Are we up for the challenge?

The first week of school has come and gone, and I'm feeling good. If you talked to me on Monday, you might have heard a different story, however. We have very large class sizes this year, and I think I was a little overwhelmed (to put it very mildly) on Monday. As the week went on, everything started clicking into place. I realized that the number of students in a classroom should not dictate my actions or my mood. I am going to try to keep doing what has been successful in the past, while modifying everything to make sure that it best suits this group of kids.

After all, is it the students's fault that budget cuts were made? Of course not. I will not let these students suffer because of their circumstances. Will it be a little crazy? Will it be a little noisy? Will it be a little messy? Of course it will! I read this blog post this morning, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. This year is going to be a challenge for many of us with larger class sizes out there. Are we up for the challenge?

Digital Storytelling Part 2

I'm so excited about "officially" going back to school on Monday. I looked back at my post from this time last year, and I can so clearly remember being that crazy, slightly manic person. I also look back at the goals I set for myself, and I'm proud to say that I think I worked towards accomplishing all of them last year. I think the same goals apply for this year, and I'm going to keep pushing myself towards trying to become a better teacher.

I looked back over some of my other posts from last summer to reflect on where I was, where I am, and where I'm going. I came across this one about digital storytelling, and I remember being very unsure if I was going to be able to implement any projects like this in my two computer classroom. Well, as the year went on I figured it out and I think it's worth sharing my experience to encourage any other teachers who have limited computer access.

Photo Story 3 - I think this is an excellent program to use with students. It is very user friendly. The only problems with this program are that it's not web based (you have to download it to your computer) and it saves your file as a .wmv, which can't be opened on a mac without some type of converter. That being said, I think this program was a great way to introduce students to this type of project.

We started out doing a whole class project to get acquainted with Photo Story 3. We had been studying poetry in writing, and we were also reading about the Titanic. Students wrote poetry and letters from the perspective of someone on the Titanic. They also chose a picture that they felt expressed the emotions they were feeling. I had students come up one at the time to upload their picture and read their poem into the microphone (this is the microphone we have). The students who went first were able to help other students with the process. The students were very proud of their final product. Here it is if you want to take a peek. I used Zamzar to convert it to a .mpeg file, but it greatly diminished the quality.

I also uploaded our video to my TeacherTube channel. I haven't found their site to be very reliable, but it was the best option I could find for uploading my school videos. Here's our finished product if you'd like to take a peek.

Titanic Poetry

Once we used Photo Story 3 as a whole class, I had many students who continued using it throughout the year. I like to give choices for students when they are completing projects, and Photo Story 3 is a great option for students who want an alternative to making a poster or a Power Point. This year I'm excited to try Little Bird Tales as an alternative to Photo Story 3. Has anyone tried it yet? It looks like it's geared towards younger students, but I think it may work for older students too. I'm excited to keep trying new things this year. What new technology are you planning on introducing to your students this year?

Best First Week Ever

The first week of school is such a critical time. I want to make sure that the activities and lessons I choose are ones that are going to build a community of learners where students feel safe, comfortable, and unafraid to take risks. I love reading about what other teachers have planned for the first week of school, so I thought I would share what I'm planning too!

Interviewing and Introducing a Classmate - Some of my worst memories of school are from having to stand up and think of something clever to say about myself on the first day of school. I especially hated the game where you had to come up with an adjective to describe yourself that starts with the first letter of your name. You try thinking of a word that starts with L that describes Linda! Ugh. Even though I don't want to humiliate my students, I still want to give them a chance to speak in front of everyone so that we can learn more about each other. My plan is to let students brainstorm questions they'd like to ask each other, and then let pairs of students interview each other. The students will share the information they learned about their classmate in front of the class. This doesn't seems nearly as threatening to me as the adjective game or any of those other silly icebreakers. Here is a lesson plan for this activity from Scholastic.

Organizing our Classroom Library - Right now my classroom library is a random collection of books in mismatched containers. I want to let the students come up with a plan for organizing our books. Hopefully, this will help the students feel ownership and give them some control in the classroom. Also, fifth graders have been known to come up with ideas that I would have never dreamed of!

Equity Sticks - We do these every year, but I wanted to include them because I think they're a great tool. Every year on the first day we give students a big popsicle stick and have them write their names on them. They can decorate them any way they want. We keep these sticks in a cup and use them to call on random students, form random groups... the list goes on and on. I'm thinking this year I'm going to have students color one end of their sticks so that I can just turn the sticks over in the cup after I've used them. Here is a great article about the use of equity sticks. I realize "equity sticks" is a ridiculous name. They're just popsicle sticks and you can call them whatever you want!

Biopoems - This is a fun activity that I have done with my class for the past two years. Students follow a pattern to write a poem about themselves. I find it to be an easy, non-threatening, but meaningful assignment. We usually put their poems in a class book of poetry. Students love to come back and look at these! Laura Candler has a great section about how to create biopoems on her website

Fun Science Labs - I don't know if I have mentioned this, but I teach with one of the most amazing science teachers in the world. She has a lesson called "Where did the water go?" that we always do on the first day of school. It gets everyone excited for the year of science ahead. I'll have to blog about this lesson later, just in case any of my future students are reading. I don't want to give away anything! We also spend the first week setting up our science notebooks. UPDATE- click here for the "Where did the water go?" lesson!

Blogging on Paper - I wish I could remember where I read about this idea. I really do. I found this blog post about this topic, but honestly, this isn't where I got the idea from. It is a good post, however, and you should check it out! I am not sure if my students are going to have their own blogs this year, or if they're just going to be commenting. Either way, this is a great exercise to get students thinking about blogging etiquette as well as what blogging is and why it is important.

Begin Writer's Workshop - I am determined this year. I am not going to think about the fact that writing is not tested anymore. I get so caught up in the world of reading and science (which ARE tested big time), that I tend to put writing on the back burner. When I think of the skills that my students will need when they leave me, I can't think of anything more important than writing. (Well, maybe reading is more important, but aren't they inextricably linked?)

I have been reading Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer's Notebook by Aimee Buckner this summer, and it has opened my eyes to how I should be teaching writing. I am excited to have students decorate their bright and shiny writer's notebooks. I am also excited to see the great writing that will (hopefully) unfold when I get out of the way and give my students time to write.

What are you planning for the first week of school?

Comprehension Strategy Posters

I will be teaching reading again this year, and I decided to create my own comprehension strategy posters. Last year I had students create these for me as each one came up, but with two classes it just got confusing. Click here to see my posters. Again, they go with my Hollywood theme. Feel free to use these! Here is the bulletin board I made yesterday to display these posters.

It's not a very good quality picture, but you get the idea! I found that palm tree at Hobby Lobby for $3.00 earlier this summer. Also, I think the lights just make it fun. Hopefully I am not creating too much of a fire hazard! Here is a close up of one of the posters.

This is the one of the only areas of my room that has teacher created stuff like this. I try to keep other areas cleared off so that students can display their work and take ownership of our room. Hopefully once I get everything set up I can post some pictures of my room. I want to see pictures of how others are setting up their classrooms this year!