Saturday, August 27, 2016

My Adventures with STEM: Week 1

Yes, I did it!  I survived my first week as a STEM teacher, and can I tell you?!  It was amazing, all thanks to my wonderful team who helped me through it and made my first week so successful for me and the kids!  To show my appreciation, I even put together differentiated gifts for them! :)


While there was definitely some bumps along the way, I can't wait to share with you my class' small victories that led up to our first wonderful and successful week together!

Preparation was definitely the key!  To maximize on the design and engineering time for the students, I prepared the materials for each team in buckets in advance.  After kicking off each challenge as a grade level, we went straight back into our own classroom and got to work!  

Collaboration is everything! Expecting students to work collaboratively and cohesively together is a truly a real challenge, especially in the primary classroom.  Model it by planning as a team and then kicking it off with other classrooms on the grade level!  Not only does it give students an opportunity to learn in a different environment, it also reinforces collaboration and teamwork as they can witness it. 

The kids are helping poor Fred, the worm from drowning by putting on his gummy lifesaver for him using only paperclips!

Clear expectations lead to successful learning experiences!  During each kick-off, each teacher took turns going over the criteria for the day's challenge and expectations for teamwork.  The students brainstormed and helped create anchor charts as a grade level on the Do's and Don'ts of working together and reminders on good teamwork.  By being clear with our expectations and reiterating them daily, the teamwork progressively improved as the week went on.  Even when disagreements broke out and tears were shed, I was able to refer back to our expectations and conflicts were quickly resolved.

Below is my TEAMWORK Acrostic poem that you can use for your own classroom!  Click to the picture and save it straight to your files!

Celebrate learning! So rarely do students get to get out of their seats, work with other kids, share ideas without fear of judgement, and create something of their own!  STEM allows all of this to happen!  Everyday this week, my students were anticipating for our STEM block and engineer something with their teammates!  It was so refreshing and exciting to see how much fun my students were having while learning!

Here's a bridge one of my the groups built using only popsicle sticks.  They were so happy with their design, they danced and clapped for themselves! :)

I will do my best to update regularly.  In the meantime, I think I'll be doing some retail therapy and celebrate a great first week back! :) Please stay tune! 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

My New Classroom Reveal

This summer was definitely one of  the busiest summers of my life! With ending out the school year to selling our house to moving into a new one to planning and throwing our babies' birthday parties to job-hunting to packing my classroom of seven years and to moving into and decorating my classroom! It has been such an adventure, but I am so glad everything has settled down and after 30+ hours working on my classroom, it is ready to be revealed!!!

In ten years of teaching, this is my first year ever have round tables!  Can you believe it?!  I have had individual desks in the past, so I am very excited to try this new arrangement!  With limited storage space in the classroom, a lot of the supplies this year will be community property and will be refilled as needed.  No more cleaning out students' desks and finding work and old pencils and crayons from way back when! :)

My goal for classroom decoration has always been engaging and welcoming without being distracting. With that in mind, I spruced up our big white board with some fun border and sectioned it out for our weekly student-generated anchor charts.  One of my sweet teammates was kind enough to let me borrow her light blue masking tape when I ran out of border.  Who knew masking tape came in different colors?!!! And of course, I had to bring out my Boho Chic Birdies from my previous classroom along with an inspirational quote for my sweet students!  Please don't excuse the note on the board, it was meant for Meet-the-Teacher Night. :)

Right behind my reading table is a HUGE white wall that was calling out to be decorated.  I brainstormed all summer what to do with it, until I found my Pinspiration (inspiration from Pinterest)!  Using scrapbooking paper and self-adhesive burlap letters, I created a vocabulary word wall for my students.  Each time we learn new content words, I will ask my students to write them on big sticky notes that we will be stick them onto our wall!  I'm so excited to see how our wall will be filled up by the end of the year! 

The previous teacher in my classroom left a lot of these book boxes that just so happened fit perfectly in my cubbies! In addition, I was lucky enough to snag up lots and lots of new books for my library from teachers on my campus! That right there is called TEACHER JACKPOT, ladies and gentlemen! :) I then organized the books for genres along with match colors of the book boxes and VOILA! 

Right by my reading table/teacher worker is a little bulletin board I made to personalize my classroom and help my students get to know a little about my family and me.  As a child, I've always loved hearing stories and seeing pictures of my teachers' families.  It always made them so much more relatable and helped me to see them not as teachers, but also people who have likes and interests and a family like me! 

Here is another big board that I have sectioned out into my Interactive Word Wall, I Can Board, and Student Work Display Board.  A teammate of mine suggested for me to tape a pad of sticky notes to the bottom of the board so that students can copy down a word and then big it back to their desk!  What a great idea?! 

Since I am teaching STEM, I thought I would dedicate a small board to it!  This will definitely come in handy as reminders and review as we go through the design process over and over again this year!

And here are some ways I am organizing manipulatives and students work this year! Each child is assigned to a number according to the roster which he or she will keep all year.  After writing their name on each assignment, students will also be asked to write their number.  When I am done checking their work, I can simply place it in their cubby to take home afterwards.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I'm so excited to share my new adventure with you as I know it will be such a great year of learning and growth for BOTH my students and me!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

How to Make Meet-the-Teacher Night Fun & Stress-free

I have a confession to make.  One of the most exciting yet terrifying nights of the school year for me has got to be Meet-the-Teacher Night!  While I am always so excited to meet my new students and their family, Meet-the-Teacher is always after consecutive full days of in-service, trainings, and did I mention information OVERLOAD?!  ;)

While these trainings are all very necessary for the new school year, the thought of getting my classroom reorganized after summer cleaning and ready for my students in a very short amount of time can be very daunting and to be honest, STRESSFUL!

Yet, despite all the odds against us...., TEACHERS, We CAN make it FUN, and we can definitely make it STRESS-FREE for us as well! 

Making things simple sounds counter-intuitive.  Yet when we have a million and one things to do on top of the million and one things we already have to do for Meet-the-Teacher, it is easy to overlook these small but important details.  For example, if you have forms for parents to fill out, leave pens and pencils that are readily available at their child's desk for them.  Placing a sign at the designated area where you want parents to turn in the forms would also help avoid any confusion and free up your time to meet other students who are arriving.  Any other information such as a daily schedule and other important details should also be on the students' desks for parents to take home afterwards.

Because Meet-the-Teacher Night can also be exciting and very overwhelming for students and parents, I always do my best to keep it simple for them.  Warmly greet them at the door, ask parents to sign in, find their child's table/desk and cubby, and encourage them to simply take a walk around the classroom.  Labeling different learning areas will help parents and students navigate through the classroom with ease while becoming more familiar with it.  In addition, if you are teaching little ones, don't forget to ask parents to indicate how their child will be dismissed on the first day of school and the rest of the year!  Once you have this important information, you can begin making dismissal tags or lists before the first day of school!  I do this directly on the sign-in sheet.  

Since students are likely to bring in their supplies that very night, organizing school supplies can be a very time consuming task.  Enlist help from parents and students!  Not only is it fun for the students, it also gives you a good idea of how much supplies you have coming into the beginning of the school year.  Placing labels throughout the classroom with bins or baskets for parents and students to simply drop their supplies in has always been a BIG help for me.

And help does not have to end with organizing school supplies!  If you would like for parents to sign up to volunteer in the classroom or at your school, this is a wonderful opportunity to encourage them to do so!  No matter if it is returning leveled-books back to the library, reorganizing your classroom library or cutting out lamination, this is the perfect time to enlist help!

Have parents and students walk away from your classroom filled with excitement and joy for the new school year! Whether it be photo booth or a simple gift for students to walk away with, leave students with a happy memory of the evening!  Below is a Pencil Tag FREEBIE from my store.  Simply cut and attach to any pencil for a fun gift for your students!  

We plan.  We worry.  We get stressed.  But like every year, it's going to be wonderful, and it's going to be alright! Do the best that you can, stay positive, and smile!  Nothing like a teacher standing at his or her door smiling and warmly welcoming his/her new students and their family! The room might not look exactly how you want it to be and the rest of the lesson plans still need to be done for the first week of school, but tonight.... all the students want to do is meet you and see how wonderful their new teacher is! Have fun and don't forget to SMILE!!! :)

Thank you for reading!  If you need more resources, check out my Meet-the-Teacher Packet below. It's all you need to help you organize your classroom as you prepare to meet your new students!  From sign-in sheets to parent letters to a welcome letter to student information cards to cubby tags to dismissal charts and MORE!  And did I mention?!  It comes with EDITABLE FILES!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My First Learning Experience With STEM

This past week I attended my very first STEM training, and I was super excited but also SUPER nervous at the same time!  After almost a decade of traditional teaching, I was about to dive into a completely different approach to teaching and did you say it includes ENGINEERING?!!!

I mean yes, I have always been surrounded by engineers from my husband to siblings to in-laws and friends, but I have always been an Engish/Language Arts person.  Give me a novel to read and decompose and analyze, and I can write you a novel back. However, I knew that if I am ever to be a better teacher, I needed to get out of my comfort zone.

And so along with a group of the sweet teachers from my campus who are newly hired, I jumped head-first into STEM and you know what?!!  I really love it!  Here are 3 important lessons that I learned from my STEM training!

STEM encourages mistakes.  So often in the classroom, students are afraid of failing. In a standardized testing world that we live in, students can be bogged down with getting the right answers and obtaining the right score, that they just want to be perfect in everything.  With STEM, mistakes are encouraged and celebrated as opportunities for improvement and innovation.

Design Challenge 1: To demonstrate this, our group was asked to build a cantilever, which is basically a protruding beam of sort that is supported or anchored on one side using KEVA boards.  Our criteria was to build it as long as it we can without the structure collapsing.  Again and again, we took risks without fear or judgement and kept improving our structure until we were satisfied with our results.  While this seemed to be such a simple activity that could possibly take up to 20 minutes in the classroom, students could definitely benefit from teamwork, innovative thinking, and problem solving.

Stem encourages innovation.  With so much to do in a day, it is hard to find time for students to be create and be inventive.  STEM gives space and allows time for both teachers to be innovative in their teaching instruction and students in their thinking.  

Design Challenge 2:  A really fun challenge we did was to build a little clownfish a new home in the ocean using the KEVA boards.  The only criteria for this was simply make the shelter so that it would protect the clownfish from its predators. Wow!  The innovative thinking in this challenge was incredible!  While some teachers created structures that were low to the ocean floor, some had safe houses within the shelter, and others had multiple entrances with peepholes.  

When we were given the opportunity to try this challenge on incoming second graders in the afternoon, their thinking was just as incredible and innovative!  Using the KEVA boards as soft, stinging coral, they built barriers for their shelter and also had multiple entrances and sophisticated escape routes.  As the students worked in groups of two and some on their own, I could see the excitement in their eyes.  They had such a good time that they kept building even when time was up!

Stem is student-centered! So often teachers feel like we are solely in charge of our students' learning.  Not with STEM! Yes, we still are responsible for the instruction of the content, but students are given the opportunity to take leadership in their own learning and turn their own creativity to tangible products and projects!  

Design Challenge 3: After reading design challenges relating to two familiar fairy-tales, the second grade students in my group voted and decided to create a design to launch confetti at least 3 feet in the air for the wedding of a well-known princess and her beast.  Before we went into the construction of the design, my teaching partner and I introduced and went through the Engineering Design Process together with our students as this is very important in STEM and stressed the engineer portion of the challenge.  Furthermore, we had students switch through content stations where we demonstrated and explained the force and motion and measurement.  Next, students sketched out their design with materials needed, went shopping in our STEM Store, and constructed their confetti launcher.

Needless to say, the students did incredible! From catapults to a slingshot to a see-saw to a rollercoaster, the students used their own background knowledge, content taught, innovative thinking, and creativity to build their own design!  Yes, there was definitely guidance and open-ended questions to help keep the students on track, but I was so incredibly proud of them!  

Even when we tested out the designs and the students realized that even though their design launched the confetti but didn't launch it high enough in the air to meet the criteria, they were already on top of how they could improve and what they could have done better before us asking them!  

While I have attended many trainings before, I have to say that this was my BEST yet!  Not only did it challenge my own views of teaching but it also opened up a world of instructional possibilities for me!  I really can't wait to apply what I have learned into my classroom this year and continue to grow in my own journey with STEM!

If you are starting out within your own classroom or would like an additional resource on STEM, feel free to check out my newest resource below!  I had such a great time creating this as I am very excited to use it in my own classroom this year!

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