Thursday, January 31, 2013

January OLW: Gratitude

My One Little Word for 2013 is gratitude, and just like last year my OLW guides my thinking through out my day. My personal goal is to spread 26 random acts of kindness.  For January, I did 3 random acts that hopefully encouraged people to pass it on. My post for the end of the month was not expected but came about naturally.  I started recording ideas that I was thankful for during the month of January. 

#1 My ELL student left his first WONDER comment. He was so excited as he ran up to me in the hallway that he started speaking Japanese. Politely I listened and then asked him to tell me again in English.

#2 I received numerous letters from past students as a 7th grade writing project that our middle school does every year.  Each student chooses a teacher and writes to tell them what they were thankful for from a specific year.  Overwhelming, past students thanked me for a love of words, sense of wonder, my corny jokes "ketchup not mustard" and of course Starbucks Friday.

#3 Newbery Club is always a highlight of December and January. This year Bill and I averaged 13-20 students reading furiously to see if possible that they just might read the winner.  The rich conversations and the community of students who love books gave me positive energy to continue to push forward.

#4 Walking in the rain by choice - I joined a facebook community of teachers on committing to working out.  It was day 5, and I had to walk to meet my goal.  The boring basement was not calling my name. As I looked outside and saw the rain I was just not going to walk. After some nagging thoughts, I bundled up and headed outside to walk. Once again an unexpected gift awaited me when I arrived home, a beautiful fire in our fireplace to get warm by.

#5 A friend of ours who owns a local restaurant offered a night of pizza and a free book for dining at his place.  How could you go wrong?  

#6 Finally a trip to Marblehead, Lake Erie reminded me how important it is to slow down in life. Take a day and disconnect from my busy life including technology.

Check out other OLW for 2013.
Tracy: create
 Erin:  move

Monday, January 28, 2013

A GREAT Day for Being a Teacher!

Today was one of those days where I felt so thankful for choosing the BEST profession in the world.  To start my day, I was doing my lunch count, and found on my desk the envelope below with the attached letter.  I opened up the letter and almost fell over as I read it.  Kathleen is a first grader in our math buddy class, and her big brother is in my class. I saw her last Thursday in the hall and told her that her brother had some fun homework tonight and if she wanted to try it with him and write me a note I would have a surprise for her.  The homework assignment was to build packages and predict how many cubes would fit in each one?  WOW, her first grade response was better than most of  fifth graders. (Don't you love the Hello Kitty and heart stickers?) 

Next, I turned on my Smartboard at ll:00 to watch the Newbery announcements and although we were not listening to it we got to watch the slides of the books that won.  As the BIG winner got closer, we gathered as I stood next to two members of our Newbery club. We cheered because they had read at least one of the honor books.  I had read two out of three, and I also had a huge smile on my face.  

Finally the BIG event and turned up the sound, and the three of us screamed so loudly that a teacher next door came over to check on us.  Then I had a student "run" down the hall to tell the other Newbery members. 

  To celebrate we (Bill and I) invited the Newbery Club to lunch in the library so that the whole club could celebrate!  All the students brought their lunch, and we just talked about books especially the ones that won! We had 3 members who chose One and Only Ivan as their #1 book.  

What a GREAT day to be a teacher!!!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's All about the Boxes (Surface Area)

Vocabulary List from our Textbook
There are some parts of teaching that don't change, not many right now in education, but in math there are certain units that are always a challenge.  We just finished our polygon unit and have moved into solids. Most of this unit is brand new for my students, and they have limited background knowledge, so it's time for play which translates to hands on math.  

It's all about the boxes when talking about solids
For the first few years, I have to admit that I just "taught math" I struggled with going beyond the teacher's guide. Truth be known in math, the teacher's guide saved my life those first several years. But now that I am "more experienced" and I have had time to think about how to make math more hands on. I have some tricks up my sleeve that I pull out every year. Here is one of my best tricks!  

Cereal boxes are best for introducing solids. 

#1 have students bring in boxes to name and label them (count vertexes, faces, edges)

#2 cut out the boxes and define surface area and measure each section 

#3 build the box again and predict how many cubes will fill the box (volume)

Friends helping each other measure for surface area. Notice the Motts box?
Final answer for surface area for Frosted Flakes cereal.

#4 Finally I give the students some graph paper and they draw the nets and predict how many cubes will fit in their container.  As you can see in the video, she is holding her container and learned a huge lesson about volume. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Celebrating Math-A-Palooza with First Grade Buddies

"I never knew math could be that fun" exclaimed Joey.
Who knew that gumdrops could make a decagon?
Let me help you count your skittles into groups of 2.

These were just some of the conversations that we (Shelly and I) heard during Math-A-Palooza during the last week of December.  Again, I am thankful for my friend, Shelly because she thinks math.  Our students had a wonderful time of reviewing and previewing several math strategies. 

Practicing place value, the students drew a number out of a bowl and had to build it using graham crackers, pretzel sticks and gum drops.  The students then had to write their number on a dry erase board in word form, standard form and expanded form. Finally they got to each their number.

Using their skittles, both first and fifth graders separated them into color groups and recorded how many they had.  The first graders built their own bar graph and the fifth graders built a circle graph.  They enjoyed this activity and began to have conversations about how the graphs were similar and different.

Bet you can't catch me I am the gingerbread man!  This station focused on measuring.  The first graders used the large gingerbread man and the fifth graders used the smaller one right under the measuring tape in the photo. First the first graders  had to measure the stage and record their results. Next  the fifth grader measure the stage but had to predict first based on the results of the first grader's measurement.  Finally, they had to measure themselves using the measuring tape and predicting how many gingerbread men that would be.  It was fun to listen to the conversations about how the two gingerbread were connected in size.

If you teach intermediate and you don't have math buddies, I strongly encourage you to try and find a primary class to buddy up with for 2013.  If you're lucky enough to find Shelly who loves math that is the best present of all!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Choose Kind

I knew when I finished reading Wonder this past summer that it would be on my must read list for this school year's read aloud.  We started the book as a class in December but because so many students had heard about the book, I had to tell them in October that it was our next read aloud.  Many of the students didn't care, they purchased the book and read it first as their JR (just right) book. They knew that we would read it as a class also but that didn't matter to them.  The day we started I had the sign below on our daily schedule...and the buzz started in our classroom.

First I heard, "We don't have a subject called that." Then I heard, "It must because it is December, and we need to be extra kind this month" I laughed secretly on that comment. Then I heard one of students who had read the book reply that is the theme of our next read aloud. BINGO!!  Before we started reading Wonder, I asked how many students had already read the book 9 out of 22 students and 4 more were in the middle of the story.  One of students said, "Don't worry Mrs. Caplin it is such an important story everyone should hear it twice."  With that said I began reading about Auggie.

We read aloud four days a week no matter what ( and yes I mean no matter what including reading the last few paragraphs before we left for lunch which is pretty important in fifth grade) The students are recording their thinking in their Reader's Notebook and for many of them they are reading along with me using their copy of the book. It's exciting to see students offer to share their copy with another student that does not have one.  Choosing kind within our read aloud.

As we finished our first section, Auggie's point of view, I asked the students to stop and reflect.  I struggle with this part of read aloud and when I say struggle I deeply mean that.  I desperately want my students to enjoy the story (Bill Prosser taught me that lesson when we team taught together-Thanks Bill!) But I want to know what my students are thinking, how are they feeling about the story, what are their thoughts about August?  I tried something new with Wonder.  I asked students to do a reflection based on 10 points.  We brainstormed the ideas and filled up our dry erase board, students chose their own topic for their reflection.  I was so pleased that I took this step - it was a big one for me, but one that I will do again.  It didn't ruin the read aloud for us, and it gave me a glimmer of what my class was thinking.  I love knowing what they are thinking about as we read each day.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wonder Comments Lift My Spirit

 After two weeks of a wonderful relaxing vacation, I started back to school today.  I was excited to see my students, but I wasn't thrilled with what I had to accomplish to get my students ready for their 2 1/2 hour reading diagnostic test this Thursday. Truth be known, I had only focused on the first diagnostic reading test for myself and guiding some specific mini lessons/whole group when needed. I had not passed back their September tests YET and gone over them with my students. Today was our first day back - crazy I know but I was out of time.  Our morning was spent going over the tests, over the tests, over the tests I guess you get the point.  At lunch I was sad and depressed.  To help myself over the slump, I pulled our class together, and I asked them to share if any of them had left a comment on Wonderopolis over the holiday break.  Five students replied yes, and we celebrated!  Here's why....

Perfect wonder made his Top Ten List- I will have ask him tomorrow for his list.

Maddy and her family actually visited the Tar Pits in CA over their vacation!! Wondering came to life!

Cade and his mom connected over penny candy sharing memories

Christine made a life connection about visiting Koala Bears at our zoo. She also made the correct predication for the next day's wonder!!

Finally, snowman left his very first comment.  He is learning English and I have been encouraging him since September. I was super proud of him, and the whole class clapped in celebration!!

As I wrote up their homework passes that I created to celebrate with them,  I was feeling much better. Have you had your students leave comments YET at Wonderopolis - I think you should!! 

PS:  As I sit here typing this post, I have decided that we will begin tomorrow morning with some eggnog in celebration of snowman's comment!  Perhaps some hot apple cider on Thursday after the reading diagnostic also.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Finally Found the Lost Piece

For those who read my blog regularly, you know that I have been struggling with the direction I was given at my school to use guided reading groups in my classroom.  First let me say again, I am not opposed to guided reading groups however in fifth grade it is extremely difficult not to have them turn into redbird, bluebird and greenbird in my opinion.  I tried everything last school year, I changed the group members frequently, focused on reading levels, focused on strategies, focused on vocabulary but I never found the missing piece of the puzzle.  I spent all summer thinking about how to change guided reading groups since I knew I would have to use them again this school year. This school year, I chose purposefully not to start guided reading groups until second trimester which gave me 12 weeks to build our reading community.  To help all students become readers, allowed me enough time to learn about my students, and most importantly we had a established community of readers from Preprimer (my new ELL student) to Junie B. Jones,  to Andrew Clements, to five students participating in Newberry Club to classics including Moby Dick.

With our classroom rapport established, the first change was to name my guided reading (Book Clubs) what a difference in the opinions of 10 year old.  Second, I placed the students based on their reading lives not their fluency level, DRA level, not if they are in special ed or in our LEAP (gifted) program, but who they are as readers. Already I felt better about the reading groups.

Enjoying A Day's Work by Eve Bunting
Next I extended the time of the book clubs, I allowed them to choose the days of the week they met, they were able to bring a drink for one club meeting, and they decided if they would have homework. I started with four book clubs based on picture books that I knew each group would connect with because I knew my students as readers.  Ownership of the club became theirs.  Huge with fifth grade students!

I did set the focus for the clubs: to practice the fictional reading strategies that we had learned the first trimester.  I gave them a rubric that I would use to grade their thinking in addition a timeline of expectations.  Again they were in control with my guidance.  Powerful! 

Finally I was able to meet with each group on drop in visits.  I would just pull a stool up to the club and listen to their conversations. I would take some notes if I needed to touch base with a student later to ask a question.  Occasionally I would leave a note with a club to help guide their conversations for the day:  How did the character's motivation influence his choice at the garden?  

For the first time in two years, I am pleased with my reading groups now officially called book clubs.  My students view book clubs as an extension of our classroom reading and most importantly they value the time they spend in their small group discussing, learning and extending their reading lives. 

Enjoying Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

OLW: Gratitude in 2013

I don't make New Year's Resolutions because I typically never kept them so about 10 years ago I decided instead of making resolutions I was going to try to do some"things" better. I have always heard to create a habit you need to do something for 30 days continuously, so I live on that idea.   

I have been reflecting  if I wanted to continue my monthly OLW tradition that I did for 2012, and I am feeling pulled towards the word: gratitude. I heard about 26 Acts of Kindness, and I knew I had my new OLW for 2013.

As I posted earlier, I have been struggling with getting back to normal but when I heard about 26 random acts of kindness I knew in my heart that I had found my passion for 2013.  The picture above came from Teaching Madness  in which she is posting her 26 random acts and encouraging others to do the same.  I found Lesson Plans in which this teacher has her students completing random acts around their school.  There is a face book page for random acts and a twitter hashtag #26Acts.  

My plan is wide spread first for me I started a blank index card with today's date, and I am personally going to do 26 random acts and just write the date down on the card, so I can keep track of the number.  I am going to pass out to each of my students an index card the first day back and ask them to create a Random Act of Kindness card and at some point do something nice for someone and leave the card.  This flows with our class reading WONDER and Choose Kind which is our January motto.  Finally I am going to write my thank you notes for my holiday Christmas presents and include one index card with the above picture glued on it, and ask my friends/family to consider doing one random act of kindness as some point in 2013.  

So I have my OLW (gratitude) but I am not going to post my random acts because I want to keep that secret to myself; however, I am sure there will be several blog posts that come out of having gratitude in 2013.  Finally if you are interested in joining me in this endeavor, here is the note I will be including in my thank you notes.