## Wednesday, May 29, 2013

### Classifying Invertebrates, "Playing" with Clay!

With state testing over here in Massachusetts, I feel like a weight has been lifted.  Sure, I still have nearly a whole month left with my fourth graders (and reading all over the teacher-blogosphere about people who are out already) but at least now I feel like I can just relax and enjoy my class a bit more.  And the way I do that without actually losing them for the last several weeks is to allocate extra time to the content areas!  Math and ELA, you get to take a back seat for now.  Make way for some science!

After our unit on vertebrates (which I blogged about yesterday) I delved into our unit on invertebrates.  Although our book reverses the order, I think it's better to start with the familiar.  And I'm sure kids have more experience with our furry friends the mammals than they do with sea sponges.  Plus I enjoy getting questions from those deep thinkers who ask, as we are classifying animals into five categories, "What about ants.  Aren't they animals?"  It leads to great discussions when it comes time to rationalize why a sponge is an animal!
We start out as we did with the vertebrates, by classifying animals by their body covering.  That is, they learn about animals with and without an exoskeleton.  To drive the point home, we use CLAY!!

The exoskeleton is represented with tin foil.  It's not the easiest fine motor task, but of course the activity can be differentiated by assigning certain kids the worm.  They feel successful while the kids who like a challenge work with me on how to manipulate the foil.

We did further research on key traits of various invertebrates on a scope and sequence chart (below).

Next I reinforced the concept of the T chart with kids.  They were learning about how to compare and contrast in reading, and that was a perfect segue into how insects and arachnids are similar and different.  Then finally we honed in on how to classify 2 types of invertebrates, insects and arachnids (below).

They used the T charts to create captioned pictures for our hall display (Top tip:  Use paperclips to easily change out papers throughout the year!  Although it worked better with 2 clips, not one center one because they droop over time).

The checklist of expectations appears on the left below, while a close up might look something like my example (below on the right) that I used to help students evaluate their own work:

The kids have fun with our animal units, and although Common Core likes to take credit for weaving writing throughout the content areas, it's something I've been doing since I've started teaching (don't we all?).  If you're interested in this unit, I have my invertebrates unit available as a complete package deal in my TPT store.

## Tuesday, May 28, 2013

### Vertebrates Unit: Classifying Animals

Now that state testing is over for fourth graders here in Massachusetts (and thanks to all the storms this year it's going to be a lonnnng June), I have felt the pressure of math and ELA lifted, and I've been fitting in more science and social studies into our days.  I also looked over my blog topics over this past year and I was shocked to find I have not posted a SINGLE piece on science!  I actually DO teach science, really!  So I decided to  start at the beginning share a topic that I love to teach the kids:  Animals!  More specifically we begin by studying the traits of, and classifying vertebrates.

 Graphics from Openclipart.org
We start out with a study guide.  Instead of waiting until the end of the unit to tell kids what their test will be on, I give them a one page sheet at the beginning of the unit.  It has all the vocabulary concepts and examples that we are going to work on over the course of the unit.  Some kids like to check off each topic as we cover it.

Next, we talk about the stages of the life cycle for all vertebrates.  This eases kids into the year because who doesn't love to draw their favorite baby animal?

Next, we complete a concept map for vocabulary words including habitat, appendages, body covering,  and adaptations.

My poster board is in sad shape unfortunately, but only because it's been so useful over the years for both science and social studies concepts.  I'm not sure yet if I want to create a new one on poster board (the kids complain that laminated posters are hard to read because of the glare, and I don't blame them) or some sort of shower board project from the hardware store.  We'll see!

But back to vertebrates.  Next we start our research, checking off which characteristics animals have when it comes to the above traits.

I often alternate colors to help students track on the board, and they've also let me know that the lines are helpful, so I started doing this consistently this year as well.  One thing I love about fourth grade is some kids are starting to be able to verbalize what they need in order to be successful, and they advocate for themselves!

Then we begin research on student generated topics on adaptations, such as why birds can fly and why snakes don't need appendages other than their tails.  I usually group students by their selected topics, and they do an oral presentation to the class about their findings.  I'm not usually a fan of oral presentations, but when it comes to animals students are usually so interested in the topic that they can overcome their shyness to share.

Finally, my favorite part of our unit is to create our own animals!  They need to decide if its a mammal, fish, amphibian, bird or reptiles, and have the correct traits, but otherwise they can be as creative as they like!  Yet I can still assess which students can apply what they know about the characteristics of each of the animal classes.

The unit that follows is on invertebrates, which I have written about over on my other blog.  So if you're interested in more animal activities, check out my post tomorrow!  Also, if you're interested in getting these activities and more in a package deal, I have this vertebrate unit over at my TPT store.

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## Wednesday, May 22, 2013

### Responsive Classroom: Morning Meeting Kit

Teachers, you know that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you're asked a great question?  One of those questions that isn't just on topic, but is asked for clarification.  A question that not only you can answer in depth, but you know, had it not been asked, the whole class may have been left with only a superficial understanding of what you were trying to convey, and now thanks to this question you get a second chance to make it all crystal clear for everyone?

Well I got one of those in my comment section last week, haha!  :D

Kimberly, thank you for asking about my Morning Meeting Kit!  I mentioned it in passing last week, but thanks to you I thought, "Why not take the whole thing apart and show everyone what it actually entails?"

Before I do, first of all I should explain that the kit is really just a collection of things that I had been using for Morning Meeting that was cluttering up a nearby table.  This isn't a list I got out of a book or even planned at the beginning of the year.  Second of all, in case you're not 100% familiar with the term Morning Meeting, it's part of the Responsive Classroom method of building classroom community.  There's tons of information online, the Morning Meeting Book series is very readable and practical, and honestly explaining the whole thing would be beyond the scope of this post.  However, I will say that the four main components that my principal introduced me to right away, and that I still stick to is to have my fourth graders:
• Do a Greeting with each other
• Share news and/or items
• Have a group Activity (nearly always a game) and finally have
• Announcements
So here are the items I use on a daily basis during Morning Meeting:

1.  The box.  I originally had all these things strewn around a table, and it was a little bit maddening how messy it looked.  Then I put it all into a tub, but even that looked like a box of junk.  In the end, I opted for vertical storage.  It works beautifully.

2.  My "Shares Sign Up Board."  I blogged about this system, but essentially I have a student roster, and each student needs to complete a task in their box in order to sign up to share in the morning.  There's a bit more to it, in that it's got a sheet protector to save paper and grade 4 common core aligned tasks to complete, but that's the crux of it.

3.  My Mystery Person envelope.  I got this idea from a teacher's forum (if I can find who to credit I will update this post).  I told the kids that two behaviors that I want them to work on is not blurting out, and being organized (specifically: quickly taking out the appropriate materials during transition times to get ready for that subject).  At the start of the day, I pick two names, but don't tell them who.  Then, throughout the day I watch those two students especially to see if they are completing the task, while reminding the class, "I see so and so is (name the desired behavior); I wonder if they are the Mystery Person!"  Everyone in the class then snaps to!  If a Mystery Person does not do what they need to do, I tell the class that for today they will remain a mystery!  However if they do, they get a round of applause/bragging rights, and they can pick out a sticker from my portfolio.

4.  Student of the Month information.  We focus on character education at my school, and we have a different trait that we strive to improve each month (such as cooperation, empathy, and responsibility).  This file folder contains a list of the traits, definitions to help me guide my discussion at the start of each month, and slips of paper for students who need a "warning" for not making good choices to improve themselves in this area.  I have this Student of the Month system available for purchase as well.

5.  Character building anchor charts (from Pinterest!) that I love, which I pull out on an as needed basis.  You can see my Pinterest collection of classroom posters here.

6 & 7.  Game materials include a white board, eraser, marker, and ball.  These come in handy for various games we play.  The bottle of water is actually out of place in this shot; it's for me for wiping off the Shares Sign Up board each week.

8.  The kids' names on sticks.  Originally I used their lunch sticks to pull for games and comments, but it started to become a hassle to use the sticks for a dual purpose on opposite sides of the room and at different times (thanks to rotating specials times).  It became more practical to have a new set right in the kit.  Also, I use these to pull names for the Mystery Person.  Then I use the lunch sticks for the rest of the day.  Because of course, if I used the lunch sticks for the Mystery Person, then I pulled Billy's lunch stick to answer a question in math, Billy knows he's not the Mystery Person today.  This way it can stay a mystery!

10.  More Student of the Month information.  The kids nominate each other every Monday for Student of the Month, so I have a roster (it's partly covered there to protect privacy) to keep track of each topic, who's been nominated for the topic, and who the eventual "winner" was.

11.  A pile of "Greetings" and a pile of "Activities."  I usually change these up each Monday, so if I feel like trying something new, or I want a specific purpose (such as cooperation) I can just flick through these for inspiration.  I did not make these; a simple Google search yielded loads of them for free, but I got the bulk of my Greetings and Games here, from Mrs. Bainbridge.

12.  Twitter Board:  Not pictured above, but I as a new Share system a few weeks ago.  This is so that anyone who didn't sign up, yet had big news could still have it posted, and if I feel it's big enough to talk about I do.

So that's my Morning Meeting Kit!  Just a bunch of stuff that I found myself scrambling for each morning that I finally put altogether.  I love it because now I'm starting out each morning super organized, and I think the kids have noticed that too.  Thanks again for your question, Kimberly, and I wish you loads of luck with your first classroom!

## Wednesday, May 15, 2013

### Got \$12? How About a Classroom Makeover!

I can't believe some teachers are soon to be finished for the year!  Here in Massachusetts (well, this city, anyway), thanks to Nemo the kids don't get out until June 26.  Feels like FOREVER.  Although now that the state testing pressures are off, I can refocus my energies on poor, neglected little Social Studies and Science, woohoo!

In order to breathe some life into the classroom during a school year that runs the risk of feeling really, really long, I did a little freshening up right before the state tests.  Some of you may remember the before that I posted at the start of the year.  I kept the same color scheme since our desks are teal, the bookshelves are blue and green, the walls are white and the floor is brown.  However I saw these fantastic tablecloths at CVS for \$2 each!  I thought they'd add a new punch of color and let me join the "cover your shelving with fabric club" that so many teachers in my building and the blogosphere have been doing.  So here are my upgrades:

The round table got a round tablecloth of course, and I put some double sided tape in 8 spots around the circumference.  It seems to be staying in place very well.  Behind that I took a rectangular tablecloth, folded it in half, and put Duck Tape on the fold at the top.  This gave it some durability when I hole punched it.  I got the tiniest size of those 3M hooks for the edge (I think I used 4 in total).  This way I can easily remove when needed.

For my shelves near my desk, it's hard to envision the full effect all the way across (with my desk there in the middle), but I did a solid blue in the center, and then the striped panels on the ends.  For those I accidentally got round tablecloths!  D'oh!  So I cut each one in half, folded it, and again, Duck Taped the top where I'd cut for durability.  The little hooks make it easy to get to the books underneath.

For the kids' shelves I decided to leave half of it open so they could find things more easily.  For indoor recess I told them to remove the panels so they don't rip.  I also used those little plastic hole-punch reinforcements applicators for even more durability.

I had 2 panels left, so I put them over at the computer table.  We only ever use the middle computer anyway; the others each have their own little "quirk" that makes them undesirable.

Finally, not really an upgrade in decor, other than to keep my "dotted table" a lot more organized, was the Morning Meeting Kit.  Previously all those things were spread out on the table and it looked messy.  Now we have the Shares Sign Up board, a whiteboard with marker and eraser, character education information, and a ball for games.  I LOVE it, and I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier!  This vertical storage works so much better than the tub I put there first.

Did anyone else feel the need to spruce up their classroom decor this spring?  And do you have an Instagram account yet?  I just gave it a try!  You can follow me at:  http://instagram.com/amberthomas7  I am also linking up with What the Teacher Wants:

If you have never used Instagram before (like me 3 weeks ago) you need to download the app for your iThing or Android device.  From there you can set up an account, take some pictures, edit them, and post them on Instagram (it's often likened to Facebook in that it's all about sharing and followers and what-have-you).

Now I know what you're thinking.  Why bother?

Well, I'm bothering because I love to look at other people's classrooms.  :)  So if you love to get ideas about classroom setup and decor, you'll probably want to join in!  I already do so on Pinterest.  And I think Instagram will become an even better medium for this since you can post instantly.  Pinterest is great too, for websites and full blog posts.  But if you like just the visuals, it seems like this will be another great medium for you.  At least that's how I see it.  :)

## Thursday, May 9, 2013

### My Teacher's Appreciation

This has been an interesting teacher's appreciation week this year.

First, I was bitter.  Here in Massachusetts, it's MCAS time again, and my fourth graders were scheduled to have their tests during Teacher Appreciation Week.  I whined to my husband, "So all those catered lunches they've planned for us?  Mr. E. and I will get there after everyone else and we'll be scraping together whatever's left."  Oh boo hoo, right?

Then I got sick and I had to call out on Monday morning.  Again, I was mad.  "I'm missing all the good stuff they had planned for me!!"  I rested, had lots of tea and juice, but felt worse instead of better.  That afternoon I dropped off the MCAS review materials I spent all weekend creating because I was pretty sure I'd have to be out Tuesday too and I was not about to have all that work go to waste.

By Tuesday night, I was no longer whining about missing catered lunches.  I'd had zero appetite since Saturday night anyway, and now their MCAS test was tomorrow.  Do I go in with a fever of 101.7?  Do I...miss the MCAS?  I couldn't imagine this.  Sure, Mrs. L. missed it last year, but she gave birth the day before so it was acceptable.  I asked some of my teacher friends in the blogging world what I should do, and although they all said, "stay home," I didn't want to.  One even admitted that the year she had to be out, many of her kids blew it off and finished in 20 minutes.  Math was a HUGE focus this year in our district, for our grade.  We worked so hard this year to raise our math scores after the hit they took when we adopted a new program last year.  I was in tears the night before when I decided I had to make that phone call.

I wasn't able to stay awake very much this past week, but while I was awake, I was on the teacher's forums and blogs.  And I wasn't the only one having a difficult week.  I read stories about teachers whose principals forgot it was this week, who laid people off this week, and whose PTOs actively decided to do nothing for the teachers this week.  It made me realize that although it felt unfair that it had to be MCAS week, and then it felt unfair that I couldn't be there to receive it, at least I was actually appreciated! And even more special was the fact that some of these teachers enduring a lack of appreciation were spreading the joy that it wouldn't seem that they'd have.  They were showing their appreciation for OTHER teachers!  Calling them up and thanking them for making them better teachers.  It really changed my perspective. I was being pretty shallow up there in paragraph 2.  And at this point, I couldn't care less about getting trinkets.  I just wanted to get back to school and check in with my class and help them feel a sense of normalcy before their second session on Friday.

After seeing the doctor on Wednesday and getting a handful of prescriptions, she told me to stay home at least until Friday.  And although most of my symptoms are in check and my fever's gone, I am still bone tired (which might be the medications, not the virus).  So I continued to rest up.  Still worrying about how it went yesterday, how my principal (or parents, or anyone) perceives my 4 day absence during MCAS, and how the kids are going to react tomorrow when I get there and basically have to say, "Sure I missed you all, but right now let's take this test."

Then around 7 p.m. I got a phone call.

It was Mrs. K.

Mrs. K. is the reading specialist at my school.  When I was a first year teacher there, we had common planning time built into our schedule, and I knew right away that she was the nicest lady I would ever meet.  Just last week one of my students felt safe going to her to talk about a "girl issue" that I would have been embarrassed to even talk to my mom about at that age.  Mrs. K. always tells me that I'm an amazing teacher.  She told my mom that when I introduced them at a school event.  I asked her to read a passage at my wedding because she's always been an inspiration to me.

Mrs. K. was just calling this evening to ask if I needed anything.

I told her I was finally on the mend now, but thank you so much.  She said she was worried because I've never been out this long.  Then she told me that the kids were fine yesterday; she proctored the MCAS for them.

I nearly cried with relief.  I had no idea my principal had moved people around.  Mrs. K. reassured me she's proctored before; she could practically recite the directions from memory.  She talked to the kids before the test, gave them a little time to relax before it and then they got right to work.  And they worked hard.  She told me if I needed to be out again tomorrow don't worry, she'd proctor that session too so to take care of myself.  I didn't think I was ever going to find out for sure what happened on Wednesday (well, maybe in October when we got the results).  It was such an amazing surprise to find out that it had been Mrs. K. in charge on MCAS day!  And the fact that she didn't even wait until I got back to put my mind at ease was amazing.

I work with an amazing group of teachers, but Mrs. K. is the most inspiring person I know because she is the most giving person I know.  And she will definitely be getting her favorite treat (blueberry muffin) from Duncan Donuts tomorrow.  Happy Teacher's Appreciation Week, Mrs. K!

## Wednesday, May 8, 2013

### Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

I hope you are being "treated" this week.  :)  My school's PTO plans a whole week of edibles, trinkets, student made gifts, and teacher's lunchroom decorations.  Unfortunately, I'm missing out on half of it because I have the mother of all flus.  :(  However, after hearing from teachers around the country who have been in to work this week, and not all of them have been acknowledged, it makes me feel lucky.  At least I AM appreciated, even if I'm not there to enjoy a catered lunch.

So I started thinking about you, my readers.  You probably already know about the Teacher's Pay Teacher's sale that started yesterday and will continue through today (as long as you use promo code TAD13 at checkout).  But I decided to do one better.  I wanted to show my appreciation for you this week by directing you to some of my freebies!  It's time to really treat yourself.  :)  These items will be free through Mother's Day, so I hope you find something you enjoy.