As I was browsing through some of the blogs I follow, I ran into a post discussing a children's site I hadn't seen before. This gave me the great idea to blog about sites I do use in and out of the classroom. It seems like there's always new ones coming up, and it's not always easy to keep track of. I hope this post will perhaps introduce some of you to some sites you have not yet discovered.

1.  - This site allows students to work on their math facts and tracks their progress

2. - A site with math and language arts

3. - Another math site for students to practice their math facts

4.   Free ebooks for children (good quality with great illustrations). You can have audio on or off as needed (math is also available on this site).

5.  This site is by far one of my most favorite sites I have recently found. This doesn't just have online books, but we're talking great quality books that weren't just created for the actual site. You can start your own virtual library and save books. This is great if you teach a lesson later in the year, but you see a great book to go with the unit before you're actually ready to use it.

     Well, there you have it. Five fantastic sites to use in and out of the classroom. I hope these are sites that you can use as well (if you aren't currently using them). I will continue to add sites to this list. Just browse the label "websites to use in the classroom." If you have sites you love to use that aren't on this list, please share them!

     I have finally decided on a classroom theme: crayola crayon! I think it will be perfect for my little kiddos. I also love the idea of bright colors in the classroom. It's also a theme that seems pretty simple. Some of you might remember that last year I did a Safari theme. It was a lot of fun, but I am looking forward to putting something together that might be a little more simple.
     Here are just some of the ideas I have for now. There's still some time yet before these plans are executed into an actual classroom (I don't think I will get access into my classroom until at least another week). Please feel free to comment on the ideas, and suggest others! I am still in the process of thinking it through:

1. Name sticks that look like crayons 

2. Work display BB with primary colors as background, and crayons as border

3. Self-portraits: As an activity during the first week, I will have students do self-portraits with a crayon body (they will share these as a means to begin building community). 

4. Expectations will be posted on paper with crayon border

5. Pencil holder with crayons hot-glued around it

6. One wall painted with all primary colors

7. Groups: will be called a crayola crayon color

8. Student name tags will be a large crayola crayon

      That's all I have so far, but I am really excited to get my room put together. I would love to hear what you all think of these ideas, and if you have other suggestions. As always, I will post pictures when I have some to post.

     If you are anything like me, dinner planning is an exhausting task, especially after working hard all week long. As I have mentioned in the past, creating dinner menus help me to stay organized, and makes the task of deciding what to make daily slightly less grueling. Alas, the actual menu planning has become another job for me. I don't necessarily want to sit down and think up what I am going to make each night. Thankfully, I finally came up with a new system which will allow my dinner menu to create itself (you've got to love that!).
     Allow me to explain my new system that I am in love with. What I did was take a vinyl chart, exactly like the ones I use in class for our schedule, and on a 3x5 card, write the day of the week for each slot. Next to the day, I wrote a type of dish on another 3x5 card. Since I only plan for 5 days, this is what I created: Monday-Chicken/meat, Tuesday-casserole, Wednesday-pasta, Thursday-Soup/Salad, Friday-Burgers/sandwiches. From there, I wrote down meals I make, one meal per 3x5 cards. I have about 5-7 meals per type of dish, and what I do now is when that day passes and I have made the dish, I move the card to the back of the cards, and the next card displayed is the meal I will make for that day the following week. For example, today is Wednesday and the displayed pasta card is pasta primavera. After I make dinner, I will move the pasta primavera card to the back of the pasta cards, and the next card displayed will be the pasta dish I will make next week. By the time Friday hits, I will have my menu for next week already created, and there will be no planning on my part. I really hope this method helps you if you decide to do it. I would love to hear if you plan on trying this, if you already do it, or how you plan out your weekly menus. Happy cooking!

          I am posting this because, as we are already starting to plan our next school year, I have seen lots of posts and conversations about unit themes. There's nothing wrong with unit themes, but instead of designing what  we do as a class around themes, we work around big ideas. I initially started this when I first learned about Understanding by Design about two years ago. The idea is that learning should revolve around big ideas, and that we should be uncovering the information as we work towards the big idea. In this way, you could actually incorporate different themes, and integrate between subjects. Since using this design plan, I have seen my first graders become deep, critical thinkers. Before I get down to the nuts and bolts of planning around a big idea, here are a few big ideas we have explored: Changes (How I change, the things that change around us, changes in a garden, geographical changes), etc. As you can see, big ideas can be incorporated as an entire unit (as I am used to doing). Each big idea is set-up as a focus question. We explore that focus question for one to two weeks, creating a chart to document our learning as we go (we discuss the focus question/big idea daily, and several times a day). UbD designers, Wiggins and McTighe emphasize that learning should be transferable, which is the goal of planning around big ideas.  The entire UbD philosophy and framework cannot be explained in one blog post, but you can view this video to learn more. If you watched the video, you know that UbD is a backward design. You start with standards and objectives, then plan what evidence will show that students have met the learning goals (traditional tests, quizzes, performance assessments, authentic assessments, etc.), and finally, you plan the learning activities. This ensures that all activities help students meet the learning activities. They are not just activities because they are fun, but they lead back to the learning goals. What I really love about this is that every activity leads the students closer to uncovering the big idea, so they are no longer reading just to read the book, but they read it to answer the big idea. You can also integrate all subject matters, which enhances student learning. 

   One last example of planning around big ideas: the last unit my class and I explored was called (surprisingly enough) "Big Ideas". Here are just a couple of big ideas (set up as questions) we explored during the unit: "When do we need a clever solution?", and "What ideas changed the way we lived"? During this unit, we learned about simple machines, inventors (B. Franklin, A.G. Bell, which also allowed us to explore biographies), came up with our own inventions, wrote about them, and even designed them using only geometrical shapes. As you can see, big ideas are broad enough to include all subject areas and content, and allows you to work with your state's content standards. This is why I love UbD, but, more importantly, the idea of using big ideas when designing my units. Anyone interested in seeing a unit that I created and used can click here. My units are planned using big ideas for two weeks at a time, however each lesson plan (which can be seen by clicking the previous link) is set-up weekly. Therefore, I use the same standards/objectives, essential understandings/questions, evidence, for two week in a row. What changes in my plans are the specific activities within the weekly schedule as I pull them from my unit plan, sometimes making changes as needed. 

   I would love to hear what all of you think about UbD and designing around big ideas. Do you do this as well? If not, how do you plan your units? Please share your thoughts. 

 kids hugging I learned a lot about Kagan's coopertive learning while in college, and have based my students' learning on the idea that two (or more!) is much better than one. My students always sit in groups of 3 to 4 (groups bigger than 4 really don't work too well-it just makes for large groups, which don't always function as they should), therefore they have quick access to partner/group conversations. I am always asking them to discuss certain points, and it would otherwise be too time consuming to move into partners. I have found that this helps my students to develop conversational skills, social skills, as well as develop and expand concepts that might otherwise be difficult. I try to mix my groups so that one might be low, one in the middle, and one or two are high (ability wise). I also make sure that I have a group leader (this is a high student, and it might be a student who loves attention, control, and/or be in charge). I also have material managers, and group cleaners. This, of course, is for the general running of the group. Group activities require students to have additional, required tasks. I have found that most students love learning in this type of environment (please note I say  must; students with social issues, or other issues, might not prefer this setting. In those instances I have allowed those students some times to work alone if the student will work better). This is not only beneficial for my students, but is a huge help for me as well. Students know they must go to their group leader to ask questions (and if the group leader doesn't know, ask someone else in the group) before ever coming to me. How wonderful this has been! Most of the time (as we teachers well know) someone else knows the answer, and I absolutely cannot have a whole class of first graders constantly asking me questions when they can get to the answer without me. This helps them to become a bit more independent, and encourages positive interdependence among the groups. Honestly, I don't think I would enjoy teaching as much as I do if I didn't set up my classroom this way. It truly helps the students and me as well. This makes me wonder how the rest of you set up your classes. Are they paired? Grouped? Sit in singles? I would love to hear. happy teacher Not familiar with Kagan? Click the link to learn more.

 ScooterAs a teacher, I want to connect with my parents. If I can, connecting daily is a great goal. Parents want to know what's happening in their child's classroom. This becomes somewhat difficult when not all parents choose the same mode of communication as the majority of the parents. Yet, I need to find a way to reach all my parents. I have found that in today's world, the internet has been wonderful in helping me reach the vast majority of my parents. In an attempt to connect with all parents, I inevitably end up doing a couple things: I email my parents every Monday with homework and any other important information that needs to be shared. In addition to this, I send a hard copy of the homework and the same information sent out on the email. This coming year, I will also maintain a class website. This, of course, does not include the times I am not actually teaching a class and can meet with parents. The best way to gather all the information you need to keep in contact is to handout a survey asking for contact information as soon as you can (I usually do this the first week of school). My survey allows me to immediately see who has computers and internet in their home, and gather their telephone numbers, as well as email addresses. One little survey can make a huge difference! How do all of you communicate and connect with your parents?


     So we meet once again with one of our favorite seasons: summer! Not only is it a time to breath and sleep in, I always find that summer for me has been a time for reflection as well. I reflect on what I did in the classroom that worked, and what didn't work. One of the best things I did in my classroom was work really hard on improving my ability to design units based on Understanding on Design. It was easier this past year since I was able to use my old plans from the previous year (when I first started using UbD). I feel I was more effective in small groups, and therefore so were my students. I am currently reading Kagan's book on cooperative learning and hope to be able to implement more ways to incorporate cooperative learning in the classroom. Next year I will be at a new school, so I will be busy enough just learning the new curriculum, getting to know staff, new routines, and adjusting to a new school culture. That right there is already a lot on one's plate. What about the rest of you? What have you reflected back on, and what do you look forward to for next year?

What I Eat To Feel Great Part 1: The Genesis of My New Diet

         This started as a podcast episode, but I just had to turn it into a blog post as well. To preface, I am not qualified to give a...