Friday, September 19, 2014

Yoga Poses for Kids

I have been practicing yoga for years.  I have wanted to incorporate yoga in my classroom for a couple years now.  I just never got around to it.  I actually would like to try yoga with my middle schoolers, but I decided to try it first with one of our younger classes.  On Friday mornings, I am going to try doing 15-20 minutes of yoga with our grades 3-4 class.  I practice yoga, but I wasn't quite sure where to start with planning sequences for kids.  I was googling ideas and came across a great website.  I found a website called Kids Yoga Stories.  They have sequences that center on different themes.  I thought this was such a fun idea!  I am excited to try it out. A lot of their themed sequences even play off of a picture book.

Here are links to some of their Fall related themes:

Labor Day Poses

Autumn Poses

GoNoodle also has some yoga videos you could use for brain breaks.

Have you ever tried yoga in your classroom?  What were some of your favorite poses and sequences?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Creating a Thinking Classroom

I began this post on Sunday, but I am finally posting it after a couple days at camp with my students.  You can read more about what I learned about myself at camp at my personal blog

Some teachers have those big READ decorative letters hanging in their classroom library.  A previous coworker told me I needed to have giant letters in my classroom for THINK.  On almost any personality test I have done, I am first and foremost analytical. I think about everything.  My mind is busy and scattered.  This is why I learned to make lists and write things down.  This is why I have to organize my physical space because it allows me to begin to organize my mental space. 

After two weeks in middle school, I am so excited about the potential of the rest of the school year.  Seventh and eighth graders are independent enough that we can now really pursue my passion – thinking. My primary goals for my students this year are to become better thinkers and to be able to articulate their ideas. As teachers and students alike, we have to take time to stop doing to allow time for thinking.

I have a co-worker who uses the ideas of Dr. Sandra Kaplan in her teaching.  In discussing the traits of a scholar this  past week with her students, she introduced the idea to them of keeping an idea notebook. She bought them mini-composition notebooks from Staples and they used tabs to create sections.  The students will write down their questions and ideas in each section. 
I am absolutely in love with this idea! I played around with having an ideas section in our binder last year, but it did not really work.  There is something more special about having a separate place just to keep ideas. 

One of the very first things my advisor recommended to us last year when I began my doctoral program was to keep an idea notebook.  It is a place to record ideas and even notes from discussions during research meetings.  I had already been keeping a notebook, so I was to get some validation for my habit.  My past notebook was giant conglomeration of ideas related to work, school, home, and every aspect of my life.  It could be difficult to go back and find things.  Thus, last year I decided to try a sectioned notebook to see how I liked it.  I bought the Arc notebook by Staples.  You can see below how I created sections for ideas for for work, school, research, blog, and home. 

I also could have just made tabs like my co-worker did with her students. I am finding I am using it some, but I am also recording a lot of ideas in Evernote on my iPad.  For me, I am finding it easier sometimes to record ideas on there in different notebooks than even in my paper notebook. I like Evernote because I also have the app on my Mac.  So I can use it from a variety of places.

 I really want to encourage my students this year to ask questions, generate ideas, and pursue their interests.  I work at a blended learning school, so all of my students have Macs.  Like all good teachers, I am going to “steal” my co-worker’s idea of using idea notebooks.  With my 7th and 8th graders, I am thinking about giving them the option of using Evernote or using a physical idea notebook.  Like myself, some may even use a mixture of the two.  I want my students to apply what we learn to the real world.  I like Evernote because you could also save web links and pictures.  When we get ready to start doing research papers later in the year, I am thinking Evernote could be a great resource to record resources and thoughts about those resources – an updated version of the index card.

Have you ever tried idea notebooks? How did they work for you?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

First Week in Middle School

Where does the time go?  Somehow I will manage to get in a routine of blogging, work, and school.  I just finished up my first week in middle school.  I taught primarily grades 4, 5, and 6 for the last six years.  This year I am teaching 7th and 8th grade.  Can I just say, "my mind is blown?"  They are older, so I knew they would be more independent and we could really explore higher levels of reading, writing, and thinking.  However, knowing and experiencing are completely different.  They are so independent!

I am still trying to wrap my head around it.  It is amazing what a difference a couple years makes.  This quote felt appropriate.  Even with older elementary students, it seems like they have such large reactions to small problems instead of just stopping long enough to work through it.  My 7th and 8th graders seem so much calmer and able to work through problem solving so calmly and rationally.

Source: Pinterest

As a teacher, I am excited to move more toward the role of facilitator since they can problem solve and find answers so much more independently.  Now, I can focus on scaffolding asking higher level questions and really analyzing with so much more depth.  I really want my students to really be able to think, articulate their ideas, and have intellectual conversations on their own.

I really want to try implementing the socratic seminar.  I am familiar with the approach, but I have never completely used it in my classroom.  I bought this book last night for my Kindle.  

Any other suggested resources for implementing socratic circles?  There is another book coming out in November that I wishlisted. I found a couple small resources on TpT as well. I look forward to more adventures in middle school. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Room Reveal at the Idea Backpack

School starts tomorrow.  I am so glad we had a 3 day weekend.  It has been a busy weekend, but I also tried to get a lot of rest.  Over the last week, my fall semester started for graduate school and I have been getting ready for the first week of school.  Did I mention I had summer school students until last Wednesday?  It has been a tiring week!

This weekend I got my lesson planning done for the first two weeks of school.  Have you used Planbook?  It's amazing. I can plan right from my iPad. We also finally planted some more plants in our flower bed out front and put down some mulch.  We had planted some things at the beginning of the summer and just never finished.  Better late than never, right?  At least the nursery had good sales this weekend.

I am actually excited about going back to school.  I am ready to get back in a routine.  I am moving up to 7th and 8th grade this year, so I am pretty excited about the change. I hope you will keep checking back to read more about my new adventures in middle school.  I decided to decorate my classroom with  subway art quotes.  I love a good quote, and it felt appropriate for Middle School. I got some New York City posters to complement my subway art quotes.  I really love the way it turned out!  If you follow me on Instagram, you probably have seen some of my pictures.

I hung a wire from Ikea on the dark blue wall. I will eventually hang student work from the wires.  For now I hung a welcome sign from my TpT store.  It adds some color to the wall and looks cute.

I used Ladybug Teacher Files' Genre labels to label my book baskets.

Now that I will be in middle school, I am also looking forward to finding new ways to use essential oils in the classroom.  I finally bought a diffuser.  I knew that a diffuser would come in handy in the afternoons in a room full of adolescents.

Have a good evening!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Freebies for Back to School Night or Meet the Teacher Night

Thursday night we had a great turnout for our back to school/parent night.  I made my brochure with my classroom policies.  I copied it on blue paper, too.  It turned out really cute!  You can read about the template for the brochure at this post.

I also wanted to have a parent contact information for parents to fill out to make sure that all of the information I had on file was up-to-date.  You can get a copy of the Parent Contact Information form HERE.

Lastly, I wanted to have something interactive for the parents to do for their student.  I decided I wanted the parents to be able to write their student a note of their wishes for their child for the school year.  We will give the notes to the students on the first day of school.  Some parents wrote a note together for their child, and a couple Mom and Dad both wrote a note. You can get a copy of the Parent Wish handout HERE.

For both of these files the fonts and clipart came from:

How did your back to school night go?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to School Night Brochure Template (Freebie)

I know lots of people have already gone back to school.  We start on September 2nd.  Our Back to School Night is this Thursday, the 21st.  Last night I was at Staples having quotes for my classroom walls printed as posters at 8:30pm.  The only other people there getting last minute things printed were also teachers. Anybody else do last minute printing runs?

I have been working all day with my summer school students and then trying to squeeze in getting my classroom ready for back to school. My evenings and weekend have been full too running errands and doing projects.

I was looking over Pinterest tonight trying to decide what I wanted to do for Back to School night. I saw some cute templates for Powerpoint presentations, parent and student gift ideas, and ideas for how to present the information to parents.  I saw some cute ideas on making flipbooks with all your classroom information.  They look super cute, but it seemed like a lot of paper.  I also saw some ideas to make brochures, so I decided to make a brochure for my parent handout instead of the traditional packet. You can see my Back To School Pinterest Board HERE for lots of cute inspiration.

You can get a copy of the brochure template HERE.  I made it in PowerPoint.  You just need to edit the text boxes.  I used Hello Literacy's fonts.

How do you like to organize your handout for back to school night?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suggestions for Communicating with Parents

Now that my summer class is over, I should be able to get back in my blogging routine.  On our very last night of class, we had a really interesting discussion. As many of those in class were teachers, the topic of helicopter parents came up.  Some were expressing frustration about dealing with parents that do not hold their kids accountable and don't allow them to experience failure. I think a lot of teachers have experienced situations like the cartoon below where you feel attacked by a parent because a student got a less than perfect grade.

Source: Pinterest

After the class conversation continued a bit, my professor stopped the conversation and made some really great points. She got us to stop and think about what we know about parents and our education system today.

  • Parents really are powerless in many ways over their student's public education.  They do not have control over what is taught, the testing, etc.  
  • As an education system, we have taught parents that numbers matter.  Grades, test scores, and class rankings are what determine college entrance most of the time.  Parents just know those numbers matter in the long run, so seeing bad scores scares them.
  • Parents love their children and do not want to see them fail.  Sometimes you have to find a way to remind them that failure is part of the learning process. 
It is very easy to get frustrated with parents and feel defensive when angry parents confront you, but as professionals we have to step back and find the best way to communicate with parents. 

Here are some suggestions we discussed that night about dealing with parents, which are perfect to keep in mind as we get ready for back to school.

Suggestions for Communicating with Parents

  1. Always remember that everyone wants what is best for the student and remind parents of that.
  2. Whenever possible, involve the student in the conversation.  If parents are concerned about a grade or missing assignment, have the student explain their thinking to both you and the parent. Sometimes the parents have not really taken the time to listen to the child.
  3. If parents are upset over one grade, put things in perspective by explaining that it is one grade of many in a lifetime of grades. 
  4. Try to be empathetic and express understanding for their point of view, while still holding to your classroom policies.
  5. Have clearly outlined policies for late work, missing work, absences, etc.  Make sure those policies are clear to students and parents. 
  6. Try to give students rubrics when possible and clear directions.
  7. When creating assignments, ask yourself what the real purpose and value of the assignment is. This seems simple, but sometimes we get so busy trying to cover all the material that we include more busy work than we mean to. If something feels meaningless and unimportant, students are less likely to do it.
  8. Sometimes it is important to remind parents that often grades reflect a student's effort and not their ability or even understanding.  Often students have learned the concepts and material, but have chosen not to show everything they learned.  As a teacher, you can't see in the student's head.  You can only see what they show you.
  9. Turn the conversation from the past to the future.  Instead of focusing on one grade, try to work together to discover the real root of why the student made a bad grade and make a plan to improve it in the future.
  10. Help students and parents both understand that failure is part of the learning process.  It is okay to fail and make mistakes. You just have to keep trying.

What are your favorite strategies for dealing with parents?

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