Thursday, December 3, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day for Room 126! Project Update

I'm super duper excited to report that 13 generous donors have funded my first project in full!  My thrilled students and I are so thankful and want to wish a sincere thank you to those that helped us meet our goal of ordering six Hokki Stools for our small group, "u" table.

Special thanks to my family members, friends, friends of my friends, colleagues, parents within the Salem community and even two anonymous donors for thinking of us.  Not only have they donated funds, but have left many thoughtful messages too.

I asked my first and second grades to come up with ways to say thank you, so I'll let them say it best...

"Thank you so much!"
"We think we will do better on our studies!"
"We appreciate what you have done for us."
"Thank you for the Hokki Stools.  We can't wait to get them!"
"Thank you for being such a good community member to our class."
"You have been so nice to us."
"We will welcome you in case you want to come visit us!"

What an awesome day for us!  We definitely felt the season of giving today.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My Project

I've been reading so many funded projects on social media these days.  It seemed to make sense to come up with my own project on  For those that know about my school, the Carlton Innovation School, you understand how seamlessly my project "Help for Hokki Stools" fits into our model.  You see, we teach reading, writing and mathematics in a workshop model.  This means that after a small whole class lesson on a skill, concept or strategy, it's practiced and scaffolded in small groups around smaller tables I call "the kidney table" or "the 'u' table.

A set of six Hokki Stools would help me maximize the learning in these small group sessions that happen all day long.  My students would get so much out of these additions to our classroom community.  I put up this project some time ago which, unfortunately, didn't spark any donations.  Yesterday, I decided to post it on my Mr. Giso's Room to Read's Facebook page.  A family member suggested I share it on my personal page too, so I did!  In less than an hour, my project was basically half-funded by seven people!  I'm amazed and so thankful for the generosity of my donors.  People's kindness and generosity is so much appreciated.  I love that I know so many kind people interested in "paying it forward!"  

My project's deadline in January 20th, so at this rate, I'm hoping I achieve my project's goal.  Sharing my project with friends, family and colleagues will help me so much.  A donation would help too.  Thank you, thank you!

As my project notes-- 

(Click HERE to read about it and to donate.)

The Hokki Stools will allow me to get full attention from my littles--even at the end of the day when I let them know my little secret-- "Teachers get tired too!" I can only begin to imagine how successful these will be in my busy classroom. These stools are engineered so that students can move back and forth and concentrate at the same time because the stools absorb their energy so that they can focus and give me their attention. How awesome it this? No one likes to stay still--especially me. True story! These Hokki Stools are a true gift, based on brain-based research that will give children an extra boost to succeed. My students deserve this boost, but they are too expensive for me to pay for by myself. Gone will be the days when my students are asked to "stop moving!" This will benefit my kinesthetic learners, those that work extra hard to pay attention and just about any student that gets fidgety. Let's face it. This happens to the best of us! 

This year my goal is to help each one of my first and second graders (I have both) reach their fullest potential.
I want to help my students focus and keep their mind on learning while getting their little "wiggles" out at the same time. It's a win-win situation for both my learners and me!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Our New Sensory Center

This project has been on the top of my list for "Back to School" for quite some time.  It's making a sensory center from scratch using common items easily picked up at your local home improvement store.  First off-- credit and special thanks to Mr. Greg from The Kindergarten Smorgasbord for his inspiration-- and more importantly-- his instructions for completing this project.

The materials needed are shown above.  They are PVC pipes (any size works), but I got the 1 inch-width kind, a number of PVC pipe connectors and a bin (not pictured).  In addition, you see some spray paint and a PVC pipe cutter.  I didn't have one of my own, so I picked it up for about ten dollars.  It cuts the pipes very easily!  There's orange spray paint and what I thought was a clear fix spray to prevent the paint from chipping.  Turns out it was a white glaze, so I turned my newly painted orange sensory center back into a white one--oh well, it happens!  For the complete set of directions and list of materials, please click HERE to get sent over to The Kindergarten Smorgasbord.

Here's the completed frame before the bin rests in it.  I pretty much made the dimensions match the bin's size and the height match the average height (from memory) of my first and second graders.  I didn't use any glue at the points of connection, but I'm sure you could to be extra safe.

With it being Halloween and all, I used spiders, skulls, bones and eyeballs to fill my sensory bin.  The rice is dyed with food coloring.  To do this, simply place some rice in a zipped plastic bag along with a few teaspoons of rubbing alcohol and your food coloring.  Shake it up and add more food coloring and alcohol if needed.  Leave it to dry over night in flat pans covered with aluminum foil to prevent you having to wash the pans when you are clean up = awesome!  You can also use the same method to dye pasta.  Other fillers I have been saving are green and red bow tie pasta for December as well as white styrofoam peanuts for January.  Click HERE for 13 of Mr. Greg's sensory bin ideas throughout the year.  

Here is the completed project in my classroom.  I cut up an orange pool noodle to keep the bin sturdy.  Mr. Greg said this step was optional.  I like it. It's orange along with most of the things in my classroom.

I used witch fingers and candy corn clip art (free from TpT) to make my center activities.  With the fingers, the students sort them according to true and false equations.  Get them HERE.  With the candy corn, the students need to find the mystery number to make the equations true.  Get them HERE.  My mathematicians love this so far.  It really is fun to sift through, calming in a way for may of them too! 

I hope you feel as inspired as I was to make one of these over next weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Organizational Tips for the Trade!

After fifteen years in the same school, I began a few summers ago packing and unpacking due to my decision to change schools. Once the city movers unloaded all my things, this photograph shows my classroom after a week of unpacking. YIKES! After days, it appeared as if I had not accomplished a thing.

Giso 3 1 250 

Now that the move is behind me, I’m pleased to be able to share some organizational tips with you. To begin with, an organized classroom library is essential to foster a love of literacy. Here you see a number of blue and orange tubs. These are actually coolers—the kind intended to fill with ice and cold drinks during a hot summer day. They double as sturdy book bins.

Giso 3 2 250

I’m always looking for ways to store things. Here you see some orange buckets. They are perfect for holding reading pointers, phonics phones, etc.  You can also see one of the many brown ottomans that I use for chairs around my guided reading table.  Inside of course, is storage perfect for running records, assessment folders, etc.

Giso 3 3 250

Teachers often ask me how I am able to store so many things in my classroom. The answer is that I put bins in high spaces. Here you see clear and colored tubs. In these, I place items that I don’t use on a regular basis, such as fabric, scraps, extra sentence strips, yarn, etc. Over the sink, I store my stickers in photo boxes—one for each month.

Giso 3 4 250

A great way to make things look neat and organized is to purchase plastic shoeboxes or similar sized tubs. They are relatively inexpensive, so you can buy them in great quantity. As you can see, rows of the same container look more uniform and tidy. What you don’t want to be seen, cover with fabric and tension rods. You don’t even need to know how to sew—just use a glue gun.

Giso 3 5 250

Another favorite way I keep things organized is by using hardware holders. This handy-dandy organizer is perfect for keeping tiny things in their places. I use it for my student banks (a form of positive rewards), magnetic letters, calendar pieces, etc. I suggest that you always glue an item on the outside for easy ID. Oh, and—BONUS!—they are fairly inexpensive, too.

Giso 3 6 250

If you are like me, you have loads of posters and a lack of wall space, or should I say FREE wall space. To solve this problem, get a portable clothes-hanger rack. These are way sturdier, less bulky, and cost tons less money than a pocket chart stand. I use one to organize my charts for instruction. This way they are easily accessible. I can put one up using the hanger and do not need to fuss over tape. Easy up, easy down.

Giso 3 7 250

I hope you have gained an idea or two and are off to organize your classroom. As I always say, an organized classroom is a well-managed classroom.  This summer, I'm at it again!  I'm not changing schools or positions, I'm just moving to the end of the hall.  Look forward to seeing me document this move from beginning to end soon.  Happy Summer!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Family Roots: A New Resource

This year, I am enjoying teaching our second grade social studies curriculum to my first and second graders.  This is in part to a series of activities I have created featuring my projects completed both at home and at school.  My newest unit (click HERE) incorporates these standards from the Massachusetts History and Social Sciences Curriculum Framework (2003).

•Explain the information that historical time lines convey and then put in chronological order events in the student’s life (e.g., the year he or she was born, started school, or moved to a new neighborhood) or in the history of countries studied. 

•Explain what buyers and sellers are and give examples of goods and services that are bought and sold in their community. 

•On a map of the world, locate all of the continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica.

•On a map of the world, locate the continent, regions, or and then the countries from which students, their parents, guardians, grandparents, or other relatives or ancestors came. With the help of family members and the school librarian, describe traditional food, customs, sports and games, and music of the place they came from. 

•With the help of the school librarian, give examples of traditions or customs from other countries that can be found in America today.

•With the help of the school librarian, identify and describe well-known sites, events, or landmarks in at least three different countries from which students’ families come and explain why they are important.

To kick off our study of family roots and family history I sent my students home with a letter introducing our new unit and asking families to list countries from their roots.  After that, we made a bulletin board with yarn and a map of the world with yarn depicting our roots.

Close Up of Each Student's Family Root Card

They really enjoyed studying flags and researching them in various atlases and online sources.  After this kick off, I sent home an at home project where my learners had to research one country out of the many that make up their family roots.  This at home project included making a family tree, placing their roots on a world map, listing historic landmarks from their country, describing foods, traditions and other cultural elements, etc.  It also asked families to research the influence on America as well as goods and services found in their chosen country.  When all were passed in, they were so excited and eager to share all that they have learned.  It was fantastic!

Other projects we enjoyed were creating family flags and making a mobile with each member of our family represented on it.  We made a class book of our "classroom family," designed family stamps and made personal time lines.   Here are some finished projects.

Family Mobiles

My Family Flag

My student teacher came up with the idea to introduce graphing by putting together a class graph of our roots by origin.  This product has a page for students to make their own graph--I liked this idea so much, I had to add it.  All and all, we learned so much from each other during this unit of study.  It's great to begin a new school year with it!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Accountable Talk Tools

Boy, has it been a long time since my last post!  I've been busy, to say the least, with teaching three courses this semester, loving my 1/2 classroom by day and shoveling, shoveling, shoveling the 3 feet + of snow that has plagued the Northeast.  Can we say seven snow days and school on two days during April vacation?

Since last year, my school has had professional development on Accountable Talk across all subject areas.  We want our learners to be thinkers--more than that.  We want our students to think deep, to encourage each other to think deeply and to be able to clearly and accurately explain their deep thinking to others.  We have had quite a few walk-throughs in order to measure our growth (anonymously) throughout our journey.  The results have allowed us to celebrate how far we have come and to plan our next steps to get even better!

Encouraging Accountable Talk in my classroom has been a learning curve.  I was challenged at first to figure out when I could talk and when I couldn't!  At the same time however, I was eager to push my students.  They were ready.

In mathematics one day, my principal and a team were doing a walk-through.  The children were very busy working on a non routine math problem (at the beginning stages).  They hadn't solved it right away.  Some weren't on the right path to getting the problem solved.  Some mathematicians were doing a lot of talking, but were saying incorrect information.  

At first, I thought this went wayyyyy wrong.  I wasn't sure if saying anything to the groups was OK.  Afterwards, my principal said something really powerful.  "You coach the talk, not the math."

Coaching the talking, not necessarily the content was an eye opener for me.  Because I teach first and second graders, my goal was to work on how we talk to each other.  To do this, I need to model it, scaffold it, reinforce it and model it some more!  It's OK to be doing the talking as the teacher when it comes to training our young thinkers how to use accountable talk.  I do this in a number of ways.

If a student appears to be challenged I may say, "How about talk to your team?  Tell them the specific part that has you confused."

If a group is finished with a problem early, I may say, "Talk to each other.  Come up with another way to show your thinking."

In a turn and talk, I am always reinforcing accountable talk "I notice how not only did you say you disagree with your partner's thinking.  You explained why with evidence from the text!"

From the above example, you can notice how I am coaching the talk, not the content of my lesson.  There are so many great resources out there to promote accountable talk.  

My teaching partner and I really like this one because of the icons that diving the type of talk from talk that will ask a question, to talk that will begin to state a friendly disagreement.

In my classroom, I made an Accountable Talk bookmarks and have hung up many banners with questions, response stems, etc.  Both are available in my TpT store by clicking HERE.  Below are some to which I refer when I want to push thinking during mathematics.

I have a whole banner of them over one of my large bulletin boards too.  I have modeled a few at a time over the course of this year.  The reading teacher and the speech therapist in my school have both hung some up in their classrooms too.

Here's what I have used to make handy dandy bookmarks or reminder cards for my students.

Happy weekend.  Melt, snow melt!
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