Tuesday, October 1, 2013

New Blog- Pennywise Pursuit!

Want to save a few thousand dollars each year with some small changes?  Check out my new blog, PennywisePursuit.blogspot.com to do just that! My husband and I are working together on it to share ideas on simple ways to have more money for the important things in your life.  

Take a look and let us know what you think!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting Creative & Multilingual with Table Group Names

Instead of having the same, boring table group names for the entire year, I like to mix things up and make them educational at the same time.  Below, you will find a plethora of table group names that fit the different units we do throughout the year, like this one from our first math unit- place value!

Here are our table group names for our geometry unit.  You could do them in two languages, have the picture on one side and the name on the other, or do the name of the figure on one side and its definition on the other like I've done here.

One of the highlights for third and fourth grade for social studies is state history.  Here are some pioneer-ish table group names; one side is English and the other is in a different language.
For our temperate rainforest unit, I have the name of a common temperate rainforest animal on one side of the table group name and its name in a different language on the back.

In our fraction unit, we use these table group names with a common fraction written in words on the front with the picture shown in bars, and the fraction written numerically on the back with the fraction shown in a circle.  I just hole punch a little hole at the top of each piece of construction paper after I laminate it, thread a string through it, tie a little thumb tack to the end, and pierce the ceiling tile so it dangles over the center of the table group.

We also cover Oregon geography and the continents, so I have created these table group names to put up during those units:

What are some of the table group names that you have used in the past?  How do you connect them with the units you teach?  Leave a comment below, and check back for more teaching goodness!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why I Haven't Posted in a While- Grace Arwen

This is just a quick post to let you know why I haven't posted in a few months- my daughter joined us in early July at 8 pounds 6 ounces and 20 inches long.  I'm adjusting to my new role as mommy, but hope to be posting a bunch in a few weeks as I'll have time off of work until December.  Thanks for your prayers and happy thoughts for our new little family!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Guessing Jar: Math Made Delicious!

I was introduced to the concept of the Guessing Jar by my wonderful mentor teacher, Jacqui Forney, when I student taught in her classroom.  This activity, which I do about once a month, is a fantastic way to incorporate a variety of mathematical concepts and it can be modified to fit nearly every grade level.  It makes math exciting, students are highly engaged, it costs very little, and it's delicious!

Guessing Jar Supplies
As you can see in the picture below, all you'll need for the Guessing Jar is a large, clear container with a lid (I cleaned out an almond container from Costco for mine), a label for the jar, a folder, and some sticky notes or scraps of paper.
"How many things do you think there are in this little Guessing Jar?"

Deliciousness with Which to Fill It 
Each month, decide upon what type of scrumptious treat with which you'd like to fill the jar.  Some examples I've used in the past, with the time of year/unit in parenthesis are:

Candy corn/pumpkins (fall)
Apple candy (fall)
Gummy trees (Christmas, temperate rainforest)
Snowman poop/marshmallows (winter)
Gummy snowflakes/snowmen (winter)
Gummy hearts/mixed pink & red candy (St. Valentine's Day)
Golden chocolate coins(St. Patrick's Day)

Saltwater taffy(spring/summer)

Gummy butterflies (spring/summer)

Pilot bread/Hardtac (Oregon Trail/Fur Trapper)

Swedish fish (temperate rainforest)
Trail mix, crackers, dried fruit, etc will work year round.  Usually, I base it off of what I can get on clearance, in the seasonal bulk candy bins at Winco, or just whatever is least expensive at the store!

Preparing for the Glorious Guessing Jar Day
I love watching which of my students will be the first to realize that I have filled the Guessing Jar with some new form of tasty treat.  Initially, you will want to carefully wash your hands, clean/sanitize the container, and add the filling.  Screw the lid on tightly and make sure your students know that the lid must stay on the container at all times until it is Guessing Jar Day.  Explain to your students that they will be making an estimate (here's a great lesson in and of itself), and cover different strategies for making an accurate estimate.  They can pick it up, count the number of treats on the outside, count how many are on one side, etc.  Once they have an estimate, they can take a little sticky note/slip of paper, and write their guess, the label, and their name on the paper (such as, "452 candy corn pieces, Mrs. Madison).  Let them know that if it is missing any of these three things, it will tragically be thrown away; then you will have to deal with fewer no names.  I like to get them in the habit of labeling any mathematical answer, as it will serve them well throughout their math careers.  Once they have their guess, label, and name recorded, they can open the folder and add their estimate to their classmates'.  There is no peeking into the folder before hand to base their guess off of someone else's estimate; sneaking a peek will also result in their tragic disqualification (they can always try again next month).  I usually put this on the morning board as one of their tasks to do as they prepare for the day, which also helps reinforce the importance of following the board directions in the morning.

Guessing Jar Day
In reality, the whole Guessing Jar activity usually only takes about an hour, but you could very easily fill an entire day with it.  I save one morning a month to do Guessing Jar, and the kids LOVE it.  Here's how the morning goes:

1.  Students wipe down their desktop & pencil, wash their hands, get a piece of paper towel at their desk, and get a piece of graph paper out at their desk.
2.  While students head and title their papers, I rove around the classroom and hand out a random handful of the Guessing Jar contents to each student on their paper towel when I see they are ready.  It doesn't matter how much they get at this point, because we will divide it all evenly later.  There is always something for every student to be doing, whether they are a slow worker or fast; this helps ensure their full engagement.  If students are not doing their jobs as mathematicians during Guessing Jar, then they do not earn its delicious contents (I have only had this happen once in the last six years).
3.  Their first job is to count how many they have (often times I will have them categorize whatever it is by color, shape, etc to add additional dimensions to our data) and to record their results on their graph paper.  Then they help their table group find their personal totals, and finally they determine their whole table group totals.  Once everyone has it written down, they choose one representative to come up to the Smartboard and record their table's data in our class chart (just a chart with table group names and columns to record each table group's data).  Quick students will complete this and have time to find the total number for the whole class, and divide it by the number of students so we know how many each student will get at the end of Guessing Jar.
4.  Next, you can tailor the Guessing Jar to whatever form of math you're working on.  If you're doing fractions, determine the fractional amount of each color of saltwater taffy, for example.  If graphing is your focus, create a pictograph of the different types of Chex party mix, or a bar graph for each color of gummy worm.  If you're focus is multiplication and division,  analyze the data by finding the mean, median, mode, range, etc.  I usually do graphs regardless of our current unit of study so they don't have to wait until the end of the school year to hear all the great vocabulary that comes with the unit, and it's great to practice fine motor skills as well as learning to read & create different tables, charts, graphs, etc for literacy.
5.  Have your fastest students order the estimates in the Guessing Jar folder from least to greatest.  Once you know the total for the Guessing Jar (when your students find it, thus eliminating the need for you to count everything), you can determine which student made the closest estimate.  I usually give that student 2 pioneer dollars (part of our classroom's token economy) and we all congratulate him or her.  Generally, I have them share how they came up with their accurate estimate, which can further help other students develop their estimation skills.
6.  Last, once the main math part is done and the students have determined how many pieces of the Guessing Jar goodies each person gets, we divide them up.  If students have more than they need to fill their Guessing Jar quota, they bring their extras to my desk, and students who I originally gave a tiny handful can come up to my desk to get their missing snacks.  Sometimes I check the students' papers before they start enjoying their Guessing Jar loot, and other times I have them just turn their papers in so I can check them later.
7.  Clean out the Guessing Jar, recycle or hand back the old estimates, and refill the Guessing Jar with something new so the fun can begin again!

Important Notes
If you have students with any kind of allergy, you will obviously want to check the ingredient list very carefully for whatever you decide to put in the jar.  In the past, when I have had students who are allergic to multiple things, I didn't even want to take the risk of causing any kind of a reaction.  Instead of handling the food or even being near it, I had them work at my desk, and just do the math part.  When they were done with the math, they got an alternative treat that was safe for them to eat.  This assures their safety, but still keeps if fun because they get something delicious too.  Use your best judgement, and always err on the safe side!

I generally do not give out junk food or candy as prizes in my classroom, and I require all daily snacks to be at least moderately healthy.  Because we only do Guessing Jar once a month, it should not have any great impact on the overall health of my students, which is how I can justify them eating a few high fructose corn syrup laced treats.  I also invite my students to eat part of their tasty math bounty, and then save the rest for lunch or home.  Generally, because the container is relatively small, students only end up with a small handful of sugary goodness anyways.  Still, the health of your students should be taken into consideration when choosing your Guessing Jar fillings.

Questions about the Guessing Jar Extravaganza?  Leave a comment below!  If you have a neat variation you can share with us or an idea on how to make it even better, let us know too.  If you would like the Word document that has the label I use on my jar, just leave your email address below so I can send it your way.  Comment, share, pass it on, and have fun with your students and the Guessing Jar!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Handwriting Made Easy (or at least easier!)

I realized the other day when I had some teacher friends visiting my classroom from another school that I have explained my handwriting practice/assessment so many times that I need to do a post on it!  This way, I can say, "Oh, just check out my posting about handwriting; it has pictures of each level, explains how students work through the levels, how I grade them, and everything!"  Of course, this is not a complete handwriting curriculum, nor is it perfect, but I think it's worth sharing as it might be of some benefit to teachers lost in the sea of fine motor skill ineptness that seems to be engulfing our youth!

Let me begin with Level One.  It involves students writing the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog!" ten times, all in lower case, on handwriting paper, as shown above.  Many adults know this sentence because it contains all the letters in the alphabet.  Before we begin our literacy centers at the beginning of the year, I introduce all of the handwriting levels and explain my expectations for each level, as well as showing them the laminated examples they can reference throughout the year as they progress through the levels.  When teaching lower grades, you will have to have extensive conversations about the "upper," "mid," and "lower" lines on handwriting paper, where to begin each letter, etc. As students approach third grade, they will need explicit instruction on writing in cursive.  Luckily for me, by fourth grade they have been, for the most part, already introduced to both print and cursive and are just needing some polishing.  I will do another posting on what I do for my handwriting interventions for students who struggle with fine motor skills.

When students can write Level One clearly and accurately, they advance on to Level Two.  If they are still struggling with forming a few of the letters, I simply write out the letters they are struggling with on their page, have them watch as I write them and explain how to form them, and then have them trace and practice writing them a few dozen times.  I have them do the same sort of thing if they are struggling with spacing between letters/words or if their print is too large or small, but I generally write the full sentence out for them while explaining and then have them do a few more sentences.  Level Two is the exact same sentence, but this time they write it on lined paper.

The third level involves upper case letter writing on handwriting paper, as the students write: "THE FIVE BOXING WIZARDS JUMP QUICKLY?"  This is, obviously, to practice their "caps lock" writing and a new form of punctuation, and it also includes every letter in the alphabet.  Level Four, also shown below, is the same sentence but on regular lined paper (I get college and wide ruled paper donated to my classroom and have no preference).
When students have mastered Level Four, they have illustrated that they have the ability to write every letter, in sentence form, in lower and upper case.  Now they can advance to Level Five, which is the alphabet in lowercase and uppercase in cursive three times on handwriting paper with the added midline to guide them.  They do the same thing on lined paper for Level Six.  Here are my examples:
Once they've got the hang of the alphabet, it's time to check in on how well they connect letters in cursive with the seventh level.  Here, they write, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog!" ten times in cursive on regular lined paper.  This is usually the most difficult level for students to grasp at first, but with practice, they can quickly develop this skill.
Last is Level Eight.  This level involves the students writing their first and last name in cursive twenty times.  I do not spend that much time teaching and practicing cursive in my classroom simply because most of my students will not need to use it much in real life, other than signing their name on checks, mortgages, etc!  That's part of why I made the final level signing their name.
Once students are through all 8 levels, they get to practice their typing skills on the computer!  They can go to freetypinggames.net or another site that's linked on our school website to learn how to type, practice, and play typing games for free.  We only have 5 computers in our classroom, however, so when they are being used (which is pretty much every time we do literacy centers) students have the option of "practice typing" on these keyboards!  Look around at garage sales, Goodwill, thrift shops, etc for old keyboards, or put a posting on Craigslist for some to be donated to your classroom.  I cut the cords off of them, and viola!  Now students can practice typing without actually needing a real computer.  (I also use these keyboards for one of our word work options, which will be a whole new post!)

So there you have it.  It's an easy way to make handwriting a part of your literacy centers and students are completely independent while doing each level (I have them turn the level in to the inbox when they are done with it and go right on to the next level, and then I meet back with them to either congratulate them on a job well done, or to help them with the letters/words they're still struggling with.  I track their progress with a simple chart, like the one shown below.)

How do you teach/practice/track/assess handwriting in your classroom?  What have you found to be helpful in assisting struggling writers?  How might I improve my centers, and what do you do help students learn to type, since that is more of the focus for the CCSS (even though writing legibly is still important!)?  If you would like a PDF copy of all of the levels, just download it for FREE from my TeachersPayTeachers store or paste your email in the comments below.  Leave a comment, share, repin this, visit http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Stephanie-Madison to support my efforts, and check back for more!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Celebrating Bilingual Literacy!

Every year, our school has a "Celebration of Students" night where families are invited into the school to see their students' art work and written work displayed on the walls.  We have an artist come in to lead a craft/art project, and give out free popcorn as well as having an "Open Mic" for presentations of music, poetry, etc.  Another aspect of our art-filled evening that we added last year is a bilingual section to specifically highlight the biliteracy that many of our students have worked hard to develop.  We had Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, and Dutch pieces featured last year.

Here is a story written in English and Russian.  Below is a report written in English and Dutch.

 A poem in English and Spanish is shown below.

This bulletin board was also given a special location near the principal's office at the front of the school.  It's just one of the many ways that we celebrate and show the value of knowing multiple languages at our school.  I organized it by simply asking each classroom teacher to invite their bilingual students to submit a piece of work for the special acknowledgment, and then just added the bilingual border.  How does your school celebrate biliteracy and bilingualism?  What do you do in your own classroom to encourage this advancement in literacy?  Leave a comment, share, and check back for more soon!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

You Are a Gift

This is such a touching project that I stole from my friend Heather (she even hand-made a poster for each student in our class!).  If you need a fun way to lift up your students, help them think positively, increase their adjective use, develop their writing, and just make everyone feel loved, this is the easy, 15 minute project for you!

All you need for this project is large, white construction paper.  You, or a fabulous parent volunteer, just write each student's name as "_____- You are a gift."  Add a little bow to it, and they're ready for the class.
 We laid them on each student's desk before they arrived in the morning.  Each student walked around to the other students' desk and wrote a complete sentence about why they appreciate that person or qualities they enjoy.  On the board, I had a list of positive attributes and some sentence stems, like:
 I appreciate how you are ______ and ___________.
You are always _____, __________, and __________, and I love that.
Two admirable traits you have are _______ and ____________.
______, I like how you ______________.
Leave a comment below or check my TeachersPayTeachers account for the free Word document that I typed up for this project.  Students just choose a sentence, the attributes they feel fit the person, and sign their own name.  The goal is for each student to write at least one sentence on everyone's poster.

  It's just that simple.  We decided to put ours up in the hallway; one of the morning tasks will be for each student to go and read everything that people wrote on their poster.  Eventually, each student will take their poster home to keep.  These are the types of things that many kids hang on to for a long time; you never know what might make a difference for students, even years down the road.
Leave a comment with how you might use this, or tell us about something that you do to lift someone else up!

Oregon Trail Day!

After all my students passed the post test for our Oregon History unit, we decided to celebrate with an Oregon Trail Day.  The Oregon State Standards used to have a lot dealing with the westward migration of the 1800's, and it was SUCH a fun unit.  Although we can't do the whole unit because of the standard change, there's still a lot that fits in.  With this Oregon Trail Day, we incorporated writing, literacy, geography, history, and some good old fashioned fun.  Here are some of the things we did:

Students were invited to wear their own school-appropriate Oregon emigrant costumes to school, but we also had some prepared.  Besides the random cowboy hats, leather vests & jackets, and bonnet that I have out with our other Oregon history realia, I had an awesome parent make two more things for each student.  Using one large piece of construction paper, she made one of these bonnets in a variety of colors for each student (some didn't want one, but even most of they boys thought they were awesome, and eagerly wore it all day long and took it carefully home).

Even our amazing principal donned a bonnet when  he came to present our Principal Award winner for this week.  The kids were thrilled.

From paper grocery bags, we made these fun "leather" vests.  Students also thought these were very cool, although they were a bit difficult to move around in.

Each student made up their own pioneer name, and their table group was their family, so they decided on a common last name.  Students determined their age, gender, likes and dislikes, and wrote about their life on the trail.  We actually started this activity a few days before Oregon Trail Day so that the students were on their third diary entry by the time we got all dressed up and read our diaries to each other.  Here are some of the students reading their diary entries:

Little House Read Aloud with Peppermint Sticks
Because Christmas is just around the corner, I read the Christmas chapter from Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  When it got to the part about the children getting a peppermint stick in their stockings, we handed out candy canes and they enjoyed their small dose of mint & high fructose corn syrup while I finished reading the chapter. (We learn about a variety of cultural celebrations and students are invited to share their own family's traditions with the class too).

Oregon Trail Computer Game on the SMARTBoard!
Every student gets to press something on the Smartboard as we play the 4th Edition Oregon Trail Game.  We go fishing, plant gathering, hunting, talking to people, visiting forts and landmarks along the way, etc, and they LOVE IT!  Every day for the last two weeks, we have played it during lunch, and every day I have students ask if they can stay in from their recess to continue playing it.

Photos of Mrs. Madison Posing on Every Oregon Trail Monument Open to the Public
This is the part of the day where my students crack up at pictures of me posing near/at/on/in a variety of Oregon Trail landmarks. 

Oregon Trail Chants/Songs
I am an English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher, so language learning is important to me.  One of the GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) strategies that I use throughout the year in all subject areas is chants/songs.  Each student in my class has their own chant book with a copy of all of the chants that we do during the year, and they get to take it home during the summer. Here are some students practicing singing some Oregon Trail chants with a partner:

  If you would like a copy of some additional chants, let me know in the comments below.  I have chants for nearly everything for third and fourth grade.  They help students build reading fluency, vocabulary, and content knowledge, and they are an excellent resource for teachers.

Oregon Trail Foldables
See my other posting about these fun vocabulary foldables that can easily be adapted to any set of vocabulary that you want your students to learn here- http://applesofyoureye.blogspot.com/2013/01/vocabulary-foldables.html 

Spinning/Fiber Arts
My mom is awesome, so she brought in her spinning wheel and a variety of fibers and wool to share with my class.  She led a mini-lesson on fiber arts and showed the students how to use a spinning wheel.  Then, each student got a piece of wool to "spin" with their hands to make a bracelet or bookmark.  We ran out of time to have every student finish the project, but they got to take their wool home, with which they were very happy.
What fun theme-centered activities have you done?  Can you think of a way to adapt one of these activities to fit a different theme?  Leave a comment below, and head out west with your class!