Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Holidays in the Classroom

Hello all!  I have joined together with Ashley from Schroeder Shenanigans in 2nd and Angie from Lucky Little Learners for their  #2GETHERWEAREBETTER linky.


So what are we talking about this month?  My favorite time of year... CHRISTMAS!  So, let's talk about the holidays.

Service to Others

At my school, we believe it is important to balance traditions and craftivities with philanthropy.  Each grade level has a service project.  Second grade's service project is the Pajama Program.

This is a wonderful philanthropy that gives children in need a new pair of pajamas and a book.  For each pair of pajamas donated, Scholastic matches it with a book.  Finding ways to get children to think globally is difficult, and this is one small way the second grade teachers can instill a desire in their students to give back.

To celebrate our philanthropy, teachers treat students to a pajama day, some yummy hot chocolate, and The Polar Express movie.  I bring in my crock pot that I have filled with water and hot cocoa mix.  I fill up the cups, and students can add marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles/dust, and candy canes.  We all curl up with our pillows and blankets and enjoy the movie.

Taking a Poll

I always poll students to find out what holidays they do celebrate.  This is my first year teaching second grade where all students celebrate Christmas.  I am excited!  We are going to have some fun times in the next couple of weeks!  I plan to keep the kids moving and thinking.

Hands-On Activities

Science is a great way to keep kids thinking and engaged in learning.  During this last TPT sale, I found a great resource!

I am super excited to try this out with my kids!   The Great Candy Cane Experiment by Fancy Free in 4th challenges students to make predictions about which liquid a candy cane dissolve in the fastest.  Students work through each step of the Scientific Method and then draw conclusions.  I can't wait to see how this turns out in class!

I'm also planning on continuing the engagement with some STEM.  Brooke Brown from Teaching Outside the Box has great resources for STEM activities through the year.  I'm super excited about her December Activities.

The three activities included are Santa's parachute, a shelf for the elf, and the tallest tree.  I KNOW my kids are going to flip over these!

Write All About It

Last, we are going to do some writing!   I read Amy Lemon's post on her blog, Step Into Second Grade about an Elf Directed Drawing.  I am thinking this would make a great piece, especially because the elves have come to keep an eye on the kids.  And to make cute on top of seriously cute, students can apply to become an elf!

Of course, we are going to make some magic reindeer food.  That's always a good time!  Thanks to for the cute tag!

I'd love to hear about your holiday traditions and activities.  Comment below and share!  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Classroom Reveal

It's been ten days since the students have come in the door, their eyes shining bright.  That first day, though they walked in full of promise and expectation;  my classroom ready to go!  The kids look around at the decorations - a superhero theme.  They notice each of the superheroes: Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, Thor, Superman, and Captain America.  Sadly, full-size woman superheroes are missing due to the inappropriate clothing they wear.

On that first day, what they don't see is content-specific or procedural posters on the walls.  They don't see math vocabulary, hints to help with writing or reading, and they don't see anchor charts.  The bulletin boards and walls are blank.

To me, this is important.  Any item that goes up in my classroom needs to be important.  My students need to understand (and have a hand in developing) any anchor charts or posters that go on the walls.  If I have something that was previously made, it does not go on the walls until we discuss it in detail and have practiced using it.

I divide up my room into sections - a reading/fluency section, a "unit of study" section (this is science and social studies combined with reading skills), a math section, a word work section, a writing section and a library section.

Student Desks and Work Areas

Second graders at my school have work tables.  Each student has their own slot in the table to keep their belongings.  The tables create a sense of cooperative learning, and instant work spaces for group work.  In addition to this, I also have 2 quiet tables for students to select to work at.  I also select students to work at these tables at times when focus is necessary.  There is an additional cooperative/quiet work table floating in the classroom that seats two more students.

There is a "chill space" for when a student is frustrated, upset, or making poor choices.  I put a bean bag here as a way to make the space comfortable.  When the bean bag is not in use, I will pull good behavior tickets for students to use it as a comfy seat or they can choose sit in the giant purple chair in the library to complete their work.


 This is the only section of my classroom that already has items posted.  The fluency posters are common among every classroom at my school and in my district, K-4.  The students know the language as "fix-it" strategies, or strategies they use when they don't know a word.  So far this year, we have created an anchor chart that describes what an active reader does, looks like, and sounds like.  In my district, we like for students to use sticky notes to record their thinking.  They can record thinking about different story elements or information they are learning in nonfiction, and I encourage them to record what they are thinking using the thinking stems:
  • I'm thinking...
  • I'm wondering...
  • I'm noticing...
  • I'm feeling...
  • I'm seeing.
On the window shade is our first Daily 5 poster, Read to Self, and our classroom expectations poster.  Our school is a PBIS school.  We have the same three rules - Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Safe.  Each teacher's responsibility is to clarify what these rules means within their classrooms.

As time goes on, anchor charts will be added for different comprehension strategies and other reading behavior items.

Unit of Study

Unit of Study for my district is similar to Science and Social Studies.  The focus is on teaching comprehension skills using content-specific text.  In short, I use the science and social studies topics and texts to teach comprehension strategies.  Each unit has a different focus and essential question.  This first unit has the focus of fiction and nonfiction text.  The essential question, which will be introduced next week is, "How do active readers read fiction and nonfiction differently?"

We achieve the answer to this question through several lessons:
  • I start with teaching the difference between fiction and nonfiction (see picture)
  • Next I move to an author study of Kevin Henkes books where focus on the elements of a fiction story and the story mountain
  • Then I move into nonfiction where the class studies nutrition and focuses on identifying headings, captions, pictures, tables of contents, charts, maps, diagrams and indices.
  • I wrap up the unit with a discussion of how readers approach reading these two genres differently.
The anchor charts on this bulletin board change as the content changes.  Items are added, as more content is covered.  When the unit is over, the anchor charts are moved to other locations of the classroom, such as over the sink or high on the wall in the coat room area.


Math anchor charts are located in the front of the room near our meeting area.  Again, this area is blank for the start but as new concepts are taught and vocabulary is covered, this section fills up.  Currently the class has discussed two concepts - "What is a Mathematician?" and "How do We Use Math Manipulatives?"  It is very important that these items are the first that are covered, as second graders use math manipulatives almost daily.   This week will be very busy with more anchor charts and the first vocabulary cards will go on the bulletin board.  

On the other side of the ActivBoard (similar to a Smart Board) is my calendar math / math fluency area.  Students complete our morning meeting at the carpet.  This includes, calendar time with looking at saying the date properly (Today is Tuesday, September 2, 2015) and analyzing the calendar for the pattern.  Afterwards a student pulls coins to add to the class bank and we practice counting and exchanging money.

Below, in the shoe holders, are the students' math fluency cards for addition, subtraction, and skip counting.

Another area in the classroom that is math centered is the math resources bookshelf.  On this shelf are the math manipulatives that each student needs.  These are organized so there is one basket for each of the cooperative work tables in the classroom.   Each cooperative work table basket houses enough materials for six students.  

The other items in the math resources bookshelf are the math workstations boxes.  I read a great book by Debbie Diller called Math Workstations: Independent Learning You Can Count On.   As games and independent activities are taught during math, they are moved into the math workstation boxes.  The cover of each box has a list of directions for the items inside.  Directions are kept very basic so they can apply to all of the items.  

Word Work

Our district's spelling program is a guided program from Fountas and Pinnell called Word Study Lessons: Letters, Words, and How They Work.  This program does not have a structured scope and sequence, but rather a guide of suggested lessons for each month.  The program is based on students' needs after giving a 500-word high-frequency word spelling test to each student.  After administering this assessment over a few-week period, students needs are observed both through the spelling assessment and during writing.  Each student has an individualized word list.  Half of the words come from their high-frequency list of missed words from the assessment, and half the words come from the weekly minilesson.  

Examples of each minilesson are posted on the bulletin board, and students keep their word cards in the card holders on the side of the air conditioner.  The container on top of the air conditioner has all the materials they need to complete each of their weekly word work activities.  


Writing is a HUGE focus in second grade in my district.  Students really get to learn the writing process, and they learn how to take a piece of writing from the idea stage to the publish stage.  Currently, students are working on banking ideas for writing later.  We created an anchor chart for what active writers do during writing time, and we have discussed how writers can S-T-R-E-C-H a word to try and spell it on their own.

As time goes on, this board will fill up with different kinds of leads (and examples), different types of words by grammar type, closings, ways to stretch sentences, how to add details, and many other topics.  

The student resources area also has items for students to use during writing.  Different types of papers, pencils, pens, markers, glue sponges, scissors, and a plethora of pencils can be found here to help spark students' creativity.

The Library

I am obsessed with books.  I have a HUGE library!  I love that my students have a wide variety of books to choose from.  My library is divided into three sections.  The first section is the leveled fiction section.  These books are divided by guided reading level so students have an immediate section of books they know are at their level.  The middle section has books grouped by author, theme, and genre.  This group of books is a mix of fiction and nonfiction.  The last group of books are nonfiction and divided by guided reading level.  

I created book label tags that are set up similarly but have a different color theme so students can easily identify fiction books and nonfiction books. 

In the front of the classroom, I pull any books from my classroom library that cover any themes being taught that month or are related to that month.  For example, in September, baseball books, books about Autumn, football, nutrition, animals, and plants will go in the blue September Themed Books bin.  The bookshelf is for shared reads.  Any book we read in class goes on this shelf.

Discipline/Brag Tags

 I am required to use the stop light clip system for discipline.  I keep it at the back of the classroom over my mailboxes so it does not claim center stage.  What does claim center stage are the brag tags.  I loved reading Angie's posts from Lucky Little Learners about brag tags.  I got so excited at the thought of them!  I bought her brag tag bundle and immediately got to work.  I even created some of my own that are based on the district's character education program.  The necklaces are under my ActivBoard in front of the carpet meeting area.  This way students are reminded that good behavior is always rewarded. 

So, this is my classroom!  It's not terribly colorful and there's not a lot of pizzazz, but it's purposeful and practical.  I cannot paint my walls, and I am not allowed to hang items from the ceiling.  In addition, I am only allowed to cover 30% of my walls per fire codes.  (skinking fire codes!!!!)  So I do the best I can with what I have.  It's a happy place, and the kids are constantly learning.   It's my little slice of home.  Please feel free to email me or post comments below!  Check out other blogs as teachers share their classroom reveal!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Organizing Math Manipulatives

Organizing and storing math manipulatives is not an easy task.  For two years, my storage and ability to use manipulatives with kids was a hodgepodge of ziploc baggies, bins, and if I am honest, a HOT MESS!  This summer, I spent quite a bit of time organizing my math manipulatives before I started working on organizing and setting up my classroom.

I started by sorting out all of the students' addition and subtraction fluency cards, their skip counting cards, their fact family cards, and secret code cards to ensure that each student had all the cards they were supposed to have.  The red, orange, blue, yellow and green cards are from Math Expressions, and the skip counting cards were created by The Happy Teacher.

Once all the card packs were sorted, I cut apart a shoe organizer I bought from the Dollar Store ($6.00) and numbered each slot.  I hung it on the wall below my calendar math activities.  By splitting the shoe organizers into twos, students can easily access their math fluency cards.

Once I got this task accomplished, I moved on to the manipulatives students used on a daily basis.

I took 4 blue baskets, again, purchased at the dollar store, and put these materials in each basket.  Each basket holds enough materials for six students.  Each student has Styrofoam cups for expanded notation, base ten blocks, 2-sided counters, coins and dollar bills, three different number lines, a ten-frame, and a number chart with numbers through 120.  Thanks Primary Graffiti!!!! 

In the box containers are the items used for math workstations.  When a game or activity are taught, it is put into the math workstations.  They are separated into numbers 1-6.  I split students into groups - heterogeneous at first and then by ability.  The games are customized to each group's ability level.  

On the lid students will find basic directions for the various activities in the box.  Students take their workstation box to their designated spot in the classroom and practice their math skills.  

I put the rest of my math manipulatives and games in small storage bins.  On the front of each bin is the type of math to make it easy to pull when it's time to use.  

For each game or activity inside the box, each piece is numbered.  That way, if one is separated from the bag, I know right where to put it.  

It is time consuming, and makes a great summer project, which of course doesn't really help now.  But, if you have a parent helper who is not comfortable working with students, this is a perfect activity for him or her.  

Alright.  It's time for me to sign off.  Here's hoping my math manipulatives stay nice and organized this year!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"In God we trust. All others... bring data."

It's about this time of year that I wake up in the middle of the night either in cold sweats or hyperventilating.  Come on everyone.  You know what I'm talking about.  It's the back to school nightmares.  

Every teacher gets anxious for that first day.  You think to yourself, I wonder what they will be like.  Are they as nervous as I am?  Will they like me?  Oh, do I remember how to start those beginning of the year procedures?  How am I going to remember all their names?  How am I going to get to know them? 

This last question covers so many different things.  How will I get to know them as little people?  What do they like?  What don't they like?  What do they worry about?  What are their strengths?  What areas do they need help? 

As teachers, we are naturally observers.  We watch, we take mental notes, we write things down, we assess, we reflect.  So, we start the year.  We do our "getting to know you activities," and we start to observe our students.  Now comes one of the biggest questions each of us eventually asks: "How am I going to keep track of all the things I am noticing about each of my kids?"

In the day-and-age of Response to Intervention, there is a saying I have heard many times, but I don't know who said it first.  "In God we trust.  All others... bring data."  Common Core brings a necessity to understand our students at a deeper level.  We must observe (watch), reflect (think about how you taught the lesson and how the students responded to your teaching), and prescribe (decide what you are going to do next).

How do we keep track of all we observe?  As an interventionist, I found it easy to keep notes.  I only had 3-6 students at a time, and I scheduled a 5-minute break in between each group so I could record all of what I observed, reflect on what I taught, and make plans for the next day.  Then, 15 years later, I went back into the classroom.

I spent most of first quarter just trying to figure out what I was doing.  I had never worked with second graders before, nor had I any knowledge of the second grade curriculum.  Before I  knew it, here came the end of first quarter.  I went to complete my standards-based report cards and realized, I hadn't recorded, analyzed, reflected, or prescribed.  I had to guess.  It was then I realized I had to find some system of keeping notes.

I spent the rest of the year trying and trying and trying to record notes.  But the problem is, when?  How?  On what? There are so many times I need to take notes.  I need to take notes during minilessons (we call that carpet time), during guided reading, conferences, assessments, interventions, etc.  Good God!  How do you take notes during all those times?  It's not like being an interventionist where you get a 5-minute break so you can reflect.  That time in a classroom is full of transitioning, meeting individually with students, and grabbing materials for the next lesson.

It was then that I realized that just one method doesn't work.  I needed to be able to take notes in different ways based on the situation I was in.  So I came up with numerous methods.
The first method I decided to use was to take notes on note cards.  I tape each of these individually onto my clipboard/notepad.  Start at the bottom.  I don't tape all the way to the bottom because I want to give a place for my hand to rest.  I tape one down and then lay another note card on top.  I leave a full line of space so I can write the student's name and/or number on the bottom of the note card.  That way I always know who I am writing about. 

I have seen this used with file folders, but I like something sturdy to write on.  I found this cutie clipboard at target.  
It opens up and had a notepad on the inside.  I simply removed the notepad and used the space like a file folder.  

I suggest using each card for one subject.  If you like this method, have a different file folder/clipboard for each subject.  

Once the card is full, you simply peel off the tape and place a new card down.  But what do you do with the cards?  I created this form to keep the note cards on.  
This form allows you to notate the student and what subject it is for.  All you have to do is tape the note card onto the square.  (The note cards I use are 4X6)

I chose to hole punch the form and put it into a binder.  It makes for easier transportation to and from school for refection, analysis, and prescription.  I have a tab divider for each student.  I know some teachers keep a file folder for each student.  These forms could be put in the folder.

Another method of keeping track of observational data is to use a form like these:

Either of these forms could be used to record data.  Then after you have reflected and analyzed the notes, you can prescribe by setting a goal for the next time you teach or confer.

Again, I choose to keep these forms in a binder that has a tab divider for each student.  Then, I add this to the binder as I fill up the sheets.

Lastly, I use address labels such as these.
This way, I can write about multiple students on the same label sheet.  (I just have to remember to write his/her name on the label.)  I keep label sheets on clipboards and have them hanging througout the room.  At the end of the day or when I have time, I just collect the clipboards, peel the labels, and place the them on this form:
Again, when the sheet is filled up, I just put them in my student data binder (or you can put them into a file folder) and they are ready to go!

I already feel better knowing I have these record sheets ready to go.  All I have to do is get my binder tabs in my binder and print out my sheets and I am ready to go!  Okay.  So I know I won't have a nightmare tonight about this one, but I'm sure it will be something school related :)

If you like this or if you see revisions that need to be made, please leave a comment.  I don't currently have a TPT store, but I am considering starting.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Lions, and Tigers, and Supplies, Oh MY!!!!!!!

It's hard to believe that it's already school supply time!  I went to Target and could hardly believe all the teacher goodies that are out there!  I am sure you all know how Target is.  You go in meaning to buy "just a couple of items" and you leave having cleaned out your bank account.

I really admire the people that can go in and only buy what they need.  Target is like crack, or Pringles.  Once you pop, you can't stop!  I just look around, especially the dollar spot, and the corners of my vision get all blurry, sweet melodies play in my ears, and it's just me and the items.  I really do think they sing to me.  (I know I am a little delusional.  It's okay.)

So I have gone to the dollar spot at Target the past two weeks, really hoping to find these dry erasers I get there every year.  I love these things.  They don't take up space in pencil boxes or desks, and they work great with individual dry erase boards.  But, it seems Target has let me down.  No one seems to be carrying my favorite item this year.   I think I am going to end up paying twice as much on Amazon.  They are not the exact same, but I like that they are magnetic.

But, as I said, I walk into that dollar spot and the siren's song starts.  Those dollar deals call out to me.  "Libby.... Libby... Buy me!  Buy me!" they sing.  My vision goes glassy and I begin to reach.   I pick things up not even knowing what it is.  I load up my basket, because I REFUSE to get a cart, and then continue to walk the isles.  I pick up a few other items I just HAVE to have, pay for my stash, and leave.  It's only when I get home that I think to myself, "What in the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks was I doing?  What did I go in there for?  Crap!  I forgot that ONE thing I went in there for!"  So it just means another trip back.  Bad, Bad news.

So, here are some pictures of my haul this time around.  

 I liked this one because I keep hoping to get up the nerve to Periscope.  Maybe some day, but not today.

 These books were $1.00 each.  I was liking that.  I'm always looking for nonfiction to add to my library.

 Originally I picked up five of these red tubs, but the foggy haze that I go into at the dollar spot wore off as I was picking up toilet paper, and I put four back.  I really only needed one for my guided reading desk.  I have ones with holes in them for the student tables.

 I don't consider myself a "cutsie" teacher.  I don't normally put up "cute" things.  I have a superhero theme in my classroom, and I made sure to use movie versions of superheroes instead of the cutsie cartoon sets.  Don't get me wrong.  Those are adorable, but I come from an upper elementary/middle school background where I would have been taken out back and shot if I had the cute cartoon ones.  I am just now adjusting to the fact that I can be cute instead of dry or sarcastic.

 I saw these and fell in love!  We teach parts of the plant and plant adaptations.  They are teeny clay pots that supposedly have a flower in each.  I figure I will go buy seeds, just in case the seeds are bad in these.  Really, I bought them for the pots.  

Uh... dinosaurs that grow with water?  Seriously?  LOVE!  Yup, I'm learning to be cute.

So, there it is.  My haul from the dollar spot.  After seeing what other teacher bloggers purchased, I am kind of rocking in my chair wishing I could go back and buy more.  Maybe next week.  The weekend is here, the family is going on a mini-trip, and I have put my debit card on lock-down.  **sigh**

Until next time Target...