August 8, 2019

Back to School Teacher Survival Kits

School is just around the corner, and having been a teacher, I know just how crazy busy theses handful of weeks get for teachers preparing everything before the first day of school. Since I'm very pro-supporting and thanking educators, I wanted to put together a couple of "survival" kits to gift a couple of my teacher-friends for those days that are a little rougher at work, and they just need a pick-me-up:

Back to School Teacher Survival Kits

  1. Oatmeal packs--for the morning where breakfast on the go and in a couple minutes has to do
  2. Spray Facial Toner--for a refreshing pick-me-up during the day
  3. A pack of thank you note cards to use throughout the year
  4. Extra Fun Band-Aids
  5. Tide To-Go Pens for those spills of who knows what that mysteriously appear
  6. Snackable Marshmallows (but sub for any treat your teacher prefers)
  7. Ice Pack (for the teachers with mini-fridges in their rooms)
  8. Ice Tea Mix-ins 
  9. Lip Balm
  10. Hand Wipes
  11. Hand Sanitizer

Back to School Teacher Survival Kits

Hobby Lobby had these super cute canvas teacher survival kit bags to stuff all the items in. If you know the teacher well enough, I think a great addition can be something like a book, game, puzzle, or gift card that will provide her the opportunity to relax and unwind during her non-work hours. I'm currently loving puzzles from Galison and couldn't help but snag this one of sleeping animals to go to my teacher friend.

Back to School Teacher Survival Kits

Tie it all up with a bow, and give it to your child's teacher or teacher-friend!

Back to School Teacher Survival Kits

August 7, 2019

Personal Narrative Writing with Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold Author Study with Personal Narratives

Typically, one of the very first units in our Writer's Workshop are personal narratives. A couple of years ago I wanted to do something a little different than the standard book creation of the students' final copies. This was when the thought hit me to do a focused author study who wrote about her own life in conjunction with our workshop curriculum: Faith Ringgold. If you're unfamiliar with Ringgold, she writes beautiful children's books that started originally as story quilts (see here for more information). So during our unit, we use several of her books as our mentor texts, with Tar Beach being the main one that we re-read a couple of different times. The writing process lessons were very much the same, the only huge difference with this change is that students produce their final story in the form of a "story quilt" as you see below. A couple other mentor texts that I used when teaching personal narrative writing and highly recommend as well additionally are My Great Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston and Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran.

Faith Ringgold Inspired Story Quilt

From left to right we have a story about a Ferris wheel ride at a carnival, a boat ride while vacationing, and the welcoming of a new kitten into a family. The story below was about a blueberry picking trip over the summer. 

Faith Ringgold Inspired Story Quilt

For these story "quilts" students created a frame with scrap fabric (I had a stash they could pick from), drew one scene from their stories in the center  (we used canvas squares as the base), followed by writing the final story on the back. Additionally, students had to turn in a typed copy of their final story with their quilts. 

August 6, 2019

Making the Most of Back to School Night

Making the Most of Back to School Night

In my opinion, back to school night can be a super useful time when planned correctly. Let me take a moment to give a quick run-down of how I structured my time for it, and then I have six helpful tips and tricks for newer teachers to make sure they implement.

In my last school, the structure was a whole school assembly where information relevant to the whole student body was presented, followed by time for parents to wander from different stations to sign-up for various activities, and then a half-hour in the child's classroom for teachers to use how they wished. I typically formatted that time starting with a short presentation going over things that were applicable to all the students in my classroom. Remember, this is the time to go over the information that will be the same for every student and to communicate what you want all the parents to know about so that everyone is getting the same information from the same source (you):
  • Coming to class well prepared (this is also where I would go over snack rules if needed)
  • Grading and homework expectations and policies
  • Communication between myself and parents (i.e. expectations and the different channels of communication)
  • Classroom specific expectations and rules
At the end of my presentation, I also had the parents and students watch this video from Kid President to end on a really positive, cheerful note. Finally, I allowed for open Q and A time for about five minutes for the parents. Here are six other helpful ideas and suggestions on how to make the most of your time that evening: 
  1. Have all your sign-up sheets for particular activities during the whole school year: field trips, class parties, parents who can come in and help with specific projects, etc. Follow-up via e-mail in a couple of days outlining who signed up for what in something like a Google document or spreadsheet so that parents can have the reminder as well and get the correct dates on their calendars.
  2. On each student's desk have important information printed for parents to take such as information you went over in your slides or anything else that will be relevant in the first couple months of the school year. Additionally...
  3. I like to have the first Scholastic order sheets out for them to take that night as it is one less thing I'll have to worry about sending home that first month of school when the end of the school days can be a bit more hectic as routines are developing and settling in.
  4. Leave some time for parents and students to explore the classroom, put away school supplies (if they bring it), and meet you in person that night
  5. Have special wishlist items on a board or tabletop for more pricey items that were not on the students' supplies list that parents can sign-up for too. Typically, these were items that went with specific projects or units we did throughout the school year so that I wasn't paying for them out of my own pocket. 
  6. Leave blank notecards on students desks where parents can write a brief note of encouragement that they will leave for their child to discover and read on their first day of school when they come into the classroom.

August 5, 2019

Managing a Classroom Nature Center or Space

Classroom Nature Center

One of my favorite spots, no matter the room or grade level, in all of my classrooms was my student's nature centers. I pretty much spent my childhood days running barefoot in my backyard since having parents who were less than enthusiastic about having kids "plugged in" to devices or glued to the TV. While I've always had an appreciation for nature and being outside until I actually found myself in a school that actively promoted nature-based learning and play, I had never imagined that I would be integrating it as heavily as I did into my curriculum. This is also my apology right off that bat at how long this post is, but I wanted to make sure that I covered all my bases and shared everything I've learned over the last few years with this teaching practice. 

Classroom Nature Center

Two books that heavily swayed and influenced my love of nature learning: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv--anyone, and I do mean anyone, who has even the slightest interest in child development needs to read this book. It is an in-depth look at the importance of being in nature and all the incredibly positive benefits there are to having kids outside on a regular basis. Louv is an excellent writer, both from a research standpoint and storytelling; there are many real-world stories shared throughout the pages to hold your attention all while taking in the scientific knowledge. Second, The Sense of Wonder by the renowned naturalist Rachel Carson. A very short manifesto for experiencing nature alongside children with beautiful prose--it is just an inspiring book to have to help you to spur on your teaching or parenting with an emphasis on the natural world. 

Classroom Nature Center

Having prepared, managed, and taught with nature centers in differing grade levels (1st through 4th), I've formed some key beliefs about how to use this important space in the classroom.

Classroom Nature Center

Nature Centers Evolve and Change. Just as the natural world does, so do the centers and their evidence of learning as the students grow in their own knowledge. It is also reflected by the curriculum units and the very seasons themselves changing through the school year (summer, spring, fall, and winter). The above picture is my 4th grader's nature space at the end of September, which is right around the time when we started using it heavily. You'll notice that it is actually pretty sparse and that there is not a lot going on. That is done on purpose and intentionally because they are prepared to be student-led. The following two pictures show you a more "filled" nature space; these are from 1st grade, right as we were getting into winter those first winter-days:

Classroom Nature Center

Classroom Nature Center

Nature Centers are Student Owned and Teacher Guided. That is, I believe that they function best when managed as such. In many of these images, you'll notice that I mostly just provided the skeleton for these spaces--books, empty jars and basked, clipboards... essentially the tools to be used. However, it is the students who provided the specimens they were already interested in or had a connection to. On occasion I'd bring something in to share with the class and model how we interacted with each other's "artifacts," but for the most part, they had free range of what went into the space. Additional guidance would, at times, come in when I'd have them bring in something that went along with our specific unit curriculums.

Classroom Nature Center
Lots of Jars, trays, and clipboards--staples to a nature center
Classroom Nature Center
Seashells from a student's trip 
Classroom Nature Center
Other treasures brought in--don't worry, no wildlife was ever harmed 
Classroom Nature Center
...more backyard finds
Classroom Nature Center
...and more, some repeats in there as those are items that students either donate at the end of the year for future students or come from my personal stash.
I'd put out smaller bulletin boards for the kids to attach things to, or as a class, if we found something online, we could print it out and have out for everyone. 

Classroom Nature Center

Nature Centers are Learning Hubs. Depending on the unit of study, our nature center would morph and change. Depending on what the students were personally interested in would also cause the nature center to morph and change. It functions as both. 

Classroom Nature Center

In first grade, we did a year-long phenology study (how a selected tree changes through the seasons) where we documented changes and made observations. The journals were kept in the nature center so students could look back on them and keep their reflections going.

Nature Study
Focused nature study for our plants unit.
I would put up different activities throughout the year where students could interact with the nature center as a morning activity when they first came in until the bell rang (thinking routines). Usually, they were simple open-ended exercises in practicing observations skills. I'd often have this worksheet printed out for them to have evidence of learning for that time. 

Classroom Nature Center
Seed thinking routine

Thinking Routine
Rock thinking routine

Shell Sort

Another idea for our tidepool unit (which could be done with others) was a shell sorting activity. 

Classroom Nature Center

In third grade, we did a study on natural history using Cabinet of Curiosities. Students collected artifacts and build "cabinets" using miscellaneous cardboard. 

Classroom Nature Center

Another morning work option that was a part of our nature center were class journals. Students could write stories either about our class pet (Frodo, a frog) or about their nature experiences outside of class. Students could also go back and read each other's entries since they were all housed in a couple of notebooks only.

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What tips and tricks do you have for your classroom nature centers? Leave them in the comments below--I love getting more ideas and suggestions!

Classroom Nature Center
© Natalie Grimm. Made with love by The Dutch Lady Designs.