Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Sunday Scoop

Thanks to Teaching Trio for hosting.

We're going to have house sitters in when we go away next week, so before we go I HAVE to do these three things!
The garden's actually in pretty good shape right now, so it's not a daunting task. I hope somebody picks the things that ripen while we're gone, though. 

I hope I'll have time to go for a walk most days for the rest of the summer. I did all summer last year and I felt so good. This year I didn't get started until yesterday. Yikes!  
I also hope to clean up my clothes closet. That may be a forlorn hope. 

I am happy to go to the local Farms2Chef's event this afternoon. It's a terrific occasion held every year here at the end of July. Local restaurants, wineries, and breweries showcase a few of their products that they make using local produce. The food, drink, and entertainment are amazing. We've attended for the last 4 years and it just keeps getting better!

Enjoy what's left of your weekend and have a great week!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Throwback Thursday - Tables vs desks

I am so loving all the great posts ideas that are being shared on Freebelicious' linky that I just had to jump in.  Here is the third blog post that I wrote.  It's on tables vs desks in the classroom.

                                             Go to the linky by clicking HERE.

The beauty of tables

#1  Neatness
The best thing I ever did in my classroom was switching from desks to tables. The Friday desk cleaning ritual was always my low point of the week, and there are always some kids who are natural hoarders and fill up the whole recycle bin all by themselves.  I would rather use the time for playing games, doing Science, Math, reading,...... Most of their supplies go into the blue Table Tote that each member of the group is responsible for keeping tidy.  Their notebooks and duo tangs are kept in bins near the tables.You can see these in the picture below.  They each also have a Book Box for Quiet Reading books, their Home Reading, and anything that needs to go home.  We check these during Home Time clean up each day to make sure they have all the papers they need to take with them.

#2 Efficiency
I have four tables that can seat six kids each.  I put a number sticker on the black part of the table in front of the chair (I'm wondering why you can't see one in the picture.  It should be in front of that empty chair.??).  I just have to say, "Number 3 get the Math duo tangs for your table (or hand out papers, or put the duo tangs away, etc.)".
Their duo tangs are colour (Canadian spelling not an error....) coded according to subject and I always ask them to "stack your duo tangs on your tables in a nice neat pile beside the tote tray, all facing the same way when you're done."  I'm sure they must get sick tired of hearing this, but by the end of the first couple of weeks most kids do it automatically.  No more shuffling around through desks to try to find the right notebook or duo tang. 
Also on the efficiency theme, students can be dismissed from whole class meetings, go to their book boxes, centers, or line up by table numbers which reduces confusion during transition times.

#3. Changing the seating plan
A third big benefit is that it is really easy to change the seating arrangement. The kids just pick up their chairs and take them to their new locations.  I label their chair backs with their names at the beginning of the year for easy identification by on-call teachers, other adults who work in the room, and me for the first few weeks when I'm still getting to know them.  It also helps me see very quickly in the morning who is late or away since the kids do an "at their desk" activity until morning announcements are over.
4.  Conservation
Kids use WAY less supplies since they are shared amongst a group.  I used to be passing out pencils and erasers constantly.  I even had a monthly program with a bunch of draws that kids earned entry slips for.  It was a tedious and costly endeavour.  And the careless kids didn't seem to improve much and got upset because they didn't earn many draw slips so had slim chances of winning.  It was  lose-lose situation.   Now they are much more mindful that the supplies belong to everyone - and if they forget they are quickly reminded.
 On the shelf behind you can see thelittle blue basket that the table's felts are kept in.  This is a big SCORE for me because since they share I only have to put out 4 boxes of felts for every 6 kids.  That's 8 boxes of felts that I don't have to purchase out of my limited classroom supply funds. If occasionally the colour they need isn't available there's another bin with felts left over from previous years that they can help themselves to. (this actually doesn't happen very often, and I can pretty much bet that they'll need either red of black).
Their notebooks and duo tangs also benefit from being put into bins in a "nice, neat pile" instead of being stuffed into desks where they often get crumpled and ripped.
There will always be kids who are naturally organized and others who are "gifted in different areas", and I'm not saying that the latter group become Tina Tidy and Norman Neat by sharing supplies, but it sure helps.

#5 If you don't have tables....
 A couple of years ago I switched up from grade one to grade two.  Alas! My tables were too small for the grade two's as the year progressed and I had to go back to using desks (at least they are the kind with removable trays).  I group the desks together and still treat them just as if they were tables.  The trays have a few things very few things in them because there is a place for them to put all their supplies and papers.
One of the disadvantages to having desk groupings instead of tables was that the desks would move apart and sometimes the tote trays would fall between them making a huge mess to clean up causing chaos and disruption.  Last year I took a sharpie and made circles where the four corner legs of each group should stay.  That helped some, but there was still considerable "drift" which had to be corrected at the end of each day.  Then I saw an excellent suggestion in Mrs. Terhune's blog for keeping the desks together as a unit.  She used zip ties around the legs of adjacent desks to hold them together!   Brilliant!  Here is a link to her awesome classroom organization post.

zip ties holding desks together

Fun Friday-Science close up

It's the end of another week of summer and I'm almost half way through the break already. Now I'm less envious of you teachers in the US who were out so much earlier than we were here in Canada. June seemed to go on FOREVER while you posted about the fun summer activities you were doing.
One of the fun things I've been doing is catching up on blogging. And speaking of fun, today is Fun Friday, the last of the five day linky parties hosted by Freebielicious. There have been lots of great posts linked up there this week.  Go HERE to see them. 

One of the best fun things we do at school is hands on learning and first hand observation. In my school district we have a salmonoid enhancement program that classes can take part in. I was fortunate to have a wonderful, energetic teaching partner this year who has participated in the program many times. She asked if I would be interested in having her set it up for our class. Of course I would!!

Every 4th year is a special year in our neck of the woods because the sockeye salmon from the Adams River return after their 4 year life cycle to spawn. There are smaller runs in other years, but 2014 was the BIG year. It is the biggest salmon run in the world, and people come from all over in September and October to witness it. 

I arranged for a class field trip out to the spawning grounds in early October. This is always an exciting day for us. We study about salmon beforehand and the kids feel pretty knowledgeable by the time we get there. 

It's spectacular to see. The kids are always enthralled and the day goes by quickly. There are excellent trails and viewing platforms.

There's a short hands-on session for small groups put on by the federal department of fisheries. 

 A couple of weeks after our trip Joanne, the district coordinator for the Salmonid Enhancement Program, came to our school. She set up the tank in the hall for the new salmon we'd be raising and gave the class an explanation of the program and our part in it.  
The following week there was HUGE anticipation leading up to her return visit. The kids knew she would be bringing her pick up with a male and female salmon and we would be harvesting eggs and sperm from them to start our project. The moment she pulled into the parking lot they spotted her (you can see the lot from our room. They were supposed to be writing in their Journals -LOL!)
I had never done this project before and I was surprised and the kids were delighted when Joanne came to the door with a yellow slicker and chest waders for ME to put on!  I got to fish the salmon out of the tank and hold them while she "milked" them. Let me tell you they were SLIPPERY and WIGGLY!
The kids all got a closes up look at the eggs, then we took them inside where my special helper and his chosen buddy got to do the fertilization. Amazing!  

We counted down the days and took temperatures from the tank from early November until late January while the long incubation period passed.  The tank was covered in styrofoam sheets to keep it dark inside so we had no idea what was happening in there. We wrote reports and predictions and stories.
And we waited. And we waited.
And finally the alevin hatched. LOTS of them. Practically ALL of the eggs had been viable and successfully fertilized (this doesn't always happen). We observed and wrote more. 

And when their egg sacs disappeared and they were fry we fed them every day.

Until the day at the end of May when we went out to a local creek to release them to continue their 4year life cycle. 

This project was so great for the class. They got to see and do things that were unique. They were totally engaged and enthusiastic about what they learned and have a far better understanding than if we'd watched a video or read books, or had a speaker in. 
We are fortunate here to be able to participate in this program. I would LOVE to be able to take my kids on a visit to the ocean, or a hike through a rainforest, or to the many local things that are available wherever you live. Since I can't I highly recommend that you take advantage of those fun, educational opportunities that are around you that help your students to love learning and to make it a lifelong pursuit. 

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping

Last fall I discovered Scaredy Squirrel and I love the books.  (The kids in my class were WAY ahead of me...they know all about him!)
I read Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping (by Melanie Watt) to them. It was just recently published at the time, and none of them had read it yet.

Scaredy Squirrel is so popular that we already had 4 out of five of the books in our school library and I have recently found them on Epic! (if you don't have this app yet you MUST check it out.  I blogged about it HERE).  They are also on Just Books Read Aloud, another free reading app that I recently found.  Listening to books and reading on apps is fantastically popular in my classroom.  Even the more reluctant readers love getting the chance to do these centers.
I made a set of activities to accompany Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping and my class completed several of them when we finished reading the book together.  The full product is available at Teachers Pay Teachers, but I have made a preview freebie that includes 3 of the 10 activities included in the full package.  The link for the freebie is at the end of the post.

The first is a craftivity Emergency kit.  Scaredy Squirrel is always prepared for disasters that he is sure are about to befall him!

I adapted the emergency kit idea from Jennifer's Teaching Tools which you can find here.

The second activity is an interview sheet.  Students make up questions they would ask Scaredy if they were a reporter, and then answer as if they were Scaredy.

The third is a sheet that I always keep in my Listening Center for kids to complete when they have finished listening to a book.  It is called Making Connections and requires students to make either a Text to Text, Text to Self, or Text to World connection, write about what happened in the story, and explain what it reminded them of.

I hope you enjoy using these in your classroom.  Get the freebie  HERE, then check out more of this week's freebies at Teaching Blog Addict

Monday, 20 July 2015

Math workshop - schedule plus freebie

I have done Guided Reading workshops and run Language Arts centers in my classroom for years, but until three years ago I had never thought of applying these ideas to Math.  But what better place to meet with small groups of students!  In my opinion the benefits of teaching Math to a few students at close range is even more beneficial than with LA.  There are so many ways that students construct wrong ways of doing things in Math and small groups offer the best opportunity to either nip these in the bud or avoid them altogether, since the students are much more likely to be giving their full attention in this more intimate setting.

I am fortunate to have a large bank of time for Math.  Although I am only teaching 3 days/week, I am only teaching LA, Math, and Art, so I can schedule 90 minutes each day for Math.

Our Math time breaks down like this:
10 minutes - Math facts review with a partner 
20 minutes -  Meet together at the carpet for group instruction.  During this time I introduce new concepts or review what we have been working on, give them the rundown on the individual work they'll be doing that day, and do a quick spiral review of concepts.  I made a set of cards (grade 2) for these.  If you'd like a set for free click HERE.  I cut them into individual months, mounted them on construction paper, laminated them, and put them onto a ring that I hang on my Math wall for easy access.
20 minutes - Individual seat work and marking.  (Click HERE to see how Math is marked in my classroom.  There's a freebie in this post, too.)
30 minutes - Math centers
10 minutes - Math writing

I meet with my small groups during the last hour of the Math block, starting with the group that needs the most help.  Then I work through the other groups.  I don't have time for every group, every day, but I will have met with the first group three times and usually at least twice with the others.

When I first got started using Math workshops I tried rotating the various activities in 20 minute blocks, like I do for Language Arts.  One group does seat work, while others are at centers, working on Math facts, doing Math journals or meeting with me.  I set up a rotation board for the different groups and we did our Math block this way for several months, but I wasn't really satisfied that this was the best set up for me.
To begin with I often forgot to set my timer so they would rotate.  (This wasn't really a major objection and could've been overcome by setting a timer on my phone.) 
More concerning was that the activity the students were doing didn't always fit neatly into a 20 minute time slot.  Math facts usually need less - by the time 10 minutes was up they were ready to move on and often got distracted when it went longer.  Their seat work sometimes took longer, sometimes less, depending on the students' Math abilities, so I'd have to make extra papers for the fast finishers to do each day, and the students who were struggling didn't get finished.  Math centers definitely needed more time.  Often they would be part way through a center without having recorded their work and time would be up.  This was very frustrating for them and for me.  Also the reason I forgot to send them on to their next rotation was usually that I needed more time with the group I was working with.
So I decided that they would all do their seat work, centers, and writing at the same time (except the ones who were working with me).  The only challenge that this presented was that I needed more options for centers, which will the topic for the next time I post about Math.
I am linking up with Third Grade Doodles for Math Workshop Monday.  To see more ideas for Math workshop click HERE.   She's got a great Giveaway going today.

Thursday, 16 July 2015


Yesterday I saw a blog from Abby at Third Grade Bookworm. She was urging everyone to sign up for a FREE educator's subscription to Epic. It looked too good to resist so I checked it out, and it is terrific!

As you can see I was doing this rather late at night and got so engrossed in checking it out that it was far into the night before I said, "Goodnight, iPad!" (I LOVE Scaredy Squirrel and got carried away reading all the books and then thinking of many activities to go with them - upcoming blog topic...)

You can sign up as an educator and can create profiles for up to 32 readers. The readers are able to rate the books they've read and new recommendations are based on their ratings. (I think my students would love this JUST so they could do the ratings!)  I like that I can put in the kids' ages so that the recommendations are around the right reading level for them. 

Some books have audio which will be great support for emergent, struggling, and non readers. When I listened to a couple of them I felt a little impatient because the reading was so slow and mechanical. But then I realized I was doing what I always hope the kids will do - reading ahead of the narrration because I can read so much faster than the narration. Maybe this will encourage them to at least follow along with the text. I know they DON'T when the audio is fluent and expressive. They're happy to just listen.

There's a great selection of books in a wide variety of genres. I was especially pleased with the number of non fiction titles available, and from what I could see many of them do have audio.
I didn't look at selectioons for older kids, but I did see several of these pop up in the recommendations and they have been wildly popular with my grandsons who were in grade 3 and 4 last year. 

The only negative I could find is that there seem to be a large numbers of books about snakes and I (shudder) kept putting my finger on them when I was scrolling.........Ewwwwww!😬

So I recommend that you click here to go and sign up for your subscription!

I am linking this post up with from Teaching Trio's Technology Thursday linky party. Hop over here to see other great ideas that will benefit your classroom!