Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why I Teach

Lately there is a lot in the news about how tough it is to be a teacher, and how veterans are telling others that "It's not worth it to become a teacher". Union drama... school board issues....common core...DIBELS... standardized testing... evaluations...salary ! It is a lot, and it is STRESSFUL, this year more than ever I am stressed . The 1st/2nd split is AWESOME beyond compare for my kiddos, but it is crazy stressful for me. In spite of all that I don't think I would ever give it up, or encourage  a young aspiring teacher to do the same because IT IS WORTH IT! Last week one of my littles learned to cross his mid-line... he can count by fives while bringing his knees up and touching them with his opposite hand!! We've been working on that all year, and my whole class was sooooo excited for him! On Sunday I spent three hours sitting in a Russian church service because I was invited by one of my kiddos who was singing and reciting poetry in honor of Russian Thanksgiving (her part was thirty minutes max...and all in Russian). I left with a tummy full of yummy Russian food, a plate full of Russian dessert (to share with the other teachers), and a heart full of love because she was so excited that I came that she could barley contain herself. She came to me straight from Russian immersion last October, and is one of my super seven second graders . Her growth this past year is all I need for all the stress, and drama to be worth it. This is a narrative she wrote this week.  I did a cut and paste straight from her Google folder so you can see how amazing she is. It's not perfect, but here is why IT IS WORTH IT...

First when I was at school I was at level 2 and then I was at level 10.After that I got a priz. Then I was so so SO excited because I was at level 20 my mom was so impresst and so was Ms.C.

By S

P.S. I just had to get this off my chest, but check back tomorrow and I'll add pictures !

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Saying Chiao to the Chairs

This year I decided to throw caution to the wind and do something out of the box  crazy innovative, okay so it's a little bit crazy! I got rid of ALL the chars in my classroom. I know it's shocking, but I felt like it was best for all of us.

The idea started brewing last summer when my principal mentioned that when he taught first grade he lowered all the desks as far as they wold go and everybody sat on the floor. I couldn't see that working for me but it really got me thinking! When I really thought about how my kids really like to position themselves to work chairs made no sense at all, so I seriously started to consider my options.Then I saw another blog post (which I have since lost and can't find again darn it) where  a teacher had tons of tables at different heights.  I knew I would never be able to get enough tables so I decided to create table like groupings that we call pods by turning the desks around and adjusting them to matching heights.

First we have the most typical pod we call it the stool pod or the Ikea pod since the stools came from Ikea.

We don't use the inside of the desks either, so we have supply tubs on each pod for easy access.

The supply bins also came from Ikea! I just love Ikea

Ignore the first day of school mess in the background. Rest assured the supplies are now sorted and put away

They sometimes tip on the stools a little but not nearly as much as they did in chairs!

The next pod is called the kneeling pod. I was always getting after my kids for kneeling on their chairs which is not super safe so I decided to make it possible for them to kneel in a safe acceptable way by putting comfy pillows on the floor for them to kneel on.

Yes the pillows are also from Ikea!
You can see more supply tubs in the background.
We have tubs for our iPads, book bags and head phones on the counter.

The next pod is the T-stool pod. They're great for wigglers and kiddos who need to work on core strength. 

You can buy these online, but they are expensive!!
So I bribed my friend's handy husband to make these for me with free baby sitting. One night per stool!
The pink and black bins in the background have clipboards in them so kids can also choose to sit around the room if they want to be on their back or belly!

The final pod (and my FAVORITE) is the standing pod! I always had kids who never sat down. Their chairs were always behind them. I was fine with the standing, but I got really sick of everyone tripping over the chairs! Now they can stand up with out endangering life and limb.

Now I will try to answer questions I know people will ask...

1. No I do not assign seats. They choose freely throughout the day and even move multiple times during a lesson.

2. Yes they chat but they would do that even in assigned seats. If it gets bad they have to make another choice, or get a folder thing we call an office.

3. Surprise!! They don't fight over spots. There are so many choices that nobody cares if they have to pick another spot because one pod is full.

4. Yes, people think I'm crazy, and no I don't care :) One lady in my hall told me flat out that I was crazy!

5.Yes! It is working like a dream! Behavior is better and there is a very healthy feel to the room in a sort of physical way.

6. Yes, they LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it (as does every other kids who comes into my room) I'm always hearing "I wish I was in your class!!"

Added benefits:

This set up also makes clean up a breeze I can teach right up until five minutes before the bell and we just grab and go.

It is so easy to keep clean that you wouldn't believe it! 

Feel free to message me with any questions you have about how this works!

Friday, August 29, 2014

A New Year, a New Name, and a Really New Class... Sort of

Hello bloggy people :) I know it's been a long time, but I decided to just let summer be summer and for me that did not include blogging. I love it, but I needed a break! Now that I am back, and in full swing with my monsters   sweet students! I'm back to blogging. Many of you are probably wondering why I have changed the name of my "fabulous" blog! Well, it just didn't fit anymore because I am now teaching a ONE/TWO split. Yes, in this crazy common core world I agreed to teach a one/two split! I now have thirteen first graders, and seven second graders. The super seven as I call them are kiddos I had last year, and the my fabulous firsties came from all of the kinder classes! They are meshing really well as a family, and we are finding our way along this path that is new to all of us, teacher, coach, and principal included! Sometimes I think I'm crazy, and at others I think it was the best idea ever. When in reality it's probably a little of both! In spite of that fact we are all a little crazy... or wacky if you will. I hope you enjoy our journey through this year! I know we will do great things! See you soon, and stay tuned to find out why I said caio to chairs...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Every Day Apps

Someone asked me today to give them a quick list of apps we use a lot so I decided to do a quick post about the apps we use almost every day! Normally I really only post about free apps. Sadly while most of the apps in this post are free the websites attached to them are subscription based. However, some are reasonably priced for individual teachers, and totally worth it! So here without further ado are our every day apps...

The Raz-Kids app is free in the app store
The Raz -Kids program is part of the reading A-Z family. With this program you can assign tons of just right books to your students. Whole levels of books that are fun to read, and right at their level. They can read, listen, and take quizzes about what they have read, and the program tracks all of their progress online for you to review. This data is great when you're planning instruction. I paid around ninety dollars for a year of this program  and I haven't regretted it for one second. I can create and track accounts for up to 30 students I have students that range from DRA 3 to DRA 28 and this is a great independent reading program that meets the needs of all my students easily. There are also lots of Spanish books available.                                                     We use this for read to self, and listen to reading during our                                                           literacy block.

Find it in the app store
I also paid for a Premium subscription to Spelling City. The free version is okay but I wanted to be able to do more. I paid around fifty dollars for up to twenty five students. With the premium membership I am able to easily manage four differentiated spelling lists. During the literacy block students practice their spelling words with lots of fun games. On Fridays they take their tests online, and it records their scores for me. I can also print out the results with just a few clicks and send them home for parents. I would NEVER be able to manage multiple lists without this program. Plus the kids love it!

Lexia in the app store

Our school was already using Lexia before we received the iPads, but now we can utilize it much more. We use it during literacy block as for word work. It has fun phonics practice games for kids at every level. It also generates lessons for me to use based on their performance, and tracks all their progress for me online. We use an older version that is more cost effective, but those starting out will have to purchase the Core5 version. Individual/classroom licenses cannot be purchased as far as I know, but it would be a great resource for any school!

Find it here

Myon is also a subscription paid for by my school, and I don't think it can be purchased by individuals. If I could put Myon and Raz -Kids together I would have the perfect all purpose reading app, but can't. Myon is marketed as a independent reading system, but it doesn't work that way for us. There is simply not enough teacher control for me. With that in mind I use this for several different things. Listen to reading, guided reading, shared reading, reading in the content areas, and book clubs. The books in Myon are AMAZING,particularly the ones we use in the content areas we love them! The program just needs teachers to regulate it strictly! I LOVE this program, but my kids know how I expect it to be used. If they didn't it would be a free for all!

Go paperless with Notability
This app may cost five bucks, but it will pay for itself by saving on copy costs. We do all of our math worksheets here. I place their assignments in a Google Drive folder, and they upload and complete them here. They write with styluses just like they would with pencil and paper. Then they put it in their personal folder for me to grade. I have big plans for this app next year it is capable of so much that and I've only touched on it a little tiny bit!

Get Google Drive here

Google drive is my best friend! It saves me from e-mail overload, makes printing fast and easy, and puts all my kids work at my fingertips. Each student has a folder that I own (they have editing privileges) to store their work in. We put worksheets from Notability here, and all of their final copies for writing are here. They use their Google Drives to share Popplets and Pic collages too! I would lose my mind without this app!

Schoology is spectacular

Good news Schoology is free! It's sort of like Facebook for schools. My kiddos LOVE that it looks like Facebook! We use it for discussions about our reading, and constructed response questions based on our shared reading texts. You can also create assessments that students can take here! My kids also like to say hello to each other (and me) during our time apart. I love to read their little posts. They say things like "Hi girl" and "You are my BFF". Not academic, but still cute, and still writing!

Wow! I never realized how much we do each day. I just LOVE being 1:1!! Please note that most of these apps can be used in any 1:1 or bring your own device environment NOT just iPads! It's a beautiful thing!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Reflecting Back on Our First Year 1:1

Wow!  I cannot believe how far we've come in just a few short months! It seems like yesterday we were still anticipating the iPad roll out, and now they are all checked in and ready for their summer update. I could not be prouder of my class, they are proof positive that any class no matter how young can be successful with 1:1 devices. At the time they received the iPads about 95% of them had never touched a tablet, and now they can do any task I ask of them. These kids come from fairly extreme poverty in most cases. They have not had the exposure to technology that most kids their age have had until this year so we had to start with the basics. Even getting the iPads out of the case was a challenge. Downloading apps took about fifteen minutes per app, and interacting with Google docs was excruciating! Now I think they have better technology skills than most kids their age in the high income schools. They also tend to out skill most adults they encounter. Here are just a few of the things they have achieved...

Download apps in seconds
Read and take comprehension quizzes online
Research topics and take notes from online resources
Type, edit, and revise final copies in Google docs
Take screen shots
Share photos in Google docs
Create and share Popplets
Create and share PicCollages
Take spelling tests online
Download, complete, and upload worksheets in Notability
Use the iPads responsibly (this is a good thing because they can also get out of guided access with no code)

As you can see, my kiddos rocked the iPads this year, but we had some help! With that in mind we send a huge thank you to Rose and Gina, our district iPad goddesses, Mr.Chop Chop our teacher librarian, and last but not least Super Scott our tech guy! We couldn't have done it without you!!!

I have big plans for next year! Nothing can stop us now!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Top Ten Tips for the 1:1 Classroom

We just finished up our first year with 1:1 iPads, and I never want to turn back. I've learned so much this year and I wanted to share my top ten tips for success. 

10. Play with your 1:1 device! Especially with iPads there's really not much you can do to mess them up! Play, experiment, and get comfortable with it!

9. Don't teach your students how to use apps or websites! Give them time to free explore! They will figure out things you never would have figured out.

8. Let your students teach you!

7. Don't bother with guided access the kids will figure out how to get out of it without a code pretty fast!

6. Make rules for use and stick to them... right from the start make it a tool NOT a toy!

5. Be open to help, advice and assistance!

4. Make friends with Google Docs and make folders there for each student! It will save you from e-mail overload.

3.Pay for Notability!It will pay for itself in a week because you won't have to make copies!

2. Harness the power of the website! Websites have so much more to offer than apps.

1. Even the youngest kids can do big things with technology... don't limit what they can do! The sky is the limit!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Let's Hear it for the Boys... a Book Review... and More Reasons to LOVE Myon

Happy teacher appreciation week everybody! This week I want to appreciate one teacher author teacher okay he's both! Last week I read the most amazing book
Getting Boys to Read! By Mike McQueen

It only took me a few pages to know that this book will be in my tool box for a long time! It has awesome tips for teachers and parents that really work!  One of the best parts is that you don't have to read it cover to cover if you don't have time. You can just leaf through and pick out a few tips that you can use right away ( but make sure you read the whole thing later it's worth it)! It's one of those books that really gets your wheels turning. As I read little thoughts about how I could use these tips in my classroom filled my head, and believe me I needed the tips because I'm a girl, and my boys are BOYS... as in ALL boy! Goodness they keep me on my toes! I really appreciated the insight from a man about how their little brains work because I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what on earth is going on in there! I came up with lots of great ideas as I read, but I picked a few of Mike's tips to get us started!

1. Start a boys book club (I know I'm a girl but my boys let me join anyway)
2. Use e-books (we read Myon books on our iPads)
3. Use audio books(again Myon on our iPads)
4. Let them read comics and graphic novels

Tuesdays and Thursdays are now book club days!We started out by picking our book. As Mike suggests I didn't give them a lot of limits. I only requested that the book not be too scary, or too high reading level wise. They could not believe that I was going to let them pick any book they wanted! They had all kinds of ideas about what kind of books they wanted to search for. Super heroes... monsters...zombies etc. They finally settled on
Backyard Bug Battle: A Buzz Beaker Brainstorm if you have boys they will LOVE it! It's a graphic novel with bugs, poison, and lots of other gross stuff!

Here are a few of them with their books rushing me so they can go read! 
Yes they're dorks but they're my dorks and I love them
The really cool thing is that this is a multi-level group. Their reading levels range from DRA 3 to DRA 20. Some  read, some only listen, and others do a little of both. The readers are allowed to listen after they read it once. There are cool sound effects (which boys love) so listening is a must. 

They got comfy and read...and read... and read... and read...

 "Can I read my book club book during read to self?" 
"Can I read my book club book during can do's?"
" Sure!"
" Can I read my book club book NOW!?!?!"
"No, finish your math!!!"

I think they each read or listened to it about twenty times. Then today we sat down and discussed it. They were so excited that they were climbing out of their chairs :) and we had some fun discussions ( there was also a lot of buzz poke ... buzz poke while we were talking)! 

We also picked a new book today, and they were just as excited to get started reading that one too!
Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to head over to Amazon and buy this awesome book Getting Boys to Read: Quick Tips for Parents and Teachers ! Your boys will thank you! I know mine did!

P.S Don't worry the girls got a book club too! 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Number Pieces

This post has been in the works for awhile, but I finally decided to to get it done!

Number Pieces Basic is one of our favorite apps, and I wanted to share a little bit  about how we use it.  We use number pieces whenever we need to do anything with place value.

When we first started out using it we were simply making numbers with tens and ones

Write the number... then build it with tens and ones

Then we moved on to adding a one digit to a two digit number 

We like to mix pencil and paper with the iPads

Virtual manipulatives are awesome!

Now we are adding and subtracting two digit numbers  and we need this app even more. Our resource wanted the kiddos building multiple tens sticks (up to nine per problem) with interlocking cubes.I agree there is a place for regular tangible manipulatives (and we have used them in the past) but this was not it. I don't know about you, but with my kiddos it's very hard to keep tools from turning into toys. Cubs get thrown, castles get built, and we all know what little boys make with them... GU*S! Ugg no thank you! I would much rather spend time working with kids on the skill at hand than managing the evil cubes! Plus I don't have enough cubes for every kid to build the number 94!!!

This worked so much better!!

Build 20 remove 10 How many are left?

They built the first number, deleted the second number and wrote the equation


I don't even want to think about doing this with the cubes...

Thank God for Number Pieces

Everything is all Right or Maybe it's Left...

As part of our social studies standards we have to teach our kiddos their left from their right. I know I could find some boring worksheets where they have to circle the ball on the right or circle the tree on the left, but as we've already established I'm not a very worksheety teacher, and I get bored easily! With that in mind I found something more fun! I saw this idea somewhere, and borrowed it. For the past week I have been putting yummy smelling cotton candy Lip Smackers on the kids right hands. They smell them all the time, and know that the hand they're smelling is their right hand. Simple, easy, and fun (it also makes for a nice reward if needed). Gotta love muscle memory! 

I choose the big fat Lip Smackers to cover the most area!

Now that we have a fairly firm grasp on left and right we get to play Left Center Right LCR ( this link gives details on how to play, but I'll give you the basics). I played this once at a party (adults play this as for money, but we use math counters) and thought it would be a fun way to practice left and right. Everyone sits in a circle, and each kiddo gets three math counters. 
Then they roll the dice ...

If you roll a dot you get to keep your counter. If you roll a C you have to put it in the center of the circle, and if you roll an L or R you pass a counter to the person on that side of you.

When you're out of counters you watch until someone has to pass you one, or until there is only one person left with counters. The last person left with counters is the WINNER! The kiddos love this game, and we have a lot of fun with it. It's also a great way to practice sportsmanship and taking turns!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

QRazy about TeacherTube

For awhile I've been wanting to share links to recordings/videos of my students reading their writing with QR codes, but last year the school iBoss filter was blocking the ones I posted to YouTube. It was so frustrating, because I really wanted all the students (not just mine) to be able to access these videos easily. I tried Viemo... BLOCKED. I tried SchoolTube... it's a pain to sign up! Finally I found TeacherTube, and I love it. Sign up is simple and easy. The upload process is insanely fast, and  the best part of all... it creates the QR code for you! All you have to do is cut and paste them.

Here is how we created our video/recordings (we used the FaceTalker app).

 First I took a picture of them holding up their writing while covering their faces (for safety). Then I removed the mouth from the picture (the mouth is designed to move, so I just remove it). Next they record their reading and I attach it to the picture. Once we get a good recording I e-mail it to myself, save it to my computer, and upload. Once it's uploaded  I cut and paste the QR code, print it, and attach it to their final copy before I display it in the hallway!

The kids love it, and everyone else thinks it's pretty cool too! We hope you enjoy them! There aren't very many because most of them were writing in pairs.

Here is a link to my TeacherTube channel where you can check out all their awesome writing!

In the hallway...

The finished product!


Friday, April 18, 2014

Creating Fluid Learners: Mixing Technology and Tradition

I have been seeing so much online from both sides of the technology divide about what students "MUST" do. The voices are so loud! Almost deafening at times and they aren't always very nice. Each side fears that that the other wants to take away what they hold most dear, and they both  fling scientific studies, data, and experts at each other, but to what end? I am very much a tech geek (obviously) , and I fly my geek flag high. Whenever I go on vacation I almost need a separate bag to carry all of my devices and their chargers.  

I was raised on a steady diet of nice hefty books, freshly sharpened pencils, and boxes of sixty-four Crayola crayons (with the sharpener in the back), but I also had computers in my school and in my classrooms starting in kindergarten, and a computer at home starting in fourth grade. Granted the floppy discs were bigger than my hand, but I digress. As you can see I grew up moving fluidly between screens and paper. I want that same thing for my students. Quite frankly I believe that students MUST have both if they are going to be successful in life!

If you've been reading this blog for a while you know that we are a 1:1 iPad school.  Many times when people hear that they assume that we've thrown out all of the paper and pencil tradition and panic ensues. "They have to learn to write" naysayers shout in a panic, and my kiddos do. We plan, draft, revise, edit, and illustrate on paper. We take dictation in cute little notebooks, and scribble, scratch, and scrawl with colored pens in our writing center.  

Then we whip out our iPads and type out final copies faster than you can say "oops I ripped my paper while I was erasing". I can sit down with my kiddos and really go deep into editing and revising without the stress of them having to worry about copying it over again. Nothing gets in the way of others enjoying our writing, even when those fine motor skills are still developing.

We also love to read, and we read everywhere…big books, Kindle books, mini books, chapter books, poems on paper, poems on the screen, poems on charts, Myon books, Razkids books, books to color, and books you hold. Every one helps us to become better readers each and every day.



In math manipulatives hang out alongside fact practice apps, and worksheets in Notability, and we practice that pencil grip with our styluses.  We buddy up to roll virtual dice, play games with real cards, and color by number! 

We get the best of both worlds, and everybody wins. Particularly my students! They will grow up being able to access information anywhere they choose, and they will be able to slide fluidly between technology and tradition. They won't have to choose!