Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Making cute things is easier than you think!

   I have never done the classroom theme deal before! I found it to be too much work that I didn't know how to do and I needed to spend my money on other things for my room than to buy what I needed for a theme. I started playing around with graphics this summer based on a Youtube video I saw (posted below).  Did you know that you can make most anything using PowerPoint? I am not talking about slides for a presentation. I made my entire classroom theme using PP, sent it off to Staples for printing and the whole cost me $11 and a couple hours!

1. How to start
   Open a new presentation in PP. Find the Design tab at the top and click it. Click first on Slide Orientation and switch to Portrait. Then click on Page Setup and change the dimensions to match your standard paper: 8.5 by 11.
2. Find a Background
   I really like the look of the Chalkboard graphics that are going around. I think they are cute and I will definitely reuse them year after year. If you plan on putting your creation up on TPT, make sure you read through the copy write and license agreements so make sure the graphics can used commercially. I found a chalkboard background I like from the blog, We Lived Happily Ever After, and downloaded it, for free I would like to add. Save it to a place that it convenient for you to find.
   Too add it to your slide, right click over the first slide in the presentation overview on the left. Near
the bottom of the options that pop up is Format Background. Click it!
    Click on Picture or texture fill, File, find your background picture, input it, and then you have the choice of apply that background to all the slides or not.

 3. Find or Make Boarders and Frames 
   I used the following video to learn how to do most of what I know do to make my graphics. Making boarders and frames and even pictures is not difficult. It all has a foundation in basic shapes. 

   For my Chalkboard Theme, I used both graphics I found and graphics I made. This is the most time consuming part, but once you have made one or two borders you really like, it is easy to copy it over and over. I recommend using the shortcuts and tricks the video introduces. Things like grouping, Shift + arrows, Ctrl + arrows, and saving options.

4. Find a font, or several, that you like
   Many vendors on Teachers Pay Teachers have free fonts available for personal use and some have free fonts available for commercial use. You can also google the type of font you like. For example, I googled Chalkboard fonts and found a couple I liked. Because my project is for personal use, I used many different fonts, including fonts already provided by Microsoft.

 5. Save your project
   I save my projects as both PP, for further editing if I want, PDF, and PNG/JPEG. The last two save the elements of your project as images. Each of the images above where saved not only as a part of the project but individually as well. 

It is easy to do, cheaper than paying for it and then paying to have it printed, and it actually starts to be fun! 

Happy Creating,

Mrs. Powell

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Whole Brain = Controlled Chaos

My philosophy is if I am bored with my job, then my students are bored learning. In the crazy hectic nature of my job as a teacher, I have recognized the need to have fun with my kids as a means of self-preservation. It is important for each part of my day to include laughing and playing with my students and thankfully, someone else felt the same way. 

I first came across the Whole Brain Method while teaching ELA Support classes to 7th graders at a middle school in Lancaster, CA. I was going through the BTSA program with another teach at my school who used it with her sixth graders. I watched as her students, low achieving kids who came to school not to learn but to be in a safe place for a few hours, remembered and identified the elements of a story plot. I read up on it, identified with the methods as something that matched my personality well as well as my classroom management style and began to implement it the following year in my 5th grade classroom in North Carolina. 

If you have never heard of Whole Brain teaching, please follow this link and educate yourself. If you have heard of it and would like to know more, follow this link and educate yourself. All of the resources are FREE and the creators are available to answer questions and talk to you about the methods used.

So what is it? Here's the gist of it:

   "At the root of Whole Brain Teaching is a large amount of highly structured, educational tomfoolery. Students learn the most when they are having fun. Whole Brain Teaching classrooms are full of task-focused laughter. Humor and games are used to increase the number of times students repeat core information and practice basic skills. Our classes are highly disciplined and tightly organized because students have more fun following our rules, than ignoring them." Chris Biffle, Whole Brain Teachers of America

How do I use it? I have modified the methods to work for my population as it varies every year, the way we all do with any classroom management technique and lesson. 

-I have borrowed the point system "Teacher vs. Students". I write Mu-wah (for me) and y'all (because I work in the South) on a large white board that has velcro on the back. i move this board around to accompany me as i move around the class for centers, small groups, depending on where I am teaching from, etc. I have velcro pieces around the room to hang it up so it is always accessible to the kids. It is important for them to always see it. I do not mention the points verbally unless I am creaming them. I simply walk up to the board and give them a point, or give myself a point. They automatically quiet down. They earn a Friday Funday if they beat me three days Monday-Thursday (shoes off in class, a cartoon guided drawing, Kidzbop on while they work, extra read to self time, etc.). 
-I use the call and response of "class" and "yes". I usually do something crazy with it at least twice a day to keep it fun and fresh for all of us (may include opera singing, robot voices, various accents, a different language, etc.) 
-I use modern songs and adapt them for the kids! THEY LOVE IT! For example: I like Big Butts (I like Big Cells), Uptown Funk (Gulf stream Funk), and Party in the USA (Prevailing Westerlies). I mostly do W.B. with my science kids. Since it requires so much background knowledge and is so rich in vocabulary, we have at least two for every unit within our year. To keep the kids engaged, sometimes I will add a British accent, a robot voice, whispering it, screaming it, saying it really fast, saying it really slow, etc. The kids also really enjoy making these, so sometimes I will make one without hand motions and they work in groups on a particular part and make up the motions! 

You might be thinking of those kids who think they are too cool for school. We all have 'em! I tell my kids from day 1 that no one in the class is too cool to do anything we do. We talk about the different ways to learn and how there are students in class who learn best by reading the information, some by singing it, some by hearing it, and so on. It is our job as professional students to respect all the different ways of learning. After hearing that about a billion times, they go along with it. 

Does it take a lot of energy, YES! Teachers have told me that I am exhausting to watch. Eventually, I start have kids lead the songs/rhymes and wander around and watch! I have very few behavior problems because we are always going and talking, singing, and moving around. You will find that the kids are able to self monitor themselves really well by mid year because this technique teaches them about responsibility and self control. 

I encourage you to look Whole Brain up and consider if you can adapt it to work for you! For some, it may cause an aneurism, but if you are anything like me, it brings controlled chaos into your learning environment! 

Not ready for summer to end, 
Mrs. Powell

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How to avoid boobs and the "f-bomb" during Science

    How many times have you pulled something up on Youtube at school only to have a bra ad pop up, or a "similar clip" recommendation that has something vulgar in the side bar? Some of your sites have blocked it to avoid such a mess. Our district allows Youtube if you are logged into a teacher/admin account which is great because I use it ever single day! We use two very handy tools to get around the mess that the online video compilation site presents.

 #1 ViewPure

    View Pure allows you to watch most youtube videos without all the "stuff". It filters out all ads, so you can avoid the Victoria's Secret commercial, and all of the recommended videos and comments. There are two ways to use this tool. First, you can simply copy and paste the URL into the purify bar on Viewpure.com.
    The second way to use ViewPure is to click on, hold, and drag the orange Purify button onto your favorites bar, or bookmark bar, at the top of your browser. When you have found the Youtube video you are looking for, simply click the purify button that you put on your bar and it will automatically open that video in ViewPure, ready to go!

#2 Turn Off the Lights
    Sometimes ViewPure doesn't work. Uploaded videos have a feature where the owner can disable the ability for their video to play on other sites. If this is the case, Google has an option to hide all but what you want the kids to see by "turning the lights off". Basically the whole screen will darken except the video you want to view. 

You can customize the darkness, automatic features, certain sites it allows works on, etc. So how do you get "Turn Off the Lights"? You need a Google account to add this extension. Go to the Chrome Web Store and type in Turn Off the Lights. There is an excessive amount of information on all the different ways you can customize the extension as well as an easy way to install it. Follow the prompting. You will find that a small light bulb will appear at the end of the web address bar where you type in the URL of websites, as you can see above under the #2. This feature works not only on Youtube but on all video sites. The one downside is you still get those pesky adds so have your video prep'ed and ready to go!

If you find the wealth of videos Youtube offers to be helpful but your district has limited access to it, show these features to your administrator and convince him or her to allow access with these helpful improvements!

Good Luck,
Mrs. Powell

Friday, July 31, 2015

Getting ready to go back...

I find that I am not a very organized person, and as a teacher, this really sucks! I have to work really hard to be organized. Here are the 5 easy tips for I use for keeping myself sane and both my kids and myself organized (if you want copies of anything below let me know)!

#1: Paper Saver
Two years ago, after hearing for the millionth time, "My mom took it out of my folder and threw it away," or something to that extent, I moved to the highly effective, clear paper saver method. I went to Sam's Club and bought 200 paper sleeves for $10.00. We did away with any and all folders (I ask on the summer school shopping list that parents not buy them, but someone always neglects reading; SHOCKING!) and I gave the kids two paper savers, one for Daily 5 work, and one for homework. Math and Science are both done in interactive notebooks. We write which is which directly on the folder in the upper right hand corner and put them behind the agenda the school supplies. All they have in the binders then are an agenda, and 2 clear paper sleeves. For students who do the ole shove in the pockets nonsense, I cut out the pockets. Harsh sounding I know, but last year, I only had two students lose a paper, and only once each! AMAZING, I KNOW!!

#2 Completion Report:
Another saver for me and the kids was using the mailbox system for grading folders. We use standards based grading (1 no mastery, 2 partial mastery, 3 mastery, 4 exceeds mastery) and I had a hard time collecting enough meaningful data for some of my students. I used a menu for Daily 5 that included various activities that either link to the standard are build reading skills using the basic principles of Daily 5. It was more of a Weekly 5 if we are being exact. My teammate and I would switch off changing the items that needed changing and updating the standard.
We then started using the grading folders in the kids mailbox to help keep the students accountable for what was being turned in. It was SO MUCH BETTER than having them all turn it in to a basket and leave me to sort through the people who forget a name or to staple. I made a simple sheet with all the weeks of the quarter and each Daily 5 menu activity. The students would have to have everything turned in by the "Due Date" on their menu. While they were reading to self, I pulled their folders out of their box, checked off what they had a didn't have, and would quickly add the standards based grade from teacher time to their folder. Whatever they didn't have, would be left blank and I would then give them a percent and a letter grade for the whole thing (for higher level ed grading exposure). It worked so well and it was SO HELPFUL for parents. I use Remind and ClassDojo to communicate with my parents, so I would take a quick picture of the form and text or message it to my parents. 
Simple and easy to keep up with! It would take me maybe 15 minutes to grade it all. 15 MINUTES!!!

#3 Teacher Binder:
Because I am unorganized, I lose EVERYTHING! I have a binder to keep the important things in. I have a calendar section, one page for each month, in paper savers. When one month passes, I simply move the page to the back of the section. This helps me know what I did (meeting wise, conference wise, PD wise, etc.) and when and not have to keep track of an actual loose calendar. I have a section for volunteer information (which in my school doesn't fill up at all). I have a section for parent contact information, communication logs, and beginning of the year inventories. I tried the file cabinet system and was just terrible at it. This is more helpful in my opinion! I have a section for my lesson plans, followed by a section for my grade book and PBIS tracking. I have my IEP at a glance forms in here too! Finally I have a section for my to do list for the week, followed by the things that need to be done (papers to be copied, paperwork to do, reminders, etc.). I found most of this stuff for free on TPT. The links are attached to each section!

#4 Table Drawers:
The Teacher Lady changed my life! I am the BIGGEST advocate for children and responsibility. I think sometimes we underestimate how much they are able to do. My classroom is all about making choices and taking responsibility for the consequences, whether are positive or negative. It creates a really cool environment come November. Autumn Zaminski, the author of, The Teacher Lady blog helped me to create an even more autonomous student! 
While is was a little pricey to buy 6 of these bad boys, it was sooooo worth it! I use the top drawer for lined paper, graph paper, and blank paper. The second drawer is for materials such as markers, crayons, colored pencils, erasers, scissors, etc. The bottom drawer is for their interactive notebooks. There is a random drawer check to make sure they are staying organized and the job of Table Captain (aka station maid) rotates weekly. There is a reward system in place for groups that have it organized. There are no negative consequences put in place, they merely have to clean it at that moment if they do not meet inspection. They honestly do a remarkable job. When the expectations are set high, they rise up to them with grace! Also, they really like tickets. At the end of the week, I draw and they get things like no shoes, swivel chair, teacher desk, drawing pass, and job of choice. 

#5 Interactive Notebooks:
Why? Because everything is glued, taped, or written into the notebook and nothing gets lost. Trust me, you will be a happier person! The Notebooks stay at school in the drawers! If they need something from it to study, I take a picture with my phone and print it off for the student, but this does not happen frequently. They pre-cut the materials at home, or they come in a little early and cut before school starts. It is the easiest homework they will ever have and you will find that they actually do it but it takes no time at all. Then all you have to do is project your pre-made pages in your notebook and they glue it all in the first 5 minutes of class. For those challenged with the concept of using minimal amount of glue, have them tape! Mrs. Ramms has some really helpful ideas for getting started if you have never done notebooking!

Here's to starting a new year!

Work smarter not harder friends,
Mrs. Powell

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

And the award goes to...


I told my kids the other day that teachers love summer more than they do. They do not believe me, but we all know it to be true.

One end of the year activity I love to do with my kids is the "Paper Plate Awards". I am a poor teacher! I am not going to spend money on award paper they are going to toss anyway. These they end up keeping! I give each student a paper plate and a picture of another student in the class. They paste the picture on the plate and think of a class-wide inside joke to put as the award title on one side, and then a kind, endearing award title on the other side. Now I know it is not mind blowing, but it is fun!

For example, last year I had a boy who always fell asleep during read to sleep. His partner drew a picture of Sleepy, the dwarf from Snow White, and put "Tony a.k.a. Sleepy (Read to Self for days)." When this was presented, the whole class shared chuckles! Another funny one was for a student who got nervous around tests and would always let out the loudest farts ever. He would genuinely crack up at himself, relax, and then ace the test. His award read, "Gasman Therapy: A place where you can let it all out!" We were all laughing so hard we cried.

It is a fun activity to show the kids how close our community has been over the year and how we share inside jokes together the way a family would. I have been doing these now for four years in both inner city and rural schools alike and have never had anyone insult someone  or hurt someone.

How to do this: 
1. Pass out plates. 
2. Have students draw a picture out of a "hat" and keep it secret. 
3. Give them 10 minutes to come up with their inside joke and their compliment, decorate both side, and get your stamp of approval. 
4. Have students sit in a circle and present to each other (It is fun to have them try to guess who is being described). 

It is cheap, it is easy, and it is hilarious. Not everything you do has to be a World Series home run for it to be meaningful and enjoyable!

Mrs. Powell

Friday, June 5, 2015

Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul

My kids just finished their 3 intensive days of EOG testing and the poor things are wiped. They are also driving me insane! I love my kids and all but we are at the point in our year where we just would like to be done. I am sure you are there too!

Earlier this year, a teacher posted a neat activity that had it's fifteen minutes of fame on Facebook called, "I wish my teacher knew". If you haven't done this with your kids, please do. I did it yesterday and as a result, I was in tears all morning. Recognizing, at the end of the year, the impact you have had during the year is such a needed affirmation because there are days when you wonder. For me this came not through compliments about my teaching, but through the information divulged.

" I wish my teacher knew that when she tells me, "I love you" and I don't say anything back, in my head I am saying, "I love you more."
" I wish my teacher knew that my brother won't talk to me and I don't know why. I miss how we used to play and talk together."
" I wish my teacher knew that I am bi and I trust her enough to tell her."
" I wish my teacher knew that I am tired of my parents fighting over me."
" I wish my teacher knew that I am nervous to go to middle school."
" I wish my teacher knew that my parents don't love each other."
" I wish my teacher knew that the only place I can be myself is in her classroom."
" I wish my teacher knew that I cherish when she tells me she loves me."
" I wish my teacher knew that I will never forget her."

Now I am not an overly emotional person, but I was a hot mess. Never in my wildest dreams could I have expected what I got from my sweet kids (and even my not so sweet ones). After a year of working hard together, laughing together, learning hard lessons together, learning to listen together and struggling together, my kids reminded me that the content they learned this year means little to them compared to the community that we created together. This activity, that took 10 minutes from start to finish, unveiled the meaning of teaching, which in my opinion, needs to be done for teachers every year. You need to know how much you mean to the people you pour so much into; the children you can't stop thinking about, planning for, making sacrifices for.

How to do this activity:
-Give each child a lined piece of paper
-Write " I wish my teacher knew" on the board
-Explain to them that you want them to share something personal with you. Not something like, " I wish my teacher knew I like pizza" but something that holds meaning. Something that is hard for them to say. 
-Let them go to a place in the room where they feel comfortable and they will just go. (Two teachers walked into my room and asked what they were working on to keep them so focused). 
-Read them and be affirmed. 

--- A little extra: Write letters back to the kids to thank them for sharing and affirm them for their courage and for the blessing they are to you. 

I encourage you to end your year positively and enjoy your well deserved summer. I will be blogging like a fiend during the summer because I cannot manage to find the time during the year! Stay tuned.

Mrs. Powell