Sunday, September 30, 2012

New Blog Design and Other Fun Stuff!

I am sooo excited about my new blog design! I was looking for something unique for my blog and came across Sour Apple Designs's DIY. I was thrilled to be able to design my own blog! It was fun, fast, and super easy to do. The hardest part was choosing all of the colors, fonts, and designs. What do you all think?! I still need to tweak a few things, but it's close to being finished. If you're interested in designing your own blog, I highly recommend this website. Click on the image below to learn more about it!

On to other fun things... I have some new products that I am excited to share with you! First up is the classroom timeline that I created to replace the one I used last year that was totally falling apart. I have this hanging in my classroom and as we learn about different events from history, we add the event card to the timeline. The kids love doing this! This kit includes includes:
*Timeline (starts at 1800 and ends at 2030)

*Directions for making the classroom timeline

*18 event cards that include dates for: George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Graham Bell, the Washington Monument, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Neil Armstrong, Benjamin Franklin, Sojourner Truth, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, Helen Keller, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama

Each event card has the date, name, and brief description of the event. Here is a picture of the timeline in my classroom:
It is a little bare right now, but will look more complete as we add events throughout the year. To learn more about this item, click on the picture below!
I also just completed a mini-unit on Christopher Columbus to celebrate Columbus Day on Monday, October 8th! This unit is packed full of meaningful activities to use on Columbus Day. Reading, writing, phonics, and math activities are all included. In this packet, you will find: a recommended book list, an original book titled "All About Christopher Columbus: A Biography of the Famous Explorer" (This book is written in kid-friendly language that your students will be able to understand!), an acrostic poem template, a character map of Christopher Columbus, ABC order practice, number stories that include true information about the explorer, and a R.A.F.T. writing activity (your students will pretend to be Christopher Columbus and write a letter to a family member explaining the voyage). Click on the image below to check it out!
Last, but not least, this week I am planning on teaching my students how to make predictions. I think it's so important for students to make predictions while they read, but equally important is explaining the thinking behind their prediction. Using evidence from the book to support their prediction is crucial. Otherwise students make wacky predictions without really thinking about the story. Tomorrow, I plan to read the book For the Love of Autumn by Patricia Polacco and fill out this chart with students' predictions during the story. I also plan to model my own predictions and use plenty of think alouds to explain how I made my predictions. I always tell my students "Reading is THINKING!"

Well I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! I am loving this fall weather and spending time with my little family. Here is a pic of my son, Grady, and I at the apple orchard this weekend. We had so much fun! Have a great week =)



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Little Bit of Everything!

Warning - this post is very random! It's been a busy week (and it's only Tuesday!) so I have a little bit of everything to share. Over the past week, we've been learning about making connections. I explained to them that there were three different types of connections that good readers make: text to self, text to text, and text to world. It's so funny- as soon as I teach text-to-self connections, they all have connections to EVERYTHING in the story. (You know how these go- "I have a brother named Timmy also!" or "I have a shirt like that character.") So needless to say, we spent a lot of time talking about which text to self connections helped them to understand the story and which ones didn't. I think they get it now! After they learned about the three different types, I made this chart for the students to record their connections as they made them while reading. They wrote their connection on a sticky note and posted it on the chart. At the end of reading workshop, we shared some of the post-it notes on the chart.

In writing workshop this week, we are focusing on oral storytelling. We had several trainings last year about the importance of students orally telling their story before writing. This has proved to be very helpful! This week, I introduced the story structure chart that includes the rise and fall of a good story. It shows how there is a want/problem in the story, obstacles in the middle, and then a conclusion at the end where the problem either gets solved or doesn't. (We talked about how not all stories have happy endings where the character gets what they want.) After introducing this diagram, I read several stories that followed this structure. A couple of books include Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes and Thundercake by Patricia Polacco. Today, I modeled how to tell a story and traced my finger along the diagram to make sure that I included all of the parts of my story. Then, they got a turn to oral storytell to a partner. I had them sit "eye to eye and knee to knee" and trace their finger along the lines while telling their story.

The kids loved doing this! At the end of writing workshop, I had a few volunteers tell their story to the whole class. This really helps get them ready to transfer the ideas from their head onto paper. They can't wait to start writing!

Okay, now for the last piece of my random post- the desk fairy visited our classroom today after school! I found these cute little award coupons to give to students when you find nice, neat desks in your classroom at the end of the day.

I told the kids last week about the desk fairy and then totally forgot! They've been coming in the past few mornings and saying "Oh man.... the desk fairy must not have visited last night!" Today after school, I finally delivered some awards and even added a little bit of curly ribbon to spice it up. I am so excited for them to see who she visited tomorrow! =) I also learned that I need to remind them how to organize their desks because it took me quite a while to find two desks to award! Some of the desks looked like a tornado hit them. I'll do a little refresher tomorrow on organization!!

Well I hope everyone had a happy Tuesday. Tomorrow is hump day... hang in there!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tell Me Something Good!

What a crazy, busy, and exhausting week this has been! I am trying really hard this year to focus on the positives, both personally and professionally because it's easy to get completely stressed out. When I saw this "Tell Me Something Good" linky, I knew I had to join in! Be sure to check out Rowdy in First Grade's blog and linky. All you have to do is share one positive from home and one positive from school.

My Something Good from school:
I have a FABULOUS group of kiddos this year. They are so stinkin' cute and such sweethearts! Here's a story to illustrate: Yesterday as my students were coming in the classroom, my teammate Casi came in my room and showed me these cute owl pillows that she found to go along with the owl theme in her classroom. I overheard a couple of kids having a conversation that went something like this: "If Mrs. Mathews has an owl theme in her classroom, what is the theme in OUR classroom?" They started looking around the room and all of a sudden, one of my boys said "I know! The theme in here is magical. It's a magical classroom." Oh. My. Goodness. My heart just about melted. There is no magical theme in my room- no castles, knights, etc. But somehow, this one little boy feels like it is. What a sweetheart! =)
My Something Good from home:
I don't have anything too specific because I am so truly blessed in all areas when it comes to my family. My husband is pretty close to perfect and I am so in love with my little boy. He is starting to talk more and I just can't get enough of all his hugs and kisses. I never knew that being a mommy would be this wonderful!
So what are your "Something Goods?" Be sure to link up and share!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fire Station Field Trip and RAFT Writing

Yesterday was such an exciting day for our school! Our city has been building a new fire station right across the street and we were invited to celebrate their grand opening by visiting the station. Not only did we get to visit the fire station, but we also got to witness a helicopter land in the school's front yard to celebrate it's opening. The kids were in total awe as the helicopter flew in and landed with such precision. I had goosebumps watching it! Here are some pictures of our exciting day...

It started out as a speck in the sky and got bigger and bigger as it got closer.

Just about to land... right in our school's front yard!

It was amazing to see the helicopter this close up. My students got to go in and sit inside!
When we first arrived, we were greeted and welcome by the fire chief and mayor of our city!
We listened to the fire chief teach about the different vehicles they use.
The banner we made to say "Thank You!" We took this to the fire station with us!

After our visit, our principal challenged us to think of a critical writing activity to do with our students as a follow up to our visit. I racked my brain trying to think of something that involved critical thinking and something that my students could do this early in the year. Have you ever heard of R.A.F.T. writing? I remembered this from my Master's program and thought it would work great for this project. Basically, a R.A.F.T. writing includes the following:

R (role): Who are you as the writer?
A (audience): Who are you writing to?
F (format): In what format are you writing? (letter, story, play, etc.)
T (topic): What are you writing about?

This type of writing is a great way to get your students to write using different perspectives and to a different audience than usual. This sounds complex, but once you break it down and explain to the students, they understand... I promise! I decided to give them two different RAFT choices.

R- the fire chief
A- our community
F- a help wanted ad in the newspaper
T- explain the job description of a fire fighter and what they need to be able to do


R- community member
A- our mayor
F- thank you letter
T- explain why we needed the new fire station and thank him

I thought most kids would choose the help wanted ad, but it was about half and half! They had such a great time working on this writing and were very creative! Some of their ideas for the help wanted ad included:

*Looking for someone who is brave and not afraid of fires.
*Looking for someone who has strong arms to hold the fire hose.
*You need to be able to climb ladders and run fast.

And my favorite...

*You need to have a driver's license to drive the fire truck. =)

Overall, our trip was a huge success and one that the students will remember forever! What a great way to learn about our community and the workers who serve us every day!


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Letting Go of "Pretty"

I have a confession to make... I am a bit of a perfectionist. Okay, more than just a bit. I love to see things neat and organized. My favorite aisle in Wal-Mart is the one with all of the bins, drawers, and tubs. Oh the possibilities! When it comes to teaching 7 and 8 year olds, however, things aren't always so neat and organized.

This past week, I planned to teach my students about timelines. I always start by asking them what they notice about the word (hoping for someone to say that it has two smaller words inside). We talk about why people would want to use timelines and the different kinds there are. Next, I read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This book lends itself to teaching about timelines because the events in the story are in order by the days of the week. After reading the story, the kids put the events in the story in order on a timeline. While this is a great introduction to timelines, I started thinking that I need to go deeper with this skill. Just placing events on a pre-made timeline didn't sound all that challenging.

My friend Jen, who teaches 3rd grade, suggested that my students could put their birthdays in order on a timeline. I thought it sounded like a great idea and tried to think of different ways to make it work. I thought about typing up a pre-made timeline with all of the months in order and evenly spaced apart. Then, they could cut out cards with each child's birthday and picture on it and place them in order on the timeline. Wouldn't those look so nice in the hallway?! The more I got to thinking about it, though, I realized something important. I really need to let go of "pretty". Even though these timelines would look nice and neat with their even spaces and typed out months, I wouldn't be asking very much of my students. So instead, I decided to just let go and leave it up to my students. I would have them work in groups of four at their tables and they could make their timelines any way they wanted, with any materials that they wanted. I let them choose from butcher paper, sentence strips, computer paper, anything. I did give some guidelines that they needed to follow such as: the months had to be in order, they needed to somehow make them evenly spaced, and they needed a line to place the cards on. The kids were really excited about this project!

As they started working, I noticed that all of the groups were doing their timelines a little different from each other. Some were taping sentence strips together, some were gluing strips of butcher paper together, but they were all making timelines.

I saw problem solving (one student asked if their group could use a yard stick because they couldn't make a straight line, another group realized that they didn't have enough paper for their timeline when they ran out of space by September). I walked around and gave them support but didn't just jump to solving the problem for them. I let them work it out and see what they came up with. By the end of the activity, my class had successfully made 6 timelines. They weren't totally perfect, neat, or "pretty", but they were MEANINGFUL. I realized that the kids had learned so much more by creating their own version of a timeline. I was so extremely proud of them.


I plan on hanging these in the hallway tomorrow at school. When I look at them, I will remind myself to keep letting go of "pretty" and keep striving for the most meaningful activities possible!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

I'm Back!!! Place Value, Roles, and an Easy Hallway Display

Okay bloggy friends, I am finally back! I apologize for the lack of posts this past month. With school starting and all the craziness that goes along with it (you know what I'm talking about!), I've had a hard time keeping up with everything. Now that we're into somewhat of a routine, things are slowly getting back to normal.

Let me start by saying that I have the MOST wonderful group of kids this year! I am so excited to be teaching these sweeties. Every day they make me smile... :) It's going to be a great year!

The past couple of weeks have been challenging since switching to the new Common Core standards in Math. Our district is currently using the Everyday Math program which doesn't align very well with the new standards. My team decided to meet after school yesterday and spend some time mapping out the year. Whew... what a task! Now that we have a long term plan, though, I feel so much better about where we're going. I'm even excited about it! With so many fewer standards, we are able to really go in depth with each skill. To start the year, we decided to start with teaching all about place value. This is such a foundational skill for all of the other skills in math. The past couple of weeks, we've been teaching about the different places (ones, tens, hundreds), expanded form, number form, and word form. I've been using lots of games to help reinforce what we're learning about. The kids have LOVED these games so far! Below is a free copy of the Race to 100 game that I created. This game helps the kids learn how to exchange ten cubes for a long and 10 longs for a flat. Click on the picture below to grab yours!

Last week, we also learned about the different roles that we all have in the community. Whether it be a student, friend, brother, girl scout, dancer, church member, etc- we all have different roles. To help them understand this idea, we made "Community Roles People" (I don't have a very creative name for this!) Each student got 3 blank outlines of a person (only one had a head- this one went on the bottom). They had to color the face and hair to look like themselves and then write one role that they have on each sheet. When coloring, they were supposed to decorate their clothes to match the role. (Example: If they wrote about being a girl scout, they drew a girl scout vest on their person.) After they were finished, I staped all three parts together. These turned out really cute. Here are some pictures to show you what they looked like:

"I am a dancer. It makes me flexible." (check out those ballet shoes!)
"I am a friend. My friend is Grace."

"I am a student. I go to school."
 These turned out so cute and look great in the hallway hanging up! Speaking of hallways displays, I decided to simplify the display that I use this year by using border, laminated sheets of paper, and mini clothespines. Here is a picture of the hallway display outside my classroom:

It is so easy because you can just change out the students' work by clipping and unclipping the clothespins. Name tags let you know whose work is whose and the laminated black paper gives it a nice background. This was super simple!

Well I hope everyone is off to a great start to the school year. TGTIF (Thank goodness tomorrow is Friday!)