Monday, August 13, 2012

Starting the year off on the wrong foot (or maybe its the right foot and I just stubbed my toes?)

Well, today I went into my classroom for the first time.  I knew I had to face it--the worst part of back to school (at least it is the worst for me).  I didn't go with grandiose plans---my plan was simply to get all of my tables back to their correct functioning position--in other words, all four table legs firmly grounded on the newly waxed floor (instead of flipped over and stacked on top of other tables).   I knew this would be difficult, because OH-MY-LAWS those kidney tables are HEA---VEY!  The rectangle table took forever to flip over (don't ask me why---looked so simple, but I just couldn't get it to cooperate), and then the seven square tables--was relieved when I got them all feet on the floor.

Then, my next step was to retrieve a few bookshelves from the hallway.  Long story short, last year was my first year in this room (and school), and it was formerly a room for special education grades 3-5).  I had a struggle trying to find kindergarten furniture (if you want to see what I mean, check last August's posts).  This year, I had friends who were 'casting off' some bookshelves, and I was 'scooping up' them up.  I planned to try a new arrangement, and I wanted to have all of the furniture I was going to actually have for the year in the room before I started to drastically move anything. 

I went down the hallway, and 1-by-1 retrieved the 3 bookshelves.  I had brought with me those "as-seen-on-TV" furniture do-dads that you slide under the furniture, and used those under the shelves so that I wouldn't scratch the newly waxed floor (and I'm sure you ALL know what I'm talking about).

So...after all my efforts, this is how my room looked after 4 1/2 hours.  One of the issues with fibromyalgia is that activity like today, instead of making me a little worn out and perhaps a little sweaty, wipes me out completely and leaves me in some serious pain.  So, I left mid-thought and mid-stream.  It was if all of a sudden I hit the wall, and I know from experience that there is no remedy besides rest and pain meds.  Ugh. Ugh. and Ugh.

So, I hobble to my car and off I go back home.  After being at home for about 30 minutes (as I wait for the pain meds to start to take effect) I decide to check my school email.  Not a good idea.  The very first email was from my principal to the entire staff, expressing concerns that "people" were moving bookshelves in the halls and scratching up the floors which the custodial staff had been working hard on all summer.  He said it very kindly and used very "general" terms, but I knew.  The "people" was actually a "person"--me.  It was me, and I feel terrible.  I was trying to be SO careful, and yet I apparently left scratches up and down the hall, leading to my room.  *note--for those of you who are thinking, "Oh, maybe you are mistaken...", sadly, I'm not.  I immediately responded to my principal's email, and he replied and confirmed it was indeed me.

So, I've now emailed the principal and the head custodian, feeling awful.  Here it is not even the first day of this new school year, and I've managed to do something stupid (a rookie mistake). Ugh. Ugh. DOUBLE Ugh.  I guess I'm going to go back tomorrow morning to eat some more crow.  And if any of you out there see those "As seen on TV" furniture sliders...don't let anyone convince you to try them on YOUR school's newly waxed and buffed floors.  Learn from me (not sure what lesson it is...just learn it! :))

Monday, July 30, 2012

A "new" blog find, freebies and a giveaway!

I feel a little guilty right now, because I 'know' I should not be blogging---if you saw my dining room/living room, you'd agree I shouldn't.  Why?  Because I had a little moment of "end-of-summer-panic" last night, and decided I HAD to get busy working on my 'summer school project'.  That project is not at all exciting or fun---its a very 'un-creative' sorting out my files.  My plan is to create a better way of storing my "stuff", and make it easier for me to get things back in order.  All my manipulatives are beautifully labeled and stored (thanks to Shari Sloane and her motivating workshop at last year's ITeachK).  Now, its just my own personal thorn in my side---filing the paperwork and 'stuff'.

ANYWAY, I was just going to quickly pop on Pinterest (as if there is a way to do that), and one of the first nuggets to pop up linked me to Nicole Lanier's Kindergarten website here:  .  I quickly found two fantastic freebies--two things I needed to overhaul in my own classroom.

Then, I started to roam through her site, and found this giveaway--and its so easy to enter (and painless), because its done through rafflecopter .  5 winners will be chosen, and winners get to choose one free thing from her TPT store!

I have my eye on her set of candyland cards--multiple kinds of cards, so that many different kinds of games can be played.  I know that this game has made its rounds this summer, and many people have designed cards for it.  The reason I love this particular set is that it is many sets in one (Letter Recognition, Letter Sounds, Sight Words, Numbers & Number Words, and CVC Words).

I have been using my own set of cards with my candyland game for the past two years.  But here is the catch--I use the candyland floor game set.

I got mine at Kohl's a year and a half ago---I actually looked for another one after Christmas (the first one was a great sale after the previous Christmas).  My kids LOVED to play this version (they liked the board game version, but this one was their favorite by far.  I LOVED this set, because it could be put down anywhere in the room, and didn't require a specific designated space. I used the cards that came with the set, and just added a label to each card with a sight word on it. 

 Sorry about this picture--I couldn't quickly set my hands on any pictures of this in my classroom, and I want to make sure I have PLENTY of time to work on my files. (ha ha ha)

Here is the link to Lanier's Lions giveaway---tell her I sent you! :) Lanier's Lions Giveaway

Now...back to work for me!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thank you, Kohls!

Alright, I'm sure that most everyone out there in blog land is well aware of the Kohl's Cares For Kids campaigns. Every 3 months, they spotlight a different author, and offer hardcover books and stuffed animal versions of the books' characters for $5.00. So, its a habit for me when entering Kohl's to look over to the left where they usually put the KCFK materials.

 Today, I was SO excited! I have been pondering how I'm going to be putting some "books in a bag" together (this was supposed to be LAST summer's project, but I'm determined to get to it this summer). I walked into Kohls (where I got an unbelievable deal, btw--more about that later)...and there was Skippyjon Jones! Not only Skippyjon Jones, but FIVE hardcover books about him! AND...the piece d'resistance...A Skippyjon Jones backpack! It took me a whole 3 seconds to realize---here is my first 'book in a bag'--or really, my first "Traveling Mascot bag".   I'm going to make a journal, and some simple activities, and will have parents keep track
of what their children do with Skippyjon!  Woo Hoo!  I'm going to go
 back tomorrow to grab a set of the notecards, so that I can write notes
from Skippyjon to the students. 

So easy---and so fun!  Thanks again, Kohls!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Centers...the beginning and now

Center time (or workstation time, whichever you call it) is something that starts slow and simply, and grows and changes along with the students.  While centers are going on, both my assistant and I are pulling small groups---I work with word study or guided reading groups, and my assistant often works with math skills or writing.  
Some basic principles of centers in my classroom:
     1.  Centers are never used to introduce skills.  They always reinforce skills we have  
           already learned  and practiced in whole group or small group activities.

     2.  Centers are more about process, not necessarily a product.  My goal is for students to be 
          actively engaged during center time.  If center time ends and the task is not completely
          finished, but the student was engaged and focused during center time, the actual 'product'
         (often a recording sheet of some sort) doesn't necessarily need to be finished.  I don't want 
         students who work more slowly to be penalized---and get bogged down in an endless cycle
         of not moving on because they didn't finish the last center they were working on.   
         Obviously, there are exceptions, but overall this is the plan.
     3.  As much as possible, center activities are hands on activities.  I love Dr. Jean's worksheet      
          philosophy (my paraphrasing): "If the student can't do a worksheet (because they don't 
          have the skills), why have them do a worksheet?  And, if the student does have the 
          skills and can do a worksheet, why have them do a worksheet?"

     4.  I have students work in pairs.  I have tried groups of three or four, and groups of two 
          just seem to work best.  It started out of necessity three years ago, when I had an 
         extremely small room to work in.  After we moved to a larger room, my assistant and 
         I both agreed that pairs still seemed to be the best option.   The teams are changed often, 
         so that students don't get into a rut and have the opportunity to work with many different 
         children throughout the year.

     5.  Often the procedures stay the same in a center, and the materials are just slightly changed 
         to keep it interesting.  This saves a lot of time when explaining new centers---no more 
         30 minute explanations, just to have students forget what to do by day 3.  Now it takes 
         10-15 minutes maximum to explain 36 centers (yes, I said 36).

At the beginning of the year, we start by showing students how to use the materials. On the first day, we start with everyone using the same manipulatives,  On the second day, we introduce another manipulative, and half the class uses one manipulative, and the second half uses the other.  When the timer goes off, we switch.   The third day brings three manipulatives, and so on.  

At this point in the year, things look much different.  We integrate skills, such as fine motor and science, or reading procedural text and following directions.  I put a lot of time and effort into
creating authentic centers, as you can see by the center board below.   The kids do love centers,  though, which makes it worthwhile for me.  We have a new student, and on the first day I had all            of the students introduce themselves to him by sharing their name, their age, and what their favorite
thing about school was.  Almost every single child said center was their favorite thing about school!
Here is the center board:

And here is a glimpse at some of the centers from around Christmas (these are the pictures I have home with me at the moment):

I'll try to post more recent pictures when I get back to school after spring break.

I'm still alive and kicking...or should I say alive and limping...

Well, I must apologize--I have severely neglected my blog.  I had great intentions, but once school began I realized that I might have   I have been so exhausted by the end of each day, that I don't even want to stalk my favorite blogs.  

I was diagnosed at the end of the school year last year with fibromyalgia, and I am still learning how to manage life with it.  In a nutshell, I have to do a lot less than I am used to doing, and it is very frustrating.  I've always been the teacher who stays late, working on the next project.  Now I try to hold out thirty or forty minutes after the kids go home before crying 'uncle'.  I have a longer ride to and from school this year, so by the time I get home, I usually head straight to bed.

Needless to say, the blog has not been tended to very well.  Since this is my spring break week, I want to try to get two or three more entries added.  Maybe then I'll be able to add a short note or two through the rest of the year---we have 44 more school days, and plenty left to do.

I never posted the completed version of my room, so I will begin with that.  Keep in mind that these were all taken at the beginning of the year---if you walked into my classroom today, you would find much more has taken up residency---and I'm feeling the need for a severe spring cleaning. 

This is the view as you step right into my classroom.  Straight ahead you see the 'check-in table'--where students find their stars and put them into the lunch pockets.  This is a quick way to take attendance, and it also tells us if the students are bringing lunch from home or if they are purchasing a lunch from the cafeteria.   The extra-wide pocket chart on the left is our center board, but at the time this was taken, we had not yet implemented the center 'system'.  We begin the year introducing centers one at a time, going over procedures and practicing using the materials correctly.  After the third or fourth week of school, students are ready to officially start the rotation system.
This is the view to the immediate right--still right inside the doorway.  On the left of the picture you see the mailboxes/check-in table.  The table that has no basket on it is our 'breakfast' table--because, yes, we are lucky enough to have breakfast in the room.  :( 

This looks a lot different now---we had borrowed a carpet from a WONDERFUL third grade teacher, because somehow our carpet had not gotten ordered.  She gave hers up so that we could start the year with one.  The one we finally got in January is much smaller, and we miss the extra space.  It took my students a while to get used to the fact that they no longer had a full 'box' to sit in, and that their neighbor would be sharing their 'space'.
This also looks a lot different now.  Our word wall is blank at the beginning of the year, and as we learn a word (not as it is introduced, but when it is a word most of us know) it is added to the word wall.  We do not include names on the word wall--it is intended to include only words that are those we know by 'sight'.  You can see the wooden bookshelf, and the books there along with the books in the blue book baskets (on the top of the bookcase and on the edge of the carpet) make up our "reading corner."  I would LOVE to have a true 'corner' or nook, and have fun ideas to use if I ever have the opportunity, but this classroom's set up does not allow for it.  The reason I do love having it by the main carpet is that it is our perpetual 'anchor activity' or transition activity.  For example, if students finish journal writing before others, they can go to the carpet and get a book.  They love to do this, and I frequently change the books that are available to them.  I always introduce the books when they change (and point out the labels that have changed on the book baskets), and this helps to build interest and excitement.  These are my personal books, and they take quite a beating at times, but I feel the payoff is well worth it---every year my students take with them a love of books that I hope will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

This is our 'supply shelf'.  Behind them are the two teacher desks--one for me, one for my assistant.  It was a long time before my students realized that there were desks there.  I never sit there, and my assistant only does if she is taking care of money (and she does this while I am leading the whole group lesson on the carpet, and students have their backs to her while they face me).  The supplies on the top shelf are the most important, and used daily.  The 'pencil bins' hold pencils, twistables, scissors, glue sticks, dry erase markers and 'marker socks' (black socks to wipe off the white boards), and sometimes additional odds and ends.  The blue baskets on the right are now filled with leveled books as well as various laminated cards that the kids love using.  These cards include hundred charts, money charts, color words, number words, and months of the year.  These 'book baskets' are usually on the tables in the morning as students arrive instead of the traditional 'morning work',  This means the students practice reading until the bell rings to start the pledge of allegiance, and then as soon as announcements are finished, we are ready to begin our day. 
This is 'my' corner.  I love having the storage seats, but I wish they were a bit taller.  I also had to cover some of the crate edges with black duck tape (yes, it's duck not 'duct') in order to keep the edges from scratching the legs of my students wearing shorts.

 That's it...nothing exciting, but now at least I don't feel as if I just left things hanging as far as my room.  The next post will be more interesting.  :)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Finally making progress in the classroom!

Before I start this post, I want to make a quick note, because this week has definitely been an unusual one.  Instead of the normal focus on going back to school (our first teacher work day was Friday), the focus has been on getting ready for the hurricane.  It seemed a bit bizarre to be working in my classroom yesterday, while the rest of the area is battening down the hatches.  At this point we are thankfully awaiting only a category 1, but the last time a "1" hit us, I was one of the fortunate ones who only lost power for 5 days.  Lots of people closer to the oceanfront area were without power for 14+ days.   We have about 24 more hours of this until the storm has passed by, so I'm posting this now while we still have power.

I have been concerned about getting into my classroom (in a new school) for the past 3 weeks.  The custodians hadn't finished the floors (they finished them YESTERDAY), and even though I was able to work in the room, I didn't have the furniture I needed in order to complete my unpacking.  Thankfully, another set of shelves arrived from the warehouse this week, and yesterday, I was able to "borrow" several pieces I needed from other K teachers (like a big book easel, and library shelves).

This is what I walked into (even though I've spent HOURS in there over the past two and a half weeks):

I did have a few minutes of panic during the day, even though I'm trying to keep my stress level very low.  At 10 o'clock, when this stuff was still sitting in my room (after two weeks of asking for it to be taken out), I had to make an urgent appeal to the office to make it 'go away'.  It was hard to explain that I couldn't begin to set up the room until it was gone---I am someone who has to actually move things around to see how it works, and I had several things I had to take into account.  My big issue was where the carpet was going to be placed, so I could figure out my calendar area and word wall area.  The classroom is wonderfully large, but it has an unusual arrangement (where the a/c units are, where the whiteboards and smartboard areas are, where the computer drops are, etc.).  Eventually the things were taken out of my room, and put across the hall into the computer lab (the computer resource teacher is LOVING me, I'm sure).

The other moment of stress came right after things started to be taken out of the classroom, when it was discovered that the rug for my room had not yet been ordered ( and I was told at first I would just have to do without a carpet until the new one arrived.  Later in the afternoon, I was actually able to 'borrow' the library's rug (she had a rug on top of her carpet for storytimes), which made the arrangement of furniture a lot easier.

I knew I had a LOT to get done, because we have the storm to deal with, and its highly likely that we may lose teacher work days before school starts in a week.  My room is definitely NOT done, but I was thankful to have been able to make this much progress.

Still a long way to go, but I'm a LOT closer to the finish line than I was when I started the day.  It has also started to feel like "my" classroom---and as I worked, I was very conscious of how much of my own personality gets put into the design of my room.  I know what is important to me and to my teaching style, and the room ends up reflecting all of that.   I know any of you reading this will completely understand this.

One last note--the way my room was prepped for the storm:   :)

That should definitely stand up to Irene, don't you think? :)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Getting Started--What to do if you are just 'starting out' with centers?

I got an email from a new-to-kindergarten teacher, wanting to know a little about getting 'process centers' started.  I talked a little bit about 'process centers' in a previous post.  

In order to not drive yourself crazy as a new teacher--and those of us who have been there KNOW it can happen--being a new teacher is VERY stressful--you need to keep it simple.  I put together a few ideas that I shared with her, and maybe you can take something from this post as well.  This is not meant to be all-encompassing, but rather an easy way to get you started.

I love using Letter Tiles.  If you don't have any, you can make your own easily, but usually there is something in  your classroom.  This is a great way for students to practice letter recognition, and begin to familiarize themselves with print.  A GREAT resource is Making Learning Fun.  You can print out lots of different themes, and students can practice matching letters to letter tiles.   


Magnetic Letters—there are SO many things to do with this center.   You can make simple word cards (with a picture cue), and have students match uppercase to lowercase, lowercase to lowercase, uppercase to uppercase.  You can give them cards that they have to match letter to letter in a sequence, with some letters missing.  Example:  a b ___  d  e ____ g
You can find some of the missing letter cards at Mrs. Saylor's Log:

Playdough—a good one for tying in math or reading skills.  Kindergarten Works has GREAT freebies to get you started:

Pattern Blocks –I use these year round.  Have students create patterns on their own, or complete patterns that you have started on sentence strips. Have students complete designs with color clues (the shapes are colored in). Have students complete designs without color clues. 
Here are some FANTASTIC freebies:
(check out her pattern block sets)

If you are able to spend a little cash, I'd definitely check out Heidi Songs:
Scroll down to see her number pattern block sets---she also has letter sets.  She also has a GREAT blog—you’ll want to check it out!

Math Centers—These you can change all year to correspond with the skills you are learning.  Start out with students matching numbers to sets (giving them ‘number mats’ and have them count out objects to correspond with them). 
Check out Kindergarten Hoppenings for LOTS of number to set matches—she has recently posted a tree and apples set, and bus and kids set.

ABC center  This is another center I use year round, changing it as the students' skills increase.  I start by having students match letters (matching upper to lowercase, or upper to upper, lower to lower)


Magazine Search---Hubbard's Cupboard has another set of wonderful resources to get you started:

Fran at Kindergarten Crayons also posted a lot of free sheets to use, but I can’t find them at the moment.  Go check here to see TONS of other fabulous ideas she’s shared (and there is even a linky party at the bottom):

Classmates names—I laminate each student's name and picture, and make them available at this center.  They start by practicing writing their friends names, and then move up to writing ‘notes’ to their friends.   I also let them put together each other’s “name puzzles” together (sentence strips cut into individual letters:  L i e s l—then put in a bag with the name “Liesl” on the front---students take the pieces out and put them together.  They can then also match it to a picture of their friends’ face).