Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How do you "Halloween" in the Classroom?

Cool air, bonfires, hoodies, pumpkin spice everything...who doesn't love this time of year? *

*Okay, confession...I live in South Carolina and it was literally over 80 degrees most of this week, so yeah, the "cool air" part is not really happening, and therefore hoodies and bonfires aren't either yet, but autumn is still my favorite time of year!

Anyway, another thing I just love about the autumn/fall is Halloween!  Ever since I was a child I just loved the "spooky" decorations, ghost stories, and dressing up like someone or something else.  Okay, and the candy...who can leave that out?

But still, it can be tricky this time of year in a classroom.  Some schools and districts allow Halloween related activities or decorations, some allow limited activities or decorations, and some don't allow any Halloween related items or activities.

Whether or not your school allows Halloween items and activities, the kids sure remember that the holiday is going on and you can't exactly just sweep it all under the rug.  I know as a child (*cough* and adult) I was drawing jack-o'-lanterns, ghosts, and bats on the margins of my papers.  Some of us get wrapped up in the fun and it's hard to completely let that go no matter whether you're at home or school.

 Some schools also may only allow Halloween activities so long as they comply with your state standards in some way, and some not at all.  So, how do you balance what you're allowed to do versus engaging the kids in the fun of the Halloween season?

Even if you aren't allowed to do "Halloween" activities, there is still some fun to be had in relation to Halloween themes! Let's take a look at some ways to incorporate the fun of the holiday into your classroom without breaking the rules:

Costumes, Dressing Up is Always Fun!: 
* Okay, this is always a BIG deal for kids this time of year.  One way we helped combat this was holding a "Dress Like a Book Character Day" at school.  The trick was, the character had to be in a book.  I usually dressed as Hermione Granger myself, but the kids got really creative with this one, and we always had a lot of fun sharing who our character was and why we chose them.

You could even visit other classrooms and have the students write a quick 30 - 60 second monologue from their character's point of view to get other kids interested in their book and character!
(Yes, that's me above...about 10 years ago or so in my friend's classroom!)

* You could hold a "Vocabulary Parade." Now, if you have never read Miss Alaineus, A Vocabulary Disaster please consider reading it.  It's hilarious, the kids will probably relate to her plight, and in the book they have a Vocabulary Parade where she totally lives up to her mistake and has fun with it.  The kids all dress up as a vocabulary word in their own creative way.  My friend and I did this with our students and then had them parade around each other's class.  They had the word displayed somewhere on them, but the costumes were creative and fun.  Each student came up and said their word and definition, it was the most fun we've ever had with vocabulary words!

* If your students are researching historical figures, inventors, or even careers, you could have them dress up as that person, or someone who has that career!  It always adds fun to the project, and allows the kids to dress up at school.  Plus, you don't need a lot of special materials to make this happen!

Using "Spooky" Themes...That Aren't Really Spooky:
*This is a great time of year to have a day to focus on animals that might bring a fright to some students (and adults).  You could have activities centered around snakes, bats, owls, or "creepy crawly" invertebrates.  You could assign different types to students and have them research them. It may also teach them that the animals aren't really that "scary!"  If this interests you, I have one of these units already made: All About Bats!  In my unit I tried to cover different subjects and give you a variety of activities to be done over a day, or week!

*Pumpkins...not really "spooky" but definitely related to Halloween!  One activity I did with my students was dressing up pumpkins as part of a descriptive writing activity.  I used to do a "Which Witch is Which?" but when things got a little more strict with Halloween activities, I opted for the pumpkins which are arguably representative of autumn/fall as much as Halloween!  Both of these activities are here: Which Witch is Which? and Guess That Pumpkin!  For the pumpkin activity, they had to decorate/dress up their pumpkin and write a very descriptive paragraph using a lot of adjectives to help students guess their pumpkin.  A lot of pumpkins came in looking similar, but if they did a great job with their description, usually the students guessed correctly!  We then sometimes voted on the "best dressed."

*Another pumpkin activity was reading two books about pumpkins (fiction and non-fiction) and comparing them.  For this I used Big Pumpkin by  Erica Silverman (this was with 3rd graders), but if you wanted to skip the witch in the book, there is also Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White or Pumpkin Jack by  Will Hubbel.  For the Non-Fiction book, I just chose one that talked about pumpkins and their life cycle and uses.  I chose Seed, Sprout, Pumpkin Pie by Jill Esbaum, but any non-fiction abotu pumpkins will do!    We read them aloud and discussed them together, then we made a venn diagram and the students used post-it notes to help compare the books.

*And more pumpkins... Pumpkins are just so accessible and can be used in science and math so easily! (Although I haven't had time this year to put all of my pumpkin activities together, I'm planning it out, so be on the look out next year!)  With the help of parents I got each child a "baby pumpkin" and about 6 large pumpkins for the entire class.  Over the course of a week the students weighed their pumpkin, measured it's height and circumference, compared their pumpkins, and then some even used them in the above mentioned descriptive writing activity! With the large pumpkins, we weighted each and then predicted how many seeds we thought would be in their pumpkin (each group was in charge of one large pumpkin). We graphed the results, which was a great class activity. I had a volunteer come help cut the tops and in the science lab we scooped out the seeds, and tried to count them.  Was it a little messy?  Yes, but with lots of newspaper on the tables, and sinks near by, it wasn't so bad!  We compared the results to their hypothesis, and then I even had a parent volunteer to roast the pumpkin seeds for later in the week.  Healthy treat, anyone?

For those of you who are allowed to do some Halloween related activities, but need something to fit standards, be sure to check out my "Halloween: Five Subjects, One Day" product in my TpT  Store!

No matter how you celebrate this festive time of year, I hope that you have some ideas you can use in your classroom!

 To add to the fun, I've decided to give away a set of logic puzzles if you share how you incorporate Halloween (or Autumn/Fall) into your classroom!  The winner will choose either a Halloween or Fall themed set from the following:
* Halloween Logic Puzzles (single and double matrix set)
* Fall Logic Puzzles (single and double matrix set)
* Halloween Double Matrix Logic Puzzles
* Fall / Autumn Double Matrix Logic Puzzles

Be sure to enter on my Facebook page by October 18th!

Cheers and Happy Halloween!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Starting Off The Year Right!

Wow, it's here again...back to school time!

Boy can it be hectic, right?  Between getting your classroom ready, figuring out your roster, and the loads and loads of paperwork, you deserve a medal just for making it through the first week!

Well, I just wanted to share something that was a tremendous help to me in the classroom to help with organization of student papers from the get-go!  Once all of those student and parent information forms, volunteer forms, PTA forms, etc... are gone, then you'll have the daily assessments and activities that students will be turning in.  I wanted a way to be sure students were held accountable for turning in their papers, but in such a manner that I could keep everything in number order (alphabetized) in order to make grading (and especially recording those grades in my computer) a breeze!  

This is the system that I came up with after some trial and error.  This isn't a huge revelation for many of you, it's simple, but it worked really well!

First Goal:  Finding an efficient way to have students turn in papers where I can easily see who hasn't turned in work, but also keeping them in order.

My solution:  Hanging pocket chart with student numbers!

Why does this work?  Well, I tried paper turn-in's a couple ways.  First was the "mailboxes," you know, the stacked plastic paper sorters. With this method, while it kept the student's work in number order (I had my mailboxes numbered to keep them in alphabetical order), it took up a lot of room on my table.  Also, to see who hadn't turned in their work, you had to go over and look into the boxes to really tell, so I then tried a system with clothespins to see who had turned in work, but some mornings when we had 2-3 assignments, some students got a little confused as to if they owed work or not.

What next?  Well, I then tried downgrading with only boxes (paper sorters) for each subject.  While this reduced the space used, I couldn't see who didn't turn in work, and the papers had to be sorted into order each time.  This didn't last long at all...

Finally, we came to my final solution of the pocket charts with numbers.  Why does this work better than the other ways I tried?

First off, this pocket chart can hang on a wall or bulletin board, and takes up a lot less space on tables or my desk!  

Second, when work was turned in, I could see which pockets were empty (even from across the room) and could monitor to see if those students were on task, needed help, etc... Also, it allowed me to quickly write down those names that owed me that work before moving onto another assignment. This allowed me to remind them or help them during any down time or other opportunities they had to work on it!

After each assignment, you could either have someone collect them, or leave them in the pocket for the end of the day.  If you waited until the end of the day, this still worked great because I'd start with the assignment that was last turned in, collect them in order, write down what was missing...and it was all in alphabetical order!

Third, it was much more neat, streamlined, and tidy.  I was always a teacher who struggled with being tidy with my papers, and I wanted to be a good model for the students.  This was a huge help!

If you're looking for a pocket chart like that one (I actually received mine from Highlights magazine as a gift for participating in their classroom program) there is one on Amazon just like it here: Learning Resources Organization Station Chart.  (I am currently not an affiliate, so I'm not making anything off of this suggestion!)  Also, those cute little circle cut outs with their numbers can be found here in my TpT store!  I used these suckers for everything...even their cubbies!

However, if you prefer to have a little bit bigger pockets (that can also hold file folders, I could suggestion this one on  Amazon called Organization Center Pocket Chart.

But wait...what about after grading?  How did I get those papers back to the students to take home?  

Well, all the schools I've worked at have "take home folders."  This was a weekly communication method to send home important information and grades to the parents. So, it was important that I had a way to collect all of the papers for one student so that stuffing the folders was a breeze!  

(Note that my portable box got damaged during a move, and so I had to show my file folders in my crate - which can also be used!)

The easiest method I found was using a portable file box (one with a lid and a handle) and multicolored hanging folders that I numbered with the student numbers.  After grading a stack of assignments (that were in order, thanks to my pocket chart), I simply dropped them one by one from front to back into my hanging file folders.  By the time I stuffed folders for the week, I could simply start with student #1's folder, grab everything in their folder, and stuff it into their folder.

But wait...what about any papers that needed to be signed?  Well, as I filed away my graded papers, if the student had to get a paper signed (for me this was anything lower than a C), I stamped it with "Please Sign" on the top.  As I filed my papers, if it had this stamp, I simply filed it vertically so it stuck up out of the top of that student's folder.

That way, when it came time to stuff folders, I could grab the "Please Sign" paper(s) that stuck up (if they had any) and put those on the "please return" side, while everything else went into the "keep at home" side.   (For those of you who do this, I have a method for being sure those papers come back, and I'm going to share that in an upcoming blog post about take-home folders!)

Another reason I loved this file box was because of the portability!  If I had a ton of things to grade, I could take my paper clipped stacks of assignments, place them in one of the unused folders in the back, and take the entire thing with me.  It even held my grade book, my stamps, and my pouch of pens/highlighters. 

Mine was similar to this one by Sterilite, but this one by Oxford works as well and is a little cheaper! As for the folders, it helped me to have a repeating color pattern so the folders didn't look too similar.  My set is similar to these by Amazon Basics.  There are tons of color varieties around if you look!

I hope that if you are struggling with keeping up with student work from turn in, to grading, to returning in folders that this post helped you out!  The best thing to do is find a system that sounds like a winner for you and try to implement it as early in the year as you can to keep the students responsible for turning in their work where it belongs! 

Let me know if you have any questions and best of luck as you begin your new school year!


Monday, March 13, 2017

What'cha Workin' On?

Hey everyone!

As you can see, the blog has had it's "redesign" and I'm still working on making it match my store and Facebook so you might see some changes there too.

In the mean time, I wanted to give you a little update on what I've been working on:

One of my latest projects (posted) was the Plant Life Cycle products and bundle including my own personal set up for growing plants in your classroom without having to buy one of the expensive "plant kits."  Thanks to some items around your house (or the dollar store...or Amazon) it can be pretty simple.  I've included links to help if you want to purchase items (including the seeds) from Amazon.  However, the items are simple and cheap and you might already have them in your closet at school!

I also wanted to let you know that after many requests I will be working on the 5th grade version of my Common Core Math series.  It will include presentations, assessments, activities, interactive notebooks, and vocabulary just like my 4th grade products.

Also, be sure to follow me on Facebook because I'm hoping to do another giveaway to celebrate hitting 1,100 followers on TpT!   Stay tuned, because I'm planning a lot more blogging, and that means more fun and giveaways!

Thanks again for visiting...cheers!