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Thursday, April 20, 2017

How Going Digital Changed Me as a Teacher

For nine years of my teaching career, I was a traditional teacher teaching in the primary grades the best that I knew. I focused greatly on the core subjects, especially reading and writing. I used traditional best practices and employed technology the best I knew, and honestly, I felt that I was doing a pretty good job.  A streaming video here and a phonics website there during Guided Reading and I thought, "Hey, I'm integrating technology into my instruction just fine!" 

That was until I moved across town, switched districts, and found myself on a campus whose main focus is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and where each students has his/her own digital device to use in the classroom and take home.

Well you see, I've always thought of myself being very techie in a sense that I have always been surrounded my computers and technology since I was a kid.  But truly, nothing prepared me for what was coming my way and how educational apps and technology flipped my classroom and instruction.

At first, I must admit, I was skeptical and resistant.  I was taught the traditional methods and in a traditional school setting for a long time.  My students did wonderful, and I knew that when I sent them off to the next grade, I had done my best to prepare them the best I could. Furthermore, isn't perfecting fine motor skills and building stamina to write with paper and pencil important anymore in the 21st Century? 

And so I did some deep teacher-soul digging into what kind of students I want to prepare for this century and what kind of students and citizens I want my OWN children to be when they start school? The more I thought about my methods, the more I knew that embracing both the traditional and 21st Century methods of teaching was the way and only way to go.

Slowly I began using various apps to enhance my students' learning and understanding.  I also found how feasible, time-saving, and easy it was for me as a teacher to share assignments and activities with my students and how interactive it can be for them!

My students were still learning those core concepts along with the mandatory standards, yet the thinking was deeper, the understanding was widened, and the connections were more meaningful than I had ever seen in the primary grades. From integrating videos and links into documents to allowing students to digitally praise and give constructive feedback to each other's work, my classroom truly became a community of learners immersed a new digital world.

Furthermore, the engagement was clearly visible and the learning became more personal as students were given more options and opportunities to personalize their own learning and understanding.

Once I saw the benefits of a digital classroom, I began creating digital notebooks to enhance my students' learning.  The first time I showed my students our first digital notebook, they were so incredibly excited and could not wait to get started.  I watched them as we went through the lessons together and saw how well they connected to the learning and proud of their own work.

As an educator, I will always find value and appreciation in traditional methods of teaching.  However, going digital has allowed me to transform my teaching style to best fit my students' needs, and that is the greatest reward of all.

Here's an example of how students are able to respond digitally.

If you would like a list of FREE Apps that I use in my classroom. Click to the apple image.

If you are interested in Interactive Digital Notebooks that are perfect for the primary classroom, feel free to check out my Memorial Day Interactive Digital Notebook FREEBIE below!

Additional Interactive Digital Notebooks:



Sunday, February 5, 2017

How to Make Your Classroom Valentine's Day Party Fun & Stress-Free

As students are getting back into the swing of things after a long winter break, it seems that February, while the shortest month of the year, feels like the longggest month for teachers.  Am I right or am I right?! :)

Every year when February rolls around, my calendar fills up so quickly with activities, events, meetings, and deadlines at school, that I am constantly checking and double checking just to stay afloat.

But again, it's February, and it's one of the more magical time of the year in the primary classroom, especially for the little ones!  Who can forget making your own Valentine box/bag and passing out and receiving Valentine cards from your friends in elementary school?  I definitely love those memories and love them even more now that I can make those sweet memories with my sweet students!

While February brings so much fun and excitement, it can also come with a lot of stress in planning and organizing your classroom Valentine party.  Here are some tips to help make it so stress-free and fun that you will definitely LOVE!!! :)

1. Send Out Your Valentine Party Note Early
Once the time and date are settled with your administrators, notify parents right away along with the class roster.  Stores can start setting up their Valentine's Day displays and goodies as early as the beginning of January.  Save yourself from responding to multiple emails inquiring information about the Valentine party by being proactive and sending it out early.  The kids are excited to buy their Valentine cards and will appreciate the ample time they have to choose the perfect set!

2. Enlist Help from Your Room Mom or Parent Volunteers
This year I have been blessed to have such wonderful mom volunteers who buy decorations, schedule a time after school, and decorate my classroom for me without my having to be there. I know, right?!  :) They have saved me so much time, and I am so appreciative of their help.  May it be classroom decorations, door decorations, or donating items for the party, having parent volunteers is a BIG plus and will save you so much time.

3. Vote on a Design and Create Your Valentine Bag or Box Together as a Class
Yes, students love making their own Valentine boxes or bags at home to bring in. However, I have always had my students vote on a design and create it together in the classroom.  Not only is it fun for them, but I know for sure that everyone will have and come home with a Valentine bag full of memories and cards.

4. Have an Extra Box of Valentine Cards in Your Classroom, Just in Case  
Thank goodness it doesn't happen often, but once every two or three years, a student of mine would not have Valentine cards to pass out.  Having an extra box at hand instantly brightens up that one student's day and will make your teacher heart so full and happy!

5. Plan on Doing a Simple Game or Activity
Since passing out Valentine cards can take the majority of the time especially in Kindergarten and first grade classes, a simple activity such as decorating a heart-shaped cookie with candy and frosting or playing Valentine Bingo will simply do the trick and bring on smiles!

If you need some Valentine resources, click to the images below.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Chinese New Year: Classroom Ideas & More

One of the units that I personally enjoy teaching is Chinese New Year or Tet as it is known to the Vietnamese community.  I love teaching about Tet because it takes me back to when I was a child and brings back all the wonderful and festive memories that I had with my family growing up. 

Besides Christmas, Tet was one of the most exciting times of the year for our family.  We always began by cleaning up our house to let go of all the previous year's bad luck, preparing for the incoming New Year with spring flowers and bright colored decorations to call on good luck, and tidying up our family shrine which purpose is to honor our ancestors and call on them to pray and bless our family for the New Year.

In addition, we attended Dragon Dances which are often done in shopping centers, restaurants, and places of worship, including our local church.  We would also dress up in our traditional long dresses, wish our elders good wishes for the New Year, receive lucky money, and enjoy traditional snacks and rice cakes.

If you are interested in integrating some cultural fun and celebrate Chinese New Year with your students as well, here are some ideas!

Tidy Up the Classroom to Bring in Good Luck
Encourage students to help you clean out the classroom by starting with their personal learning space and belongings (desk, cubby, backpacks, pencil boxes, learning centers, etc.).  Enlist students to straighten up books from library center, pick up trash around the classroom, etc..  

Decorate the Classroom with Bright Colors
Red is best known as the color of good luck in Asian traditions.  However, any bright colors would definitely help make your classroom more festive and fun!  Use bright colored construction paper to make lanterns or create cherry blossoms or flowers to place around the classroom!

Create Your Own Dragon Dance in the Classroom
Show students some drawings of dragons and have them draw and decorate only the head and tail of their dragon.  Use glitter, feathers, sequence, the gambit.  Connect the head of the dragon with tail but cutting and folding a strip of construction paper like an accordion.  Tape or glue a large popsicle stick to the head and another to its tail. Search and play Dragon Dance music on the internet and have your students parade around the classroom with their own dragons!

Wish the Teacher and Get Lucky Money
This activity can easily be tied in with English/Language Arts as students are encouraged to write a short note to their teacher to wish him/her a happy and prosperous New Year in exchange for LUCKY MONEY!!!  Well, actually.... gold chocolate coins inside red envelops are more like it! :)  I promise you, your kids will love you so much for this! 

Enjoy Some Traditional New Year Snacks Together 
Asian markets are filled with traditional New Year snacks and rice cakes during the weeks leading to Chinese New Year.  If students are not allowed to consume the food products according to your district policies, they would still love seeing some of them in person or seeing pictures of them.

There are many more wonderful ways to teach and celebrate of Chinese New Year! No matter how you celebrate it, I hope you have a wonderful and prosperous New Year with your family!

If you are interested in additional resources, feel free to click to resource below. 

This extensive 34-page packet that includes facts and interactive activities! With printables, vocabulary cards, colorful signs, graphic organizers, a Chinese Zodiac Calendar and bookmarks, and an interactive game with game mats and dice templates, students will be greatly informed and thoroughly engaged the entire unit!

-Chinese New Year Reading Comprehension
-3 Colorful Signs with Clipart and Real Photographs and Explanation of Chinese New Year
-Chinese New Year (Is, Can, and Will) Graphic Organizer
-Chinese New Year Fact Sheet Graphic Organizer
-I Can Celebrate Chinese New Year Writing Template
-KWL Chinese New Year Graphic Organizer
-Chinese New Year Circle Map
-Lucky Money Envelop Template
-BME Story Template
-Chinese Zodiac Calendar
-14 Pages of Chinese Zodiac Bookmarks (Full Page of Each Zodiac & 2 Pages of Entire 12 Zodiacs Together)
-12 Vocabulary Cards
-Chinese Zodiac Dice & Game Mats 

Other Resources That You May Be Interested In:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Santas Around the World

December is one of the most fun times for me as a primary school teacher.  With so many holiday symbols and themes that can be incorporated into the core subjects, it is truly the most magical time of the year in the classroom!

One of my favorite holiday lessons is teaching Christmas Around the World.  A couple years back, my first grade team and I were brainstorming of teaching and celebrating Christmas Around the World but with a different twist.  We loved having the kids rotate from class to class to learn how different countries celebrate Christmas, but we wanted it to be more relevant and relatable to the kids. Thus, I thought..."What about Santas Around the World?!"

Instead of focusing on Christmas traditions, we would focus on the story of Santa Claus around the World and how he brings joy to children on Christmas! The idea lit my imagination like fire, and I began researching like a mad-teacher. :)

The end result was simply magical!  The students had a wonderful time and were so incredibly engaged, excited, and much more knowledgeable of all the different traditions that make Santa Claus who he is globally.

Below are some facts that I found on Santas Around the World.

Santa in the USA- Santa Claus as he mostly commonly referred to in the States is jolly and generous. He travels in his sleigh on Christmas Eve's night to deliver toys to kids all the around the world with the help of his reindeer.

Santa in Italy- In Italy, La Befuna is a kind witch who travels on a broomstick and delivers gifts to children on January 5th.

Santa in the Netherlands- Santa is referred to as Sinterklaas, rides in a white horse, and delivers toys to children with his helper.

Santa in France- Santa is France is known as St. Nicholas.  He travels with his friend Pere Fouettard.  St. Nicholas leaves toys for children in their shoes by the fire while his friend, Pere Fouettard, spanks children who have been naughty.  (Ouch!)

Santa in Germany- Also known as St. Nicholas, Santa in Germany places gifts and sweets for children in their boots placed outside their door on the evening of December 5th.

Santa in Sweden- A little man known as tomte with a long white beard brings gifts to families as they show their appreciation by leaving out a small bowl of porridge for him.

Santa in Australia- Similar to Santa in the USA, Santa in Australia also places gifts in children's stockings hung by the fireplace and gifts under their trees.  He just does everything except wearing flipflops, since it's summertime in Australia during Christmas.

If you need additional resources on Santas Around the World, feel free to click to the image below.  The resource includes colorful and engaging informational signs and an interactive student booklet.

Additional Resources:


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Dear Teachers, Let's Continue to Build Love, Acceptance, and Respect in the Classroom

What an election year it has been and what an election it came out to be.  While us teachers try to resume normalcy in the classroom and continue to do what we know and love, which is to teach our students to the best of our ability, it is hard to ignore the harsh words and feelings that came out of this election year.  The older our students are, the harder it may seem for us to explain what has transpired.

Yet no matter how challenging it is,the best thing that we can do for our students still is to continue to do what we have always done - continue to teach love, acceptance, and respect in the classroom.

We are all teachers because of the love that we have for our students.  Let's continue to teach love in our classrooms and let that still be the fabric of our classroom community.  Regardless of all the changes around us, the basic principle of love for one another should not be changed and will not be changed.  As we step into the holidays and the new year, there are even more opportunities for our students to continue to practice showing love in the classroom and in the community- collect canned goods for food banks, make greeting cards for nursing homes, send care packages to soldiers abroad, adopt an angel as class, and the list goes on.

Let us also continue to celebrate our students' uniqueness by encouraging them to accept one another as they are.  As a primary school teacher, I have had the privilege to witness my young students accept and celebrate each other's uniqueness everyday.  The kids get it, and they love that their friends can be similar, yet different.  Let's continue to celebrate that acceptance going into the holiday season by learning and celebrating our students' holiday traditions as well as people all around the world. We can also connect with classrooms from across the country or the world to become pen pals or simply read a book on friendship together.  

Respect.  What a great time to teach that to our students and show it as adults.  No matter who we feel, respect for our fellow Americans is crucial and it is what makes our country and classrooms great- we respect differences, we respect contrasting ideas, we respect each other, and we respect the democracy that allows us the freedom to experience and teach about elections.  Therefore, continue to teach our students to speak with respect towards each other.  Saying thank you, I'm sorry, and please, being polite, showing empathy, taking turns, and respecting one another even when we have different opinions will never get old and will always be the cornerstone of character education in our classrooms.

After a long year of divisiveness and tension in our country, there is one thing that we as teachers should and continue to build together is love, acceptance, and respect in our classroom for our students, our country's future.

Additional Resources for building a positive and nurturing classroom environment:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

5 Simple Ways to Keep Your Classroom Connected

In the new world of technology, it hasn't been as simple and easy to stay connected with your students and their families than it is NOW!  With so many new ways of sharing news, sending out reminders, and staying connected to increase productivity and effectiveness in the classroom, there really isn't a good reason why all teachers shouldn't use these new avenues.

Here are five simple ways that I have found easy, simple, and effective in staying connected as a educator!

Image result for remind logo

If you haven't heard of the remind, download it right now!!!  It is a simple way to send quick messages to parents on upcoming events in the classroom to their phone!  Parents can be added by scanning a QR code that takes them directly to your classroom profile or you can invite them by typing in their e-mail addresses or phone numbers.  I usually invite parents immediately after collecting their contact information at the beginning of the year.  It is fast, free, easy, and effective.

Have you ever considered creating a CLOSED Facebook Group for your classroom?  You can accept requests of only students' parents in your classroom, and it is a fast and fun way of sharing pictures!  No longer will you have to burn pictures on a CD-ROM at the end of the year to share.  Now you can share those pictures regularly throughout the year.  Just make sure that parents sign a consent form to allow their child's picture be posted.

Image result for seesaw app

This has to be my favorite new way of communicating with my parents this year!  It is so simple to set up, and I can send student videos and work samples to their parents directly.  It also serves as a blog for our classroom and helps me store students' data safely as I can set strict privacy settings on their files.  If you are required or are thinking of creating a digital data folder for your students, this is the best tool that I have found.  The best part is it's FREE!

Image result for blogger logo

Blogging is great way of putting your students' learning on display!  As a parent, I love seeing and knowing all about my child's learning, so that is why I appreciate and love blogging.  Not only does it showcase your students work and experiences, it also allows parents to be part of the classroom and understand more on how to support it at home. And did I mention?!  It's FREE!

Yes, you guess it!  The Old Fashioned Way of emailing, calling, and meeting in person will never get old.  Having direct communication with parents directly has helped me tremendously throughout the years and have allowed me to build strong relationships to support my students' learning at home.  Through these avenues of communication, I have learned so much about my students from their families and have helped me to  build a strong family and community inside my classroom.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

My Adventures with STEM: First Nine Weeks Design Challenges

It's hard to believe but we are at the end of the first nine weeks, and what FUN and amazing learning it has been for my little engineers and me!  As much as I would love to update my adventures every week, life has made it a design challenge for me to do so. :)  Therefore, I hope that reflecting on all the design challenges the first nine weeks will do for now.  So here is a recap of all the design challenges that we have completed so far!

On our first week of school, we emphasized on the rules of teamwork and collaboration.  While there were some tears along the way, the students learned that being positive and allowing everyone to share without fear of judgement were definitely the key to success as a team.

Below are the quick design challenges:
1. Build a launcher that will catapult a plastic army man the farthest across the room using one cup, an army man, a spoon, six Popsicle sticks, two rubber bands, and two feet of tape and string each. Special thanks to the Ardent Teacher for the wonderful idea! 

2. Save Fred, the gummy worm from drowning by getting a gummy lifesaver from under his boat and onto him using only four small paperclips (one for each member of the team) and a cup. Special thanks to Purdue University!

3. Help Harry, our little puffball friend by building a little perch for him to see the students as he is too short using pom balls, eyes, muffin tins, pipe cleaners, tape, index cards, and foil. Thank you to the Studio Teacher for such a fun design challenge!

4. Popsicle Bridges Challenge is also from the Ardent Teacher and it challenges students to design a bridge that will hold the heaviest amount of weight

5. Crazy Shakes Design Challenge encourages students to create their own team handshake with certain requirements from the teacher (i.e has at least 8 steps, involves all teammates, and can be repeated over and over again).

For our Good Citizenship Design Challenge, our team integrated Humanities into STEM and encouraged the students to create their own Good Citizenship Medal based on a particular trait of being a good citizen, nominate a student in the class for their award, write a speech on why that nominee is fitting of the award, and then presented before the class.  For all the details on this challenge, click to My Adventures with STEM: Week 2 and 3.  Below are some pictures from our challenge!

For our U.S. Symbols Design Challenge, our team looked back into our Humanities lessons for inspiration.  Students spent a week researching on various U.S. symbols, chose one as a group, and created it to the best that they could using Legos.  For more details on the challenge, click to My Adventures with STEM: Week 2 and 3.

On this challenge, we used ETA's Muddy Mats Kits to bring the students' designs to solve real-life problems. Since the challenge requires students to observe and test different types of fabric to create the best mat, we asked a personnel from the local Animal Shelter to visit us.  At the visit, the personnel described to the students the need for a good quality mat for the animals and workers.  Not only does the mat must be able to absorb a good amount of water, it must also not slide easily.

This was hands-down my most favorite design challenge so far!  To kick it off, we invited the Director of our District's daycare to explain that while the kids at the daycare loved playing with playdough, they didn't have any.  Therefore, our students were challenged to study and design high-quality playdough that the kids at the daycare could use!

Using only flour, salt, and water, students learned how different amounts of these ingredients could yield the best non-toxic playdough and then SCAMPERED it for the daycare.

What a busy and fun first nine weeks of learning and STEM!  I can't wait to share more as our year goes on!

If you would like additional resources on STEM, click to the images below! This resource is perfect for a quick introduction on STEM with signs for our classroom, beginning design challenges, and more!

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