Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First Things First

When you move into a new classroom, what is the first thing you do?  Did I hear someone shout, "Paint the bulletin boards!"  Oh, whoops, that was me shouting, wasn't it?!?  Well, the truth is that I am very visual and am so much happier unpacking boxes when the walls look good.  So now that my new classroom is a clean slate ... 

...and before I start moving in boxes, I will tackle the bulletin boards.  Don't get me wrong.  I am not a crazy lady who completely finishes her bulletin boards before she unpacks.  I am just a crazy lady who gets the background color onto her bulletin boards before she even moves her boxes in.

My favorite way to get color onto bulletin boads?  Paint.  LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it!  Now that I have experienced painted boards, I just can't go back to paper.  Think of all the beautiful colors that are available at paint stores - any of those colors could be on your bulletin board!  Yes, it takes time to paint the boards the first year, but unlike paper, paint doesn't fade and unlike fabric you don't have to wash it.  I use regular old latex paint - any type of finish will work, I used eggshell, but you can use flat paint or get a shinier finish if you want.  How shiny you go is a matter of taste.  My previous boards were all a beautiful shade of blue.  I loved the blue because it can be a backdrop for so many different things - a garden, a forest, an ocean, the list goes on and on.  Paint your boards once and you never have to paint them again (unless you move rooms!!!!!)  If you get bored with the color, you can always cover the paint with paper or repaint, I guess. (I have never been bored with the blue.) The amazing thing about the paint is that it lasts and lasts.  I have not had any chipping at all.  Lots of pinholes, but you have to get really close to notice those (and I am super picky and the pinholes have never bothered me). So ... guess where I am off to now?  Yep, the paint store. What color will I pick?  Blue, of course.  But deciding which shade of blue will keep me occupied for awhile.

Love to all,


P.S.  You can check out the beauty of my blue boards by looking at these photos.  All that pretty blue is painted on.  : )
(Okay, I am a little embarrassed about this board ... I wanted to leave the handprints up for a later project, but had nowhere else to post these leprechauns so I just stapled the leprechauns on top of the hands.  LAZY!!!!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Before and After

There seems to be a huge divide among bloggers right now.  Some of you are busy working in your classrooms and they already look amazing.  Others haven't even stepped into your classrooms this summer (and then there are those of you that just now finished your school year).  So, for those of you who are stressing because you feel so far behind ... this post is for you.  Trust me ... you want to read this!!!

I am moving from one classroom to another.  Here is my AFTER picture of my new classroom:

So are you thinking that I have it all together and have moved everything and already put it away?  Wrong, wrong, wrong!  I have not moved a single item. Why then is this my AFTER picture?  Because this was the scene yesterday when I stepped into my new classroom for the first time:

None of this stuff is mine.  NONE of it. N.O.N.E.!!!!!! Another teacher had moved all the things she didn't want into this classroom the previous day.  Why?  Not sure.  Did I cry?  Nope!  Did I pout?  Nope!  Did I think lots of negative thoughts?  Oh, yeah ... lots and lots.  But luckily I have Pete the Cat for a role model ... so I just kept walking along and singing my song!  "I love my new room!  I love my new room!  I love my new room!"  (Well, at first my song wasn't so cheerful ... in fact, there was no cheer at all in the beginning.)

So my first task in my new room was to go through every box and bag.  (You can't tell from this photo, but there were lots of large garbage bags filled with items because she ran out of boxes.)  I sorted, I tossed, I recycled, I gave away.  I found some amazing items in the rubble which went to our new transitional kindergarten classes.  Two dear friends came to help.  (THANK YOU Kate and Kristi!!! I could not ask for better friends or coworkers!!!) 24 hours later, the room was barren.  (Yes, we all stopped at night and went home and went to bed.) Now our poor, dear custodian can come in and do the summer deep cleaning.  He was in panic mode yesterday when he saw the room in its BEFORE state.  This morning, I searched him out and brought him to see the room in its AFTER state and his sweet smile was HUGE!  You see, he was given the task of getting this room deep cleaned by Monday when the summer school students arrive in this room.  More good news:  My wonderful principal thanked me for being a great team player (she was one of the dear friends who helped me sort, etc.)

So ... now that my room is barren, I have a blank canvas and can start to dream and create.  It really is a great room.  Extra large; near the bathrooms; extra storage space.

Still feeling panicky?  Just look at my BEFORE picture again.  (...and know that I still have to pack up my old room.)

Love to all,

P.S.  I love my new room!  I love my new room!  I love my new room!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kindergarten Kickoff

Kindergarten Kickoff is a fun name for an event, right?  The name was carefully picked.  We could have called it "Kindergarten Testing", but that sounds pretty scary!  So here is the scoop on our Kinder Kickoff:

Two years ago the kinder teachers at my school decided that we wanted more information on incoming kinders.  So we began to assess our kinders in June before they even become kindergartners.  We now schedule a 30 minute appointment with each soon-to-be kinder.

So this week I got to meet an amazing group of four and five year-olds who are VERY excited about starting kindergarten in August.  I think they might be the most adorable children in the world!

Anyway, this is the assessment we created to test our kinders on their beginning skills:
Kinder Assessment Form

We also ask our kinders to write their names and draw a picture of their family.  After they are finished with the picture, we have them talk about it so we can measure their oral language skills.  (When I copied this form to Goggle Docs, I lost the lines for the name.  Sorry!)
Kinder Name Page

Meanwhile, we ask the waiting parents to fill out this form:

Hope this information is helpful!

Love to all,


Monday, June 18, 2012

Advice for the Teacher

At the end of the year I always ask my students to evaluate me.  I like to do this to both help my students feel empowered AND to improve my teaching.  Since I am teaching children in kinder and first grade, I make the evaluations simple.  This year there were five questions:

1.            What was one thing you liked about kindergarten / first grade?
2.           What is one thing you would change about kindergarten / first grade?
3.           What was one thing you liked about being in a combination class?
4.           What is one thing you did not like about being in a combination 
5.           What advice do you have for Mrs. Johnson for next year?  You should _________________________________.

So when I asked for advice in question #5, I really meant advice about my teaching.  But this year's kiddos decided to give me quite interesting advice.   In fact, most of the students wrote almost exactly the same answer for number five.  How could that be?  Well, one student thought of an idea, whispered it to another and that answer spread all around the room.  That piece of advice?  Give your students ice cream on the last day.  Alas, my students filled out the evaluations on the last day of school so I had no time to fulfill their wish, even if I wanted to.

There were a few rebels who chose to think of their own advice for me.

One boy decided that ice cream on the last day was not enough.  His advice:

You should give us food!  (Hmmm ... I guess the goldfish at recess was not enough.)  

Then there was the girl who must have seen me driving to school.  Her advice:  

You should get a new car.  (So much easier said than done!).  

Actually, I did get a few words of wisdom for next year:
No promises, but I will try!

And just in case that was too general, one boy gave me very specific advice:
Yes, in case you are wondering, we did sing "Four Hugs a Day" at our graduation.

And then there was the advice that made me cry.  One sweetie wrote:
You should remember me.  (This came from a dear, sweet girl that spent the last month of school leaving me love notes in unusual places and then watched for my smile when I found them.  Forget her?  Not likely!)

Actually, this year, like every year, I will remember them all.  Sigh.  I do believe teaching is one of the toughest jobs in the world.  BUT it is also the job where you get to shower others with love and receive even more back.  We are so very, very lucky, aren't we?

Love to all,

P.S.  I am not sure why Blogger is making these crazy indents, but as we know, Blogger has a mind of its own at times!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

iTalk iPads Organization

This is the continuing saga of my joyful journey into 1:1 iPad land with my kinder/first grade class.

So now I had 25 iPads for my 25 students and a charging/syncing cart to keep them in.  BUT there needed to be a bit of organizing to make this all work.

Here are some of the organizing ideas I used:

1) Number Everything!  (Children, iPads, slots)
The children in my class all have a special number.  (I have the amazing Rick Morris to thank for sharing this great idea!)  So it made sense to number the iPads with my student's numbers.  This was done with a silver marker on the apple on back of the iPad.  (Since the apple is an advertising symbol it shows through the cover.  Works for me!)  The cart arrived with each slot for an iPad already numbered.  So student #1 used iPad #1 which was placed in slot #1 at the end of each day.  I do love having things organized!  (But read idea #4 as to how I further organized the cart.)

2)  iPad Test and iPad License
Since you can't drive without a license, it seemed to me that students shouldn't be able to use an iPad without a license.  And nobody gets a license without taking a test, right?  So I created an iPad license that could only be earned by passing the iPad test. Luckily for me, my students totally bought into it!  To pass the iPad test they had to demonstrate a variety of skills such as turning their iPad on and off, getting it out of the cart and putting it back it, AND they had to explain WHY we were using iPads in our classroom.  (A little brainwashing occurred here ... if they used the word "play" they automatically failed the test.  If they used the word "learn", they passed that question.  In fact, if a student later asked me, "May I play on my iPad?"  I always said NO!  If they used the word learn, that was a different matter! :) When each child passed the test, they were given a very special iPad license that could be revoked at any time.  (Sadly, a few were revoked from time to time.)

3)  Daytime Home
I had to decide where my students would keep their iPads during the day.  Hmmm ... but first I needed to consider how I wanted the iPads used.  Just like everything in teaching, first you have to clarify what your philosophy is and then you do your planning.  I decided I wanted the iPads to be another tool in our classroom.  I also decided that like pencils and paper and other tools, I wanted my students to have easy access to the iPads.  So I purchased a dishtub from Target for each team.  (Cost: under $2 each.  But for that price, my only color choice was white.)  Each team received a tub to permanently place on their desks.  When we weren't using the iPads, the children placed them in their team's tubs.  This meant that if a child finished an assignment early, they could pull out their iPad.  It also meant that when my entire class was reading individually, some students chose to read on their iPads.  (Some children continued to choose traditional books, but the option was always there to do either.)

4)  Nighttime home
The charging/syncing cart is the nighttime home.  Each iPad has a numbered slot that it "lives" in at night.  BUT it was super hard for my kiddos to find the correct slot.  I decided it was time for ... COLOR CODING! So I bought four rolls of colored tape (blue, red, green, and orange).  I put a strip of tape on the front of each iPad and a small square of the same color next to the correct slot in the cart.  (Of course, I created an ABCD pattern: blue, red, green, orange, etc.)  Volia!  My students were easily able to find their iPads at the beginning of the day and then at the end of the day, find their iPad's correct slot.  Hurrah!  (The tape won't last forever on the iPads, but long enough for students to know which color slot to look for.)

Whew!  I love things to be organized!!  In fact, I just read a hilarious note on Facebook.  Here goes:  I am CDO.  CDO is like OCD, but the letters are in order, like they should be. Oh yeah, that is so me!  A place for everything and everything in its place!  Love it!  But if you could see my classroom right now - I am moving classrooms and it isn't pretty right now OR if you could see my living room - I am moving classrooms so decided to bring a few (cough, cough) boxes of things home to organize ... then you would revoke my CDO license.  So, it is off to organizing that I must go!

Love to all,

Thursday, June 14, 2012

iTalk iPads

On April 16, 2012 twentyfive iPads arrived in my classroom and my teaching life changed completely.  Prior to that date I thought iPads might be helpful in education.  Now I KNOW they are.  I am stunned by what the term "digital native" really means.  My students have not only surpassed me in their understanding of iPads, they are also fearless in learning more.  There is no hope, not even itty bitty, that I can ever again be "the sage on the stage" when the iPads are being used.  For years I have expoused on wanting to be the "guide on the side, not the sage on the stage", but now I am living it.  (... and there are moments that I really would like to be the sage - just sayin'.)

I was challenged by my district to use free apps as much as possible.  (Just think about the math:  each app you buy you have to buy for 25 iPads, even with the 50% educational discount, this begins to add up).  Well, I am pleased to say that there are many, many, many WONDERFUL free apps out there.

Here are four favorites:

Sushi Monster - This is one crazy app and my students loved using it!  In this app students are challenged to add and multiply to feed the Sushi monster.  I love it because the children are given the sum and must find the two numbers to add together to get that sum.  Students may select their level and may also select multiplication (which was a wonderful challenge for my firsties who were ready for multiplication). This app was a little too hard for my kinders, but perfect for my firsties.
Sushi Monster

Sock Puppets - I discovered this app the last week of school, quickly introduced it and suddenly my students were making plays on their iPads.  My kiddos LOVED it!  I also loved it because it reinforced the ideas of character and setting.  First, students choose their characters (all sock puppets, of course).  Then they choose a setting.  They can also add details to the setting (microphones anyone?).  Finally, they get to record.  The mouth of each sock puppet moves as the children speak.  (Lip-syncing with sock puppets!!)  Even better, there is a way to change your voice by making it higher or lower.  I created a sock puppet play to introduce this app and my students had no idea that I had recorded my own voice.  Too funny!  The plays have to be one minute or less, but that worked for us.  (You can buy a VIP Content Pass to add more options, but I plan to stick to the free version.)
Sock Puppets

Monkey Drum - When we voted for our favorite app, Monkey Drum won by a landslide.  Why?  I am not sure.  This app is all about a monkey who plays a drum.  The children can mimic the sounds the monkey makes or create their own tunes.  The children loved to create songs and then have me listen.  This app was reserved for Free Choice Time in my class and it was selected during that time by most students.  During Free Choice Time, I let them unplug their headphones and the noise was (almost) deafening.  But they loved it.
Monkey Drum

Rover - If I got to vote for App of the Year, this app would get my vote.  It is a utility app that allows an iPad to use Flash content.  You see Apple (the maker of iPads) and Adobe (the maker of Flash) don't get along so anything with Flash content does not work on iPads.  This meant that my students couldn't use Raz-Kids or anything else with Flash.  Boo!  Hiss!  Enter Rover, my hero!  Rover allows items with Flash to be streamed onto your iPad (think about how NetFlix streams movies).  Amazing!  All year when my students finished work, I let them read.  Once Rover entered our lives, they could pull out their iPads and read books from Raz-Kids.  (Note:  Raz-Kids is NOT free.  I pay about $80 a year for a class subscription to it.)

Well, that's all for now.

Love to all,