Thursday, August 20, 2015

New School Year, New Adventures

Teachers report back tomorrow in my school district, so it will be a day full of meetings and preparing for the new school year.  Of course most have been going in all month to set up their classrooms, plan lessons, and get ready for the new group of students.   I haven't!  I officially retired on June 3rd, after teaching for 28 years, 25 of them at the same school.

People have been asking me all summer, how it feels to be retired, and I have been saying, "It feels like summer."  Now that my friends are talking about setting up their classrooms, it is beginning to feel like retirement.  It is very odd to see the pictures my friends are posting of their classrooms, and to not be part of that.

To be honest, I thought I would be sadder than I am, but I am pretty excited about the new adventures I am beginning to embark on.  I have spent the summer gardening.  I grow a lot of perennials, and this summer I had the honor of having my yard declared the Yard of the Week.  Well I was excited and honored at first, then it began to feel like pressure.  There is always more mowing and more weeding to do.

My back yard has a vegetable garden that gets a little bigger each year.  I already have plans to expand it more next year.

One of the great bonuses of being retired, is that when everything becomes ripe and needs to be canned, I will actually have time to do it this year.  I just made my first batch of sweet pickles earlier this week.  We also had our first corn from the garden.  This is the first year that I have tried growing corn.  I am a city girl, but I feel like a pioneer when I grow my own food.

Retirement also gives me more time for all my other hobbies.  I spend a lot of time knitting and I have been taking knitting and crochet classes all summer, and yesterday I just bought a brand new sewing machine.

It will be so nice to have more time to devote to these creative pursuits.  Earlier this summer I turned the background fabric from my bulletin boards into these pillow cases.

I think they turned out pretty darned good.  I was also impressed with the fact that the fabric had not faded.  It had been up in my classroom for the past 12 years.

While I have left the fourth grade classroom, retirement does not mean I am done with education.  On Tuesday I finished taking an online class about teaching online.  This is one of the OLLIE classes offered by our state Area Education Agency.  OLLIE stands for On Line Learning for Iowa Educators.  This is the 4th class in a series of five, that I have taken.  This one was about facilitation of an online class.  I learned a lot, and I may teach online in the future.

My newest adventure is volunteering at the school where a friend is the principal.  This is a much more diverse school than the one where I have been teaching.  In the next few weeks I will be working with students on reading and writing skills.  There are 38 different languages spoken by the families that make up this school.  I have asked to be included in some of the ELL staff development, because I have little experience in this area.  I have a lot to learn!  Later in the school year, it is also likely that I will fill in as a substitute teacher, both at this school and at the one where I have spent the past twenty-five years.  I also hope to do some of my digital story telling with students at both schools.

I wonder if I can fit all this stuff in?  "Retired" I may be, but once a teacher, always a teacher, and if you are a teacher, you are always a student as well.  So I am still learning and still taking notes.  My classroom has just moved.  This school year is going to be a lot different than the last 28, and I am very excited about my new adventures.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dream House

For a creative lesson about being yourself and living your dreams, I love the book, The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater.  I've had this little book since the days when I taught first grade, which was more than 17 years ago.   I wasn't sure if it was still in print, but I found it here on Amazon, if you are interested.

Mr. Plumbean lives in a nice neat neighborhood until a bird drops orange paint on his house.  Instead of repainting his house to look like his neighbor's house, he creates the house of his dream.  As Mr. Plumbean says,

This book provides a great opportunity to discuss theme, and what the author wants us to learn.

We designed the houses of our dreams. Here are a few.

We had a lot of fun with this.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Learning About the Middle Ages

Last week we began our Castle Project.  It is all part of our Middle Ages Unit.  Kids come into 4th grade asking when we will build castles, and now, finally, the time has come.  Our school teaches a Core Knowledge curriculum, in addition to our district curriculum, so our students learn about ancient Egypt in first grade, China in second, and the Roman Empire in 3rd grade.  It is a well planned, and natural progression in studying world history.  You can learn more about Core Knowledge by visiting the Core Knowledge Foundation website.

I have written about our Castle Project before, but I thought I would take a few moments to highlight some of the steps I take to build background, as well as the resources I use. To lay the groundwork for our unit, I like to expose my students to lots of literature, both non-fiction and historical fiction.   In reading groups we spend time reading and discussing "If You Lived In the Days of Knights" by Ann McGovern, Medieval Life, and Knights and Castles by Will Osborn and Mary Pope Osborn.  I love the "If You Lived. . ." series.  Each chapter or section is titled with a question.  The text that follows answers that question.  It is a great way to help students understand how people lived at that point in history.

As a read aloud we read and discuss The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleishman.  This Newbery Award winning book is historical fiction.  I like using historical fiction to build background in a way that students can connect.  Along with the historical information, I continue to use the literature to build reading skills. You can read a summary of the book at Scholastic.

Another favorite book that I use as a read aloud is "The Door In the Wall" by Marguerite de Angeli.  This is also a Newbery Award winner and is one of my favorite books ever.  I love the theme of this novel, that life always provides us with opportunities if we are willing to look for them. Here is a link to the Goodreads review.

To get the unit going, I have several Smartboard presentations that I have put together with information I have collected from various sources.  Much of it has come from  The Middle Ages Independent Learning Unit.  This book includes many great resources and activities about people of the middle ages, knights and armor, weaponry, the parts of castles, etc.  I have had this book for several years. It is published by Good Apple Publications.

The actual construction of the castle is completed as homework.  At school we learn the reasons why people built and lived in castles, what life was like in as castle, and the parts of castles.

I assemble these activities in manilla folders along with a step by step schedule for how we will proceed.

After learning about the parts and reasons for castles, students make a list of supplies needed and sketch out a plan.  Our project is completed over a three week period.

Some nights students have a written assignment to do.  Other nights they are just asked to work on their castle. We also do lots of writing about castles throughout the project.

Another excellent resource for this unit is Europe in the Middle Ages, by E. D. Hirsch.  I use sections of this book for read aloud, and to present lessons.  We also use it and sections of the Middle Ages Independent Learn Unit for close reading.  It provides excellent opportunities to identify and clarify the most important ideas and supporting information. 

You can see our castles from last year right here.  In a later post, I will write more about some of the other aspects of our unit and castle study.  The kids get so excited about this unit, and that makes it even more fun to teach it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Grand View Universty TeachMeet

Yesterday was a day of learning and inspiration.  I spent the day at the Jacobson Visiting Scholar Symposium at Grand View University.  Last year was the the initial year for this event.   I attended then and I enjoyed it.  This year was even better.

The morning started out with a delicious breakfast provided by the university.  We started the day with a keynote address by visiting scholar, Dr. Erica Boling from Rutgers University.  Dr. Boling talked about Transforming Education through Multimedia and Technology.

Following the keynote, we chose between three breakout sessions, presented by Dr. Boling, Alex Kitchen of the Bondurant Schools, and Steven Hopper from Heartland AEA.  I sat in on Dr. Boling's presentation about using screencasting.  She talked about the power of  using video, particularly video created by students, to learn.  Some of the examples she showed us using tools like Animoto carried that powerful message forward.

I used to use Animoto a lot, but during the past couple years I haven't.  Dr. Boling showed us a video that she has used to introduce herself to students, which is something I used to do, but for some reason stopped.  I also used to use Animoto as a communication tool with parents to show some of the great work kids were doing, and I am going to get back to doing that.

The afternoon was devoted to fifteen minute TeachMeet Sessions, including one presented by yours truly.  I came away with lots of new things to explore, as well as reminders to return to some things I have tried in the past.

Some of the things I want to explore are:

  • The communities on Google +.  I didn't have any idea how many there were.  
  • Photopeach, which works like Animoto
  • For screencasting I have used Jing.  I want to check out Screenr and Screencastomatic.
  • Popplet for mind mapping.  This was a session presented by Christine Smith.
  • Oh, yes!  The Too Noisy App for the iPad, which totally cracked me up.  I am afraid my kids might enjoy setting it off, but it was funny.  That was presented by Jen Wells, who also talked about other Classroom Management Technology like Class Dojo.
I presented a session on Digital Story Telling.  I showed the group the things my students have created using Bitstrips for Schools, Voki, Kidblog, and Storybird.  You can see the things we talked about by visiting our class Wibki.  The links are on the writing page.

I was really excited to see one of my colleagues from school there.  It was nice to share the day with one of my coworkers.  This was time well spent, and it reminded me how powerful some of these tools are,  not to mention the energy and ideas shared by fellow educators.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

More About Using Bitstrips for Schools

In an earlier post I talked about my Digital Story Telling class.  One of the tools we were using for that class was Bitstrips for Schools.  You may already be familiar with Bitstrips through Facebook or by using  For my students, I use Bitstrips for School.  There is a charge for this website, but it is worth it to me to be able to monitor what they are doing.  Bitstrips for Schools lets you make assignments.  As students create their avatars, they are added to a class picture, which I think is hilarious.  There are lots of instructional ideas on the website that you can use for assignments. There is also a 30 day free trial, if you want to check it out before making a financial commitment.   

Here is a little more information about Bitstrips for Schools.

Since that time I have introduced the rest of my class to this website.  During the month of February we used it to create an avatar and an introductory comic strip introducing ourselves.  Now we are using it in connection with health.  We have been learning about the digestive system and good nutrition.  Students were to create a comic strip about healthy eating.  I am pretty impressed with what they have come up with.

You can check out our class gallery and see my students Bitstrips by clicking here.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Math Cootie Catchers

I have always hated Cootie Catchers, but my students love them.  A Cootie Catcher is a folded paper toy, which originally was intended to be a fortune teller, but we use them to practice math. They make a great interactive tool that we use to practice place value, rounding, basic facts, and most recently fractions.

I found this great book, Math Cootie Catchers, 20 Standards Based Cootie Catchers,  published by Creative Teaching Press.  It includes step by step directions on how to fold them.  It has Cootie Catchers to practice number and operations, fractions and decimals, algebraic concepts, geometry, time, money, and measurement.

You don't have to have a book to make Cootie Catchers.  Here is a great link that I found on Pinterest for making your own. It's on the I (Heart) Teaching blog.

If you need a refresher course on how to fold them, check out this video.

Creative Teaching has cootie catchers for other subjects and grade levels. You can check them out here on the Creative Teaching Website.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Free Resource for Printable Paper

I use a lot of technology with my students, but I believe in pencil and paper work as well.  In fact sometimes I am very old school.  I still teach spelling and I still teach cursive handwriting.  I do not want this generation of students to leave my classroom knowing less than those that have come before them.

I ran onto this great resource on Pinterest.  Whether it's paper for penmanship, graph paper, or a form to plan your budget, you can find it on Free Printable Paper at Check it out!