Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SMARTBoard for a SMART Class!

During the teachers' first week of school back in August, some workmen came around to each classroom at my school and wrote "SBH" in permanent marker on the chalkboard in each room. For those of you not in education, SBH stands for "Smart Board Here." Seeing the man write that was one of the happiest days ever... especially since I was told LAST August that we'd be getting our SMARTBoards at some point LAST ('09-'10) school year. They kept pushing back the install date over and over until we finally accepted the fact that we were not getting them last year. Thus, you can understand why having an actual first step taken toward installation was quite exciting!! As they marked our boards, they were still unable to give us an install date, but said it should be soon. About a month later, someone came around and installed a new power outlet to plug in the projector. A few weeks after that, they came and hooked up all the cables for operating the SB. Then, the projectors came a little after that, but still no one could give us a definite date or even time frame for delivery. Not wanting to get our hopes up, we just kept teaching around the silver SBH marking. Finally, during the last week of November (3 months into the school year... 3 months after they marked my board...) the wondrous day arrived where we saw boxes and boxes and boxes of supplies arrive through our front doors. I literally could not contain my excitement as I saw them delivering a SMARTBoard down to my classroom. They put them all in the hallways outside the rooms as they worked their way from Kindergarten all the way around the school. It was so exciting and the kids were definitely feeding off the enthusiasm! When I left school that day, it was still sitting outside my classroom, but I knew it was only a matter of time.
Such a glorious sight to see a REAL SMARTBoard with my classroom's name on it! :)
Please don't mind the clutter! This is the "before" picture of the board... still awaiting the SMARTBoard.

This is the wonderful sight that I get to see EVERY morning!!!
Walking into my classroom that next day was SOOOO exciting... but that excitement was quickly dampened when I turned on my computer and read an email from our Technology Specialist (TCIS) saying it'd be at least a week until we got our SB markers and 'training.' Not only was I annoyed because I had this beautiful piece of technology and no way of using it, but now I also had no chalkboard space! The next two weeks (as a teacher in NNPS, you quickly come to learn that projected dates mean nothing) were a little challenging as I had to teach all of my math lessons on the back chalkboard, which caused chaos every afternoon as the kids turned their chairs around and found it more difficult to focus, as a result. The teachers kept asking when we'd get our markers and kept getting different answers depending on who we asked. We kept getting emails that said we'd have the stuff "no later than tomorrow"... and then two more days would pass and we'd get another email. The SB men who came to test all the boards said as soon as our TCIS handed out the supplies. The TCIS said as soon as the supplies were delivered. The secretary said the supplies were delivered but we had to wait for permission from Admin.... ugh. It was frustrating. Finally, after confirming with the secretary that the supplies were at school, we marched down to the TCIS's office and demanded our markers. It was seriously getting ridiculous at how long this was taking. She handed them to us and said that she was planning to pass them out that morning anyway. (Well, we all know how that usually goes!!) I headed down to my classroom, markers in hand, and immediately started projecting stuff on the board. I have used it for at least 3 lessons per day and am absolutely obsessed with it! When we did our Polar Express Day, I was able to move all the desks and play the movie on the SB with the loud speakers and give my kids their very own movie theater. It is awesommmmme and I am excited to see my kids so much more invested in learning just because they get to come up and interact with the SB.

One of my favorite stories I've heard about using the SB was from one of my fellow 3rd grade teachers. The first day we had the ability to use our SMARTBoards, he hooked it up to his computer and as his students arrived, he told them to say "good morning" to the SB. They kind of looked at him like he was crazy, but then hesitantly looked at the SB and said "good morning?" He was sitting at his computer in the back and typed, "How are you?" so that it appeared on the SB. Some of them answered it with "Good....?" Then, he wrote, "Did you do your homework?" And they answered, "Yes.....?" He kept reassuring them that it was a SMARTBoard and could talk to them. Hahahaha. Evil, evil, I know. But HILARIOUS!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Where Do You Come Up With This?!

Since grading papers can sometimes be a very daunting task, occasionally I'll have the kids take a test, exchange papers and we'll go through it as they grade each others' papers.  Most of the kids love it, but some find it tedious and would rather that I do all the work. :) One of my boys complained that he didn't like it because whoever graded his paper the last time put HUGE check marks for correct answers, HUGE 'X's for wrong answers and drew a picture at the bottom. I don't understand why that is necessary for grading a paper, but apparently it was a more common concern than I thought, because other kids started piping up with the same news. Soooo, the next time we traded papers, I spent about 5 minutes going over appropriate etiquette for grading papers. I made sure to show them the correct size/location for a check mark, the correct size/location for an X, how to circle the correct answer, and reiterated that they should NOT draw anything anywhere on the paper. When I got the papers back, they looked MUCH better and cleaner... except for one paper. All over one girl's paper was written, "RUE THE DAY I TELL YOU!!" I'm sorry, have we gone back to the Shakespearean era? How come you don't know what our vocabulary words "anxious" or "leisure" mean, but you know the word "rue"?? And, since there is limited punctuation in your sentence, do you mean "Rue the day, I tell you." or "Rue the day I tell you."? Very different meanings. And who is this warning for?

Safety First!

Around the time of school pictures (mid October?), we also had a program come to our school called Ident-a-Kid. Through this program, parents can pay to have cards created with all of their student's current information printed on a card with their current picture. These cards should be kept on hand. Then, in case the child goes missing, the parent has all of the information and a recent picture to give to the police. Given the socioeconomic class that I work with, only 2 of my kids ordered the actual cards. Well, about a month after I gave out the cards, waiting in my mailbox were 20 cards to give the rest of my kids. These were from the same company, but a little different. Since parents didn't order the cards, they did not fill out all the kid's information. So, these cards just contained a recent picture and then labeled blanks (Name: _____, DOB: ____, Weight: ____, etc.) on the back for parents to fill in all of the info. I handed them out at the end of the day and asked the kids to put them in their backpacks and take them home. As is often the case, the majority of my class followed my directions perfectly, but there were a few rebels who decided to pull out the card and examine it and fill in the info. Clearly, being 9-years-old, they do not know all of their statistics. This led to one of my girls walking up to me (as I'm in the middle of dismissal, so only halfway paying attention), card in hand, and asked, "How tall am I?" I looked at her in frustration since she obviously had no intent to follow directions, and said, "I have no idea." She looked at me, looked at the card, looked back up at me and then took her card and on the line for Height wrote "Short." Hahaha. How could I stay frustrated at that? And how is that going to help the cops find her?!

It was exciting to see my kids so excited about the cards and being able to explain to them safety and such. About a week later, we watched their Health and Safety/Family Life videos... Stranger Danger and I Was Just Kidding: All About Harrassment. It's amazing to me that with ALL of the technology and production in our society today, that we still have to show low-budget videos made in the 1980s. I don't understand why Officer Steve in Stranger Danger has a full mullet, creepy mustache, and wears high water, acid wash jeans up past his waist. I'm pretty sure those are the people we tell our kids to RUN from, not listen to for advice! The scenarios in the story are ones that my kids COULD face today (a stranger offering them candy if they get in the car, a woman asking for help carrying her groceries to her car, etc.), but I'm pretty sure they have other more realistic/serious concerns and situations they face. As much as I love watching these videos with the kids so I can chuckle in the background, I do think that Hollywood should come out with an update!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Gingerbread Men

One big thing that our administration is trying to improve this year is collaboration across grade levels. It's so easy to just get caught up with day-to-day teaching and then only meeting with your team for Wednesday planning that sometimes we almost forget there are other teachers in the building! Although the biggest focus is for us to work with 3rd and 5th grade teachers (to see where our kids are coming from/going, etc), my class is going way across grade levels and participating in Kindergarten reading buddies again this year!
Every Friday morning, one of the Kindergarten teachers walks her kids down to my room, drops half of them off in my room and takes half of my kids. For the next 30 or so minutes, the Kindergartners either read to my kids or we have an activity planned for them. Since reading buddies got snowed out last Friday, we rescheduled for Tuesday. Being that it was only a day before break, we decided to skip the reading and do a "party." (At least, that's what I told my kids it was... thankfully none of them questioned why it was no where close to being a party!) The K teacher dropped her kids off in my room for the craft portion of the party. The K students had been doing a unit on Gingerbread Men (apparently there are TONS of books about Gingerbread Men, a scavenger hunt, writing stories, activities, etc...), so she had bought foam gingerbread men for them to decorate. I had found foam stockings, wreathes, and bells for my kids to make.
She took half of my kids to her room to do "active time".... aka, allowing my kids to make fools of themselves while dancing to ridiculous songs with 5-year-olds (the Tooty-Ta, the Chicken Dance, etc). We did this for their first meeting way back in September and my kids have been asking for it ever since!
After 20 or so minutes, I lined up the kids in my room and we walked down to her room  and switched kids. I took the dancers back for craft time and left the artists to be active. All of the kids had a BLAST and it was so much fun to watch them working/dancing together. It makes me proud to see "my" kids helping/being a role model to the little tykes. It reassures me that they DO know how to show respect and they are learning something in my class!
One of my students didn't have a reading buddy, so I deemed him as the official photographer for the morning. He actually impressed me with his ability. Here are some pictures of the crafts the kiddos made:

This was my favorite Gingerbread Man made by a Kindergartner. Look how creative he got with the stickers! Using ornaments for eyes and a letter 'D' for the scared mouth!! Haha. Love it!

They had free reign of what they were allowed to do on the Gingerbread Men.... clearly.

I got bored just walking around/supervising and decided to pose for some pictures. :)
One of the wreaths made by one of my 4th graders. Notice any difference in quality?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

All Aboard!!

Today is the official first day of Winter Break!! Woo hooooo! I'm pretty sure I was WAY more excited about it than my kids, which is saying a lot because, based on their over-hyperactivity this week, I'd say they were pretty stoked! :) I'm spending my break in Fairfax, VA with my family and some cousins, my aunt, and uncle. I LOVE Christmas/the holiday season, so am planning to enjoy every second of it. My goals for the break are to blog everyday (any of my 'followers' know that it's been a WHILE since I posted so I have a lot to catch up on!!), not gain more than 5 pounds (my mom LOVES to cook and is really good at it, too!!) and get caught up on sleep! I'm sure it's going to be a very laid-back break and full of memories. My family is huge about traditions, so it's always a lot of fun celebrating/partaking in those. One tradition that we've started at school (this being my second year of teaching, I can say that it was actually the 2nd annual!) is Polar Express Day!
The last day before Winter Break in Newport News Public Schools is always (or has been since I've been in the system!) a half day. This means that we're in school for about 2.5 hours. I'm not sure about you, but I think it'd probably be easier to teach a brick wall how to build itself than to teach a 9-year-old anything involving history, math, or science 3 days before Christmas/a 10-day vacation. Taking this into consideration, the 4th grade team decided to officially declare this day Polar Express Day! If you ask any of the teachers, we will tell you it's a combination of a Compare and Contrast Learning Activity and a reward for our students earning 100 Panda Paws (I've mentioned these before... they're little pieces of paper with paw prints on them (our mascot is the Panda). Classes earn them for getting caught showing respect in different areas of the school. They get a reward at every 25, and then a big celebration when they reach 100-- the GOLDEN PANDA AWARD!). Since movies/parties are highly frowned upon in the administrative side of education, we have to be very careful with how we present our ideas.
So, to make it educational, we read the book The Polar Express in class on Tuesday and then while they were watching the movie on Wednesday, students had to think about how it was similar to and different from the book!
To make it a celebration, we provided food... and lots of it. :) Mrs. Bozung's (my fellow 2nd-year, 4th grade teacher) class also earned 100 Paws, so we collaborated on how to make our parties amazing! I made 45 cupcakes on Tuesday night and she made 50 Reindeer Balls (Oreos, cream cheese, and sprinkles!), the school provided us with popcorn and candy canes, we bought juice boxes, Hot Chocolate and mini marshmallows (to go with the Polar Express movie/theme), and ordered 6 pizzas/class.
Add another bag of popcorn, 18 more candy canes, 25 Reindeer Balls and 6 pizzas and you have our spread (half of those cupcakes went to Mrs. Bozung's class!).

As if watching a movie and stuffing your face in class wasn't enough, the icing on the cake was that we made it a Pajama Party! When I announced this, the girls started FREAKING OUT and the boys shrugged/groaned and pretended they weren't excited and wouldn't participate. The day of, though, the boys apparently felt differently because they all showed up in sweatpants/bath robes (with clothes underneath, thankfully!)/onesies (not even kidding. Cutest thing EVER!). The girls were totally decked out in pink frillies/Justin Bieber pajamas/slippers/etc and brought blankets and pillows. Like everything else we do for our kids, Mrs. Bozung and I obviously went all out, too!

Aside from the students singing along with just about every song in The Polar Express, the movie-viewing went off without any interruptions. Unfortunately, though, I didn't check the length of the movie beforehand (someone told me it was 2+ hours, so I believed them.. turns out, it's only 1.5 hours long!) and it ended a lot earlier than I was expecting it to! Thankfully, the pizza had already arrived, so I passed that out and we had a nice lunch together. As soon as I passed out the last piece and the kids were about to dig in, one of my boys cried out, "WAIT! Don't eat until you say your grace!" He then proceeded to lead the entire class through the "God is great, God is good" prayer (there are like 5 verses that I'd never heard before, apparently?!). Being a public school teacher, I made no comment to support this.. but I sure didn't make him stop either! It was pretty awesome to watch/listen to and have a feeling of hope that maybe they are being taught morals after all! That hope was questioned, though, when they ended the prayer with "Thank you Ms. Wacek for this heavenly food. Amen." Haha.

Another funny quote of the day... I gave the kids some sheets to color if they didn't want to watch the movie. About 5 of these pictures were given back to me as "Christmas presents" that I'm not obliged to hang up soemwhere. :) One of the girls colored a picture of Rudolph and at the top wrote "You're MY Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I'm sure it was extremely endearing.

After eating, I gave them each their Christmas presents.. a box of division flash cards, a Christmas pencil and a little jingle bell. I included a personalized card for each of them and a little note that explained the bell. It said:
In the book The Polar Express, the boy’s bell was used to determine who believed in Santa. This bell that I am giving to you is different. This bell represents my belief in YOU.
No matter where you go, how old you are, or what other people might tell you, please remember that I will always believe in you. I know, without a doubt, that YOU can accomplish anything you put your mind to. YOU are smart and capable. With hard-work and a belief in yourself, your opportunities are endless.
Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” 
-- George Sheehan

I'm guessing some of my kids have already lost their bell, but even if just ONE of them takes this message to heart, I'd consider my job worthwhile. I think it's so important for our kids today to realize that they CAN succeed no matter what their past or current circumstances. But that's a blog for another time... :)

When I was done loading them up with sugar and reading them The Night Before Christmas, I loaded them on the busses, cleaned off my desk and headed home! Another successful "holiday" party in the books! I'm already looking forward to and planning for next year!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Which Hat Today?

Thanksgiving break is over and it went way too fast, as expected. Surprisingly/Thankfully, the kids came back ready to learn and so this week has been pretty awesome so far! Only 13.5 more school days until Christmas Break - how crazy is that?! We have our first field trip on Monday, and I'm pretty excited. I have a love/hate relationship with field trips because they're usually pretty stressful (I can hardly get my students to listen in the confined space of a classroom on a normal day, how the heck am I supposed to do it on the wide open fields of Yorktown on field trip day?!), but they're also always fun. The information the students gain from seeing "colonial life" is so beneficial and such a wonderful opportunity for future teaching and learning because they actually have a concrete knowledge base to build upon. As I was working through all the logistics of the field trip (lunch counts, busses, permission slips, chaperones, etc), I felt a lot like a secretary. This got me started thinking about all of the different "hats" teachers wear on a daily basis. In fact, I think one of my favorite parts of being a teacher is the ability to experience EVERY profession at some point or another... Everyone can always think of the typical/most important ones (educator, counselor, mediator, nurse, scientist/historian/author), but I thought I'd take an opportunity to share some stories to demonstrate some of the other roles I (or elementary teachers in general) play in a typical day.

Fashion Police/Guru: Yesterday at recess, I was talking to my co-worker when a student walked up to ask a question. As she was talking, we both noticed that she was wearing a brightly colored, striped bra underneath of a very light colored, thin sweater. Since no other students were around, my co-worker asked (it was her student) point blank if that was her bra showing through. The girl nodded. My co-worker explained that in the future, she needed to make sure to wear a tank top or shirt under this particular sweater. The girl nodded again. Then, very loudly and nonchalantly said, "My mom makes me wear 'em." Now, for those of you who are far removed from 4th grade, let me explain that this is the stage of life where puberty makes it's grand appearance and kids are changing/growing like crazy. By 4th grade, we're usually past the point of mom's forcing her to wear a bra because all the other girls are doing it (as was definitely the case with this girl). Needless to say, my co-worker was quick to clarify that she was NOT telling her not to wear a bra and reiterated that she just wanted the girl to wear a tank top with this sweater. Unfortunately, these instances are not as rare as we would like. Whether it's telling boys to pull their pants up, or telling girls to pull their skirts down, or sending girls to the nurse to get a t-shirt instead of a skin-tight spaghetti strap belly shirt... we've seen it all.... in 4th grade... and once again I'm thankful that I don't teach middle or high school because I'm sure it only gets worse. :)

Copy Machine Technician: Not too much to say about this one, except that I'm AMAZING at unjamming copy machines now. Seriously, I think I might add it to my resume. For whatever reason, our copier decided to freak out after only 4 years, instead of the 5 that would allow it to be replaced. Since we work in the most strangely money-managed school district ever, they continue to send out a repair man every week (at who knows how much money per hour), instead of just buying a new one.... And since the repair man is not on call 24/7, I just had to take matters into my own hand and figure out what exactly it means when it says "clear the jam in areas 2,3,4" or "replace fuser cartridge." All in a day's work. :)

Artist/Performer: One of my favorite parts about teaching elementary students is their strange idolization of their teachers. :) Not to sound big-headed or anything, but I'm pretty sure my students  think I'm the coolest/most talented/smartest person to ever walk this planet (or at least most of them; the rest of them think I was born yesterday and honestly think they can trick me with stupid 4th grade tricks.). So, why do I say this? Well, because they tell/show me everyday. Haha. If they're not laughing at my jokes, they're making me cards that say "I love you" or "You're my role model" (well, actually it said "roll motel", but it's the thought that counts!). If they're not telling me how pretty my hair looks today, they're listening intently as I read them a story or tell them a random fact about who knows what! My favorite times, though, are when I become Leonardo DaWacek... Anyone who knows me, can probably tell you that I inherited the Wacek drawing ability, which is NONE. Literally any animal I draw looks like a combination of a horse and a cat, and every person I draw is a stick person. However, if you were ever to listen to the way the students talk about my drawings, you'd think they were being shipped to the Louvre. Seriously, multiple times I've heard my students say "Wow, Ms. Wacek. YOU should be the art teacher! That drawing is SO good!!" Ok, really? Because I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be a boat, but it looks like a pumpkin... or something of the sort. Haha. I also inherited the Wacek singing ability (which again, is NONE... they're a very smart family and don't need the artsy stuff apparently). My students were not as lenient when I tried singing a Virginia Studies song to the tune of 3 Blind Mice, but after laughing with me at my voice cracking once, they were chiming right in and didn't want me to stop singing. (I would just like to point out to anyone who hasn't heard that song in a while that it gets EXTREMELY high pitched and moves SUPER fast through the verses. NOT a good one to rewrite.) All of their encouragement just makes it that much more fun to really get into my act and give them a show. I've only been teaching 1.5 years, but I've already learned that the bigger fool I make of myself, the more my students learn/respect me. Haha. Go figure.

Hairstylist: On Monday, one of my girls walked into my classroom with tears in her eyes. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me her ponytail was too tight. I looked at it and saw that it was an extension and realized that I had NO idea what to do with it. I told her to go down the hall to one of the black reading interventionists because she has two daughters and would be able to help. My student was too shy, so I offered to walk down there with her. The reading interventionist said she didn't know anything about weave, so we went to check with the nurse. The nurse said she wasn't allowed to mess with anybody's hair because too many momma's have been in the school wondering who messed up their daughter's 3 hour, $50 hairdo. We headed back to class and my student was still in pain. She went to call mom to see what to do and mom said either take it out or deal with it. The student came to me and said she wanted to take it out, but didn't know how. I looked at it briefly and thought it was just rubberbanded in, so started trying to take it out. Literally 10 seconds later, I was standing with a large mass of long, fake hair in my hand and the girl looking at me with only a tiny little ponytail poking out from the top of her head. We looked at each other for about 30 seconds before I handed her the hair and told her to have a seat and get to work. Haha. She put her hood on for a few minutes to hide her lack-of hairdo, but then before I knew it, the long, fake ponytail was back in and she said it didn't hurt anymore. Haha. Once again, all in a day's work. :)