Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Year Round vs. Traditional Calendar - One Teacher's Perspective

Let me begin by saying this blog post is 100% my opinion. Obviously, every school environment is unique, as is every teacher's experience. I am writing this post to simply share my own experience and opinion of pros and cons of each type of calendar. I do not have children of my own, so I have no opinion on how one or the other affects children at home.

I am 6 weeks into my 7th year of teaching and just came back from a 3 week break. I started school with students on July 10th. Teachers started on July 3rd for a week of professional development. The previous school year ended on June 30th. Working at a year round school has its pros and cons, as does working at a traditional school. One of the hardest parts of year round is the turn around from one school year to another and this year was the first year I had to make that quick turn around.

Not familiar with a year round (or balanced) calendar? Basically, a year round calendar allows for a school to accommodate more students within a school year. At my school, we have 4 tracks per grade level. Each track has 1-3 teachers depending on how many students there are enrolled in each grade for each track. (I am the only track 2 teacher in 5th grade at my school this year. Last year there was two track 2 teachers in 5th.) At any given time, there is always one track who is "out". Each track has 9 weeks in, 3 weeks off, on a repeating schedule.

A year round school calendar has always appealed to me. Being a childless introvert, I often found summer breaks to be somewhat boring after a few weeks. And throughout the traditional calendar school year, I found the time between January 2nd and the end of May to be extremely long and difficult to get through with very few breaks. But where I was working in Utah I didn't have an option to work year round, so I stuck with traditional. Once I decided to move to North Carolina, the search for a year round school was on!

I moved from Utah to North Carolina at the end of May 2016 and began my new job at a year round school in 5th grade at the beginning of July. At that point, I had some time off in between so the new school year transition wasn't difficult. It was exciting to know I had 6 weeks "tracked in" before I would have 3 weeks "tracked out" for a break. And then throughout the rest of the year, it would be 9 weeks in, 3 weeks off, repeatedly. The first 3 week break was a strange feeling - all of my teacher friends in Utah were just starting school as I was taking 3 weeks off. I didn't have much to do, being new to Raleigh, so I quickly became bored after 3 weeks, but found it to be better than 3 months off at once.

Throughout the 2016-2017 school year, I got used to the year round schedule and absolutely fell in love with it. My burn out rate had decreased dramatically, as did my students'. The summer slide didn't exist. It felt great to "have an end in sight" every 9 weeks when I was starting to feel twitchy from telling students for the thousandth time to pick up their garbage off the floor or look at the whiteboard for instructions. Overall, this schedule was much better for my overall personal health.

As a child, I attended a rural school in Pennsylvania that was a district that consisted of just one elementary (grades K-6) and one junior/senior high school (grades 7-12). I had no idea that year round school existed until I moved to Utah and began my education towards earning my teaching license. I found a year round calendar to be something that sounded perfect. After graduating from the University of Utah, I taught grade 2 for one year at a public school and four years at a public charter school teaching grades 4 and 6. At both schools, I saw the effects of summer slide, student and teacher burn out, and feeling like 3 months of my life was wasted not knowing what to do with myself.

Which do I prefer? I really enjoy the year round schedule, personally. Here are my pros and cons for the year round calendar.

  • Pro - Going on vacation for a reasonable price is easier to do on this calendar. With my breaks (on Track 2) I'm off in August, November, February, and May. I have a good variety of seasons to spend time doing things I enjoy and being able to travel when the rest of the world isn't (AKA summer break).
  • Con - Summer recesses in the south are HOT! Sometimes it's too hot and a heat advisory keeps us from going outside.
  • Pro - My appointments for things (doctor, car maintenance, hair cut, etc.) can be more regularly scheduled with ease since I know I'll be off every 9 weeks. I use less PTO for these things during the school year.
  • Con - The turn around from one school year to another is hard for certain tracks. Track 2 and 3 have the hard turn around at my school, as we don't have a break between the two school years. Also, Meet the Teacher is 2 weeks before the school year ends, so that was something odd for me.
  • Pro - The administrators and office staff at my school are the most amazing, dedicated people I know. They still take breaks throughout the year, but they are there far more days than the rest of us and they give it their all the whole year!
  • Con - I don't have my own classroom. This one was really hard for me. I chose to give up ownership to a lot of things in order to simplify the track in/out process for myself. I no longer have my own class library, supplies, decorated classroom, etc. I can do what I want in each room that I go into, but have to take everything down/out when I track out because someone else is moving into the room. Also, because of this fast turn around on my "track out day", someone is trying to move into the room while I'm trying to move out. We've made it work well at my school, but it is a difficult transition at times.
  • Pro - It's easier to share materials with grade level teammates because we typically tend to not be in the same exact spot in our curriculum at the same time since our schedules are staggered.
  • Con - Less time to prep between school years. One thing I loved doing over summer break was curriculum mapping. I'd spend weeks perfecting my map. Now I spend a lot less time on those things because I don't have the time to.
  • Pro - We take the EOG (state end of grade test) the second to last week of school (second to last week of June)! In Utah, we took the state test a month and a half before school ended. Being able to teach the curriculum in a reasonable amount of time in a school year feels much better!
If you had the chance to try out the opposite calendar (of what you currently teach), would you do it? Do you have experience with both? Share your experiences and opinions in the comments below!

Friday, November 18, 2016

10 Classroom Management Tips

Classroom management tips for the elementary classroom.

1. Hand Signals

Use hand signals to help keep interruptions to a minimum during lessons.
The "I Have Question" sign has since been fixed. 😉
Hand signals have saved my sanity. With hand signals, students can silently let you know what they need. I love that I can easily distinguish between a question, answer, and comment - that way, I can save the comments for later if we're crunched for time. 😉 The picture above is from last year when I taught 6th grade. I didn't need the hand signals for getting a drink, sharpening a pencil, or using the bathroom since students were free to do that whenever I wasn't teaching. I sell these posters in my store and they're editable so you can change them to fit your classroom's needs.

2. Countdown

Using a countdown helps students know how long they have to finish something. No more excuses of, "I didn't know how much time we had left, so I didn't finish". Hold students accountable for monitoring their time.
Use a countdown to help students manage their time.
My school was Kagan trained earlier this year and our principal bought all of the 5th grade classrooms the Kagan Cooperative Learning MegaTimer. It's expensive, but I use it all of the time. The timer also works as a clock, thermometer, random number generator, student number picker, stopwatch, and more.

If you have technology available in your classroom, you can always use apps or websites, such as Online Stopwatch to count down.

During transitions, I count down aloud from 10 to signal to students that I'm ready to begin. This helps students stop the chatter and get themselves situated for our lesson.

3. ClassDojo

ClassDojo helps keep parents involved in the classroom.
Back in July 2015, I wrote a blog post about using ClassDojo in the upper grades. I suggest you read that post, as I included a lot of information on how I set up my positives and negatives, reward system, and more.

I've used ClassDojo now for 3 years now (in grades 4, 5, and 6) and still love it. I can reward students for the positive things they're doing, as well as track things they need work on. Over the summer, ClassDojo added the option to be able to have negatives be neutral. I went that route this year, not wanting to "punish" kids who make mistakes, but track it for interventions and to keep parents informed.

Which brings us to the #1 reason I love ClassDojo so much - parent involvement. I don't have the time to send home notes, email, or call home every day. Life happens. With ClassDojo, parents can check in on their child whenever they want and see what awesome things they did during the day, or what they need to work on. The app also has a messenger feature, which is sometimes much easier than sending an email. A quick reminder from a parent that their child is being picked up early is always appreciated, but I don't really have the time to check my email all day long. Having the app on my phone and iPad, I can award points all day and have the messenger alert me if I have a new message from a parent.

4. Positive Notes

Give students a positive note to let them know how awesome they are!
Students, no matter what the age, appreciate some encouragement from their teacher. I’ve caught students pulling out a past note from their desk to re-read when they’re having a rough day. Totally worth the time to do this!

I made these notes to use in the classroom. I print them on colored paper (such as Astrobrights) and have them on hand to write out for students when I see something worth celebrating. I will stick the note into a student’s desk along with a piece of candy, raffle ticket, or school buck for them to find later. I also take a picture of the note, and send it to the student’s parents on ClassDojo’s messenger, along with a note thanking them for sharing their child with me.

Writing positive notes to students is so powerful. Even writing a quick note on a Post-It will do! Even my most challenging students treasure a positive note from me. It's a nice reminder that they are capable of great things.

5. Practice Procedures

This is one tip that I go back to over and over again all year long. Sometimes it's the whole class that needs to practice a procedure together - such as walking in a line, raising their hands to speak during a lesson, etc. I've had to practice walking through the halls appropriately with my class in the past. Taking 5 minutes during their recess to practice the procedure correctly did the trick and they were on point for the rest of the year.

Other times, it may be one student who needs the practice walking appropriately. I use this "learning opportunity" to connect with the student. We have 30 minute recess and teachers watch their own classes outside. While yes, this is somewhat my "break" time, taking 5 minutes to walk 2 laps around the track with a student who is struggling to act appropriately. I'm able to learn more about students with this one-on-one time and often learn why the student is acting out. Most of the time, they're just looking for attention. Giving them the 5 minutes of one-on-one time usually does the trick!

6. Teamwork Bingo

Use teamwork bingo to earn a reward as a class.
Teamwork Bingo is any easy way to encourage students to work together and do the right thing. As a class, you can decide what is worth of earning numbers and what prizes you earn towards. When students earn numbers, simply draw from a can and mark off the number. I laminated my bingo board and used a wet erase marker on the board to mark numbers.

7. Echo Directions

I have my students echo directions back to me before I let them begin on their own. I have them tell me where to turn something in, what to do when they finish, if they only need to do the odds, etc. If they say it back to me, I know they've heard what I've said. Sure, some still won't remember, but then I have them ask 3 before me.

8. Attention Getting Signal

"Give Me 5" signals for students to stop and listen to the teacher.
Having an attention getting signal has been so helpful for me - at all grade levels. I use "Give Me 5" with my students. This allows me to get my class' attention quickly and is both visual and auditory. Students are supposed to stop what they're doing, face me, and put their hand up in the air. Even if someone doesn't hear me, if they see others putting their hand up they know what to do. You can get these free Give Me 5 Posters by signing up for my email newsletter. They're in my freebie archive, along with several other exclusive freebies!

9. Monitor Noise Levels

I'm the type of teacher who appreciates a mostly quiet classroom while students work. Of course, students don't realize the noise level when they're working in groups so they need a way to monitor the noise that's expected.

Too Noisy monitors sound levels in the classroom.
A fun app that's available for both Android and iOS is Too Noisy. It uses the microphone on the tablet or phone to monitor the noise level. (You can change the sensitivity depending on the noise level that's appropriate for the activity.) The class earns stars if they don't "break" the screen (set off the alarm). There's both a free and pay version of the app.

Voice level poster indicate the appropriate sound level for activities in the classroom.
Another way to manage noise is to have voice level posters for students to visually see in the classroom. You can move an arrow or clip along the posters to indicate the expected voice level for the activity. I make it a class job to be in charge of moving the arrow because I always forget to.

10. Brain Breaks

Give your students a quick, energizing brain break throughout the day.
Who doesn't need a brain break every once in a while? Even I do when I'm working at home. Basically, anything to get kids out of their seats is a great brain break. But even better? Getting their wiggles out with GoNoodle.

GoNoodle is completely free for teachers. Grades 4, 5, and 6 love it - and my 6th graders were the biggest fans of all. It's evolved over the years and is definitely at its best now. You can search by energy level, category, duration, and even mark favorites to quickly visit when you log in. Doing a calming meditation before a test helps kids get their mind right. Stretching before recess gets students pumped up to play. Starting the day off with a guided dance gets students' blood pumping and brains turned on.

Mind Yeti can help refocus students with quick meditations.
Another (free!) website that I've recently found, but haven't tried in my classroom yet, is called Mind Yeti. This is a website that focuses more on de-stressing, relaxing, and calming down. I plan to try it with my kids before we test and see how they do with it.

I hope these 10 classroom management tips have given you an idea or two that you can try in your own classroom!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

50+ Multiplication Resources

Over 50 resources for teaching multiplication in upper elementary.

Each year, the struggle is real with multiplication. It doesn't matter if I'm teaching 4th, 5th, or 6th - my students seem to need more practice, new ways of learning, resources for repetition, etc. After 5 years in the upper grades, I've complied a list of resources for multiplication. I've used all of the following resources, videos, books, etc. in my own classroom.

All resources are free, unless otherwise noted.

Blog Posts:
Books: {Amazon affiliate links}
Instructional Resources:
Student Practice Online:
My Resources via TpT: