Monday, October 31, 2011

Learning what's important

Man, that last post was a hard one for me.  I felt like it was important to tell why I hadn't been able to post: I have been hampered by technical difficulties.  It's an interesting story.  But while reviewing my post, I began to wonder what was taking center stage: the story of our painted pumpkins or my technology woes?  They both seem important but for different reasons.  The computer problems are frustrating, time consuming and I suspect, universal.  The activity of painting pumpkins and sweet Ruth asking me with eyes filled with tears if she had to paint her pumpkin is more compelling.  The thing is, I want to be the person with the compelling stories but often find myself as the person chasing my tail in the universe of ordinary.

Little Dark Cloud

Our painted pumpkin patch
Even with paint, they make Jack-o-Lanterns

Except for Ruth, who couldn't stand the
 thought of painting her very first pumpkin.

I haven't been able to post much lately because we have been experiencing technical difficulties. When our first computer's hard drive died I just thought it was probably time since we'd had the computer for 5 years. After several hundred dollars and a new computer tower later, we determined that our old printer is no longer compatible and needs to be replaced. Next, the power cord receiver on my laptop broke off inside the computer. It can work but doesn't because it can't be powered. When I returned from Best Buy after finding out my warranty on the laptop expired in September (UGH!), our router stopped working. True story! By this time I could clearly see the dark cloud following me. You know, like Charlie Brown. Anyway, we have a new desktop computer, a new router/modem combo, and me - rebuilding the football season slideshow I have spent HOURS creating on my laptop but that cannot be retrieved in time for the end of season party. ARGH! We also have days of photos downloaded but not blogged because I haven't had the time nor the energy to do so with all the time I have put in to fixing our technology problems. So here are some pics and captioned details.
When a student from another class saw our
 painted pumpkins he asked,
 "Why did you paint them?" 
 I answered the only way I knew how to,
 "Because we could!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

OUR Pumpkin Patch

After attending the pumpkin patch field trip we were inspired to create our pumpkin patch in room 105.  But of course Mrs. Ortner HAD to make it a learning activity.  Last week we painted the pumpkin to give the kiddos a chance to make that big, sweeping motion with the paintbrush - good for fine motor development.

I put them up in "our pumpkin patch" by the window. Next I talked to the kids about setting; the place where the story happens, what you see in your mental images while reading, all the details you see when you are writing about a story in your head.  After discussing settings, I took the pumpkins out of the pumpkin patch and gave them back to the kids.  I asked them to draw in the setting of the pumpkin patch.  Here is what they came up with:

 With a few crayons and some background knowledge this is what my little charges can create!

Notice the detail of the vines


Oh and don't forget our science study of New Plants so take notice of the things that plants need to live: soil, roots, stems (the vine), light, and water. I love curriculum integration.  Mostly, I love it when a plan comes together!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Patch

 It's here! It's here! Finally, our field trip to the pumpkin patch has arrived!  A hallmark of the first grade year is the October outing to the pumpkin patch.  The day couldn't be more beautiful; blue sky with just a hint of puffy clouds, cold enough for hand warmers but not cold enough to wish you weren't there.  And DRY!!! A beautiful thing on a fall day in the Pacific Northwest. We boarded the school bus for a 20 minute drive into the country to a farm that transforms itself into a celebration of fall designed to excite and educate young children.  The pumpkins are already off the vine and child sized for easy picking. First to the hen house to feed the hens and learn about the rooster. Then meet the goats, run through the hay maze, and use the water pump for plastic pumpkin races (a new addition this year).  Eight parents come to help facilitate the fun (God bless the volunteers!). Then its off to the tractor-pulled hayride to the pumpkin patch. A pumpkin carefully placed for each child to pick and take home.  Then a treat!  The hayride continues for a mile winding through the woods on the north side of the farm.  A farm house, a couple of cows, and a mile filled with fields flutter past as we chug along behind the John Deere.  Then the surprise that somehow never finds its way to the ears of the 6 year olds of this community: the pumpkin people!  The purveyors of this farm create small vignettes throughout the woods and fields with familiar characters dressed with a pumpkin for it's head. Just plain silly! This year we see Superman, Elvis, Cinderella, a church-going family, Rapuntzel,  road construction workers and many more.  The first graders squeal with delight as we ride past each setting.  Gracelyn makes up a song that she sings over and over:

"Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin round. 
I see a pumpkin on the ground."

It sounds so simple but it's not.  She's developing her oral language which is the precursor to reading language and  then written language. She used her phonemic awareness skills to create rhyme and rhythm, and connected it to our classroom learning. Literacy on the farm! It doesn't get any better than this. I am so happy to be right here, right now! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Digital Age of Room 105

 My husband, Tom, bought me an iPad for Christmas. I bought him a shirt and a water bottle. Oh well!  Anyway, as I played with my new toy I wondered what I could do if I had one in my classroom.  I did some research and found out that many teachers and districts across the country had already figured out new and creative ways to use this exciting technology. My next step was finding the money to purchase a number of iPads. I wrote and received a $10,000 grant, with the help of my former student teacher Jessica, to purchase up to 15 iPads to use with my first graders.  Why do 6 year olds need MORE technology time?  I'm not thinking of it that way (although I do plan to monitor their use).  Kids today are raised in the Digital Age.  Their lives will be filled with technological advances that will transform life as we know it.  I want my students to be a part of this exciting time! I have decided to embrace the Digital Age and welcome it into room 105.  I brought out the iPads during choice time last Friday.  Just one to start with and then another and another. To become familiar with how an iPad works we started with some simple art apps - Paint Sparkle. So fun! Soon we will be using them for phonics, math, listening to stories, researching animals, and so much more.  This week we are practicing poems and then using the iPads to video ourselves while we read.  We will view the video and evaluate our reading and think about what needs to be worked on to become better readers.  How crazy is that? I have two weeks left to spend the remainder of the grant dollars. It's a stressful and hectic time for me but I know it will be worth it. I'm excited to see what these amazing devices will add to the learning in room 105.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Torn Pages

Last week was a tough one for me in room 105.  If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all...and I was really struggling to find the bright moments, therefore no posts. It started Tuesday when (we'll call him Jimmy) Jimmy* was upset about his take home book selection.  8 years ago when I first started teaching early primary (kindergarten) I started a take home book program.  I saw the need for my students to practice their reading at home.  Also, there is plenty of research to support a strong connection between school and home.  I saw a take home book program as a way to meet both of these needs so I wrote a grant for $488.  I was successful and was able to purchase 80 books at early kindergarten levels that the kids could take home each night and read to their families.  I tracked how often they brought their books back to school and found that after 3 months, students that returned their books even 40% of the time were reading at benchmark (right where they are supposed to be).  I parlayed this action research into another grant for $1500 for more books at more levels.  Books are a precious commodity in my classroom held in the highest regard.  That was until Tuesday.  Jimmy was unhappy with his take home book choice and decided the best way to express it was to ruin the very book he wished to take. In a fit he threw a pitcher of water on the ground, tossed his reading journal, and tore the page of one of my books.  I was completely taken aback. I'm sure you're thinking it's not that big of a deal. It's just one page of one book but it's just so much more than that. Those books are my blood, sweat, and tears. I provide them for my students because I believe with all of my heart that they will help boost not only their reading achievement but their love for reading.  How could he do such a thing? What is going on inside a 7 year old that prompts him to act this way? What is torn inside of him that he could become so angry? Luckily, I have several colleagues that will help me find out. A little tape will repair the page of my book but I think it is going to take much more than that to repair Jimmy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dear Cat

One of my favorite parts of teaching kindergarten was decifering their writing.  When I moved up to teach first grade I was worried that it wouldn't be there and that I would miss it.  Well, there are still a lot of decifering skills needed with first grade writing but first graders are able to get more complete thoughts on paper as the year progresses. A kindergartener might write: I love mom, I like dogs, or I like my friends (friends would be spelled frns).  Today Elijah came to me during math time and asked if he could write a message to his kitty.  He had spent 20 minutes on math games and he was ready to move on so I said sure. He came back about 5 minutes later with this (see picture).  Just in case your first grade writing decifering skills are rusty, I'll translate for you:
Dear Cat,
I know you don't like getting caught to go in my bed but I can't sleep without you. 
Words are a window to the soul!  I have enjoyed getting to know Elijah these past few weeks.  He is bright, inquisitive, and sweet. But reading these words told me more about Elijah than I had gathered since school started.  As high level as his thinking is, he's still just a six year old little boy that can't sleep without the comfort of his beloved kitty.  Somehow this note helped me see Elijah and love him like his teacher should.  Oh, and I love that cat, too!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

An Invitation

Over the years I have received many invitations from students: soccer games, birthday parties, dance recitals.  I go to as many as I can and I enjoy them. I have been to a couple of weddings of former students and even attended one funeral. That was tough. Tonight I went to a former student's baptism.  Sweet Emily came to my classroom to personally invite me, of course I'd go!  I was expecting to slip into a pew toward the back of the church and not insert myself too much into this family celebration.  It turns out the baptism was being held in a small room at the church and not the main sanctuary.  I have not attended this church before so I was unsure of it's traditions.  I quickly realized this baptism was not something that the entire congregation would attend, just close friends and family. So, how did I get invited to such an intimate gathering? How did Emily's grandma know who I was when I have never met her? As the night progressed and Emily peeked over her shoulder to smile and wave at me my understanding of the enormity of my position sunk in.  This was the most important day in this little girl's life (to this point) and she included me. As a teacher I have been entrusted with not only the minds of my students but I have been entrusted with their hearts.  My words and actions carry serious ramifications (as I personally know, thank you very much Mr.-your short story is boring-McNevin) with each and every child I serve. Serve?  Is that what this job is? To serve my young student's; mind, body, and soul? Wow! What an AWEsome responsibility! As a teacher I have been invited into the lives of my students. Tonight was about Emily's decision but through the course of the ceremony it was impressed upon me how important what I do is.  How I must watch every word, sign, and gesture I make toward my little charges. I do not want to let even one of them down for a second. I must have done something really great when I was a child to be blessed with such an amazing opportunity.  Or maybe a long time ago there was a teacher at Longley Way Elementary School that took the time to attend a six year old's soccer game...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What Do Skunks Do?

I was listening to Peyton read this morning.  She was reading an assessment book that tells the story of several animals going into a little house.  A skunk comes along and goes into the house as well, sending all of the other animals out of the house.  As Peyton summarized the story, she was telling what each animal in the story did.  When she got to the skunk she giggled a little and averted my gaze. What did she find so funny? "Well, once the skunk farted none of the other animals wanted to stay in the house."  Now I was giggling, too.  "How do you know the skunk farted?" I asked. She thought about it and said, "Well, that's what skunks do.  They make things stink and nothing stinks more than a fart." I could have told her right then that skunks actually spray and it is an important part of their defense system that protect the skunks from harm, but it is so much more fun knowing that this precocious little 6 year old girl believes that the horrible smell skunks make is simply gas!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mommy Trouble

I didn't post yesterday because I was having mommy trouble.   My boy's heart was broken and it was so hard to watch.  I know these are normal situations that happen in life that will help build his resiliency and self-reliance but it's just so hard to watch.  My stomach has been in knots. It made me not want to reflect upon my day let alone my day in the classroom. Who could hurt a face like that?  And if you think his face is beautiful, his heart is infinitely more so. We talked about a the difference between a fixed- mindset (believing that we are only given a certain amount of intelligence to work with in this life) and a growth-mindset (the belief that our intelligence and understanding of concepts can grow with effort, learning, and practice) at our staff development meeting today.  Are we doing kids a disservice by praising their intelligence rather than acknowleding the effort they put forth to learn/accomplish new things?  I've always worked hard to make sure my students know how smart they are and that they can do anything they set their minds to so I often tell them how smart they are. I parent a lot like I teach (or is it the other way around?), have I done the same disservice to my boy? He understands the value of hard work at school and gives 100% of himself to the sports and teams he plays for. But have I praised his skill more than I have acknowledged the effort he puts toward his accomplishments? Does he think I value what he does more than I value who he is? He cares so deeply and gives so much. How can some of the adults in his life not give the same care and effort back to him?  How can anyone cause such heartache to such a sweet soul? 

Monday, October 3, 2011


A few years back I learned a behavior management technique from my dear friend and accomplished colleague; rubberbands. When a student is having an especially difficult time following directions, being a good listener (usually blurting), or just making good choices I bust out the rubberbands.  I place 5 rubberbands on my right wrist. When the targeted student makes a poor choice, I move one rubberband from my right wrist to my left wrist. It is a visual connection for the child to take notice of their behavior. Conversely, when the child makes a positive choice or is simply following directions without additional reminders a rubberband can be moved back to the right wrist.  Right now, I'm working with Ella.  Her incessant talking has moved beyond not being a good listener and into disrespect toward her teacher and classmates.  It's interrupting our learning. This is unacceptable. So I put on the rubberbands and explained to Ella how they would work for her.  There is no reward for keeping the rubberbands on my right wrist and no consequence tied to the bands moving over.  They are simply a visual cue for her to recognize her behavior and provide her with an opportunity to make a change.  At the end of the day we review how many rubberbands are on each wrist, reflect on the day, and set a goal for the next day. Ella always decides that the next day all 5 rubberbands will remain on my right wrist (I appreciate her positive thinking). Things are improving with Ella or quite possibly the behavior of the rest of the class has deteriorated to the point that she no longer stands out.  Today was a tough day.  Today there were not enough rubberbands and definitely not enough wrists to put them on!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


The other day we spent some time decorating the classroom.  Primary color handprints and personally decorated nametags adourn our indoor windows announcing to everyone who walks by who the leaners are in this room.  Pictures of faces glued to cut-out hands are taped to the door of room 105 so that you'll know who belongs to this room as you walk in. I love painting but mostly I love making the room ours. Last year I had a 1st grade mommy who helped us with all of our handpainting activities (miss you my Zenn) but this year it was up to me.  I had to work quickly because they had to stand on a chair in order to reach the table they had to stand on to reach the window, definitely not in regulation. It's not the only thing I do outside of regulation but the wee ones don't know that. And don't worry, I held tightly to each one while I applied the paint to their chubby fingers. Giggles escaped. Smiles beamed.  I'm not sure who had more fun. I learned a lot about my little charges while we painted. Conner's favorite color is blue. Ethan likes it when his dad tickles him on his toes.  Alexa lost her second front tooth last night. Kaylyn loves to paint more than anything else at school. To them it was just Fabulous Friday, decorating our room. Our room.