Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Team Meetings That Matter

Hello!  My name is Nicole Chavanne and I blog over at Learning Lab.  I am a special education teacher that floats between grades 4-6 each year.  When I am not home on maternity leave, I co-teach with a general education teacher and work with several paraprofessionals in our classroom.  

How many of you have weekly meetings with your team?  I know it is best practice, but it is soooo hard to stick to a consistent schedule, especially when my inclusion team involves 3 general education teachers, 4 paraprofessionals, and myself.  And that is not even including the special area folks and related services providers.  
When you have several adults working with the same group of students, it is vital for everybody to be on the same page.  It is especially important to keep the paraprofessionals in the classroom up to speed on student progress and your expectations for continued growth, both academically and behaviorally.  

Over the years, I have learned a few things about successful and, more importantly, productive team meetings.  It's not always easy to do, but it is well worth it.  The entire team will benefit and, most importantly, so will the students.  

Consistency Matters

The first thing, is to schedule consistent meetings.  Pick a day.  Pick a time.  Stick to it.  It doesn't matter if somebody is out.  Keep the meeting, as scheduled.  Once you cancel or postpone one meeting, it makes it easier to do it over and over again. 

I suggest you pick one of the middle days so you avoid those Monday and Friday holidays.  Of course, sometimes things happen that would prevent you meeting as a team, such as a faculty meeting.  It is important to try your best to meet each week.

Have an Agenda

Nobody likes attending meetings with no purpose.  Have a list of things to discuss ready prior to the meeting beginning.  One thing I have in place with my team is a "Hold That Thought" board where we can all leave post-its in a location that is hidden from the classroom view.  
This is so helpful because we can collect things we need to discuss over the course of the week.  Of course, it is important that your team is comfortable bringing up vital topics immediately, if needed.  

You can read more about the way I use my "Hold That Thought" board on my blog.

Take Notes

Have somebody take minutes of your meetings and make copies for each member of your team.  This serves a couple of purposes.  First, you will always have a record of discussions that were had and solutions that were found.  Second, those that may have not been able to attend will know what was discussed.

You can make extra copies for those special area folks, related services providers, and even your principal to keep them in the loop.  Who knows?  Maybe they'll want to attend your next team meeting!

Be Respectful

This should be a given but sometimes team meetings can become a little heated.  It is important that all members of your team feel important and listened to.  When bringing up a minor issue, "we" language is helpful.  For example, instead of saying "you need to ____ more" you can say "we need to ____ more."  Using "we language makes conversations less threatening.  

Bring Treats

In my always hungry opinion, this is the most important thing!  If you have food, people will come.  If you have especially tasty treats, people that were not even invited will try showing up!  In all honesty, having food on the table puts people at ease and makes team meetings seem less formal and more conversational.  Bagels and cream cheese are my favorite treats to bring for morning team meetings.  You can take turns being the one in charge of treats to ease the cost.  

Working with a team can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences.  Keeping up with consistent team meetings will make the rewards even greater!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Weather + Data Tracking = Engaged Students!

This is Krista from The Knitted Apple and I am happy to be back with another blog post on Who’s Who!

We are experiencing quite interesting weather in North Texas today.  It has been raining nonstop for hours and last night there were several tornadoes in the area.  I’m one of those weather geeks who loves checking weather apps to see what the weather is like in different parts of the country.  Right now in North Texas the temperature is a wet and rainy 46 degrees but in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska it is a frigid 14 degrees with a “real feel” of 4 below.  YIKES!

One science unit I teach every year is weather, which is taught in several grade levels with varying expectations for each grade.  Third graders in Texas are expected to track the weather occurring in different locations at the same time.  When I completed this unit for the first time, I was happily surprised at how engaged and excited students were.  We looked at weather in different locations in the United States and tracked the temperature, chance of precipitation, and wind speed for each.  To make it more exciting our data tracking just happened to include a week of intense weather across the U.S.  Students noted heavy snowfall, below freezing temps, winter storm warnings, and wind and flood advisories.  In other cities temperatures were mild and uneventful.  Students recorded data on a tracking sheet for five days, recording the weather from four cities at the same time.   Once I showed them where to find the weather data and we completed an example together, this tracking part ran itself.  Immediately when Science began students would partner up, grab a laptop or device, and go to one of the weather sites to record data.   They could not contain their excitement as they saw the changes that occurred from one day to the next.

Here are two student-friendly websites I use for tracking weather data: 

Choose 3-4 cities to use for tracking weather, and be consistent in recording data at approximately the same time every day. As students collect weather data there will be opportunities for meaningful discussions about these differences in weather from one city to the next.This is a perfect opportunity time to pull down that dusty map in your classroom and incorporate geography. 

You can track weather at national parks or landmarks for an interesting twist! Try tracking weather data for  Yosemite National Park in California and Big Bend National Park in Texas! Show these places to students on a map and have them discuss why there could be such an extreme difference in weather conditions. 

If you are interested in a complete weather unit you can use in your classroom, you can click on the image shown below.  This resource is in my TeachersPay Teachers store and includes a creative writing component in addition to weather tracking.  

I hope your students enjoy learning about weather!

Monday, December 28, 2015

7 Easy Ways to Bring Australia Day into your Classroom

Hello, this is Sandra from Teaching Treks. I hope you've had a wonderful Christmas.  Australian schools have their long summer break at this time of year and it's always nice to relax and spend time with family and friends. Our new school year usually begins the same week as we celebrate Australia Day, so here are some tips for easy, stress free ways to bring Australia Day into your classroom.

These ideas are also great for an Australia study in your classroom any time during the year!

1.     Research an Aussie Animal Did you know that the common wombat has cube-shaped droppings? Or that platypus lay eggs? Did you know the koala is not a bear? Find all the facts on one of Australia's unique animals!

2.     Make Lamingtons Did you know these Aussie treats are easy to make and delicious? Cut sponge cake into squares, coat each square in chocolate icing made from cocoa, water, icing sugar and butter and finally, roll in coconut. Yum! A Google search will find several free, simple recipes.

3.     Read a Book by an Aussie Author Did you know there are many, many talented Australian children’s authors? Current Australian Children’s Laureate, Jackie French, is just one of them and she has written wonderful, award winning books for all age groups.
4.     Create a Tourist Brochure  Did you know millions of tourists visit Australia every year? Select a major Australian tourist attraction. (Uluru, Sydney Harbour, the Gold Coast, Kakadu, just to name a few.) Research your attraction and design a brochure to encourage people to visit.

5.     Sing some Aussie Songs Did you know there are lots of fun Aussie songs that kids love? Visit All Down Under to find a terrific selection of songs as well as links to YouTube videos. Australian slang words are also explained for you.  Try Home among the Gum Trees, The Kookaburra Song and more! Visit AllDownUnder 
6.     Design a New Aussie Flag Did you know the current flag was chosen after the design won an international competition in 1901? Some people think it’s hard for others to recognize the Australian flag because it is similar to other flags. What could you put on a flag that would make people think of Australia as soon as they see it?

7.     Explore Different Points of View Did you know that some people call January 26 ‘Invasion Day’? This is because on this day in 1788, Australia was colonised by Britain. Should the date be changed? Is there another date that would be better suited to celebrate Australia Day? What is your point of view?

To add to your easy celebration ideas, here are some Australia-themed freebies from my TpT store!

Happy Australia Day!


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Thank you letters!

Hello,  It's Christina from Hanging Around In Primary {} and I am happy to be back and blogging again here at Who's Who and Who's New.  I hope that you enjoyed your Christmas and other celebrations and are ready for the next big celebration with New Year's Eve.

I haven't really started to think about my return tothe classroom just yet but I know those thoughts will start creeping in as I get closer to January 4th.  I am excited to see my students but we are returning after 2 weeks of holidays and before that 3 weeks of off routine time in the classroom. December in my classroom is full of holiday preparations, celebrating and just plain fun.  It is a far cry from our regular routine.  That is to say that January is like starting over all over again.  Do you feel like that too?

I like to start January off with something very familiar to my students so they feel successful right from the start.  It makes the transition back to school and our routine easier.  Before the holidays we spent a lot of time learning how to write letters.  We wrote letters to Santa and to everyone else at the North Pole using the letters, templates and success criteria from my Letters to the North Pole unit. On the second to last day of school we also wrote to our custodian to thank him for taking good care of our classroom.  My students are very familiar with the process of writing a letter.

They are also super excited to share about all of their gifts too.  I swear if I gave them the first hour of the first day just to talk they would use that whole time just talking about their holidays.  I kept all of these things in mind when I designed my After Christmas Thank You Letters.

My students spend a lot of time talking about their gifts and need to decide on one special gift they want to focus on and really tell a lot about it - who gave it to them, why it is special or their favourite gift?  After all the talking I break the writing process down into manageable pieces using graphic organizers so they are able to focus in on the specific gift they are writing about.

At the end of the process the kids take their letters home and deliver them to the special someone who gifted them.  If the gift was from Santa we put them all in an envelope and mail them to the North Pole.  I think it is important to instill and attitude of gratitude in our students.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Happy New Year Craftivity FREEBIE

It is hard to believe that 2015 is coming to an end and 2016 is just around the corner. Most of us are just starting winter break and can barely think about anything except making sure our alarm clocks are turned off! 

However, some of us are planners! Me.. Me...Me!!! In preparation for the New Year, I created and prepped these resolution crafts for my kiddos to complete the first week we are back from break. 

All the templates are included to create a boy or girl New Year's Resolution booklet.

All you have to do is copy the templates on white paper. Next, choose if you want your students to write a personal resolution or a school resolution. I am going to make an anchor chart  and have a discussion with my class, so they have ideas about what resolutions are and what they mean. Finally, cut and staple the pages together to make your booklets.

You can grab this activity with all the templates for your class too! Just click on the picture below and grab your FREE copy! 
Happy Holidays everyone!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

January Ideas for Interactive Writing

Hello, this is Brandi from The Research Based Classroom. I know it's not even Christmas yet, but now that I'm done with Christmas in the classroom, it's time to start planning for January. I am a huge fan of interactive writing for the K-2 classroom and today I am sharing some of my favorite January writing ideas. First, a quick look at how I implement interactive writing.

  • I like to plan 4 days a week for writing and I give it about 15 minutes each day.
  • Everyone writes the text on their own paper while we write on the class paper. I put the class paper on the easel and everyone else writes on their own paper. I know lots of teachers who have students write on whiteboards, but I like my students to have a finished text that they can take home and read to their family. Choose what works best for you.
  • Every student writes on the class paper. At the beginning of the year in first grade it might be one letter at a time, but by the end of the year it's a whole word at a time. So it's important to write longer texts as the year moves along.
  • We compose the text together. Students make suggestions and we work together to decide what we will write. Many of the decisions are made by a quick vote.
  • You can teach any writing skill with interactive writing. Decide what to focus on by what you see that your students need. Use interactive writing as a time to teach skills your students need for their independent writing. Here's a small list of skills that can be taught:

You can write about any topic, but here are some of my favorite January topics:

  • Directions for building a snowman
  • New Year's Resolutions for the class
  • Penguin or Polar Bear Facts
  • A biography or list of facts about Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Create a list of things that good readers or writers do
  • Create a list of rainy day activities
  • Write about snowflakes after reading Snowflake Bentley
  • Read the story of Ruby Bridges and retell her story

Add caption

If you are looking for ideas for other months, you can find these ideas and more in my Interactive Writing for Grades K-2 download at TpT.

Happy Writing!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Have you given Donors Choose a try?

First let me say, congrats on surviving the week before Christmas and the Christmas party!  The kids are so excited that the excitement bubbles up and spills out everywhere!  Enjoy your well deserved winter break!

While you are break, I'm sure you will be thinking about the spring semester.  Are there things you need to make teaching a concept easier or engaging?  Is there something that would make your classroom run more smoothly?  Does the thought of writing a grant scare you?  Then you should give Donors Choose a try!

Donors Choose
It's super easy to set up an account.  And super easy to write a "grant" or project.  I have had at least 9 projects fully funded over the past 11 years.  I just recently had a project get fully funded.  I wrote a grant for an iPad and otterbox.  You can check it out by clicking here
I have written projects for reading and math games, HP Slate tablets, and books.   You can read about some of them here, here, and here.
There are a few rules.  Every project costs a certain amount of points depending on cost and vendors.  You start out with three points.  You earn points by getting projects funded and complete a thank you package.  In the beginning you will need to use the provided vendors until you earn more points.  You must work with students for at least 75% of the time.  And you must complete a thank you package for every project that gets fully funded.
So, whether you are new to Donors Choose or been away for a while you should work on a project while you are on break.  It's an amazing opportunity to bring more resources into your classroom.
Well, that's all I got!  I'll see you around the blogging world!
Primary Essentials

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Tortilla Factory

We are immersed in our Food Unit and I thought The Tortilla Factory by Gary Paulsen would be a great addition this year.

Tortillas are a delicious part of all of our lives here in Southern California, and for many of you all over the world, so it was a no-brainer.

The book shows how corn seeds planted in the ground, grow into tall corn stalks.  How the corn is dried and ground into flour.  How it is made into masa dough and then into tortillas.  How the tortillas are taken to stores, purchased, and brought to our kitchens.

After reading, we discussed food that we like to eat with tortillas.  And of course, we created a circle map!

Then we used a sentence starter, I like tortillas and ______ , to create sentences.

Food is such a popular topic in my classroom!  You can see more of what we have done with food {HERE}.

And more Thinking Maps {HERE}.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Informational Writing: All About Animals

How do you do informational writing in your classroom? Do you teach it throughout the year? Or all within a couple months time period?

I go in-depth about the process we use in our classroom to learn how to write expository or informational writing in a blog post on What I Have Learned. We use animals as our topic and study each animal for about a week. At the end of the week, students write a paragraph about a particular attribute of the animal.

Informational Writing Process

Here is the basic process we use.

  • Day 1: Gather Information
  • Day 2: Work with the Information
  • Day 3, 4, & 5: Write About the Animal

You can pretty much see each part of the process in the above photos or go to the blog to see more photos and detail.

It’s a pretty simple, but repetitive process to give students experience with each stage of the process. We research and gather facts about the animal by reading articles and watching videos about it. To work with the information, I type out the facts students discovered in their research and students sort the facts into categories. Finally, we write about the animal using the fact sort as a reference to help organize our writing.

Each week, I’ll do mini-lessons on different aspects of the writing process, like writing an introduction, organizing the facts, expanding sentences, etc. However, the process is the same each week.  You can read more about the mini-lessons by clicking on the links at the end of this blog post.

At the end of our unit, students have a full animal book that we then publish and send home with parents. One of the animals that we have done in the past has been reindeer / caribou.

Animal Articles

I also have a variety of nonfiction articles and QR codes to videos that I use with students to help them research and gather information.  I've developed a slew of articles that are available on TpT individually, by habitat, and as a bundle.  Articles for African Animals, Rainforest Animals, Coral Reef Animals, Life Cycle Animals, and Antarctic Animals are available.

The Caribou article is FREE for you. If you’ve already taught about caribou this season, you can file it away for next year.  Included is a two-page article with visuals, a duplicate one-page article with no visuals, QR Codes and a fact sort.

Since developing this unit, Informational Writing has been one of my favorite to teach students.  I love seeing them discover new facts about animals and I love seeing their writing develop over the course of the unit.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Christmas Countdown Fun and some FREEBIES

With seven days to go to the Christmas break, I am pulling out all the stops to keep my students engaged and learning at this exciting time of the year.  Over the years I have set up a number of ways to countdown the days to our break.

1.  Secret read alouds

Each year I order some new Christmas books from Scholastic using my bonus points and then I wrap them up in Christmas wrapping paper and put them on display.  Each day after our recess break I pick one student to open one book.  My students get so excited to see which book is hidden behind the wrapping paper.  This year I also ordered some books that come with a CD which can be played while a student holds the book.  I really love the few minutes break you can get when a CD is playing in your class during this time of year.

2.  Chocolate Advent Calendar

Each year I buy a chocolate advent calendar (peanut-free of course) for my students to use to count down the days to Christmas.  My students have all been given a number in the class.  I use the numbers to help with distributing supplies and books at the beginning of the year.  On the day of each student's number they get to look on the advent calendar and find their number and then open the door to receive their chocolate.  For example:  student #1 gets to pick their chocolate on Day 1.  If their number falls on the weekend they get to open their chocolate on Monday.  Some days I forget about the chocolate calendar but my students never do.  They know their day!

3.  Elf on the Shelf

Whether you love him/her or not, it is a part of many students Christmas traditions so I have decided to embrace the elf and use it to my advantage.  I find the Elf is a great motivator for writing.  I find even my most reluctant writers will always want to write in their journal about where the Elf was hidden and what he/she was doing.  One of my favourite activities is to have students design their own Elf and write about what makes a good one #santahelpers #toptoymakers.

This is also a great companion activity to go with the book "Memoirs of an Elf" by Devin Scillian and Illustrated by Tim Bowers.  I think this is now one of my favorite read alouds and my students love that the elf is texting and taking "elfies" instead of "selfies"

You can check out my Take An Elfie unit here!

4.  Christmas Solve the Room 

Students find it harder to sit this time of year so I try to get them up and moving every chance I get.  Students love working with a partner to move around the class and I love that they are still practicing their math.

Christmas Place Value Solve The Room
If you teach multiplication and division, try this freebie with your students to see if they would like participating in a solve the room type activity.
Operation Christmas Multiplying and Dividing Whole Numbers

5.  Gingerbread Ornaments

Applesauce and ground cinnamon mixed together make a great parent present.  Grab my recipe here.  Students have to measure the ingredients so it is a great way to sneak in some math at the same time.
Waiting to be decorated with some glitter and a ribbon!

6.  Reindeer Cam

Indoor recess or lunch play is just a bit easier when you have the Reindeer Cam playing.  My students love watching the reindeer move around the field.  It seems to keep their attention while they eat.  Check it out by visiting the Reindeer Cam.

I hope some of these ideas help you to countdown and plan for the busy few days before the Christmas break.  Happy Holidays to you and enjoy your time away from school!

Jane Feener