Friday, December 16, 2011

Fact or Opinion?

Fact: Something that can be proven. Something that is true or the same every time, no matter who you ask.
Opinion: What someone feels, believes, or thinks about something.

Ok, so those probably aren't Webster's definitions, but they are the most user-friendly, 4th grade definitions that I can think of! And even still, the kids get confused! They get the concept for the most part, but there are some that just baffle them every time.
For example, today during Reading they had to decide if the sentence "Patrick Henry was a noble patriot and was admired by everyone." was a fact or an opinion. Considering 99% of them don't understand the words noble, patriot, and admired, I let it slide if they missed it. But, I mean, come on kids. Obviously there were some who thought he spoke treason and too outspoken, it's CLEARLY an opinion. :)
Just kidding. The ones they usually miss are ones like this:
"Summer is the best season." - Definitely a fact. It can be proven and no matter who you ask, you always get the same answer...  at least when your sphere of influence is limited to 24 other school-crazed fourth graders who are dying to hear the words "it's the last day of school"!
"Ice cream is yummy." - Same thing. How can it be an opinion when it's a fact of life?
"My teacher is the best teacher in the world." - I honestly had a student come up to me and ask me if this was a fact... "because we all know it's true and you really are the best teacher and everyone in the whole class thinks so." So precious. But I'm pretty sure the 'best teacher' would've figured out a way to teach them enough to know the difference between facts and opinions.... :)

Having them identify facts or opinions is fun enough, but having them come up with their own facts and opinions is opening a whole new can of worms.
Fact: Bengermen Franklin made lightning. - In this student's and my defense, we haven't studied the electricity unit yet. :) 
Fact: Susan B. Antaney was deaf and blind. - Well, based on my decoding, I think you were trying to spell "Anthony"... based on your information, I must be mistaken. I appreciate you trying to share your wealth of knowledge, but in the future, why don't you just put a fact like your classmates' "I am at school."?
Fact: God is real. - Agreed. 

(On a similar note, one of my sneaky little students came up to me on one of our Fact and Opinion days and said, "Ms. Wacek, fact or opinion, Santa is real?" Haha. It's always important to tread lightly this time of year!!)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lost in Translation!

Teaching ESL students can be a challenge. For example, it's hard enough to explain to a native English speaking 4th that a "hardship in the colony of Jamestown" does not actually mean there was a boat made out of stone, let alone someone who doesn't quite yet know that a ship and a boat are the same thing.
Although it has its difficult moments, I wouldn't trade it. The inquisitiveness, culture, trains of thought (not real railroad trains... in case any of them are reading this...), and laughter they bring to the classroom are invaluable. There were two particular instances this week where I was reminded of the language barrier and the difficulty of the English language.
Tuesday morning, one of my students came in very solemnly, sat down at his seat, completed his morning work and then just stared off into space for a while. A few minutes later, he got up, turned to me, and said, "Ms. Wacek. I think today is not my lucky day."
Me: "Why not?"
"I got run over by a car this morning."
"Ummmmmmm..."
"I was walking to the bus and I looked both ways before I went in the street. But then, it just zoomed out of nowhere and ran me over."
"Ummmmm... What?! Did the driver stop? Are you hurt?"
"No. It almost ran me over." 
With that, he went back to his seat and read his book silently. The incident was never mentioned again. The events of that morning were definitely lost in translation. 

That same afternoon, I was tutoring some kids after school. I was working with some boys on long division (a constant in my life these days) and they started goofing around like 10-year-old boys who have just been through a full day of being cooped up in a classroom tend to do. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, one of the ESL boys shouts, "Oh man! This is giving me the hilly-billies!" Through our very confused expressions, everyone started laughing.. a nervous, confused laugh. "The hilly-billies?" 
"Yeah, it's so scary! I have the hilly-billies!"
"The heeby-jeebies?"
"Oh yeah. The heeby-jeebies. That's what I meant. What does that mean?"



I couldn't tell ya. You gotta love the English language! :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Immunity!!

It's days like these where I wish the show Survivor was actually reality. It would be awesome to be able to win a challenge and get an 'immunity necklace'...

 
My immunity necklace would be different though. My immunity would actually give me physical immunity... not from getting voted off a deserted island (although, most days, for at least a fleeting moment, that's where I wish I was!), but from being invaded by the millions of germs that have overtaken my classroom this week.
Monday I found out that one of my students has pneumonia. She came to school the next day. Germs.
Tuesday I found out that one of my students cut his foot open over the weekend and it bleeds most of the day. Germs.

Wednesday 3 students were absent, 3 complained of stomach aches, 2 complained of headaches, 2 said they had thrown up that morning, and one was sent home puking (thankfully he made it to the trashcan in time!). Germs.
Not to mention we've been having majorly bi-polar weather, so all of our bodies are confused and weakened. Oy vay!

Thankfully, I was raised by parents who don't believe in germs or doctors in a country where the former are very prevalent. I think that is my immunity necklace right there (along with some daily orange juice, of course!). Here's to good health!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Dinner!

What's the first thing you think of when I say "Thanksgiving"?

Turkey. Green Bean Casserole. Pumpkin pie. Family. Football. Giving Thanks. These are the usual responses someone would receive when asking the above question. Actually, these are the answers that someone SHOULD receive when asking the above question.

If you asked a teacher or student this same question on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, you might get a different answer... something along the lines of "chicken chunks in gravy over a scoop of stuffing with cold green beans on the side and a roll on the top, served by grumpy-pants herself."


While it may not have been the most appealing and was definitely not served with any holiday spirit, it actually tasted pretty good.... or maybe I've just been an elementary school teacher for too long... or maybe I was tasting the three days of no school/students/stress that were symbolized by each chunk of chicken. Whatever the case may be, I was thankful for a warm lunch and even more thankful for mom's home-cooking later in the week. :) Now if only the Christmas holiday dinner would hurry up and get here.... ;)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Barnes and Noble Book Fair!

For the past two years, our school has teamed up with Barnes and Noble to do a fundraiser/book fair event. From 4-8 pm on Wednesday, November 16, families were invited to come get free cookies and cocoa, listen to stories being read aloud, be entered in a drawing for prizes and buy books (with a percentage of the proceed going to our school!). It's a pretty fun event and a nice excuse to spend a few 'quiet' hours at the bookstore. :)
Last year, I was babysitting my roommate's daughter during the event, so split my time between listening to the stories, playing with the trains, and raiding the cookie table. This year, I was off-duty, so I brought my laptop and a book and decided to just relax.
When I was announcing the event to my students, I told them I would be there from 4-6 and they should make sure to come find me so I could get them a free book. They all freaked out when I said this.. half of them were freaking out at the thought of a brand-new, free book... the rest were freaking out because they thought I was going to be playing Hide-and-Seek in the store and they actually had to FIND me! I assured them it was just a saying and I would be in very plain view and not hard to find at all. (If it wasn't the middle of No-Sweets-November, my location of choice would've probably been very near the cookie center again!) :)
During the time I was there, we had a pretty decent turn-out. I only had two of my kids come, which was fine by me, although it is always fun to see them outside of school so they realize I don't actually live there 24/7.
The mayor's wife was one of the readers, as were some teachers from our school, our principal, and a few staff from other local middle schools. It was cool to see all of the community getting involved.
I eventually got recruited to hand out cookies and was VERY proud of my self-control in not taking even a bite of the super soft, sprinkled sugar cookies or the chocolate chunk chocolate cookies! When the mad rush of students and parents wanting cookies had ended, I was relieved by another teacher and the assistant principal, so I said my farewells and came home!


The Reading Specialist from our school enthralling students in storytime!
It sure was a PARTY!
You don't understand how much will-power I proved myself to have by not eating these!

Friday, November 18, 2011

November 11, 2011

11/11/11. The luckiest day ever. :)

After a short debate from my students as to whether or not the world would end on this day, we got down to business. It was Veteran's Day, so we spent some time talking about how to honor our servicemen and women. Then, I announced that at 11:11, we were going to take a class picture that they would always remember. I told them that when I was in 7th grade, my whole school gathered in the gym at 9:09 am to celebrate 9/9/1999. I shared that it was a moment I would always treasure and remember and I wanted to give them the same experience. It was a touching moment. They were all super stoked. I was excited and smiling until Mr. Smart Aleck in the group had to shout out, "You were in 7th grade in 1999?! I wasn't even born yet!" Follow that with a 10 minute discussion on my age and that shining moment was over.
We did end up taking the picture, and I do believe they will remember this day for a long time, as will I. How lucky are we?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

And then there were 26...

While we were celebrating a fellow 4th grade teacher's retirement at the end of last year, it was a joyous occasion and we were all extremely thrilled for her. We were also excited by the news that a new teacher would be joining our team, one who we all knew and got along well with. Well, over the summer, things change and turns out our "numbers" weren't high enough to warrant that new teacher being hired at our school. I think it was about 4 days before school started when this news was finally broken to us and we came to the realization that we'd each be maxing out our classrooms this year. I got my first 'tentative' class list with a whopping 25 students on it! There were definitely some periods of freak-out with that news, but seeing as there was nothing I could do about it, I tried to keep a positive attitude and set up the room for all of the smiling faces I'd be seeing soon. (It didn't help that every 3rd grade teacher or administrator who saw my class list made a sour face and basically said "good luck!"...). Well, the first day of school came and went. Three students from my list hadn't shown up, but three new ones got assigned to me that day. 25 students. I can work with that.
About 2 weeks into school, one of my girls moved out of state, so I was at a comfortable 24. We had gotten into our routines and we hardly even noticed that we were the second largest class in the whole school.
Fast forward a few weeks to Halloween. I already knew it would be a crazy week, but it turned out to be crazier still when I got the news that I was getting two new kiddos! Up to 26. At first it was frustrating, but the longer I think about it and adjust to the news/reality, my perspective changes. Instead of stewing on the negatives and complaining about how difficult it is, I try to see the positives. A) I get to provide a quality education to 26 students who will one day make up our nation's leaders and workforce.
B) Lots of teachers around America/the world have wayyy more than 26 students in a class and often much smaller/lower quality facilities! I should be thankful it's only 26 (for now, at least! I heard I'm not "maxed out" until I reach 30.... holy moly!) and I have a huge, beautiful classroom for them!
C) My principal/the administration must trust me with all these little ones or they'd find a way to send them (or me!) somewhere else. That's a lot of trust!
D) More students = higher probability of funny stories for my blog! :)

Hopefully I can keep this attitude up in the middle of the day when all 26 of them are talking at once and I feel like storming out of the classroom!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just Call Me Sherlock

About a year ago, I did a post highlighting some of the additional duties assigned to a classroom teacher (read it here if you missed it!). As I was grading my students' Science Tests and some reading homework tonight, I realized there was one very important role I forgot to mention... Detective/Code Breaker. Now, I know the government pays big money for their agents to be trained to decipher all different types of codes and information, but I might venture so far as to say that money is being wasted. I think those agencies should just consider hiring some elementary school teachers (or students) to do this decoding. I spend about 9 hours a day doing just that... let me show you. :)

Science Test:
Q: What are 3 Natural Resources in Virginia?
A: Stach you of libary. 
Literal Translation: Statue of Liberty.
Interpretation: "Obviously, the Statue of Liberty, located in New York, is made of copper, which is a mineral. Virginia has many mineral natural resources."

Q: List 3 ways to conserve water.
A: Trun of the foset.
Literal Translation: Turn off the faucet.
Interpretation: "When you're brushing your teeth, when you're washing dishes, when you're taking a bath, when you're skipping Ms. Wacek's Science lesson to play in the bathroom... think twice. Don't waste water."

Reading Homework about Mount Rushmore:
Q: If they were to add another president to Mount Rushmore, whom do you think they should add? Explain.
A: Maten Luther King Jr.
Literal Translation: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Interpretation: "I want John F. Kennedy's head on Mt. Rushmore. MLK supported JFK and both of them were assassinated."

Same question, different student...
A: Benjim Frakiln he was a genuis beouse he create eltrsid.
Literal Translation: Benjamin Franklin - he was a genius because he created electricity.
Interpretation: "I think Franklin D. Roosevelt should be added to Mt. Rushmore because he was president during the depression when people couldn't afford to use electricity. And he created thousands of jobs, which is almost as big a feat as inventing electricity."

Obviously, I'd have to go back and confirm that that's verbatim what my kids were aiming for, but considering I'm in my third year of teaching, I have a good feeling that my decoding is pretty accurate.
If I stop blogging within the next few months it's probably because someone in government read this and came to recruit me for my incredible skills. Or something like that... :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

America's First Nurse!

With the start of the second quarter, comes a shift in focus for Reading instruction from Fiction to Non-Fiction. As a whole, I'm not thrilled about this change because I find Fiction a whole lot more interesting, but hopefully we'll find good books to use to make it bearable, and make me smarter. (In the first week, I've already learned more about whales than I'll ever need to know!) :)

While we were studying "Questions to ask when reading a Biography" (thrilling, I know!), I assigned a homework page all about Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross). With the passage were 7 questions for the students to answer and while grading them, I decided the answers were too good not to share. :)

Question #7: Would you like to become a nurse? Explain.
Answers:
Yes, because that lady helped soldiers in need and I felt it was sweet and brave. (THAT lady? The one who you just read a whole page about and now can't remember her name?)
Yes, because I would do anything to help and save others from death.
Yes, because I would take bullets out of them. (Limited view of what a nurse actually does, but....)

No, because I would not think it's cool. (Molly, about that Career Day speech... Are you going to make it COOOOOOL!?)
No, because you can touch some blood.
No, because I don't want to be in a small clinic.
No, because I don't want to get sick and die from other people. (Valid.)
No, because it's too much to take care of, too much work and it's nasty, too. (Well said.)
No, because I want to (insert choice profession here)... teach/be a policeman/be a football player.
No, because I don't want to give kids shots! It might hurt them and it might hurt me! 
No, because I am a boy. (Helllllo sexism!)

I love it when I get a chance to peek inside their brains and see what they're thinking. They're so wonderful and ridiculous!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Time for Celebration - Minute to Win It!

The first quarter is over! Holy cow! The past few weeks have been a whirlwind, so my apologies for no blog posts! With the end of the first quarter came Benchmark testing (my kids rocked the Reading and have some work to do in Math...!), Report Cards, piles and piles of ungraded work that needed to be entered, meetings, conferences, etc. You name it, it's happening now! On the positive side, though, we also successfully had our first "Time for Celebration"! Every quarter, the kids have a target number of days that they need to stay on green (show good behavior) in order to earn this very valued reward. This quarter the magic number was 24! Of my 26 (that's right, TWENTY-SIX!) students, only 6 didn't make it!

So anyway, the day they'd all been eagerly waiting for finally arrived. After answering the question "What time is the celebration?" what felt like 100+ times, it finally arrived. I handed out the green tickets and we headed down to the gym. Every Time for Celebration has been a little different, but the kids have loved all of them just the same. This one was themed after the TV Show "Minute to Win It." The premise is that you have 60 seconds to complete the given challenge. At our celebration, there were 10 different challenges the kids could attempt.

My station was Ping-Tac-Toe. I have no idea if I had them playing it right, but they all enjoyed themselves and I still had a huge line when it was time to leave! There were 9 plastic cups taped together and the kids had to bounce the ping pong balls in one at a time to try and get 3 in a row. It turned into quite the workout for me picking up ping pong ball after ping pong ball, but I can use it, I'm sure. :) At one point, I was joking around with whoever was playing and one of my students looked up and said, "Ms. Wacek! I didn't know you liked to have fun!" Oh jeez. It's only the 1st quarter and they already think I'm a grinch.... :)

The other stations included:
- "Breakfast Puzzlers"(students had a minute to arrange cut up cereal boxes),
- "Balloon Bobble" (students had to keep 2 balloons airborne for a minute),
- "A Bit Dicey" (students had to stack 3 dice on top of a popsicle stick they were holding in their mouths)
- "Keep it Up" (students used an air pump to keep a feather airborne for a minute)
- "Tweeze Me" (students had to move 5 tic tacs from one bowl to another using only a tweezers)
- "Face the Cookie" (a cookie was placed on students' foreheads and they had to get it to their mouths using only facial muscles)... this was a lot of their favorites, go figure!

- "Speed Stack" (students had to stack and unstack 10 cups into a pyramid in a minute)
- "Egg Roll" (students had to roll a plastic egg down a hallway, around a cone, and back using the wind created from fanning a pizza box)
- "Fast Art" (students had 1 minute to color a "Time for Celebration" picture)

When the 40 minutes was up, the students chatted their way back to class and any onlookers would've thought they had each just been given $1,000 dollars with the smiles on their faces. Hopefully the enthusiasm was enough to motivate the 6 who spent the 40 minutes in a "booster session" learning about respectful behavior! That'd be enough for me, I'm sure! :)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Multiplication Rhymes!

I still remember when MY fourth grade teacher taught me, "Eight times eight is sixty-four, shut your mouth and say no more!" I've passed it on to my students and they love it. Then, I came across a worksheet that allows them to come up with their own multiplication rhymes to help with memorizing... here are some of my favorites:

9x9
"Nine and nine are black. Nine times nine is 81." (The sample rhyme at the top of the worksheet was "8 and 4 were sad and blue. 8 times 4 is thirty-two." Apparently, the definition of rhyming and the term 'feeling blue' were lost on my little ESL kids!!)

9x7
"Nine times seven is 63. Kevin is up a tree."
"Nine and seven are really moo. 9 times 7 is sixity-two." (Welcome to 4th grade. This year, you will learn how to multiply, use real adjectives, and spell correctly!)

7x8
"Seven times eight is 56. What am I going to do with this chick?" (This assignment was done the same day as Family Life Education/Puberty Talks... clearly he's one of my early-developers.)
"Seven and 8 have a face. 7 times 8 are 56." (First step, multiplication. Second step, rhyming.)
"Seven and eight is 56. Eleven twigs and sticks." (Why eleven??)
"Seven and eight is awesome! 7 times 8 is 56." (Ok! Whatever helps you remember it....)

4x7
"Four times seven is 28. Today is my birthday." (No, it's actually not. Please get back to the task at hand.)
"4 times 7 is 28. Kevin is near a plate." (Who the heck is Kevin?!)
"Don't like rhymes. It equals 28 rhymes." (Point taken.)

Haha. There actually were some good ones that we'll hang up around the classroom, but this is one assignment that may be more for my enjoyment than students' learning! :) I love my little geniuses and the smiles they bring to my face.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Salt Maps!

We were learning about sequencing this week in Reading, and as our grade level was planning, we decided there's no easier way to assess students' ability to follow a sequence than simple direction-following! We were talking about different things we could have them create (pizza, sock puppets, etc...) and decided we could get more bang for our buck by actually making it something meaningful to our curriculum. We remembered that some of us had made salt maps with the kids a few years ago, and thought that would be a cheap and easy project.... or at least cheap. The project incorporates Math (making dough), Social Studies (regions of Virginia) and Reading (Sequencing!), so definitely a winner!

To give you all some sequencing practice of your own, here are some main events:
- Monday night, a letter to the parents/guardians and the dough recipe were sent home with every 4th grader explaining the project and giving them a heads up the dough was needed in class on Wednesday.
- Tuesday morning/afternoon, students wrote that their only homework was to make the dough and bring it in the next day and then were reminded of that fact right before dismissal.
- Wednesday morning - 9:10 am - 6 students show up with no dough. Ms. Wacek goes on a rampage about responsibility and gives her "you're going to get fired from your job if you don't bring in your work" schpiel.
- 9:20 am - Ms. Wacek finishes her speech with 25 mortified/confused/intrigued faces staring at her.
- 9:21 am - One brave student (one of the ones who 'forgot' to bring his dough) reaches into his backpack and pulls out a canister of salt and a roll of Pillsbury Grands Biscuit Dough and says, "My mom didn't have any flour, but she said I could use this."
- 9:22 am - Ms. Wacek smiles and is reminded why she loves her job. Then, she announces that LUCKILY she came prepared for those irresponsible students, but they wouldn't be so lucky next time! Six sighs of relief.
- 9:23 - 9:33 am - "You need 1 cup of salt, 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of water and knead." Repeat with next student.
- 9:25 am - Ms. Wacek smiles again when her favorite, chubby little Hispanic boy puts his hands in the dough for the first time and says, "Wow. This is really smooooooooshy."
- 9:35 - 9:55 am - Read and sequence a cute story. Pretend like the kids are paying attention to anything but the glob of messy, smooooshy dough sitting on the corner of their desks.
- 9:56 am - Classroom full of cheers when I say it's time to make our maps!
- 9:57 - 11:15 am Holy cow. What just happened? Why are you throwing dough? Why do you have dough on your nose? Why does your Virginia look like a peacock instead of a slice of pizza? Are those mountains or boobs? If I see one more person eat the dough, we're stopping this project!
- 11:16 am All maps are set to dry on the counter. "Take out your math books and don't speak... or move... or breathe."

There you have it! Looking back, it actually was a fun project and I'm guessing (hoping/praying) they learned SOMETHING from it. Social Studies test is on Monday, so I'll keep you posted! :)

**P.S. To share in my misery, one of the other 4th grade teachers found out the next day that one of her students had used pizza dough instead of salt map dough. Hello, smelly, rotten yeast and ant infestation! Oh, just another day in the life!! :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Medical Condition??

The transition from 3rd grade to 4th grade is actually a tough one, believe it or not. In 3rd grade, students still get babied by teachers, have bathrooms in their classrooms, and are young and sweet. Welcome to 4th grade and you're only one year away from being at the top of the school, you have a major growth spurt (often including puberty and all that fun stuff) and the teachers give you SOOOO much work (as per my students when I gave them THREE 8-problem worksheets for homework tonight!). Sometimes the transition goes smoothly (especially for the kids who grow 2 feet over the summer), and sometimes it's a little more rough. Take for instance, my student Ronnie (name changed for confidentiality... and his self-dignity).
According to his second and third grade teachers, Ronnie has come a far way in the 'growing up' arena. Unfortunately for the boy, he had a lonnnnng way to go! I knew he was going to be one of my little pet projects on day one when he started crying... I mean, tearing up... because he ran out of time to finish his "All About Me" poster before they called him for dismissal. I caught him on his way out the door and reminded him that "Now we're in 4th grade and crying is not acceptable. We use words to figure out our problems and things will get fixed much easier.
(Nods head with extreme tear-stained face.)
"You can finish that activity tomorrow."
"Ok." (stopped crying)
"Now, how easy was that?"

Day 2, no crying. Yes, we're making progress.
Day 3, messed up on coloring his map of Virginia and open the flood gates. "Ronnie, we talked about this. Crying won't solve the problem. Tell me what's wrong so we can fix it."
"I'm not crying. I have a medical condition. This just happens when I get upset."
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Right." (That may or may not be a paraphrase.)


Day 4-7, no crying.
Day 8, Palmer Pride Night (see previous post for details). Mom shows up and asks how he's doing. I gave the usual "He's great. Trying really hard. Pleasure to have in class" schpiel. The conversation continues and we finally get to the point where she says, "Ok, how's he really doing?" I slyly mention the fact that he has an issue with crying and mom acknowledges it and says they're working on it at home, too! At this point, Ronnie pipes up and claims, "MOM! It's a medical condition, remember? I told you about this! It's not crying! It's just that when something is too frustrating my tear-sacs break and the water comes out of my eyes!!"
Mom: "Oh, right. That's not a medical condition. That's called crying."

At least I can count on his mom for some sort of sanity this year! :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Palmer Pride Night!

Due to all of the construction at our school over the summer (see previous post), our school was not ready in time for Open House. As a result, we had to borrow the cafeteria of a local middle school to have our little Meet and Greet event. It actually turned out to be a hit and I had more parents show up than I've ever had at one of those events! The middle school is much closer to the East End of Newport News where a lot of our kids are bussed from, so I'm thinking that was a huge contributing factor!

Anyway, because one of the biggest plugs of Open House (besides meeting the teacher!) is to see your child's new classroom, we had Open House Round 2 (aka Palmer Pride Night) last night at school. It was very similar to what Back to School Night will be like next month, so I'm not sure what exactly we'll do at that! :) I had seven of my students show up, which, considering we were in the middle of a torrential downpour, it was at 5:30 at night (and most of my kids don't get off the bus until 5), we just had Open House 2 weeks ago, and it was the same night as NNPS High School Open House, I was pleased with that turn-out! The school did provide hot dogs, chips, and fruit snacks, so that was probably more of a draw then seeing the room, but who knows!

It was a good night and ANYtime the parents come see the teacher is a good thing! My favorite part of the evening was definitely one of the comments from one of my student's moms. She said, "My daughter used to dread coming to school last year and this year she loves it and can't wait!!"
Bonus points for her. :) Haha. But seriously, hopefully that doesn't change all year!! I used to LOVE school and I want my kids to have that same love!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back in Business!

Holy moly. 8 days down already! So much to write about, but since I promised I'd post about Day 1, I'll start there and save the rest for another day!
Before you can fully appreciate the craziness of the first day (week!?) of school, you need a little background. At the end of last school year, we found out our school was going to have new air conditioning units installed in every room and our roof replaced. As we found out later, we did get new air conditioners, but while installing them, the workers came across a pretty serious case of asbestos. All progress on the A/Cs got put on hold and a substantial amount of time was taken to clear all the mold and make sure the school was safe. Needless to say, things did NOT turn out as scheduled and exactly one week before the first day of school we were given the go-ahead to get in our rooms and start setting up. Now, this may seem like a lot of time to some of you non-teachers, but you need to remember that during this week there was a) a weekend, b) scheduled meetings to attend, c) construction workers/electricians/technology workers swarming the building and running in and out of rooms, setting up ladders all over the place, and making a big mess all over! Additionally, because of all the construction, all of our rooms had an extra layer of dust on them, no SmartBoards installed, open wires poking out of walls, etc., and no new roof that we were promised. :)
But, as they say, "whatever doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger" and that's what happened. Our school staff pulled together to make the building look beautiful for opening day (along with some WONDERFUL friends who came in and lent a hand in my room!). I'm beginning to think that a "normal" classroom set-up may never exist for me... First Year= craziness because it was my first year, Second Year= changed classrooms a week before school started, Third Year= this!

All that to say, it was a stressful start to the school year and when I showed up on day 1 things were a little hectic. I had a to-do list that stretched from here to the moon and no time to do it! My first clue that it would be an interesting day (as if I didn't know upon arriving!) was when a mother and son walked to my room at 8:15 (kids aren't supposed to come until 8:45!) and she let me know that he was new to Palmer and the office had just told her he was placed in my room. This brought my student total up to 26. Oh boy. It actually turned out to be a blessing (at the time!), because I was able to put him to work with a few last minute tasks (taping down name tags, passing out papers, etc) while I focused on some other issues. Somewhere during the next 30 minutes, I gave myself a paper cut (a bad one requiring a tight band-aid!), made some copies, re-confirmed that there were no working printers or internet at the school and got another new student. Oh yeah... and met with the Assistant for my Visually Impaired student and got a "Brailling Machine 101" lesson.

The rest of the kids started to come down around 8:45. For future reference, if any students show up in your room not knowing which class they're in, DON'T volunteer to take him or her to ask the principal unless you're looking to up your numbers. That's right, now we were at 27. By 9:15 all the busses had arrived and the cafeteria was empty so we got started with the day. Only 3 of the kids on the roster didn't show, so the room is definitely full! (Side note: They didn't show at all during the first 8 days, so have officially been taken off my roster. I did get another new girl on day 3, so I'm sitting at 25 students right now. It's a big class for me, but it's definitely manageable and I'm not complaining since I know other teachers with more!)

I'm not sure how many times I said the words "rules" and "respect" and "Wacek" on that day, but it was worth it, I'm sure! :) The day went quite seamlessly, except for my BRAND NEW A/C going out at lunchtime and us all sweating our ways through the afternoon. We played lots of the corny little "get to know you" games that everyone loves and sent the little angels on the way!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kanur-Cahn-Knot - First Ever Wacek Bake-Off!

Last weekend, my relatives all had a family reunion in Minnesota at my Uncle's house. Since mom, Molly, and I were just getting back from Indonesia, we weren't able to make it. Stacy and Katie couldn't go because of work. So, naturally, we decided to have our own little "Wacek Women's Wonderful Weekend." It really didn't consist of much... sorting through "stuff" to get ready for a yard sale, playing LOTS of games, dinner at Katie's house, etc. To spruce it up a little, I came up with the idea of a bake-off. Now, generally, with most families, this would just be a fun little healthy competition. Most of you who are reading this probably know that the Waceks are not "most families," though, and we are known for taking things to a whole new level. So, while at dinner at Katie's, we sat and talked (debated/argued/used physical force) to come up with the rules for the bake-off.

The first rule was coming up with the "secret ingredient". Obviously it would be too difficult to judge all the different foods if there were no limits. We threw around some ideas... peanut butter, coconut, walnuts, chocolate chips... but after deciding those were too plain or Steph and Katie didn't like them, we came up with Oreos and all agreed. Rule #1: Must contain Oreos.
Then, to make it difficult, we decided on Rule #2: The recipe you find/use cannot originally contain Oreos. That must be a special addition on your part. We didn't want anyone just googling "the best oreo recipes".
Other rules:
3) Must be completed by 5 pm.
4) It can or cannot be baked (this one took a LOT of discussion, hence the name of the bake-off!). 
5) You must wear a hat while baking (I have no idea WHAT this has to do with anything, but it made it on the rule list!).


After we had all of the rules, we spent some time discussing what the dishes would be judged on... aka, created a rubric (I told you, we NEVER do anything small-scale or normal!).

  
Once the rubric was created and the rules were in place, it was time for the games to begin. Early the next morning, we all headed over to the grocery store, got the necessary ingredients (mom being SUPER secretive all the while), and went home to start baking! Mom, continuing to be overly-secretive insisted that no one was allowed to enter the kitchen while she was 'baking', would not tell anyone her ingredients, and accused us of cheating if we asked her ANY questions (even ones that were totally unrelated... "Mom, where's my blue shirt?" "CHEATER!"). Let's just say, I think we know where we get our competitive-bones from.

Five o'clock finally arrived and the big reveal and feasting began!

Unfortunately, Stacy's procrastination and lack of cupcake holders resulted in her creation not baking long enough and they crumbled onto the plate. Name: Cupcooks (Cupcakes with cookie batter inside, topped with homemade oreo frosting.) 5th place.




Molly didn't realize that it was a dessert bake-off and tried to go all healthy on us. Name: Fro-Yoreo (Strawberry frozen yogurt with oreo mixed in!) Really yummy, but not sweet enough to compete with the others. 4th place.
Steph's lacked substance. It was supposed to be more of a cheesecake, but instead was too fluffy and unsatisfying. Name: Layers of Original Remarkable Enjoyable Outstanding Delight. 3rd Place.

Katie's was too run-of-the-mill. Oatmeal bars with oreos mixed in. She heard they were better the second day, and it was true! Name: Whole Lotta Love Handles... and how true it was! 2nd Place.

Mom worked in a restaurant for 30 years... can't beat that. She actually should have probably lost more points for originality because Stacy was the first to say she was going to make a trifle/truffle, but when mom saw this bowl unused, she knew Stacy had decided on something different and snagged the idea! Name: "Trifle, Truffle, Trufle. Doesn't really matter because the real name is Winner!" How right she was! First place!
 
Since the whole thing was such a hit, we decided to go bigger and badder next time. We've already set into motion a 12-person entree bake-off for Christmas time with the other Wacek family. More rules, better rubric, and I'm sure wayyyyy more intense! I can't wait!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Updates and Changes

Dear Faithful Blog Followers,

I understand that it has been approximately a month and a half since my last post. The obvious reason is because it is summertime and I don't have a classroom full of students doing ridiculous and hilarious things. The other reason is because I joined up with my sister, Molly, to create a blog about our recent month long adventure to Indonesia. If you didn't jump onto that bandwagon/weren't aware, you can read all about the past month of my life here.

Since I had a lot of fun blogging about my daily adventures and other happenings, I decided that from here on out, this blog will continue to be primarily school-based (stories about the events of my classroom), but will also involve more about my day-to day. Hopefully this will a) give me more to write about and allow the blog to be more frequently updated and b) not turn any of you away. :)

Let me know if you have any feedback (questions, comments, suggestions, etc!!). Stay tuned for stories about the remaining month of my summer!

Love, Stephanie

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What the SOL Tests Taught Me

We just finished up with all of our end-of-year standardized testing. It was less stressful than last year for multiple reasons (later in the year, my second year administering them, different group of kids, etc....), but it was still stressful nonetheless. The week before, during, and after, I learned a lot about myself, my kids, and the SOL tests in general. Let me share a few of my revelations with you here...

1) I am an internally violent person. Now, it's not something you would notice just by looking at me... or even by spending time with me. But, if you were to observe my thoughts while I watched my kids take these tests, you would most definitely judge me. It is PAINFUL to stand behind a student who is testing and watch them select wrong answers. It is even MORE painful to stand behind a student and watch them select wrong answers simply because he or she is too lazy to read a passage or give the best effort. It may or may not have gone through my head on multiple occasions that I really wanted to slap (literally) some sense into some of the kids (or possibly worse in the most extreme of circumstances). Additionally, my students understood the seriousness of my words when I told them there was to be NO talking until the last test was submitted, so I didn't have to follow through on any hypothetical threats of corporal punishment. Thankfully, though, as I discovered, all of my violence is internal and no children were harmed in the taking of the tests. :)

2) My kids are royalty. So, on the occasions where I wasn't threatening their well-being, my alternative was to wait on my students hand and foot. I have a couple of students who can get VERY moody and overly emotional, which always results in them shutting down mentally. So as to avoid any melt-downs, I was walking on eggshells for the half-hour or so before each test. I'm quite sure my students could ask me to give them hundreds of dollars, let them have recess for the rest of the year, or be their best friend and I would agree, if it was a testing morning. :) It's a fine line between trying to maintain some semblance of control over the class, but at the same time, wanting everyone to be in overly-cheerful, determined-to-succeed moods. Again, we achieved success and no major emotional issues played a role in this year's testing!

3) Kids will be kids. The first 4th grade SOL this year was Reading. Since it's known to be a very loooong, draining test, I wanted to make sure my kids had plenty of sustaining energy (not just "sugary-cereal" energy!). Thus, the night before the test, I bought fresh blueberries (full of antioxidants and brain boosters!) and made homemade, healthy blueberry muffins. I brought those in and served them with bananas and Kool-Aid (which actually has substantially less sugar than Juicy Juice and the other "healthy" juice boxes!).
With the food also came a motivating message. :)
Most of the kids ate the muffins and I only heard a few complaints about kids not liking bananas. Overall, though, it was just kind of a lax morning with some treats from the teacher. Well, test scores came back quickly and were not as impressive as they should have been, so I was disappointed in my kids. The night I got our scores, I was pretty bummed and unmotivated to make any goodies for the test the next day. Upon arriving to school, I realized I really couldn't let them go into the test without some sort of pepping up (see lesson #2 above!), so I broke out a bag of LifeSaver Wint-o-Green mints (which are supposedly good for the brain?) and Smarties. I placed two of each on each child's desk and HOLY MOLY! You'd have thought every student won the lottery with the way their faces lit up when they saw their desks. They were all smiles going into that test, and wouldn't you know it? The scores were better! This was about the time I remembered that kids are just kids, and fancy-schmancy or healthy doesn't mean a whole lot to them if it's not sweet! So, taking my cue, I decided to make breakfast cookies for our final SOL (Math). I searched long and hard to find a recipe that I thought looked both tasty and healthy. I went and bought everything, whipped 'em up and brought them in. To make sure all were pleased, I also threw out some water bottles, Smarties and orange slices with the cookies.

I made it loud and clear as soon as everyone had arrived that it was a brand-new breakfast cookie recipe and I would not be offended if they didn't like them. That announcement was unnecessary, though, because I heard ooohs, ahhhs, and yummmmys all over the classroom. When these scores came back, they were the highest of all! YAY!


4) Wheat germ is a real thing. Who knew? It was one of the ingredients called for in the aforementioned breakfast cookie recipe. Apparently it's the core of a wheat grain and is very healthy for you somehow or another. It took me about 15 minutes of walking up and down the baking goods aisle of the grocery store before I finally found it, but, hey, if it works! :)

5) I'm beginning to believe all the complaints about Standardized Testing! Upon first starting my teaching career (last year!), I didn't think the SOL tests were all that bad. Sure, it made the curriculum very tight and uniform, but considering I had NO clue what 4th graders were supposed to learn, I found it to be beneficial in focusing and guiding my instruction. Now, as I sort of have an idea of what I'm doing, it's becoming much more constricting. Everything has to be taught with an exact language in a very specific number of days.
While I can deal with the teaching part of it, another issue that I now have with the SOL tests is that after a year of working with my students, teaching them how to read, seeing them grow to have a love for reading and watching them read chapter book after chapter book, a score from a 2-hour block of time decides whether or not they know how to read. Sure, they're not the strongest readers ever, but at the same time, I know that most of them are reading at a fourth grade level and should've been able to pass a fourth grade reading test. It's just frustrating that that test is all or nothing and now our school is suffering as a result of school test scores. Buttttttt, since I don't see the tests going anywhere anytime soon, I guess it's time to figure out how to get my kids passing!!

I'm sure I learned plenty more from the tests, but for now, I'm just glad they're over!! :) Summertime is just around the corner!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My 4th Grade Experience

Every quarter, we are required to formally score 3 writings from each student. Seeing as it's the end of the year, I decided to have my students reflect back on their year. I took Monday off as a "mental health day" and had the substitute administer this prompt:

Fourth grade is almost over! We've done a LOT of learning and growing. Please write a paper (to be graded) about your 4th grade experience. You should include:
- An introduction
- Your favorite part(s) of 4th grade
- Your least favorite part(s) of 4th grade/what you would've changed
- Some advice for Ms. Wacek's students next year
- A Conclusion

Before turning it in, please check for spelling, grammar, organization, and neatness.

So that I'm not stressed out later in the week trying to get all my writings scored at the same time as report cards and everything else that comes with this time of year, I was trying to knock a whole bunch out tonight... To calm myself from a stressful day, I turned on some "soft hits" (bad idea!), sat back and started reading. Not even into the second paper, I thought I might lose it. My kids are INCREDIBLE. Not their actual spelling and grammar, per say, but their ideas. :) Reading these papers after a day like today when I felt like all I did was yell at them, they reminded me of exactly why I do what I do, and why I love what I do. :) Aside from their papers so clearly illustrating just how unique and specal each one of them is (some loved social studies, some hated social studies, some couldn't get enough math and some couldn't take another day of math, etc), allowing me a trip down memory lane over the past year, and thinking about each of their special personalities, I was touched by what some of them wrote about me (some of them touched my funny bone, but most of them touched my heart!). Since I can't say it any better than them, I'll give you some examples (mom, again, you'll need tissues.. I sure did!).

"Don't be afraid to talk to people. But there is a time and place and when Ms. Wacek is talking, that's not the time, trust me, I know."

"...This year in 4th grade, we made good friends. Along the way, we let each other down, but we still always love each other (kind of)..."

"In 4th grade, my favorite subject was science, math, and reading..... In 4th grade, my least favorite subject is social studies..... In 4th grade, my favorite food is chicken patty and fries." WHAT? Where was that part of the prompt?! :)

"I would change some of my friends and not hang out with the people that will get in trouble." Well, if he didn't learn anything else this year, that's a pretty solid life lesson, I'd say!

"The advice I have for Ms. Wacek is to treat them like you treated us when they do something bad. You need to discipline them, too. And you don't want to strain your voice." Haha. Thanks for lookin' out, kid!

"Ms. Wacek - next year, give 3 tickets for blue, 2 tickets for green, and 1 ticket for yellow, and try to be nicer." 

"In 4th grade, I loved Math and Science. I was nervous for everything. I did not like the tests because I'm bad at some of them. But, when my teacher believed in me, I did it!" If that doesn't pull on your heart strings, I'm pretty sure you might be heartless!

"The second thing I like about the 4th grade is the teachers. Well, I don't know about all of the teachers, but mine is nice enough. If you need help, she will help you. Please keep teaching me the best you can 'til the end of the year. I just want to say thank you for all the things you have taught me this year."

"I think the school year should've lasted longer. The school year went by quick!" Don't hear that everyday from a 10-year-old on the verge of summer!!

"My teacher Ms. Wacek can be mean. But, she never lets us down and we never let her down. We really care about her and she does too! I will miss my class, but not 4th grade!" This may or may not have been the point at which I completely broke down. Haha.

"I like the way we always do cool projects and things like that. I like how we get candy for things we are already going to do like push in our chairs. That's cool. What I don't like: Nothing. This place is perfect."

"Some advice: Kids, you better watch out because Ms. Wacek is going to blow you away!"

The number of times I messed up this year are innumerable. The number of wrong answers my kids got over the past year are countless. But, when it's all said and done, if I was able to show each of them his or her value and worth and they were able to understand just how important and special they are, it was all worth it. Since it's only my second year teaching, I don't know if I'll be one of those teachers that students look up 20 years down the road and come back and thank for making a difference in their lives. But for what it's worth, at least for now, these 20 little 4th graders can feel loved, valued and smart.

And for future reference, listening to "soft hits" while reading any of the above make them 100x more emotional and touching. :)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pollination

During my own school years, I was always a Math and Science girl. As I'm finishing up my second year, it's amazing to me how much that affects my teaching. Now, I've come to really appreciate Social Studies and find the history of Virginia fascinating, but when it's all said and done, it still seems kind of pointless. :) My passions are pretty evident in my teaching, I think and the majority of my students are obsessed with Math and Science...!

Since we put our Science curriculum on hold for a little while in order to get ready for the VA Studies SOL test, now that we're done with that test, we're ALL about Science in Room 21! We are smack-dab in the middle of our study on plants and it's been so much fun! Science is such a blast because it's SO hands-on and exciting! Now, you're all probably wondering how learning about pollination can be hands-on, so let me tell you... :) Last week, we learned about the parts of a plant and the parts of a flower (as soon as I introduced the Pistil as the female reproductive organ, I instantly had the undivided attention of 20 little 10-year-olds!.. along with one boy asking me if he was supposed to get parent permission to participate in this "Family Life Lesson"). As part of that instruction, the kids got a chance to build their own flower out of a plastic cup and a flower template (pictures forth-coming!) and got an opportunity to dissect a flower. They were each given a petunia and step-by-step we broke it apart and found the Stamen, Pistil, Sepal, and Petals. The activity was met with mixed reviews as some students couldn't wait to tear their flowers apart, while others were being extra stubborn and claiming I couldn't make them ruin a perfectly good flower. (After reassuring them the flower was dead the moment I plucked it from the stem, they all conceded and we were able to move on!)

After reviewing the parts of the flower (which they remembered surprisingly well after a long weekend!), we read a short article about Pollination and then got to the "experiment." We had to discuss ways flowers attracted pollinators (bright petals and nectar), the role of the pollinators, and the process of fertilization. To make sure the information would never be forgotten, I pulled out some cheese-puffs and Starbursts. Again, 20 sets of eyes were locked on me! I poured some of the Cheetos into a bowl and poured some Starbursts in on top. I shook it up a little and then asked a student to act like a pollinator and come get some nectar. At first, she was extremely confused, but after some guidance from her classmates, she was able to figure out that the Starbursts represented the nectar. After she retrieved a Starburst, I asked her to notice if she'd picked anything else up from the bowl. She looked at her hand and pointed out the orange cheese-crumbs that had rubbed off while she was digging around. Through some coaxing, she was quickly able to make the connection to pollen and then rattled off the steps of fertilization to me. I repeated the process with a few more students until I was sure they all got it! I knew the information had sunk in when all of a sudden, one of my girls shouted out, "Ms. Wacek, the nectar is good, but can I please eat a Stamen (the pollen producer... aka a Cheese-Puff!)?" Haha. I LOVE the stuff they come up with!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When I grow up....

Career Day isn't happening until June 9th, but a few of my kids have already begun the discussion of what they want to be when they grow up. Two of their career options I find hilarious, so will share them with you. :)

One of my students tells me every day that he has 3 basketball courts by his house.. one in his backyard, one in his neighbor's yard and one at the park across the street. One of the last times he told me this, I told him he must be pretty good and that he should make sure and remember his 4th grade teacher when he gets to the NBA and becomes the next Michael Jordan. He looked at me with a goofy grin and said, "Well, yeah, I would, but I'm not going to the NBA... I'm going to be a comedian." Now, until you meet this child, that statement probably won't even make you think twice. But the minute you saw him or talked to him, you'd realize just how incredible it truly was. He's the one that I continuously mention as having not said a word the whole first half of the year and then basically overnight becoming Mr. Outgoing! He's still very soft-spoken though and his jokes usually occur for only a few lucky few to hear. To discover some more about his future plans, I asked him some questions like "Who's your favorite comedian?" (Bernie Mac, I believe was his answer), "Do you watch a lot of comedy shows?" (Yeah, sometimes.) and then my favorite answer ever happened.... "Can you tell me a joke? Do you have some funny ones?"
Student: "Ms. Wacek! I don't have or know any funny jokes.... I AM the joke!"

Hahahaha. :) Enough said?

Another student, the most popular in my room, has told me on multiple occasions that he is going to be President some day. I guaranteed him that he had the ability (he's smart, good-looking, knows how to get people to do stuff for him, etc..!) and I would definitely vote for him. He didn't seem impressed and continued with, "Want to know why I want to be President?"
Me: "To change the government?"
Student: "Nope! Because I'm going to be the first president to sag my skinny jeans!"

Ok, I take back my promise to vote for you...... :)

What I wouldn't give to spend a day inside their little heads, it seems so much more exciting!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kid-isms

We're down to less than a month less before summer and I have to admit, the year has flown. It seems like just about every day now, I look out at my students and think to myself, "wow, it honestly feels like I just met these little ones!" It's really amazing to me how a class can grow and develop and bond throughout a school year. I mean, I guess if you look at it logistically, we are a group of 20-25 people spending a large majority of our waking hours together, but still.. :)
At this point in the year, everyone is so ready for summer vacation and I find myself getting easily annoyed with my kids and them getting easily annoyed with me. But, then one of them will do something and I just can't help but smile and think of all the fun times we've had this year and how special each of them is. I've become especially fond of some of their unique little quirks, hopefully you can get a small taste... you'd have to come meet them to get the full dose.
One of my students is a big ham and loves living it up in front of the class. He also has a catchphrase that he uses whenever he gets an answer wrong or hears news he doesn't like. This particular student will definitely stick with me for a long time, along with his everyday proclamation of "Aww, Pickles!" :)
Another student who I will remember for years to come can ALWAYS make me smile by sticking his fist in the air and bobbing his head while shouting "Fist Pump!" No matter what is happening, just remember, a fist pump will make everything better.
The student who started out the first half of the year without saying a word has become quite the class clown and everyone is enamored by him. He is constantly making witty comments and piping in at just the right moment. He has also started doing this thing where anytime the class hears good news and are cheering, he does a super awkward, extra long and drawn out, off-pitch yell. Since he finishes after everyone else is done, everyone stares at him with perplexed faces and then bursts into laughter.

I'm sure I'll take lots of memories of each student away with me, but those are just a few that come to mind every time I think of those students.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Class Pets

Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I am not an animal person. I don't hate them, but I can definitely see a lot better ways to spend my time, money, clean clothes, fresh air, etc than owning one... :) It's something I've inherited, so if you have a problem with it, blame my mom.
At the beginning of the year, I thought about sucking up my selfishness and getting a class pet for the kids. I weighed the pros and cons and when it was all said and done decided that my students would love me either way. Haha! Well, Danielle loves animals, so getting a class pet for her room was no question. She really wanted a bunny, but when that didn't work out, she settled on two guinea pigs. She let the kids name them and they chose "Bella" and "Angelina" (note the Twilight and Jersey Shore references from our 10-year-olds!!).
Well, ever since we got back from Winter Break, Danielle had been saying that Angelina was getting skinnier and not being as responsive and what not. I gave her my sympathy and advice (which was something quite brilliant, I'm sure!), but then didn't give it much thought... because, as I've said, I have better things to do with my time! :)
Turns out, that in February, one of the major reasons of me not wanting a class pet happened... Angelina died. Now, I'll admit, it was sad. But, with all the stress that I experienced because of it, it only reconfirmed my decision to not get a class pet ever... or at least for a long time. During February, Danielle was experiencing some medical issues and had to take off a few days of work. It just so happened that Angelina chose to die on a day that Danielle was out!
First thing in the morning on that dreadful day, I walked in to make sure the sub was doing okay and everything was in order and there was a scare that the guinea pig might be dead because they were having a hard time getting her to move or eat. She wasn't, but it was obvious her time was coming. I texted Danielle and she said she was going to take her to the vet the next day. Well, Angelina didn't make it and as soon as we brought the kids in from recess I had 4 kids running into my room to tell me the pet was dead. Unfortunately, since we all know how 4th graders like to talk, the news spread around the school like wildfire! Before I could even devise a plan for how to handle the situation, I had at least 4 teachers from all across the school come to tell me that the animal was dead.... um, hello. a) I work across the hall from her, b) her students practically see me as their second teacher (and mine, her!), and c) why don't YOU take care of the dead animal since clearly you have so much interest and time on your hands?!
Anyway, while all of those teachers were dropping by, another teacher also heard the news and snatched up the whole guinea pig cage from her room and toted it down to the teacher's lounge! Now, quick thinking in getting the cage out of the room, but not the best choice of placement since there were teachers in there still eating lunch! Haha. Ew! After some discussion, she moved the cage out of the teacher's lounge, into the janitors' office until she was able to find a moment to wrap Angelina up and clean out the cage for Bella.
Thankfully, with the animals out of sight, I was able to regain some semblance of control over both classes and we resumed with our regularly scheduled programming. After the kids were loaded on the buses, the teacher who had prepared Angelina for burial (also known around our school as the pet/bug whisperer, among other names) pulled me outside and demanded that we give the animal a proper burial (remember when I said I had better uses for my time?)! We gave a quick eulogy and dug up a little grave so that Angelina can forever be a part of Palmer Elementary. :)
Needless to say, I was more than pleased when Danielle came back to school the next day! 
She surveyed the whole playground until she found the perfect spot!

The perfect little coffin.. and yes, we made sure not to bury the plastic bag!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pep Rally!

So, along with Super Hero day, May 13th also happened to be the day of our annual SOL pep rally. Now, I was on the student programming board while I was at CNU, so I know a thing or two about planning big events, but holy cow this pep rally took a lot out of me!
Since Danielle and I found out about the pep rally and were asked to plan the pep rally in the same meeting, only 2 weeks before it was to happen, we were a little stressed! We both brought our ideas to the table of what we wanted to see and how we could make it even better than last year's. We immediately sent out some emails and got to work, but it seemed like everything still came down to the last minute!

The definite highlight of the day was the CNU basketball team sending 5 players out to put on a show! They were the first people we asked to be there, but since school had already let out for the semester, we weren't sure if anyone would be around. Thankfully it all worked out and they were awesome! In one of my many e-mails to Coach K, I told him to let his players know that they should prepare to be idolized... well, I don't know if they were prepared, but they were definitely idolized! It was honestly like the students were watching the top players from the NBA participating in the most prestigious and intense dunking contest ever! (....I haven't watched the NBA in 15 years so can't be more specific with names and titles!...)

Anyway, their show involved them running in through the side door and doing a few lay-ups and dunks and getting the kids totally pumped! Then, the coach introduced each of the players... Two of the players were current high school seniors who had signed to play at CNU next year, two were CNU underclassmen and one was a CNU senior. One of the HS seniors had actually attended Palmer back in 4th grade, so that was even more awesome! After introductions were over, the coach took some volunteers from the audience to play a game of Knock-Out against the players. He chose one teacher from 3rd, 4th and 5th and two 5th grade boys. I was running down to my room to grab something while he was choosing his players, but was told later that half of the fourth graders chanted my name when he asked for a 4th grade teacher. (Clearly they've seen my moves during my pick-up recess games!) I was so ticked, I LOVE Knock-Out!! :) Anyway, before the game started, the coach promised tickets to a CNU basketball game to the whole grade level based on whichever teacher won. Well, since neither the 3rd nor 4th grade teacher knew how to play, the game was pretty much handed to the 5th grade teacher... except for his little student who almost ended up beating him! Amid the loud cheers from the 5th graders, Coach K came back and announced that actually he had enough tickets for every student and teacher for a game next year... pretty amazing, if you ask me! After the game was over, the players held a mini dunking contest and had the kids cheer for the winner. It turned out to be the former Palmer student, so he got the privilege of giving a little pep talk and making sure to emphasize the importance of education and doing your best! When he was done, they went around giving high-5s and creating a full-on riot, which we quickly ended and sent them on their way!
I made sure to tell the Coach that the more personality the players had, the better! They definitely took that and ran with it!
The 4th grade teacher that ended up getting chosen, was also one that had been selected to be a Kung Fu Panda for the day (although she looked/acted more like a Leprechaun Panda!) Maybe I shouldn't feel so honored that the kids wanted me to represent them.... :)
 
The Slam Dunk Champ!
After the b-ball players left, to get the kids to calm back down, we played a slide show that I had put together to motivate them! Another reason I love my job.... I get to listen to High School Musical and Miley Cyrus as part of my daily research and homework. :) If you're interested in watching, let me know and I'll send you the link. I'm not allowed to post it on here for privacy reasons.. Mom, beware, you'll probably end up crying!

When the slideshow was done, we proceeded with a skit by the Guidance Counselor and her 5th grade drama club, a step/cheer by a couple of 5th grade girls, a pep talk from our Assistant Principal, one of our interventionists leading the kids in the song "I've Got a Feeling -- SOL Version" and lots of people handing out SOL Survival Kits on their way out the door. 

It was an incredible event and the excitement and joy felt around the building was amazing and totally worth all the hours put into it! Lots of people have already started asking what we have planned for next year... only time will tell!! :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Super Teachers!

To save the best for last, Danielle and I decided to end our Spirit Days with Super Hero day. "Show us your super brain powers and pass the tests!" was the motto. I LOVE Super Hero movies and couldn't wait to go all out for this day. We started brainstorming immediately about how we could be super superheroes and I was very pleased with the results! I love being artsy, so I volunteered to make super hero shirts for Danielle, Peter and myself and also to make capes for all of us. Once they both told me which super heroes they wanted to be, I got to work! Peter insisted on being the Green Lantern, even though NOBODY had a clue who that was or what his power is (I'm still a little unclear.. but the movie comes out this summer, so hopefully that'll clear it all up!). Danielle was SuperBozung (spin off of Superman) and I was Wonder Wacek (known to others as WonderWoman).
None of my kids asked me what my super powers were, but I wish they would have because I was ready. While I was out walking with one of my friends last weekend, he asked me what my super powers were and I said, "Making students learn, it truly does take some magic!"... he said that was good, but not good enough. Then, he suggested that maybe my super powers could be super-hearing or super-eyesight. As soon as he said it, I realized that I didn't need a cape to make me a super-teacher, it just naturally happened. I'm pretty sure all teachers have the superpower of being able to see and hear their students misbehaving from just about anywhere in the school. :) I can't even count the number of times my students have asked me, "How did you know I was coloring/passing notes/not paying attention/playing/etc)?" Before, my answer was always, "I know everything!" (which they always seemed surprisingly okay with!), but from here on out, it will definitely be, "Because I have supersonic eyesight and hearing." :)

While I was fully decked out in Superhero, my students did not impress me with their dressing up. I had some that were super cute (a tinkerbell superhero with a homemade cape!, a girl with leggings and a fleece blanket tied around her neck, a boy with Superman pajamas with built in six-pack (he wore it underneath jeans and a button up shirt with a few buttons unbuttoned.. I was pretty sure there was a phone booth nearby that he was going to pop into at any second!), and a couple kids with superhero t-shirts) but in general, they didn't know what to do for the occasion. Since I had some leftover face paint from painting Peter's Green Lantern mask, I was offering face painting to them throughout the day for the kids that I caught on best behavior.

We tried to get a picture before all the students came, but the one student we asked clearly had never taken a picture before! Then, for the rest of the day, every time we tried to take a group shot, something came up!

My 1-minute Super Man face painting symbol!

After school we could finally breathe long enough to take a picture... but Danielle had already changed out of her costume and left for an appointment! Oh well, she promised to wear it again at some point!

Super Teacher - "Changing the world, one student at a time!"

Wonder Wacek, The Green Lantern, and The SOL Fairy Godmother!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Backwards Day!

In continuing the Spirit Days, we came up with Backwards Day! The slogan for this day was, "You need to know your information forward and backwards!" It turned out to be a lot harder than one might think to dress for Backwards Day. Sure, I could have just thrown on a t-shirt backwards, but where's the fun in that? :)
It took me about 20 minutes the morning of Backwards Day (May 11) to finally decide upon a white shirt backwards with a big backwards belt (after trying a skirt, a dress, 2 different shirts and backwards jeans). I did have my capris on backwards at one point, but it was not obvious enough to make it worth the discomfort!! Backwards Day turned out to be very successful because it did not take a lot of planning ahead from the kids' perspective.... in other words, of the 18 students who showed up to school and had completely forgotten about Backwards Day, 17 of them just flipped their shirts around in the bathroom before coming down to the classroom! :)

It was awkward when someone walked into the school and saw us getting pictures taken of us from the backside. :)


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Twin Day!

We are officially in SOL mode now! For those of you from Virginia or who have lived here for a while, you know that SOL has two meanings. As far as the elementary school kids are concerned, it stands for Standards of Learning and are the basis for our end-of-year tests. As far as middle/high school students and everyone else is concerned, it stands for S*** Out of Luck. With only 5 days until our first test, I'm pretty sure that perfectly describes how all of the teachers are feeling right now. We've taught our hearts out for 150+ days and now it's up to the kids to make us proud. Since we're pretty much out of teaching and reviewing time, a lot of our focus now is going toward motivating the kids. Last year, we held an entire Spirit Week with a different dress up day each day and culminating in a Pep Rally. This year, as we started planning, there were a few complaints from teachers that the spirit week got the kids TOO hyped and they lost all focus and chance for last-minute instruction. SO, to compromise, we were given 3 days to do themed-dress up days and a pep rally, as long as we spread them out. (I say "we" because, as our principal got into planning mode, she realized Danielle and I were more qualified for the job... since she'd seen us go ALL OUT for all of the other spirit days!... so she delegated the planning responsibility to us!)
So, the planning started and was a lot harder than we expected! Since the dress up days had to somehow related to testing or good scores, it took a while to get the ideas rolling. After some lengthy, late night text conversations between Danielle and I, we finally narrowed it down to our top 3 choices (with 2 extra top choices that we'll save for next year!!). Our first spirit day was Wednesday, May 4. It was Twin Day. The catch phrase was "Good test scores make us see DOUBLE." (Don't judge. We were in a time crunch!)
It was amazing how stoked and concerned the kids were about this day. I announced it Monday morning (poor choice!) and for the REST of the day, all I heard and saw were kids planning, scheming, exchanging phone numbers, etc. It continued the next day so I was stoked about what I would see Wednesday when they arrived.
I, obviously, planned to match Danielle and we brainstormed an outfit that was different enough from our everyday, yet consisted of items which we both owned... or so we thought. Then, during recess, one of my students came up to me and said she couldn't find anyone to be her twin, so I told her she could match us if she had the same clothing items. Well, turns out, Danielle had done some spring cleaning and gotten rid of all of her jean skirts, so couldn't match me. Since I had already planned to match my student, I couldn't very well change outfits and leave her hanging, so unfortunately, Danielle and I were not twins... which, threw EVERYONE for a major loop and I think some of our kids may have actually hyperventilated when they first saw us and their predictions were totally wrong. :) Thankfully, my student came decked out in exactly what I had told her to wear, so I did have a twin!
Despite all the planning and phone calls, I only had about 4 sets of students who were 'twins,' but those 8 kids who did participate were adorable, so it was totally fine. :)

These boys got it right! One of them was upset because the other didn't dress PERFECTLY.. he forgot to wear the right shoes! The other boy claims mom wouldn't let him! :)

The extent of Danielle and my twin-ness!

Lots of people were severely disappointed. We definitely made up for it on the other Spirit Days, though!

My twin and me!