Friday, February 24, 2012

Hundredth Day... and Kindergarten Teachers Are Amazing!

On Tuesday, we celebrated the 100th Day of School.That's what it says in the bulletin, But I know it by a different name:  "Oh Golly Now I Know It's Almost Time for Testing."

I am trying not to panic.  So I'll share a bit more about our Hundredth Day celebration instead.

In sixth grade, we wrote a hundred words, multiplied numbers by one hundred, divided numbers by one hundred, worked on percent problems (and solving for a variable over one hundred) and made a commitment to read one hundred minutes.

The best part of our day was "Buddy Time."  The kindergarten teachers had prepared a packet of things for the kindergartners to do with their Book Buddies.  They counted to hundred, counted by tens, colored a hundred objects, counted in sign language... and completed several other tasks.  Our yearly highlight is making Froot Loop necklaces with one hundred 'Loops..  As many of my sixth graders used to be the "little buddy," they fondly remembered this task.

I'm sure you have seen this activity a million (or a least 100!) times.  As the teacher of the "Big Buddies," I prepare the materials for the big-and-little partnerships.

Since I have been behind lately (okay, since September), I didn't want to alter my routine. So I started preparing the materials late Monday night.  Since the Hundredth Day fell after a holiday, I wasn't confident that I would have any kid helpers in the morning.  Note to self: This is not an easy task to do when you are tired!

This is when my admiration for kindergarten teachers really soared.

I already admire anyone who can teach kids under the age of seven (or older than fourteen!).  However, getting ready for this activity made it clear that the prep is almost as arduous as dealing with these mobile small children who seem to need to go to the bathroom every twelve minutes.

First I cut the strings.  Since I was preparing materials for sixty kids, there were parts and pieces of this project all over my living room. Ten minutes into the prep and I was already thankful I wasn't a primary teacher.

Then I had to put the "ends" on the strings. I have tried glue in previous years-- it leads to a bigger mess that often needs a taped-over "fix up" when the yarn frays.  Wrapping a small piece of tape around yarn SOUNDS so easy.  I was sweating after the first twelve.  And they weren't even pretty.

Then I bagged the Froot Loops (Am I supposed to spell it wrong to protect copyright?  Or spell it right to give them credit?  Maybe I should type "Froot Loops®" or "Froot Loops©"?)  Like Play-Doh, the smell of Froot Loops is easily recognizable.  After smelling it a few hours., I was fairly certain I wouldn't be eating any Froot Loops (with or without a tiny little letter) for quite a while.

Then I cut up the little dividers.  And punched a hole in the middle with a hole punch that dates back to 1967 (which may explain why I had a blister before I had punched half of the squares!)
Over the years, those dividers have often been a life-saver! Counting by tens is not easy.  But counting a long string of sticky Froot Loops when you forget what your last "count" was... is not fun!  Even for sixth graders!  I know the dividers are important. I just don't know why I wanted to cut them so carefully.  Many of them are quickly mangled in a kindergartner's mouth when they try to eat the cereal while they are still wearing the necklace.  Nothing like a mouthful of yarn and/or cardstock to enhance the flavor (and  texture) of your breakfast cereal!

I was so thankful to see my "big kids" in  the morning.  I was downright sappy as I praised them for their ability to work independently and to stay on task... and to hardly ever ask for the restroom when I am in the middle of a sentence..  By that time, they were starring at me suspiciously.  I just handed them some cereal and ushered them out the door to the kinder classes to begin our project.

My sixth graders adore their Buddies.  Many of them will list Buddies as their favorite thing about sixth grade.  (What? How can you not adore learning about pronouns and antecedents?  And what about the contemporary parallels of Hammurabi's Code?  Isn't that fascinating?  And experimental and theoretical probability?  Don't you love learning about that? Sigh.)

By the way, our kindergarten teachers don't let them off easy!  On the necklaces, each group of ten Froot Loops needs a pattern that the kindergartner can describe.  Even without help from their Buddies, some of those little friends were amazingly capable and creative.

By the time we left, however, those kindergartners were wiggling. And sticky. And tiredhungrythirsty.

And there was a line at the bathroom...

I hope you had a WONDERFUL Hundredth Day too!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Goat and More

Lately, there have been several posts whose titles include words like "random" and "bits and pieces."  A quick look will reveal how many posts have multiple nouns collected in the title.  I think it is because this is a cRaZy time of year and many of us are struggling just to put one foot in front of the other.  Our mind is filled with "bits and pieces" because that is as close to a complete thought (yet alone a complete post!) that we can get!  This "Odds and Ends" post is like that.

So I'll start with my favorite chuckle of the week.
One of my students had written something partially-decipherable in his journal.  I was able to make out something close to gowdtcard.  Just for fun, I'll leave his spelling in the conversation.

T:  Can you read me this part?
S: We went in my friend's gowdtcard.
T: {still trying to decode} Was that fun?
S: Yes.
T: Hmmm.  Can you tell me more?
S: We went in the gowdtcard at his house.
T:  Oh... Ummmm.  There was... um... a goat?
S: No! There was no goat.
T: Can you read this part again.
S: {Sighing} We went in my friend's gowdtcard. 
T:  Did you say goat cart?
S:  Yes.
T: {Biting my lip at this point} We went in my friend's goat cart?
S:  Yes!
T:  Sweetie, we write that word like this: go-kart. And it starts like go...
S: Oh! Go.... Cart!

I'm pretty crazy about caring for my textbooks. Knowing they may need to last forever, I expect my children to take care of their materials.  In truth, we don't use textbooks daily (or sometimes even weekly--except for math), but I still want them to look pretty on the shelf!  

My students are numbered alphabetically (that makes no sense when I type it--yet I know any teacher would understand the reference) and the books are numbered on the front and the spine. Kids are assigned books according to their number in line.  I have found that neon labels make it easy to find your books when you work at three different tables in one day!

On Thursday, however, our room looked like this. These are social studies and reading books. The math and science textbooks were piled on top of the adjoining bookshelf.  Yep, those shelves are empty.  Why?

A group of people went from room to room to do this...

If you've ever "lost" a kid (Hi BlogFriend!), you may wonder why we don't bar-code the kids instead of the books...

Oh.  Did I mention this happened DURING school?

Some people had last Monday off.  I sure was jealous.  Our district moved Lincoln's birthday to tomorrow/Friday...Sorry Abe.  Like most folks, we have Monday off (Sorry, George, we've redesignated your birthday too!).  My four days of bliss will be even more blissful due to this collection.  My kids know me so well.  They rarely bring their homework, but on Valentine's day, they brought lots of chocolate.  Some of it is not pictured.  I bet you know why...

I'm still trying to figure out how to fix my numbered comments.  First, there were no comments.  And then there were a few comments, but no numbers.  And then there were numbers AND comments. I was happy. Comments make my heart sing. And then there were no numbers--but I had threaded comments (which I never asked for... they just appeared).  Then a friend tried to re-number the comments... and now every comment has TWO numbers.

Why does this matter?  Because...

I am getting ready for a giveaway.

               Not  a little giveaway.

                                A BIG giveaway.

A BIG, THANKFUL giveaway.

And I am really, REALLY excited.

I like teaching math, but trying to pick a winner when each comment has two numbers is like an algebra problem gone wrong.  I have to fix that first.

So be watching...

 Hey!  Maybe I can bar-code my entries!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Heart Day

Happy Valentine's Day, BloggyBuddies!

I just wanted to say THANKS for making my heart happy.

clip art from Scrappin' Doodles

There have been many (MANY) days when I wasn't feeling too cheerful about things in the "real world," and when I took a step into BlogLand... POOF {insert magic fairy dust sound here} happiness returned.

I am thankful for each post I have read, all of the chuckles, and every comment left at Joy in 6th.
I am particularly grateful for my BlogFriends who I simply consider to be RFwK... "Real Friends with Keyboards."

Teaching sixth grade, Valentine's Day is not my favorite holiday (although I do admit, I like the chocolate part).  I worry all day about hurt feelings and awkward "overtures" (always forbidden, but always attempted).  It seems like the energy in the room rises with each hour that goes by.
I am always relieved when the bell rings at the end of the day.

So... I hope that your Valentine's Day goes smoothly--no drama, no trauma, just lots of sweetness and kind thoughts.

And some chocolate.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Classroom De-Cluttering Continues

Sometimes I feel like I have fallen behind in everything I am trying to do.  Just last week, I discovered a pile of math papers from October and some terrific "Thankful" activities that I found in BlogLand--and never got to teach.

While I have been working faithfully on the Clutter-Free Classroom Project challenges, I never seem to find the time to post about them.

So today you're getting a couple of installments all at once...
For each week, you can link back to the post at the Clutter-Free Classroom Project.
Why don't you click over and join us?

Week # 4 Challenge: Teacher Work Area

As I have mentioned before, I don't have a teacher's desk.  There's just no room.  What I DO have is a "back table."  This is where I meet with small groups or confer with readers.  When other people come into my classroom to work with my students, they meet with them at the back table too.

For quite a while, I had a class job called "clear back table."  The kids knew how to move all of the various cups, bins, and things onto a nearby counter.  If I had been working on paperwork before the day (or before their lesson) got underway, this "clean up" was particularly challenging.

In Week #4 of the Clutter-Free Classroom Project, Jodi challenged us to consider our teacher area.  I wanted this to be an organized and clutter-free area for me to work that would also accommodate the teachers who "push into" my room.

I decided I needed to have a way to clear off the surface in one quick whoooosh! Enter this sweet little organizer.  Both the support people and I need access to these items, but we need the table area too.

I put away or threw away LOTS of bits and pieces that were formerly housed on the table and left only the essentials (Okay, to ME, multi-colored Sharpies are essentials). You can see that I also cleared away the majority of the items in the nook.  I boxed up most of the "treasures" that have been there for years.  There are a few photos and three most beloved items.  That's it! (Truth: There were 34 pieces of "flair" before the clean up!)

When someone needs to use the table, they simply move the organizer to the nook!  Sometimes the kids do this before their "other teacher" comes in.  I know she loves having a clear place to work--especially when working with kids who have difficulty organizing themselves and their work area.

I still have decluttering to do in the background, which always becomes much more obvious in these pictures.  We love our twinkling lights, but I need to change the path to the plug as it really does look messy.  I'm so surprised that the fire marshal didn't comment on their presence as they carefully restrict everything we put on our walls and ceilings.  I'm just going to delight (heehee) in having them until they say that I can't!

After I cleaned up, I treated myself to a new chair.  It's made of "bungee cords" and it comes from the Container Store.  It's magenta and it matches my room.  And it rolls.  That chair makes me happy!

Week # 5 Challenge: Storage Containers

If there is anything I own that helps me organize myself, it is storage containers.  I change my system far too often, and the pile of containers grows accordingly.  Once I have my classroom reorganized, I am going to offer up my containers to any of my colleagues  who would like to do a little organizing in their classrooms too!

Because I teach all of the subjects in my classroom, I have a LOT of instructional materials.  I like to have props, teacher materials, craft ideas, and student books for each unit, so some collections are extensive.  I have been trying harder to keep things organized.

I have started organizing my social studies lessons by unit.  This has lead to color-coding the boxes. The Early People label is "earth-colored" (like the cave walls)  The Mesopotamia sticker is green (you know, fertile crescent and irrigation and agriculture!). The Egypt boxes (of which there are several) have a bright gold label (King Tut and all!).  This way I can look for the right box and find it--even when I can't find my glasses!

What a JOYous day it was when I discovered that Office Depot carried the same storage boxes in COLORS! WooHoo! As I go through the piles, I am organizing my materials in color-coded boxes.  Math materials are in blue boxes, science materials are in yellow boxes, literacy materials in purple boxes, social studies in clear boxes (with colored labels!).  And I love DJ Inkers fonts and clip art!

During this process, I also re-organized the writing center in the classroom.  I like materials to be accessible to the students. This stack of drawers in the classroom contains everything we use in a day.  (The students have materials on their desks too, but that's a topic for another post)

The top drawers contain lined paper, unlined paper, yellow draft paper, colored paper, word study paper, envelopes, index cards, paper clips, staples, and other fasteners.  The big bottom drawers hold dividers (cardboard and "holders") for test-taking.

There are systems for using, taking and returning the materials here.  A few guidelines at the beginning of the year, and this station stays organized all year long.

And, because my middle name is OCD, the labels are edged in purple, magenta, blue, and green--just like the rest of my classroom.

Week # 6 Challenge: Upcycled Storage Containers   

After 30 years, I have a lot of stuff!  And I actually use a lot of it; I use different items depending on my mood, my focus, or what is being touted by the district any given year.

I can't always find what I need, however, and that leads to a lot of anxiety.  I was intrigued by the week 6 Challenge, because Jodi asked us to upcycle a container.  I generally like plastic bags and clear boxes for small items because I like to see what's inside.  If it something used by kids, I use a lot of baggies because they're easily replaceable and they can fit inside the storage boxes in which I keep class sets.

I always up for something new, so I decided to join in the fun with Crystal Light containers.  I have several different kids of dice that I use for math tasks and other activities.  Here in their new upcycled home are the colored dot dice that are so near and dear to my heart.

I still have a gazillion things to do to bring my classroom up to clutter-free standards.  But baby steps here and there will get the job done.

This is another reason that I adore blogging:  There are so many helpful ideas, so many creative mentors to inspire you, so many sweet friends to encourage you, and so many things to do to make the classroom more effective and supportive of student learning.

Oddly, typing this post has motivated me to redesign my math lesson for Monday.  And now I know just where to find the materials I need...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Linking Up... Twice!

Oh My!  This afternoon we had a budget meeting.  The financial picture in California has been dismal, but I wasn't expecting this!  Like teachers in most places, teachers in our district have dealt with furlough days, salary cuts, lay-offs, and the increasing costs of medical benefits.  We have minimal supplies, limits to copying, and no field trips or other "extras."  And we have taken each new cut, working harder than ever before to make the most of our limited resources.

This afternoon, we heard about the proposed class sizes for next year... An average of 31 kids in grades K to 3 (with a cap likely at 34) and an average of 35 kids in grades 4 to 6 (with a cap likely at 40).  While it may all be part of a bargaining move, I just can''t imagine working any harder than I am now... with even more kids!

I skipped my technology training and came home for a "beverage"!  I'm still in state of shock, but I was delighted to join the Link Up brigade to take my mind of our budget woes. Thankfully, Farley's "Currently" template was ready and waiting.  While I was at it, I decided to join up with Kimberly at Funky First Grade Fun for her "What Do You Love?" linky party too!

You should link up too!  It's always so much fun to read the other "Currently" comments. Click on the button and head back to Oh Boy Fourth Grade and say Hi to Farley while you are there.  She needs a little extra love... a  new rule says no more flip-flops at her school. (Some administrators really know how to break a teacher's heart!)

While I was at it, I decided to join up with Kimberly at Funky First Grade Fun for her "What Do You Love?" linky party too! (Of course, I couldn't resist a purple template!)

Why not link back and link up at Funky First Grade Fun?  There are lots of fun commentaries to read. And that purple template is just so cute!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Freebie in Honor of Pam

I was so saddened to hear of the passing of Pam from The Vintage Teacher. The Vintage Teacher was one of the first blogs I followed, and I was always impressed by Pam's generosity and her cheerful attitude (Maybe it was her happy "Blogitude"!)   Click on the heart to read some kind words from Tamara at Teaching Blog Addict.

Friday Freebies was one of Pam's favorite activities.  She loved when teachers could share resources with each other!

Click on the Friday Freebies graphic to see some sweet offerings from other Bloggers.

I'm not very skillful in the upload/download arena, but to join in on this special edition of Friday Freebies in honor of Pam, I decided to give it a try...

We've been practicing Comma-Before-Conjunction (We call it "Comma Conjunction") for The Big Test. Sometimes, when we share sentences out loud, we say--while reading our sentence--"comma conjunction."  The line was long at Starbucks, comma conjunction so I was almost late for school.
To add a little silliness (which always seems to help students remember things!), we sing a little song to the tune of "Old MacDonald."  You have to sing "a-are" as two syllables to fit in with the rhythm of the song.  This one isn't going to win any Grammys, but it might invite a giggle or two (Or, perhaps, a bit of eye-rolling from tween-agers, but I just keep singing!)

Click the image to get the song from (I hope that's where this link leads you!)

I am not very good at attaching documents, but I am going to try and do this today in honor of Pam.

Click on the image to visit the Vintage Teacher site.  If you scroll down to the comments section, you can read some wonderful tributes that show what a sweet BloggerFriend Pam was.  I'm sure her family must be so touched by the way in which Pam touched so many lives.  The Blog Universe misses Pam, but she is with us through all of the shared resources that continue to make their way into the hands of children.  We miss you, Pam!