Monday, November 21, 2011

I'm Thankful!

I love this idea of a linky party from What The Teacher Wants! What a great way to remind ourselves of what is really important - just in time for the Holiday season!
1. What are you thankful for in your classroom?

I am most thankful for the progress I see in their reading every day! I will not lie - I am much more comfortable teaching math than reading - at least in first grade! Since this is my first year in first grade, I live in constant dread that I could somehow mess up my firsties' reading for life! I really want to give them a solid foundation, so it is such a relief to hear them sounding out words, pointing out blends and digraphs and getting excited about reading! Maybe I'm doing better than I think!

2. What person are you most thankful for?

My husband and I have both lost both of our parents (can you be an adult orphan?!) and our extended family is not very close - geographically or emotionally. Therefore, our little family unit is extremely close! My husband and my 4 kids are my life and I am so thankful for their companionship and support. My husband is my best friend and I can't imagine life without him - even when he has to be away from us due to Army needs, we constantly talk on the phone or Skype. I am thankful that I can be secure in our relationship, even when he's far from home! And of course, I have to mention my incredibly helpful and creative daughter who can be counted on to help out with anything I have going on for school! My 3 sons are turning into such charming, thoughtful boys. One of my colleagues told me we remind her of The Waltons and you know that made my day!

3. What guilty pleasure are you most thankful for?

Books! I spend way more than I should on books - both for my classroom and for my own enjoyment. I have to confess, I'm a big fan of paranormal romances - Christine Feehan, Lora Leigh, J. R. Ward,  and Jeaniene Frost to name just a few of my favorite authors.
Since it's the Holiday Season, I do have one more guilty pleasure that is only available this time of year and it's a good thing or I would would probably go into a sugar overload on a daily basis. The manufacturer describes them as: "A melt-in-your-mouth cookie with a base of shortbread and nuts, rolled into small cookies and coated with confectioner’s sugar." but I prefer to think of them as powdery pillows of pure indulgence!

4. What are you most thankful for?

My health and the health of my kids and husband. My school's counselor has a great niece who was just diagnosed with Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva which is an incredibly rare, incurable disease where muscles and connective tissue turn to bone. Her name is Ellaina and she is only 4 years old. If you would all keep her and her family in your prayers, I know they would appreciate the support!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Flu, Awards and Freebie!

I was knocked out with the flu Thursday evening. I hadn't been feeling well Thursday after lunch, but I chalked it up to our Thanksgiving feast at school (so sorry cafeteria ladies!). I was feeling  better by dinner time and went to a farewell dinner for one of our friends who had been in town attending some training for the last couple of weeks. I scarfed down nachos and fajitas like they were going out of style friends :(  Sure enough, I got sick in the middle of the night - and even after throwing up I didn't feel any better....for 2 DAYS. I barely managed to drag my butt out of bed on Friday morning to email my lesson plans to work - oh my poor kids, you know I just loaded that substitute up with worksheets and coloring pages! And I pretty much stayed in bed all day Friday and Saturday in a semi-conscious state.

Side note: My silly husband is so phobic of throwing up that he did not eat anything from the time I threw up on Thursday night until Saturday night - he was convinced he was going to get sick too and he will do anything not to have to throw up. Luckily everyone else in the family seems to have avoided getting sick - I'm crossing my fingers that the kids aren't just incubating this!

Well this morning I got up and I'm feeling much better - and of course the first thing I had to do was check out what had been happening in bloggy land! You can imagine how thrilled I  was to see that, while I lay sick, I was awarded the Sunshine Award by 3 different bloggers! Oh my word! I am just thrilled by the honor! Thank you so much to CacheyMama from Cachey Mama's Classroom,  Ms. Helms of Work Smart Not Hard Teaching Kindergarten and Kerri from Ms. Kerri and Her Krazy Kindergarten!
 Here are the "rules" for this award:

1. Thank the person who gave this award and write a post about it.
2. Answer the following questions below.
3. And pass the award to 10~12 fabulous bloggers, link their blogs and let them know you awarded them. 

My answers to the questions:
  • Favorite color? Blue, although you really couldn't tell by looking around my house!
  • Favorite animal?  Dogs - specifically rottweilers, I'm still missing my baby that passed at the end of August, and we can't get a new rotti any time soon because they're not allowed in on post housing :(
  • Favorite number? 138
  • Favorite drink? Pepsi Zero or Shamrock Shakes from McDonalds (so sad they're not available year round!)
  • Facebook or Twitter? Not really either any more since I began blogging, but I still check out Facebook once in a while to keep in touch with friends.
  • Your passion? Teaching! Preferably kindergarten - can't wait to get "demoted" next year!
  • Giving or getting presents? Giving - I love, love, love buying stuff for my kids and husband - as long as it's a surprise - can't stand getting exactly what's on a list because that's no fun!
  • Favorite day?  Friday - love having a whole weekend to look forward to!
  • Favorite flowers? Oh, please, please let my husband read this post! Sweet man keeps buying me roses, which are pretty but expensive, and I would much rather have carnations, tulips or gladiolas! I've tried telling him that at least a dozen times since we've been married, but he likes to stick with tradition (what a horrible problem to have right?! I really should be slapped for not being more thankful, especially given the season!)
Ok so the fabulous bloggers I am passing this award to are:

Heather's Heart
Can Do Kinders
Down Under Teacher
Little Literacy Learners

Because I am so tickled by this award, I made a quick freebie as a "Thank you!" to all my followers! I know that lately I have been posting more 1st grade stuff than Kindergarten, so to remedy that here is an uppercase/lowercase alphabet match-up just in time for all the Winter festivities!
Gingerbread Alphabet Match

A Quick Funny and a Shout Out

First, a shout out to Cole's Little Pups who has a new December Number Sense Unit on TPT! It looks fabulous! Make sure you stop by to grab her free Gingerbread Ten Frames too!

Now the funny:
On Thursday afternoon, right after school, I was hanging out in my 1st grade teammate's room, browsing for ideas :) In runs my youngest son, with a wet spot on his shirt and head. Close on his heels is his teacher - the one I refer to as my "teaching fairy godmother". I usually leave all 4 of my kiddos in my room at the end of the day and they do homework or read or play blocks. But, Mrs. McKelvey loves my Joshua and he loves her, so it didn't surprise me that he was hanging out with her.

What did surprise me was how excited Joshua looked, and how mortified Mrs .McKelvey looked. As he began to babble something - high volume, fast paced - she shushed him and tried to explain. It seems that he had gotten enough stamps to get into the treasure box that day, and he had chosen goggles (her treasure chest is full of neat things!)

So after school she helped him put on his goggles and then told him.: "Go back in your mom's room and tell your brothers and sister that you're going to put your head in the toilet." She waited outside the room, in the hallway, to listen as he excitedly showed off his goggles and announced his intent to go toilet diving. She expected to hear my other children clamor at him to stop, however, what she ended up hearing was Joshua triumphantly crowing "I did it! I did it!" It seems that the other 3 kids were so engrossed in their reading that they didn't even bat an eye, much less move a muscle, to stop younger brother from dunking his head in the toilet.

Needless to say I squirted enough hand sanitizer on Joshua to drown a cat (and he showered as soon as we got home!), and then extracted a promise from Mrs. McKelvey to never, ever, tell Joshua to jump off a bridge. I totally had to laugh though, because Mrs. McKelvey was so embarrassed about having told him to do it in the first place, but in her defense, you'd think that a 12 year old and 9 year old would have spoken up and stopped him before his head actually got into the toilet! It just goes to show that we can never assume when there are children involved!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Milk Carton Turkeys!

We made Milk Carton Turkeys last year with our 5th grade buddies. I was teaching kindergarten then, so my little ones needed quite a bit of help. I absolutely love how they turned out because I didn't provide patterns, so each turkey was different:  :)
I'm not sure where I first got the idea (this was back before Pinterest!) but these require very little prep work so if you're looking for a last-minute idea this would be great! 

Prep Work:
The first thing to do is have everyone save their milk cartons - either in the morning if you have breakfast at school, or from lunch the day before. It doesn't matter whether it's chocolate or white milk as it will get completely covered :) Open the cartons completely, dump any remaining milk and rinse well. Put some paper towel down on the counter and let them drip dry. Cut strips of brown paper to match to height and width of your milk cartons. This is really the hardest part for the teacher :) Just wrap the paper around one of the cartons and mark the proper size to cut the papers to.

Glue the brown paper around the milk cartons - a hot glue gun wielded by the teacher would hasten this process! We just used white glue and our "patient muscles" and held the paper in place until it dried. This gave the 5th graders a lot of time to talk with their new kinder friends! Make sure the opening of the carton is facing up!

Have your students trace their hands on 4-5 different colors of construction paper. This was where the 5th graders came in handy! (sorry for the bad pun!) If you're doing this without older students helping, just have your students pair up to help each other :) Cut out the hands and glue them to the "back" of the milk carton - generally wherever the brown paper seam is, but as you can see from my picture we didn't all follow that guidance!  Make sure the hands are fanned out so that they resemble a turkey's tail feathers.

Draw and cut out a turkey head using brown paper. This was where the 5th graders' creativity really shined. I drew a turkey head on our white board and told them to "wing it" (ugh, another bad pun!) As you can see, some decided to draw a side view of the turkey head while others went with a frontal view.

Using orange construction paper, make a beak for the turkey. If their turkey is facing forward, they can cut out a rhombus and fold it in half to have an open beak. For a side view turkey they just cut out a triangle. The wattle is made from either red or orange construction paper, and I just had the kids free-draw that as well - it's just  a squiggly shape.

Glue it all together and write "My Thankful Box" on the front of the turkey. Give each child 4 small strips of paper on which to write or illustrate things they are thankful for. These can be stored inside the milk carton and taken out to read on Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Observation Over!

Yay! We did much better with our observation this time - just did a quick lesson on coins and then had them sort some images of pennies and nickels and color and glue them. Figured there wasn't much that could go wrong there and I was right. Of course, a few of my little guys tried to push their luck - one tried to sit in someone else's seat rather than his own, but luckily I was able to give him "the look" and he quickly moved before it became a big issue. One of my Queen Bees was conveniently at a dentist appointment during my observation, so I didn't have any of those issues popping up either. My principal did walk around and question the kiddos, but everyone she went to knew what they were doing. She ended up saying it was an "excellent lesson", so I'm glad that's over for a few months at least! I'll have another observation in the Spring, but it will be a reading lesson so the whole finger thing shouldn't come up :)

After school I helped to decorate the tables for our Thanksgiving feast tomorrow. The superintendent is coming to eat lunch with the intermediate classes and the soldiers who volunteered last month. The tables turned out beautifully - so lucky our kindergarten teacher runs a catering business too! Here are a couple of pictures of the table - don't you love those teepees? She made them from starched muslin and dowels!

Well that's it for tonight - my husband is working late so I need to make dinner and make sure the kids get their homework done without his help. I also have a pile of lamination to cut out - but then again, when don't I have lamination to cut?!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ramblings and a Thanksgiving Syllable Sort freebie!

I went to Sam's Club tonight for dry erase markers, lamination film and ink for my printer - and was astounded at how much it added up to! Luckily my husband didn't seem to be paying attention lol! But seriously, there are so many great ideas out in blog world that I seem to be constantly printing and laminating something. I need to find a support group for teachers who print out too much stuff!

Tonight I'm folding laundry and preparing for my observation tomorrow. In deference to the "no fingers" rule at my school I will be doing a lesson on coins - just identification and value, no adding or counting involved, so those little fingers should stay tucked out of sight! We don't generally have any behavior problems, so cross your fingers for me that this holds true tomorrow!

By the way, did you know that Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out today? I haven't read it yet, but it must be pretty good because after a brief tussle over who would get to read it first, my two oldest children sat on the carpet in my classroom after school and read it together, giggling the whole time! I will have to sneak a look at it tonight when they're both in bed :)  By the way, I love the pre-order feature from Scholastic Books - so convenient to have the book just show up at my classroom on the release date!

Want to hear the sweetest thing? My 9 year old is loving his teacher this year. And tomorrow is her birthday.
So last week he made up a list of questions and asked her to answer them. Then he used her answers to try to figure out what to buy her and how to decorate her card. He absolutely loves to get things for his teachers. When he was in 2nd grade he had a male teacher and had his heart set on getting him something for Valentine's Day. I had to talk him out of the giant teddy bear and guide him towards a small box of chocolates lol! We had dinner at Atlanta Bread Company tonight (Kid's Night for the win!) so we picked up some chocolate goodies for his teacher while we were there, I hope she enjoys them! Here's his very subtle questionnaire :)

In other news, our school is being a bit premature this year - the secretary was decorating a huge Christmas tree in the foyer this morning. You'd think we could get through one holiday before putting up the decorations for the next! However, I am thankful that we do not have to be anti-Christmas at our school - each classroom has a small tree that we can decorate and we can do any kind of non-secular Christmas book/craft/activity. The other first grade teacher does have one student who is Jehovah's Witness this year so she is sticking to gingerbread and snowmen, so look for me to be posting those soon. We have a "Curriculum Morning" on Friday before school, where parents are supposed to come to class and see what their kids are working on this quarter and get some ideas to take home to help them practice at home. My great teammate organized everything for Friday and knowing that I am not a morning person (understatement!) she is even setting it all up in her classroom so that I can just show up at 8am rather than having to come in even earlier (shudder!) to get it ready in my room! So of course I am making anything she asks for  in return, you'll benefit too since I'll share whatever I make for her :)

Alright, I think I've babbled on long enough, that laundry isn't folding itself. I'll leave you with a little freebie though - hope you enjoy!
Syllables Thanksgiving

Monday, November 14, 2011

Favorite Thanksgiving book linky party!

I posted the other day about my favorite Thanksgiving read-alouds (click here to see!) but there's a linky party at TBA and I wanted to talk a little about non fiction Thanksgiving books! I love reading all the cute fiction stories for Thanksgiving, but I think it's important that we spend a little time on non-fiction as well. Here are some of my faves:
This book gives a more historically accurate presentation of of the first Thanksgiving. For instance there was no turkey served at the first Thanksgiving. The Plimoth Plantation cooperated with the Wampanoag community to stage an historically accurate reenactment and the book has photogrpahs taken from that event. This is geared a bit to the higher grades (3rd-5th) but you can certainly show the pictures and talk about the story with younger kiddos.

This is a question-answer style book that gives some more facts about the first thanksgiving - including the chores that children did to help prepare for the feast! Again, it's aimed at 2nd grade and up, but as a read aloud I think it works fine.
A Level 3 easy reader with watercolor illustrations - perfect for my first graders to read independently! (okay...most of my first graders....okay, okay, some of my first graders!)
I'm throwing this one in here because it has an index and a glossary as well as a timeline - all features I think are important for my firsties to learn about.

Finally, two non fiction books about turkeys - I mean, they're the stars of the feast, we should learn a little bit about them, right?

So, not as cute as the fiction ones I know, but I really think that you should have at least a couple of these on your bookshelf. I also find that my higher level kiddos (particularly boys) enjoy the non-fiction reads quite a bit, so it's worth investing in one or two to throw in amongst the fiction stories just to keep everyone focused :)
Don't forget to head back to TBA to check out the rest of the linky party! And, click here be taken to the Thanksgiving freebies I've been posting lately!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Thanksgiving Freebies

Whew! I just got back from a marathon furniture shopping session! Since our house fire in April we have been living in a rental house and using rental furniture (paid for by our insurance company). Since we plan on selling the house as soon as its fixed (they still haven't started construction due to insurance adjuster/contractor difficulties!) we decided to move onto the Army post. It makes my husband's commute much shorter and since he's the one getting up at 4:30am every morning he's really excited about it!

The only thing that was salvageable from the old house was our dining room table and chairs and our entertainment stand since they were hardwood. So we need a whole houseful of furniture and today I dragged my husband shopping and picked out a new living room set and a new bedroom set! We've got one more store to check before we settle on kids' furniture, but I was impressed by my husband's stamina - 3 hours of furniture shopping and he stayed engaged throughout the process!

My husband has the telltale military haircut and a nice couple approached us as we were shopping and asked if he was in the service. When he said he was they shook his hand and thanked him, and then me, for our sacrifices. It was such a lovely thing to do and so nice to hear that appreciation - especially for my husband who really takes our separations hard.

I've been thinking all day (multi-tasking: a teacher's secret weapon!) about Thanksgiving activities for my classroom. My kiddos are anxious to start producing Turkey related items but I hate doing "cute" things just for the sake of being "cute", you know what I mean? If anyone has some cute Thanksgiving crafts that sneak in other skills I'd love for you to leave me a comment showing me where to find them! I do have a craft that I had my kinders make last year with help from our 5th grade friends - they turned out beautifully, but of course I left my hard drive with pictures on it at work - oh well, something to look forward to on Monday, right?

In the meantime, I found these great turkey pictures from Jessica Weible Illustrations (thanks to Tanya at First Grade is Fantabulous for turning me on to her cute clip art!) and decided to make a few worksheets for my firsties to practice some of our skills while still getting a taste of Thanksgiving! Hope you enjoy them!

Turkey Coloring Page Addition

Color by Word Family

I'm linking up with Mrs. Ayala's Kinder Fun for a:
click the picture to go to the linky party for even more Thanksgiving ideas! And, if you haven't seen my other posts, please click on "Thanksgiving" under the Labels section on the left hand sidebar - I've been sharing a lot of Thanksgiving related freebies!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I was just over at Ms. Preppy's blog reading about how her school has a company coming in to set up to do stroke risk assessments for the teachers. And that does seem a bit redundant - teachers carry a lot of stress and worry, I imagine we'd all be at high risk for stroke!

On the other hand, I think I might be in the clear because of my goofball sense of humor. I just can't stay upset about anything. I'm already over the whole observation/not counting on fingers stuff. I know I'm right, (just ask my husband, I'm always right - or so he's learned to agree!) and what goes on in my room will be what I think is best practice - and I'm not going to sweat anything else. As for my students,  I have to say that I think I have the best, sweetest, funniest and most loving class ever. They really make it worth it to be in first grade this year rather than in kindergarten (not to say that I don't want to go back down to kindergarten - I'm teaching kinder come heck or high water next year, but if I have to be in first grade at least I have the best class to teach!)

Today we were getting a bit out of hand with our blends. I was pointing at blends on our board and asking them to name words that started with those blends. Our procedure is to  sit crisscross applesauce and raise our hands to answer and stay quiet while someone else is answering.  Except that they were so darn excited about blends that they were up on their knees, talking over each other, making those darn monkey noises in an attempt to get me to call on them (you know, waving their hands in the air and saying "Oooh! Ooh!" like that's going to make me pick them!). They were talking on top of each other and getting noisy and I threatened to stop the whole thing and make them sit with their heads down - cue "the look" and stern teacher voice. Well everyone immediately scoots back into their squares and tries to look solemn as I point to the next blend. And really, I should have thought. Because, if I had taken half a second to consider, I would have picked any blend except for "pl". Because as soon as my pointer landed on "pl" one of my darling boys gave out a strangled screech and practically hit the ceiling raising his hand as high and fast as possible. I could feel my lips starting to turn up, but I tried to stay firm, "I'm not calling on you if you don't have a quiet hand." I reminded the class. Immediately his cheeks puffed out with an effort to be quiet and his eyes about popped out of his head as he struggled to stay still in his square. I knew what was coming, but I just couldn't disappoint him (and really , how could I not reward the herculean effort?!) so I called on him and he blurts out "Plants!" at which point the whole class bursts out laughing because we all know he has an obsession with the game "Plants Vs. Zombies" and "plants" is the one blend he is just dying to get to say every day!

And really, when I consider that they were getting loud and excited in response to a lesson on blends - well what do I have to complain about? I want my students to be excited about learning! Yes, my class is noisy and sometimes looks chaotic, but I know my kids love coming to school every day because we have fun. And, they're learning!

The other thing that made my day today? One of my boys completed a hundreds chart today! Oh, I can't possibly express the pride I felt in that small accomplishment! You see, at the beginning of the year he was on the wrong meds and was a total zombie - just staring blankly and not even participating in class.Then he was taken off meds completely, taken into dhs custody for a while and eventually returned to mama. During those weeks he was unmedicated and bouncing of the walls. He couldn't sit still for 2 seconds let alone complete a paper. Now he's on new meds, in a new house with mama and she's been hooked up with the right agencies to support her. He is a totally different kid! He talks to everyone now, hugs me and the counselor and the janitor etc. He can sit still and pay attention and shows an interest in learning. Of course it's not all roses because he's extremely behind, plus he still needs to be evaluated for other issues, but today he decided to fill in his hundreds chart! I honestly didn't know that he could write all the way to 100! For part of it he used the example I had posted, but a good 1/.2 of it he completed at his table with no example to look at! We made a big deal of it - I took him to show the counselor and then the principal and she gave him a shiny spider sticker to put on it. I am so excited by that little bit of progress - I am really hopeful that we can unlock his little mind this year because I just know there's a bright kid waiting to be discovered inside him!

I took tomorrow off because we are getting ready to move into a new house on the Army base. I am so excited because it's a two-story, 4 bedroom house with a 2 car garage that is right across the street from the pool! Not to mention that there's a park 200 yards in one direction and another park just 300 yards in the other direction!  am a veteran, so I decided I deserved to have this little break to get organized for our move!

Of course I'm thinking I might have to spend just a little time on the computer - not much, but I'm dying to create a cvce word game for my kiddos. Their new favorite treat is to watch the "Silent E is a Ninja" video, so I'm thinking I need to get new clip art and make a game - anyone know of some cute ninja clip art?! Here's the video, because the song's stuck in my head and maybe if I get it stuck in yours it'll leave me alone! Thanks so much to everyone who has commented the last couple of days - I am thankful for your support, you really made me love blogging even more!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Update, CVC Thanksgiving Freebie and Giveaway Winners!

Well, here's the update - students at my school may not use their fingers for math at all now. If they're adding 7+6 they can no longer put the bigger number in their head and count on, they have to count out 7 blocks and then another 6 blocks and then count all the blocks together. This is because the 2nd grade teacher doesn't want students using their fingers to add in 2nd grade, so now Kindergarten and 1st grade cannot allow it either. I'm not sure how the students are supposed to do their homework at home where they don't have unifix cubes. I'm also not sure how counting out cubes is better than counting fingers  - the 2nd grade teacher claims it takes too long for students to count on their fingers - counting cubes will take even longer! Not to mention that they won't have cubes during testing, so I guess they just won't have any strategies for adding unless they've memorized all the facts.

But, enough of that, I refuse to let it get me down -next week my pacing calendar says to teach the value of coins so that's what I'll do for my observation - no counting involved, just identifying coins and values.As to what goes on in the classroom when there's no observer and the door is closed, I guess I'll have to plead the 5th!

I am incredibly grateful for all the support I have received about this, thank you to everyone who wrote such kind comments!  I guess there are always going to be days/observations like this. It's the nature of the beast isn't it?

In other news, we are concentrating on learning our blends today. We were naming words that start with different blends after watching this youtube video:

and I decided that I should write down the words they came up with and try to make it into a story. Tomorrow we will be illustrating our "Blends Class book"! It was so much fun for them to try to come up with words starting with blends and fit it into a story. We got some practice with writing a complete sentence as well as sequencing events. I love doing activities like this with them!

Today I got our publishing kits for our Student Treasures book publishing endeavor. I really love this company. We did it for the first time last year, and despite some grousing from some intermediate teachers who left their projects until the last minute, the finished products were awesome! I shared about the class book we did based on Laura Numeroff's circle stories here but this year I am not sure what style of book to write. We have until March to complete the kits and mail them back, so I have some time, but if you have a great class book idea I'd love to hear it!

I've been disaggregating my data (that's the newest buzz word at school - doesn't that make me sound so smart?!) and decided that my low group needs more practice reading cvc words with short vowel sounds.  I made a quick Thanksgiving themed game for extra practice and I'll share it today -  I hope someone else can use it! Just click the picture to go to the download - and if it looks wonky don't worry, once you download the file it looks just fine :)

Okay, it's finally 10pm so I can do my drawing for the Donorschoose Gift Cards! Here are the winners:
For a $10 gift card each:
 And, just because I felt bad that not everyone could win, I chose 2 more numbers for a $5 gift card each:

 So that means that Tammy and Kelly will be getting $10 gift cards and Marlana and Meredith will be getting $5 gift cards! I will email them to you tomorrow, Tammy please send me your email so I can get you yours :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I need a do over!

Oh My Word!! I cannot begin to tell you the angst I am feeling right now. I had my observation today and, for the first time ever, I had to ask my principal for another chance because it was HORRIBLE. Actually, I can't emphasize that enough - HORRIBLE.

It started off badly - with my old principal if the observation was scheduled for 10:10 she would show up at about 10:25. My new principal showed up at 10:08 - as I was trying to get our lunch count straight. For some reason we had to take the lunch count 3 TIMES today because students kept changing their choices, voting twice and/or not mentioning that they had home lunch.  Our cafeteria manager was standing in the doorway laughing as I finally had my class physically get up and stand in groups according to their lunch choice.

So my principal walks in to the chaos of lunch choices and asks if I want her to come back since I'm not ready. I assure her that we will be starting in just a moment and to come sit down. She immediately comments about the heat in my room - and friends, it was warm. But, in my defense, some genius decided to place an outside air vent in the cabinet my heater is in. So, if my heater is not actively blowing hot air, the cold wind comes in from outside, aimed right at our carpet area in front of the Smartboard. Seriously, it can be roasting in the room and the kids still have jackets on at carpet because of the draft. In deference to my principal I started adjusting my heat controls, which of course froze up on me so it takes forever to get the heat turned off.

But it's all good because once I get the lesson going it's going to rock, right? Nope!  I'm not sure if it was just that they were uncomfortable being observed by our principal, or maybe they're still feeling the effects of our recent Oklahoma earthquakes, but for whatever reason, they suddenly acted like it was day 1 of school and I had never taught them anything before! Actually, even the earthquake doesn't explain it. It has to be something even more extraordinary. In fact, this is what I imagine happened in my students' bedrooms last night:
De underjordiske by Theodore Kittelsen (trolls stealing human children)

Yes, I think I must have had changelings in my class today - my regular students were kidnapped by trolls! For example, I asked one of my (usually!) very bright boys to come up to the Smartboard to write an addition sentence. He proceeded to try to write WITH HIS FINGER on the Smartboard.. I gently remind him that he needs to use the marker. At which point he tries to get a DRY ERASE MARKER out! Yep - like he had never used our Smartboard before, even though we use it DAILY!

I should have stopped the observation at that point because it just went even more downhill from there (I'm talking subterranean!). During our Doubles Rap song about 6 of my boys went mute - even though they're gung-ho singers every other day. When I divvied up my students for our small groups I realized that due to absences, a student being unexpectedly pulled for Speech,and a student being pulled for Reading Recovery, one of my groups is down to only 2 kiddos. And, of course, they're the two kiddos that really can't function in a group by themselves. But, at this point it's too late to change our groups (I can just imagine the chaos that would have ensued had I tried!) so I plunge into small group time.

I expected the principal to come and observe my small group so I could show off my super cool small group lesson. Instead she zeroes in on my weakest links - the two students in a group by themselves. She starts quizzing them about the worksheet that they were doing. My one sweetheart, who needs about a 30 second wait time for questions (she's on an IEP and she struggles, but if you give her time to think she can do it) gets so flustered that she completely shuts down and won't answer any more questions. At this point I abandon my small group to run damage control!

I gently guide my principal to where the students are working on their math journals. One of my boys has just glued his prompt to the page and she asks him what his problem is. He looks at her blankly. She asks him why he's not writing his problem. He again stares blankly and gives me a deer in the headlights look. I finally deduce that he is so used to me saying "addition sentence" that he thinks she is scolding him for having a "problem" when she's actually talking about math! I try to clear up the confusion and quickly take her to another table.

At this table everything is going great as they play a dice game - they double the number and place a chip on the answer on their sheet. Except that one of the boys encounters a wonky chip - it apparently came out of the machine wrong because it resembles an 8 rather than a circle. He gets completely thrown by the wonky chip and can't answer the question the principal asks because he's so busy trying to comprehend this bizarre chip. My principal turns her attention to another student who can't tell her what 8 plus 1 is. I think my draw dropped. I looked around the room for the hidden cameras because, really, this little darling is one of my strongest in math and now she's drawing a blank when it comes to 8+1?!

At this point, out of the corner of my eye I see that my student has come back from Speech and rather than jumping into his group he is hiding in our reading corner, trying to pick out a book! As I steer him to his table my prinicpal goes to observe another group. At this table, one of my darlings is using her fingers to count on. My prinicpal is aghast and wants to know why I haven't provided manipulatives. I explain that we are trying to memorize our facts and that we have used manipualtives in the past lessons, but at this point we are trying to develop automaticity so I don't want the whole class using blocks to add 6+6. This student is one of my lower ones, who was supposed to be retained in kindergarten, but because of an office mix up, ended up being enrolled in 1st grade at which point her mother decided to keep her in my class and potentially retain her in 1st, rather than send her to a kindergarten class. She is also ELL with a father who is out of town for work, a younger brother with a physical disability and a mama who speaks no English - she's not getting as much support in memorizing her facts as some of the other kids.

This turned into a philosophical debate about whether to allow students to use their fingers to add and subtract. My position is that they will always have their fingers - so if they can figure out a problem on their fingers at least that is a strategy they will always be able to use. Of course I expect them to memorize their facts by the end of the year, but at this point, especially for my low students, I see no harm in using fingers. My principal believes that students should have manipualtives even into high school, and finger counting is apparently a big no-no in her opinion. I am going to open this can of worms here - what do you think about finger counting versus using unifix cubes?

My principal had been in the room for 50 minutes by this time and I thankfully looked at the clock and announced that we had to clean up and come back to carpet to wrap up so we could switch to writing. She slipped out the door as I was starting our wrap up and it was like a light switch had been turned on. During wrap up everyone suddenly seemed to understand doubles plus one was all about! The students who couldn't answer the simplest questions where suddenly spouting off doubles plus one facts like it was nothing. I actually skipped writing to continue with our wrap up because they were all clicking along so well!

I ended up seeking out my principal at the end of the day and asking for another observation because I did not want today to go on my record lol!  She's coming back next week - now I have a week to obsess and plan and try to figure out a lesson that will let my students shine - even if the trolls try to take them again!

If you have any ideas for a foolproof lesson, or an opinion on the finger counting debate, please leave a comment! Oh, and the giveaway for a Donorschoose gift card ends tomorrow, so go enter asap!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Blahs - Time for a Fun Giveaway!

Have you ever had one of those days where nothing really goes wrong, but nothing really goes right either? That was my day today! My schedule was messed with first thing this morning - nothing horrendous and it's already fixed, but still - the last thing I needed on a Monday. Then I finally got my planners - the ones we've been waiting on since the beginning of school but Title I couldn't order because our budget wasn't released. I absolutely love having them, but hated having to try to get them set up and passed out all in one day, in between welcoming  a  new student and getting her acclimated, as well as being interrupted CONSTANTLY by tutors coming to pick up my kids. I swear, I could barely find a time when everybody was in the room to do our spelling pre-test. Granted, the tutors do a great job, and my kids really benefit from having the small group attention, but it is a hassle to try to work around kids getting pulled for math during my reading time, or being pulled for reading during math time!

Since I'm having such a blah day, let's see if I can improve my mood with a fun giveaway! If you have a Donorschoose project up, or just want to win $10 to donate to a classroom of your choice, enter below!

 We'll make this super simple:
1. Follow my blog for one entry, just leave a comment below.

2. For 2 entries, blog about this giveaway - leave 2 comments below.
3. Tell me about the class/project that you would donate to in a comment below - one entry.

I'll give away two $10 gift cards to Donorschoose to 2 winners chosen by a  Random Number Generator on Wednesady Nov 9th at 10pm CST.

This way I get some comment love AND a chance to help out some classrooms! I think that will be a great cure for my Monday Blahs!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Let's Talk Turkey (Thanksgiving freebies!)

Have I mentioned that my favorite thing to do is read aloud? Seriously, my ideal class would be made up of children who magically sit still for as long as I want to read to them! Instead we usually have to get up and get our wiggles out between each book, and I still have little ones checking out the hallway action or collecting lint from the rug! However, Thanksgiving is one of our favorite times of the year and there is a whole flock of books that can hold even then squirmiest child's attention. Here are some of my favorite read aloud for Thanksgiving:

I always use "'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving" as the lead up to our "Disguise a Turkey" homework project. I wish I had taken pictures, because I've had some adorable turkey disguises in the past. Oh well, I'll have to make sure to take some this year! Here is the turkey and letter that I send home for this project.

During the 2nd quarter we are also concentrating more on story elements - beginning,middle and end as well as setting, characters and problem. Here are some turkey-themed sheets that can be used with any of these books (or any other Thanksgiving books you happen to have!)
Turkey Beginning Middle End

Story Elements

In addition, I made up a game quite by chance one year and my kinders loved it! In our housekeeping center I always add some paper plates and a table cloth to match our themes. During Thanksgiving I had cute little paper plates with turkeys on them.Then I took a Pringles can lid - any plastic lid would do -  and glued on an image of a farmer. Kind of like this one:
I'm not sure what I originally intended to do with the farmer, but eventually we ended up with this game. I have the children sit in a circle and start passing the turkey plate. After a few moments head start, the farmer starts "chasing" the turkey around the circle! This is NOT a quiet game as the children squeal and laugh as they try to figure out how to pass the turkey plate from hand to hand  more quickly than they pass the farmer. I always had a few little boys who took delight in speeding up the farmer lol! This was always a great energizer for those late afternoon slumps. The game ends when the farmer catches the turkey or when the turkey has made 3 rounds of the circle without getting caught.

I also love to bring out my "friends" during November. These are great for retelling stories or having the children make up their own. I especially love the Audubon birds since they make realistic bird sounds and the children love to hear the turkey call. I am huge fan of Webkinz. My own children have quite a few and love playing the games online. I have a work order in to have a tech come download the Flash program so I can access the site on my Smartboard. Many of the games are educational AND I think it would be a great motivator to be able to play a few games at the end of the day.

I usually offer everything I make for free, but I made some games for my classroom that used clipart that is not allowed to be shared. I decided to put the unit on TPT just in case anyone else wanted it. It's 9 activities/games that focus on Base Ten blocks, addition, adding coins and counting by 2's,5's and 10's. If you'd like to check it out, click the picture!

If you want to see even more Thanksgiving TPT units check out this post at The ESOL Odyssey:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Queen Bees

Oh boy, did I have a doozy of a day! I have two little darlings who are both vying for the top spot in our classroom. Both are extremely bright, opinionated and sociable. In short - 2 queen bees in one hive. Never a good thing! For about a week now things have been brewing. Petty sniping at each other, tattling, one upmanship etc. I tried ignoring it. I tried separating them, I tried punishing. Nothing worked.

Today was the last straw. On the way to the library these two little ladies started at each other again. I sternly reprimanded them and in fact gave the whole class a bit of a talking to, because they were getting lax in following line procedures. By the time we got to the library we were actually late and didn't have time to have the librarian read to us. I informed my class that they were to sit at carpet IN PROCEDURE while I turned in our books, and their behavior would dictate whether we could check out books today. Well, I look over to see two of the girls crawling on their knees, changing spots. Definitely NOT procedure! I asked what was going on and it turned out that one of my Queen Bees convinced another girl to switch spots with her so she didn't have to sit next to the other Queen Bee.

That was it! I had had enough! I informed my Queen Bees that they would not be getting any books today since they couldn't get along. In fact, since they couldn't get along, they also weren't going to get recess either. Actually, (I was on a roll!) since they couldn't get along, I was going to put them together at every opportunity. I believe my actual words were "Every waking moment until the end of the year!" Yep, I even changed seating arrangements on the spot so they sat at the same table. I told them they had to be the last two in line every time we lined up, just so that they could stand by each other. Basically, they were to do everything together.

We left the library and went back to our room where it slowly sank in that I was serious and they really did have to sit together and get along. As we lined up for lunch Queen A refused to line up - wailing that she couldn't stand it and her day was going to be horrible because she had to stand next to Queen B. I took her by one hand and Queen B by the other and marched down the hall to the lunch line. Queen A wailed the whole time, refusing to even get a tray. I decided that since she wouldn't choose something to eat that she would just get whatever Queen B was getting - down to the chocolate milk and two scoops of fruit salad.
When we got back to class Queen A refused to sit in her seat - wailing at the top of her lungs about how miserable she was and how she wouldn't eat because Queen B had made her tray. To their credit, everybody else managed to ignore her and eat, although they were shooting me bewildered looks, trying to figure out why I thought this was a good idea!

By recess time, Queen A was still in an uproar and wouldn't put on her coat to go outside. I told her she had two choices - go outside and walk the track OR stay inside and spend more time with Queen B. Contrary little thing that she is, she stayed on the floor, refusing to put her coat on! So Queen B got to stay inside too! I told her, "Look! Queen A wants you to stay inside and read to her!" Queen B sat with me and read to me (while Queen A groused in the background "I'm a better reader than she is!") For twenty minutes  Queen A  fussed and wailed - flipping up the corner of the carpet, pushing our rolling book rack out of place and generally acting like a 2 year old. Queen B and I continued reading aloud, ignoring it all. (At this point I was feeling pretty bad for Queen B who was taking it all like a champ).

Eventually - after a total of 50 minutes of continuous fussing, Queen A began to wind down. She went over to our Perler beads and snuck a glance at me. I watched out of the corner of my eye to see what she would do - I was almost to the point of throwing in the towel and admitting that this had been a majorly bad idea on my part.

Queen A took out a tray of beads and a dolphin peg board. I told Queen B, "Look! Queen A has a great idea, let's all make a bead design!" I brought her over to the table and plopped her down in the seat next to Queen A and waited to see what would happen. Queen A looked up, slid the tray of beads over to Queen B and went back to work on her dolphin.  So Queen B and I started working on our own boards. Soon Queen B noticed that Queen A needed red sparkly beads and passed one over to her. Queen A muttered "Thank you." but kept her head down. I pretended I was absorbed with my beads and not paying any attention. A few moments later Queen A returned the favor by finding Queen B a blue bead. Next thing I knew we were all happily making our designs, passing beads back and forth and chatting calmly about colors and patterns.

A  few minutes later the rest of the class came back from recess and I waited to see what my Queens would do. Queen B said "I'll put away the books we were reading Mrs. Knopf. Come on Queen A!" They quickly straightened up the classroom (including everything Queen A had messed up during her fit!) and then walked hand in hand to the carpet and shared a square. For the rest of the day they worked together, sharing crayons and chattering like magpies. When we went to our Student of the Month assembly they held hands down the hallway and sat next to each other in the gym, occasionally going so far as to lean against each other.

I have to admit, I did not expect it to turn out THAT well, and I am not sure if this change in attitude will last through next week, but boy am I glad it worked today! It was totally worth 50 minutes of screaming and crying to have them make such a dramatic turn around. The rest of the class is now convinced that I am a miracle worker and Queen A now knows that I can outlast any fit she cares to throw. Myself? I'm chalking it up to the magic of Perler beads - I am buying more this weekend - especially the red sparkly ones!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My observation was canceled :(

Actually, I can't decide whether to use a frowny or smiley face for that one. Today we were supposed to have a big walking day - the Commanding General of Fort Sill does this big Walk every Quarter or so and all the schools get involved too. While the soldiers on post are walking all the school students are walking too. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and it was too cold to go out. Thus I did not get my planning time AT ALL today. Well, wait, I did get a 10 minute break to run to the bathroom. Yep, a 10 minute break at 10am and that was it for the day! Of course, I had to use that 10 minutes running copies trying to fill the extra 30 minutes I suddenly had since we didn't have PE and Music.

The good thing is that we had lots of extra practice on our doubles addition, the bad news is that we also didn't get recess! The jury is out on whether it really was too cold at that point - it all depends on which channel you were watching the weather on and whether you stick to the district guidelines or not. I am praying that we do start sticking to the guidelines though, otherwise there will be no recess until Spring because we finally got our cold snap! Of course, that didn't stop several students from showing up in shorts and flip flops!

One of my young men also peeled off his coat today and found it was sticking to his shirt - literally. Like a wad of nougat or pudding or something had dried between the back of his shirt and the fuzzy lining of his coat. Luckily we have a washer/dryer for just this type of situation, plus a closet full of clothes, so I was able to launder both items and give him a hoodie to wear in the meantime.

Another darling has a beautiful brand new coat and fancy winter boots - awesome! Except, she refused to take off those pretty boots to put on her sneakers for PE - because it was "too hard" to take them on and off. Of course she didn't bother to ask for help with those snazzy boots and I knew exactly why she  was refusing - she was just too darned proud of those boots! So I told her those boots must be a weekend only choice and that for school she needs to continue wearing sneakers. (Since we won't get snow for at least a month or two yet!) She's not too happy with me at the moment, but I'd rather she get her PE time in than be fashionable!

We are finishing up out bat unit (it was supposed to include monsters and spiders as well, but my goodness these firsties love bats so much I just had to run with it!) and we are adopting a bat tomorrow! For $25 you get to help conserve bats, plus get an official adoption certificate, a stuffed animal and a species profile of the breed you choose to adopt. Today we made bat headbands that represented the breed of bat we want to adopt. I was really hoping that the Honduran White Bat was going to win - they make tents out of leaves! I mean, how can you beat that?! A tent making bat!
Look at that cute little face! 

But, unfortunately, vampire bats won out because, as one of my boys put it "They suck your blood and then pee on you!" I have tried to dissuade him of this idea, but he insists his father read it to him at a museum and he is convinced that legions of vampire bats roam the night, sucking blood and peeing on people.

He was also the little darling that wanted to know, during my Practicum student's presentation on the layers of the earth, whether the devil lives in the core of the earth or the mantle. She's a darling and tried to gloss over it, but he can be quite vocal when he gets an idea in his head, so whenever she said the word "core" he'd pipe up with "the part where the devil is!" She used an apple to illustrate the crust, mantle and core (corresponding to the peel, flesh and core of the apple). Coincidentally our snack today was apples and soon they were all crowing about how they were eating "molten lava" and "Look, I'm eating the crust!" or "I made it all through the mantle!" Tomorrow she's having them make models of the earth with Styrofoam balls - I will be sure to take pictures!

Tomorrow we are also wearing our bat headbands and singing the "Bat Hymm"  from "Bats at The Beach" which was a totally cute book! So far we're doing really great on the chorus, but still a bit shaky on the 3rd verse but luckily our assembly isn't until the afternoon so we have a bit more time to practice. Here are some of the other books we enjoyed during our bat unit:

Well, I am off to try to catch up on some paperwork/grading. Ugh, I really, really wish I could just give anecdotal grades lol! Anyone have any ideas for keeping up with grading? I find I am always swimming in papers - most of which I don't even give an "official" gradebook grade! I've tried grading right after school each day but I lack discipline plus I have 4 children clamoring to go home, so that doesn't always work out so well! I'm open to suggestions!

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