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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Distracting Powers of Mr. Smelly (but mostly comparing and contrasting)

I originally planned to be gone for a conference today (National Science Teachers of America are in Indy!), but I ended up feeling really drained this week. Last night I was not feeling up to sub plans and running around a conference trying to get the most I could out of it in a day.

So I changed gears, and came to school today. The kids were all surprised (but happy). I immediately regretting not finding a wig and wearing my contacts and trying to pull a Miss Nelson is Missing on them, but oh well. Another time.

As it turns out, between a kid throwing up and an office referral, it was the kind of day that was not-so-great for me, but might have been completely chaotic for a sub! So glad I didn't put someone through that!

We've been working with compare and contrast. I use those two words constantly, because so many kids know this skill- but then get to a test and don't know what "compare" means. Nothing frustrates me more than watching them miss a concept they actually know just because of nomenclature.

I reviewed what compare and contrast meant (again) and made a quick Venn diagram on the board comparing two things.

Then, I split them into groups, gave them chart paper and markers, and let them 'draw' two things to compare from the slips of paper in my hands. (The group below got shirt and pants, which in hindsight was pretty difficult- but they did great!)

This was the "Teacher and Kid" group. Fun fact: one of the big differences is that we teachers have bigger feet.

 The kids had to decide who was going to draw the circles, if they were going to take turns writing or let one person write, and who got to share each part afterwards.

 I really talk to them a lot about how to manage groups, and this class has mostly gotten very good at it. I try not to assign roles unless absolutely necessary, because it is such a great opportunity for them to practice peaceful conflict management. One of the easiest tips is just teaching them to use Rock, Paper, Scissors (Ro Sham Bo) as an easy, clear decision tool.

I love that using the big paper and markers gets them so engaged. We could have just as easily done this on paper, but they wouldn't been near so involved.

My kids compared shirts and pants, cats and dogs, home and school, oceans and rivers, teachers and kids, and the teacher to the principal. (Yes, some of them were pretty tricky!)

Groups of 3 or 4 were just about perfect for this activity, if you decide to try it.

Isn't it wonderful to walk around and hear kids actually on task? (Well, other than the one group that could not figure out the scent of the brown marker. Is it chocolate? Is it cinnamon? Is it gross? Oh, Mr. Smelly, if only my kids had as much interest in me as they do you...)

Tomorrow I want to try to mix in some math with something like "Compare 56 and 95." Should be interesting!

How do you teach compare and contrast?

A New Teacher's Perspective: A Little Known Reason to Use Data in the Classroom

Whew. I went to bed at 7 last night and I'm feeling much better. I basically relied on fake enthusiasm to get through the day, and it worked. No major meltdowns (which have been almost daily for one of mine lately) and my lowest kid finally made it past 50 words a minute! (Yes, the goal for the end of the year is 90, but he was stuck in the high 20's/ early 30's for so long that this is a HUGE victory!)

I know some teachers that hate data-driven education because it can be so much extra work and time to individually assess each kid. And it definitely can eat up a lot of time. But my first teaching job was at a school that had been labeled "failing" four years running, and I was hired as an interventionist (along with 5 or 6 others) to help turn it around. My job and that school required constant data, and while it was a lot to fit in, we ALWAYS knew how each child was doing on every reading and math standard and in reading fluency. Our groups for researching and RTI were changing every 3 weeks at least.

My new school is terrific, but it is just starting to work with so much data. Many of the teachers here aren't excited about taking data or don't really know how to use it. It is nice to have less testing, but I've grown accustomed to the knowledge that comes with so much data, so I try to fit in what I can.

One of the best things about data is one that you will never find in a scientific article or newspaper piece on school reform. Data gives me feedback on how to teach better, but data also builds my confidence so much, because I can tell that these kids really are making progress because of me. As a new teacher, data gives me validation that I am doing something right. In some cases, it gives me validation that just because one kiddo is going nowhere, the other kids' scores show that my teaching isn't useless.

Data also gives you ammunition to advocate for a child, whether it can be with parents, a medical professional, or another educator. It can give the student a way to build confidence and motivate extra effort, too. The biggest thing data offers, though, is feedback about what worked and what didn't. Of course, every teacher needs to look at what didn't work so they can improve or reteach, but I think for new teachers, the other is just as important.

It's so valuable to remember that even when you feel like you're treading water, and grade card time is wearing you down, you have done something for these children. And data is the perfect, objective way for you to prove it to yourself.

Yesterday, when I was feeling so down on myself as a teacher, that new data point made me stop sulking and start celebrating my accomplishments this year. I plan on improving- this year and every year of teaching- but I can still celebrate what I've done so far, and I'm so glad this kid helped me remember to do it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bad Night

Every time I do grade cards, I say I'm not going to wait until the last minute. This time, I really thought I was in better shape until I started filling in the details. I got to work on grading the things I still needed to grade, and the Internet cut out. If you remember from, oh, about a week ago, I have an online grade book. Internet outage = Jenny freak out. It has finally come back, but at this point it won't really be worth sleeping tonight, even if I has time to try again (I'm having one of those nights where my brain just will. Not. Stop. thinking downer thoughts.) I'm more than likely getting zeeeero sleep tonight. Tomorrow is going to be... Ugh. I was also supposed to register last minute for a day at a conference later this week, but right now I am just not feeling like taking the extra work to be out of the classroom. Is that crazy? Sorry. I am normally a very positive person, but grade cards and a daily behavior issue and some wicked insecurity are taking the wind out of my sails. But please don't de-follow! My birthday is in 2 days and grade cards are done tomorrow, for better or worse, so things should be happier around here soon! Thanks for letting me vent.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Ugh. I'm putting off grade cards (again). Anyway, I'll keep this quick. This is probably silly, because I'm sure you all know about this, but on the off chance you don't, it can make school work muuuuch more bearable. Do you use Pandora? Pandora is a website where you type in a favorite artist or song, and they customize a radio station for you. As you listen, you can click the Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down to give them more feedback and it will get even better at choosing songs for you. It is completely free if you don't mind a few ads! (and they also have a great free app!) Eventually, you will end up going, "What? How did Pandora know I love that obscure song?!" So, especially if your school network doesn't block Pandora, it's a great way to play music you like while working, without even needing to carry around a player. Alright. Back to grading... Sigh.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Report Card Season

Whew. With each report card time, I've gotten a little better at keeping up with grading. This time is no exception. Better than the past few times, but still, I'm pretty behind.

As I was looking over my gradebook, I realized that I had section or two that I didn't have many grades for.

I've mentioned before how my report cards require me to assess how kids are doing in lots of individual areas, and for the most part, it's been easy to assess each category for reading, language, and writing.

In writing, I have a rubric that gives kids a score in each 'area.' In reading and language, I incorporate a lot of our review into centers, so it's easy to take that Noun-Verb-Adjective Sort and plug it in as a Parts of Speech grade.

So, this weekend, as I was lamenting my lack of significant grades in a few of the specific math categories. I thought to myself that there has to be a better way to do give a review assessment that specifically fits the categories I have to grade on.

Despite the fact that grade cards need to go home Wednesday, I decided to start typing up a Giant Math Assessment specifically fit to my grade card categories.

Our categories include:
  • Counts, Reads, and Writes Numbers Well
  • Knows Basic Addition Facts
  • Knows Basic Subtraction Facts
  • Computes Accurately
  • Reasons Well in Problem Solving
  • Uses Math Symbols Correctly
  • Understands Concepts Of:
    1. Place Value
    2. Addition (carrying) Yes, I know that it's really better to call it 'regrouping,' but this is what's on the grade card!
    3. Subtraction (borrowing) Same story here!
    4. Time
    5. Money
    6. Graphing
    7. Geometry
    8. Measurement
    9. Fractions
Yup. I need to give an overall grade in math and a mark for progress/ effort in each one of those categories. And that's just math.

Last year, my school had a standards calendar and 4 question assessments for each standard. At the end of the 3 weeks we covered the standard, we filled in a color-coded spreadsheet based on how they did out of 4, and met with our principal to assess how we (and our students) were doing. I think that's part of why I feel like I don't have enough specific data!

So... I'm debating whether or not to actually give them the Giant Quarter Math Assessment of Doom this time, just because it's a looong test for them to take (which I would prefer to spread out over a few days) and will take me a loooong time to grade them (and, let's face it, I have other things I also need to grade over the next two days!).


It may not happen this time, but for the 4th quarter, I am all set to review more and better, using my Magic Number page (free!) and the terrific Weekly Math Magic from Sunny Days in Second Grade. She's offered a few samples for free on her blog, so if you haven't checked it out yet, you definitely should!

And then, after all that awesome review, I can give them the Giant Assessment (spread out over multiple days) to make my final grade cards that much easier. (And maybe to have a comprehensive assessment of math skills to pass on to their 3rd grade teachers!)

Any interest in checking it out? If you could use some or all of this, feel free. It's not cute, but it's functional (I hope!) and it's 7 pages long.

P.S.- It doesn't have measurement right now, because we really haven't covered it much at all yet, but all of those other categories are covered in as much detail as I expect my students to know it at this point, based on what we have covered so far.

Please comment if you take it, and let me know how it works for your class! (Checking comments is great report card procrastination!)

Friday, March 23, 2012

New Book Boxes!

So, aside from one little one having a tough week, my class has been really good this week. Like, so good that it's freaking me out a little bit. In the days before and after Spring Break, we had a streak of 6 days where everyone ended the day on green or higher. Six days. Right before and after Spring Break. What?!

I'm not sure what I'm doing differently or if I have somehow scared them or what, but it is amazing.

I've been doing a lot of think-pair-share moments, and then all I have to do to get their attention back is hold my hand up and count down from five. Silently. Without a single WORD from me.

And right now, this is actually working. By the time I get to zero they have all stopped talking and turned back to face me.

Is there some kind of weird classroom karma that is going to come back to bite me next week? Because as much as I am loving this, it is strange.

When I have told them how close they are to third grade, they are almost all pouting and sad, saying they don't want to leave me, and honestly, I'm kind of tempted to keep them. I mean, if I finally have them trained have things down...

Anyway- I can't believe I have only 9 weeks left. I'm already trying to think of things I want to do next year, but I'm still tweaking and giving things a try this year. I just got their Book Boxes (finally) ready yesterday, so today we discussed the rules and got to go "book shopping."

It's funny how they've been looking for books in my library all year, but calling it "book shopping" suddenly makes it exciting!

These came from Ikea, $1.99 for 5 boxes. Warning: Do not go to Ikea with the sole purpose of buying magazine files. You might also walk out with a dresser. A beautiful and needed dresser, but a $300 one that barely fits in your car for the 3 hour drive home. True story.

I added adorable polka-dot numbers from technology rocks. seriously. (that were completely free, if you can believe it- thank you!) using Velcro dots, so that if I ever change my mind on how to use these, hopefully it won't be too hard to re-label. The numbers are laminated, too, of course.

Voila! Adorable book boxes that the students have been waiting for so long, they actually might not destroy. Here's hoping that this stops some of the book hoarding in the "reserved" bin.

Here's my library now (a not-so-great picture, sorry). Next up: library bin labels!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fifty Followers Freebie- Easter/ Spring Measurement!

I planned on getting a freebie out as soon as I hit 50 followers- and then you all made it happen much faster than I expected! I've only been really working on this blog for about a week and a half, so thank you SO much to those who are following me, pinning ideas, and commenting with encouragement!

Today's freebie brought to you by my 58 followers (thank you!!!) annnnd... the Target Dollar Spot!

If you've been in lately, you've probably seen plastic eggs filled with little plastic rabbits that can "jump." There are 15 bunnies in each egg, so I was able to get enough for my class for $2. Honestly, considering I'm having them work in partners, I could have just bought one.

My class is just starting measurement. Even though we're not officially doing the Common Core standards until next year, I went ahead and looked up Common Core Math for 2nd grade to create this. While of course this covers a few standards, I really focused on one in particular.

2.MD.2 - Measure the length of an object twice, using length units of different lengths for the two measurements; describe how the two measurements relate to the size of the unit chosen.
This sounds like a tricky one, to be sure. My students will be making the rabbits hop and then measuring the distance in both inches and centimeters.

I'm going to have them analyze their own data with a partner, and then we'll discuss it together to look for patterns and speculate why we might have found those patterns.

If you would like your own copy of Measurement Hop, you can download it free {here}, or by clicking on the picture. All you will need is rabbits (bought from Target or folded from index cards using origami directions like those here), measuring tools, and maybe a piece of tape to mark the 'starting line.'

After a few tiring situations at school this week, it would really make my day if you left a comment!

Thanks, and happy Spring! :)
P.S.- Does anyone know why none of these images are showing up as able to be pinned on Pinterest?

Blogger Tutorial: Switching from Google to Blogger Profiles

*Note: I can't believe I've passed 50 followers! I've really only been working on and promoting my blog for a week and a half, so I definitely have YOU to thank for that! I'm busy working on a freebie to celebrate. I'll post it soon! In the meantime... I hope this is helpful to someone other than me!*

Once I started my blog, I realized that I was sometimes getting followers whose profiles didn't show any blogs... but then, they'd leave a comment and have a blog! It was weird, and I wasn't sure why I couldn't just find their blog directly from their profile.

Then, I realized that if I wanted people to easily check out MY blog, I needed to make sure my profile had a direct blog link. Turns out, there are two kinds of profiles you can choose to "follow" a blog with- your Google profile or your Blogger profile. For me, my Google profile has my name and my Blogger profile has a screen name (luckeyfrog). My Google profile will tell you a little about me, but my Blogger profile will show you my blog!

To me, it was important to make sure that I was following everyone with my Blogger profile, but now, I had to figure out how to do it.

Go to your Blogger dashboard, and scroll down past your blogs to where it says Reading List.

At the bottom, you'll see a blue button that says "Manage." Click it!

Once you are at the Manage Blogs I'm Following page, you can click on each blog and change the settings. I wish that I knew a better way to do this (believe me) but I think you have to do it one-by-one.

Click on the word "Settings" to the right of the blog. (For me, it was easiest to open a page's worth at once into tabs, change the settings on those, and then scroll down to the next group.)

Here, it shows you your profile on that blog. This shows me I am "currently using my Google profile." My Google profile is different from my Blogger profile, which would lead someone to find my blog, so I want to change it.