Friday, October 24, 2014

A Cozy Chat and Some Monstrous Ideas

Hello Everybody! I hear some of the hardest weeks in school are these that we're in right now-- the honeymoon period is over, so much stuff is going on with parent-teacher conferences and assessments, and Thanksgiving break is still only a far away speck on the calendar. I'm busy, but loving my class and taking each day as it comes. Thanks to Kacey at Doodle Bugs for her Five for Friday link-up to share with you what I hope are some helpful ideas.

1.  I'm gearing up for the bulk of my parent-teacher conferences next week. A photo might not be the first way a teacher thinks of to share about parent-teacher conferences, but for me, the details of the setting are the first important detail.

Let's have a little chat!
I very much want parents to feel the conference is a conversation, so a comfortable setting is crucial. We meet in front of my "fireplace" looking at each other. I have a small side table available to hold my notes and handouts. There is space for parents to sit together on the couch, if both parents come to the conference.  And just as crucial there is a third chair to form a triangle when separated parents come to the conference as the couch might be too cozy in some cases. And yes, I pretty much insist that separated parents come for one conference. It's not twice the time that I must give for two conferences that is my concern, but that both parents hear the same information from me.

On that little table, I always have some handouts for parents to go away with. Tips for practicing math concepts or letters, sight, or rhyming words. I also suggest a good read– Lucy Calkins' Raising Lifelong Learners. This is not a "parenting" book, per se, but one that talks about how parents can support their child's learning from pre-K through high school. It is a fantastic book that I recommend all teachers and parents read. I copy the chapter on raising readers to give to parents as a tease. (Copying one chapter of a book for educational purposes is allowed.) Many parents end up buying the book, and I have a few copies to loan out as well.

Another important detail of my conferences is my opening line. "I have lots to share about your child, but we'll start with what you most want to know about. Don't worry, I'll fit all I have to share around that." I think it is important to share control of this meeting– parents and I are partners in the education of their child, after all. Sometimes parents respond by saying their preference is for me to start with what I have. Sometimes parents think a minute and give me an answer. Sometimes they know immediately what they want to hear about. Another reason my opening line is important to a good parent-teacher conference is because I know people have a hard time listening when they have a pressing question in mind. Much better to satisfy that so we can move on to cover everything else. And how horrible is it to come to the end of a conference, with the next parent waiting in the wings, and be asked a question that could have been easily discussed if you had known that was important to the parents!

Teachers sometimes ask me if I can still get in all I need to say if I allow the parent to begin. My answer is yes. I basically structure my conferences into two equally important parts– academics and social/learning behaviors.  I start with student strengths in these areas, then move on to concerns, though I do not see the standard parent-teacher conference as the time to discuss these fully.  I usually share what I see, giving examples, and then talk about the ways I work with the student on these points. I always tell parents I will follow up further, usually after the first report card comes out.

What elements of parent-teacher conferences are important to you?

2.  Oh, how I hate the clean up that happens at the end of the school year! WHY am I thinking of that NOW? Because this last year, for some reason, I lost so much stuff! Among the items that still haven't resurfaced is a very neat laser pointer. It was also a clicker, allowing me to click on my computer remotely when using it with a projector. I used the laser all the time in class to point out resources in the room to kids. It is important that kids remember to use the word wall, or our anchor charts posted around the room. When I'm working with a child that needs to look at something specifically, it is so useful to be able to use a laser pointer to show them where to look, so neither one of us has to get up to see it. I finally couldn't stand being without a pointer any more and decided to buy another. They are surprisingly pricey at office supply stores, but our trusty ACE Hardware store had a BARGAIN! A laser pointer that is also a LED flashlight AND a pen for only $3.50. At just an ordinary pen size, it is really portable as well. Yippee!

It looks like an ordinary pen but it's a laser pointer!

3. Well, aren't I crafty! I made a moveable number line! I took a meter/yard stick (a little longer than a regular yard stick to give more number room) and covered it with bright green masking tape. I wrote numbers every 1.5 inches, as every inch made the numbers too close together to be easily read. I then ran a strip of press-on magnetic tape on the back  Voila!

Number lines are important tools in math and we learn about numbers, number order, counting, addition, subtraction, etc.  And I can move it into and out of prime student viewing space on the white board as needed. So much easier than drawing or using masking tape for the line on the board. WHY didn't I think of it before?? I put a bit of magnet on the back of a little car, some little animals and lego guys, and of course, some monsters, to use as place holders when I move around on the line. "If the monster made three hops, and then he made two more, how many hops did he make?" Always keep it fun!

4. Do you use Phone-a-Friend in class? I find it helps kids control blurting and gives think time when playing learning games. We started with parent centers this week and parents are teaching it to the kids. Eventually they'll be able to do it on their own with lots of different games.

If one student turns over a card or lands on a spot, and can't do the task- say, read the sight word- they can "phone-a-friend." They hold their hand up to their cheek and says "Ring-ring, Sam" or whoever they choose.
Like my model child? I was too busy at schools to get a photo!
The stumped child knows who to call on because the kids who know the answer put their hand on the table in the "phone position."

It those kids do any blurting, like "me, me, me!" they can't be called on for help. This ability to signal that they know the answer keeps all the kids engaged through everybody's turn. Sam holds her "phone" to her ear and says the answer. The child who didn't know, then learns and gets to go on playing. The kids really like to use this element in games, and I love that it gives everyone think time, keeps kids engaged, and teaches the ones who need to know what we're working on. It also deemphasizes competition and puts a positive spin on helping everyone get the answer.

5. Tis the season for monsters... well, for me it is always the season for little monsters, as I've posted about numerous times before. I have a monster pin board that has everything from food, to art, to clothes, to toys, to learning activities-- and all MONSTER! You want to check it out, especially with Halloween just a week away.  Click on the Pin Board pic here.

And I'll leave you with this little video– I think it was around when I was a kid, so we can call it a classic. It will have you all bopping around the room for some Halloween brain breaks.

Scooch on back to Five for Friday for lots more fun!

Here's to a great week-before-Halloween, Everybody!

The post A Cozy Chat and Some Monstrous Ideas first appeared on

Friday, October 10, 2014

Five for Friday, a Tip and a Tale

Man, there's lots going on! Lots is good, except that lots competes for blogging time. Hats off to any teacher in the blog-o-sphere who posts on a real regular basis! I don't know how you do it!

Here are five random things I've come across this week which I think you'll be interested in. Thanks to Kacey at Doodle Bugs Teaching for Five for Friday links. And to Tara for Monday Made It, too.

1.  So I start out with a Monday Made-It... well, if it counts that I share how I made something better and easier to use. I have lots of games that need dice- dice with letters, or sight words, or directions, or what have you. I've tried the wipe-off kind, but the writing comes off when the kids use them. I sometimes put a piece of tape over the writing, but that is a pain. I have pocket dice which I like a lot better. They are sold in lots of places now.  Click on the caption to find them for a pretty good price on Amazon.

Well, I thought they were going to be just what I needed, but there was a problem or two to fix. When I put pieces of paper in the pockets, they fell out as the kids used the dice. Then I thought, laminating the paper might help as the plastic of the laminate will stick to the plastic pocket, but those fell out, too. Then I tried taping the pockets closed, but that didn't look so good, and you had to peel the tape off each time you changed the items in the dice. I then tried using Post-It notes, but they didn't stick much to the material of the dice. FINALLY I came up with a way to make it work... I write on the BACK of the Post-It note...

Then I slide it in so the sticky part is stuck to the plastic pocket itself, not the material.

PLUS, if you write on the bottom of the Post-It, then you can cut off that word, and write the next word on the new bottom edge to get multiple uses from just one note.

TA-DA.  How do you use your dice?

2.  Just in case you ever doubt the importance of what you do when you teach reading, here is a special perspective and some inspiration.

3.  It's been rather damp here, all summer and even into the fall.  Somebody had a little fun with a toadstool and our Little Free Library. Extra weather protection, I guess.

And my daughter can do most any kind of photo alteration, in Power Point for heaven's sake.

4.  I would LOVE to hear what your favorite and most used smart phone feature is. I just came into the 21st century, finally, and got my first ever- an iPhone 6. I'm still fumbling around with it a lot. We are an Apple family with laptops, iPods and my iPad, so I think it will come eventually, but I'd like to get to the good stuff sooner rather than later. If you'd let me know what you use the most, I'll check it out. I'd much appreciate it!

5.  Okay, so it's not really time for a monthly Funny Kid Friday, but you know me, I got one anyway.

I have this one little guy who is fun, and bright, and verbal. He struggles with school behavior sometimes, though.  This week at one point he said at the top of his lungs for half the school to hear, "I do not like FOLLOWING the rules... I do not like the RULES!"  Good thing he has the verbal skills to express himself completely.  It was a great starting point for a little more discussion.  You can't talk about rules too many times. Sometimes I don't like em either.

Scoot on over.  Find good stuff! Thanks, Kacey. Thanks, Tara.

The post Five for Friday, a Tip and a Tale first appeared on

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Monster Math, Germs, and Funny Kid Friday

Happy October! Well, five weeks of school have come and gone. Hard to believe. There is NOTHING like the beginning of the year in kindergarten and I have lots to share. So happy that I can link up with Doodle Bugs to share five things and Always a Teacher & Forever a Mom for Fabulous Freebie Friday. And I include my monthly Funny Kid Friday tale. And shop-a-holics beware, there is great stuff to know about as well as freebies to grab, too.

1. Our new math curriculum suggests that we have a classroom math mascot, and this fit in perfectly with what I already do. I've had "monster math" for a long time– monster themed math bulletin board, fun little monsters that help us do math, this insane monster hat that I wear every once in a while to give us a dose of happy.

Okay, so I can't believe I put that picture on the internet, but the kids love it– his ears... or are they his arms... go up and down when you squeeze the flaps hanging down. I have another fuzzy monster hood style hat, which smooshes my hair down a little less. But hey, kindergarten teachers can't be vain, so I wear them both.

You can see either hat if you click the captions under the hats. Be sure to look at the adult style in the second version as that's the one that's nice and roomy. You can't go wrong with either one for about $12. And if you don't use it for math, you can use if for Halloween. Hurry. They'll go fast.

Here is our math mascot– a monster puppet who brings big personality to our math lessons. Keep it engaging to enhance learning, right?  His name is Ten-Ten. Ten-Ten Twenty... the kids wanted him to have a last name. You can click on the caption to find him for sale. He is brilliant and the kids are in love!

If you don't use puppets in your classroom I encourage you to try. You only need one to get started. You don't even need to make them talk. I have a puppet, Baa Baa Black Sheep, who is very shy. Only I can hear him when he whispers into my ear. The kids know what he says by the way I respond to him.

Ten-Ten has a low voice because I had a cold when I first introduced him. He is easy to manipulate as he rests on my lap. An arm stick helps animate him- he points to objects we are counting, and he shows his heart is pounding when he gets excited over how smart we are. Not hard. And let me tell you the kids LOVE him. They would have him come out every day. I limit him to math, and sometimes he just watches us. That is allowed, you know, if you just don't have the time, or aren't in the mood.

2. I would be amiss if I did not share a GREAT DVD that I found.  It's called Monster Math Squad. I don't know how I hadn't heard of it before. It has 30 episodes, each about twelve minutes long. Each one highlights a different math concept. We've done numbers to ten, shapes, size, and pairs so far. It is a great way to begin or recap a lesson. The kids love the monster characters and little stories, while I love the math emphasis the videos bring. I have surprised at all the kids retain. Again, highly engaging stuff to fire up those neurons.  You can get it for just five bucks now, about half of what I originally paid for it.

3. The folks at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have come up with a great info graphic poster... well, not great in that it shows there are a LOT of germs hanging out around school! Yikes! It is definitely something you'll want to see and share. Click on it to go to their site. They are planning on making it downloadable soon, so leave word in the comments and bookmark the page. I'm going to laminate mine and make a display in our main hallway.

4. And while on the subject of germs, how about a FREEBIE from my TPT store to help your kiddos wash their hands better?  It includes several posters, a song, and even a bookmark for the kids to take home. Click on the picture below to download it.  And if you want to hear how the song goes, click on this previous post to get the idea.

5.  And last but not least, my funny kid story.

It occurred to me several times this month that perhaps I was caught on the set of a Three Stooges movie. When you step back and watch newbie kindergartners you just have to smile. I watched one little tyke clear up after a special snack. She took a stray mini-chocolate chip to the garbage. Then went back and took a crumb to the garbage. Then went and took her napkin to the garbage. Then back she went to take her juice cup to the garbage... she eventually made it to the carpet with the rest of us.

At another point I called one little guy to come over and get something for his table. He got up and headed toward me, followed by everybody else at his table. Instead of going through the main traffic path, they all headed between two chairs which barely allowed one to pass, let alone five. They were sort of like pinball steelies trying to get down the shoot at the same time. I opened my mouth to give direction again, but then it struck me as so funny that I just sat chuckling and marveling until the five made it to me. The biggest marvel was that there was no angry pushing involved, just bounce, bounce, back-up, bounce, try again, until there they were, standing in front of me, happy as larks that they had made it, and ready to do whatever I wanted.

I'm chuckling again as I relive these video snippet memories in my mind. There is NOTHING like teaching kindergarten.

Now it's time for you to share your kid tale. Just grab my pic up there and use the in-linkz button to link up. Be sure to link back so everyone can find more. This will be up all month, so you can jump in any time. You can leave a tale in the comments, too, and bloggers leave your link so we can check you out. So many ways to share the fun.

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