Monday, November 4, 2013

With Great Risk Comes Great Rewards

What a great day I had! Today was my formal observation and boy have I been panicking!! We had a choice this year to pick 6 informal observations OR 1 formal observation with 3 informal observations. I opted for the 1formal/3 informal because I really had no idea what the administration was looking for. I figured by doing the 1 formal observation I'd be able to meet with one of my administrators and really get a good idea of what they are looking for. Well it worked!!!

First I met with one of my Assistant Principals and discussed his expectations for me for teaching math to my kinders. To my great surprise and delight I was given the go ahead to take my math teaching to a whole new level. I was allowed to do a center based approach to math using the teaching point from the book but not actually using all of the workbook pages! WAHOOO!!! Next I handed in an outline of my proposed plan. I handed that in on a Friday and got it back at the end of the day with 2 pages of suggestions and ideas. Now most people might have seen all of those notes and gone a little looney. Not me! I was excited to see all those notes because they were there to help me become a better teacher, NOT to put me down. Let me back up and explain that before my AP handed me my lesson plan back with all his notes he made it VERY clear that he added suggestions and things that he has seen in other classes that he liked.

Here are some of the things that he wrote down:

  • Safe environment
  • Clear directions
  • High expectations
  • Accountability in each center
Clearly some of these things are not things that can been seen in a written lesson plan. With my two pages of suggestions I was given an extra week to get my act together for my observation.... which I was truly grateful for since the day I was originally supposed to be observed I was feeling quite under the weather!

I made sure that 4 of the 6 centers had some form of accountability. The other two were self-checking centers. I made sure my routines were down pretty good and I made sure I had a clear directions.

Well, right after lunch my AP came in for my observation. I won't lie... my knees were shaking and I was a bit nervous. I had such a rough/bad/terrible/rotten difficult year last year with my administration that I wasn't sure how today was going to go. BUT in the end it went awesome!!

Here are some of they key components that I feel really helped make my lesson rock. We started with our normal calendar routine and the moved on to the game Mingle. I cannot take credit for this awesome game, one of my fellow bloggers (sorry I forget which one of you lovely ladies it was) posted this awesome video not too long ago and I KNEW I could use it to help children count and learn their basic numbers. So to whomever shared this video on Facebook THANK YOU!!! You totally rock because my AP LOVED this game. He loved it so much that while we were playing he called the other AP in our building to come down and check out what we were doing!! I was super excited about that!

I also had some awesome centers that were from some other awesome bloggers.

  • I used Mrs. Hoffer's Spot's Mega Sort Bundle {Numbers 1-10, 10-20, and Letters} for my cut and paste center. The students only had to complete the page that matched the number 9 since that was the number we were working on. This activity was great because I had a tangible product that I could see if the students understood the various ways to show 9!
  • I used The Moffatt Girls' Fall Math and Literacy Packet (Kindergarten) for another center. I used the fall leaves ten frame page. Which was perfect because the students needed practice writing the numbers using ten frames. 
  • I made a center with drawing and writing each number in various ways. I made this center based on Crystal over at Kreative in Kinder's Zero the Hero Classroom Counting Fun!
  • The last item I used from another great blogger, Abby at The Inspired Apple, is Babbling Abby's Kindergarten RTI: Number Sense #0-20 This packet I used in three different centers!! SCORE! 
    • I printed and made binders with the majority of the pages in this packet for the numbers 0 to 9 since that's all we are up to right now. I will add the other numbers are we get to them. I use these binders for my RTI groups.
    • I printed the number writing pages for the numbers 0-9, put them back to back in sheet protectors and used binder rings to hold them together. The children used dry erase markers to practice writing the numbers.
    • I printed and cut apart the number "puzzles" pages and the students sorted the pieces after they finished the ten frame fall leaf page from the Moffatt Girls!
All in all the centers and lesson went AMAZING!!! I saw my AP at the end of the day and we will formally sit down on Friday and discuss it BUT he said he had a few suggestions but was proud of me and thought it was awesome!

I want to give one last shout out and thank you to all the wonderful bloggers and TpT teachers whose products helped me do an amazing job today!!! I hope everyone else's day went as awesome as mine did!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Observations and the New Teacher Evaluation

As an educator being evaluated has always been part of the system, the principal/supervisor comes in, observes what you are doing, takes some notes and then writes it up. If you're lucky and have a supportive supervisor you might even have a post-observation meeting in which you discuss ways to better your teaching.

For the past 6 years I worked at a school where observations were done randomly without any warning. Formal observations (you know, the ones where you had a pre & post-obervation meeting) were unheard of. The principal popped in for informal observations whenever he wanted and stayed for as long as he wanted. If he didn't like what he saw he stayed longer, if he liked what he saw (or liked you) his visits were short and sweet and to the point. We were often observed as the students were walking in to unpack, the day before or the day after vacations, etc. Certain teachers were observed more than others, and things were very subjective!

Now the administration is under strict rules to follow a 22 part scoring rubric! Yes 22 parts! WOW! That's a lot!!! From the way we act as professionals to how we interact with parents. From how our classrooms are set up and organized to whether or not we ask higher level questions with our students. In theory principals/supervisors are supposed to write down everything they hear and see while they are in our rooms and then use this cut and dry scoring rubric to give us a grade.

Four weeks into the new school year... and my first year in my new school... with a brand new reading/ writing curriculum that is in its very first year and no one knows anything about the program and a brand new math program... I was observed! I'm not going to lie, after my experiences last year I was a bit jittery and a bit nervous. I didn't know what to expect! I took a deep breath and just tried my best! I acted as if my supervisor wasn't in the room and went on with my lesson. It took almost 3 weeks but I finally got my observation write-up back. I can see the pros and cons of this new system.

The pros: the feedback was clear and to the point. I know exactly which of the 22 domains I need to "improve" upon and which I am doing an excellent job in! I can clearly look back at my write up and see what I should be focusing on to make my teaching better. I can honestly say I left my post-observation meeting feeling like I was truly being supported! My supervisor wasn't "out to get me" but was looking for ways to help me become an even better teacher!

The cons: my biggest complaint right now is that I was graded on my questioning technique... which in my opinion wasn't exactly very fair. Let's take a look at this from the outside. The rubric states that using only recall questions is not an effective teaching practice, yes I agree. Teachers, even Kindergarten teachers, should be using higher level questions to get their kiddies to think! But does the rubric take into account the time of year, or the fact that I am teaching 27 students, 16 of which are ELL whose primary language is Spanish, oh and I don't speak a lick of Spanish? No the rubric does not take into account things like this... the rubric is black and white, cut and dry... what we (supervisors) see and hear is what we can score on. The real kicker was when my supervisor stated that she realized it was early in the year and that my students in particular were not ready for a very deep conversation regarding A House for Hermit Crab, and yet, knowing this she chose to score me on this domain rather than writing N/A with a note stating that it was too early in the year to score this. I guess the only positive is that I can only improve from here! My other complaint is that 22 domains is A LOT! I mean how can anyone wrap their head around all 22 domains at once. It might have been nice of they decided to roll out this evaluation system in pieces. This year we will focus on mastering the domains in category 1, then the following year add in the 2nd area, then the 3rd and finally the 4th. It would have been nice to take this slow... but then again look at the district I'm in... they took on using a literacy program that is still being written and has not been tested in any classrooms EVER!!!

Has your district rolled out a teacher evaluation system? What do you think about it?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The First 28 Days

Wow! I can't believe 28 days has already gone by... where has the time gone? It has been quite an adventure getting used to my new school, which I am loving by the way. Sometimes taking a blind leap of faith really does work out for the best in the end!

My new school is nothing like my old school... here's a breakdown of some of the major differences (in now particular order):

  • I am now in a Title 1 school - this has been a big change for me. We are lacking many basic supplies and I have had to reach into my own pocket to purchase supplies for the classroom that I never thought I'd have to buy. I've also had to adapt many of my practices to make them work with the supplies I do have. It's been a learning curve but it's pushing me to be a more creative and engaging teacher!
  • The students wear uniforms - personally I think this is a wonderful thing. I never have to worry about someone coming in wearing inappropriate items.
  • There is an unspoken dress code for teachers - while our contract does not outline a dress code the teachers in this school dress with pride, nice clothes and nice shoes every day... jeans and sneakers are frowned upon. 
  • Take Risks! - We are encouraged to take risks and try new things. We are encouraged to take our curriculum and make it work for our students. We are encouraged to do what it take to get through to the kids so they can learn! We are encouraged to be creative and make teaching and learning fun! 
  • Learning Centers - We are expected to have literacy centers 4 days a week and teach guided reading during this time. While I'm still doing assessments my students are loving the idea of having center time and are thriving on it. 
  • Copies are limited - We have to submit our papers a week in advance and have proof of why we want to use it. I have not yet taken risks with my copies and have been making copies at home which isn't cheap!
  • No printers - We don't have free access to printers. I am used to having a printer at my ready all day long. Now I have to be extra prepared - everything has to be printed out at home and brought in. This is taking A LOT of getting used to for me!
  • Collaboration is limited - I'm used to meeting and planning together every day... here we are working towards that but I often find out about projects and activities that the other teachers are doing after the fact and have to rush to figure out how to make the activities they are doing work with my class.
  • New Curriculum - The school took on two new curriculums this year - math and literacy.
With all these differences it's been a struggle the first 28 days to get organized and figure out how I want to do everything. I am finally getting into a nice groove.

It's taken me a while to figure out the best way to teach our new literacy curriculum. There isn't any research on this new program that has been widely adopted and it's the first year it's being used so everyone is learning as they go which means there are no "experts" to go to when you have a question. I've got a good handle on the reading aspect of this new program - but I'm still struggling with figuring out the best way to teach writing based on this program. I'm also trying to figure out the best way to make cross-curricular connections with social studies and science. The best part though - PROJECTS!!! We are encouraged to do projects, lots and lots of projects. My goal is to get ahead of the game in my planning so I can figure out some great projects for SS and Science!

I'm also trying to find some great math projects/activities that tie into my math curriculum. We teach math for 2 periods, which is longer than I've ever taught math... so I'd love to spend part of that time doing hands on projects to reinforce what I'm teaching.

It's been a struggle to keep up with all the planning that I have to do this year but I'm hoping to get ahead of the game at some point. I'm also trying to plan everything out so that come next fall everything is ready to go!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Culture Shock and Donors Choose

I've been at my new school so far for 5 whole days! Three days were designated as unofficial set up days, and 2 days were official meetings and set up days. Everyone warned me that switching to this school would be a change... and they were 100% right, but the changes are in unexpected and surprising places!

Lets start with my room - it's HUGE!! I have two double door coat closets for the kids. Then I have two single door teacher closets. One with shelves and the other is more of a coat closet. I also have cabinets about my sink. I have a teacher desk (WOW! Haven't had one in years!) and a small 2 drawer file cabinet. I also have more book shelves than I know what to do with (no I'm not complaining because I am certain by the end of the year they will be filled to capacity!) I have 6 kiddie tables in the room and theres room to spare! I have a small round table for conferencing and a small extra desk for my computer. Did I mention that I have 12, yes 12 bulletin boards!?!?! Oh and 2 more in the hallway! Do you know how hard it was to cover all of those boards and figure out what to put on them? I still have one blank board and I have no idea what I'm going to put on it!!! The stores are all out of sets I like so that board will have to wait another week or two.

Another huge change - the atmosphere. Everyone seems so relaxed and happy at this school. Yes I realize the kids haven't come in yet and that feeling may change but for now... it's a warm, inviting, relaxed atmosphere. Even the administration have been warm, welcoming and helpful! One of our AP's actually helped me hang bulletin board paper on my hallway boards! I don't think in a million years I would have ever expected that! This same AP has made it a point to remind me that in this school I wont have to walk on egg shells or look over my shoulder wondering if I'm going to make a mistake. He has reminded me over and over again, make a mistake, so what! Learn from it, move on (and never make that same mistake again! HA!) I'm loving this philosophy! They also believe that the weekends, holidays, etc. should be family time... leave your work at the door and go enjoy your family. What an opposite feeling than my other school where the admins would have loved for teachers to stay at least 2 hours extra every day to do work every day of the week! I can feel the tension and stress starting to slip away, the uneasy feelings I used to have of being afraid to try new things slowly disappearing. The eagerness and excitement of a new year is gradually sinking. I'm actually looking forward to a new school year!

The last big change has been a bit of a shock for me. At my old school we were spoiled (I didn't realize this until the last few days). Anything we wanted for our classrooms we got - you need chart paper, no problem, scissors, pencils, markers, pens, computer paper, construction paper, copies, colored copies, books for your library, math manipulatives... we even had laptops to bring home and use for work as well as classroom printers. I spent very little money on my own supplies for my old school - the philosophy was anything in the building should belong to the school not the teachers. Don't get me wrong I bought bins and posters and rewards and fun stuff.... but the necessities were always given to us. Not so much now... I've already spent a couple hundred dollars and I'm no where near ready for Monday! I've had to buy every single supply that you can imagine - chart paper, teacher scissors, staples, tape dispenser, I even have to purchase notebooks for my kids! (Insert shocked face!) This weekend alone to get ready for the kids coming in Monday I need to go buy at least 10 (probably more) baskets from the dollar store for my library which is unleveled and all stacked in piles (did I mention I have to level the entire library on my own time! What a job that is going to be!) I also need to locate a ones, tens, hundreds pocket chart for counting the days in school, I need bins to organize pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, table top bins.... then I need to purchase a ton of ink for my home printer as I will be printing like a mad woman this weekend so I can finish my bulletin boards and have my first day of school papers ready! We can't get everything copied so I'll be paying for copies this year.... which leads me to a question - Donors Choice... has anyone every requested anything? How does it work? Could I request help for the basic supplies I need for my kids (you know like the notebooks, a classroom sharpening, etc?)

I may be spending a LOT more money than I ever intended to for my classroom - but I'm hoping the payoff of working in a nurturing, caring, loving, fun environment is what I will get! I'm excited to see what the year brings and can't wait to meet all my kiddies on Monday!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

And So It Begins....

Yesterday was the first chance I had to go and visit my new school since I was hired. To be honest, when I started the process of interviewing at new schools I was a bit overwhelmed. The thought of leaving the comfort of my old school was scary, not to mention I hated the idea of leaving all my friends... but there comes a time when everyone needs to move on, and this was my time. When I interviewed at my new school I asked few questions and didn't even look around the school because I honestly didn't think the interview went that well and I wasn't convinced I would get the job. Silly me! After being offered a full time Kindergarten *YAY* position I realized how foolish I was and spent the whole summer wondering what exactly my new school would be like.

Well yesterday I finally got the chance to stop wondering and actually see it. It a relatively new building so that means AC in every room (WAHOO!) and new furniture. My new classroom was imaculate. I have NEVER moved into a classroom that was that cleaned out before. I'm not sure yet if the teacher left the building or moved to a new room, I'll have to find out today. Either way I want to thank her! She did an amazing job cleaning up and cleaning out the classroom. She was kind enough to leave up her bulletin board paper incase I didn't feel like changing it. I'm still undecided about that. Last year I put up fabric using liquid starch but I'm afraid that might ruin the brand new boards and I sooo don't want to do that my first year at my new school, even thought I REALLY want to cover my boards in fabric!!

What shocked me the most about my new school was that they collect the library and math supplies before summer break... so literally the room is completely empty! They wont be handing out the classroom libraries until next week!! Not knowing how many books I have or math supplies it's hard to decide how to set up my book shelves. Another thing that took me by surprise is how many supplies the teachers have to supply. I guess I was spoiled in my old school.... my former principal believed that anything that entered the building should be property of the school so he supplied us with A LOT - down to pens, pencils, dry erase markers/erasers, scissors (for teachers), various kinds of tape and dispensers, staplers, etc. I had to go out yesterday and purchase a stapler, tape dispenser and good teacher scissors for the first time... only to get home and realize I forgot to purchase dry erase markers and a desk organizer for these supplies! Guess I'll be going back to Staples for the 5th time!

Yesterday I spent the day wiping down the shelves in all the closets and organizing the few items the previous teacher had left... todays job - BULLETIN BOARDS! I have so many and I am a bit overwhelmed but I know I'll get it all together and LOVE having so many beautiful boards!! I'll be sure to post some pictures of the before and after later this week.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Brag #Kinderblog13

Brag... I'd lie if I said I don't like to brag. I'm not saying I run around patting myself on the back, shouting from the rooftops every time I do something amazing, but lets be honest... sometimes sharing and shouting from the rooftops is fun! So here is me, shouting from the rooftops bragging sharing some things I've done that I'm proud of!

I've given 2 professional developments in my school over the past few years and I am very proud of both of them! A few years back my principal decided we should be giving every single student in the school individual reading and writing goals. The students were expected to be accountable for these goals, they needed to be able to tell anyone who asked what goal they were working on and there had to be documentation of what goals they had already accomplished. This was a HUGE undertaking! Many teachers I knew were using post-it notes or index cards attaching them to the students reading bags and writing folders. I hate spending time writing the same thing over and over again so I hit the computer. Using the state standards as a guide and a packet of information from T.C. I created goal sheets. I created a version for the students to keep in a goal folder and then another version that was sent home with the students weekly so the parents could see what goals we were working on, what goals their child mastered and what goals they would eventually be working on. Over the last few years we moved away from the individual goals, however my goal sheets have been sought after by most of the staff in my school (and some of my friends who will be moving on to new schools have already requested my sheets for their new grades!) Over the years I have worked on modifying these goal sheets to match the new Common Core Standards. I have also modified these sheets so teachers can use them to write their conference notes on them. I am so proud of these sheets and have found them so useful over the last few years. I enjoyed doing the PD on these sheets!

My second PD that I did was on writing good test questions. It's a funny story how a Kindergarten teacher came to do a PD on writing good test questions. A few years ago I took a college class about assessments in special education. I was expecting the class to focus on how a teacher would modify or give assessments to students with special needs - instead the teacher focused on what is a good test and who do you write good test questions. This was such an eye opening experience! I learned so much from this class that I immediately presented my knew knowledge to my principal and he asked me to do a PD. Over the last few years I have worked closely with our Social Studies consultant and helped him with writing good test questions. Secretly I always wished he would ask me to give a presentation to some of the other schools he does consulting with... but I guess I should have flat out asked him! Oh well!

I really love when my colleagues ask for my help - from help with technology, or creating documents on the computer to sharing my two presentations with them it gives me a thrill to be able to share my knowledge and talents! I hope one day I can share all of this with more people!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bloglovin' Blog Hop!

As most of you know Google Reader is no more... But Bloglovin' is alive and kicking! I'm lovin' Bloglovin' I find their app easy to navigate on my phone and I was able to organize all of the blogs I follow on the computer. I actually spent a lot of time sorting all the blogs into different categories and I'm in LOVE!

I decided to link up with Tori's Teacher Tips for her Bloglovin' linky and bloghop. Tori has amazing technology tips, including how to navigate and use Bloglovin'. Click on the picture below to go to Tori's linky party. Scroll all the way to the bottom to find over 260 blogs to follow on Bloglovin'!!!

A Teacher Without a Class and Teaching is a Gift are working together on another blog hop. This one is very specific to only Elementary Teachers who blog about Teaching! Click on the button below to find over 60 teaching specific blogs!

A Teacher without a Class

Oh and of course don't forget when you are exploring and lovin' Bloglovin' be sure to follow me MaMa Goose's KinderGarden! Help me reach 100 followers and I'll have a super-dee-douper fun giveaway!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Confessions #Kinderblog13

I've decided to spend my summer taking the #KinderChat blog challenge and today is the official first challenge! This year the challenge is focusing on one word, todays word: confessions.

Hold on to your hats because I'm about to confess all the crazy things you never knew about me and probably didn't want to know! Happy reading!

Let's start with a silly confession from my childhood:
As a kid I HATED when my crayons weren't sharp and pointy. If they broke or the paper was torn I would be devastated! What did this result in? Me hoarding crayons - I mean hundreds of crayons because I would only use them for a short time so that they would always be sharp and pointy... what happened to this collection of crayons? Well Hurricane Sandy taught me a very quick lesson about hoarding crayons - DON'T DO IT! Unfortunately my collection of slightly used crayons was trapped in a desk drawer at my parents house under 2 feet of water, sewage and oil. I can proudly say that I threw those crayons out and now I let me daughter break her crayons, smash her crayons and love her crayons until they are itty bitty teeny tiny pieces! I'm so proud of myself!

I have a shopping confession:
Most people women love to shop for clothes, shoes, handbags, etc. and I have plenty of friends who can shop until they drop and buy and buy and buy... I can't do it. I really don't like shopping that much. Clothes and shoes are so hard to find for me that shopping becomes quite frustrating! BUT I do have one shopping addiction - school supplies, especially from the Target Dollar Bins! Yeah I tend to over buy and then I never know what to do with the stuff I purchase so it sits in a box or a bag or the floor of my office collecting dust! (I'm hoping that all changes this year! I'm hoping that the new school I'm in will give me the freedom to use all of those fun supplies and put them to good use!)

Here is my last confession... my teaching confession:
If you read my post from the other day, My Story you know that I am beginning a new adventure in the fall. What you don't know is how terribly hard of a year I had. A while back I read (or saw, not really sure which one it was) an article about how as children we often received a "gold star" for a job well done. It didn't mean you got the highest grade but rather that you were recognized for just doing a good job! The article went on to state that adults need that same type of "gold star" system! I have to say I totally agree. I'm not going to lie, I'm a teachers pet... I always have been. I liked to be at the top of my class, I hated to fail, and I thrived when my teacher's complimented me and told me I was doing good. I HATED when I was called out on anything in front of others, I hated being wrong and I couldn't stand when I didn't get recognized for doing a good job (which is ironic because I was the quietest, shyest student in my class by far!) I haven't lost this desire/need to be at the top, to get that "gold star" but I'm not a very flashy showy type of person. I don't go out seeking recognition, I do my best work quietly behind the scenes but I still like to get the pat on the back when I do show off my work. This year instead of pats on the back I often felt knocked down. I won't get into all the details BUT I often tried new things and was often left feeling weathered and frustrated. I wasn't encouraged or given a "gold star" or an A for effort this year. By the end of the year I was left frustrated, hurt and very discouraged. I was tempted to take a break from teaching... BUT I gave myself a "gold star" and surrounded myself with friends and family who support me and I picked myself up and went out and have hopefully found a new school in which I will be able to earn "gold stars." My fingers are crossed that this upcoming year will be filled with lots of positive experiences and I have learned to make sure I give compliments whenever I can.

My first compliment goes out to all of you reading this - thank you! Thank you for taking some time to read this and share in my experiences!

So there you have it my friends... my confessions! Now what are you going to confession? Leave a comment below and share one of your confessions! :)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Adventure Begins

Last year at the end of June I was introduced the wonderful world of teacher blogging... I was excited to embark on this new adventure. I couldn't wait to share all that I was doing in my classroom and was looking forward to meeting new people. But things changed this year. I had a very difficult year at my job. While I loved teaching and I loved working with my little ones I was struggling day to day with actually getting myself to work. I no longer enjoyed the environment/atmosphere that I was working in. I was compromising my philosophy and beliefs each and every day to meet the high demands of the curriculum and administration. Yes the children were blooming and thriving and learning a lot... as an educator I was feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and having trouble keeping up with it. After many months of struggling I decided that I needed to do something... I needed to take things into my own hands. I needed to make a change!

So many things in my life were changing - we sold our house, we bought property to build on, we moved in with my MIL... I felt it deep inside that this was the year, this was the time for a change! So I did it! I made phone calls and hunted online and applied for new jobs. I scheduled interviews and emailed administrators to follow up all with the hopes that just maybe the grass would be slightly greener on the other side. Many people thought I was crazy - they said you know your administration, the expectations and the neighborhood - why change. Just suck it up and deal with it... Funny thing about that, the longer you "suck it up and deal with it" the more stressed, anxious and unhappy you become. I could no longer suck it up and deal with it, I HAD to make a positive change for my own sanity!

After 6 years at my school it wasn't an easy decision... but I was a necessity. My interview skills were a bit rusty so I was nervous that I wouldn't do good, but I figured I had to take the chance. First interview was with a Superintendent... OH MY! I was terrified, but it went so well. Unfortunately nothing came of it, which I'm still a bit confused about but for anyone out there going on teaching interviews (at least in NY) that seems to be the way things work. Next up an interview in, well as the principal put it, an Urban neighborhood. I was there for over 2.5 hours and left being told I was in the top two... what a boost to my confidence, however, yet again, I never heard anything from that school again! Again I was a bit surprised to be left hanging but there was no turning back. The next interview was with a school much closer to where I live and again an Urban school in which I was told about 85% of the students have little to no parent involvement with the school. I was there for less than an hour and walked out feeling like I failed... BUT GUESS WHAT?!?!?!?! They called and offered me a Kindergarten teaching position! NO WAY! I couldn't believe it. I was baffled, shocked and super dee-douper excited!! Of course I said yes!!

So here I sit, the whole summer ahead of me and I'm beginning a brand new adventure in September. Today I received a confirmation email stating that I will be reporting to my new school in September. I'm excited, and scared, and hopeful all mixed into one! I'm proud of myself for taking a stand and doing something to better myself. I'm a bit scared because my new school is the exact opposite of what I am used to. Parking is a bit hard and the neighborhood is very different. My old job was in a pretty affluent neighborhood where I'd say almost 90% (if not more) of the parents were fully involved in the school and the children's education. I had tremendous and wonderful support from almost all of my parents each year! My new school has the opposite ratio - most parents aren't involved in their children's education and it is a lower incomer neighborhood. BUT call me silly, call me naive I have that first year teacher feeling that I can change the world! I'm hopeful that with the right atmosphere I can reach out to my new kiddies and their families and truly make a difference!

This summer while I may share many things that I have done I will also begin sharing about my new adventure! Come take the ride with me....

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Story

To help get me back on track with blogging this summer I decided to participate in KinderChat's #Kinderblog13 summer blog challenge. If you want to know more about the challenge check it out here! The challenge officially begins this weekend, however, Amy over at KinderChat decided to post a fun little warm up challenge.... so here is my story in 250 words or less!

What do you do, why do you do it, how do you do it, for how long have you been doing it, where do you do it?
I am a creative, fun, adventurous, crafty, talkative, friendly person! I am a mommy of a 4-year-old girl. I am a wife. I am a Kindergarten teacher in NY. I have been teaching for a total of 8 years now, 2 years as a first grade intervention assistant and then 6 years as a K teacher. I have always known since I was a young child that I wanted to be a teacher. I dream of teaching kinders through a hands on, interactive, small group, print rich, multi-sensory, engaging curriculum. Because of these dreams I have set out on a quest this summer to find a school for the 2013-2014 school year that will allow me to grow as an educator, and share my ideas and visions.

What do you BELIEVE about what you do?
As a teacher I truly believe that all students are unique and special and can learn... however I also believe that there are two very important factors in this - how engaged and open minded the teacher is and how much support there is at home. I believe that while teaching is my passion it is not my life... It is important to put aside my work and make my family a priority when I am home. As a mommy I believe that the best education comes from going out and doing things. Cooking up crazy things together in the kitchen, taking day trips, exploring right outside the front door, taking walks, or just laying on the grass looking at the clouds.

How do you FEEL about what you do?
As a mommy I wish I could do more! I wish there were more hours in the day and I treasure my summers where my daughter gets my attention almost 24/7! I enjoy having this special time to help her grow and learn and spark her creativity. As a teacher I have found myself in a situation that was not a positive one and have taken matters into my own hands! 2013 is the year for change for our family and this includes my career... where the road may go I am not sure but I am excited about this adventure that I am embarking on!

As a Kindergarten teacher I know rules are sometimes made to be broken... and clearly the concept of 250 words or less went in one ear and out the other! I did tell you that I was a talker and I meant it! I'd love to know a little more about you! Why not join in on KinderChats #KinderBlog13 Challenge?!?!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Collecting and Organizing

We started our second and final Math In The City unit this past week. In my school this unit is typically held for the first graders but our math coach encouraged us to modify it and give it a whirl. I was really excited to try this new unit. I like the Math In The City units. I like that the kids learn through exploration and that it isn't a teacher direct lesson. 

Anyway after reading over the plans I had to find a way to organize 12 bags of stuff in such a way that the items wouldn't get mixed up. Did you ever have one of those DUH type moments where something so simple hits you right in the head and you wonder why you never thought of it before? Well for the past few years now we have been using Math Investigations one of the centers that's comes up frequently is inventory bags. This center drives me nuts! We use brown paper bags and put items in the bags and without fail by the time the first group is done with the center all the bags are mixed up and the centers is a complete mess! I can safely says I hated doing inventory bags. Well the other day I had my AHA/DUH moments and I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of the idea sooner. I went into my supply closet and pulled out gallon sized baggies and a permanent marker. I then thought of 12 different items, one item for each bag. Here are the items I chose:

  1. Index cards
  2. Pencils (not sharpened)
  3. Black pens
  4. Blue pens
  5. Binder clips (large ones)
  6. Binder rings
  7. Large paper clips
  8. Snap cubes
  9. Popsicle sticks
  10. Small glue sticks
  11. Pencil top erasers
  12. Gh
On each bag I wrote the name of the item that was in the bag. Then I made an organization sheet for them to use. It had two columns. The first column listed the name of the item and the second column said Amount. This was the simplest fix to inventory bags and yet it took me years to think if it. The kids did and amazing job with the bags - we only lost two Popsicle sticks over the course of two days!

On the first day the kids were divided into partnerships and each group got one bag. They had to work together to count the items in their bag and record it on their sheet. The best part - my students who struggle with reading could match the word on the Baggie with the word in their paper and fill in the sheet without any support! I let the kids get up and swap bags with one another on their own, which between you and me I thought was going to be a complete mess and what have you, but yet again my kiddies surprised me. They shared and took turns without any problems. They did a really great job with this activity. I did find that they needed extra time for this so we ended up doing it over two days but they had fun and were enjoying it so it worked out perfect. I had my fast finishers help the groups that were workings slower by organizing and getting the bags they needed. So the slower groups didn't waste time walking around to get the supplies they needed. Oh I should add in that when I made the baggies I picked specific numbers for each item. With 12 bags of items I focused in the teen numbers and then threw in three bags that were whole numbers, 20, 30, 40. I printed an extra copy of the student recording sheet I made and I wrote down exactly how many of each item was supposed to be in each bag. This was very helpful because as I circulated I could quickly see if any group counted incorrectly and work with them.

The next lesson was a bit different. I again made a sheet but this one had four columns: item (which I had filled in), total amount, how many bundles if ten, how many singles. This part of the lesson worked on getting the students to think about making groups of ten to organize their inventory and count it. I have to say almost all of my kiddies did a great job with this activity. I had a few kids struggle with it but most of them got it. They enjoyed counting the objects and then I showed them that since we can't physically bundle some of the objects we could make piles of ten.

I'm really enjoying this unit. I think it's working on their counting skills and organizing skills. I think I would consider trying this unit in the fall. Not necessarily the counting out and making piles of ten but the simple idea of counting the objects and recording them! I know I will be using baggies and an organization sheet for inventory bags in the fall! Such a quick and simple fix I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner!!!!!!

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Close Reading

The big push in my school right now is close reading. My principal has been encouraging the early childhood teachers to introduce the idea of close reading to our kids, as young as Kinders, to better prepare them for the state exams.

I for one thought this was a bit of a challenge and wasn't sure my kiddies would understand or get much out of a close reading. Boy was I pleasantly surprised by what happened last week!

Each week we study to pieces of music. We have been focusing on The Beatles and last week we were listening to and reading "Good Day Sunshine" and "Octopus's Garden." I was trying to find parts of one of the songs that would engage the kids in a good conversation. I decided that I would hold a discussion and close reading of "Good Day Sunshine" and talk about leisure time.

First things first is I printed just these lyrics and made them nice and big on the overhead (man a smart board would have been awesome to have for this lesson!) Here are the lyrics I put up.

We take a walk, the sun is shining down,
Burns my feet as they touch the ground.

Good day sunshine,
Good day sunshine,
Good day sunshine.

And then we lie, beneath a shady tree,
I love her and she's loving me.
She feels good, she knows she's looking fine.
I'm so proud to know that she is mine.

Once the lyrics were up I introduced my kids to the idea of leisure time. I explained that leisure time is a period of time that you are not working or at school or doing homework. It's a time when you are free to have fun and play or do the things you like. The kids really seemed to grasp this new term. After a lively discussion of what leisure time is and some things they might do and what they think leisure time is I turned on the overhead and I read through the lyrics once. Then I said to the kiddies that i was going to read the lyrics one more time and they had to listen for text evidence of something the character in the song did for leisure. They were so excited about this activity they were practically jumping out of their carpet squares to answer my question! They did a great job and were able to find the lines "we lie, beneath a shady tree" and "We take a walk." 

Not only were my kiddies able to find text evidence of leisure time but then they could back up their text evidence by explaining what leisure time was. I was super-dee-dooper proud of my kiddies!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bunk Beds - Early Number Sense

What a great day back at work. We lost most of our February break due to Hurricane Sandy - amazing how 4 months later we are still feeling the effects of that super storm. (Not to mention how my family and friends are still without homes and other necessities.... but that's a story for another time!)

Anyway, we had a lovely 4 day weekend and I SO needed it. I really needed to recharge my batteries and reset myself and the 4 days off did the trick. I loved spending my free time with my little peanut, I cannot believe how big she is getting. We went on play-dates, dinner dates and even on a ride on a 100 year old carousel that I used to ride as a kid. It was an amazing long weekend and I am very grateful for the extra two days off.

Since it was only 2 extra days off my kiddies did a pretty good job transitioning back into the swing of things and we really had a great day. One of my current favorite parts of my day is our math period. We are approaching the 100th day of school and my kids are so excited about it. We have spent the whole year building our hundreds chart and showing the number of days in school in various ways. The anticipation of what the 100th day will bring is exciting to them, I just hope I can live up to their expectations.

Aside from looking forward to the 100th day of school we started a new math unit last week. On average we are using Investigations in Number, Data, and Space ©2012 published by Pearson. I find it to be a very intriguing program. It's a center based hands on approach to math that I find both challenging and rewarding all in one. To help keep the kids engaged we spend two weeks in the middle of the year doing a Math in the City unit called Bunk Beds and Apple Boxes. Why do I love this unit so much? Because it's all about exploration. I am a firm believer that young children do the best learning when they are left to explore, experiment, and figure things out on their own - of course all of this is happening with a watchful eye from a teacher who is there to guide and nurture them.

So let me tell you what we have done so far:

Day 1 - I read the provided book which sets the stage for the first few Bunk Beds lessons. Through this story and an arithmetic rack the children are introduced to the idea of equivalent facts. Children get to go to their seats and explore this idea with manipulatives. Now the program suggests that the kids use math racks with partners but I have found it much more useful for the kids to use counting bears.

Day 2 - The children continue to explore the idea of how to make equivalent number sentences all equaling a special number. After this lesson we had a math congress to discuss our thinking. The kids explained and shared what they learned and we charted all the ways to make equivalent number sentences for our special number.

Day 3 (today) - I introduced the idea of a number story. Since we had an extended weekend I reviewed what we did last week and then introduced the idea of number stories. The kids had a blast using counting bears and trying to write their own stories. Typically we don't script for our kids and encourage them to write the best they could but I was curious what they could do and knew that many of my kids could verbalize their stories better than writing them so I did script a few of them.

I remembered to take some pictures today (YAY!) so here is what my kids did today:

 This student has a great understanding of making a number sentence and picture to match but the idea of a number story was very difficult to her. Even when I scripted for her she struggled to understand that she had to write a story to match her picture.

Here you can see how this student is using the counting bears to help her understand the concept.

This student was also able to use the counting bears correctly to make a number sentence.

This is one of my more advanced students. When I saw that she too struggled with the idea of writing a number story I realized I did not do a good job explaining how to write a number story. I think I was so excited to get the kids working and to see what they could come up with that I didn't spend enough to explaining and giving directions with examples. 

So I took a step back and explained a number story in more simpler terms:
How many bears on the top? How many bears on the bottom? How many all together?

This is what my students came up with after a better explanation:

I have to say I was super proud of my kids (and myself for realizing my "failure" and going back and fixing it ASAP!). ALL of my kids were able to write a number sentence correctly and used only 8 bears. They really did a great job with that. The majority of my kids were also able to write a word problem (once I explained it better). 

I really have to say this unit is one of my favorite units to teach and I'm so excited to see how my kids do with the next few lessons. Have you ever used this math unit? What do you think about it?

*Please note - all of the opinions in this post are my own. I was not asked to write about this program by anyone, I just HAD to share how much I LOVE this program! !

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kindness Counts

We have a wonderful parent support system in place in our school. They recently approached me about this wonderful idea about starting a kindness initiative in our school. I thought it was a marvelous idea and couldn't wait to get on board. It's slow going and we haven't gotten the program going like we planned but slowly we are trying.

Last month we sold spirit t-shirts and at the end of the month there was an assembly where students from each grade received kindness certificates. It's hard to pick just two students each month who deserve to be awarded. Some teachers feel that it is not the teachers job to pick the students but rather their classmates should vote.

I've been playing around with different ideas and ways of showing what kindness means in the classroom and how we can honor each child in the room for being kind. I recently saw this post from Jodi at Fun in First Grade all about black history month and it got me thinking.... our initiative has a tree as a symbol and I just so happen to have tree in my classroom (what are the odds!) So I was thinking... if I make foldable leaves similar to Jodi's hearts and put a students name on the outside of each leaf. Then the kids can write one kind thing that a friend did and we can put it inside their leaves.

What do you guys do for kindness in your school? What about in your classroom? Any thoughts or suggestions on how I can incorporate kindness into a bulletin board? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Valentine's Day

Happy President's Day everyone! I hope you are enjoying your long weekend... I know I am! I wanted to share with you all the fun we had on Valentine's Day this year.

First up - our morning read aloud. I read the book The Valentine Bear by Eve Bunting. What a cute tale about Mrs. Bear who wants to celebrate Valentine's Day so she sets her alarm clock to wake her up before winter is over. My kiddies had a great time making predictions and trying to guess what Mrs. Bear was going to do next.

Later in the afternoon during Math my kids had a blast sorting and graphing candy hearts. A shout out has to be made to ABC Schoolhouse. A few years ago I downloaded their February packet which included a great candy sorting activity. Unfortunately I was having way too much fun sorting, counting and graphing with my kiddies to take any pictures. We used the sorting mats but updated the graph to include questions:

  • How many pink hearts?
  • How many green hearts?
  • How many yellow and green hearts?
  • How many hearts all together?
I was so pleasantly surprised by this activity. We have not done any graphing and yet all of my students were able to sort and graph accurately. Only a handful of children struggled to answer the questions correctly... and the smiles on their faces while they were doing this activity was priceless!

We finished the day with a writing mini-lesson on making cards. Because we were doing this at the end of the day I pre-made a lot of the supplies. I'm a big advocate of student made work and feel that children should cut, color, glue and draw to the best of their ability. However, like I said, we were doing this at the end of the day which meant time was limited. I pre-folded construction paper and glued in lined writing paper. I also pre-cut various hearts in different sizes and colors. My kids had a blast coloring, writing and glueing to make Valentine's for the people they loved. The cutest/sweetest was a few of my kids offered to make me a card. While I was touched I encouraged them to make their cards for someone at home.

I think the best part of the day was when I gave my kids my Valentine's gift. Now I cannot take credit for this, I MUST give credit where credit is due because I LOVE this idea. Kathleen over at Growing Kinders posted a super-dee-dooper cute idea on her blog back on February 12th Valentines for the Kiddos. Not only did she post this super-dee-dooper cute idea but she also offered the tag as a freebie! I SOOO appreciate that. So I downloaded her freebie, went on a target shopping spree and made my very own gifts.

Aren't these just the cutest? Well my kids thought they were too... I WISH I had taken a video of their reaction because it was sooo cute and sweet. They cheered and laughed and smiled and fell in love. And the best part? On Friday half my kids came in wearing the socks! I never expected that.

So that was how my Valentine's day went at school. Because of the structure of our day we weren't able to spend all day having Valentine's day fun but I think I did a pretty good job combining Valentine's fun and education!

I'd love to know what you gave your kids (or your kids teachers) for Valentine's day... the wheels are already turning trying to think of more creative gifts for me kids!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Back to the Basics

This year I've been trying to be more involved in my school... I sit on a newly formed learning leaders team and I'm on the ground floor of an iPad initiative in our school. But with all this change and the introduction of technology I've realized how important it is to get back to the basics.

We are almost 90 days into the school year and I still have a few children who know little to no letter sounds. I've been struggling to find ways to meet these students needs and help them learn the letter names and the corresponding sounds... I had tunnel vision... how can technology help these children... and then we had a PD with a literacy coach and it hit me, these kids don't need technology, they need good old fashioned, back to the basics, teaching... and I mean back to the basics, back to when schools had no technology, back to before the demands of the common core, back to when schools first started and children started to learn the ABCs, basic, simple learning.

I'm excited to say that the literacy coach that came to meet with us really light a fire under my behind and the wheels of inspiration have been spinning. So after our meeting here is what my new game plan is...

First I'm going to be working with these children at least twice a week in a small group. My ultimate goal is to work with them in small groups almost every day, but for now I'm going to focus on meeting with these kids twice a week.

  • Warm up: drill up to 5 letters/sounds (3-4 of these will be letters the group as a whole knows and a 1-2 letters they are unfamiliar with)
  • Reading Words: I will create flashcards with C-V-C words on them. These words will be three letter words using only the 5 letters we are working on. I will print these C-V-C words on white card stock. I will also have two or three word wall words printed on colored card stock. There will be no more than 10 flashcards in all. The idea behind the two different colored card stock is to help the students realize which words they should know and which words they can sound out. We will practice reading and tapping these words.
  • Writing Practice: We will end the group session in one of two ways. Option 1: practice identifying beginning sounds (one of the 5 we worked on) and write the corresponding letter on white boards. Option 2: practice writing some of the words or a simple sentence using the flashcards we practiced.
This is my rough outline of what I'm hoping to do with this small group... I'm meeting tomorrow with our curriculum coordinator to help hash out all of the details and make a formal plan for these lessons.

Another inspiration hit when I was working with my daughter on her letter homework. In her nursery school they do one letter for about two weeks. I've noticed that the letters we relate to people and things she loves she is having an easier time remembering. What a great idea! So simple and yet I was so stuck in the idea of incorporating technology into everything that I forgot to think about the basics. I'm going to have these kids bring in pictures of loved ones and things they love for each letter of the alphabet and make an alphabet book for with them. These personal alphabet books, I hope, will help them remember the names of the letters and the sounds of each letter. I'm still working on how I want to format this activity but the wheels are turning.

I have to say this return to the basics is kind of exciting. I'm all for technology in the classroom and I know there are great ways to incorporate technology in our day to day, but this whole back to the basics idea has me very excited... I'm intrigued to see how this all works out and I really hope that I can get my little kiddies to master the alphabet over the next few months! Do you have any tips and tricks for teaching little ones the alphabet when they are struggling?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Making Smart Choices - Our Class Resolution

So inspiration hit this morning as I was gathering my kids from the cafeteria... Well let me back up.

After having a wonderful break and spending so much precious time with my little peanut I had a terribly difficult time falling asleep last night, literally! I was up till 2am and I had to get up at 5:30am in order to get to school on time! I think part of me was in denial that my vacation was really over, but alas it was. So off I went to school (rather sleepy I might add). I spent an hour setting up my room... rearranging the furniture and hooking all the electrical equipment back up. I don't know about you guys but we have to clean off every desk and moveable shelf and lock up any valuables and remove all the electrical equipment so that the floors can be cleaned over the break. After an hour of cleaning and organizing I didn't have much time to prep for the day BUT on the bright side I have 2 preps today so I knew I just had to be prepared for first period and then on my prep second period I could get the rest of my day ready.

Off I went at 8:45 to get my kiddies knowing I had a lot of work to do second period but I was excited to see them and hear all about their adventures over the vacation. As we walked up to our door I decided that the start of the New Year should me a fresh start in our classroom as well. I had the kids go right to the carpet (with all of their stuff) and right then and there I decided I would let them pick their own seats. I have never done this..well except for the first day or two of school, but other than that I always pick there seats for them. Do you let your kinders pick their own seats ever? We had a very nice discussion about "Making Smart Choices" which is one of our class rules. We talked about how it's a New Year and I want to give them more responsibility and that I think they can "Make Smart Choices" and pick good tables to sit at. To my surprise MOST of the kids did a really good job, not all of them of course, but the majority of them did. I told them that if they "Make Smart Choices" they can keep their new seats, but if they start to fool around then I can change their seats.

I have to say I was pretty impressed and amazed at how receptive they were to this idea. Our new class motto for the remainder of the year is "Make Smart Choices"... Now I just have to make some sort of banner or something to keep reminding them of this every day. I am liking this resolution! It's been a good one for me too because it's helped remind me to "Make Smart Choices" throughout the day too!

Did your class make any resolutions this year? What are they?

I hope everyone had a good first day back!
PS - Some of you have been wondering what ever happened after the hurricane... let's just say it's not a pretty picture out here. Yes the schools are re-opened (for the most part) but so many people (my parents included) no longer have a house to call home. Some people lost their houses to fires, but the majority of the people (like my parents) had so much salt water in their houses that they houses have to be gutted and/or knocked down and rebuilt. It's going to be a long slow process to get everyone back on their feet again and unfortunately so many people have already started to think that things are 100% back to normal, but the reality is that it will take many months if not years for people to get back to normal!