Wednesday, December 9, 2015

6th Annual SLATE Convention

Kate and I had the amazing fortune of presenting at the 6th Annual SLATE Convention this week in the Wisconsin Dells. It was at the Kalahari Resort (Yes, you can be jealous...No, we didn't make it in the water park, but a few from our group did!) For those of you that aren't familiar, SLATE is a fantastic educational convention that focuses on the latest and greatest in educational technology. We were also pleased to see the increase in focus on personalized learning. It was a fantastic 2 days of learning and connecting with other like-minded individuals. It is always so energizing when you are surrounded by hundreds of people that have similar philosophies and are together for a shared purpose.

One of our favorite parts was connecting not only with the other amazing educators from around the country, but more importantly, connecting more with other teachers from our own building. It was so refreshing to be able to connect on a personal level with some of my favorite people. I swear...we haven't laughed that hard in a long time. We are truly blessed to work with some of the kindest, caring, and hilarious peers! We love being around them, and genuinely enjoy each other's company. In the day to day hustle and bustle of things at school, it is SO important to connect as PEOPLE, not just colleagues! This conference gave us some time to do that, and we are SO grateful for that (and so much more!)
Yes...those are brass elephants...Yes...I am sitting on one. But in my defense...did you see our amazing assistant principal in the upper corner?? Now THAT is devotion to a good shot! :)
We presented "A Day in the Life of Team Togetherness." Our hope with this breakout session was that we could walk people through what a day is like in our personalized learning environment. That being said, we wanted to highlight the differences (and similarities) between the teacher role and that of a Team Togetherness student. We had about 50 people attend, and our amazing principal ran our Today's Meet "back channel." People asked amazing questions and really seemed excited to see what we do day to day. We shared our hurdles, our successes, how our model has scaled, as well as the great tech resources that we use on a consistent basis. The presentation is filled with additional links and files. Feel free to check it out by clicking below:

In addition to presenting, we also got to learn from other amazing educators! We had quite a few new "tool takeaways"--we learned about Knovio, Plickers, Orange Slice, and we are super excited about! Learning about new tools from others is so powerful, but so is seeing how they use tools you already know...but in a completely different way! We can't wait to take some of these back to our space! 

I will say, though, that my favorite learning was from the Tuesday keynote, Kevin Honeycutt. I love keynotes that are engaging, interactive, and know how to read an audience! Kevin did just that...and more! He was inspiring! He was energetic! He lit a spark in us to wrap our arms tighter around those kids that need us most. Anytime you sit in a large lecture AND you can feel those know you have hit the proverbial keynote jackpot! Kevin has used his tough upbringing not as a crutch, but as a motivational driving force to make a difference in the lives of others. The impact he has left on countless students (and countless teachers...just like us...from around the whole world) is immeasurable. Excited to follow his site and Twitter! I know there is more learning to be had, so I can't wait to see what he does next! Some of our favorite "Kevin-isms" from his keynote and break out session (There were SO many more...):

  • "Kids are growing up on a digital playground...and no one is on recess duty"--in reference to the need to meet kids where they were at and help them learn and move forward in a digital age. #digitalcitizenship
  • "Teaching should be like throw to where the receiver isn't....YET!" 
  • "Associative learning...when how you feel while you are learning is just as important as what you are learning"
  • "If I like you, I tell you what to know. If I love you, I tell you HOW to know" We need to love our kids MORE!
  • "When kids get to do things they love, it writes on them with permanent ink" We need to make our lessons/classroom environments fit this more!
  • "How can we bend the system to meet the kid, instead of bending the kid to meet the system?"

    And finally...the one that made us laugh out loud...
    • "Don't pee in my learning pool!"
    Collaborating...creating....critically thinking....and most importantly...COLLECTING! Collecting ideas and memories from each other. Thanks, SLATE, for a great 2 days! Memorable for sure!


    Saturday, November 21, 2015

    Reading Formative Assessments

    We have officially wrapped up our first unit in Reader's Workshop that focused on characters! Our kids really grew so much, especially in their written responses!

    One of the things that Kate and I have been reflecting upon as we continue our Personalized Learning journey is how we can implement more immediate strategy groups within our Reader's Workshop block. Due to the skill-based nature of our math workshop, it is easy to have a "bull pen" using our daily exit slips. In reading, we try not to have daily tasks, allowing the students more freedom to apply the different skills they need as they naturally come up in their self-selected text. In addition, increasing class sizes means that it takes about 2+ weeks to get through the entire class with individual or small group conferences. These don't help our issue of needing more immediate strategy groups.

    Due to this, we decided to implement a form of formative assessment approximately once per week (sometimes every 1.5 weeks). One of the simple ways we do this is through a sticky note check in. Students have the opportunity to submit their best "character thinking sticky note" from that week (since we were in our character unit). They stick their sticky to a laminated class poster that is filled with numbers. Each of our students is assigned a number, so they each have their own "home." We ask them to put their name/number SOMEWHERE on their sticky note, because they will get mixed up later.
    We collect the entire batch at the end of Reader's Workshop and can easily sort the sticky notes into "got it" or "don't got it." This allows us to quickly be able to organize a strategy group for the next day.

    Another project that I have been tackling is becoming more familiar with the new Teacher's College Reading Progressions, as we utilize Teacher's College materials for both reading and writing workshop. While these are truly amazing tools, as with many other Teacher's College materials, they are incredibly "wordy." The entire Narrative Reading Progression is approximately 20 pages, which doesn't always lend itself to 4th graders that have the attention span of a fruit fly! :) Due to this, I modified them into bulleted tables. This format allows the entire Narrative Reading Progression to fit onto 4 pages (2 pages if you copy them back-to-back). I also made them for the Informational Text band, as well.
    In addition to the entire document, I also saved each, individual band as smaller, PNG files. This allows us to insert these images anywhere we would like them (SMART files, Google Slides, Docs, or FORMS!) You can even print them out when working with strategy groups or individual students that you feel need to focus/reflect/set goals on one particular area.
    We have also introduced individual bands of the progression as they pertained to our Character Unit of Study. This sparked the idea of self reflection for our students against the progression bands. We aren't using them as an exact rubric, more for reflection, discussion, strategy group work, and goal setting. We also decided to implement an alternate form of formative assessment. We used the applicable reading progression bands that we had been discussing the most that week, and created a weekly response/self-reflection tool using Google Forms. 
    (Click to view actual form)
    This allowed our students to create one "long and strong" about their best character thinking that week. It also asks them to reflect on their work against a specific band in the narrative reading progression. After reflection, they can go back and revise their response prior to submitting. The best part of Google Forms, is that all of your student responses (in our case...51 of them!) all feed into one, beautiful spreadsheet that you can now tweak, sort, and view in multiple ways!
    There are many benefits to the spreadsheet! 1. Having ALL of your kid responses in one place! This is such a gift for a teacher to not have 51 sticky notes or papers to sort through (or lose!). 2. I set my responses to feed all into one place, making my entire unit of thinking all in one document! 3. I added a column called "score" to my spreadsheet, where I can easily give them a score against the band they were focusing on. This is super helpful, because you can then SORT your entire spreadsheet lowest to highest (or vs. versa depending on your needs). Now I can see all of my lowest responses in one chunk, making them my first strategy group that I will meet with the next day!

    Now, I'll be honest, Google Forms can have their "downsides." The first being that not everyone is as familiar with them as other Google Tools. Due to this, I will try to put a blog post together about some of my favorite "tricks" having to do with Google Forms. I recently presented PD about this Google Form Reflection Tool to other teachers in our district, and I found that the majority of them needed more support in creating/manipulating Google Forms, than the actual progressions! :) So, I definitely recognize the "need" in that area! Another downside is from the student lens. If a student does NOT finish their Google Form Entry by the end of your reading block, there really is no way to save their progress (that I know of, at least? If anyone out there has a solution to this sticky problem, I would LOVE to connect! :) To alleviate this issue, we encourage our students to write their "long and strong" in their digital reading journals FIRST, then "copy/paste" it into their Google Form when they are ready. We also have a few students that use the new "voice type" option in Google Docs to "speak" their response, then "copy/paste" it into the Form when they are ready (really amazing accommodation for your students with special needs or ELL needs!). If you are an iPad classroom (we use Chromebooks), that speak option should be readily available directly within the Form. 

    How do you use formative assessments in your reading workshop block? Have you been using the new Teacher's College progressions? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

    Happy Teaching!


    Friday, November 20, 2015

    Adding Inquiry using Defined STEM!

    Adding inquiry and STEM activities into the content areas has been a priority for Angela and I since the beginning of our journey together. Some of the most memorable moments with our students involve inquiry and their voice and choice.

    This year, our school was fortunate enough to subscribe to Defined STEM. Defined STEM offers a variety of resources, across all standards and subjects, with their subscription. These performance tasks present students with real-world problem solving around a specific career or industry. The performance tasks are inquiry based, and typically tackled in a small group. Defined STEM uses the G.R.A.S.P. Model to introduce their performance tasks.
    Every aspect of the project/performance task is completely customizable. The subscription allows you to edit tasks, products, upload additional docs, videos, and/or links. Rubrics are included for each task, and those are also editable. You can even upload your own rubric. Once changes have been made to a performance task, you can share it with a colleague and your students. When given a link, they can easily access the student version!

    Many of the classrooms at our school are implementing these performance tasks across subject areas. A STEM committee met last summer to look at ways we could embed this amazing resource into our already existing science units. The cross grade level conversations were empowering, and helped many of us get a better grasp on the website and all it has to offer.

    After customizing the performance task and rubrics to best meet the needs of our students, I created additional materials that would support them during their product creation. I could easily link these docs directly to the online performance task so that ALL necessary materials are embedded right in the website link sent to students! I also created a PACING GUIDE to help us, as teachers, plan the inquiry project, AND to help our students use their class time wisely. Although many of our students are working on Genius Hour projects right now, this is our first inquiry group project. Angela and I felt the pacing guide would help keep them on track, and divvy up the product tasks.
    For our first performance task, our students will be creating a SUPERSTAR MUSICAL GROUP! They will be working in their inquiry groups to problem solve and apply the knowledge they learned during their Physics of Sound unit. We introduced the performance task to the students today and they will be meeting with their inquiry group next week. We promise to post pictures of their progress over the next few weeks! 

    ~ Kate

    Wednesday, November 18, 2015

    Learning Lab is Up & Running!

    We are excited to announce that the 4th grade Learning Lab is up and running! We needed a few weeks to get to know our students, and to wrap our minds around what we were doing, but I'm happy to say that we are off to a great start and loving the 45 minute block each day. 

    Learning Lab is a collaborative time for our entire 4th grade team. During this block, all students, teachers, and several support staff meet in the LL space. We have two, 20 minute rotations where students have choice in what they are working on. Our first cycle is scheduled to last 7 weeks. 

    After digging through our grade level data, we determined that some students needed additional practice in a variety of areas of reading and/or math. This intervention block, run by classroom teachers, takes place during one of the rotations, but students' voice and choice still comes through in their second rotation! With all hands on deck, our 4th grade team has been able to provide our learners with the following choice activities during our first rotation:
    • Math Olympiads
    • Reader's Theater
    • Genius Hour
    • ALEKS/Dreambox/Front Row
    • Typing Agent- keyboarding practice
    To get started, we gathered as an entire grade level for a few days to explain Learning Lab rotations and expectations to our students. We used this Google Slide presentation to discuss self monitoring behavior, working independently, being productive, collaborating when necessary, and problem solving. Towards the end of the week, we shared a Google Form with our students. They each had the opportunity to share their first and second choice activities with the teachers. 

    As teachers, we dug through the Google Form responses during our PLC time, created a schedule, and organized our students into groups using this Google Sheet. Students names and homerooms were listed under each gropu. It took a lot of checking and double checking, but we managed to organize all 130 kids. It was REALLY important to us that each child had an adult to check in with at each rotation. Although the students' voice and choice came through in their rotation picks, accountability and use of time is extremely important to us. The students know that they are responsible for the learning taking place each day, and that they must be prepared and ready to learn. 

    As we finish up our first rotation, our 4th grade team is already brainstorming possible choice activities for our upcoming rotation. As we review our intervention and classroom data, we will be sending out our next Google Form in the near future. Looking forward to what's up next! A HUGE thank you to every one for their hard work, creativity, and flexibility! 

    ~ Kate

    Sunday, November 15, 2015

    Personalizing Learning in Math Workshop

    Last month I had another amazing opportunity to share my knowledge in Green Bay at the Mathematics Proficiency for Every Student (MPES) Conference.  I attended this conference, sponsored by Wisconsin Math Council, last December in Oconomowoc, and this year I had the wonderful opportunity to present.

    Day two of the conference focused on looking at ways to transform math classrooms to make them more personal. Jim McLure and Jean Garrity, from the Institute for Personalized Learning, CESA 1, provided the afternoon keynote. From there, the conference attendees learned more grade level specific strategies for personalizing learning in their own math classrooms. All of the afternoon breakout sessions were run by amazing teachers from Elmbrook! I was proud to be one of the six teachers sharing their expertise in this area.

    Since this presentation, several classroom teachers have reached out to us, looking for some of the docs I shared. We wanted to use this blog post to share a link to my presentation and to invite others to email us with questions, concerns, or feedback. Within the Google Slides you will find links embedded throughout. We look forward to hearing from you!

    ~ Kate

    Learning Models- A Personal Assessment Tool

    Earlier this month, Angela and I, along with two 2nd grade teachers from Swanson, presented at The Institute for Personalized Learning's 6th Annual Convening Conference. We have attended this conference the past several years, and have had the good fortune of presenting the last two years. Convening is a wonderful opportunity for teachers and administrations to come together to discuss the many aspects of personalized learning in the classroom. There were people from all over the country at this year's event, and many teachers from Southeastern Wisconsin shared the amazing work they are doing in their classrooms.
    T.E.A.M Togetherness & Inspiration Station
    Our presentation this year introduced teachers to Learning Models. Learning Models are a personal assessment tool we use in our classroom. This summative assessment is a fun, student driven approach. Students think deeply about the standards presented, and they are given choice in how they demonstrate proficiency towards the standards. The provided rubric outlines their opportunity to aim for exceeds and supports them as they take ownership over their learning. 

    Angela and I were thrilled to see the number of people in attendance. We had close to 100 attendees, eager and excited to learn more about this tool. After a brief introduction to our personalized learning environments, we walked our participants through how we use Learning Models to provide more student voice and choice in assessment at the primary and upper elementary level. We shared several examples, across subject areas, along with student exemplars. After our introduction to this assessment tool, attendees were invited to choose a topic, plan, and develop a Learning Model of their own that they could immediately implement in their classroom. Teachers brought their own device, along with curriculum materials, and we were on hand to support them in this process. We LOVED this workshop model!

    As we floated throughout the room, the energy and enthusiasm was contagious. I absolutely loved listening to the ideas of others, and supporting fellow teachers as they created their own Learning Models and rubrics. I was quick to grab my own piece of paper so I could jot down new ideas learned, and even used the opportunity to network with fellow educators. It was such an amazing 75 minutes!

    Thank you to The Institute for Personalized Learning, for giving us the opportunity to share our knowledge! We always walk away from this conference feeling energized and excited for all the amazing work being done!

    ~ Kate

    Saturday, September 26, 2015

    The Power of Team Building

    September...the most exciting and exhausting month of a teacher's year! What an amazing start to the year we have had in TEAM Togetherness! We are loving getting to know our little darlings! We are still adjusting to switching from end of the year 5th graders to beginning of the year 4th graders (WOW...what a difference!). Kate and I are constantly giving each other permission to slow down and breathe! They are so young, but really have come so far in the first 3 weeks of school!

    As we start with a brand new group of kiddos, one of the most important things we do to launch our year is team building activities. These activities take time, but the resulting conversations and foundation building is critical to our personalized learning environment.

    Many of our students are coming to us never having been in a set up like ours (2 teachers, one big space, 50+ kids, no desks, etc.). They are also "big 3rd graders." Many do not know how to communicate their needs clearly, collaborate, solve problems, give feedback, or persevere when things get tough....YET!

    Starting on the first day, Kate and I provide our students with purposefully planned team building activities to help build this sort of foundation. Our hope today, is to lay out some of the big ones we have used, as well as the resulting conversations, as well as how it has connected to the underlying rules and beliefs in our environment. So, hang on....we've got A LOT to share!


    Amazon Link
    Have you read this book?? If not, you totally should check it out! She also has other great ones that have similar themes! We used this book on the first day of school to launch a conversation about how we are all unique and bring different skills and talents to Team Togetherness. It is a hilarious book about the exclamation mark that doesn't feel like he fits in anywhere. He tries to be like everyone else (and fails hilariously), but in the end, as you can probably imagine, he learns how his own skills are special and necessary.

    After reading the book, we introduced the kids to 5 different posters--one for each punctuation mark--period, comma, question mark, quotation marks, and exclamation mark. We didn't give them much direction, other than to think about which mark best represents them. We, then, asked them to move to the poster they felt was the best representative of themselves. Once there, as a new small group, they brainstormed ways that they "mattered" to Team Togetherness.
    After they had filled their posters with ideas, we came back together as a large group and shared out. We created an anchor chart to hang in the room to remind us of our ideas. One of our darlings, in our grand conversation, said "So, we really need ALL of us to build up Team Togetherness!" <sigh of happiness> Out of the mouths of babes...
    Our final thinking anchor chart

    You'd think that jigsaw puzzles would be easy or "baby-ish" for 4th graders, but let me tell you, it was fascinating to watch! Kate and I bought ten 100-piece animal jigsaw puzzles from the dollar store (totally worth it). We, then, divided them into 5 person teams. The directions were simple: complete the puzzle in 10 minutes. Easy?? Not so much! They all thought it would be, but it turned out that everyone had their own idea on how to solve it! 

    As teachers, it was absolutely fascinating to us to see which groups did what. Which ones started on the carpet, then realized a flat surface would work better. Which started with the edges. Which started with the main picture. Which group had 5 kids working on their own little parts, not really putting them together to make one. After 10 minutes, we had NO ONE complete their puzzle (we really expected this result...10 minutes really isn't THAT long ;)

    We, then, came together as a large group, and discussed what went well and what didn't. What strategies helped you be more successful? Again, we charted our ideas.
    After our grand conversation was done, we let them go back and finish their puzzles! Surprisingly (not really), they were far more successful :) 


    Our next activity fed the engineers in our room! We bought small, plastic cups from Target. We gave each group about 40 cups to work with (no way did we need that many in hindsight!). Again, fairly simple directions: build the tallest, free-standing cup tower that you can. Again, totally fun to watch. Many kids gave up or showed frustration (every group's tower fell multiple times!), others worked really well together. Kate and I walked around with a meter stick and our microphone, calling out the tallest height of the moment.
    Then, it was time for our grand conversation (sensing a pattern here??) This time, we really emphasized perseverance and positive communication when things don't go well. It's not just WHAT we say, but HOW we say it to each other.


    This was a new one for us this year, but was by far, one of my most favorites! We gave each group a large tube of toothpaste (again, purchased at our favorite, local dollar store!), a styrofoam plate,  and one toothpick per person. The only direction we gave was "We want to see which team can squeeze and empty their tube the fastest." Now, of course, that wasn't really the ultimate task, but this part was SO fun and MINTY! (our room smelled fantastic!)

    Squeezing the toothpaste OUT!
    Now came the REALLY fun part...we told them that they now needed to put the toothpaste back IN to their tubes using their toothpicks! Our direction was met with "What?? Impossible! I wouldn't have squeezed it all out had I known that!" and more hilarious whining! What ensued was a messy disaster of fun learning!
     ATTEMPTING to put the toothpaste back in!
    Once the giant mess was cleaned up (yes, it makes a giant one, but so worth it!), we read the familiar book Have You Filled a Bucket Today?. Then, we discussed the challenge.
    Amazon Link for Book
    The biggest connection...our words are like the toothpaste! Once they are out of the "tube", you can never really get them back in. We used this as a platform to discuss "choosing kind" at all times, how our words mean something, and how they make a difference!


    This one is probably familiar to many of has been all over Pinterest and other blogs for years. Consider it an "oldie, but goodie!" There are hundreds of different versions out there. There are cutsie directions pages you can download when you search. There are even STEM connections to this one. For us, we kept it more simple. It wasn't so much about the activity, but the work and communication that went into it. We gave our students 20 mini marshmallows, 20 sticks of regular spaghetti (no linguine here!), and a roll of clear tape. We gave them 20 minutes and told them to build the tallest, free-standing tower possible. Only rules, once a piece of spaghetti or marshmallow was broken, you would not get a new one. And, it had to stand on its taping it to the table or wall!
    We were most surprised by the lack of success on this project, but it really turned out to be a great teachable moment. They REALLY struggled with this one for some reason. We had a number of friends just give up and watch. We had a tremendous conversation about perseverance and failure. We hadn't anticipated doing it with this one, but the timing was just right. We also shared the now super popular Rube Goldberg video and used it to talk about failure. 

    We spent the majority of the time discussing how the only true failure is when you stop trying. And how the little boy in this video saw his failures as opportunities to make things better. He was EXCITED by the number of failures he had!

    Even though we went into the spaghetti challenge thinking we would discuss more about collaboration, the personal needs of our group took us in a different, magical direction. So, despite the "failure" of most of our groups in building a successful spaghetti tower, we were all "winners" with our new understanding of failure!


    One of the last activities we did during the first 2 weeks of school was ask our students 6 questions:

    1. What should kids in our class be doing to make sure our class runs as smooth as possible?
    2. What do you hope to learn this year in XXth grade? (insert your grade here)
    3. What will YOU need to do this year in order to be successful?
    4. What will Mrs. Sommerville & Mrs. Patterson need to do this year in order to help Team Togetherness be successful? (insert your own name/class here)
    5. Our class should be _____ every day!
    6. School is important because ________!

    We put these questions on 6 different sticky note anchor charts around the room. We, then, divided the kids into 6 starting groups, each armed with a pencil and sticky note pad. This was a silent activity. We set the timer for 3 minutes. During those three minutes, they needed to answer their assigned question on sticky notes. After the 3 minutes were up, we rotated to a new poster.
    Once all groups had rotated through all 6 posters, we met for one of our final team building "grand conversations." We logged all of our best ideas into a doc.
    Wow...just looking over that list again gives me goosebumps! They are so insightful and honest! <heart swells with happiness>

    We used this document to look for trends and ideas. We, then, wrote our first draft of our "Social Contract." In Team Togetherness, our social contract is the norms we agree to function by. The kids word it and discuss what should or shouldn't be a part of it.  Our next blog post will focus on the social contract, as well as technology contract that the kids wrote, as well as the consequences they came up with.

    Now, these 6 activities are not "the end" of team building in our space. We try to incorporate at least 1-2 per month for the remainder of the school year. It is always good to "norm" yourself and re-experience something to bring those ideas back to life! Others we are saving "in our back pockets": Saving Fred, a different cup/rubber band challenge, more great picture books, Lego challenge, The Day the Crayons Quit (a great book!), and more!

    In Team Togetherness, team building activities are not only fun and memorable, but they have a much deeper meaning. For us, they are integral in the development of our classroom community and norms. They are powerful teachable moments.

    How do you develop community in your classrooms? Do you have other ideas to share? We'd love to learn with you!

    Happy Teaching!


    Monday, September 7, 2015

    Setting Up the Classroom

    So...we survived the first week! It has been amazing (& exhausting) starting fresh with a brand new class of little darlings after finishing our 2 year loop with our last group. We have done so much this week, and of course, a lot we didn't get to. A blog post will be coming soon about the first week bumps and celebrations.

    This year was definitely new for Kate and I. For starters, we had to pack up everything prior to the end of the school year. And, when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING! Our entire classroom had to be boxed up and put into trailers behind our building. Why? You might ask...we are now the COOL teachers in an air conditioned building! HOORAY! 
    The absolutely GINORMOUS crane putting one of the units on our roof!
    That being said...while we now get to wear a sweater in September, this project came with many challenges. The number one challenge for us teachers being that we could NOT get into our school for the entire summer! I don't know about you, but I typically try to get in once a week throughout the summer to complete small tasks. I only stay for a few hours, but it helps me build up to the "big reveal" at meet and greet in August.

    The summer was winding down, our anxiety was winding up, and we finally found out we could get into our classrooms on Monday, August 24th!!! <sigh of relief> Meet and Greet was pushed back to August 31st! That is not much time, people! This is was we walked into:
    The double room PILE we walked into!
    EVERYTHING we owned was piled on top of each other and on blue carts. Our giant pieces of furniture were tipped upside down, smooshed, and in the wrong half of the space. My anxiety flew through the roof when I walked in. I gasped. I called Kate (who was on her way). I panicked. Then, I took a deep breath and dug in.

    The first few hours were just spent trying to unload the 8 blue carts full of boxes and books. Once those were out of the room, we had a little more space to work with. Kate and I stayed until they kicked us out (well after 9PM) that first night...and the second night....!

    It took us all week (and a lot of sweat and sore muscles), but we finally had this:

    Not only did we get everything set up, but we (of course), took on some extra projects (because...seriously...we didn't have ANYTHING else to do ;) We're sick...truly sick... :)

    Project One: Repainting the dry-erase tables! These tables take a beating throughout the year. Here is a link to our original blog post from last year when we painted them for the first time! Since then, they have been scuffed, chipped, and "shadowed." A little sanding, primer, and new paint...and voila! We have beautifully white tables, ready for the writing! We even added a 4th table this year! I added 3 coats of the dry erase paint this year (vs. two last year) with the hope that they will hold up a little better. We'll see!! Regardless, it is a great way to cover up old, beat up tables! The kids LOVE them!
    BEFORE...scuffed, chipped, and nasty! We sanded all the tables down first, then primed them with a latex primer.

    AFTER! 4 beautiful, white, shiny tables that are ready for the writing!
    Project Two: Spray painting ugly stools! We had about 8 of those old, art room stools at various parts of our room. They were different colors of metal. They had rust spots. They were, needless to say, UNATTRACTIVE! So, a few cans of spray paint later...and we have beautiful, shiny stools that really POP in our room! Here is a link to the brand we used! We chose a lime green and turquoise color (sorry, couldn't find the exact colors on Home Depot site). 
    We did choose gloss colors (there is a matte finish, as well). Had we had more time, we would have sprayed them with a clear protective coating, as well. Maybe we still can sometime before a long break....we just ran out of time! It was such an inexpensive upgrade to our room! Our peers were so "wowed" by our simple change, that there are now MANY different colored stools floating around our school :)

    Project Three: Overhaul of the classroom libraries! We have the gift of having a fiction and nonfiction library in our room (a pleasant side effect of combining two classroom libraries into one!) We love our books. Our kids love our books. BUT....they are HORRIBLE at putting them away! None of our labels matched either. So...we made some new labels that went with our chevron and chalkboard theme! We are in LOVE with how organized it all is now!
    You can grab the book bin labels for FREE by clicking HERE!
    We used different colors for different kinds of books--blue for chapter book series/authors, purple for genre sorted books (historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc.), red for picture books, and green for all nonfiction! We also put numbers in the corners of the labels. Each book is labeled with a matching number to help each book end up back in the right place! was A TON of work, but we made it just in time for "Meet & Greet"! Our families are amazing and our new little 4th graders (such a change from end of year 5th graders!) are so energetic and eager! 

    We will update soon with the different team-building activities we have done to better get to know our kiddos. We have some fun ones to share!

    Happy Teaching!