Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scarecrows, and Apples, and Pumpkins...Oh My!

Our Halloweenish Porch
We just turned off the porch light at our house, declaring Halloween officially over.  Whew!  What a crowd. I L.O.V.E. living in a neighborhood that has so many children, and has lots and lots of trick-or-treaters.

My favorite chair
I've missed school for the past three days, with a very sick little one.  Truly, for the first time this year, I've felt fall in the breezes and smelled it in the air.  I can't wait to get back to my kiddos and hear all about their adventures tonight!
So pretty for a gypsy!

This week, we celebrate Scarecrow Day, a long-standing second grade tradition at my school.  I'm at least as excited as my kids - I even dressed as a scarecrow to answer the door.
Scarecrow Day 2012
This Scarecrow Day,
I came up with these two mini-units that my class will be doing during Scarecrow Day.  They are common core aligned, use apples and pumpkins, and include deep thought-provoking questions, estimations, and strategic problem solving, as well as incorporating measurement and graphing from CCSS.  I'm relieved I put them together just in time - Scarecrow Day is Friday!  You can click on the pictures to get your own copy of each.

Happy Fall, Y'all!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Dreaded Day After Halloween...Write All About It!

Halloween is upon us.  More importantly, the dreaded Day After Halloween is coming!  What do you do when 24 second graders are jacked up on candy, too little sleep, and "what were you last night" conversations?  I say roll with it!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and no, it's not about the candy.  Truthfully, it's because when I was a little girl, Halloween was when they started putting out the Christmas decorations in stores (now that's around back-to-school time).

Kids are excited!  They want to tell everybody everything about Halloween!  Turn it into a great writing opportunity.  I always tell my kiddos, "If you can tell me about it, you can write about it."  So, toss your writing plans for the day.  Take advantage of authentic motivation.  Let students write what they dressed as, how much candy they received, how many houses they visited, how late they stayed up, and all the rest.  In fact, let them do what comes naturally...exaggerate!  That's right - make November 1st the "Official Halloween Tall Tales Day".  It's the perfect time to teach about exaggeration, personal narratives, incorporating adjectives, vivid verbs (I think adverbs should be outlawed - if you need one, you haven't used the right verb), and summarizing.

Here's another idea - let your students draw, rather than draft, their stories.  I adore the book From Pictures to Words, by Janet Stevens.  It's her own story of how she writes books, using pictures first.  Your jacked up, candy-high kids might not be all that into listening to it, but you can read it in advance, and teach writing the Janet Stevens way...use your pictures to spark your stories.

No matter what you decide, good luck, but seriously, let's work on getting that new holiday started.  Who do you call about declaring a national holiday, anyway?

On my way Trick-or-Treating,

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Whooo's Afraid of Common Core Math?

Halloween and the Common Core...SCARY!
My class is working on adding and subtracting within 100, using place value and operations of addition and subtraction.  We'll move to "within 1,000" at the beginning of November.  My main objective has been on having the students be able to analyze, solve, explain and defend their answers to word problems, using the following steps:

1. What information does the problem tell us?
2. What information does the problem ask us?
3. Will your answer be given in words or numerals?  How do you know?
4. What operation will we use to solve the problem?
5. What strategies can we use to solve the problem?
    (writing equations, counting on, counting back, using a number line, using a hundreds 
    chart, using manipulatives, regrouping, drawing pictures, acting out the problems, making 
    charts, etc.)
6. Solve the problem with one strategy, then use a different strategy to solve the same 
7. Check your work 4 ways:
        Is your answer reasonable?
        Did you get the same answer both times you solved it?
        Use the reverse operation to check your answer.
        Are all your numbers written correctly (not backwards)?
8. Explain, orally, or in writing, the step-by-step processes you used to solve the problem.

I have some very brainy second graders, who can mentally solve addition and subtraction problems, with regrouping, in about two seconds flat!  I've had to tell them every day, "I don't CARE what the answer is!  I want to know HOW you figured it out."  Of course, those brainiacs who truly are using mental math have a really hard time describing their process, but the students who need to work to get to the answers have just as hard a time.  So, this week, I told everyone, "I'm not teaching math right now.  I'm teaching writing.  Here's what I want you to be able to do:

  • Write a story problem to fit a given equation
  • Write a detailed description of how you solved mathematical problems"

Jaws dropped.  Silence occurred for maybe the first time all year.  I thought to myself, I have finally made a breakthrough!  I jumped on that chance to make an anchor chart, but didn't have my phone, so I've recreated it (sort of) in publisher, so you'll have an idea of what we did.  
Next, I whipped up a "Halloween Math Problems...what will we do?" mini unit.  We began working these problems with the process, NOT the end, in mind, and even my most reluctant writers (usually my best mathematicians) began to LOVE writing time, because, of course, they could choose to write about...MATH!

Happy Halloween,

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Little of This and a Little of That

Whoa!  This weekend, I bought a book called Who Switched Off My Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf, because that's how I feel about half the time!  Between teaching second grade, raising two precious girls, being a part-time wife (my husband travels a LOT), being a new blogger, running a new TPT store, learning the new common core standards, and having a new reading series, I feel CRAAAAAZY!  Is it a teacher thing, a mom thing, or just me?

Anyway, I have been working on some things to help me at school, and wanted to share them with you.  Of course, being the perfectionist that I am (A.D.D. + O.C.D. = DANGEROUS!), I want everything in my life to be just that...perfect.  A little overwhelming, to say the least.

First, thanks to Tori at Tori's Teaching Tips, I finally have a volunteer system down-pat (seriously, thanks, Tori!).  I have several moms who volunteer weekly, and others who come when they can.  Either way, I have something ready for them as soon as they walk in:
  • Editing Groups - these moms are wonderful!  They jump right into a writing lesson and either "wander around" helping kids, as needed, or they take a small group to my kidney table and formally edit their writing with them.  They use our word wall, our editor's checklist, and a "read it out loud" system, so that my kiddos will become proficient at this on their own, at some point.
  • Math Assistant - these moms are fabulous, too!  They take a group of students, be it higher achieving, or lower achieving, and work with them on problem-solving strategies, numeracy, and whatever our focus skill is for the lesson.  If you haven't watched the common core resource videos online at The Teaching Channel, you're missing out on some AMAZING work being done in England.  I've modeled my teaching around these outstanding instructors.
  • Reading Queen - I know, I am the queen most of the time, but I relinquish my crown to these special moms.  They take a group of readers into the hallway, or into the 2nd grade storage room (that sounds awful, but it has a nice workspace in it, too), to read their leveled readers and work on specific skills for literacy folders.  This allows me to have less kids in the room, work with a group myself, and keep others on task with literacy tasks that are finally becoming routine!
  • Filing - two moms come in specifically to put my graded papers in children's take-home folders.  I despise filing!
  • Copying - every once in a while, I have a mom show up, out of the blue, so I keep a "Needs to be Copied" basket with papers I'd like to have for the next few weeks, with specific copying instructions post-it noted.
  • Assembling - again, occasionally, I have some brilliant plan to put together some big, wonderful project and need help cutting, laminating (HA!  My school NEVER has any lamination film, and if by some weird chance we do, the laminator's broken) with contact paper, and putting together sets of projects for my kiddos

Next, I've been working pretty hard on getting a routine down, like I mentioned above, for Literacy Stations.  I have the standard, 2-pocket folder with "work in progress" and "completed work" labels inside.  You all know about those.  But, a friend shared her secret with me, and I'll share it with you:  her stations are stationary!  I LOVE it!  Each week, my students know they have to:
  • complete a vocabulary organizer
  • read a leveled book and take an A/R test on it
  • take a copy of the poem of the week to highlight rhyming words, with a different colored highlighter for each rhyme, glue it to nice drawing paper, and illustrate it
  • read another leveled reader and do a B/M/E organizer for it
  • complete two focus skill activites, and
  • meet with me
I have also included a Literacy Workstation Checklist table that students can fill in as they go, and made some signs to put on each station's container.  You can get a copy of those by clicking on the picture below.

I usually don't meet with groups on Mondays, because I introduce our main story, read it aloud to them, go over all the stations, and introduce the focus skills.  Every other day, I meet with two groups, unless one of my Reading Queens shows up, and then I meet with one group, she meets with one, and I get to observe and take anecdotal records (imagine!).

I have absolutely ZERO creativity, but some talent, so I've come up with some new spelling activities to add to my stations, beginning this week.  You can grab the whole thing at my TPT store.

Finally, we begin studying weather this week, so I have made a Weather Journal you can pick up at TPT.