the Sunday blues.  

This is especially disheartening for teachers because many of us spend a good 1/4 of our weekend preparing for the following week: correcting papers, preparing lesson plans, searching for resources, etc.  I've yet to become so good at my job that I am prepared for Monday on Friday...  after 16 years I just don't think its in the cards for me.

This Sunday is especially saddening for these reasons:

1.  This week was spring break and with spring break comes a lot of plans.  Unfortunately it rained most of the week which nixed a lot of the yard work I wanted to get done.

2.  I get my 34th student tomorrow....  yes, you read it right....  THIRTY FOURTH STUDENT!!  in fourth grade....  the last empty chair in my class is taken... I have 9 tables, every one of them full.

A new student means trying to remember everything the rest of the class has and getting one of each of those items for this new child.  A new student means a change in the class dynamics, a new set of parents....  and consequences I can't even think about right now.

Now... don't get me wrong.  I don't mind having a new student...  I'm sure she is a wonderful child and she will fit right in.  I have an amazing class this year and they will make her feel welcome.  It is just a lot of work and class sizes are out of control.

And finally...

3.  The sun has decided to show itself TODAY...  today... Sunday...  the day I have to prepare for 34 students.

Okay... time to look at the bright side (pun intended)...

  • I've missed my students.  
  • There is only about 2 1/2 months left of school and that means A LOT to cover before then!
  • Its skirts and sandals season...  no tights... I hate tights!
  • We are starting some great units this spring quarter: 
1.  Earth Day is coming in April and every year I give my students a recycle and reuse homework project.  Students have to create something using recycled materials.  On the day it is due, each student presents it to the class and then we display it in the school display case.  I love seeing what the kids come up with.  Some students really take it seriously and create amazing and useful products!  I wish I had pictures of the last couple of years projects...  unfortunately I wasn't blogging then and didn't think to keep photos.  This year I will and will post them at a later date.

I've organized the project and made it available as a FREEBIE at my TpT store.
Click HERE to open a window to my TpT store and download a FREE copy!  

2.  My teammate and I are starting my mini-unit on Allusions to Greek Mythology.  This will be a lot of fun!  Greek mythology is full of great adventures, heroes, and interesting stories, so it is bound to be a winner with my students.  I don't have time to teach a whole unit on Greek mythology, but this mini-unit will introduce it to them and cover one of the CCSS for fourth grade.

3.  The Oregon Trail.  Every spring we teach a unit on the Oregon Trail.  We use a version of the simulation called "Pioneers" from Interact Simulations.   Students work in wagon train groups and complete assignments and projects while having to problem solve as they suffer "fates".  This integrated unit is a ton of fun for me as well as my students.  It is a great way to end the year.  We always have a "Pioneer Day" as an end of the year simulation.  Students get to participate in pioneer activities, games, etc.

Okay...  So there is a lot to look forward to and I'm not as blue anymore...  :)  Thank you for visiting and I hope you will stop back by soon.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Where the Google are We?

Sometimes I get lost...  
                Not lost in the woods or lost in the mall...  
                                             I get lost in the expectations for me as an educator.  

I get lost in the new content standards, state social studies standards, next generation science standards...  and just when I think I've found my way through the maze of it all... someone somewhere decides to mix it all up again.  

I guess optimists would say that it keeps us on our toes.   I would agree, except sometimes I come up with some really good ideas or just get something figured out and then... POOF! It's gone, not needed, changed to another grade level...  It can be disheartening.  

That is how I felt at the beginning of this year as I looked through our state's social studies standards and the science standards.  I hate to admit this, but some of the Next Generation Science Standards are just plain confusing... I had to do quite a bit of research just to make heads or tails of them.  Luckily, with the help of and Chevron I feel like I have most of my science year mapped out, but that is for a later post. 

TpT unit for 4th Grade Oregon Teachers

One of our social studies standards is relative and absolute location, which we tackled in November.  In the midst of those three weeks we had report cards, conferences, and Thanksgiving (along with a budget reduction day), so that three weeks was more like one and half.  But we do what we have to do.  And what I had to do was teach the students about relative and absolute location AND have them locate places in Oregon using them.  

That is where Google Earth came in.  What an amazing tool!  I'm lucky enough to work in a school that has a decent computer lab, so after teaching the students about the two types of location, we headed off to explore the earth, or at least Oregon, Google Earth style!

Now, if you haven't used Google Earth yourself or with your students, you really should.  

The students ooohed and Aaaahed over every single moment of it.  They located the points I had assigned with relative ease and a lot of excited gasps and giggles... 
Even my more struggling students had a wonderful experience. 

When students completed the task I had assigned them, which was to locate The Seven Natural Wonders of Oregon, they were free to EXPLORE THE WORLD!!  Some even went to outer space!  

So, at the end of this week, as students were handing in their completed social studies papers, I had a feeling of accomplishment... like I had found my way through an Amazon Jungle and come out the other side virtually unscathed.  

One standard down, a bazillion more to go!  

Is your school working on the Next Generation Science Standards?  If so, what kinds of resources are you using to accomplish them?  

Thanks for stopping by!  
*I moved this post from my old blog, Living a Teaching Life, to this one.*

State Testing and Hands-on Science

State Testing....  If you are a teacher those two words bring up a plethora of thoughts to mind.  This week was my fourth graders' second week of testing.  MATH.  Yikes!  I remember the good old days when I could remind my students to use paper and pencil, show their work, take their time, take a break, etc.  Now... no communication!  The only words allowed are "Do the best you can.".   And it doesn't really matter what you say to those wonderful kiddos before they hit the testing room, they are going to do what they are going to do and you can't say a thing about it.

You can cringe as you see them, with no pencil or paper, clicking through the test.  You can scream inside your head when you have a student finish in 15 minutes.  You can want to cry when a student you know is capable just really doesn't see the point in this testing business and just misses the meets score by two points.

But then you have that one student who struggles in math class,  diligently work out every single problem, take 3 whole days to complete the test, be the last single student left in the computer lab, and an EXCEEDING score pops up on her screen.  That's when the happy tears come... that's when she looks at you with eyes wide and surprise lighting up her face, that's when you get goosebumps and pride shoots out of your heart for her.  That was the highlight of my week!

I just needed to share that with you... let's move on the the FUN!

To balance out the stress of testing week for my students, we started our new science unit:  Force, Motion and Design.  The students have been looking forward to it for weeks.

This was a complete science unit that I had funded through DonorsChoose and Chevron.  It is amazing!  Students are learning about force and motion by designing cars to meet different challenges.  This was our first week and students had to work with their team and design a vehicle in less than 20 minutes that would travel 100 cm.  A lot happened in that 20 minutes.  Students had to work as a team, figure out how the Knex pieces worked, test, figure out how to get it to move, etc.

It was interesting to see how some groups struggled with teamwork, some students who struggle in areas stepped up with their Knex and construction experience, how teams had to problem solve when they got stuck.

I wish I could show you my kiddos' faces!  The expressions on them are priceless!

The second challenge was to draw a two view drawing of their cars and then they had to break their cars up and BUILD a new car using a technical two-view drawing.
 That is about where we left off this week.  Another thing I love about this unit is that it is not only science focused, but students keep a journal of their work and illustrate their experiments, integrating art and writing.

So, it has been an interesting week full of ups and downs.  Here are a couple more highlights:
A gift from a student.. brightened up my day!

Students working on Topic vs. Purpose lesson.  Click here to be taken to my TpT store to see the complete product.

I got my hair cut...  No, this isn't me.  :)

I posted my latest product to my TpT store: Allusions to Greek Mythology Poster Set.
I'm currently working on an Allusion Mini-Unit.  I'm hoping to get it out this week!  
Thank you for visiting!  I hope you'll come back next week!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Liebster Blog Award

Wow!  My little blog has been incredibly blessed and honored this week by being nominated for the Liebster Blog Award.  Before I could meet my obligations as a nominee I was nominated two more times.  Thank you so much to The Read Box, Ramona Recommends, and Engaging Elementary!
The Liebster Award is presented to upcoming blog authors with less than 200 followers. Liebster is a German words meaning sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, and beloved and that is exactly how my readers and the other teacher bloggers in this community have made me feel.

How does it work?

  1. Link back to the blog that nominated me.
  2. Nominate 5-11 blogs with fewer than 200 followers.
  3. Answer the questions asked of me by my nominator.
  4. Share 11 random facts about myself.
  5. Create 11 questions for my nominees.
  6. Contact my nominees and let them know I nominated them.  

Questions from my nominators:

1. What TPT item are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of my "Would You Rather..." Opinion Writing Unit.  First, I worked VERY hard on it.  A lot of late nights, early mornings, and all-day-in-my-pajamas days were put into it.  Second, it was so much fun to teach to my own class.  I wanted to share that excitement and joy with other teachers and students.  Third, the artwork on the cover was a lot of fun for me.  I wanted it to look different than other products out there.  
2. If you were a character from a TV show, who would you be and why?
Sarah from Parenthood.  She reminds me of myself in that she is a bit of a free spirit.  
3. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Crunch and Munch...  I'm a bit addicted to it right now.  My husband started buying me smaller boxes so cuz I can't stop eating until the box is empty.  :)
4. If you were stranded on an island, who would you need there with you?
Nobody, I'd enjoy the peace and quiet... the waves, the breeze, the sunshine...  until I went crazy and then I'd turn a coconut into a my imaginary friend. 
5. What was your biggest mistake/regret in teaching?
That I didn't learn Spanish.  
6. What made you decide to enter blog world?
I've been interested for a very long time, but this last winter I decided to become a teacher author for TpT and all the advice said "start a blog".  I love writing and sharing what I am doing in class.  
7. What is your favorite childhood memories?
Playing with my cousins and childhood friends outside... no cell phones, no electronic devices...  just bugs, sticks, mud pies, and making memories.  
8. Who is your hero?
The teachers I work with are my heroes.  They do their best to do what's best for children despite state and district mandates, high stakes testing, HUGE class sizes, dwindling budget, and less and less time.   
9. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you pick?
Anywhere tropical
10. You're a superhero! What super power do you think you would be given?
Patience...  Sometimes the most powerful thing is to listen and be patient.
11. If you could change one thing about the world...what would it be?
All the animals in the animal shelters.  This breaks my heart.  They are totally innocent babes with no control of their own situations.  We put them there.  I'll cry just writing about it.  

11 Random Facts about Me
1.  As you probably guessed from my response above...  I'm a huge animal lover.
2.  I leave my shoes all over the place.  It drives my husband crazy!
3.  I'm addicted to my technology. I used to think I WOULD NEVER be one of those people on their phone in a restaurant...  How rude.  Um....  never say never!
4.  I've lost 25 pound on the 5:2 diet.  The best diet ever!  (you said random!)
5.  I have a 12 year old dog who has diabetes and is blind.  Its really sad until she does something funny.  
6.  I should have been an actor or a stand up comedian... I think I'm that funny.  
7.  I own my own bowling shoes, bowling bag, and bowling ball and I rarely bowl. 
8.  I'd wear my bowling shoes all the time if I could... they are that cute and comfortable.  
9.  I'm a DIYer.  I built a catio and a cabinet cat litter box.  Someday I'll have to blog about those projects.  
10.  I hate canned mushrooms and mushroom soup.  My stepmom use to cook spaghetti noodles with mushroom soup when I was a kid... worst dinner ever!
11.  I'm a runner... again.  Looking toward a 10k this spring or summer.  

My Questions to my Nominees:
1. What TPT item are you most proud of?
2. If you were a character from a movie, who would you be and why?
3. What is your least favorite food and why?
4. If you were stranded on an island, what would you need there with you?
5. What was your biggest mistake/regret in teaching?
6. What made you decide to enter blog world?
7. What is your favorite childhood memories?
8. Who is your hero?
9. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you pick?
10. You're a superhero! What super power do you think you would be given?
11. If you could change one thing about the world...what would it be?

Nominees: Your creativity, insight, and ideas are an inspiration to me on this blogging journey.  I read your blogs and am motivated to do more, be more, and blog more.  :)  Thank you for your contribution to the blogging world!

Comment and let me know if you accept, so I can come read all of your posts/questions. If you accept this nomination, put the Liebster award on your site, nominate 5-12 others, answer my questions to you, list 11 facts about yourself, and create new questions for your nominees!

Blow their Tops with Art and Technology Integration

Technology and Art come together in this great science project.  Perfect for the elementary classroom.

Hi All,
Its Sunday again!  Sunday is one of those catch 22 days.  I love getting up early and enjoying the morning but Monday looms in the future.  Also... time changed today so I lost a precious hour.  The light at the end of the tunnel is spring break in 9 school days.

Today I want to share with you the volcano projects I mentioned last week.  My students have been studying earth changes.  It has been a long unit, but the kids have been really into it.  I mean how can you blame them... what is more exciting than earthquakes, volcanoes, and weathering? Ok...  maybe not weathering, but overall it was a great unit.

Our final section of the unit was volcanoes and my school just got a mini iPad lab.  My kiddos were so excited to get those little devices into their little hands.

I explained to the class that they were going to use the iPads to look up information about the interior structure of volcanoes.  We brainstormed possible search terms.
Technology in the classroom is an amazing motivator.  Every kiddo was engaged and on task.

A couple of days later (We don't get to do science every day.) I had my students get out their completed graphic organizer and they sketched their diagrams on a long piece of white construction paper folded into thirds.
 After sketching, students used clay to fill in the diagrams.  Using clay is a very tactile way for students to engage with the science.  For my kinesthetic and visual learners this was much more effective than just using crayons or markers because you actually have to interact with the clay.  You have to mold it and push it around.

The clay was Crayola clay I ordered from Amazon for about $3 per box.  Each box was more than enough for 4 kiddos.  I have a lot of clay left over for a future project. 
The example I gave my students.

The final projects make a pretty impressive display!

I've also used this clay "painting" method for diagrams of nerves and the brain.  I'm sure there are a lot of other ways to use it.  If you think of one, please let me know by commenting on this post.

Well, I'm at the tail end of a new product I have been putting a lot of time and energy into for over a week.  I'm so excited to post it when it is done.  I thought I would leave a hint here.  If you think you know what the product is, please comment below or visit my Facebook page and leave a comment on the related post there.  I will be giving away the product to up to 3 people who guess correctly before I post it!  Here are the hints:

Hint 1.  4th Grade ELA Common Core Standard
Hint 2.  This product has required a Herculean effort from me!

Hint #3
Thanks for visiting and Good luck!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

GROUP SCOOTING to Learn Text Types and Reader's Purpose

Hi All,
When I started this blog I thought that I would post twice a week, but I am finding that in order to keep balance I am becoming a Sunday morning blogger.  I get up early, make my coffee, boot up my lap top and then snuggle on the couch with my dog, Riley.  Its quiet and it feels, while I am writing, like I am talking to a group of friends about my week.
Forgive the couch...  this was taken while we were at the coast... hotel couch.  :)
I had originally planned to share with you the GREAT volcano activity that my students worked on in class this week for our Earth Changes unit, but I forgot to take a pic of the final display and you REALLY need to see all the art pieces displayed side-by-side to really appreciate it.  So, I'll save that for next week.  Here is a sneak peak:
Instead I am going to share with you the start to our Non-Ficton Unit.  I wanted to start the unit by introducing the class to the types of non-fiction that surrounds them everyday.  I also wanted them to understand why a reader might choose a specific type of non-fiction.   I always try to incorporate "activity" into my activities.  I'm not much of a worksheet person.  I'd rather have students up and around, talking to each other, handling real literature and materials.  So I came up with a group scoot for this introductory lesson.  (see the bottom of this post for a link to this activity in my TpT store.  Its FREE)
The prep is pretty easy, except for gathering the travel brochures.  About a month ago I went online and signed up for travel brochures and information from several states.  There are many free resources and many states will send you the brochures, pamphlets, and maps in the mail.  So far I've only had to put up with a bit of e-mail from tourism companies, so it has been worth it to me.
I gathered up about three or four samples of 12 different types of non-fiction, put them in bags and bins (Next year I might try something a bit more visually appealing, but the brown grocery bags served their purpose) and placed them around the room with the station signs.
The stations signs are taped to "corn dog sticks" and poked into the bottom of a Dixie Cup.  
When students came in from recess, we gathered on the carpet.  They were very curious about what was in the bags...  anything mysterious is a great attention getter.  We had a short discussion and created an anchor chart of what they already knew about types of non-fiction.  I explained the activity, assigned students a starting station, and handed out the scoot sheets.
Then it was time to MOVE!  I love when the kids are fully engaged... there is something peaceful about the noise in the room when you know that it is on-task conversations.  Students moved from station to station discussing what they found, what the type was and why someone would read it.  I roamed to groups, answering questions, giving hints, etc.

When groups had scooted all 12 stations, we met back on the floor and added more ideas to our anchor chart.  We talked about reader's purpose and how there is non-fiction writing all around us.
This was a quick one-day introduction to the full non-fiction unit.  The next day we moved on to the first part of my Topic vs. Author's Purpose lesson.  Unfortunately, state testing has reared its ugly head and that is as far as I have gotten with the unit.  :(

{State testing is like an unwelcome house guest.  It comes in, creates havoc on your routine, and leaves you to pick up the pieces. Just Sayin'}

If you would like to see more of the Non-Fiction Text Types and Reader's Purpose, click this link to be taken to my TpT store.  The product is free.  

Thank you for visiting!  I hope you'll come back next week to see our Volcano Clay diagrams.  I can't wait to share them with you.