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Sunday, August 30, 2015

First week reflections

The first week of school is in the books for another year, and it was as exhausting, trying, and exhilarating as usual.  Here are a few highlights:

I gave the kids a pop quiz Monday.  It wasn't for a grade, and it didn't even involve any math.  It was really a get-to-know-me icebreaker.  I asked 5 questions about myself that I knew most of the kids wouldn't know, but we had fun with the guesses.  When I asked how old I was, some kids were very kind, guessing ages in the 20s and 30s, while only one guessed anything beyond 50 (53).  Nobody guessed 212, so I was pleased.

Tuesday, I was told that I shouldn't wear pants because it's too hot.  I took care of that problem as soon as I got home.  I was also asked at recess if I had any balls.  This was not because I jumped up onto a table top at the sight of a cockroach, but rather because I hadn't brought any sports equipment down to the playground.

Friday was full of fun, random events.  A little girl asked if I was wearing a wig.  This, despite me getting a very short haircut Wednesday evening.  I heard some kids trash talking at recess.  "I'm gonna tickle you so hard, your momma will feel it!"  Followed immediately by, "Just kidding!"  It was very sweet, gentle trash talk.  Oh, and then there was the boy who screamed at the top of his lungs, "I LOVE YOU, MISTER TEACHER!!  YOU'RE THE BEST MATH TEACHER EVER!!!" before giving me a huge hug.

What will the second week bring?  Only time will tell.

Hey, don't forget you can take 15% off of all t-shirt prices with the code FAVSHIRT from today through Tuesday!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Guest Post: 5 Best Mobile Apps for Elementary Students

Today's guest post is from Joy Miller, who writes for  She talks about her top 5 apps for kids grades K-5.  Note that these are not all free, so they might not be a fit for schools, but rather on a case-by-case basis. 

Leave your thoughts in the comments!

5 Best Mobile Apps for Elementary Students
As a teacher, connecting with kids these days is harder than ever. With seemingly every 10 to 12 year old student having access to smartphones and tablets, the old notion of “hands-on” learning has fallen by the wayside. However, just because the mobile revolution is in full swing, that doesn’t mean that you are out of luck when it comes to incorporating these tools into your daily lessons. By recommending the five best mobile apps to your students detailed below, you’ll have everything you need to keep the learning experience fresh and exciting.
#1 Mobile App - Explain Everything
Available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play Store, and via the Microsoft Store, Explain Everything is the quintessential app for screencasting and interactive whiteboard experiences. This tool allows you – or any student with a willingness to explore their creative side – to annotate, animate, and even narrate selections as you create educational movies and tutorials.
Additionally, teachers and students who utilize Explain Everything also have access to unique slide creation, freeform drawing capabilities, and even a laser pointer that helps highlight prime points during a lesson or presentation. For all of this functionality, Explain Everything will only set you back $3.99 in the various app and platform-oriented stores.
#2 Mobile App - Book Creator
One of the most enjoyable experiences for an elementary aged student is sitting down for story time and ending up immersed in a fantastical tale or adventure. Now, imagine if you could recreate this experience on your iPad or Android device with unique and original content?
If this sounds like something that deserves a spot in your classroom, then Book Creator is the app for you. With the ability to create multimedia eBooks that combine narration, audio, visual, and text offerings, this tool is ideal for children’s picture books, school projects, and more. Perhaps the most impressive function found within this app – which costs $4.99 on both Apple and Android devices – is the ability to send these unique creations home with students so that parents and other family members can join in on the fun.
#3 Mobile App - ThingLink
In an attempt to do away with the passive nature of viewing multimedia on mobile devices, ThingLink stands as the premiere interactive imagery app. The images generated on this tool – which is offered free of cost on both the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store – offer access to integrated notes, links, other embedded images, and even YouTube videos. Simply put, ThingLink turns even the most generic of visuals into an interactive platform for learning.
#4 Mobile App - Motion Math: Zoom
This popular math game teaches students of varying educational levels mathematic properties, principles, and sequences via a system that incorporates fun visuals and eye-catching imagery. Although this app is currently only available on the iTunes store (at a cost of $2.99), Motion Math: Zoom serves as an invaluable tool for teachers dealing with young students who struggle with core mathematic concepts. As you probably already know, any time you’re able to take abstract concepts – like decimals and fractions – and turn these ideas into a game, you’ve scored a major victory with the young minds in your class.
#5 Mobile App - Sock Puppets
The final addition to this list, Sock Puppets, is definitely one of the more enjoyable and exciting inclusions. As a way to direct original sock puppet plays from your iPad, Sock Puppets turns otherwise dull lessons into engaging – and sometimes silly – narratives.
All you have to do once you download the free app is select a few sock puppets for the leading roles, pick out a prop or two, and start recording your voice for the speaking parts. The app even has the power to add a “squeaky” effect to your voice via configurable audio elements, thereby ensuring that your characters come to life in a way that’s sure to have your elementary students glued to the action.
Closing Thoughts
Naturally, the list covering apps that stand out as great tools for elementary aged children could go on and on. However, these five selections rise above the rest as leaders in this field. From offering up new forms of visual interaction and engagement, to providing a helping hand as your students tackle math and other tough subjects, you’ll be hard pressed to find better mobile options to add to your next lesson plan.
About the author
As owner of the higher education site, Joy Miller researches and reviews colleges offering accelerated classes and degrees, connecting students with programs that match their educational goals and career interests.

Monday, August 24, 2015

1st Day Quotes

As first days of school often do, today provided a couple of very interesting quotes from my kids. Some things my kids said that really stood out and really sound odd out of context. 

Frankly, they sound weird IN context. 

First off, it was incredibly hot and humid today. Everyone was sweating like a pig, and a lot of the kids didn't even play at recess, instead choosing to congregate in the little shaded area near the playground. 

One of my kids this afternoon said, "No wonder you're so hot-you're wearing pants!  Tomorrow, don't wear pants!"

Uh, I think the schoolboard would frown on me not wearing pants. 

(And for the record, she meant I should wear shorts instead. If only I could!)

Also at recess, a boy walked right up to me and asked, "Do you have any balls?"

I gave my stock response (yes, I've received similar questions before) of "Excuse me?"

He wanted to know if I had any sporting equipment he could borrow. 

First days of school. Always keep you on your toes. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

20 things NOT to do on the first day of school

Tomorrow is the first day of school in the Dallas area, so here are some things that are most definitely not on my lesson plans, and should not be on yours, either!

                                    20 Things NOT to do on the first day of school

20)         Decide not to learn all of your children's names and just call them all "Kid."

19)         Come to school dressed as the Quaker Oats Guy. Some teachers like to dress in costume, but   nobody likes a corporate shill.  Plus, that guy is really creepy.

18)         Update your Facebook status every 10 minutes.

17)         Lecture the kids on how you could've had a successful career as a pit crew chief.

16)         Pester the students for their honest review of your screenplay about intelligent rodents and the women who love them.

15)         Mention Donald Trump in any context.    

14)         Attempt the Cinnamon Challenge, or anything else with the word “Challenge” in it.

13)         Put on a viewing of The Godfather.

12)         Do a read aloud using any Stephen King book.

11)         Brainstorm ways to survive in prison.

10)         Ask kids to write an essay on the meaning of life.

9)            Take the kids for a walk to the local quick-change oil lube joint.

8)            Show off your prowess as an X-treme sport fanatic.

7)            Make the kids try out for a spot on the school Quidditch team.

6)            Sculpt Devil’s Tower out of mashed potatoes while mumbling, “This is important.  This means something.”

5)            Reenact the 100 Years War.

4)            Set off fireworks in the cafeteria.

3)            Consult a dog-eared, page-marked Slovakian-to-English dictionary every 5 minutes.

2)            Give the kids money for ANY reason.

1)            Walk into the classroom at 8 o'clock, stare hard at the kids, and say, "You know what to do," and then leave the room for 4 hours.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Go team!

Today we in meetings for most of the time, whether "nuts and bolts" type staff stuff, discussing the new RtI format, or talking with teammates about how many pencils each kid should be carrying when they walk into the room each day.

I did have a small amount of time to work in/on my classroom though, and one of the things I accomplished was the display about my classroom door.  Here's what it looks like:

Much like the Great Wall of China, the Great Rift Valley, and the Great Tuft of Hair on Donald Trump's head are visible from space, this signage about my door is visible from all the way down the hall, so I got that goin' for me.

Our theme this year is all about teams, teamwork, and maybe even teams of oxen, so I feel like my room now adequately fits in. 

We got our school t-shirts today, and they look really cool!  They're a neat shade of blue, they feel nice and soft, and the name of the school is stylishly written on it in sporting team fashion.  Here's a selfie of me wearing mine:

Tomorrow is Hump Day!  See you then!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Twas the night before in-service

Well, the day has arrived.  That day I've been dreading for months. 

That's right, it's the day before teachers report back to school.

Now, I know that teachers in other states have been back for a while, and private school here in Texas even has already started.  I'm only speaking for myself here, though I have a feeling that teachers everywhere either HAVE gone through the same dreadful day I'm facing, ARE going through it with me today, or WILL go through it sometime soon.

For some reason, it seems especially hard for me to flip my brain into back-to-school mode this year.  Part of it is that I've really relished having time to be with my 3 year old son all summer long (including me, yes, the DADDY, doing most of his potty training).  Part of it is that I'll be getting a brand new group of students this year, after looping up and being with the same kids for the past two years.  Part of it is going back to 4th grade to find a brand new curriculum from when I last taught 4th grade.

And, if I'm totally honest, a HUGE part of it is that I am a very lazy person when you get right down to it, and I really enjoy staying up late, sleeping in, and lounging around the house with very little responsibility other than keeping a 3-year-old and myself alive and relatively clean.

Yet now I have to scrub all that and get back into the mindset of actually thinking!  And encouraging children to think as well!

Good thing they give us a week of in-service to ease ourselves back in!  A week to get used to waking up early and being present physically while still being able to zone out mentally and not have to do all that much thinking.  Unless my principal is reading this, in which case it's a week of totally immersing myself in rigorous planning and brainstorming for best practices.  :)

New for this year...

1)  The school was finally able to implement its 1:1 iPad program towards the end of last year, so we will be beginning school with iPads for all this year.  We had some bandwidth and connectivity issues last year, but overall I really like the kids having iPads as it opens up a whole new world of resources and activities.  I was never great with finding a way to adequately share and utilize 3 desktops and a couple of macbooks with my class last year.  But now, EVERY kid can watch Fast and Furious trailers on YouTube at the same time! 

2)  Nearly all of the existing furniture was thrown out in June.  Old desks, gone.  Old chairs, gone.  Lots of tables, gone.  In their place, we got a smorgasbord of new-fangled furniture.  There are white board topped flip tables.  There are puzzle piece desks.  There are couch section chairs with footstools.  There are stools that allow you to wobble, which reverse to prevent wobbling.  And there are individual swiveling chairs that remind me of the gun turret from the Millennium Falcon. 

I'm not really sure how I feel about the new furniture right now.  While the old desks were clunky and heavy, they had a lot of storage space, and with 3 sections of kids, I need storage space.  Every kid has a folder, a thinking journal, a spiral notebook, and a couple of workbooks.  I liked to keep a white board and an eraser at each desk as well, for use by everyone who sat at that desk.  The new furniture has no storage at all.  Well, the Millennium Falcon chairs do have a sort of saucer that they sit on which technically COULD store some stuff, but it would be like trying to store 15 calculators in a frisbee.

So if anyone out there has any experience with/suggestions for efficiently keeping multiple classes' worth of books and supplies, let me know.  I'm thinking I'll probably have to collect and distribute them all every class period...

I'm also not sure how the kids will react to having different styles of seating.  Will everyone want to sit with a group at the white board tables?  I only have 4, and they seat 4 each.  Will kids get made if they can't (or if they have to) sit at one of the puzzle piece desks?  Will anyone hate sitting in the swivel chairs?  Or will they all want to sit there, just so they can spin in class all day and not pay attention?

I am of course bringing up all of the perceived negatives to the new furniture.  Hopefully the practical positives will present themselves immediately once school actually starts.

3)   This will be the first year since I've been at my new school where I haven't had a date scheduled to fly to California and play Jeopardy.  When I started at this school, I got the call while setting up my classroom and had to convince my principal, whom I had just met, that I wasn't pranking her.  Last year, I knew in July that I'd be playing in October.

This year, no game shows lined up.  Sure, there's always the possibility that The Price is Right will call me up, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

So now I turn it over to you, my loyal readers.  I want both of you to leave a comment sharing how YOU felt or are feeling or will feel when it comes time for your night before reporting back to school.  I'll get the popcorn and look forward to reading.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Reading is Fundamental!

Hey all, did you know that just READING Learn Me Good can really help me out?

If you are a member of Amazon Prime, or know someone who is, I highly encourage you to utilize the Lending Library feature. Loan out your copies of my book. Borrow copies from others if you can.

Every page read gives me a little bit more, and every little bit counts.

Here's an article from USA Today that talks about the Amazon library program.

Thank you!

Monday, August 03, 2015

A very particular set of math skills

On the first day of school, I think I'm going to put on my best Liam Neeson impersonation and deliver this speech (with apologies to the writers of Taken):

"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for rewards, I can tell you I don't have stickers. But what I do have is a very particular set of math skills, skills I have acquired over a very long teaching career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people who don't show their work. If you try your best and do your homework, that'll be the end of it. I will not call your parents, I will not punish you. But if you don't, I will tell your parents, I will take away recess, and I will fail you."