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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Five For....Saturday? Better Late Than Never Editon

Despite the SNOW that is falling outside my window, I'm thrilled to be reflecting on this incredible week with Doodle Bugs Teaching for a Five For Friday link-up! Not only did my students crush it in the classroom this week (Sculpting Terra Cotta warriors? Check. Experienced-based writing on using chopsticks? Check. Independently running literature circles? Nailed it.) but we also have some of our favorite friends visiting with us this weekend. Oh, and did I mention they brought their incredible, amazingly handsome pup along?

(Need an extra dose of cuteness on your insta? Follow him @mighty_ulysees. You can thank me later.) Bring on the mimosas and overnight french toast. I'm ready for this weekend!

This week I hit a HUGE personal milestone. As you know, I am still a newbie to this awesome world of online teacher collaboration and even newer to the world of sharing ideas on TPT. So imagine my excitement when this showed up in my inbox yesterday:

I can honestly say this is the most exciting $1.50 I have ever earned. For me, it's not the fact that I can now go buy half of a tall vanilla latte at Starbucks, but the validation that someone out there thinks my idea is worth investing in, and the reassurance that maybe I AM doing a little something right. Regardless of it all... I celebrated my little success in the best way possible: copious amounts of pizza for dinner. Roasted eggplant, fresh ricotta, and meatballs? Sorry not sorry. 

Did I mention my students just hit it out of the park this week? I like to believe we do that every week, but this week was like magic. Just totally seamless. When Friday afternoon came, I was actually a little sad the week was over. (But mostly I was just looking forward to having that pizza for dinner...) I think a big part of our success was our new behavior management tool: Class Dojo. 

A few weeks ago I was asked to implement a visual, data-driven whole class behavior plan for one of my students. Given the needs of this student, and the fact that this would be the 37th intervention happening in my classroom (that's another blog post) I was skeptical. We set up our target behaviors (whole body listening, following directions, and flexible thinking to name a few) and I sarcastically embarked on the Dojo journey, certain it would be a flop. Well, my kiddos proved me wrong. They LOVE the points, and totally hold themselves accountable. The insanely cute avatars don't hurt either. 

Our class graph from Friday!

This week we continued our study of China by building terra cotta warriors out clay and exploring with chopsticks. I know what you're thinking. Twenty kids and 12 pounds of clay? The answer is yes: I did need one whole container of clorox wipes to return our tables back to normal. (But it was pretty awesome!)

I also got my newest product up to TPT this week, which is always an amazing accomplishment for me given my 7:30 9:30PM bedtime. This year my students cannot get enough of I Have, Who Has. So I'm hoping this will be the first of many versions uploaded to my store! Stay tuned. 

Lastly, and most importantly, I have to wish a very Happy Birthday to my incredible, one and only Mum! You might not know this amazing woman, but let me tell you she is actually the most caring, supportive, wonderful prosecco-loving person on this planet. Only 20 more days and we will be celebrating with you in sunny Florida! Is it April vacation yet?

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Scoop

I just love Sundays, don't you? Sundays for me usually go one of two ways: a non-stop sprint to get everything on my to-do list complete OR a marathon of binge TV watching. While I really just want to spend the day on the couch with the Underwoods, it's time to buckle down and get things done. So I'm linking up with The Teaching Trio to map out my day with a little Sunday Scoop!

Three Things I HAVE To Do:

1. Clean: As my blog name indicates, I'm slightly intensely neurotic. I can't sit still when my house feels dirty. As Hubby loves to point out to me, it never actually is dirty, but if it hasn't been cleaned in a few days, well it just FEELS dirty to me.  So the first thing I need to do is pop on some T. Swift, break out my color-coded-by-room cleaning supplies* and get going. 

(*Yes, I realize this may or may not be normal)

2. Is there any better feeling than an empty laundry basket? There isn't for me either. 

3. I love the families I'm working with this year. They are the most supportive, kind, and thoughtful group of parents I have ever had.  So truthfully, I don't mind being in constant contact with many of my students' families. In fact, I look forward to connecting with all of them! But it is certainly one more thing on my to-do list. 

Two Things I Hope To Do:

1. I have approximately 23 projects in the works for TPT. When I started this whole blogging adventure, I figured I would give TPT a whirl as well. All I have to say is, my admiration couldn't be higher for all y'all out there that can throw together these amazing products in what seems like minutes. It takes me.....

So I'm hoping to get in some post-cleaning time to, maybe, possibly, HOPEFULLY finish something! I'll probably start my 24th project instead. 

2. I'm setting my goals high today. Cleaning, TPT'ing, and blogging. Sometimes I convince myself there are more than 24 hours in the day. And that I can stay awake past 9PM to get all these things done. 

One Thing I'm Happy To Do:

1. Relax. I take time for myself every day. And I never apologize for it. Usually this just means taking a bath or watching Jeopardy (knowledge is power, right?), but it always means doing something for me. I quickly learned in my first year of teaching that when I don't get to relax, I am not a pleasant person to be around. So today I'm going to visit one of my teaching besties and her beautiful, adorable newborn baby and amazing pup! Babies AND puppies? I think we can all agree there's nothing better. 

Until next time!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Best Practice Book Study - Get Out of Town!

...Or at least out of the classroom. This is the theme Marcia Tate wants us to embrace here in Chapter 3. I'm excited to be linking up with the Best Practice Book Study, Mrs. Wills Kindergarten, and many other fabulous teachers to consider this idea. Like Ariana Grande, it's time for us to break free.

This is generally how I feel about field trips. Working in an urban school environment, with many kids with emotional and behavioral needs, it often feels like there are a myriad of excuses to avoid taking a field trip. Mostly when I hear the words 'field trip' I feel guilt, then fear, then guilt.  This year my team has tackled field trips as a goal - to have more of them and to make the ones we have meaningful and authentic for our kiddos. While we are still a work in progress, we are getting there. Rome wasn't built in a day, right? And if managing 100 first graders at the Museum of Science isn't as complicated as building Rome, I don't know what is.

In this chapter, Marcia reminds us that you don't have to go far to create an exciting learning experience. Furthermore, she validates that these 'trips' whether within your school environment, or virtual, have the same impact on a student's excitement for learning. I don't know about you, but I can always use a little validation when it comes to my teaching practice!

My favorite 'trip' of this kind goes with the incredible story, The Listening Walk, by Paul Showers.

The Listening Walk tells us the story of a girl who goes for walks with her dad, and their ridiculously cute dog (clearly I'm partial to read alouds that have a four-legged friend as one of the main characters). On these walks, there's no talking, only listening. Students are often enthralled in the book and love the amazing onomatopoeia found throughout. I use this story early in the year, during our science inquiry unit.  After reading the story, we go outside on our own listening walk, isolating only our sense of hearing. We then record our observations in our science notebooks. 

I've also found Google Maps to be a great source for a virtual field trip. When I first started teaching our unit on China, it quickly became apparent that looking on the globe just wasn't enough to get these kiddos excited to learn more about this country far, far away. Enter: technology. We all decided to go on an airplane ride. I had kiddos line up so I could collect their 'tickets', get into their seats and buckle up. A simple click onto satellite view and my kiddos felt like they were being transported to the other side of the world. 

So how am I going to adapt my best practice to support Marcia's teachings in this chapter? Well, more virtual field trips for sure (Have a great idea for one? Leave me a comment and let me know!). I'm also going to push myself to find spots close by (and I mean close - like within a 200 foot radius of the school building close).  Not only will this help engage my students in the community in which they live, we also won't have to set foot on a bus, which in my book, is a win for everyone. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Take A Break! {How I Use A Break Space To Support All Students}

Hello March! I'm starting this month with a promise to myself to be a better blogger. When I started out on this journey, I committed to myself I would blog each week. That hasn't happened just yet, but I'm not giving up. There. I've said it. Now you can publicly shame me when if I don't keep up.

If you follow me on Instagram (and if you don't, then you definitely should) you know that hubs and I have been battling some DIY projects at home. For those of you don't who know us, we are about as good at DIY as Gisele is at multi-tasking:

All this wall-cutting/building/plumbing/insulating/painting nonsense has really taken away from my blogging time. And don't even get me started on the dust. I actually found myself vacuuming my vacuum cleaner yesterday. My name is Nicole and I have a problem. Have I learned a lot? Sigh. Yes. Am I ready to have a very large glass of wine get blogging? YES.

Like many of you out there, my school takes a week long vacation at the end of February. Normally, I use this time to visit my parents in Florida, but this year I found myself at home with a week of uninterrupted time. After all the snow days we've had recently, I actually found myself BORED with all the free time (one week back at school and I desperately want it back).  So what did I do? Go to work, obviously, as all normal people do during their time off. It was time to tackle those projects that always slip under the radar, and up first was redesigning our classroom break space.

Why use a classroom break space?
Having a classroom break space is a powerful teaching tool that supports community, classroom management, and emotional regulation. By implementing a break space in the classroom, teachers give students the ability to regain self-control in a way that is both supportive and respectful, and provide them with explicit self-soothing strategies to be used for years to come. Many of my students have use of the break space as part of their IEP's, however, it's a space that is used by every single student in my classroom.  It's important for kiddos to have a place where they can decompress, whether they are frustrated, sad, overwhelmed, or feeling extra silly. Have you ever had a student that: cant stop banging on their chair, desk, or table, began to escalate over a conflict with a peer, became frustrated over a new math concept or writing prompt? If your classroom is anything like mine, I imagine this happens often. Cue the break space.

What does a break space look like?
Ideally, a break space should give kiddos some space away from the commotion of the classroom, but still allow them to hear what is going on. In my classroom break space, I have the following:

1. The Ikea Egg Chair: perfect for students who need more isolation during a break, or for those who have sensory needs, or struggle with transitions. 

2. A super-soft cuddly pillow. Because who doesn't like a snuggle when you're feeling down? Mine has a plush cover that provides calming sensory input AND can be removed and thrown into the washing machine (first graders do carry a germ or two). 

3. A box of calming tools:

This includes selected books about emotions, a few small stuffed animals, and the infamous glitter jar. 

Click this photo for a great tutorial from My Crazy Blessed Life!

4. A box of focus tools:

Ok, this one is little bit of a cheat. We use focus tools ALL over the classroom and not just in the break space, but it's a good home for them! Anything that is squishy, clicky (yes - I just made that a word), bendy, or stretchy works as a sensory tool. (That 90's hair clip is a HUGE hit in my classroom!)


Time management is a tricky concept for first graders, so I have students set a timer when they are in the break space. This ensures that students get what they need, but still return to the group within a reasonable amount of time.

6. Anchor charts to support emotional learning:

You can find these in my TPT store!

How does it all work?
On the day I introduce the break space, we read the story, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. This book lends itself to a wonderful discussion about emotions, and the fact that everyone has tough days. I then explain that we have the break space: a place to go when you have a lot of feelings.  We make clear that taking a break is not a punishment, nor does it mean your teacher is mad at you, this is just a way to help keep our bodies and brains calm and focused and ready to do our best learning possible.  During the course of the day, after extensive modeling and discussion, each student takes a turn practicing how to use the space. After this, students not only feel comfortable in the space, but have proven they are able to use the space in a way that is safe and supportive of their learning!

Ready to try a break space in your classroom? You can find all of these resources (and more!) over at my TPT Store or by clicking the picture below!

Thanks for stopping by!