Wednesday, July 29, 2015

An Organized and Cozy Classroom Library

I had to change rooms this year, so I decided to take advantage of that. I'm getting SUPER organized and went ahead and changed up my classroom theme. I don't have it done entirely yet, but I wanted to go ahead and share my classroom library with you.

My goal was for my classroom to feel warm and homey. I decided on a light blue, gray and black Moroccan style Quatrefoil, and went with it!

My bookshelves are from Walmart, the baskets were a GREAT deal at Big Lots, and I made the labels. The curtain rod, circle rug and curtains are from IKEA.  I just love the way the curtains turned out! 

The back of my bookshelves wasn't so pretty, so I added matching wrapping paper. I'm hoping it will be out of the way enough that it won't get torn apart.

I also wanted to make sure I had lights to add to the homey feel. This floor lamp was just under $8 at IKEA!

Here's a peek at the front of the room. I purchased this beautiful rug during a sale on Zulily, the chair was an awesome clearance find at Target, the lamp is from a friend and the basket is from Hobby Lobby.

I can't wait to finish the room and show you all of it!
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Engineering Design Process

After moving to the highly gifted academy in my district, I realized quickly that the Engineering Design Process was something I needed to teach my students. Although we are not a STEM program, many of my students LOVE to design things and needed a guide to help them see the importance of creating a plan and redesigning.

After researching the process and coming up with kid-friendly language, I settled on six steps:
  1. Ask- Where students identify the problem
  2. Imagine- Where students brainstorm solutions to the problem
  3. Plan- Where students create a plan
  4. Create- Where students design their product
  5. Improve- Where students redesign their product after testing (redesign as many times as needed!)
  6. Share- Where students share and reflect on what they have learned
I cannot stress enough how important seeing the words "plan" and "improve" were to helping my students see that just because you tried one time doesn't mean you've solved the problem as best you could. 
Here is what the bulletin board looked like in my classroom:
I had Staples print the large poster for me. I believe they called it an "engineer print" (fitting, isn't it?). It was the cheapest way to get such a large poster.
The Engineering Design Process is something that can be incorporated into so many science activities. Instead of having students experiment with motion, why not have them create something using the design process like mine did with their marble roller coasters?
If you're interested in these posters, you can check them out here!
Can't wait to share more about this with you.
I also have my favorite GT strategies coming. I just taught a professional development on this (first one ever... EEK!) and am so fired up to share! 
And just in case you're wondering, working in the new gifted academy in our district and this little guy have taken up my time that I used to blog. I'll get better, I promise! 
I have so much I SO badly want to share! :)
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Monday, February 9, 2015

Exploring Motion with Marble Coasters

We've been up to so much in my classroom lately, that I hardly know where to start! One of my favorite projects (and one of my students' favorites, too) was creating marble roller coasters.

In order to study motion, they were tasked with creating marble roller coasters. I gave them tiered options depending on the challenge they wanted:
Level 1- One hill and a curve
Level 2- Two hills
Level 3- A loop-de-loop

We first found a roller coaster engineer to Skype with which got them VERY excited!

They then experimented with pool noodles split in half and marbles. (If I was pressed for time, I might have just let them tape pool noodles to big pieces of cardboard as their project.)

After that, they created a plan and created their roller coasters using cardboard tubes from paper towel and toilet paper tubes and masking tape.

Here are some of their finished projects.

I really stressed the test and redesign part of the engineering process. This project was a lot of fun, but taught some of my students that failure is definitely okay and is something we have to persevere through.

And in case you are curious.... this little guy is the one who has been keeping me from blogging as much as I used to. I'm finally getting to the point where I feel like I can breathe again!

One last thing, for anyone who is an Etsy fan, I just started my new shop. Check it out if you'd like:

Have a great week!
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

First Week Activities

While it was surely a busy week, the first week of school was definitely a good one! We started all of the high level activities I told you about a few weeks ago in this post, as well as some great team building things as well.

My students loved doing the cup stacking challenge again! Only this time, I added a twist...

Last year we simply had the challenge of building the tallest tower with the number of cups that I gave them (56 this year). After seeing them build this year, I could tell from the conversations my students were having that we could take it a step further.  On the second day, I gave them the challenge of creating the most stable tower using all of the cups I gave them. We tested it using a white board as a platform and stacking books on top of it. They had so much fun with this! I think the record was 31 books!

This activity will be great to refer back to when I talk about the Design Process and when we talk about different topics in science.

Another activity that was great for team building was our Eggbert Poster. We used the book Eggbert throughout the week to talk about how he was like us, to introduce thinking hats and then as the shape of our mystery puzzle. (If you don't have the book Eggbert, Elmer is a great one, too!)

To prepare for this activity, I drew a large egg on a piece of poster board and divided it into puzzle pieces. I took a picture of the puzzle to refer to if I needed to give them help, and wrote all of their names the correct direction so we knew which way was up (very important step).

I handed my students a puzzle piece and let them decorate it however they wanted without telling them what is was. It was neat to watch how they worked together to figure it out. 

Here is the only picture I managed to take of the activity:

We are going to keep this puzzle on the butcher paper on our wall this year to to remind us how we are like Eggbert and to remember the team work it took to put together.

I hope everyone else had or will have a great start to their school year!
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

FREEBIE: Start out the Day with High Level Thinking During Morning Work!

I try hard to make sure my students know what I expect of them as soon as they walk in the door.

As teachers, we know that morning work is important to set these expectations. Last year I made one of my students' spirals a morning work notebook, and we often did 2 different things to make our morning work creative and high level.

We often did "What's the question?" I would write a number on the board and they would decide what the question could have been. It's very similar to this bulletin board that I posted about a while back, but not quite as fancy!

I also often wrote letters on the board such as T i g t b a g d! The students would work to create different sentences with those letters. I always had a sentence in mind and would share it with them after they had time to work on their own. That sentence was "This is going to be a great day!" 

They are 2 very easy morning work ideas that elicit higher level thinking and don't take much prep work.

I loved doing these 2 things last year, but wanted more for this year. So... I went ahead and created morning work through September with these activities and more to keep my creative thinkers busy! 

Here is a free week of challenge morning work:

GT Morning Work

Here is what I created for September:

GT Morning Work

If you're interested in higher level morning work for you entire class or just your few creative thinkers who need a challenge, this would be great as you can just print it and give it to your students who need it. 

I will add the rest of the months throughout the school year, so be sure to follow my TPT store if you want to know when they are posted!

Off to get ready for tomorrow... my first day back!
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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Starting off the school year right... with critical thinking

At this point in the summer, I would typically find myself thinking about and working on the look of my room. I might create new table signs, change my classroom theme, go out and buy cute lanterns... whatever it takes to create a cute environment in my classroom!

But this year is different.

I don't know if it's because it's now my 6th year teaching and I'm tired of redecorating every year, if it's because I have a new baby at home and don't want to leave him to redo my room, if it's because I'm finally staying in the same grade level and the same room this year, or it it's simply because I want to focus on what really matters. 

Aside from replacing a few borders and moving furniture back since we had carpet replaced, I'm going to focus my time on making sure I set my students up to be critical thinkers from the start.

As teachers, we know that we need to dedicate the first few weeks of school to routines, procedures, and setting up our expectations for the year. If I want my students to be deep thinkers, then shouldn't I start this from the beginning of the year?

Well, here's what I'm doing to make sure my students know I want them to be critical thinkers:

Back to School Activities that Build Community and Depth of Thinking:

Last year I created my "Not Your Normal Back to School Unit" because it is just that... not typical. It has 7 different activities to help students get to know each other, but it elicits deeper thinking. My students loved it last year, and I plan to do it again! It's a great place to start adding depth of thinking if you're tired of the typical back to school activities.

Setting up the year with critical thinkers

Using Thinking Hats:

I have my bulletin board all set up and ready to go so we can use Thinking Hats from the start! I'll probably start this the first week and introduce a hat or two each day. Here is the link to my post about my Thinking Hats bulletin board and chants.

Setting up the year with critical thinkers

Solving Multi-Step Word Problems in Math Workshop:

As I set up my math workshop, I want to make sure my students know that I expect them to really think when they solve word problems. I don't want to give them problems that don't require them to think. You know the typical "There were 7 frogs on the log. 3 jumped away. How many are left?" Without even closely reading, many students can tell that all they have to do is 7-4 to find the answer. Instead, I am using word problems that still require them to do simple addition and subtraction, but also require them to do multiple steps and decide which information they need to solve the problems. This is what I'll be using to start that off:

Setting up the year with critical thinkers 

Using an Interactive Writing Notebook:

I also want my students to know that we can be critical thinkers in writing, too. Anytime we read a book or have a neat experience, my students are looking for ideas to write about or phrases and words to try in their own writing. Since writing is something that many students in my experience do not enjoy, it's important that I help them realize how creative they can be by introducing them to wonderful authors and fabulous words. In order to keep track of all of this, we use our writing notebooks. By the end of the year, I hope my students each have their "WOW Words" page full of exciting new words!

Setting up the year with critical thinkers

I hope this helps you to think about the kind of thinking you'll expect from your students right away. I can't wait to meet all of my new thinkers!
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