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!