My Back-to-School Beach-themed Room Transformation

For those of you who go back to school in early August like I do, you know what I’m talking about when I say getting the students engaged in the curriculum while competing with Summer out the window is crazy difficult!  My solution … take your kids back to the beach.  Bring Summer inside!

It started with a pacing guide.  I begin the year teaching genres on the third day of school.  I know it’s review for my fourth graders, but it’s always a difficult unit in my class.  It’s not hard getting them to remember the vocabulary.  It’s hard getting them to apply that knowledge and use it to determine the genre when reading.  Well, with that in mind, and my own mind still having a hard time getting it’s school brain back and off the beach, I decided to use this as an opportunity.  EVERYBODY LOVES TO READ ON THE BEACH, RIGHT?  Then I looked at the pacing guide again, and this time I noticed the change from last year.  Not only was I teaching genres, but I was also introducing use of reference materials (including ABC order and guide words).  Oh no!  It’s only the third day of school!  So instead of doing the common genre book tasting that I usually start with, a simple wish that I was still at the beach turned into my first room transformation (I’m channeling my inner @elementaryshenanigans).  I had an idea … I’ll bring in my beach chairs, some yellow table cloths for sand, and an umbrella and we’ll “read on the beach” while we analyze the characteristics of the different genres.   What did I read on the beach this year, “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.

At first it felt crazy.  Why put myself through so much work, and how was I going to also include using reference materials? 

The genres part was easy.  After having the students analyze and take note of the characteristics of each of our genres, we threw a beach ball around the room (that I had written each of our genres on) and the students shared a characteristic of the genre they were reading when they caught the ball.  I used that game to create our anchor chart.  Next, I projected different book summaries and the students worked with a team to determine the genre.  Of course, each student had to write their own answer first,  before they were allowed to collaborate and generate a team answer.  The teams with the correct answer got a chance to throw in a modified game of cornhole to earn points for their team (one throw per team with the correct answer after each book summary).  They LOVED it!

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Next week, we’ll continue in reading groups by creating genre sand castles.  Students will read a summary, determine the genre, and then use the decorations key to decorate their sand castles (ex. realistic fiction = purple seashells).

As I gave it more time and thought, I realized I could use beach-themed words to change my reference materials unit.  Why not put words in ABC order in paper chains and create an octopus or a jellyfish?  We could use crab families to determine which entry words fit with the guide words.  I gave my students scenarios that centered around different beaches and ocean animals when deciding which reference material to use.  

In comparison to my usual first weeks activities, this week was incredible!  My classes entered the room dancing to hula music, smiling, and excited to find out what we would be doing each day!  At first I was worried about behavior since it was ONLY the third day of school.  I worried that it would be too exciting, too early in the year, and that my students would forget all of the expectations, procedures, and routines that we’d only barely practiced in the first two days of school.  They did just fine and we had an unforgettable first full week of school.  My students begged for more vacation time next week (okay, sure, I love the beach, why not) and are asking what I might have in mind next.  It only took borrowing from family members and a few dollars from the summer section at Walmart and I’m amazed at the difference it made.

If you’ve been considering a room transformation, or if you’ve been looking for new ideas to get your students engaged, I recommend reading “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.  And, just go for it!  Step outside of your box a little and have fun teaching!  It’s SO WORTH IT!

thanks for reading!

Back to School

We're so #cool

I changed the theme of my room this year and that means ALL NEW decorations (yippeee!!!).  I absolutely love setting up my room.  It seriously keeps me awake at night thinking about it:)!  So, while I’ve been wakefully dreaming for hours each night, one of the decorations on my mind was a cute, SIMPLE bulletin board display and student gift for our Back To School night and for the beginning of the year.  For fun, I’ve decided to go with a popsicle paint chip theme for my room for the beginning of the year.  (I can’t wait to show it you when it’s all set up!)

This popsicle-themed bulletin board display includes popsicle images and text that says, “We’re so #cool in (grades 1-5)”.  Student gift tags are super cute and say, “Thanks for Pop-pin in!” and look great tied to unfrozen ice pops!  Grab it here for FREE!

thanks for reading!

Build Classroom Community

 

ORIGINAL - Farmhouse Brights Burlap & Wood Morning Meeting Slides (11)

Do you do Responsive Classroom or Morning Meetings in your school or classroom?  If so, you know that spending 15-20 minutes a day sharing thoughts and “playing” with your students can be your most successful relationship building moment of the day.

My students and I learn more about each other and build the strongest community bonds during our Morning Meeting time.  In the time that most teachers would be transitioning from breakfast/morning work to “class” time, we are sharing our thoughts, writing songs together, completing mini-stem challenges, playing teamwork building games, solving critical thinking puzzles, character building, and learning about each other’s strengths and unique personalities in ways that just can’t happen during any other class time.

To make my morning meetings easier to plan and keep routine, I use a Google slides presentation.   Having this routine has allowed me to share these with my substitutes, collaborative teachers and students so that meetings can still run smoothly when I’m out.  Because my students are used to seeing the same layout each day, I can often choose a student to lead the meeting on the days that I’m out.  For those teachers who know what it’s like trying to explain a morning meeting to a substitute on paper, you know that the ability to have a student run your meeting instead is amazing!  (Of course, I teach 4th graders who are capable of leading this and reading the presentation, but I’m sure this is possible of some of the younger grades also!)

If you want to pick up one of my Editable Morning Meeting Slides, you can get it at Teaching and Learning in Mrs Gentry’s Class on Teachers Pay Teachers.

thanks for reading!

My Most Successful Parent Communication Tips

Staying in touch to keep open communication with parents at school used to be one of the hardest parts of this job for me.  I am NOT good about picking up the phone and making calls during my planning or after school and no matter how many reminders I set for myself or how many times I make this a goal to improve each year, phone calls just don’t happen often enough for me.  I’ll bet there are plenty of teachers out there that would say the exact same thing!  Yet, working with and communicating progress with our school parents is extremely important!  Here’s what I’ve found that has made ALL THE DIFFERENCE:

  1.  ClassDojoWatch this video on youtube for an intro to ClassDojo and some of the resources available in this AMAZING (FREE) app!  My team and I share our classes with the resource teachers, the lunch team, our parents, favorite substitutes, etc. to keep our behavior management strategies uniform for our students throughout the school day.  Those of you who know what it’s like to share your class with other teachers, know how important this is.  My parents are also connected and can see their student’s behavior points, whether they are growth or grow points, and why their student is earning that point at any time of the day.  I can message my parents one-to-one or send out whole group reminders.  I can send pictures, videos, or text messages.  This allows me to send updates or just some “yay” moments that allow my parents to help celebrate those moments with the class.   Parents can message with questions or concerns, they don’t have to wait for you to initiate communication.  Students can keep digital work portfolios for parents to see what they are working on in class.  It really is an all-in-one resource for the classroom.  Best of all, the parents that have connected with my classroom have given nothing but RAVE reviews about my communication throughout the year.  Go to classdojo.com to learn more and set up your own class!
  2. Seesaw – Seesaw is a student-driven digital portfolio.  Teachers can enable students to create, reflect, share, and collaborate; showing what they know through drawings, text, videos, photos, links, PDFs, and by uploading files from Google apps.  It is FREE and easy to use, allows for parent connection, including the ability to comment on posts (if enabled by the teacher), offers a free “class blog” site to give your students more of a world-wide audience (again this must be enabled by the teacher), and no posts are uploaded without teacher approval.  In my experience, parents LOVE being able to see their child’s work and send encouraging comments or suggestions to stay connected to their child at school!  My students LOVE this site too. It has been a highly engaging addition to my classroom.  I suggest browsing the resources section of this site for great ideas and PD opportunities to get the most out of your use of this AWESOME resource for your classroom!
  3. Google Classroom – This one is only available to teachers who have access to Google Apps for Education.  It is a classroom website that enables the teacher to send assignments, announcements, questions, files, videos, and links to students and connected parents.  Students can turn in their assignments directly on the Classroom assignment page and teachers can grade, comment, and send the assignments back for revision if necessary.  The teacher has full control over what is added to the Classroom page, including frequent links or files used in the classroom.  It can even be shared among teachers for team collaboration.  Assignments can be differentiated and viewed while the students are working, allowing the teacher to check in and make suggestions before the work is turned in.  Connected parents are able to track their child’s work and progress, making for more informed communication.  I use this one DAILY in my classroom.  This is truly a resource that has transformed my teaching!

I know there are other great apps and communication sites out there, but in my experience (and I’ve tried quite a few), these are the best!  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like any more information about any of these classroom tools.

thanks for reading!

Flight School: A Reading Research-Based STEAM Lesson and Digital Task Journal

Flight School STEAM

I’m super excited to share this lesson!  I love STEAM projects and shared my digital task journal to make STEAM more reading and research-based so that it fits better into the Reading and Language Arts classroom in an earlier post.  This is the lesson that I used to first implement this idea and it worked SO WELL!   This lesson includes a Growth Mindset read aloud and discussion, task journal prompts that require the students to be text dependent, reflective, and to apply the information they learn from their research, and to use that information to analyze their own success or lack of success throughout the STEAM process.  This is totally higher level thinking!  I was able to find texts that ALL of my students could read (in a 4th grade classroom with reading levels ranging between two grade levels) and I was even able to find research passages that still allowed me to assess comprehension skills we were working on and incorporate the STEAM project into my reading groups to continue working on close reading skills.  Suggestions and links for research texts are included in the lesson.  This is what reading SHOULD BE!  I’ll be working on more of these lessons to continue incorporating STEAM into the reading classroom and can’t wait to share them!

To get my Flight School reading STEAM lesson and task journal, click here.

thanks for reading!

 

Reading Research-Based STEAM

How do you get students to understand the importance of comprehension?  The thing is, I push my classes all year to think on a higher level, to dig deeper into the text, to read every word for its meaning and purpose in the text, and to push themselves to give 100%, and then give a little more.  I teach my classes about the importance of learning to read; more importantly that we read to learn.  I want my students to understand that what we do has a purpose.  In our reading class we aren’t just reading passages to answer questions.  We are answering questions about the passage as a means of becoming more text dependent, leading to a higher level of understanding while we read.  I want my students to understand that their future as a successful adult, in whatever career they choose, depends on the ability to comprehend and analyze, whether it’s text or media.  Along with that, I want my students to be able to work successfully with a team, to think creatively, to learn how to improve upon mistakes,  and to be reflective.  We teachers do so much!  What we do in our classroom everyday is the key.  For that reason, the learning tasks we assign to our students everyday matters!

At the beginning of this school year my administrator sent out a question about how we could incorporate more STEAM into the classroom, along with how we can meet the needs of our TAG students.  Many of us reading teachers had a hard time finding ideas on the web that incorporated our reading instructional needs with STEAM activities.  This was especially true for those of us in upper elementary grades.  Around December it hit me, STEAM projects could and should be research-based.  My students read informational text almost every day.  Why not assign that text for a specific purpose?!  My idea was to mix Maker Space, STEAM, and Project-Based learning ideas with the reading that my students do on a daily basis for their skill practice assignments.  It was May before I finally had what I wanted.

My students loved this!  It’s simple and works with ANY STEAM project.  You just assign the task journal through your Google Classroom, or print it and make some minor adjustments to how your students complete the journal (the instructions are for digital completion).  Next you assign the research reading and set a time frame for your students to complete.  Then introduce your STEAM project challenge and the rest of the task journal and watch your students’ learning, critical analysis, problem solving skills and engagement soar.  To get a copy click here.

 

End of the Year Celebration

How do you celebrate the end of the school year with your students?  I personally like to use this time to celebrate the many successes my students have achieved through the year.  This year we broke a record with our state testing pass rate in 4th grade!  My students met both of their progress goals for the year, and there are countless measures of social growth we could celebrate together.  It was a great year!  Maybe it wasn’t the easiest year I’ve had teaching.  There were definitely moments that required a break and a change in mindset, but my students and I got past those moments just like any “family” would.  It was a year to celebrate.

The 4th grade team that I work with enjoys a field trip with our students at the end of the year to celebrate academic success and hard work.  This year we took our students to a movie and then a picnic at the city park.  This trip has become a tradition for us.  It’s always a great day.  What I enjoy most about this day is the fact that I get to just enjoy spending time with my students and their parents.  Its a moment that we get to share outside of school that strengthens the relationships we’ve worked so hard to forge throughout the year.

In the classroom for the last two weeks I decided to change how I usually celebrate this time of year with my students.  I usually do a writing project, like a memory book.  However, I wanted to continue using the skills and working toward the reading goals we’d set at the beginning of the year.  I wanted to have a chance to have fun and enjoy learning.  I decided I wanted to integrate STEAM and reading.  Our first project was to make a penguin fly.  My students researched penguins and flight.  We read and took notes about flying machines.  The objective was to use the research to create their own flying machine that would allow a “penguin” to fly.  My real objective was for my students to understand the purpose of our hard work; that is reading to learn.  It was so much fun.  My students have never been so engaged in their research.  We had reflective discussions about their projects and why they were successful or not, based on their research.  It worked out so well that I decided to do it again.  Our second project was bottle flipping.  The students had to research the science that made the flip successful.  They used their research to find the right bottle, the right technique, and the right water level.  They experimented using those findings.  Once they were successful, we extended the research on Youtube, searching and viewing trick shots.  My students designed their own trick shots on Scratch from code.org and then we began practicing those shots.  Wow!  I had two students who were able to flip their water bottles up onto the back of the basketball rim by the end of the week.  Again, we had so much fun! And you know, my students learned that reading is done for a purpose.  When they weren’t successful, they went back to find more information, and they did it on their own without me having to tell them to do so.  Isn’t that what we do as adults?  Isn’t that the purpose of learning to read?  I’m calling this Reading Research-based STEAM idea a success.  We enjoyed working together in a way that we don’t get a lot of chances to throughout the year and my students enjoyed learning.

My Reading Research-based STEAM task journal on Google Slides will be available soon at Mrs Gentry’s Class on Teachers Pay Teachers.  The lesson plans for the two above mentioned projects will also be available.

thanks for reading!