Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gossip is Like Glitter

Glitter, I hear the word and I start quaking in my boots Toms. Glitter is one of those things that was clearly invented by someone that just doesn't care about other's feelings. It is messy, annoying, and downright disturbing when used in the wrong ways.

Last month when our guidance counselor pulled out a bottle of it in our classroom I nearly fainted, no exaggeration necessary. I took a few cleansing breaths and clamped my mouth shut so that I wouldn't scream out, "NNNOOOOOOOO!!!!"

She began her lesson, and it was pure genius. There is no way around it, it truly was genius with the glitter and all.
The lesson itself was all about rumors and gossip, and how when you spread them around, you can't ever get them back. Each table group was given a tiny pinch of glitter in one student's hands. Their job was to pass the glitter, every last speck of it, around the table in one minute. The rules were simple. only that you had to keep the glitter in your hands.

The words EPIC FAIL have never been more true. Of course there was glitter everywhere! Not only were students not able to get it off of their hands, but in the process of trying they got it on their desks, their clothes, in their hair, on the floor, and pretty much everywhere else imaginable.

Then came the lesson portion. Our counselor asked the students to look around at all the glitter and talked about how the glitter is like a rumor, and once you begin to spread it you can never really get it back.
Have truer words every been spoken than, "Gossip is like glitter?"

My students moved on with their day, glitter still everywhere, but somehow I didn't mind it too much. Who am I kidding? I most certainly did mind it, but I broke out the lint roller and all was well with the world!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Teacher Evaluations Freebie

The year is winding down, and I have twelve days and counting left with my students. It is the time of year when I get really reflective. I try to stay reflective all year long, but I think it is more important now than ever. 

Now, I can sit and think about what I think went well and what didn't until I am blue in the face, but am I really the one whose opinion matters? My answer to that would be a resounding no! Of course it is important that I think that I am doing a good job, but would I be doing it if I thought otherwise? I sure hope not!

The opinions that really matter to me are those of my clients, my clients being my students and their families. So, every year about this time I pull on my big girl panties and ask for some honest, no holes barred feedback in the form of a teacher evaluation. 
I have given out these evaluations every year that I have taught, and I always learn something new. Sometimes I learn something wonderful, and sometimes I discover a critical flaw. It's not always easy, but it is important to me to know how I am affecting my students, because in the end, they are what matters. 

I give two evaluations, one to students and one to their families.  
The student evaluation I give in class. I make sure that students know that I want their complete honesty, and for this reason we keep them completely anonymous. Before giving out the evaluation we talk about honestly, and how you can be honest without being mean. In the six years that I have given these evaluations, my students have always taken them very seriously. I believe this is because they know that I truly want to know what they think.
The parent evaluation I send home. I have sent it home as a paper copy and as an attachment to an email. Both have worked out well, but I have had a higher return on the paper copy. I think this might have to do with the anonymity allowing families to be truly honest. I place a box at the back of the room and ask students to place it in the box by a certain date. I don't open the box until that date, so that I really have no idea whose is whose.

In the end, do I always want to hear what is said. No, I don't want to think that I am not the perfect teacher, BUT I NEED to hear it, because that is how you grow.

If you are feeling brave and ready to try out this Teacher Evaluation System for yourself, then hop on over to TPT to grab this free printable!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

5 Things to Do at the End of the Year to Make Next Year Rock!

My dear, dear friends, I am here to tell you that we are in the home stretch! Did you think you would make it? More than any other year teaching I had some serious doubts that I was going to survive this one, but here we are! Today's post is all about using the end of year excitement to make sure you are set for a smooth start to next year. 
I know you are tired! I feel ya there, as is evidenced by the fact that this is my first post in about the last month. Things totally got away from me, like they do EVERY April, but I am ready to get my mind clear and get ready for the end of the year! So, here you go, five things I do at the end of every year that are absolute lifesavers for the beginning of the next year!

1. Clean up your files

 If you are anything like me, then your files are looking a less like files and a lot more like piles right about now. Embrace the mess! Instead of tediously filing each and every piece of paper take this time to reflect on what you did with them. If it worked for you and your students, then by all mean file that bad boy away for use another day. If though, it was a little less than awesome, and not something you actually look forward to doing again then recycle it! Don't have any remorse over it either! You are a super teacher, and you don't need anything less awesome than your totally amazing self cluttering up your files! You will find something even better and you will rock it!

2. Go ahead and copy what you can

I don't know about your school, but the line for the copy machine looks pretty much like a Disney ride when we go back, and my friends there are no fast passes here. Even if you work somewhere with a print shop, the amount of time required to get something back now verses in August is insane. Do yourself a big favor and go ahead and take care of the things you know you will need NOW! Personally, I copy my information for parents, a first day packet, many class builders and team builders, and my DRA tests for the fall.
I know that this takes a little bit of planning, and even more time figuring out where you can store the copies so that you don't forget that you already did this at the beginning of the year, but it will pay off in spades!

3. Get excited!

End of the year teacher tired is something that I strongly believe should be filed as an actual medical disease, or at least qualify us for some sort of extended happy hours/relaxation time, and it is really easy to feel down and out about coming back in just a couple short months. BUT give yourself something to look forward to! This might mean planning to do something fun with your class the first week of school, redecorating a part of your classroom, or diving into something new like literature circles or project based learning!
When you give yourself something new to look forward to in the fall I promise that it will put a little extra pep in your step for these last few weeks!

4. If you don't have a use for it, get rid of it!

I am the queen of saving stuff that I think I just might have a use for one day. DON'T DO THIS!!!!!! It will only cause you heartache when you have to either move rooms, pack all your stuff up, or you just see it staring at you from the cabinet when it gets in the way of you trying to find something that is actually useful in that moment.
I have never once regretted getting rid of some sort of little knick-knack or item that I thought I could use in a creative venture, and do you know why? There are always more!
I used to save containers for hands on materials when we go to our measurement unit. I would save them from year to year, which took up a ton of space and really got in the way. Then, I started recycling them after our unit every year and asking the next years students to bring new ones in. They loved hunting their houses for the containers, and I loved not having to store a growing collection!

5. Stock up on some new goodies!

SALE TIME!!!! Who doesn't love a good sale? This Tuesday and Wednesday my whole store will be on sale for 20% off, but with the promo code THANKYOU TeachersPayTeachers is offering an additional 10% off which works out to 28% off your purchase! 

This means it is time to stock up on everything that you want to do at the beginning of next year (or for the rest of this year) in order to have time to go through it, and make it your own! 

If you are looking for a way to keep your students actively engaged in the next few weeks, I would highly recommend this Field Trip Culminating Project! It includes research, math, map skills, and writing tasks. 
Some of my favorites for the beginning of the year are Mentor Sentences that rock for helping students to build their understanding of grammar and mechanics and science quick writes that integrate writing into science so easily that you will want to do them all the time! 
     
Of course if you are looking to set yourself up for success in Texas History next year, you know I've got you covered! The Texas History Notebook Bundle is a great place to start. It is full of activities that will help you and your students organize their learning into their interactive notebooks with fold-ups, sorts, and reflection questions. If task cards are what you like, check out the Texas History Ultimate Task Card Bundle which has 17 sets of task cards all catered to units of study in Texas' History. Finally, the Texas History Ultimate Bundle is full of units of study for all important aspects of Texas History including the notebook bundle, the task card bundle, dice simulations, PowerPoints, and many other activities. It is all you will need for an entire year of Texas History!!!
    
Thank you for stopping by the blog, and finally I would like to offer my sincere appreciation to YOU! To you as a teacher, and a blog reader, and a race fan know that I love you, and you are appreciated! As just a little thank you I have a Rafflecopter giveaway going on to give away a TeachersPayTeachers gift card! Enjoy the rest of your year, and bask in the glory of teacher appreciation this week! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

7 Cooperative Learning Structures to Rock Test Prep

Cooperative learning is a part of each and every day in our classroom, but this time of year when we are focusing in on test prep it is really easy to let it slide. Instead I challenge myself (and you in turn!) to really ramp it up and do even MORE Kagan structures throughout the day.
For this post I have put together a list of my absolute favorite Kagan structures for test prep. For each structure I will tell you why it is one of my faves, and here is a link to their website where you can find the steps to each structure.

Numbered Heads Together

I love this structure because it is amazing for getting students to talk about their thinking and justify their answers. It really puts students in the drivers seat, and requires them to think a little deeper! 

Quiz-Quiz-Trade

This structure is amazing for giving students a little break while still keeping a content rich environment. Due to the movement that is incorporated right into the structure, it helps students to get their wiggles out! 

Showdown

This one is pretty similar to Numbered Heads Together, but just different enough to up the engagement ante with students. Along with this, Showdown is much more student led, and allows students groups to work at their own pace.

Fan-N-Pick

Fan-N-Pick is fantastic for when you want to be a little cheesy. Who doesn't like to say things like, "Pick a card, any card!" You can just feel your inner game show host shining! Additionally, this structure is great for review because you can use it in so many ways! 

Rally Coach

Coach is built right into the name, and that's what it is! Student pairs coach one another to successful completion of what would otherwise be a boring independent practice worksheet.

Sage-N-Scribe

Similar to Rally Coach, but the person with the pencil is only writing, while the other partner is doing all the thinking. 

Talking Chips

An amazing way to make sure that all students are equally involved! I love this one for my small groups when one student is a blurter, or a bit of a know it all. 

What all these structures have in common are that students and teachers alike love them. I LOVE that it frees me up to make observations of my students, and hearing them reason about their answers sends my heart into a flutter! 

Now, there are about a million more structures that can absolutely be used during test prep, so I would highly recommend checking them out. These though are my tried and true favorites! I hope that you were able to find at least new one, and that you will challenge yourself to try it out!

If you do, I would love to hear about it, or even see pictures! You can comment below or email me at teachinginthefastlane@gmail.com

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Six Review Games Worth Your time

Some people may think that anything that includes the word game does not have any place in the classroom. Those people are clearly not teachers! We teachers know that anything game oriented equals instant engagement.

Right about now the games that we have been incorporating successfully all year are starting to lose their appeal. Stinky Feet is awesome, but can only be played for so long!

Here is a round up of my favorite games to play to keep review fresh!

Egg Hunt

This is exactly what it sounds like. I place tasks in plastic eggs, then we go outside and hide them. I have hidden them before, or sometimes I have my students each hide an egg. Students then find each egg and complete the task. This works really well with any content area and is great for getting some fresh air, but can be completed inside as well! Easter Monday we are definitely doing this one with these Chocolate Bunny Review Cards

Vocabulary Relay

This is another good one for any content area, and gets your students up and moving. I have found that it works best outside, (if it is not windy) but can be completed anywhere with enough space. Decide on a list of words and write each card on an index card. You can create one card for each word, or one card per team for each word depending on how you want play. You can check out this FREE Math Vocabulary Relay in my store. 
Students line up in teams of 4-5 each and listen for a definition. Then teams are given a short period of time to discuss the definition and word. Finally, the elected member of the team (we stand in lines so everyone has a turn) runs to find the word from the pile and returns to their line. We finish up each round by discussing the word and clearing up any misconceptions. 

Four Corners

This game works best with multiple choice questions. I simply read or display a question and then ask students to show me the answer by traveling to a labeled corner of the room. For a variation of this you can ask students to show you the absolutely wrong answer, or the distractor. 

Argue the Answer

For this game every student needs answer choice cards. (I am really lazy and have students rip a sticky note into four pieces and write ABCD on them.) I then display a question using the projector and read it to the class. After we have had time to comprehend the question and answer choices (solve if it is math) I ask students to put in the answer choice card that is the distractor, then the one they know isn't the answer, then another wrong answer, leaving them with the correct answer in front of them. If everyone agrees we move on. If not, they students debate the answer and try to convince the other why they are right.  

Texas Snowball Fight

In central Texas, this is as close as we get to the real thing. I know you have done this one before, but just in case...
Each student takes a problem (any subject) and balls it up. When you say "Go!" students throw their snowball, pick up another one and throw it... until time is called. Then each student selects the problem closest to them to solve. 
We are doing this tomorrow with these multi-step problems

Scavenger Hunt

This one may not seem exciting, but it is another simple way to get students out of their seats and moving. I hide (and I mean hide, sometimes I can't even find them again) questions around the room or outside if it is a nice day. Students then travel around and try to find as many questions to answer as possible. I am using these Interpreting the Remainder Task Cards next week for our next scavenger hunt. 
A variation of this one is the "Treasure Hunt." In addition to hiding the problems, I write clues about where to find the next problem. I make the clues into little riddles that have them thinking carefully as well. Then, when a student finds and solves all the problems they get a little prize. 

I hope that there was at least one new game that will bring a little novelty to your classroom this spring! 

Monday, March 30, 2015

10 Things to Talk About Instead of STAAR

On this testing day, this one goes out to all of my Texas testing teacher friends, but really applies to everyone. Just substitute your test (FSA, PARCC...) for STAAR and voila!

I know it is testing season, and the test is a lot of what is on our minds, but it can't be all that we walk about at every point in the day. In fact, here in Texas, we are not allowed to talk about it. This is just fine by me, as it is the last thing I want to talk about.

So when you are in the lunch room, in the classroom after the test, or sitting down for dinner this week try one of these topics instead:

The Weather:

I know it seems like small talk, but everyone can talk about it. Aside from that, we have had some truly beautiful days here lately!

Easter Weekend:

Most of us have a three day weekend coming up, and who doesn't love that? Talk about your plans, their plans, or just talk about sleeping off that testing week anxiety. Any of this is better than talking about the actual test.

What You're Reading:

Right now in class we are reading an awesome book, Smells Like Dog. My students and I love to talk about it, and I am recommending it to anyone I know. I love to talk about children's literature with adults too, because it is so accessible. Everyone knows a favorite book that they read as a kid. It also allows me to actually finish a book on a regular basis.

What's for Dinner:

This might mean dinner tonight, or maybe your dream dinner. This is another one of those topics that everyone has something to say about.

A Current Event:

There is a lot going on in the world today. You might pick a heavier topic to go in depth with, or a lighter topic to relieve some stress. If you are looking for kid friendly news to talk about I would highly suggest visiting Dogo News. It is chock full of current events that are relevant to kids.

Summer Plans:

This is about the time of year that families are nailing down their summer plans. Is anyone in class going on a fun vacation? What are you doing? This topic is almost always a crowd pleaser!

Siblings:

I LOVE to talk to my students about their siblings. Someone always has a silly story to tell, or something outrageous that happened. As a matter of fact, I still have a few about my sisters that are my favorite stories to tell. 

Pets:

This one is along the same lines as siblings, someone always has something funny to tell. 

Jokes:

I love to trade jokes with my students. I have a few standards that I tell and then the students share theirs which are half hilarious and half so nonsensical that you can't help but laugh. 

Field Trips:

We are going on our first field trip of the year next week, and have two more after that in May. Find out what your students' favorite field trips are and why. You can use this information to make sure that your trips this year are successful! 

There you have it! Ten things to talk about beside the test. Most are pretty obvious, but sometimes that is just what it takes!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Waking the Brain with Morning Stretches


You might remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about my take away from the Kagan training that I attended and how I was planning to Refocus Our Classroom. One of the big ideas that I touched on was waking up the brain through big muscle movement.
So this month for the Bright Ideas link up I am sharing how it is going. The short version is that it is amazing! The long version isn't all that long, so I will share it with you.

Each morning, after our class meeting, we do a series of stretches. The idea behind this is that when you do big muscle movements it increases the oxygen flow to your brain, and therefor prepares it for learning. Some mornings we do squats, and others we do jumping jacks, but my class' favorite stretch is the milk and cookies stretch!
 To perform this stretch you simply start by reaching your right hand across the midline of your body as far left as you can while simultaneously stepping your right foot back. While you do this you say, "Milk!"
Then you repeat with the left side and say, "Cookies!" Repeat on both sides for as long as desired. We usually do this about ten times or so. The whole process takes less than a minute. 

The first time we did this I chose milk and cookies, but now each time we name two items to say. Students LOVE to be the one to pick an item. Some of our favorites are pancakes and syrup, tacos and orange juice, and donuts and coffee. 

I have found that by doing this each morning it helps all of us to wake up and be in a better mood to start our learning!

If you liked this post, please consider following me with Bloglovin', on Facebook, or on Teachers Pay Teachers for more great ideas! 

For more amazing ideas, from fantastic bloggers check out the linky below. Items are listed by topic and grade level to make your search a little easier!

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