Monday, October 27, 2014

Witches' Brew

Okay, so I guess the dry spell is over.  My nail appointment for tonight was postponed, so I have a little time to blog about our second annual Witches' Brew.  Oh, and the nails are going patriotic in honor of the hubby coming home...  Can't wait!!!!!

Because I'm in love with Wicked (the musical)  - and also Halloween in general - and because I love tea, last year I decided to mix the 2 for a wickedly great time!  Well, we had such a great time, we decided to make it a Halloween tradition!  Now every year, we dress as witches, sip our tea, and enjoy some freaky good food and companionship.  The menu this year included:

Savory Course:
Zombie Stew with Coffin Toast Point 
(Lentil soup with a Dollar Store eyeballs)
Devil's Eye Eggs
(Hard-boiled eggs cracked and put in food coloring, and then deviled) 
Monster Snot in a Cup
(Herbed Brie cheese in phyllo cup)
Cucumber Coffin Sandwiches
(Just cucumber sandwiches and a coffin cookie cutter) and 
Mystery Meat Sandwich
(Thin cut ham and broccoli salad on white bread)

Followed by Hand Loaf - straight off the Zombie.
(Just a meatloaf shaped like a hand with onion for the nails and wrist bone)

The Sweet Course was a little less frightening:
Ogre Eyes
(Almond panna cotta with kiwi and pureed strawberries)

Almond Poppy Seed Skull Scones with brains (coconut curd) and cream on the side, 

and homemade Kidney (and any other leftover organs) Pie
(Pumpkin pie with freshly made pumpkin squash)

It was all served with my mom's homemade Masala Chai tea which had been simmering for a couple of hours and made the house smell fantastic!  Between courses we enjoyed Eye of Newt (pearl tapioca in homemade apple pie moonshine!) in small cordial glasses to cleanse the pallet and everyone took home a Witches' Brew Bottle of homemade wine (courtesy of my wonderful daddy) and a packet of my mother's Masala Chai to enjoy at home.

It was so much fun decorating the dining room and planning the menu for this event.  The only hard part is trying to come up with new ideas each year!  Thank you Pinterest!

Here's the link for the panna cotta recipe.  It's so delicious, decadent, and easy to make, but looks impressive on the table!  FYI:  I use silicone muffin molds to get the panna cotta out of the cups easily.  If you want any of the other recipes, just let me know.  I'd be happy to share.

I'm thinking of planning a Dicken's of a Tea Party for Christmas...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Chromebook Apps We Love

So it has been WAY too long since I've posted!  I've discovered, that with a husband deployed (less than 2 weeks left!  Woo Hoo!) and a child in his first local theater production, there's not much time to cook, clean, or check papers, let alone Blog!  But today I decided I'd make time - between grocery shopping, the final production of Sleepy Hollow, and cleaning out the attic before the hubby gets home...

So...  What has been going on in my Chromebook Classroom?  Well, I am pleased to report, that on October 1st, a neighboring school district visited our room to see how we incorporated technology in an elementary class room, and by that visit, my students were emailing me every day, bookmarking sites, changing font, size, color, highlighting, etc., and had even created their first document in Google Drive - in which they even inserted a picture!  They were also very comfortable using my Glogs for each weekly story, as well as various apps we had added from the Chrome store to use during our Daily 5 time.  Don't have Chromebooks?  Don't worry.  All of these apps are web-based and can be accessed by any computer.  I've included links to each one.

Well, that was almost a month ago, and the kids are still impressing me with how much they can do!  We've discovered which apps we like and which ones we don't.  Some favorites for Daily 5 include Storybird and iStorybooks.

The Storybird app gives students the option of allowing pictures to drive their creativity.  For reluctant writers, this app has been wonderful.  Teachers can create an assignment, or students can just create their own stories.  Students can search a word and the app generates tons of pictures tied to the search criteria.  The kids can then choose to use a picture or group of pictures they like to generate a poem or book.  The app is very user friendly for even the youngest of kids.  Once the student publishes a story, it is ready for the class to read and comment on or for the teacher to leave feedback.  The only drawback we've discovered, is that my students can't see my feedback while they are trying to edit.  It would be helpful if they could.  The kids LOVE this app during our Daily 5 Work on Writing or free app time.

iStorybooks is an app that works well during Listen to Reading time in the Daily 5.  It has many free books that the kids can follow along with as it's being read to them in a fluent manner. The nonfiction-rich app contains many different selections for the students to choose from.  It works best with ages 5-8.
Both apps have a free version or a paid version, but I haven't seen the need to upgrade to the paid version of either app yet.

Another app that I have recently discovered that has made checking my students' Google Drive stories MUCH easier and quicker, is Kaizena.  This app is a voice app that allows you to highlight and critique areas of student writing.  It is aligned to rubrics you can create and it will even save your comments in an archive.  Students then open their document and click the comment tab at the top where they can listen to your suggestions.  So quick - and if you read the beginning of this post, you know I need time savers!

With math apps we have not been as lucky.  We've tried some of the free apps from the Chrome store, but haven't found any we like better than Reflex Math for fluency, and for other concepts we haven't found a good fit yet.  We'll keep looking and keep you updated.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Chromebook Classroom

So these first two weeks of school have really flown by quickly!  I can't believe it's been so long since my last post.  We've spent a lot of time these first couple of weeks working on our daily routines, learning about the Daily Five, and getting comfortable with our class set of Chromebooks.  It's been a lot of work, and a lot of fun.  The kiddos amaze me daily with how much they can do on those Chromebooks!

We started out by learning how to carry the Chromebooks.  This may sound silly, but it's really helped to get us off on the right foot.  We used this video from YouTube posted by Chromebook Classroom.  It's informative AND fun!  This channel is filled with lots of great information for Chromebook users, teachers, and even administrators.

Our district requires an internet user's policy to be filled out every year before students can even get on the computers.  By the third day of school I had all of these turned in and the kids were anxious to get on their Chromebooks.

Our first Friday of school we had the fun job of actually logging into our Chromebooks.  With a class full of third graders, this task seemed rather daunting at first, I won't lie.  I was more than a little concerned that the fun was about to end.  Luckily, I had taken about 15 minutes a day or two before school started and logged all of my kiddos into Google to test out their passwords.  I had two that I needed contact our technology guru about, but that 15 minutes had saved me a lot of time and aggravation later.  I used the Promethean board to show the students the pattern for their email accounts and of course their password.  Google requires a complicated password nowadays, and my kiddos didn't even know how to make a capital letter on the computer!  I'm proud to say, they do now!  We didn't do much more that first day, other than tour the keyboard and the screen images, but it was a start.

Now, only one week later, my class starts everyday by coming into the room, logging into their computers, and checking their email.  They always have a morning message from me.  Sometimes it's an assignment for them to reply to me by email, other times it's a site for them to bookmark and practice a skill on before morning announcements.  They are already excellent at managing their time, and know that when an assignment is completed, they may get on Reflex Math for fluency practice or any of our other sites they've bookmarked.  It has become an integral part of our school day.  We take tests on them, listen to reading on them, watch instructional videos, play skill-based games, respond to emails, and do some basic word processing - all in one, short week.  I can only imagine what these kids will be capable of by the end of third grade, not to mention the end of high school!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Meet the Teacher

Wow!  I can't believe how busy it's been these last weeks before school started!  I needed another week!  I know it's a little late, but here's the room for meet the teacher.

When parents and students arrived, I had a little list of activities up on my Promethean board to help guide them through the open house.  Don't you love the ribbon I stuck on the Promethean board mount and the poof balls at the top?  Much better that the boring old gray metal!  And the Mrs. Mannion board will actually be a Student of the Week board...  It's just me for the next 3 days...

 Station 1 was for the parents to sign in and give me their email addresses.  This was right inside the door on the Chromebook cart.  I had little Combo tags made up for the parents that I attached to the snack size bags of Combos.  If anyone's interested in the template, just let me know and I'll post it.

For Station 2, the students had to find their desks and then they received a treat, too!  Their's was a Rice Krispies Treat.  They had a folder waiting for them filled with important documents that was actually homework for the parents!  They also found a magnet with my contact information and their daily 'Special' class and a trifold brochure for the parents telling about my grading procedures and such.

Station 3 was just to ask me questions!  Then for Station 4, I like to have them check on their bus numbers home while the parents are there so we don't have any surprises on the first day of school!

For Stations 5, I had a 'Wish Garden' set up on the front board.  But my parents were so great, they were already bringing the supplies with them!

 For Station 6 the students found their lockers with Dum-Dum lollipops hidden inside and then they took their parents for a tour of the building.  But here a couple of shots of the rest of the room.

The Writing Center

The Mailbox Area

My Winnie-the-Pooh Shelves

My Birthday Treats, Candy Bin, and Bean Bag Area

Our Accelerated Reader Bulletin Board

Our Calendar Bulletin Board with Menu

Our Daily 5 Board with Treats

Just a different angle of the room...

I had a wonderful turn out this year, only missing 3 students - and one of them was at the beach...  I even had one students miss the school function, but Dad is a family friend, so he brought her to the house to meet her teacher!  We had pie together!  Looks like we're in for a great year with some super kids and wonderfully helpful parents.  My supply closet is already filling up with wishes from our wish garden!  Thanks everyone!  Have a GREAT year!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

ActivTips on Promethean Planet

I have a Promethean board in my room and I use flipcharts everyday, for just about every lesson I teach.  Of course, I have been fortunate enough to have received multiple trainings on ActivInspire through my school district.  Even so, much of what I have learned has been self-taught using a lot of the tricks I'll mention below.  So if you'd like to make your own flipcharts, or make your flipcharts even better, this post can help.

If you have a Promethean board in your room, you probably already created a free account at to download flipcharts that have already been created for a subject you're planning on teaching.  But have you REALLY checked out this site?

Under the Professional Development tab on their website, you can find SO many useful resources.  There are manuals, free webinars, and tons of tips and tricks.

A favorite of mine is the ActivTips.  This is located under the Videos, Manuals, and More drop down menu for Professionl Development.  Avtivtips are short videos that you can watch at your leisure to help you develop your flipcharts.  From here, you can type any subject into the search box and find an ActivTip.  Want to embed a video in your flipchart?  There's an Activtip for that.  ActivTip #28 is less than 4 minutes long and can teach you how!  Want to learn about creating your own containers?  There are actually 6 Activtips for that.  And don't worry, if you're a beginner with ActivInspire, there are videos for you too - from starting your first flipchart, to changing the background.  Just type in a key word and watch away!

Oh, and ActivTips are also available for free through iTunes!  I have a bunch of these podcasts downloaded to my iPad for when I'm stuck waiting somewhere and have a little bit of time to catch up on some of the latest tips.

If watching these videos still doesn't help, feel free to contact me with ActivInspire questions and I'll do my best to help.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Fluency Folders

So today I had one of those 'Aha!' moments.  I have to admit, I love my guided reading time, and I tend to obsess about it, even into the summer, trying to make it even better.  So today I was working on the upcoming year's Fluency Folder and trying to decide what changes to make, if any.  That's when it hit me.  The 'Aha!'  Fluency.  We talk about it.  We want it.  But do our students REALLY know what we mean?  Sure we tell them they should read like they talk.  But no matter what grade you teach, you know there are some students who still struggle with fluency.
Last year I started my Fluency Folders.  Each week I would pull a poem that would correlate to our weekly story, genre, or the season.   Most of the poems came from the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series by Mary Ann Hoberman.  I have every book in this series!  They're only about $6 a piece on Amazon, and are well worth it.
 These books are filled with poems for two voices.  They are simple rhymes typed in two different colors, with topics kids love.  The illustrator, Michael Emberley, does a fantastic job capturing the mood of the poems, too!  My kids LOVED these poems.

We would start on Monday with me modeling the poem using 2 different voices.  Then I would read one color, they would read the other and we'd switch.  On Tuesday, they would begin their Read to Someone with their weekly poem.  Then they could continue the session with books of their choice or an assignment from me.  On Wednesday, the folder would go home and they would read the poem with a family member.  Then Thursday and Friday were free choice days.  If they were in Read to Someone those days they could start their session with any of the poems from their folders.  With my lowest group, I would start each teacher session with the weekly poem for a warm up with me reading one voice and the group reading the other.  I received so much positive feedback from parents on this folder!  Parents of my struggling kiddos would tell me that their children would read these over and over at home!  It made me ecstatic.
 So maybe you're asking yourself, "If it worked so well, why is she messing with it?"  I don't want to change the poetry part of my fluency folders, I just want to expose my students to some other types of writing in the folder as well.  So while I was working on my fluency folders this week, I had an amazing idea.  Chunking the phrases in a selection by color to help with fluency.  You may say, "Duh?  Of course!" But I never really thought of tackling it that way.  For example, by paying attention to punctuation, students will learn to read more fluently.  Get the idea?  This could easily be done with highlighters, but I'm partial to neat and tidy, so I was going to type up a couple of examples and see how it went.  I decided on a 4 part system for each selection, maybe every other week, offset with the poems.
Part 1
For Part 1, I followed a very similar format to the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series, with two colors of font.  But I made the first section all onomatopoeia words since that's a common core skill  and the kids think it's fun and don't consider it work!  I'm planning on having the kids partner read this section during their Read to Someone.
Part 2
Part 3
For Part 2, I kept the colors for the font, but used it for phrasing, not for partners.  I hope to still use it in Read to Someone, but taking turns reading the entire card this time.
For Part 3, I decided to use the same text, but in all black and see if the fluency carries over.  This step would again, be read to a partner.
Part 4
The final part is a comprehension check, because let's face it, that's our end goal, right?  So this is the first set I've made, but I figure if I'm only doing it every other week, it shouldn't be that hard to keep up...  Right?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Writing Center

As you can see, I'm still sporting the Dots On Chocolate motif from Creative Teaching Press.  I love how the colors work so well with my Classic Pooh items.  This week I worked for 2 days in my room and got my writing center mostly in order.  I was so excited to have the counter space since I didn't need room for desktop computers.  Of my Daily 5 elements, the Work on Writing is the hardest one for me to get the kids excited about doing.  They see it as the one that's 'work!'  So I tried to make it as inviting as I could for them.

Yes, there's one little blue bin missing.  I picked it up today!
I bought the shelving units at Target for $10.  Then I filled the area with fun scissors, colored pens, highlighters, crayons, glue, markers, rulers, and tons of different paper.  We make scrapbooks throughout the year, so there are also bins full of stickers, journal pages, and scrapbook paper for them to use.  I had 8 of those little chalkboard clips that I had bought at TJMaxx last year, but I could only find 7 of them after the move!  I had to improvise and use a special yellow chalkboard clip for the seasonal paper that will change every month.  Not perfect, but it works...  In addition, this is our third year for our class journals.  The kids love to read what past classes have written and get ideas to write their own entries.  Our class journals include: My Teacher's Secret Life, I'm a Poet and Didn't Know It, Through the Portal (SciFi), Underwater Adventures, Best Animal Stories EVER, and Oh the Places We've Been.

I have a bin with hanging file folders on the counter for keeping the students' writing folders close at hand and out of their desks!  They get SO destroyed in their desks.

 I am using the bucket stools I made last summer for seating since the kids love these.  I also used 4 tension rods to hang curtains under the counter between the braces.  The curtains are actually re-purposed shower curtains that I used to cover up their closet mess last year!  I cut each one in half, sewed one side seam and a pocket at the top, and I had free curtains for the counter!  It's still a work in progress, but it's starting to resemble the vision in my head.  Hope it keeps them writing ALL year!