“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Linda Silverman~Gifted Development Center Denver

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Keeping busy! Bouncy Bands help students focus!

Some days I find it hard to believe that I have been teaching for almost 25 years.  Things have changed a LOT in that time.  I am also amazed at all the great things we can add to our repertoire to assist the students in our classrooms.  The past few years I started using Therabands around the chair legs to help students who need to move a lot.  I am a certified Pilates instructor and I had an extra Theraband roll so I tried it out....similar to the picture below.

That only lasted a short while for students who were active leg movers.  The bands quickly wore out and had to be disposed of. Last year, I was at a local dollar store and saw some resistance bands which I thought might work better.  I put one on every chair in my classroom and my students loved it. Having the bands on the chair legs allowed those who needed to move a way to get out excess energy without disturbing myself or others in the classroom. You can see the resistance bands on the front legs of this student's chair.

Picture of Bouncy Bands on desk legs http://teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

The resistance bands are great, but over time they break and have to be fixed (short term) or replaced.  As I have purchased these items with my own money, this is not a cost effective option in the long run.  

Enter Bouncy Bands.  
Picture of Bouncy Bands on desk legs http://teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Scott Ertl the creator of the Bouncy Bands was kind enough to send me a few samples to try out in my classroom. Scott Ertl is an elementary school counselor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He created Bouncy Bands to help students at his own school to have a way to move when they worked so they wouldn't have to stay trapped at their desks for 5-6 hours a day. He wanted to help them be able to stretch their legs, bounce their feet and prop up their feet instead of having them dangle all day from their chair.

I chose to put the bands on the desks of the students who seemed to benefit the most from the resistance bands.  I asked the students to try out the Bouncy Bands and give me feedback at the end of the week.  The students said that they liked that the bands allowed them to "bounce" their feet, rather than push against the resistance bands.  I felt that adding the Bouncy Bands to the desk legs would allow students the choice of bouncing their feet, or pushing against the resistance bands.  There was no clear winner for the students, but for me, I felt that the durability and therefore longevity of the Bouncy Bands would make them superior in the long run.  I would love to be able to raise enough funds to purchase a classroom set of the Bouncy Bands which go on the chair legs.  These would be similar to what I have created with the resistance bands, but much more durable.

Picture of Bouncy Bands on desk legs http://teachingisagift.blogspot.ca
If you live in the U.S. you can apply for classroom funding to purchase Bouncy Bands through Donor's Choose.  Scott has included more information about filling out a Donor's Choose application here.  I wish there was something like this for Canadian teachers as well!

If you decide you would like to purchase some Bouncy Bands for your classroom you can use code "15OFF" at checkout.  

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Week 2 in the bag!

Here are a few things we were working on this week!

We took these ^^^^^^^^

Picture of Growth Mindset Tree from teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

And started creating this ^^^   
That is our "growth mindset" tree.  By the end of the day, Friday we had lots more leaves and many more apples added to the tree.  I love the way our tree is continuing to "grow".  Now, I just need some text to add to wall.  I am thinking something like "Watch Our Growth In Grade 5".  Still pondering on other options.  If you have a suggestion I would love to hear about it in the comment section found at the end of the blog post. 

In Science and Technology, we started our unit on Properties of and Changes in Matter this week.  I loved teaching the students this song.

This is a great Youtube video of a family singing this song which I shared with my class after I taught them the lyrics.  

In language arts I have been reading aloud one of my favourite novels of all time. This year the book is celebrating it's 50th year! The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster was first published in 1961. It has wonderful black line illustrations created by Jules Feiffer. This is the adventurous story of a bored young boy named Milo who is unexpectedly gifted with a special tollbooth one afternoon and, having nothing better to do, decides to drive through it in his toy car. The tollbooth soon leads him on an exciting trip to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Along the way he meets Tock who becomes a faithful companion. There are lots of wonderful, highly imaginative characters in the book and the text is full of puns, and many events, such as Milo's jump to the Island of Conclusions, which I love to use to help students to better understand the literal meanings of popular English language idioms.  It is a wonderful way to introduce figurative language to my class.

In writing I introduced "Paragraph of the Week".  This has to be one of the best purchases I have ever made.  I discovered it last year when I was looking for a way to help my students improve their writing skills, starting with basic paragraphs. 

The day by day format is really easy to use.  This week I started out by modelling each day using my document camera.  I project the page each day, and demonstrated how to write each step of the process.  

For the brainstorming, I projected this page and then showed the students how I could create a WEB in the middle of the page to help me brainstorm all my ideas.  
On Tuesday, I demonstrated how to take three details from the brainstorming and start to write detail and explanation sentences which will form the body of the paragraph.

On Wednesday we talked about how to form a topic sentence and how it should HOOK the reader!  Using the document camera, the students helped me go back over the details and explanation sentences from the day before.  From there they helped me to form my topic sentence.  We took a break at that point and students were given time to reread their own work, and to start drafting their own topic sentences.  They also had a chance to share their draft topic sentences with a peer.  After they had finished the topic sentences, I modelled how to read the topic sentence, the detail and explanation sentences aloud to start to create flow.  This helped me model how to form the closing sentence.  We didn't want to repeat what I had said in the topic sentence, but we did want to summarize what he had written and "mirror" what we had said in the topic sentence.  The students gave me many excellent suggestions.

On Thursday, I modelled how to start putting the whole paragraph together.  Using the document camera again, we started by writing the topic sentence, and then adding the detail and explanation sentences.  I modelled for the students how the writing process can be messy, by showing them that some of my detail sentences and explanations were choppy and did not flow together.  We discussed revising as we wrote, and adding in transition words.  We will follow up with my directed lessons on transition words in coming weeks.  I finished my modelling by adding the closing sentence, and I let my students know I was still not satisfied with what I had written, but I would think about it for awhile and revisit my writing later.  

One thing I do with my students is give them time on Friday to peer revise and edit.  After they have had time in class, they take home their paragraph folder, and complete a "good draft" which they submit to me on Monday morning for assessment purposes.  I have already reviewed the success criteria with the class, and have given them a copy of the rubric provided in the package.  

I actually really enjoy assessing the student work, knowing I have worked along side them during the writing process.  Each day, I have tried to provide feedback and encouragement as they complete the daily tasks in class.  I tailor specific lessons to meet the needs of my students based on what I observe in their writing.  Last year, the lesson on writing an effective HOOK were a real eye opener for the students and for myself.  

Finally, I thought I should mention another one of my monthly favourites for math.  It's called Math by Month and it was created by my sweet friend Jennifer Runde (yes, the one who created the wonderful Back to School Craftivity and the FAMOUS Interactive Math Notebook).  

Like Jen, I use these posters as a take-home activity once a month where the students work on the posters at home, after I have explained the concepts included and reviewed the success criteria and rubric (which Jen includes).  The students demonstrated excellent perseverance completing their September poster. 

We had three fire drills this week, we got outside to practice soccer and cross-country running, the students had music twice and continuing to work on their desk mats for art.  It was a busy, fulfilling week!
You can read more about this project HERE

Sunday, 13 September 2015

What a week! Starting the year off right!

Well I survived the first week back!  On day one I used my revised, editable Essential Questions activity and it went really well.  I love the new look of the speech bubbles!  The students loved that they could get up and move around, read the prompts, give their honest reply and read what other students had to say.  I had these chart papers spread out around the room for the first two days...and then on the third day I consolidated them on an empty bulletin board.  I want students to be able to continue to read them until we have new work to go on the boards.  If you would like to grab your own copy to use just click on the image below.

On the second day we completed our first Currently for the year.  If you read my blog, you will know I sometimes complete the template as part of Oh Boy in 4th Grade's monthly linky.  I purchased her templates several years ago and started using them with my students.  Students complete the template each month and after I read them myself, I post them on clipboards in the hallway outside my classroom.  It is a very popular board, students from all over come to read what my students write each month.  We all get to learn more about each other!  


On Thursday and Friday, we put together our Back to School three dimensional apples.  It was a great way to start the discussion about growth mindset.  Students wrote their responses, and decorated and put together their apples over the two days.  I spent most of Friday creating a large wall sized tree.  I had seen the idea of making one with brown butcher paper, so with the help of a colleague, we have created the tree and branches.  Next week, we will need to add some leaves and hang the apples.  I will be sure to come back and share some pictures of the finished product.  In the meantime, here are the apples...

What's next week look like?  I am going to introduce my Back to School math task cards to my class.  You can get your own copy of these Ontario curriculum aligned task cards by clicking on the image below.

I started using task cards for math several years ago, and I find the students are much more motivated to complete the questions when they are allowed to get up and move around.  I ask students to start at random cards around the room and move about completing the problems.  Students are allowed to use calculators and manipulatives to help them solve the problems.  They often grab a clipboard to help them record and off they go!  Students stop and talk to each other, they discuss and debate their answers and when they have completed the problems, they come to me to have them marked.  Using task cards allows students to work at their own pace, and allows me to review and discuss errors or misconceptions with individual students.  It is a great way to differentiate instruction.  Those who are strong in math are able to demonstrate mastery quickly.  I have additional tasks for these students to complete.  Students who need more time or assistance can receive both.  It's a win-win situation.  As a teacher, I get to see student strengths and where students struggle.  I am able to adapt my instruction to address their needs individually, in a small group or even through whole group instruction.

How was your first week?  I would love to hear about all the awesome things you are doing in your classrooms!

Friday, 28 August 2015

First Day...NO Jitters!

People have been asking me what I recommend for the first day and first weeks of Back To School.  I have been teaching junior students for 25 years now and have found a few things really work well.

Before school even starts, I send home a letter to my incoming class.  I want them to know a little about me, and a lot about our upcoming year.  I know the parents and the kids themselves really enjoy getting mail from me at the end of August.  This idea has become so popular and I have had so many people ask me to share my letter that I have added it in my TpT store this year.  

Photo of Back to School Letter @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Click on image to get your own copy.

Start the day with a surprise!  Each year I give out a Back to School Survival Kit to my students.  I have been doing this long before there was Pinterest and TpT (Teachers Pay Teachers).  This year I am making them with plastic, reusable water bottles from the dollar store, but in the beginning I used humble brown paper bags and fastened my note to the top.

Photo of Back to School Survival Kit @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Back to School Survival Kit for Students  http://teachingisagift.blogspot.ca
Click on the image above to get your own copy of this EDITABLE file.
Back to School Survival Kit for Students  http://teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

I also like to start the day off the way I expect each to start...so I have my Daily Math bell work copied and on the student desks.  It is a great way to introduce them to this daily procedure.  You can read more about how I use Daily Math by clicking HERE.

Photo of Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca
Click on image to find out how to buy your own copy.

After announcements and Daily Math, I have the students get up and out of their seats using my Back to School with Post Its activity.  I put up the prompts up around the classroom and give each student 6 different coloured post its.  I put them in small groups randomly and have them move from one prompt to the next. I give them a few minutes at each prompt to fill out a response (anonymously if they want) and then POST IT underneath the prompt.  

Photo of Back to School with Post Its @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Photo of Back to School with Post Its @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Picture of Back to School with Post Its @teachingisagift.blogspot.caPicture of Back to School with Post Its @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

If you are interested in doing this in your own classroom, you can grab a copy of my new, editable prompts by clicking on the image below.
Picture of Back to School with Post Its @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Click on image to get your own copy.

Usually by this point it is recess so the kids go outside and I run to the washroom!  After recess I like to introduce myself in greater depth and review my expectations for the year.   I like to use a Powerpoint presentation that I insert a variety of teacher memes into.  Most of my students have yet to be exposed to Powerpoint or memes, so they think it's new and novel.

Picture of Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Picture of Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Picture of Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

This year I found this funny video online from Mrs. Neal's Fifth Grade class, so I have added it to the end of my presentation.  This should make the kids smile!


I have a packet of fun activities on each student desk.  I want them to tell me a bit about themselves, and it gives me something for them to work on if I need a few minutes of time filled.  You can find lots of great free ideas on TpT.  I have created my packet from a variety of sources, and I tend to change it up each year based on feedback from previous years.

By now the French teacher is usually tapping her heels, waiting for me to finish my spiel.  After that the kids go off to lunch and I go and try to fix or copy whatever I have forgotten to do before school.

After lunch, we review how to come into class and they start their first bell work for language arts.  Last year I found that using the Nelson Communicating Skills workbooks the school purchases worked really well for after lunch bell work.  I post the page number on my whiteboard BEFORE lunch, and they have their books out before we go to lunch.  If you don't have workbooks such as these, you could use any daily grammar/or language program out there. 

After we review our Communicating Skills answers and make sure our planners are filled out. I introduce my favourite art activity. I have written about it before here.  This piece of art becomes a laminated desk mat which stays on the student desk all year.  They usually take great pride in finishing it, as they know they will be looking at it all day, everyday.

Each student receives a large sheet of cartridge paper.  Using a pencil, they make a border of 10 cm all around the page.  This border will be filled with pictures of school supplies.  I keep a large bin of different school supplies just for this project.  I try to find interesting shapes for the students to trace.  Using these found objects, students trace them around the outside border in pencil.  I show them how to overlap the objects so that there are no overlapping lines.  The more three dimensional the objects look, the better.

Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

After students have traced as many objects as they can, the go back over them using a black, fine line marker.  They also add as many line designs as they can at this point.  I do not have them do the designs in pencil first as this will take too much time.  

Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

This does NOT get finished the first day!  It usually takes an hour a day for the first week or so to finish this project.  You can see the next step is to have students fill in the center of their desk mat.  I allow them to put anything they want here, and this is where they are allowed to use COLOUR.  Some students draw something to represent themselves, others bring in pictures of family from home. I allow them to be as creative as they want.  

Back to School @teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

The very last step before I laminate them is to have students fill in all the white space in the border with tiny dots using their fine line marker.  This technique can be ponderous, but the effect is amazing.  Some students vary the size of the dots from one area to the next, some vary the number of dots and others just want it done!  I rarely have a student who does NOT want to take their desk mat at the end of the year.  Many tell me years later that they still have them on their desks at home.

Usually by this point in the first day, it is time to pack up and go home.  I introduce my students to my last minute checklist which is posted on the cupboards in my classroom.  
Back to School Last MInute Checklist@teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

As you can see from the photos, I recently updated my checklist posters.   I am going to print and post them again this year.  If you are interested in seeing the new ones up close, or if you would like your own copy, click on the image below.
Back to School Last MInute Checklist@teachingisagift.blogspot.ca

After many years, I am still excited to go back to school each September.  I have learned that if I have a plan, and some fun things for the students to experience on the first day, nobody has the first day jitters!