Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This Works, but I don't lately

It is a frigid Wednesday in southern Michigan. I am home for the ninth day this school year due to cold or snow. The only thing worse would be stuck at school with children over night like some schools were in the south. It never ceases to amaze me the vast differences in how snow and ice are handled in other parts of the country. We really only cancel when our students have dangerous conditions in which they must ride buses, or for that matter wait for the bus. This can be extremely challenging in a rural district like mine when winds empty farmers' fields onto the roads. There is no safe place to stand and the drifting snow makes it dangerous for all drivers.

What do you do when you miss one full week of school after vacation, and three days just two weeks later? I use my "school issued" webpage to set up links for students to practice skills. There are so many free sites out there that reinforce common core standards, that it is easy to find relevant activities. I use my paid subscriptions to Sumdog, Spelling City, Scootpad, and now MobyMax to differentiate the lessons.

(More links are below those shown, but not visible to you)

Students need to log in to the sites, but I have simplified that by putting links in one location, and when possible I use the same user name and logins for them. They always have that information with them.
As an incentive, I have offered "credit" for skills practiced online. They don't need to do anything on the paid sites because it logs their practices, but for the other sites they can print the certificate or print a screen shot of their scores.

I know I have written about Sumdog and SpellingCity before, so I won't get into those sites. Scootpad is a relatively new site for our district, although I used it as an individual teacher before. The nice part is it is easy to align to common core. It does the work for you. You just choose the standard you want students to practice. You can even give rewards (no homework, computer time, etc.) for students that complete the work.

Our district was able to get the license for our elementary teachers with our tech department paying $20 dollars, and teachers kicking in the other $20. It was "voluntary", but I did it any way. I love technology and integrate it when and where I can. Students like the practice it gives in a game like format (once you get through with the "testing" phase). They like earning rewards and unlocking levels. I like that it is common core aligned, so I don't have to search for relevant practice.

How will you "make up" missed time due to snow and cold this year? I would love to hear!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What Works this week with a freebie

Wow, a post two days in a row!

For this week's "What Works Wednesday" I'd like to share a creative project option for students to share books they read. All of us have done book reports and oral book talks with students. As you try to survive the umpteenth diorama, you think that has to be something else they can do. I started allowing students to do "Talk Show" reviews a couple of years ago. I may have mentioned them but wanted to give more details.

To do a talk show, two students read the same book. They can choose to partner read, or read on their own. I have them record thoughts in a reader's notebook that they think would add to the "show". They need to let the teacher know a day or two before they finish, so that the talk show can be scheduled.

The two students use their notes write a script. One student takes the role of the author, and the other acts acts as the talk show host. The script includes questions from the "host" and answers from the "author". The host will need to introduce the author, and deliver a concluding statement.

I have lots of different chairs in my room, including two lounge chairs that are usually the seats for the "show". The host and author take their seats (often with a table in front to hold their script or notes). I have used a live audience, or recorded the show for delayed "telecast" using a flip camera or my iPad. I prefer the flip camera.

Flip cameras have built-in software, but I import the video into Windows Movie Maker. I edit any out takes, and add a title and credits. I have added a music sound track from royalty free music sites, but usually just let the show stand on its own. I have posted completed videos on my district webpage so parents can watch. Students enjoy watching the show. The two presenters enjoy a chance to be in the limelight. I don't spend a lot of time perfecting the video.

Black and White video was the creative idea of the two students.

It's a fun way for students to share their love of reading and gives them an authentic audience to enjoy their writing. It is definitely more interesting than reading a hundred book reports!
Talk Show Book Sharing works! Want to try it for yourself? Click the freebie for the student handout.

Talk Show Freebie

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Taking One for the Team and a freebie

During January, School districts in Michigan recognize school board members for their dedication. Last month volunteers were asked to come up with an idea for a presentation from our building. People weren't exactly tripping over each other to get in line. Volunteering would mean a school board meeting presentation. When nobody raced me to the front of the line, I said "Sure, I  will ask my students to come up with an idea."

Flash forward to January 13. We had missed a week of school. I had the note to discuss the project with my kids still on my computer monitor so I wouldn't forget. I had a week to come up with an easy to complete project. My kids came up with the cutest idea of an ABC book based on what makes us a great school because of the school board's support. At the last minute, they changed it to a slideshow because we couldn't print and bind the books in a week. They brainstormed a list of ideas for each letter. They were creative. Do you know how hard it is to come up with something for J, Q, and Y? Leave it to kids. They settled on jump ropes and jungle gym, quiet kids (napping preschoolers) and a quiet room (time out room), and yellow school buses.

I handed my stay-at-school camera to my students, and they snapped away. I only had to add a couple of my own shots of things they couldn't access for themselves. Friday afternoon, I set up PowerPoint and showed them how to add photos. They completed the slideshow to the point that I just had to hit save. Last night was the board meeting. I had a handful of girls volunteer to make the presentation to the board. They were so poised. They made their teacher and parents proud.

The principal said the other presentations all had "things" to give them, so he wanted me to give them a "B.E.S." pencil. I couldn't stop at a pencil, so after a fit of sarcasm I came up with a School Board Member Survival Kit. I had to edit myself three times to keep from offending my "bosses". The kit and much more positively worded freebie are below. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

It Works!

After my extra week of winter break, it is good to get back to my routine. That includes my blogging routine. (Unfortunately, this did not post as planned!) For this week's installment of "What Works" I want to share a program we started a couple of years ago. "Little Leaders" is a program that uses our fifth graders as role models for our younger students. It is based on the "Safety Patrol" concept, but is more of a mentoring program. Originally, only a handful of students were trained to act as eyes and ears on the playground, but has grown to include most of the fifth grade.

Two adults supervise more than one hundred fifty students on a playground during lunch recess. By adding our "Little Leaders" to the mix, they were able to pull struggling students into group play, teach rules to games (and even officiate), and neutralize negative behaviors. Our discipline referrals from recess dropped drastically.

When students were pushing and shoving coming off the bus, hall monitoring was  added to the responsibilities. Then there was  our recycling program, and our Preschool program needed breakfast help. Now most of our fifth graders are needed. Students sign a contract that states they will follow all rules, be a good example at all times, and complete all work as assigned. If students do not meet reading goals for the marking period, so they are suspended until they met next quarter's goal. If they are late with any assignment, they sit out a week. The number of late assignments has dropped to a handful for the week. Not bad considering we have over one hundred fifth graders. A detention is grounds for removal.

The daily schedule requires thirty-four students to fill positions. Some students have the same daily assignment, as they mentor a struggling or at-risk student. Most students have two or three assigned jobs per week. They wear tags for recognition, and get off the bus first in the morning, a real privilege. At the end of the year, they get a special field trip. Last year we took over fifty students. This year, it should be closer to one hundred. This program has become so sufficient, that it has continued with only minor hitches when our counselor that supervises the program, went on early maternity leave in November. 

This program works! Now if I can only remember to hit publish after scheduling a post! 

Monday, January 13, 2014


After an extra week of winter break, today was my first day back at school. My school is in a small rural community. Our county and the one I live in struggled to keep the highway open, let alone get side roads cleared after the two heavy snow storms that together dumped over 20 inches of snow. A couple of county schools that were in session Thursday and Friday had buses stuck in snowbanks. Glad we stayed home. I love days off as much as anyone, but I was getting a little stir crazy.

One of the first things we did was share Farley's "Currently for the Classroom". They love to share these. The January Currently was sent as homework over the extended break. This was their New Year's Eve assignment. They were fascinated and confused by the "One Little Word" section. Some weren't sure they would be able to choose just one word to summarize their focus for 2014. Others were thrilled. I was surprised at how many had "Faith" as their OLW. I think this says volumes about their lives.

We also used Jen Runde's 2014 goal sheet for our math journal, and shared our highlights of our break from Diane at Fifth in the Middle. These were welcomed breaks from the other hard work they did. We have a week of work to make up! Yikes!

Hope your Monday was great!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Snow Days lead to rethinking

Today is my third day in a row with no school. I cherish my days off, but am quite the creature of habit. (BTW, my OLW is cherish!) I need to get back in routine. I hope that my formal observation for tomorrow will be rescheduled, as I now have three days of missed lessons to fit in somewhere. The lessons will be bare bones.

I am fitting one more novel in before the end of the semester. I planned a novel study packet with it, but now will do an interactive journal. I have parts of the journal that I could put into action tomorrow, but need time to prepare the rest. I could do a lesson with the novel (a different one for each reading class) that would make a great observation.

In math, I will also change things up. I use a math book. Unfortunately, the curriculum and book is not rigorous enough to meet the CCSS, so I have to supplement. This doesn't work well with a spiraling curriculum, as the lessons are always reviewing the material learned. When you add material, there isn't the daily review, so I will be jumping both feet into a Math Workshop model.

To satisfy stakeholders, we will cover the skills in the book, but will pick and choose which problems we do in the problem set. I know, that isn't following the spiraling concept, but I can easily add review problems for our supplemented skills. I also use Drop in the Bucket, for supplemental math homework. I will blog more about our progress later.

Although today is also Wednesday, I am not going to have a "What Works Wednesday" post. The only thing I have working well is my furnace! With the Polar Vortex, it has had quite the workout. I am happy to see the thermometer outside my door has finally hit the 15 degrees above zero!

Hope your day has been productive and routine!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Currently It's A New and Better Year

Welcome to 2014! I slept through (well, almost) the neighbor's fireworks at midnight. I gave up fighting the day long headache and went to bed after the weather report. Hubby had to work early and princess spent the night with a friend.

I am up early hoping to get some things accomplished before we get the predicted 7 or 8 inches of snow. I love to watch the stuff fall, but hate the cold that comes with it! I had great plans for my break, but am realizing very little of it has come to pass. The rest and relaxation that I needed won in the end. I still have a few days to get some of those items checked off my list. A blog post is the first item. Thanks to Farley's Currently, I have a focus.

It's just me and the dogs this morning. Hubby is at work. My chocolate lab is a very noisy sleeper! I love that dog! She is great company when I am home alone. My Jack Russell thinks she is a cat, and is just as finicky as one.

My life plans have changed quite a bit in the last couple of years, but I am more than content. Things happen for a reason, and the changes have helped me to cherish things in my life. 

After a difficult year personally that was brought about by some of the above mentioned changes, I am excited about the possibilities the new year offers. Some of those changes are giving me the time I need to get things going in an even more positive direction personally and professionally. 

A hot chocolate with a candy cane stirrer would be perfect. I may need to stop and grab one while I run errands. Yummy! 

I am off to grab a few needed items and head up to school. I know it is a holiday, but I am hoping I can get in, get my few tasks finished, and get out before anyone knows I am there. The copy machine is calling my name! I have some recent purchases to print and prepare for January, including my copy of Currently for my classroom. Students took theirs as homework! I need to get school things done today as Hubby has Thursday and Friday off. Not sure what we have planned, but I know I will cherish the time together. We may go to the movies. 

How will you spend your last few days of vacation?

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