March 27, 2013

Love for my new Math Bulletin Board

When I moved into my classroom at the beginning of this year, I had big plans for the giant bulletin board that stretched along one of my (small) walls above my counter.  It was going to be my fabulous MATH BOARD, and it was going to be colorful, interactive, and just plain wonderful.  Then the school year started, testing happened, and the board ended up totally covered with a random hodgepodge (technical term) of signs displaying math terms and definitions.  There was no rhyme or reason other than, "CRAP!  Here's ANOTHER concept that will be on THE TEST that I didn't have time to teach!  Better put up a sign and hope my darlings look at this board!!!!!"  I know, I know, good teachers everywhere are cringing and shaking their heads at me with disdain.
After 2 nearly solid weeks of testing (I KNOW!), the last thing I wanted to do was look at those awful signs anymore.  Last week, instead of using my precious plan time to actually grade the gigantic stack of expository essays or poetry books that I've been carrying around in my teacher bag for far too long, I pulled out my trusty staple remover and demolished the entire board.  Suddenly, I had a PROJECT on my hands.  Before I knew what was happening, I was typing labels for the different areas of the board, mounting them on hot pink paper, and even laminating them.  (Don't ask why--I realize there is NO good reason other than that I turn on that laminator every chance I get.)  I am IN LOVE with the result!
On the left: current anchor charts with content we are working on, models, and any relevant sentence frames.  I have these hanging with clothes pins with tacks hot glued to the back--one of my favorite things to use around the classroom this year.  SO much easier to add new charts throughout the week.  I try to make them with the kids as much as possible, and if I do make them in advance, I always use them in a lesson before hanging them on the board.
Next up is our Wonderful Math Words section.  After being so annoyed about stapling and unstapling (another technical term) my old vocab signs, it dawned on me to just hang a pocket chart.  DUH.  I know any primary teachers are confused about why i didn't think of this idea in the first place, and my only possible reasoning is that I like to make my life difficult sometimes.  Love this so much more.  I wrote my vocab on large index cards rather than sentence strips so I could include brief definitions or examples on some cards.
Possibly my favorite part is the game section.  I've never used the Everyday Math games as much as I have this year, mostly because I am doing a guided math block and have less co-teacher support for groups than I have had in the past.  This means that students are independent more frequently, and I needed something more than journal pages for that time but don't like dealing with centers.  Some games are from EDM and others I made up to reinforce the skills we are working on.  I am trying to find or create two games to "feature" on the board per unit that closely relate to the skills we are working on.  These are our "Featured Games."  I included instructions and examples/photographs of the games on the board in page protectors so I can easily slide them in and out.  (Sorry for the glare in the picture!)
Below that are the "Old Favorites"--games we've worked with earlier in the year that are also available.  I wrote all of the games on dry-erase sentence strips so I can easily change them without taking the strips down.
I've been going crazy all year, though, managing the handouts and supplies that go with each game.  I've had a mess of papers and file folders in a bin on the counter since Fall!  I knew something had to change, so I laminated file folders and stapled them along the sides before stapling them to the bottom of the board.  I wrote the name of a different game on each in wet-erase marker, along with the materials needed to play.  Any other materials needed for the available games are in small boxes/baskets at the base of the board (calculators, dice, cards, etc.) Now, the kids can go up and find what they need to play a game.  Finally everything is running smoothly, and more importantly, no one is interrupting my guided math groups to ask questions about games!!

One other new feature is a Challenge section.  Meeting the needs of my brightest math students is something I've been slacking on this year.  It can just be so hard to leave a guided group of your most needy students to work with your advanced kiddos--even though they need you just as much!  I'm comitting to finding more ways to challenge my students inside and outside of guided groups throughout the rest of this year and into next year.  While this means meeting with their groups more frequently, it also means independent and group activities that will exercise their math minds when they are not meeting with me.
I posted two Challenge Problems on the board (also in page protectors) for them to try last week, and they LOVED them.  I also found some supplemental challenge activities from EDM that I copied and put in the folder below the challenge problems.  I practiced with the kids how they could go to the pocket and take any of the challenge activities any time they finished their "Must Do" math activity for the day, and checked in on what they were working on when we met during our group.  All of my kids are assigned a "Brain Buddy" who they work with when they are not meeting in a group, and the challenge activities are something they can work on together.

1 week in, the kids told me they really like the new board.  One even said, "Everything is so organized!" Be still my teacher heart.  The most important thing, though, is that everything displayed is for a PURPOSE--enhancing the learning of my students.  Isn't that what it's all about? :-)

Do you use interactive bulletin boards?  This is my first venture into them, and obviously this board isn't really interactive, but it's still a step in the right direction!  I'd love to hear more about how you make your bulletin boards a meaningful part of your teaching!

March 11, 2013

Pumping Kids Up for THE TEST!

We are knee deep in state testing here in Illinois!  4 tests down, 4 to go.  (We only give one test a day so the kids don't get overwhelmed and exhausted, but it makes for a looong two weeks of testing...)  I wanted to dedicate a post to sharing some of the ways I pump my kiddos up for testing--both state testing and every test we take.  I try to keep testing really light and positive.  All year long I talk about tests as a "big game" or "championship"--the result of all of our practice, hard work, and "training."  When I introduce a test on a regular day, I usually do it something like this.  "You guys, we have something exciting happening this week!  We get to show our learning on a test!"  Then I have the kids cheer. :)  I know, it sounds silly, but after making tests a positive thing all year, the kids actually buy into it and cheer all by themselves. ;)  
Shared these testing treats last year, inspired by this pin
Next, when I pass out tests, I have the kids write "Bring it On!" on the top.  I use this ALLLL the time--any time we are about to do something tough, I say, "This is challenging!  What do we say to a challenge??" and the kids shout, "Bring it on!"
I've shared my affirmation wall before, and while I refer to it every day, I make sure to refer to it a little extra during testing time.  
I truly believe that these affirmations--both posting them on my walls and weaving them into the culture of my classroom--make a difference in my students' attitudes.  I hope that if there is one gift I can give them, it's that they carry these affirmations with them after they leave my classroom.  I cover the kiddos' name tags before testing because we aren't allowed to have any tools (multiplication charts, etc.) on their desks, and I let the kids doodle on them.  I also encourage them to write some positive "words of encouragement" to remember during testing.  Love this girl's:
I talk to the kids all the the time about my running, training, and racing.  Why?  Because I like them to say, "WOW, you ran that far?" and ask, "Did you WIN your half marathon??"?  Haha not exactly.  I like them to see me set big goals, work hard to train for them, and risk it all on race days.  I talk to them about how nervous I get before a race and how I have to tell myself to trust my training, tell myself, 'You can do it!', and visualize myself succeeding.  They love hearing about it, and I feel like it sets a good example for them of how hard work pays off.  I call our test prep "training" for our big event--THE TEST. :)  I like to have them visualize opening their test booklets, visualize knowing EVERY ANSWER, and visualize succeeding and proud after finishing.

My absolute favorite test motivation strategy came to me randomly my first year teaching when I had 5 extra minutes the week before testing.  I had the kids write a letter to the class, wishing them good luck and offering "words of encouragement" to make their classmates feel confident before testing.  What started as a "filler" became a yearly tradition.  I LOVE it.  The kids write the sweetest, most thoughtful notes to the class. I read a few before testing every day, and the kids love them.  Some of this year's favorites:

Please ignore the atrocious spelling...we're working on it...

How do you keep spirits high during test time?

March 9, 2013

Giveaway Winners!

Better late than never, right?  Sorry I forgot to post these days ago!  The 3 winners of Running Inspired are...


Pam, Holly, and Rae, contact me at juiceboxesandcrayolas AT gmail DOT com by Tuesday to claim your prize!

March 2, 2013

Why I will Always Make Time for Read Aloud

Don't forget to enter my giveaway to win a digital copy of Running Inspired, a great book for beginner runners!!

My first year teaching, I didn't make a ton of time for read aloud.  I remember wondering when I was possibly supposed to squeeze that in amidst the already jam-packed day.  If something was going to be cut from my lesson plans, read aloud was always first on the chopping block.  Why?  It just didn't see as important as the other 100 things on the daily to-do list.

Today, I can't imagine my classroom without read aloud.  It is one of the most special parts of my day, and I promise you this--it IS important.  In SO many different ways.   We all know that read aloud gives a great model of fluency for kids, but it does so much more than that.  I truly believe that my read aloud teaches my kiddos to fall in love with reading.  They look forward to those precious 10 minutes every day and beg me to keep reading.  Once they groaned when I had to pause the book because it was time for PE!  They cheer when the endings are happy and cry when the plot takes sad turns.  They line up at the library to put the book I'm reading aloud on hold because they love it too much to wait.  My read alouds expose kids to books that they might not ordinarily pick up on their own.
Seeing how excited this student was when reflecting on a book he probably never would have read on his own brought tears to my eyes.  Isn't teaching kids to love reading why I got into this business in the first place?

This year, I decided to use read aloud as a time to teach my kids important life lessons.  There is so much more to teaching than the content areas--we are truly playing a part in helping these little people grow up to face the world.  If I take a minute to think about the big ideas I want my students to come away from my class with, they definitely all don't have to do with reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  I want to teach my students kindness, empathy, courage, friendship, owning their actions, honesty, and so many other things.  Read aloud is my chance to do that.  I started my year by reading Wonder, a truly amazing book with so many important themes.  While reading, I asked students to listen for examples of courage in the book.  By the end, not only did the students all understand that courage is so much more than going off the high dive, but they understand that above all other things, kindness is always the right choice.
We also read Because of Mr. Terupt this year and had some big, serious discussions about the importance of not laying blame.  When a tragedy happens in their classroom, the students in this book are quick to blame each other and blame themselves.  I repeated to the kids throughout the story, "Sometimes, when bad things happen, we look for someone to blame.  When we can't find anyone, we often blame ourselves."  This is a big idea for 8 and 9 year olds, but by the end of the book I truly felt like many of my students understood how important it is not to blame others or themselves for things that are out of their control.  They also talked seriously about how important it is to stick together in the midst of a tragedy.

Right now, we're reading The One and Only Ivan.  Vegetarian that I am, I'm doing my best not to get up on my bleeding-heart soap box preaching about the horrors of zoos and the importance of animal rights, but the book is starting some interesting conversations all on its own about kindness and living things.  I can't wait to see the deep conversations it stirs up in my little classroom.

I try to do quick writes or reading responses connected with my read alouds from time to time.  I find that my kids are able to think so deeply in their reflections sometimes, and that even my struggling readers shine.  The kids pick up on the important lessons and big ideas and are able to add their own insights in their reflections.  The kids get to practice literacy skills like metacognition, visualization, making inferences and connections, and making predictions in their reflections.  I don't often have time for them, but every time I do I find at least one kiddo who surprises me in their insights or deep thoughts.  Such a special teacher moment. :)

So, that is why no matter how intense our days become or how many new things Common Core adds to my teacher plate, I will ALWAYS make time for read aloud.  It is such a special part of our day, and there is just something about sitting so close together on the carpet enjoying a really great book that just makes our classroom community all the more close-knit.  Love it.

What are your favorite read alouds?
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