Friday, July 30, 2010

Carpets in the Classroom - Random Idea

This is an idea for those teachers in schools who do not have budgets for area rugs in the classroom. Lowes and Home Depot have carpet remnants sections where you can catch a good deal on area rugs for the home or classroom. The are left over pieces of carpet that they bound on the ends.

Pictured above is a 6 x 8 rug that I purchased for my living room for $42. A teacher friend of mine showed me how to tape the "no slip" rug underlay to the carpet with wide masking tape so it would move with the carpet and not show if the carpet was moved. I was at the store and I looked at the "no slip" underlay and it cost over $40 (more then the carpet I was buying!). I simply reused the one I had under the old was a bit small but it should work (underlays would probably be cheaper at Walmart...or you could use the foam shelf liners and just do the perimeter and not the area).

They don't have cute rugs with maps and states but they are inexpensive and can be used as a reading area or working area for children.

My advice is to not purchase it in any "off white" color. I had to replace the rug I used to have in my living room because the foot, pet, and child traffic had discolored and stained it beyond a simple steam cleaning.

Number of Followers

Wow! I went on vacation and came back to find that I have over 100 blog followers. I remember getting my first blog follower and was so happy it wasn't my mom :)

Thank you to everyone who follows or just checks in periodically. It really helps push me in my notebooking and searching for ideas to share.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Random Idea - Writing Folders

When I moved to the elementary school from the middle school I was hired to teach math, science, and writing. While the writing seemed random I found I actually enjoyed teaching it. I love to write and I love to read what kids write (really hated the grading...particularly since I had over 45 students that first year).

That first year my students wrote some really fun things and like a good teacher I made comments, put a grade on it, and sent it home in student's weekly folders. As a mother, whenever I got those papers from my son I would mean to save them but they generally got trashed by the end of the school year. I wanted to try something different the next year and put together writing folders.

I bought about 30 white two pocket folders from Wal-Mart when they were on sale for .10 or .15 cents. I had students decorate them in the first week and kept them in a plastic tub. Anytime students had a writing assignment finished it went into that folder and stayed there for the entire year. My students had a weekly assignment to give me five sentences (or more) on any one topic so I had quite a lot of writing samples for each child (this was a "homework" assignment that I always gave students time to do in class....if they messed around in class they actually had to do it as homework). I explained to parents at our open house that they would not see writing come home on a weekly basis and showed them a sample file folder. I said that writing grades would posted regularly online for parents to check and if they wanted to see something specific they were more then welcome to come and look through their child's writing folder. Nobody ever came in.

The folders were great to show at parent/teacher conferences. I had one boy who just refused to write and I showed parents the lack of work in the folder compared with his classmates. Another child's writing was very immature and I was able to pull out samples while I was talking to her parent.

At the end of the year the folders went home with their reading projects and science notebook. As a mom, I would have LOVED to have had everything handed to me at the end of the year like this, instead of piece meal throughout the year.

I had one mom come in at the end of the year saying how much she enjoyed pulling out all of her son's writing and seeing his progress as well as having everything in one neat easy to keep folder.
I did kept one child's folder and passed it to the fifth grade writing teacher. I was very concerned about his writing/spelling but couldn't get him in any special services for it the entire year. I thought the fifth grade teacher might like a heads up and some fourth grade samples for comparison and for evidence of a continued disability in writing.

I've heard that some schools require writing portfolios and those tend to be more structured, with very specific writing samples kept in them, which get passed from grade to grade with student records. We don't have that requirement and even if we did I would still keep this idea as a great end of year keepsake for parents and children.

Multiple Subjects - Notebooking

This past year I tried to add notebooking to my reading class and failed miserably. In hindsight I think it was because I was new to teaching reading and I really wasn't sure what I was that overwhelmed me. It turned out setting up a notebooking as well as learning the curriculum was a bit too much so I abandoned them the second novel in (I stared with the novel Top Secret and then Sign of the Beaver).

The biggest problem I had was time. Reading a class novel takes time and so does working in a notebook. I tried reading one day and notebooking related to the reading the next day. It was taking forever to get through a novel! I was also alternating between class novel sets and using the reading textbook series (complete with the work book) so I was using the notebooks inconsistently.

What I wound up doing was abandoning notebooking and instead had students create large "lapbook" foldables at the end of each novel and that worked well for fact so much so that I would do that again this year (I got the lapbook idea from one of the blogs I am following).

I started with the novel The Witches and took a file folder and cut one flap in half. One half said "book" the other half said "movie" (we were working on comparing and contrasting skills). When the student opened it up there were four sections they had to fill in. The first was a book synopsis. The second was a character map. The third was a written paragraph focusing on how the movie was different from the book and the last was their supported opinion of whether the book or movie was better.

Students made file folder game boards for the novel "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever", file folders that highlighted character traits for the novel "The Homework Machine", etc. Students were graded on a rubric and it worked out great for me for the year.

I kept all these "lapbooks" and they went home at the end of the year with students along with their writing folder and science notebook.

Pictured above is an example of one of the projects we did for our nonfiction unit as well as my initial attempt at notebooking in reading.

My advice for people just starting to notebook is to get comfortable notebooking in one subject area before trying to tackle another. I have a friend in one school who would like to try notebooking in social studies but stuck with science for the first year to keep from being overwhelmed. I have another friend who is going to try it in math this year (in addition to science, which she also started last year as well).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Textbook Usage

Our district uses the McGraw-Hill textbook series (for the elementary grades and Glenco for the middle school grades).

I use the textbook in the classroom as a resource. It does not guide instruction, i.e. start at chapter 1 and end at the last chapter (I use our standards and EXCELLENT support documents to guide instruction). Last year I (and the social studies teacher on my team) stopped assigning textbooks to individual students and just kept a class set that we used as needed during instruction. We explained our reasons to our principal (kept the backpacks from being weighed down, cleared up space in their desks, etc.) and he was happy with our reasoning and approved the decision. We also made sure to explain to parents on our back to school night (during that discussion I showed them the link on my website where children could access the textbook online if needed).

Our textbook series is not bad (sure lots of non standard stuff but easy to work around). I can not say the same thing about the middle school science textbooks, which unfortunately reads like a college textbooks (lots and lots and lots of text). If I am going to use the textbook during a lesson I make sure they are stacked in the center of my table groupings at the beginning of the lesson. I use pictures/diagrams a lot and it is another resource for students when they are doing their RH assignments. If I am going to have a substitute I will create activities using the textbook.

When I first started teaching in our district they had just adopted new science textbooks. That meant that one of my back to school trainings was on the textbook and support material. I found that quite helpful. Unfortunately I moved to the elementary school the next year and there was no training. I was handed all the textbooks, kits, and support books/disks (of which there was A LOT) and not given any training. I was so overwhelmed that I put those things in a cabinet, with the intention of going through it all, and I don't think I looked at it once during the year!

The only thing I knew is that students could access the textbook online with a username and password (I learned that in the middle school). I wanted to link that on my website and contacted our district science coordinator for our contact at McGraw-Hill. I never got a response so I contacted the McGraw-Hill support desk and they forwarded my email to our district rep, who was very helpful. In hindsight I could have probably asked for a training on all the material and I bet she would have come out (even though I was the only teacher in our school teaching fourth grade science). Even if I don't use everything it would have been nice to have someone walk me through it and its potential use in the classroom.

I know this is a long post for basically the following idea: Organize your own science professional development and invite the textbook rep to come out and walk through all the resources you get with the textbook. Don't wait for the district to arrange the rep and pick a time/date that works for both of you.

How to Download Sample Notebook

A couple of folks reported problems downloading the PowerPoint from mediafire. Here are some screen shots that will help walk you through the process.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Complete Sample Notebook (w/notes)

When I first started notebooking I couldn't find much about the topic online. I was a first year teacher and was completely frustrated. I started this blog in my second year of notebooking as a way of recording what I was doing and to hopefully help others who were getting started.

I just finished my third year of notebooking and my notebooks look much better then my first year's attempt.

There are a lot of people in my district who want to try notebooking and always ask for a left behind student copy to guide them through the process. Most of my good notebooks go home at the end the end of the year and I am left with a handful of notebooks that are incomplete or poorly done as my "leftovers".

This year I decided to take pictures of a "good" completed notebook so that I can post it online. The size was a bit overwhelming for my normal file sharing site so I found a new one and uploaded it so that people can download it (click HERE) and virtually thumb through one of my completed notebooks. It will download in PowerPoint and I put notes on just about every page.

If you have any questions about the activities, please let me know.

Friday, July 9, 2010


I often get asked about my homework policy. Particularly as it relates to notebooking. Unless your school has a homework policy I find that most teachers assign homework based on their own personal feelings about homework. As a parent, and a teacher, I've seen those feelings run the gamut of "I only assign homework because I think I'm suppose to" to "homework instills a strong educational work ethic and it is impossible for a child to be successful unless we give them opportunities to develop that work ethic."

I fall in the category of not loving homework (as a parent....having to hound my child to complete it and seeing how a simple assignment can be dragged out to hours of arguing and grounding until its done and as a teacher....having to spend the time to review, grade and record it).

Luckily I work in an elementary school where our administration understands that our students get out around 3:30 p.m. and then have sports practice, babysitting, scouts, church, dinner, bath, free time, bed, etc. So they have mandated only math and reading homework (we use Everyday Math in our schools which has a homework sheet for every lesson and reading, which is expected 30 minutes each night with a lot of teachers requiring reading logs signed by parents.)

In my first year of teaching (Middle School) I assigned homework because I thought it was expected of me (and it gave me some grades to put in the computer). I never had time to review it and soon it became just a completion grade. I stopped giving it to my two classes I never received it from because they were all failing as a result of not turning homework in. If I wanted them to do a particular worksheet I would carve out time at the end of the class for them to do it (which was a strategy that worked well when I taught math the next year with a difficulty group of students to ensure that they did the work expected).

Since I never let the notebooks go home any homework sheet they did was either a stand alone sheet or something I could glue into the book after the fact.

Generally what I do is explain our homework policy on our back-to-school night. I've never seen anybody get upset because of a lack of science homework. I do strongly encourage children to watch the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and the Weather Channel and make connections and share what they have learned with the class. This is usually met with smiles from the children (A teacher telling us to watch tv? Great!) and parents are eager to share how much they like to watch those shows together. We do have a yearly mandated science fair project and our rotation is that it is due right after the Thanksgiving Break (effectively ruining the long weekend for those procrastinators...of which 90% of my class is made up of). Occasionally if we are entering a poster contest I'll send that home for homework if I can't find the time in class to do it.

Again, homework will vary per teacher and per school but I always suggest to do what you are comfortable with. I have finally found my "happy place" with homework and have not heard any complaints from parents, students, or administrators (sometimes there is a grumble or two from other teachers...but I've learned to ignore it and do what works for me...much like they will do what works for them).

Organization - Idea

This idea came from two of my teammates this past year. It is a great organization idea that I didn't implement until the end of the year and I was surprised at how much it made a difference.

They both put together a notebook that they use exclusively for staff meetings. They put it on their desk and grab it each time they have to go to a meeting. They take notes in it and then they can refer back to the book when they need information for our weekly newsletter or if they forgot what date they have to finish a task by.

Shockingly I am not that organized when it comes to meetings (or filing...but that is just a hideous task right up there with dusting). I just grab some lined paper while I am running out the door to the meeting and promptly loose the paper I wrote everything down on :) This system seemed doable and the only thing I had to do was train myself to put the book in the same place every time I got back from the meeting so I didn't loose it among my papers I had to file (ha!). Black wasn't a good color choice...since I have so many black composition books in the classroom. This year I would get one that stood out a bit more.

They also used the book to store their multitude of passwords that we have as teachers (BrainPop, Discovery Education, StarReading, AR system, Compass, PowerSchool, websites, etc.). I thought this was great because I ALWAYS forget my password to programs I didn't use a lot. I know it is a no-no to write passwords down but with my memory going with age it has been very helpful (you will have decide the benefit to risk ratio for your situation....I never put anything in there that I don't mind my team knowing).

When setting mine up for the coming year I am also going to add a copy of the school calendar for the year (the master one off our district website) and a blank calendar (that you can run off on publisher). There is always a spot in our meeting where we have to consult a calendar of some kind and it would be nice to have one on hand. Sometimes our meetings are extensive and a calendar can be pulled out to do some lesson planning during those meetings that "never seem to end."

I was also playing with the idea of getting a larger three or five subject notebook to accomplish the same task. We have a BOAT LOAD of meetings and I could use the dividers to quickly identify information. We have team meetings, technology meetings, staff meetings, literacy meetings, math meetings, etc.

I'll post an update with pictures of my book once I get it set up for the coming year.

Summer Sales

There is a sale on composition notebooks at Walmart this week - .25 each (which is a really good deal...they go up to a $1 + once school stuff official go on sale). They also have glue on sale for .30 each.

Did you know? Elmer's glue bottles and sticks are recyclables! This is a great school project if a classroom teacher wanted to undertake it for their school (you can get a lot of supplies and prizes for your school or classroom). Details can be found on their website.

ALSO - Staples is having their .01 sale this Sunday. Great time to stock up on pencils and (my favorite) sharpeners that catch the shavings (you can NEVER have too many of those - to see an earlier post about how I manage the pencil/sharpener situation in my classroom click HERE). If you tell the manager you are a teacher you can buy more then the posted limit (some managers require proof, as in a school ID or be prepared).
Happy back to school shopping!