Thursday, December 31, 2015

10 Ugly Truths about My Winter Break

You know the drill. It's December 31 and I can see the end of my winter break looming ever closer. 
Without the structure of a school day, I've basically been a misshapen lump growing out of my couch. Like Homer, I've worn butt-grooves into the cushion. No one else will be comfortable on that couch ever again; I have claimed it. 

There are many ugly truths about how I have squandered my time this winter break. Here are ten of them.

10. I have eaten cookies instead of dinner on three different occasions. I didn't set out to eat cookies instead of dinner. It just happened. I started eating cookies at about, oh, three-thirty, and continued eating them until about seven, at which point I realized three things: It was seven, I'd been eating cookies for three and a half hours, and I was no longer hungry for anything of value. So I ate a few more cookies and called it a night.

9. I spent an obscene amount at after-Christmas sales. This one is kind of a secret (that I'm not sharing with the world via blogland). After Christmas, I buy a TON of gifts for throughout the year and for, yes, next Christmas. I have a special closet I keep the gifts in, and a list with everyone I love and what I've already bought for them. This year, I bought a LOT of gifts after Christmas... and a few decorations (read: fifty decorations).

8. The hour I want to open a bottle of wine has crept forward, to the point that now, at 2:30, I'm thinking... "Well, it's closer to five pm than eight am, right?"

7. I don't think I've actually had any water to drink since two days before Christmas. My beverage list is as follows: hot chocolate, coffee, wine, hot tea, a delicious sweet concoction called Rumchata, Butterscotch Schnapps, and Irish Cream.

6. I'm not sure how many hours I've spent staring at my cat and thinking about how much I'd like to be one. Cats don't go to work. Cats go where they want. Cats get attention when they want it, and they don't when they don't. Cats have it all.

5. I have watched absolute garbage on TV. You won't believe me if I tell you, but let's just say it included the epitome of awful Christmas specials: A Very Brady Christmas. Yes, I went there.

4. If I made even one out of every ten Tasty videos I've watched, I could open a restaurant. I am absolutely addicted to those short, action-packed recipe videos. Everything looks incredible: Garlic Parmesan Potato Wedges? Yum! Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes? Oh, yes! Nutella Cream Cheese Turnovers? I'll take two!

 I dare you to watch that without drooling.

3. I haven't shaved my legs in a week and a half. I look more like Chewy than Leia.

2. I only wear shoes when I leave the house, which means 90% of this break, I've worn fuzzy slipper socks. My floors are spotless...unlike the rest of the house.

1.  I am absolutely positive my pants no longer fit, but I am also too afraid to try them on. This is all I have to say about that.
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Friday, December 11, 2015

Five for FRIDAY!! December style

Holy cow, is it Christmas break yet? Seriously, this week was rough. I was at school at 7:00 in the morning twice this week, and I left school after 6:00 twice this week.  I made two trips to Wal-Mart, baked (and ate) about twenty five cookies, and made two dozen burritos.

On Friday, we had our giant Christmas program. It's an incredible show. We didn't get out until about 8:30. So naturally, on Saturday morning I was very excited to wake up early to help out at our area Grit Conference. I wasn't alone. After the conference ended at 12:30, I raced home to make cookies for our campus cookie exchange! I made butterscotch & white chocolate chip cookies...they were like candy.
 Get the recipe on Google Drive!

 I decided to buy all the felt at Wal-Mart and make a felt Christmas tree with ornaments for my niece. My husband keeps walking into the den, looking at the piles of crafting crap all over the table, and turning right back around to watch TV in the bedroom.

 But I don't care! Because this tree is cute and she's going to love it!

Another project I worked on was our Poet-tree! We actually have three: a K-2 tree in English, a K-2 tree in Spanish, and a 3-5 tree in English. Each ornament has a poem printed on it and I decorated them with glitter paint. Our librarian tied on a ribbon and we hang them on our tree! When students visit the library, they can choose an ornament to keep.

And then I made two dozen burritos. At our school, the last twelve days before winter break, we have the 12 Days of Christmas. Each grade level/group is assigned a day. We were the 8th day. We decided to make burritos. This was my idea. At the time, I thought, "Oh, burritos will be a nice change from sweets," which is what most groups bring on their day. But then, the night before I realized that I would have to make 24 burritos... in the morning... before I went to work. I had to get up at 5:30. 5:30, people! I. Do. Not. Get. Up. Before. Six.

But I did. I set my alarm, and I woke up. I dragged myself into an upright position. I sat there for a minute, but then I was afraid I'd fall asleep sitting up. So I pulled myself out of bed and got myself ready. I remember thinking, "This was a stupid idea," but I quickly reminded myself that it was MY stupid idea.

Then I mixed up about 40 eggs and poured them into a pan with butter. I reheated the potatoes I'd cooked the night before, and warmed tortillas. I rolled and rolled and rolled. Until I had 24 burritos. I stuffed them into a tray and raced to work. In all, we'd made 100 burritos for our faculty.

This is my favorite. We hosted a Disguise a Gingerbread Man contest in the library. Students could swing by and pick up a cardstock gingerbread man to decorate, to help him escape. It had to be from a book.

We had a ton of submissions, and some of them were so clever and creative!

Hulk Hogan - something tells me this wasn't a book.
Pancho Villa


Ruby the Reindeer


These entries were from our teachers! The Abominable Snowman, Lily (from Lily's Purple Plastic Purse) and Skippyjon Jones! Are they precious or what?
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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Space Science: Notebooks, Flipbooks, & Writing Extensions

Earlier today, I was sitting at a coffee house, working on my laptop. My brother called and said, "Hey, what are you doing?" I said, "I'm working at a restaurant." 

He said, "Oh, the Starving Teachers Catering Company?"

Ha. Ha. 


I corrected myself. "I am at a restaurant, working on my laptop." 

"Sure you are. Do you need me to let you go so you can bus tables?" 

Everybody's a comedian. Anyway...

I love notebooks. Each year, my kids had a notebook for science, social studies, math, reading, and writing. And language conventions. And their home-school writing-reading connection. Yipes. That was a lot!

For our solar system unit, we used our notebooks a lot. There are fewer hands-on activities to do with the solar system than there are with physical science, so we relied heavily on diagrams, flipbooks and writing to understand the complex scientific ideas.

To get started, I thought it was very important for students to understand Earth's movement in space. Earth moves in more than one way around the sun.  It rotates on its axis, and it also revolves (or orbits) the sun. To make the distinction between those two words, we did a little acting out (kids think it's hilarious to watch you try to rotate on your axis while orbiting a student) and then we made this little folded flipbook.

(This is in the freebie below)
On the front, students recorded the two ways Earth moves, and they drew a labeled diagram. (I always required labels. If not, it looks like some sort of insect is flying around a sunflower. And that's not exactly scientific.)

On the left side, under "rotates", students explained the way the Earth rotated on its axis.  This included what an axis was, how the Earth was tilted, and how long it took to make one rotation (one day).
On the right side, students wrote about the Earth's revolution around the sun. They explained the orbit and how long it takes for the Earth to make one revolution - one year.
Once kids understood that basic information, we were ready to move on to the big stuff. Our next entry is about how seasons happen, or THE REASON FOR THE SEASONS! 
I loved using interactive notebooks with my kids. It took me a little while to get used to planning my lessons this way, but once you understand that the right side=input= information, and the left side=output=kids' processing, applying, manipulating, remembering, learning the information, it was pretty easy.

On the right side, we read a bit about the Earth's movement in space from our textbook and sketched a diagram of the Earth and sun to show how the title of the Earth is responsible for the seasons. The kids labeled the diagram with the first day of each season to show the relative position of the Earth to the sun at that time.

Then we watched a BrainPop. Of course, because I basically watched every BrainPop relative to the science we were learning. My kids LOVED BrainPop.

After that, we made a little folded flapbook by folding the outside edges into the inside. We added the names of each season and the kids sketched the sun in the middle and the Earth orbiting the sun, tilted on its axis.

To have kids use the information they had learned from the textbook and the BrainPop, I'd made little tiny cards with different characteristics of each season. The kids sorted the characteristics into each season and glued them in.

It was a great little assessment and gave kids a chance to talk to their teams as well to discuss the correct sorting of the cards.
As I was planning our learning about the planets, I realized there was tons of information and the kids weren't going to get much out of simply filling out a form, or a cloze activity, or watching a million videos without any opportunity to do anything with the information.
So, in response to that problem, I created my favorite science writing activity EVER. 
It's my "I Am the Solar System" book, and it's part of my new product, too.

The kids liked it, too. It appelaed to the writers and the illustrators in my class, as well as my science nerds (who loved Bill Nye as much as me.) I made them about a million circle-shaped pages with lines. One page was the cover, and the other 11 pages were the following space objects, in this order:

The Sun
Earth's Moon
Pluto (so they had to explain the whole not-a-planet thing, which was all the rage at the time)

On each page, they wrote an "I Am" poem. They used this poem to include the important information we'd learned about that planet, sun, or moon. At the bottom of each page was a reference to the next space object to come in the book. It sounded like, "But I'm not made of layers of rock, because Mercury is" and then Mercury was the next page.

The kids illustrated the edges of each circle to look like that planet or object. In the case of the sun, Uranus, Saturn, etc., where there are parts jutting out into space, they illustrated those first and then cut around them so they'd be part of the book. It looked pretty cool when it was all assembled.
I can't tell you how sad I am that I have no pictures of my kids' actual books from this project. Instead, I had to recreate a sad version (because my kids were always SO much more incredibly creative than I am).

I spent a nice chunk of time this summer looking back through my kids' science notebooks from my last year in fourth grade. Do you ever have those moments where you look back at your stuff and think, "Man, that was awesome!"? Well, that's what happened to me. And I thought, "Seriously, this needs to be TPT-ized."So I did! I took these activities and many others that I used (plus a few new ideas) and complied them into a new product!

You can get the 2-fold flipbook for free, and you can grab the whole pack from TPT, too!
Earth's Movement in Space 2-Fold Flipbook
Grab the whole pack at TPT
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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Getting families involved in dreaming for the future

My school serves a population of students who struggle financially and many suffer from generational poverty. We know, from the research, that children in generational poverty have difficulty setting goals, and seeing that their futures could be different from their childhoods. This is why it's so essential to involve parents and kids in dreaming about the future and all the possibilities for their kids. We also use this as an opportunity to talk about what it takes to achieve those goals.
One of the really important things we do as a school is "Family Dream Board Night." Dream Boards are posterboards that are full of a child's dreams for the future. Our kids start planning their dream boards at home, including their future career, homes, education, family life, car, pets, and hobbies. Teachers often provide fun materials such as magazines to cut pictures out of, printed pictures from the internet, tissue paper, stickers, sequins, and fun foam.
Then they get to take home a piece of posterboard to create the dream board at home. They can use magazine pictures or draw their own images for each element of their future lives. 

The dream boards are usually really incredible, enlightening, and hopeful. They show us things that our kids think are important, and what they hope their lives are like when they grow up. Many of our kids want big families, pets, and houses with pools.

They want to be teachers, open their own extermination companies, and become police officers. Their boards are charming and earnest, full of childhood dreams.

A group of teachers vote on the boards and we choose one from each grade level to win first place. We also choose a "most creative" board - this year it was a board with a drawstring curtain you could pull back to see the goals inside! We display those boards on the stage on easels and give the kids certificates and a prize donated from our state university and their future high school.

We  plaster the boards all over the gym, cafeteria, and hallways, and then we have our Family Dream Board Night.

On Family Dream Board Night, the families wander through the rooms and hallway, reading their child's board and all the others, appreciating each child's creativity and dreams.

The hallway looks incredible, full of student work. It's so inspiring to walk down the hall and see what each of our children wants in their lives.

Of course, we give away books. We always give away books!

And we have some fun stations. At this station, students get to create a sentence strip comic book about their future lives.

Our kids "Dress for Success" with paper bag creations! They get to decorate a paper bag to dress up for work!

Of course, we have a reading nook so our kids and parents can "Read to Succeed." We want them to have positive reading experiences together!
 Our kids make little cutout people into their future selves! They love these little "Career People."

We have such an incredible time with our Family Dream Board Night - it's such a special event that our children and parents love!

Want to have your own Family Dream Night?

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