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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

To the New Teacher Down the Hall

I remember my first year teaching as if it were yesterday.  After moving across the country to be with my husband and graduating straight out from college, I found myself dropping off my resume from one elementary school to the next hoping and praying that someone would give me a call.

After a long summer of job-hunting and having to pass up on a position because my certifications had not been completely transferred over yet, I finally landed an interview and was offered a position 15 minutes before Meet-the-Teacher Night!

While the nervousness of being a new teacher was quickly forgotten by the excitement of finally having my own classroom, I didn't realize what was ahead of me.  

The truth is, being a new teacher can be wonderful and exciting, yet it can also be frightening and difficult.  From learning the curriculum to the culture of the school to working on a new team to responding to emails to staying after hours to doubting and second-guessing yourself at night and to all the things in between, everything is new and what a learning curve it was!  

Furthermore, being the new teacher also means feeling like everyone's eyes are on you.  Everyone wants to know who you are, how you are, what you do, and what you have to offer as an educator and teammate.  As the year goes on, it does become less overwhelming and you will remind yourself on a daily basis "Next year will be better.  Next year will be better."

So after nine years of teaching for the same district, I moved across town along with my kids and husband, and then I found myself as the new teacher again.

New district, new school, new team, and a new grade.  What a thrill and blessing it is to get out of my comfort zone and go back to a grade level that I once taught and be part of a new school and team who have welcomed me with open arms!  However, the feeling of being the new teacher on campus has reminded me so much of my first year and the lessons that I have learned along the way.

The truth is, your list of to-dos will never be completely checked off as you will add more and more things on it each day.  Do one thing at a time and simply do them the best that you can.  Everyone down the hallway has a long list too.  It's ok to feel frustrated and even cry from time to time because you feel overwhelmed.  Let it out, dry your tears, work hard, and move on.

You got this.  You have worked so completely hard for this position!  You were born to do this! You may not know everything about the curriculum and you're still learning about all the new programs and textbooks, but your students don't know that.  Plan as much as you can and then go out there and teach as a pro!  The more confident you feel as a teacher, the more effective you will be for your students.

Teaching can be isolating.  Reach out  and befriend other teachers and professionals who can help you on your new learning experience.  Some of the best people I know are teachers whom I have worked alongside and are now my friends.  Their experience inspired me, their wisdom humbled me, and their knowledge pushed me to be the teacher that I am today.  

Like all things, this feeling of being new will pass.  So learn from it and grow from it.  You got this.  You were born for this.

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