Monday, December 28, 2015

Alternative Seating in the Classroom

I have been seeing things float around the inter-webs that really intrigue me. It's the idea of alternative seating. Teachers (and now researchers) are finding that allowing students choice and movement in their seating arrangements can greatly improve behavior and academic performance.

I have already posted about using yoga balls in my room and how well it worked for my students with ADHD. I have since seen sooooooooooo many more options that I LOVE. If you are new to alternative seating, or inching your way closer to thinking about it as a real possibility for your classroom, hopefully this post will show you different ways to make it work in your room.

First, what do you use? Well, from what I've seen, it can be anything! Teachers have used bean bag chairs Stabili-T Stools, carpet spots, bath maths, camping chairs, crates with padding on them, small tents, stability/exercise balls, lap desks on the floor, pillows, big totes with half the lid cut off (see below), peanut balls and just the plain old floor.

(NOTE: None of these links are affiliate links. I just searched on Amazon for some of the terms I had heard from other teachers. Seriously, who has heard of a peanut ball?? Not me. But they are pretty awesome.)

I know that looks kinda funny, but I have heard it helps kids feel safe and calm when they work. It can be really effective with kids that have sensory issues.

 Stabili-T Stools

I love the idea of using the Stabili-T Stools. My friend Debbie at K is for Kinderific did an awesome post on how she uses them with her SpEd students here.

I also like using crates with removable pads on them. That way you could store materials inside.

Some more pics of what you can use from Mr. Cayer's room:

I really like the idea of standing desks and bicycle desks. Our kids need more time to MOVE! This is a great way to let them wiggle while they work!

Some desks and tables can be set to a higher setting for standing so you don't have to buy anything new. The bike desks are pricey, but if you got your principal on board or wrote a grant, you could build up a few each year. You can find more information about the bike chairs, along with this spectacular 11 second video of a girl pedaling here. The ball chairs are around $70-$100 on Amazon.

Here is a bike chair in action:

The possibilities are really endless. Annnnnd now that my post is starting to also feel endless, I'll move on to how kids get to these fabulous seating choices.

The more choice and freedom we can give our students, the more they learn and grow. However, finding seats and sitting next to other students can be challenging for some kids (or groups of kids) no matter the age. I have heard some teachers call it "Make a wise seating choice" or even just "Smart Seat". This draws the student's attention to not only WHERE I sit, but WHO I sit by. You can go over what these mean to you in your own classroom. Do you want kids to be able to sit by each other? Can they handle knowing who will distract them and who won't? Will they move if they are uncomfortable or are distracted? Do you want your kids to be able to create their own sitting spaces (i.e. under their own desks on the floor) or do you want to have only certain areas of alternative seating?

 Setting Up for Second Blog

As with anything, I would MODEL, MODEL, MODEL. Show your students what it means to quietly pick a spot and start working. Show them what it looks like and what it sounds like. Alternative seating can become a routine procedure just like lining up or turning in work.

A teacher I spoke with said that her students are split into groups or tables. When it is time to work, she will alternate between which groups she calls first. The first group calls gets to pick their spots first. The second group goes second and so on. By alternating it daily, each student will get a chance to pick their spot first. This teacher has regular desks for students who prefer that work environment and alternative seating choices. She also lets them pick their own spots.

This teacher at Kindergarten Works has a great post on how she lets her kids choose their own seats.
 Choose their own seats

One last video from Edutopia about how teachers have used alternative seating in their rooms. It's kinda cool to see it in action.

Finally, will you have some administrators and parents who will freak out when they hear that their kids won't be sitting at desks? I'm gonna venture a wild guess and say yes! Some people might not understand what it is you are doing. Invite them in! Once they see the power in choice and of choice, they will come over to your side. They will also see that there are regular, old, normal desks or tables that their child can sit at too and that should stop most of them from having a coronary.

I found this FABULOUS note to parents that a teacher posted on her website. I would highly recommend sending out something similar. (Click on the picture to see the full text, with additional links, on her website.)

Note to parents

If you are looking for more ideas, I have a Pinterest board full of pictures, ideas, and blogs. My Alternative Seating Board can help you figure out what will work in your room!


Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Handprint Crafts

Okay, here it goes. I'm admitting something unheard of in some teaching circles. HANDPRINT ART FREAKS ME OUT!

It doesn't really matter what it looks like. It doesn't even matter if it's my own child's handprint. IT FREAKS ME OUT.

However, I have recently seen a couple art projects using hands that I think are really cute. I thought that if you wanted to make a handmade gift for parents, and handprint art freaks you out too, you might appreciate these!

1. Penguins: This one is my favorite. I actually really like this one from Crafty Morning.
 Penguin Art

2. Snowmen: This one is really cute (because it doesn't use the whole hand! lol). She used a 4x4 canvas from Amazon for the fingers. You could also use tiles which might be cheaper. This is from First Grade Blue Skies
 Snowman Art

3. Mitten: This one is adorable from Busy Bugs. I love how they painted the dough. 

4. Picture Mittens: This one from Teach Me Mommy is really cute because it incorporates a picture.
 Handprint Photo

5. Love Never Melts: I cannot for the life of me find the original source of this picture. I know, I know, it has the whole hand (I would probably just use the fingers), but the sentiment is very cute.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Santa's New Sleigh

 Santa's New Sleigh
Imagine Santa's sleigh has broken down on Christmas Eve. What is he to do? He needs your help to make a new mode of transportation to get him from house to house. Remember, he has A LOT of toys to deliver. Help design Santa's New Sleigh using a lot of detail to show us how he will now get around.

This is the introduction I give to my students before I begin one of my favorite Christmas art projects. The students get to design a new sleigh for Santa and they LOVE it.

 Santa's New Sleigh

I start by giving them a blank art page and a black and white Santa. Santa doesn't have legs because they will be hidden inside his new sleigh. I have had some kids draw on his legs if their sleigh is something like a jet pack.

 Santa's New Sleigh

Then, I have them color Santa and cut him out. They can either glue Santa onto the page or trace his outline. I have them do this first so that the size of the new sleigh matches the size of Santa. If you don't do this step, you'll get an itty bitty spaceship and a gigantic Santa or vice versa.

Santa's New Sleigh

Then the students draw their new mode of transportation. I have them fill up the whole page and use a lot of detail. Then I have them outline in permanent marker so that it really stands out. It also helps to have them write what their new sleigh is.

 Santa's New Sleigh

The kids love doing this and they turn out awesome. I usually turn on Christmas music and have us jam out to Rudolf and Frosty as we work.

You can grab the black and white Santa's here.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christmas Cursive

 Christmas Cursive

I want to tell you about a really fun Christmas art project/activity that you can do in your rooms this year. I call it Christmas Cursive. This is a really simple activity that practices multiple skills and takes a long time to complete (double bonus!). 

Students take a list of spelling words and practice writing them in cursive in one continuous line around the black edges. I used a list of Christmas words you can grab for free here or you can use your own lists. You can also have the kids write in print around the edges. I have done that for certain students and it still works great!

You start by taking one of the blank outlines. Then, cover it with a blank piece of paper and staple it at the top and the bottom. This will save your templates year after year so you can reuse them. For kids that need extra help staying on the lines or could use the guidance, you can just give them the black outline. 

Pass out the list of words you want your kids to use. I always, always, always, model what I want my kids to do first. I show them how to go around the corners and write on curved lines. You can set the rules for this that you want to use. I just tell kids to try and fit the most words they can while staying within the black lines. I have had some students that want to use every millimeter of space and will end a line with a partial word and that's fine with me too. The main goal here is for students to practice their cursive or print handwriting in a fun way. Some kids write really, really big. This is a great chance for them to write small. Those students who don't have the skills needed to write small, can still write big and have this work.  

You can see how the words are all connected. I also did separate words one the curved lines. 
 Christmas Cursive

 Christmas Cursive

When they are done, it should look something like this: 
 Christmas Cursive
(Pretty cool, right?)

Then have your students color it in however they will. Depending on the class, I sometimes let them write or trace over their words in thin black marker before they color. Not every class can handle using Sharpies so we just leave it in pencil. 
 Christmas Cursive

I then glue then on green or red construction paper to act as a border and hang them in the hall. They look amazing hanging in the hallway and the kids love showing off this unique piece of art!

Click on the link to grab the FREE Christmas Cursive Templates. I have several choices for your room. The blank tree can be left that way, or you can add your own lines on the inside depending on the needs of your students. 

If you need some for other holidays, you can check out my blog post here

(NOTE: I have had several requests asking where I got the clip art to use as a template. It is from Educlips which is one of my FAVORITES! You can find her Tpt store by clicking here.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Do I Choose?

As I sit here, reflecting back on my teaching career, one major thing keeps floating to the surface. Choices. The ability to choose between right and wrong. Between good and bad. Between good, better and best. And also the fact that many of our choices are taken from us. Those are the ones that hurt the most.

So I sit here, quietly thinking, of all the choices I had to make. Some that seemed easy and others that seemed nearly impossible. Maybe if I put them out into the universe, answers will come.

Some of them are simple. Ones like "How do I choose the right seating arrangement for my class?" or "Which book should we read next in guided reading?"

Others become more complex.

"How do I balance my family with my students?" or "How can I reach Calvin when no one else has been able to?"

Others feel impossible.

How do I choose between testing my students to death and proving that I am a "proficient" teacher? Merit pay, progress monitoring, state testing, and ever-changing standards are killing my soul.

How do I choose between my 13 special education students and my 9 ELL students? There is only one of me. How can I meet the needs of all of these students? I don't have any special training in autism nor do I speak Urdu, Arabic, Navajo, or Spanish.

How do I choose between the student who has no socks or coat or the student whose shoes are being held together by duct tape? My paycheck seems so meager when there are so many in need.

How do I decide whose family to buy Christmas presents for? Juan's family who has 9 people in a one-bedroom apartment with just a mattress on the floor? Jackie's family whose mom just overdosed on drugs and the dad is no where to be seen?

How do I teach my class when Michael is literally throwing his desk and crawling around the room barking like a dog? How can I keep my kids safe when I am scared of one of them?

How do I teach the student whose only good meal is the lunch she gets at school? I know that the granola bars I am slipping her aren't going to be enough.

How do I meet all of the standards with no materials or training?

How do I work with that one teacher who is so rude and hurts my feelings weekly? Sometimes daily?

How do I deal with the crushing sense that I'm not making a difference? That my lessons and work and stress and tears amount to nothing? My students are 8. Will they really remember anything from this year?

In these crushing moments of despair and darkness, I look at the faces of my students and some of these dark questions are replaced with light.

How am I so lucky to be in charge of 25 amazing little people?

How can I ever explain to people what that moment of understanding in Abdul's eyes means?

How do I make Megan know that she has touched my heart with her hard work and determination?

How do I explain that my job is not just a job? It's more than a career, more than a life choice. It's a calling. It's something that I have been drawn to my whole life.

So even with all these questions, these overwhelming, stunningly vast questions, I continue on. I roll out of bed at 6:00 a.m. I work late nights and weekends and holidays. I hoard baby food jars, extra pieces of yarn, Ziploc baggies, and old magazines like they are gold. I show up early and leave late. I call home with good news and email parents about progress. And yes, I even administer tests.

I do this because they need it.

I do this because it's worth it.

I guess that's my answer.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Flashcards for Fact Fluency

 Flashcard Bundle

I wanted to give a little bit more information to those of you who have asked about my flashcards. I created three different formats of the flashcards I use as part of my fact fluency program, so you can pick which format works best for you. These can be used in a variety of was to meet your classroom needs. I used mine as daily practice to teach fact families. There are no operation signs (+, -, x, ÷) on purpose. The goal of these flashcards is to help your students understand how the fact families are related.

(You can grab my Fact Fluency Bundle I lovingly called Mighty Math by clicking on the link. I also have separate files for Addition and Subtraction and Multiplication and Division.)

First, print off your flashcards on colored card stock. Make sure to print off the addition and subtraction cards in a different color. This will help you easily keep track of what each set of flashcards covers. 

 Flashcard Bundle

Second, cut off the corners on one side. This will help you keep all your flashcards going the same direction. It ensures that the cards are not flipped upside down or backwards.

 Flashcard Bundle

It's the little things. :) 

I stand in front of the class with my set of flashcards. We then look at the first one and say a very specific set of phrases. It may sound redundant, but I promise you it’s powerful. I’ll use the fact 2x3 for my example.
2 times 3 is 6.
3 times 2 is 6.
6 divided by 2 is 3.
6 divided 3 by is 2.
 2, 3, 6.
 2, 3, 6.

When we get to the last part where we just say the three numbers, we hold up a finger for each number. This gets their bodies involved. We also switch it up by using silly voices, whispering, etc. I don’t recommend doing EVERY flashcard EVERY time. That gets very tedious and repetitive. I would do 5-10 minutes worth max. Try to keep the phrases moving fairly quickly.

I promise your students will benefit from these flashcards if they are used daily. I had kids in Special Education, ELL’s, and a wide range of learners. Every child benefited from practicing their math facts this way. This completely changed how I taught my math facts. 

You can grab the addition and subtraction flashcards, the multiplication and division flashcards, or the BUNDLE by clicking on the links. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Math Fact Mastery for Every Student

 Math Fact Fluency

Something that I always struggled with was how to teach my students their math facts. In 3rd grade, I was responsible for their multiplication and division facts, but many came to me not knowing their addition or subtraction facts. It put me in a hard place. How do I teach my students ALL the facts for the four operations in one year?

I tried many different approaches: worksheets of 100 problems printed off the internet, flashcards, timed tests, and a program called Rocket Math. Rocket Math was an interesting approach. It was very scheduled and regimented. The students would get a card with four new facts on it. They would practice saying those out loud a certain amount of times on their own and then with a partner. Then, they would take a timed test. If they passed, they got a different card with new facts to memorize the next time. The facts were necessarily related to each other and it took a lot of prep work. We had to beg for parent volunteers to come check these daily tests and switch out all the cards and practice sheets for each student. Still, I was willing to do this if my kids learned their facts. At the end of the year, I noticed that there was no major improvement. Those kids who knew their facts in the beginning, still knew them. Those kids who struggled, still struggled. So what to do?

My teaching partner had a really strong feeling that students would do well if they could see how the facts within fact families were related. We wanted our kids to see that these facts are not just arbitrary numbers to memorize, but that there are groups of related facts that make sense. So we came up with a plan.

 Fact Fluency Program by Create-abilities

Step 1:
We created flashcards that had the 3 numbers that went with the fact family. We didn't put signs in on purpose. When we practiced these, our students would says "two plus three is five. three plus two is five, five minus three is two, five minus two is three. Two, three, five. Two, three five." This may sound tedious (and it does take longer than normal flashcards), but it worked!! Our kids began seeing these numbers together and we were practicing two operations at once. We practiced these for 5-10 minutes a day and it worked miracles. We did things like silly voices, whispers, etc. to make it more fun.

Step 2:
We created Mighty Math. This was our own fact fluency program to help our kids in ways we hadn't found anywhere else. This is the general idea we came up with when creating our order:

Teaching addition and subtraction in this order has been empirically shown to improve learning outcomes (see link for more details: ). Students begin with 0’s and 1’s because these link to their counting        experiences. Sums can easily be found by “counting on”. Again, subtraction facts are included on each page so students begin to see the connection between the two. Ten as an addend is explored next to help students with their automaticity. This is a critical skill as students can use +10 facts as a way to simplify other facts that are near ten ( 8 + 4 is simplified to 10 + 2). Doubles are taught next to help with automaticity and recall on more complex facts. Next comes making ten. These facts also help build automaticity with more complex facts later on. After these facts, each fact from 2-9 is covered individually. Then, as an option at the end, a making 9’s set is included. This set will help students when they need to learn their 9’s multiplication facts. (9 x 3 can be thought of as one less than 3 which is 2. 2 plus what number equals 9? 7. The answer is 27.)

Students are given a timer Monday-Thursday as part of their math routine. They are timed for two minutes. In those two minutes they must complete the addition side and the subtraction sides. You can have the students trade them and grade them or you can collect them and grade them yourself. Answer keys have been provided.

We also created corresponding tests that the students take on Fridays. For example, if they have been on add/subtract 2’s for their timers all week, they will take the add/subtract 2’s test on Friday. If they pass this test with 100%, they move on to the next level of timer. I print the tests front to back and time each test for two and a half minutes.    

 Fact Fluency Program by Create-abilities

 I'm telling you this changed my fact fluency teaching. My kids KNEW their facts. The 4th grade teachers actually came down the next year and complimented us on how well that first group of kids knew their stuff.

You can grab my Fact Fluency Bundle here and try it in your room. I promise you, you won't regret it!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Field Day Ideas and Activities

I was lucky to have an EXCELLENT P.E. Specialist at my school who did an amazing job every day to get kids moving. She would also put on a fabulous Field Day at the end of every school year. Since not everyone has my fabulous Shanna, I thought I would put together some ideas for Field Day/End of Year Activities that are quick and easy.

1. Parachute Games Kids LOVE to play with the parachute. There are so many different ways to use it. We would always turn on the hose with ours just to add a little more fun outside.

2. Scholastic put together a fun list of ideas that include hula-hoops, bean bag tosses, and egg relays.

3. This blog has some good ideas for games as well as set-up. Like rest stations, things to remember to bring, and ideas for making games more complex for upper grades.
4. Pool Noodles are cheap and can be used for a lot of different activities. This site gives you SO many ideas!

5. I really like this site because it has some unique ideas that aren't on the other sites. Some of them are SUPER easy to put together.

Hopefully this list can help you come up with some fun things for your students to do before the school year ends!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

10 Must See Dr. Seuss Activities!

I can't believe that March 2nd is so close! That means that many classrooms across the country will be celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday and Read Across America Day! This is a fun time to do some Seuss-themed activities. I've done a roundup of some cute ideas for you to use in your classroom!

1. This blog has some really cute ideas including dressing up as Horton with your arm as the trunk!

2. Jordan at Life is Better Messy Anyway, showcases this cute Seuss writing activity. Plus, she has a link to a YouTube video with Justin Bieber reading The Cat in the Hat . Some older grade kids might appreciate that! :)

3. Cupcake and Diaries has a yummy list of easy Seuss-inspired snacks you could make for your kiddos!

4. Nancy from Teaching My Friends made this cute display for her door!

5. This blog has a cute freebie for rhyming words! Can you guess what book this is themed after?

6. Another cute idea from I Can Teach My Child. This would word really well with younger kids.

7. Read Bartholomew and the Oobleck and do a science experiment! Click here.

8. CUTE Hop on Popcorn sight word activity!

9. Cute and easy dress up idea from Kindergarten is Crazy (Fun).

10. Lastly, who couldn't use a little more Seuss wisdom?

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