Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Electoral College... huh??!?

It may just be me (but I really doubt it), but I really have learned SO MUCH since I started teaching! There's just so much knowledge out there about all kinds of things! Politics have always scared me, especially within a school setting; you have to be so careful about what you say, and how you say it. So, I want to start off this post with a disclaimer:

I NEVER tell kids which political party I associate myself with, nor which candidate I choose to vote for. It's personal. I push patriotism and our responsibility as citizens to vote, but I also push a right to make your own decision. 

(Steps off soap box)

That being said, the world of elections is a very confusing place until you "get it." I have to admit, I didn't "get it" until probably 3 years ago when I was first introduced to some books that explain the electoral college clearly. My favorite of these is Grace for President.

Seriously... invest in this one. So today I started out 7th/8th grade history class by reading this book aloud.
Next, We looked at the map of how electoral votes are divided, and we looked at a map showing how the votes have been reapportioned since the 2010 census.

Then came the fun part. I gave each student a slip with a state on it.

 Actually, I gave them 2, since I have 22 students and there are 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. I let some of the other middle school teachers vote, too.

I gave them a few minutes to find their states on the map and shout or moan about how many/few electoral votes they have. Then I break out the soda.

Yes. Coke vs. Pepsi. Always a winner. I ask them to cast their votes.
And while they enjoy sipping on their choice of beverage, we pull up the interactive electoral map and begin to tally the votes. The site has a setting where you can choose for the map to be entirely neutral (it looks tan and only shows the states' abbreviations and # of electoral votes). Then, by clicking on the state you can choose whether you want it to be red or blue. In a typical election, red would signify Republican and Blue, Democrat, but in our election, we made red COKE and blue PEPSI. And here was our result:

[EDIT: I've had several people ask how to manipulate the map above. The website is www.270towin.com. Under the map is a drop-down box marked "Select a Starting View." Simply select "Blank Map." The whole map should turn tan. From here, you can click on each state. The first time you click, the state will turn red. If you'd like to turn it blue, click twice. Hope that's helpful!!]

Coke for the win! It was a landslide with 334 electoral votes to Pepsi's 194. And most importantly, I think the kids got it! We finished up with a short video clip from History.com.

I only had about an hour to do this with my middle schoolers, but when I've done it with my 5th graders in the past I've done much more....Red, White, and Blue snack, etc. I think it's important to help kids understand the importance of voting, and that our country is a Democratic Republic, not a direct democracy. (You know, "To the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God..."). I think kids commonly have the misconception that we're a direct democracy, electing a president based on popular vote. But we're not! We're a democratic republic. 

What do you do for election day in your class?


Monday, October 31, 2011

STOLEN idea.... you should steal it, too!!

I HAVE to share! I just came across this blog post on Classroom Freebies and I think it's AWESOME! I wish I wish I wish that I had my own inclusive classroom with which to implement this YESTERDAY, but alas... it will have to wait. I just think it's the smartest thing to use facebook as a writing motivator.

It's amazing, it's... well, just click and see! Trust me, you will.not.be.sorry.

Classroom Freebies: Facebook Fun In Your Classroom!: You know how Facebook can be so addictive? It's just as addictive for your students, too! That's why it makes such a great writing motivat...


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scholastic Dollar Deals

In case you haven't heard, Scholastic Dollar Deals is going on this week. I generally find at least three or four ebooks that I can use... and for $1 a piece, you can't beat it! This is a book of reproducible stories that work with Greek and Latin roots... fun practice for standardized tests. I'm thinking morning work or centers.
There are tons more (850 or so!) so be sure to go on over and check it out!


Friday, October 21, 2011

SUPER SIMPLE organizational tip

Have you ever had someone share a very simple tip with you that turned your teaching on end? I have. I was student teaching in Warsaw, Indiana when a teacher took 20 seconds to explain a priceless tip to me! I don't know, maybe you all know this already, and I was just ignorant, but in case you don't know... I can't in good conscience NOT share it with you.

Take a yellow highlighter (yes, any old yellow highlighter will do)
On each of your "Originals"--the papers in your file that you use to make copies-- make a notation. I write "O" for "Original", but you could write anything, really! 
It's a bit hard to see, but can you tell that I have a faint yellow "O" at the bottom of this paper? 
When I make copies, the yellow doesn't show up, so it becomes a clear copy for my little friends. 
This way, I'm never confused about which is the original. It helps to prevent me from having three "originals" that make their way into my file.

Do you have any SUPER SIMPLE tips that have changed your teaching life? 


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Favorite Read Alouds

Swimming into Second is having a Favorite Read Alouds Linky Party
There are so many good read-alouds that I almost don't know which one to pick! I think my favorite thus far is reading Stone Fox aloud to my 5th graders last year.

 It has some beautiful imagery in it, and it definitely keeps the kids "hooked" without being a mystery. To me, this is always a sign of really good writing. The kids were BEGGING me to read it aloud each day. It's a short read, but there are so many mini-lessons for Reader's Workshop that work well with this book! AND, it's a perfect book/movie to use for comparing and contrasting the book with the movie once you've finished reading it!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mixing Art and Technology

I'm really still struggling with K-2 computer class... there's no curriculum and it's so hard to figure out what to teach them during our 45 minute class. I've googled the heck out of it, too, and there aren't really specific objectives for computer class, other than the vague national technology objectives... sigh.

The other day I decided we needed to focus on the "Fill Bucket" tool in Kid Pix. These kiddos are really struggling with fine motor skills, so I thought drawing lines and filling boxes with color would exercise their fine motor skills. (**Seriously, have you ever seen a kinder kid use a mouse? They can't figure out how to pick it up and move it when they run out of space on the desk!**)

Have you ever seen artwork by Piet Mondrian?
It's classic and easy for kids to reproduce. So, I had the kids log into Kid Pix and use the drawing tool to create some lines on their screen. Using our projector, I displayed some of Mondrian's art pieces for them to see, and then they used the fill bucket tool to create their own masterpiece. 
Some kids did better than others creating straight lines. It's hard for them!

 Some kids made lots and lots of lines...
 Others had fewer lines, therefore bigger squares.
Overall, this was an extremely successful project. I felt like it was valuable to be able to integrate art and technology. Art doesn't always have to include paint or glue and scissors. I think it's important to teach kids about famous artists and types of art. I definitely didn't learn enough about it as a kid, and I wish I knew more! 

Most importantly, the kids were super successful and they had a great time! 


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kindergarten Computer Chaos

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I thought I would do a Google image search to show you my current state of mind:
Yep. That's about it. This is about what Kindergarten Computer class does to me. Normally it's not quite THIS bad, but today... oh, today I earned my paycheck.

I'll start by introducing you to a typical kinder computer lab time. They smile and say hello and hug me when they come in (this is my favorite part of teaching--the hugs and high fives from the little ones!). It doesn't matter what has happened on previous days, they are just excited as can be to come to class.

That's pretty accurate. Imagine 16 of those at one time. Then, bless their hearts!, they attempt to log in. A few get it right away, but the majority of them take a loooong time to get it right. They know the username and password from weeks of practice. The problem is the typing. They are SO focused and SO intent upon getting it right that they press each key just a little too long. Thus, instead of, say, "dog," they end up with something more like, "dddddoooooogggggg." And then they wonder why they can't log in! If only the computer could sense their sincerity and effort! Sigh.

So what does a frustrated kindergartener do?  
"Miss Craig? Miss Craig? Miss CRAIG????" 
 It really wouldn't be that bad, except that it's usually 12 of the 16 yelling this all at the SAME TIME.
Thus, the picture at the top of the post.

If only that were the end of it today. Oh, no. No. Today, one of my precious kinder friends grabs herself and proclaims, "I have to go to the bathroom!!" It was clearly urgent. So, I opened the door to the computer lab, and sent this girl and her partner two doors down to the bathroom. After about five minutes they still hadn't returned, so I signaled across the hall to one of the middle school teachers to watch my class please, and went down to the girls' bathroom door.

Lo and behold... it really had been an emergency. I'm now facing a kindergarten girl with her panties around her ankles and a worried look on her face.

Thankfully, her mom's the school secretary. One little phone call and mom was here to help.

That, my dear teaching friends, is why I feel a bit frazzled right now as I head off to teach middle school history. They tend to act like kindergarteners too, sometimes!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Homophone Song

Homophones are tricky things, no? Today as I was googling some things to use for tutoring after school, I found this GREAT clip from Veggie Tales Sumo of the Opera about homophones. It's witty and clever, and would make a great opening for teaching kids about some of the common homophones.

Isn't that great?

What are some of your favorite video clips to use in the classroom?


Monday, October 10, 2011

Spanish Meltdown and Great Bilingual Resources

I have GOT to be better about taking pictures while I teach. I just get so involved in the process of teaching and learning that I plain ol' forget! And then I feel like I can't post things well on this blog because, well... a picture is worth a thousand words. And who wants to read thousands of words? :) I know I'd always rather look at pictures!

I'm surviving. Last week I had a minor (well, somewhere between minor and major) meltdown as I looked at the coming weeks and the Spanish resources and melted into a puddle of inadequacy. I don't know if you've ever been in this position before, but it's such a new experience to have the teaching skills, but not the content skills! Ugh! I feel like such a failure because I KNOW what good teaching is, but I can't always do it because I don't know enough! Talk about incentive to brush up on my Spanish skills!

For example... the first couple of weeks we focused on Classroom Object Vocabulary. We sang some silly songs, but now I'm stuck. Do I just move on? I can plow through the vocabulary rather quickly, but.... but c'mon! We all know that's not GOOD TEACHING. I'm all about REALLY GOOD TEACHING. Really good teaching says that for vocabulary to stick or be meaningful, you have to teach it in a real context and allow the students to practice it in a real context. Great. I don't know enough Spanish to provide real context that comes from them!

Anyway... I've been gathering some amazing stuff from

For REAL. This gal is AWESOME. She's single-handedly saved my week. I've found some great games and printables on her site, and they're not just for Spanish! Good vocabulary techniques are good vocabulary techniques, no matter the language!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Currently: My First Linky Party

I've got to shoot straight with you, I just don't know how to jump into this world of educational blogging. I love stalking blogs and stealing ideas, but I have no idea how to get involved in the blogging community. I guess jumping into a linky party might help. :)

Oh' Boy 4th Grade is hosting a "Currently" linky party, so I thought I'd try my hand at linking up. We'll see if I even know how. ;)

I am currently....

listening to Save Me, San Francisco (Train)

loving the start of changing leaves, the crisp cool weather that indicates that FALL IS HERE!

thinking that I need to figure out what to do with my first graders in computer class today....
wanting to take a quick trip home to Indiana to see my doggy, Teddy. (I'm in Virginia subbing for a friend who's out for surgery for a few months--Teddy is with my parents. I miss him.)

needing to trim my bangs...they're getting long and in my eyes!

stalking these lovelies:


Create Teach Share


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Teacher Made Big Books

Is anyone else obsessed with Big Books? I've only taught 3rd and 5th grades, and I've always been envious of the younger grades who have access to so many awesome big books! I do have one Magic School Bus big book, but most of the others I've found are for preschool/kinder levels.

Well, I'll save my gushing for other posts, but last year I had the most incredible 42-hour teacher training in Project G.L.A.D. (Guided Language Acquisition Design), an Orange County, CA based program. It's life-changing, I tell you. It has revolutionized the way I teach. I digress (I promise to tell more about it in other posts!)...

One amazing GLAD strategy is using Teacher-Made Big Books in the classroom. Why?

  • Students (and, let's be honest, teachers!) love them!
  • You can tailor them to directly focus on the core standards in your unit (and maybe even integrate standards from another unit!)
  • Embed important concepts and vocabulary
  • Expose students to comprehensible expository text (you know...the kind that wasn't written for a graduate-level college student!?)
  • Patterned texts gives access to all students
Awesome, isn't it? Let me show you a few and explain the process.

Choose key concepts and vocabulary.  For example, here's a big book about Economics. The possibilities are truly endless!

Choose a frame or pattern. Some suggestions are:

The Important Book
I Just Thought You Would Like to Know
Brown Bear, Brown Bear
When I Was Young
I Remember When
    Here's an example of a big book about the Earth using the frame from The Important Book. You'll notice that "the important thing" is at the top and bottom of each page in the book... and it's the state standard, verbatim! The idea behind this is that even your lowest kids will get the gist of the standard as you read it aloud again and again. Then, each page has new information sandwiched between the important thing, which is bonus information for the higher students.

    Here's another book about the American Revolution that has a slightly different frame, but you can see the same idea at work.

    Lastly, use real pictures and photos. There's a whole bunch of brain research related to this, but basically it's all about providing a way for students to connect the information with images, and then use their schema to file the information in a retrievable place in their brains. It works, I assure you.

    Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!

    Saturday, September 24, 2011

    Knee Deep in Blogs and Tutorials

    Well, I'm still working on figuring out this whole world of blogging. I'm so amazed by everything that I find in blogland...I've found so many amazing teaching ideas just in the last two days alone! It's taken me all evening tonight, but I did finally figure out how to make a signature for my blog. Maybe one of these days I'll figure out how to link up to linky parties and how to really keep up with posting daily.

    I'm in the midst of my long-term sub position in VA at a private school. I've found that it's a totally new adventure to be teaching kids from K all the way to 8th grade... and some days I go straight from teaching Kinder computer class to 7/8th grade US History! It's wild! I have been taking some pictures and will work on posting those tomorrow, but for now just wanted to check out how my new signature works and see if my hours of squinting at the computer screen were effective. :)


    Wednesday, August 31, 2011

    Spelling, Schmelling

    Probably one of the biggest problems I've found in today's educational curriculum is a lack of answers for teaching spelling. How do you successfully differentiate spelling instruction for all levels of the classroom, while making it fun, and most of all, useful?

    I wanted to introduce you to one of my favorite teaching resources, Mrs. Gold's Class Website. She's a third grade teacher in New Jersey, and she doesn't have a blessed idea how often I've stalked her site, stolen her ideas, and copied her strategies. One of my very favorites of her resources is her Creative Choices Spelling Packet. She gives tons and tons of ideas for practicing spelling words, and the kids actually don't mind doing most of them! The activities include all multiple intelligences. You will not be sorry you checked it out.

    Oh, but that still doesn't help with the word selection process, now does it? This is an area I haven't quite figured out. One of my former colleagues would have the kids come up with their own spelling words from their reading material. They would write new words and definitions in their reading journals and use those as spelling words at the end of the month. It just didn't seem manageable in my classroom, though... how do you manage 25 different spelling lists? Not sure.

    One thing I did last year was have the kids submit words from their reading. They'd have to write the word, a definition from a children's dictionary online, and a sentence using the word. Then, I'd compile the list of 10 words for the week, and I would have the kids complete a spelling packet over all of the 10 words and then we'd have a spelling/vocabulary test over the words. I want to make sure that kids aren't just learning how to spell 'superciliousness' (or some such other word) without knowing how to properly use it in conversation or writing. What's the use in that?

    Well, I'll have to do a little more research, but I did see tonight that Teaching Happily Ever After posted about  this very thing! Her solution is a program called Words Their Way. It's something I'll definitely be checking out.

    What about you? How do you differentiate spelling instruction?

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011

    The Uncertain World of Subbing

    I suppose it's high time I began a blog. I stalk enough of them on a regular basis, and I love to write, so this only makes sense. Plus, this year I actually have time to add something new to my plate. This year I'm unemployed... well, I suppose I'm technically employed because I'm going to be subbing the year away, but it's not the traditional employment of a certified educator.

    You see, this is a brief illustration to help you understand the past four years of my life:
    Follow along with my journey:
    A: This is the site of Grace College in Winona Lake, IN. This is where, just over 4 years ago (2007), I graduated with my Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.

    B: I decided I wanted an adventure (and I couldn't find a job in Indiana), so I moved to the Washington, D.C. area and taught at a private school for 3 years. I loved 3rd grade!
    C: Then my family moved to California. I was the only one on the East Coast! So, summer of 2010 I packed all of my belongings into a truck and high-tailed in to the San Francisco Bay Area.
    I taught 5th grade at a private school for 1 year (I love 5th grade!) and then my family decided to move back to the Midwest (ugh! family!)
    D: So, here I am... strangely close to where I first began. I'm in Northwest Indiana, hoping to land a permanent teaching job one day. For now, I'll put in my time and blood, sweat, and tears as a substitute teacher.

    Ironically enough, my first sub position is at my previous private school in the DC area. A good friend is having surgery, so off I go! It's at least a 6 week gig, plus I get to be close to my friend during her recovery time. So, you can expect that the first few posts of this blog will encompass the adventures of an educator highly unqualified to teach Spanish and Computer to the little ones. :) Should be entertaining, no?