2016: A Year in Review

Happy New Year friends and family!  I'm sitting here with my coffee cup in my quiet new kitchen doing a little reflecting about 2016 and all that it has had to offer.  At first I was majorly beating myself up because I haven't blogged in... I don't know... FOREVER!! Even after Megan created this beautiful new design for me in the summer, but then I thought... STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP.. put in the past what is in the past and start being in the here and now.  SO.... for here and now, here I am with a little bit of year in review.. both educationally and personally... well, if you've stopped by with your coffee cup before, you already know that about me.

2016: was a Year of Interactive Math:

I worked hard in the early part of 2016 to come up with ways to make mathematics more interesting and fun for my sixth graders.  They were NOT keen on having to learn fractions, and algebra and distance on the coordinate grid, and we had some major intervention to do.  I started a bi-monthly blog post called Mid-Week Math Motivation, (which I'm hoping to kick start again) which helped me think out and share some of the ideas I had to keep math engaging.  One of my favorite activities was creating a gigantic coordinate grid on the cafeteria wall.  We rolled foam dice for creating the integers on the grid, and I had candy prizes at different coordinates.  The kids had to tell me the integer and it's quadrant to keep the prize.  You can read more about it in this post {HERE}.  My class loved this activity.  It was engaging, fast, and fun.

2016 was a year of a BIG MOVE:
In the summer this year I moved with my kids to be closer to my family in Florida. I also found an amazing house for us to live in, and I'm proud that I have managed to buy it and run it all on my own.  I love the area where I live.

I have a pond in the back of my house that is filled with Cypress trees.  There are literally hundreds of birds that live there.  I love sitting with my coffee cup on the deck in the morning watching and listening to them chatter. We also have a gator we've named George.

What better way is there than with perfect Rae Dunn mug... yes I've become a collector of these,  and Fiesta dishes.. I need more quirky and color in my life!

2106 was a Change in Grade Levels:
Along with the BIG MOVE I also changed from teaching sixth grade to teaching fourth grade in a new state.  Learning new curriculum has kept me VERY busy this first semester of the school year, and I will definitely blame my lack of blogging on treading water at school.  I do really love my class, and the staff there, and we are working hard at improving our school report card.  We are a D school right now, and we want off that list! My smarties are working hard, and they have ME working hard.  That has its pluses and minuses as I've totally gone off of my taking care of myself regime, and I'm spending WAAAAYYYY more time at work and doing school related planning than I should be, but I'm hoping things will even out in 2017.  New Year... New Hope... <Yep.. that's me, putting in the whole Star Wars reference... You know I shed some tears over the loss of the Princess, but I digress>

I mean how can you not love that THIS is the type of place you get to go to on a FIELD TRIP!

Gorgeous right!

So that my friends in a nutshell is why I've been MIA for the past few months.  I'm hoping to get back to blogging and catching up with my peeps in 2017.  I have always enjoyed connecting with teachers and sharing ideas.  Let me know what was amazing about your 2016!


Back to School First Week Fun!

Well friends, I made it!  I just got through my 23rd First Week of School!  I know, I know, you are saying, WWWHHHHHAAAT!! There is no way she is THAT old, LOL.. It's all in the Ponds Moisturizing creme my friends!  Take care of your skin!
But seriously, I'm so excited to be starting a new adventure in a new state, new school, and new grade level.  I've been teaching sixth grade for about 18 years, and in my new school, I'm teaching fourth.  I love that I know right where those middle school teachers want my Smarties to be, and I'm going to do my part to get them ready!!

We had a great first week of school, and I wanted to share a few activities that I did with my class this week that I love.  I hope you can use some of them too!

I have to admit, I don't start the year with one of those Pinterest perfect classrooms.  I LOVE to look at them. I pine over their beauty when I'm wasting time on my phone, but honestly, I can't do it.  My walls are my kids walls, and I want them to create their beauty.  One thing that I do like to put up is a Salutations greeting.  I used Powerpoint, a fun font, and colored paper to print this sign.

My purpose was to give students a word they may be familiar with if they have read Charlotte's Web (our second graders do), but may not know quite the meaning of the word.  I use it as a spring board to discuss 1) Not everyone knows every thing on the first day of school  2) Vocabulary has several deeper shades of meaning.   Vocabulary is a big push for our students this year.  You can go {HERE} and read a blog post I've written about strategies I'm going to implement in my classroom.
I plan to add words to this wall during the year to get my point across about the deeper shades of meaning.

On the first day of school I read a fabulous book called First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
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 Have you read it?  I told my students there is a twist in the book, something unexpected happens, and good readers need to be on the look out for it.  They ate it up!  They were so excited to learn that Sarah Jane was the TEACHER and not the STUDENT!  After I read the book I introduced the bottle tree that I have in my reading corner.

 I plan to add a bottle to the tree every time we read and discuss a book in class.  On the back of the bottle we have to add three things:
1) Something important that happened in the book
2) A lesson that was learned or the theme of the book
3) A connection to the book.

At first I expect them to make a personal connection, but as the year progresses, I will be expecting text to text and text to world connections.  My Smarties did such a great job!  I was really impressed with the thoughtful answers they gave me on the first day of school!

Along with reading First Day Jitters, I also used the book to teach my grammar lessons in my writer's block.  I'm using my BBB, Jessica's, Mentor Sentences with my students.  Mentor texts are the way to go my friends, and Jivey made it easy to incorporate grammar skills right into good books.  Reading and discussing good books translates into good writers!  You can go {HERE} and see what Jivey has. If you haven't used mentor sentences before, she has several free lessons that you can download and check out.
Look at what my students accomplished with our mentor sentences this week! They could tell me parts of speech, diagram sentences, revise a sentence, and imitate it.  I chose several of the best sentences to hang on the wall for everyone to read.

We started science with a great idea from one of my teammates.  Since our first reading text is all about a scientist who studies tarantulas, we started our notebooks with drawings of what type of scientist we would like to be.

I had students put up privacy folders while they worked, so that each one would be unique.  They drew themselves in a labcoat, and then decorated the lab coat with what they would want to be a scientist of.  We discuss how scientists ask questions about the world around them, and then complete investigations and make observations to answer those questions.  Everyone was so excited to see all of the different types of scientist we have in our room.

A few other fun activities that you could use to start science or practice problem solving skills include Saving Fred.  You can read about this activity {HERE}.  I'm doing it with my class next week.  I also sometimes do the Index Card Challenge.  You can go {HERE} to find out about this activity (There is a link to a freebie where I wrote down the directions, and a youtube video if you need to see this in action). My class LOVED this once they figured it out.  I think I'll be saving it for a fun Friday activity a in a few weeks.

I am also planning to create a Back to School Dodecagon Ball with my students for Open House.  I don't normally start this project until the second week of school if I can help it.  We have to start to establish some routines first.  Basically my students will be getting 2-3 sections a day throughout the second week of school to complete.  Some I ask them to draw, others I ask for more of a writing component.  I'll use my writing time for this, as I'm still leveling students and trying to see where I have to start my basics at.  When we finish this project I'll have them up for Open House.  I know my parents are going to Love the way they look.  It is a great way to incorporate writing, math and art all in one area.  If you are interested, you can go {HERE} to check them out.

Of course, the first week wouldn't be complete without a guest coming in.. right?
Here is our little Nagini that decided she needed a little extra learning.  This racer snake was in the hallway one morning, and I just about had a heart attack.  I AM NOT A SNAKE PERSON!  Good thing one of my teammates is!  I hope the momma isn't lurking somewhere!

I'd love to know what you are doing for the First Week of School!  Let me know how it went for you! I'm all about gathering a community of teachers to support each other!

Have a great day!


Three Ways to Help Struggling Readers in the Classroom

At different points during the year, any good teacher will take time to reflect on their reading and mathematics program.  We decide what is or is not working, what we think we need to keep and what needs to be changed or tweaked in some manner. Today I wanted to share with you three strategies that keep my struggling readers engaged in the classroom.

 #1: Increase Common Vocabulary
Literacy study after literacy study has proven that having a high vocabulary is a key indicator in the reading ability of students.  We all have vocabulary that needs to be taught in our classrooms. Sometimes this is content or story specific, but recently, I found this great LIST from Flocabulary that I plan to use with my new fourth grade class.  These are common vocabulary words that students should know at every grade level. When I teach vocabulary, I like to have my students create vocabulary slides.  We use Google Slides, and I assign each student or pairs of students specific words.  They create a document slide that contains the vocabulary word, definition, two synonyms, and an antonym.  I always like to have students include two synonyms because it gives me an opportunity to teach and discuss shades of meaning with students.  I try to challenge them to use thesaurus.com to find synonyms.  These slides provide so many opportunities for conversation because we can really discuss whether a word is really meant to reflect a similar meaning.  When we finish, we add the word to our vocabulary/spelling dictionaries, so we have a spot for further reference. The vocabulary section is set up with a Fray model for vocabulary similar to the slide, so our shades of meaning synonyms are always included.  My students use these during our writing block as well.

#2 Use Audiobooks as Reading Partners
I was so happy to read a recent article  in the ILA's Literacy Today magazine that discusses the use of audio books as companions for struggling readers.  Just as the author, Lisa Trottier Brown comments, having struggling readers use an audio book and follow along, reading aloud themselves increases the reading rates of students. This can also be done with a strong reader and a weaker reader.  BOTH students read at the same time from the challenging text.  It allows the struggling reader the opportunity to hear speech patterns and inflections, which is effective when scaffolding difficult text. Audio books in the classroom are perfect for this.  You can often get audio books from Overdrive which is through the public library system, or Audible which is from Amazon if you know several of your students will be reading similar books.
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Just be sure that the book is read by a real person, NOT a computer, because a computer generated voice will not provide the weaker student with the important voice inflections etc. that they need to hear.  Having a paired reading experience is also a great way to use your volunteers in your classroom.  Especially if you can get Dad's in to read.  The importance is for your weaker reader to be reading at a more rapid rate, sitting together using a challenging text. 

#3 Have Students Leave Tracks in Their Reading
Reading Notice and Note by Kyleen Beers and Jeff Probst this year was so affirming for me.  I needed a fresh set of ideas for helping my students leave tracks in their reading.  Many of them were blowing through books and not remembering a single part of them, or remembering just enough to take an AR test.  They weren't sharing their reading experiences or talking about books in ways that made them become better readers.  By teaching my students about the Signposts, and following up with picture books, excerpts, and videos that helped them see how monitoring their comprehension made them better readers, my students gained a deeper level of understanding in their independent reading books.  I saw them choose books to read together, and then while reading series of books have conversations about where a character had had an AHA Moment, or how an older character showed signs of being a Words of the Wiser.  They began to discuss books much more frequently, and read more books on their levels, rather than easy books they could forget quickly after AR points were achieved.  To help them keep track of Signposts, I used a tabbed booklet which students kept in their Reader's Notebooks.  It gave examples of each Signpost as an anchor chart with the anchor question as well as picture book and video examples that would help keep them focused.  The anchor charts were especially helpful for my struggling readers, because it gave them something to refer back to.  I put the videos I used to teach the Signposts in our Moodle account, and they could also be an easy reference if those students were really stuck.

Do you have reading strategies that may help struggling readers?  I would love to hear about what you incorporate into your classroom!
Have a great day!


Happy World Emoji Day!!!

Hi friends!  Thanks so much for hanging in there with me as I went through some blog design changes.  What better day to post again than on World Emoji Day!

I love the craziness of these types of days, and when I recently saw this new coffee by JavaMoji, I knew I had to check it out.  I mean, how much fun will it be when I go back to school and pick out my coffee emoji for my morning brew!  Y'all know I don't run without my morning coffee!

JavaMoji is a pretty new company, so I'm eager to see what my first batch may bring.  I think these K-cups will be really cool in our teacher workroom...

What a great pick me up!  I'm thinking Secret Santa, or something fun for my team,  and I'll definitely be remembering them when it comes to parent gifts, or a birthday gift for a colleague.

If you want to check them out for yourself, you can go to their website {HERE}.  You can also order them from Amazon:  JavaMoji, Emoji K-Cups, Dark Roast Coffee, 24 Count (affialiate link) starting today!!  Happy World Emjoi Day!!


Awesome Clipart and Activities for Memorial Day

Hi friends!   I'm just popping in to say a quick hello and share some awesome resources that I've found to celebrate Memorial Day.  Most of them are freebies created by hard working teachers like yourselves.  If you love the item and download it, don't forget to leave them a little feedback love too!

I love this Memorial Day clipart from Messare Clips and Design
Check out these cute freebies:



PATRIOTIC PAPER AIRPLANE-- Who doesn't need THIS to entertain kids the last few weeks of school!!

Plus, how cute is this puppy!  It doesn't have anything to do with Memorial Day, but I love him anyway!

Here are a few other pieces.  They aren't freebies, but they are still pretty cool!




I loved using this Arlington Freebie from I'm Lovin Lit.  It uses song lyrics to teach ELA skills.  My students really like a different way to practice strategies.

I've also used this cute FREE HERO Flipbook.  My students created these, and then we passed them on to a local Veteran's home.  They were do grateful.

Have you read America's White Table? This is a beautiful picture book that describes why a small white table is set up in the American Legions around the world.  If you don't own the book, you can find a Youtube Video for it.  I usually teach several lessons on symbolism and American symbols.  I also use it as a text for our mentor sentence for the week.  You can go {HERE} to check it out.

I hope you've found a few things you can use at home or with your students to honor our troops! Enjoy the rest of your weekend!


Numbers Battle- A Math Card Game {Mid-Week Math Motivation}

For Mid-Week Math Motivation this week I wanted to share a game my students really love to play. It is perfect to keep them working on order of operations,  positive and negative integers, and mental math skills.

Numbers Battle:
Deck of Cards
Dry erase boards and markers

Create the highest (or lowest number) with a set of 4 cards
Face Cards:  Kings = 20, Queens = 15, Jacks = 10, Aces = 1 
Of course you can make these whatever value you would like, or eliminate them.  I use these numbers because I want my students to practice mental math skills when we play, and these numbers are easy to work with.

How to Play:
When we play this game black cards are positive integers and red cards are negative.  Students shuffle the deck and split the cards evenly in the group.  The game is best served with 2-4 players.
Each student deals four cards from the deck.  They use any set of operations they choose to create the highest or lowest number possible.  I allow my students the use of a dry erase board and marker. They have to write the equation they created to prove they have the highest (or lowest) number.  We use a calculator to check answers as needed.

The winner takes all of the cards from the round.  The game winner is the person with the most cards.

I really love that even younger students can play this game.  It can easily be modified for younger grade levels by limiting the integers to only positive and/or limiting operations.  Students can also get help by using a positive and negative number line. They could be allowed to move the cards or limit them by keeping the cards in order. Even as I'm creating this post I'm thinking of how I can incorporate new skills next year by having my students physically walk the number line in my classroom.  It would be a great way to have a class math battle, and an easy five or 10 minute filler or brain break.

How do you keep your students motivated about math?  I would love to hear from you!
Have a great day!

Notice and Note: Tough Questions

The third signpost in the Notice and Note Signpost for Fiction is Tough Questions.  When a reader is tracking her comprehension and she comes across a situation where a character is reflecting on a big moment, they are asking themselves a Tough Question.  As easy as this signpost sounds, it was by far the most difficult one for my students to look at.  Every time a character asked a question, they wanted to claim it was a tough question.  We needed a lot of examples and work to get on the right track with this signpost.  But, once we got moving, it really helped our comprehension grow.

Tough Questions allow readers to dig deeper into the meaning of text.  When we look for Tough Question signposts we need to think about character because Tough Questions help students learn about internal conflict.  This is a great time to teach types of conflict as well!! Usually I teach Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. The World and Man vs. Self.  The Tough Questions signpost is taught after Man vs. Self.

In the Signpost book, Beers and Probst use A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Have you read this novel?  AMAZING.. truly an inspirational story.  It should definitely be in your library.
(Link to Amazon)
I've also found several other resources that I used to help my students.  It was helpful for us to use our Notice and Note Signpost Tabbed Booklets to keep track of our comprehension.

Here are a few resources I used to introduce and practice Tough Questions:
Cooler Self - A Short Animation by Ozan Basaldi from Ozan Basaldi on Vimeo.

We also used a clip from Mulan.  Usually I show them Prepping for the Matchmaker, and we talk about whether this is the best choice for Mulan.  Then we watch the Reflection sequence.

Here is a student example of the page in our Tabbed Booklets.  

I've also used these books to help students:
Have you read The Yellow Star?
(Link to Amazon)

I love to use this book because it fits in with our Social Studies curriculum and World War II. Though this story is a legend, it has a remarkable message, and does a great job getting students to think about the Tough Question.  The king of Denmark is faced with a difficult decision when his country is about to be occupied, and Jews are forced to wear yellow stars on their clothing.  He must chose what is right for all people.  

Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
(Link to Amazon)

Eve Bunting, deep on so many different levels.  her books are amazing for students because of her messages.  You have the ability to think about conflict and theme with both fourth graders and middle school age students with this type of book.  Bunting's books always have a twist and can really get a reader to think about the messages people send.

Bully by Patricia Polacco

(Link to Amazon)

Again, Polacco is an amazing author on so many levels.  I love this story because for Upper Elementary students the idea of cliques is all too much their every day reality.  Even in grades as low as third and fourth we start to see girls form cliques and shut others out.  Add in the social media of the 5th-8th grade set, and the Tough Questions asked in this book are an amazing way to have a conversation about more that our reading comprehension!

Do you have any favorites for Tough Questions?  I'd love to add your suggestions to my book list! 

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