Thursday, February 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday Trio... and a FREE Math Activity!

I've always thought that one of the greatest benefits of blogging has been the opportunity to meet great bloggy friends. That delightful connection has brought you some freebies today!

Do you know Fern from Fern Smith's Classroom Ideas and Michelle from Teach 123? I bet you do! And if you don't, it's time to make some new friends!

Michelle and Fern have organized an opportunity for blog readers to meet some new bloggers and TpT sellers through a post called Throwback Thursday Trio.  And I am honored to be linked with them in this week's post!

It has been a year since my friends, Fern and Michelle began their Dynamic Duo monthly giveaways. They had a fun time working together and, of course, they love to give stuff away! (Makes you love them even more, doesn't it!)

Fern recently came up with a new idea:  Each week, they would make one of their normally priced packets FREE for one day.  This is their way of showing a little appreciation to the followers who have loyally followed their blogs.  As an added bonus, they decided to invite a different blogger friend each week to join them.  The idea was... Not only would the readers get free stuff, they might get to "meet" someone new and want to follow his or her store, too.  How great is that?!!! So, make sure you visit their blogs every Thursday...

And since today IS Thursday... You know what that means... FREEBIE TIME!

Chick on the buttons to take you to their (terrific!) blogs... and today's freebies!


And... Here it is! Your gift from me!

Click HERE to download your freebie.

Just a reminder:  You will not be able to leave feedback
after we change it back to a paid-for lesson.

Here's a bit of info about today's free product...

It was my very first product on TpT, so it will always be special to me. And I have used these cards in my classroom every year for the last five years!

I love this little set of cards. It would be easy for you to make them yourself--but these are done for you! And it would be really unnecessary to make them TODAY when, instead, you can have them free!

Fifth and sixth grade students are expected to have a working knowledge of integers. Older students may also benefit from a review. This set of cards offers students a chance to practice the concept of "greater than/less than" for positive and negative numbers by playing War, (we call it "Challenge" in my room) and they can practice opposites by playing Fish or Memory/Concentration. There are other options for practice too!

Another advantage of this set: No colored ink is necessary! If you run the cards on colored cardstock, you have plenty of color... and the numbers stand out.

I run mine on a few different colors of cardstock. That way if someone drops a card, I only have to go through a couple of bags to see which set is missing a card.

And, maybe this matters only to me, but the lines are really bold, so you have lots of latitude when you cut them out. I can cut on the lines and leave a border without my glasses!

What's included? The cards, of course (which are sized for a student to hold a few cards at a time), and some teacher ideas and some directions that can be printed for students too. This is a quick and easy game to put into a center or to use in a small group!

And... You just can't beat FREE!

Go on... go get some cards... 
Even if you don't use them now, you can them file them away for another day.
They're only free today (Thursday, February 20th)!

A special shout out of THANKS to Michelle and Fern for including me in the trio this week.
(Don't forget to click on their buttons to stop by their blogs for their freebies too!)

Christina Bainbridge font and Creative Clips/Krista Wallden frame

And a special thank you to YOU, too, for stopping by to visit today!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Currently It's February! (Note: Some Lying Involved!)

Yesterday I was reflecting on how the weather in February has felt a lot like spring in California. Actually, January felt like spring too!

I like February. It's a short month with holidays and chocolate!

I have been waiting for a long time to use this Christina Bainbridge font and this dotty paper by Surfin' through Second! And then I got to thinking: I don't think I ever completed a "Currently" for February!

The Olympics have been "on" in the background for days. I look up from the computer now and then, but I'm usually not sure who is competing. Those Olympic "coveralls" have left me completely confused!

I'm enjoying being away from school for two extra days--but I have a LOT to accomplish. I did well yesterday. Today... not quite as successful. I don't know about you, but I am always searching for  a balance between feeling like I had time off and feeling like I got things done.

I think working four days a week would be a good fit for me! I could work four days, plan/grade/mull/create for a day or two, and then still have time to be a "real" person for a few hours. How about you? People are often critical of the "short hours" that teachers work. I wonder if they know we never really stop working at all. Seems like I am almost always working. Even when I am not physically doing school stuff, a corner of my mind is still planing, reviewing, analyzing, wondering...

Now for the Truth or Dare part... I'm not sure what the dare will be. Hmmm... How about: I dare you to find the truth?

As you can see, I went with a bit of a Olympic theme for this event. Here you go..

1. While I have never been skiing, I have ridden the chair-lift up and then mountain-biked down (straight down!) Mammoth Mountain in California along the ski runs (Okay, it's a twist on the Olympics?!) Bumpy, twisty, fast... and scary. I got a t-shirt to commemorate my survival.

2. I traveled to the training center in Canada (site of the Olympics in 1988) where I sledded down the luge track just like the real deal. Icy, slippery, fast... and scary... like a rocket! Somewhere there are pictures!

3. Since it is quite close to where I live, I ran half of the marathon course through Los Angeles (site of the Olympics in 1984) one year in early spring. Slow... really slow... and still scary (unless you do not value breathing)! The best part was the ice cream at the end.


                                                      Which ones are true?

                                                                                        And which one is a lie?


The Real Truth: The fact that I did ANY of these things still surprises me! And yet...

Tale #1: Yes, I biked down Mammoth Mountain. Yes, I did fall. And my t-shirt says: "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up." I can't say I want to do that again any time soon.

Tale #2: Yes, I did slide down the luge course. Yes, I stayed on my sled. Yes, I felt like a human rocket. And, yes, I LOVED it!

Tale #3: No... I've never been on the marathon course in Los Angeles. I don't run. Never have. Never will. Unless you count jogging to the car on Friday afternoons. But the ice cream part could absolutely be true!

WOW. This has been an intriguing Currently installment, don't you think? If you haven't linked up, there are still lots of days of February. I should know. My little purple square is usually near the end of the collection! Time to click on over to Farley's and check out some other bloggers' contributions!

I hope that your February will be filled with lots of love and good things. And now I think I need to check on the cake. I am STILL hearing my name...

PS Those are Moo and Puppy digital papers featured above... HERE on Etsy!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

I Just LOVE You, George and Abe!

Yesterday was Valentine's Day... not always my favorite day with sixth graders. However, this year, the day was PERFECT from start to finish. You want to know why? Because thanks to George and Abe, we had the day off! WooooHoooo!

Presidents Clip art by KPM Doodles HERE Frames by Ashley Hughes HERE and Christina Bainbrige font HERE
I know it was just one day, but I feel like I accomplished SO much!

I got up early and, of course, had coffee...
I leisurely checked on the news, (Facebook, included!)...
I planned a math lesson... which seemed to need task cards...
I made some math task cards...
I purchased and downloaded some math task cards from TpT...
I cut out a LOT of task cards...
I took a nap in the middle of the day...
I went for a looooonng hike...
I took ANOTHER nap...
I made some progress on my writing lesson...
I made dinner to share (and I used to STOVE, not just the microwave!)...
I wrote a blog post (well... half of it... because you are now reading the other half!)...
And I simply enjoyed the day!

It was a bit like living someone else's life!

Things haven't been particularly cheery in sixth grade lately.
Yesterday I was reminded that my One Little Word was JOY.
And I felt JOY-filled!

Here are two pics from the twilight hike. One is sunset and the other is moonrise. (BTW, those are clouds not waves, but I can dream, right?)

It's easy to lose track of JOY when you are a teacher.
Around this time of year, the kids seem more... difficult.
I think that happens because we begin to recognize that we are running out of time...

And I think that I get anxious, thinking: We are more than half-way through the year! And I have more than half-a-year of teaching left to do! I start wanting them to learn faster. And when that doesn't happen, life gets a little frazzled around the edges. And it goes downhill from there...

On Thursday, one of my school friends had another interpretation of the recent spate of "bad choices" which had translated into some behavioral issues that make me shudder. I am going to save that discussion for another post (because I don't want my happy buzz to go away), but I will share her weather analogy... Thanks, Paulina!

In many places across the country, the weather had been... well... challenging. Some people have had almost as many snow days as school days! Not the case where I live. In fact, the weather has been in the seventies (and sometimes eighties!) almost every day since the new year began. I'm not saying that to gloat. I'm saying that to explain...

In the past few weeks (of January and February), I have seen many of behaviors that I usually see in April. That self-absorbed, "I'm a big kid now" (Sorry, Pull Up folks!) persona is already in full force. It's been bothering me all day and keeping me awake at night...

And then I remembered what my friend said... "It's like the flowers and the insects and the KIDS have been tricked into believing it's SPRING!" And I think she's right. It's only February... but by all indications, Spring Has Sprung!

So now I have to figure out how to de-spring-ify my students. I already know what doesn't work: Everything I have been doing so far!

Jodi from Fun in First posted this on her Facebook page... "So much of your classroom management is based on your ability to control your own behavior in situations..." Yep! That's true. Being frustrated or disappointed does NOT help. I need to use my "behavior" in a way that guides them back to good choices.

So, I've still got two more days of this glorious weekend stretching ahead of me. Time for some soul-searching and an attitude adjustment and some serious planning to combat the negativity that's been sneaking into our classroom. While we ARE running out of time to learn the four million things on the sixth grade list, we still have four months together--and I want them to be JOY-filled. Just like my day yesterday. After a day like that, things just seem POSSIBLE. And I want my sixth graders to feel that way too!

I'll end with that thought... and a little Melonheadz clip art. If ever there was a magic JOY-booster, it's Melonheadz!

Sending POSSIBLE thoughts your way...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Here's a Bright Idea About Literature Groups

Welcome to the Bright Ideas Blog Hop! Okay, my idea is not be exactly bright. More than dim, less than blinding...

Let's back up a little. I am so (so, so, sooooooooooooooooo) excited to have been included in this blog hop! Do you know Shelley Grey from Teaching in the Early Years? Can you believe she put together a blog hop with well over a hundred participants? There are plenty of days when I can't find two socks that match and Shelley's got an entire blog hop under control! Can you hear my huge sigh of admiration?

This blog hop is a little different than some of the others. It's not about products or downloads or anything other than classroom ideas. We're all just hoping that you find this hop fun... and helpful!

Here's another thing that's neat about this hop: It's a lot of people from lots of grade levels talking about lots of different things! Hopefully every "hopper" will find at least one new idea. Look to your right! That's me hopping right beside you. I'm finding new ideas at every click!

I am sort of in a weird situation in BlogLand. While my students are sixth graders, we are at an elementary school. I am definitely not a middle school teacher. I am three billion miles from being cool enough to accomplish that. But I do teach "big kids," attitudes and all. And they are tweenagers, so I understand the middle school perspective (sometimes more than I would like to!) I teach all subjects (except PE--which is lucky for everyone involved, since I am completely lacking in coordination and I manage to trip over dust!). So I still consider myself an "upper elementary teacher." Sometimes I can't decide if I don't fit anywhere--or if I fit everywhere!

This year, I have readers working at a third grade level (and below) and I have readers working at a seventh grade level (and beyond). And most every stop in between too! We have a veritable three-ring circus going on in my room during the literacy block. In fact, it's a five-ring circus, because I have five groups with seven kids in each group!

I WISH I could do more guided reading with my groups because they need a lot of scaffolding, and encouraging, and, sometimes, just plain directing! And I want them to read real literature and have rich conversations. Alas, I am just one person with thirty five (mostly taller-than-me) friends.

Since I can't be in two (or five) places at once, I have tried to design a guided reading experience that happens... without me! Students run the groups themselves, but they follow a discussion guide that allows me to "shape" their thinking a little--without me being there with them.

In the context of Literature Groups (or Lit Circles or Book Clubs--funny how those labels seem to change periodically!), students work from prompts that I have provided as well as directing their own conversations and formulating and discussing the responses to the questions that they have written themselves.

As I said, I have five groups happening at the same time during the Literacy block... twice a day! At any given time you might see some combination of the following...
  • Guided Reading
  • Nonfiction Adventures
  • Word Work
  • Content Reading (Science and/or Social Studies texts that address our work in other areas)
  • Literature Group (reading)
  • Literature Group (discussion)
  • Reading work on the Computer
  • Writing work on the Computer
  • Researching in the Computer
  • ELD group work
  • Poetry Analysis 
  • or something new and/or unusual
Every group has a group leader. This person is responsible for getting the materials and keeping the group running smoothly. There is a score sheet to assess the time that the group meets with "call outs" at the end of that rotation.

As far as Literature Groups, my students are currently reading five different novels:
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle
  • Sign of the Beaver
  • Sixth Grade Nickname Game
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • Wolves of Willoughby Chase

During the first rotation of Literature Groups, students read the designated pages, write a response in their Literature Notebooks and add some notes to their papers aid in their discussion. They also write a question or two of their own to further the discussion. I always tell them that Book Clubs is a time when arguing is a good thing if it is done in an appropriate way. We simply agree that we will disagree...and that there is not one right answer as long as you can bolster your thinking with evidence from the text.

Here are two excerpts from one of the discussion sheets from Tuck Everlasting. The questions do push the students into discussions. And there is a consistent reminder to support their thinking with textual evidence. There are also prompts for decoding words, for looking at fugitive language, for examining text structure and literary elements... if it's in the standards, it usually pops up somewhere! It's a bit like one-stop shopping. Click on the pic below and it should become large enough for you to read.


The best part is that students are reading novels at their own levels. They are participating in literary discussions about texts they can read. I tend to add a novel each year to my ever-growing cache of discussion guides, so I have a few to choose from depending on the level of my readers. And, each year, I find myself adjusting the guides just a little bit to meet the needs of the particular group of readers or my District's focus for reading instruction. It has been fun to watch the students grow as readers--and as debaters! My students aren't quite ready to take on the task by themselves yet, and there is some specific teaching I am trying to infuse, so discussion guides are working for me at this point. If you haven't read Notice and Note, you might want to check out this book. The authors of Notice and Note offer another way to code text in order to facilitate discussion. Their approach is less labor intensive than the discussion guides that I use--and their strategies can also be molded into student-selected and student-led discussions. This book is a wonderful resource.

So here's your chance to HOP the Hop. Do you know Kate at Second Grade Sparkle? She is wonderful! She just switched to teaching sixth grade which is like finding a treasure for me! Kate's talking about talking too--and I know I am going to learn some great new things! Either way, she's waiting for you to hop on in so she can share her ideas for facilitating discussion (And while you're there, I hope you will get to see a picture of her adorable baby boy. What a cutie!) Just click on her button to get there...


Thanks for joining in on the Hop. I hope that I will see you here. And there. And everywhere!