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There’s a Wocket in My Pocket

16 Mar

I was a pretty imaginative kid. When shopping with my mom, I pretended everything I touched I got to keep; as though there was a storage unit somewhere being filled up, and my fingertips were my price gun. I imagined that the swing set in my backyard was a rocket ship that could transport me anywhere in the world. I imagined that my breakfast cereal was alive. Each little Cheerio was a teeny tiny being that couldn’t swim…but as long as there were enough banana-rafts to go around, they would all be OK. Sometimes my imagination would get carried away. And sometimes, when I look at my elementary kids, I wonder where their imaginations have gone.

I have to be careful when I assign projects to the little ones. If they hear each others’ ideas, or if they catch a glimpse of another’s paper, they end up all making the same thing. Everyone’s robot will have laser eyes. Everyone’s dream house will have a gold roof and a front door made of chocolate. Not that these aren’t very imaginative ideas, but it’s like there is only room for one idea in their little heads, and once it gets in there, they can’t come up with their own.

That’s why I love the book “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” by Dr. Seuss. The little boy in the story imagines that there are creatures all over his house, and they are constantly doing crazy things. I read this book to my kids, and then had them create their own Wocket. For the first time, I didn’t have to encourage them to be more imaginative. They did it on their own! By giving them colored scraps of paper and little other instruction, they were able to create the most amazing, unique creatures. Plus, I think they just like saying “Wocket.”

Get the full lesson plan here!


If the World Was a Village…

15 Mar

Many of you have probably seen the “If the World Was a Village of 100 People” statistics. I’ve always found them very interesting, and they really put things in perspective in a straightforward way. Plus, my kids could always use an eye-opening lesson in acceptance and appreciation. So I made a bulletin board. If I do say so myself, it is one of the best bulletin boards I’ve ever made. All of the pieces are hand-made from decorative paper. It was the longest lasting bulletin board in the history of my school, a place where things get ripped off the walls on a day-to-day basis. If you have the time, I highly recommend using this as inspiration for a board of your own.

The Single Most Important Tool a Teacher Can Have

12 Mar

My college roommate took an education course for which the professor had one main objective: that each student in her class would not pass until they had made a yarnball. She hailed the yarnball as the single most important tool a teacher could have. My roommate, who was not very crafty and even less coordinated, claimed the professor was crazy and cursed her throughout the entire process. She looked like a kitten in a yarn store, tangled in a wooly web for days on end. I haven’t talked to my old roommate in years, but if I did I would tell her how right her professor was. I love my yarnball.

I use my yarnball for all sorts of things. Sometimes I do team building exercises with the kids at the beginning of class, and the yarnball is the perfect tool. When I’m calling on students for answers, I’ll toss them the yarnball. They’ll know it’s their turn, and then they’ll toss it to the next person. Sometimes we use it just for fun, for Silent Ball or other games. Sometimes I use it as a reward, if a student is doing really well and wants to hang on to the yarnball for the period. I’ve even tossed it at a kid when I knew he wasn’t paying attention…

Make a yarnball. You’ll figure out how to use it. Here’s the instructions.
**Your yarnball will come out the best if you COMPLETELY FILL the center hole with yarn…don’t just do a layer or two.

A Creative Behavior System

1 Mar

If you’re read some of my previous posts, you know that my elementary class has always been the most difficult for me. The students ranged from first grade to fifth, all in one classroom! Talk about modifications. They also had some of the most extreme behaviors. Restraint was unfortunately a common occurrence with these guys, due to their volatile outbursts that were dangerous not only to each other but to themselves. I really needed a behavior system that worked for them, because once trouble started brewing, it quickly got out of hand!! Better to ward off problems before they started (always good advice.)

So I started the Smile Pops system. Each kid got a pocket on my bulletin board, and in each pocket were 3 lollipops: one red, one yellow, and one green. Think of these pops like a traffic light. If you have all 3 pops, including your green, you’re good to “go”. If you start to get a little crazy, and need to be reminded more than once, you lose your green pop and are now on yellow, meaning “slow down”. If things continue to escalate from there, you’ll lose your yellow and drop down to red, “stop”. I’ve never gotten past yellow, but theoretically if the behavior gets worse after being on red, the kid probably needs to be removed from the classroom. The best part about this system are the rewards that come with it. If you keep all of your pops, you get 2 stickers for the day. If you lose only one pop, you still get one sticker. After you accumulate 5 stickers, you get a prize (doesn’t have to be a lollipop!) Prizes were anything from candy to coupons to temporary tattoos to stress balls, you name it. I was amazed at how well the system worked, and it almost completely eliminated disruptions and disorder from our art class!

Warm Fuzzies

27 Feb

How do you get your class to interact in a positive way?

Warm Fuzzies is a great idea that i took from the children’s cancer camp that I volunteer at every summer. When the kids first get to camp, they decorate a brown lunch bag with their name, stickers, and whatever else they want. The bags get hung up on a wall in the mess hall, and all throughout the week it acts as a sort of mail box for the campers. They write “warm and fuzzy” messages to other campers: “Thank you for helping me get back in the canoe when I fell out” or “You look so pretty without your wig on!” and “Thanks for going to the bathroom with me in the middle of the night when I was scared to go myself!” The kids are always so great about looking out for one another, and they always make sure that every single person is getting messages in their bags.

I decided that this was a good lesson to teach to my kids at school; a sort of extension on “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I asked all the kids to design a bag, and we hung them up. Most of the teachers participated, too. I explained the system, and emphasized that I had the right to check the bags any time I wanted to make sure they were used appropriately. If a kid got caught writing something negative, their bag would come down, end of discussion.

I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did I not have to remove any bags from the wall, the kids did a really nice job of finding ways to complement each other. It took a little bit of prompting at first by myself and the other teachers, (“Great job in English class today!! I loved your essay on ‘The Catcher in the Rye’!”) but they soon got the hang of it and wrote each other notes. Some of them would use it just to say hello, but they were still interacting in a positive way, taking the time to show others that they cared…a huge step for some of my kids.

A Fresh Coat of Paint

26 Feb

When I started at my school, this was my classroom. Interesting space for an art room huh? First, lets talk about the carpet on the floor. I don’t think I need to explain how that presents a problem. Second, notice there’s no door? I know that “Great rooms” and “Open architecture” are all the rage, but when it comes to teaching in an SED school, doors are kind of important. Luckily, with about a month left to go of my first year, I was going to get to move! A room had opened up, and it was a much more appropriate space. Tile floors, two sinks, a door that actually closed, and lots of wall space for displaying artwork! My classes were all very excited. They helped me haul boxes of supplies down the hall, and excitedly helped set everything up. I decided to harness their enthusiasm, and took the opportunity to get them even more involved. Immediately I went to Home Depot and came back with two different colors of paint, a ton of rollers and brushes, and dropcloths to cover everything. I put them to work. We listened to music and made small talk while we transformed a dirty white room into a colorful, peaceful space. They even stayed after to help me put up curtains. I was so proud of them, and it made me realize how much they wanted to feel a part of something. Check out the pictures below of how the room looks now. We had made ourselves a home in that art room, a feeling that was passed on to each new student who decided they wanted a home there, too.

A Life Saving Suggestion

25 Feb

The very first day that I taught my elementary class was probably the worst 40 minutes of my teaching career. There were five behavioral students, all about third grade or so. When they walked in, I really thought that they would sit still while I went over rules and expectations. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Within five minutes they were out of their chairs, running around, going through my drawers, asking (yelling) “When are we gonna do art!?” So I abandoned my “plan” and scrambled to get them back in their seats. I shoved some salt dough in front of each of them, and tried to explain what I wanted them to do. Unfortunately, I had prepared the dough wrong, and it stuck like taffy to their little fingers. One boy started crying and screaming “Get it off! Get it off!” The assistant, who was looking at me like I was an idiot, shook her head and took the boy to the bathroom to clean up. I couldn’t even organize the other four kids at the sink without one of them trying to wipe dough on another boy’s back. When I say it was a disaster, it really was a disaster. The worst part of all was that there was still about thirty minutes left until I got to send them back to their classroom (where their teacher, I assumed, must have had magical powers.) So we played Simon Says. We played Duck Duck Goose. We played Simon Says again. Finally, the bell rang and the kids ran hitting and screaming into the hallway and back to their classroom. Clearly, I had to make some changes.

I was completely overwhelmed, and I knew I needed help. Aside from completely revamping how I ran operations during a lesson, I asked my principal for some ideas on what to do if I had extra time at the end of the period. Her advice was “Bin Activities”, and for the rest of the year, Bin Activities were my savior. I went to the dollar store that very same day, purchased eight colorful bins, and plenty of activities to fill them with. I tried to keep most of them somewhat art related, but almost anything works. Coloring books, Memory, white boards and markers, magnetic blocks, play dough, you get the idea. The very next day, I told the kids that when they finished their project, they would be allowed to select one bin activity to play with until the end of the period. They would have to play nicely at their desk, and if they wanted a different bin, they had to clean up the first one. I switched out the activities in the bins fairly often, so that there was always something new and exciting to keep them occupied. I couldn’t believe it, but it worked! Bin activities saved me, hopefully they can help you too.