Tuesday, January 31, 2012


As budgets have been slashed, we have had to get really creative about professional development.  Today we had a consultant come in and do a demonstration lesson for every grade level!  We had a rotating schedule using a few subs and lots of in-house coverage so that every teacher that teaches Math or Science could attend their grade level demo.  Each grade level gave the consultant a topic that they were studying and she came into a real class and used Gizmos to teach the concept to the children while taking time in between to answer questions.  We have been talking about Gizmos for some time but, honestly, until I actually saw it in action, I really couldn't envision all that it could do.  It's really a way to set up experiments on the computer.  For our kindergartners who have been studying the effects of gravity, she set up an experiment at the Leaning Tower of Pizza.  Of course, Angel identified the Tower and let us all know that it is "a landmark in Europe!"  The children suggested different scenarios involving a ping pong ball, basketball, backpack, etc. dropping two items at a time and predicting which they thought would hit the ground first and then making a hypothesis and testing it out on the next scenario.  The students were so engaged!

Of course, like so many things, the Gizmos are designed for our 3-5th graders and not for Kindergartners.  Of course, the instructor showed how they can be adapted and used but it would still take lots of time to search the bank and figure out how to modify the different scenarios for such students.  However, this is a post about being creative in designing professional development and this set up provided such a "real" experience with our own children.  Doesn't get any better than that!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Kindergarten does Science!

In Florida fifth graders are the first to take a state Science test based on Florida's Science Standards.    While kindergarten teachers  have always done Science there is an urgency now to make sure that each grade level has done its part by the time our students get to fifth grade.  There is an emphasis on hands-on experiments, lessons that help students explore and provide a strong foundation for new ideas to build upon the next year.   Mrs. Roberts and Mrs. Griffin's board demonstrates the current Force and Motion unit as the students show their knowledge of Push and Pull in pictures.  The photographs at the bottom of the board show many of the activities that the students participated in before they were asked to draw examples of push and pull.
Yzrael drew a picture of a basketball with a goal and a picture of people playing tug-of-war to demonstrate push and pull.  When asked about this picture he replied, "I can use my hands to push the basketball up to the basketball net.  I can also use my hands to help push the rope back on a game of tug-of-war.
 Dahiana drew a picture of pulling the car door open and pushing the car door shut.  When asked about this picture, Dahiana replied, "I can use my hands to pull the handle of the door open.  I can also use my hands to push the door shut.  Some car doors are really hard to push."

Chelsee drew a picture of a flag pole and a wagon.  When asked about her picture, Chelsee replied, "Well, you see, you can turn your hands to pull the rope and make the flag go up the pole.  But you can also use your hands to push he rope down and then the flag will come down.  I can also use my hands to pull the handle of the wagon."

Science is alive and well in Kindergarten!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Miss Nelson is Missing!

Mrs. Ruark and Mrs. Timmons have done an outstanding job with this month's kindergarten bulletin board.  They used the book Miss Nelson is Missing to introduce this narrative unit.  The story is about a teacher who decides to teach her disruptive children a lesson by pretending that she is a mean substitute named, Mrs. Viola Swamp.  She comes dressed as the mean sub and gives the children work until they are thrilled to see their real teacher again.  After reading and discussing the book, the teachers invited the children to use the characters in the book and write their own story.  They encouraged the children to write their fictional narrative using themselves and real people that they know mixed in with the fictional characters.  This bulletin board shows three different levels of kindergarten writing. 

The teachers began by having the children help them write an alternate story.  They discussed variations and decided as a class how the story would go. Then they modeled each step over several days.  That story is shown on top of the bulletin board.

The first piece of student writing was done in a guided writing group with the teacher and a small group of students.  The teacher and student went page by page, first talking about what the group thought should go on each page and then each student writing his own sentence.  The teacher supported each child by helping him stretch words so he could write his own individual thoughts.  This group had difficulty veering away from the original story and basically did a retelling of the original story.
The Kids Are Crazy

by Mikaela
There is paper on the floor.  There was a knock at the door. It was Viola Swamp. 
She said, “Do your homework!”  They did their work.  The kids did not like Viola Swamp.  She gave lots of homework.  Mrs. Nelson came back.  The kids were happy.

Each child did a picture of Miss Nelson and Viola Swamp which the teachers used as a border on the board.

The second student piece on the board, which was done independently, is a short story using the writer's teachers along with Mrs.Viola Swamp as the main characters. The teacher supported the student by having her first envision what she wanted to write on each page and then rehearsing it orally.  As the student told the teacher what she wanted to write, the teacher drew a line for each word to help the student remember the sequence.
by Jaylene
             Paper all around.
            The children are being bad.                  
            The children made a mess in the classroom.
             They are coloring on the carpet.  Miss Viola Swamp came in the door.
             There will be homework today.  When school is over we see Mrs. Timmons
              and Mrs. Ruark at the beach.  Mrs. Raurk and Mrs. Timmons are back!

The final piece of student work is amazing.  The fluency of the piece for such a young writer is striking and shows natural talent beyond that taught in the classroom.  This kindergartner is able to write the story totally independently and to control for much of the spelling. She wrote a delightful, imaginative story over a series of days.

by Morgan
Crayons are all over the place.  The bookshelf is tipped over and all of the kids clips are on red!  Mrs. Timmons and Mrs. Ruark decide that something must be done.  The very next day Mrs. Timmons and Mrs. Ruark were missing and the children said, “All right now, let’s really act up!”  They started to throw all the clips in the trashcan.  They started to color all over the white board and the worst thing that you could ever imagine, they were flipping the tables over and they made a piñata.  Then they hung it up somewhere in the classroom.  Then they turned off all of the lights in the classroom.  Then they found a bat in the classroom.  Then they swung the bat to see if they could make the piñata break and they also had a blindfold.  Then one of the boys in the classroom (his name was Ryan) swung the bat and he broke it.  Then lots and lots and lots of candy came out of it.  Then all of the children gobbled the sweets up and they said that it was so so yummy.  Then all of a sudden Miss Viola Swamp ran in the classroom door and screamed, “Stop playing around.  I have lots of homework for you today!”  and the children started to listen to Miss Viola Swamp.  After that Miss Viola Swamp started treating the children sweeter.  Then Miss Viola Swamp read them a story.  It was called Miss Nelson is Missing.  Finally Miss Viola Swamp left, but the children were not very excited because they wanted her to stay, but the children also missed Mrs. Timmons and Mrs. Ruark.  Finally Mrs. Timmons and Mrs. Ruark CAME BACK!  And the children did a silent celebration.

Each piece of work on the board includes a chart that shows a teaching rubric and then discusses the child's work as compared to the standards.  Morgan's commentary is included below.
Orientation and Context
·         Demonstrates an emerging grasp of context
Morgan brings the reader into the narrative and engages by opening with a description of what is going on in the classroom.  From that initial grounding she begins to describe events.
Plot Development and Organization
·         Creates a “story” or recount made up of several incidents or actions, some of which may be loosely linked
·        Controls for chronological order
Morgan’s story is an interesting sequence of events including the teachers leaving, several incidences involving the children’s misadventures and Miss Swamp entering the picture.  Then she includes several more events with Miss Swamp before she closes.  The story has a natural, easy sequence that is in chronological order.
·         Provides a sense of closure
After establishing the problem in her story  (the children misbehaving while the teachers are missing), Morgan brings the teachers back as her closing.  She even adds, “And they did a silent celebration.”


·         Uses detail to describe incidents and people

Morgan’s uses details throughout her story.  She begins with details describing the opening scene, “Crayons are all over the place.  The bookshelf is tipped over and all of the kids’ clips are on red!” 
·         May attempt dialogue
Morgan uses dialogue naturally when she says, “…and the children said, ‘All right now, let’s really act up!’” and also when she wrote “Miss Viola Swamp ran in the classroom door and screamed, ‘Stop playing around.  I have lots of homework for you today!’” 
·         May use simple transition words
·         May use drawings to expand or illustrate the text

The transition word then pops up often in Morgan’s writing.  She also uses after that and finally. 

She does not depend on her drawings for meaning as she spends all of her time in the Writers' Workshop on her writing.  Morgan also uses capitals to provide emphasis when she writes CAME BACK, a fairly sophisticated strategy for a kindergartner!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of the Union

As I'm listening to President's Obamam's State of the Union tonight, I wanted to stand up and applaud (or maybe scream and jump up and down) when he got to this part...

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced States to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies – just to make a difference.

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

Where can I sign on the line?  I believe Chets Creek would take that deal tomorrow.  Give us the resources just to teach so that we don't have to spend our time figuring out how to get technology that works or even how to supply toilet paper, for heaven's sake!   Let us use the amazing gold mine of talent that we have to teach creatively and with the passion that is inside us. Free us from teaching to a test so that we may once again teach children to love losing themselves in a book.   Make it easy for us to get rid of teachers who need to find their paycheck in another profession.  Is it possible that these ideas can become our reality... or are we just caught up in another season of political retoric?  How I want to believe...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Bulletin Board Blog

Each time bulletin boards go up at our school, a group of teachers go around and read all the bulletin boards and then choose the best bulletin board for K-1, the best for 2-3 and the best for 4-5.  The winning board gets a "superstar ribbon" to keep (sort of like a "Yard of the Month" sign!)  The best part for the winning teacher is that the bulletin board stays up for the next month so they don't have to put up a new board when everyone else does!  It's a friendly competition.  The point in selecting a "winning" bulletin board is to find a way to encourage teachers and students and parents to read more of the boards and to find a way to archive our work over time.  If you interested in looking at some of our best boards, you can check the bulletin board blog.  The blog allows you to search by grade level and by subject!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Author Visit: Carmen Agra Deedy

One of most special traditions at Chets Creek is Media Specialist's KK Cherney's commitment to bring a children's author or illustrator to our campus each year.  This year the children and staff had the opportunity to hear the delightful children's author, Carmen Agra Deedy.  The children were captivated by her stories.  She was born in Cuba and came to the United States when she was three years old.  She told the primary students about leaving Cuba and about her first year in school in Decatur, GA as a first grader and as a second language learner, and about finding common ground in baseball and the peanut man.  Not only was her story heart-wrenching but it was so funny!  She had the children in the palm of her hand!  She told other stories to the assemblies of older students and even met with a group of second language learners during lunch.

Principal Susan Phillips used one of Carmen's books in the morning to provide monthly professional development for the teachers around her book-of-the-month.  This month the teachers walked in to find the Cuban folktale, Martina,The Beautiful Cockroach as their selected book for the month. The table was set up with Cuban coffee ( which was wonderful!) and Cuban bread!   However, the beautiful book was written totally in Spanish!   The Principal asked the teachers in groups of three to read the book and figure out what the story was about as the author watched from the back of the room! 
It was quite interesting to watch the teachers - responses mirrored what we see from our second language students on a daily basis, from those that simply gave up because it was too hard, to those that tried to figure out the story from the few words that they knew (often incorrectly), to those that used other strategies such as looking at the pictures to figure out the story.  The point was to put teachers in the place of a second language student... and it worked quite well.  Principal Phillips then gave the teachers a list of researched based strategies for teaching second language students and asked each group of teachers to write ways that they would use the book to reinforce one of the strategies.  Those teacher-generated ideas will be housed on the school's book-of-the-month wiki so that teachers can return to and use this book, that is now part of their classroom library, each year.
Carmen Agra Deedy with
my kindergarten granddaughter
Students were allowed the opportunity to order one of the author's books before the holiday, so after lunch each of those children was invited to the Media Center to meet with the author and have the book signed.  What a thrill it is for these young students to actually meet a published author!  I loved hearing some of the older students talk about how they have a signed book from each year they have been at Chets Creek!  What a treasured gift of memories.

It was such a special day for the teachers and the children, especially some of our second language learners.  Many of our students heard books by Carmen Agra Deedy for the first time and others revisited books they have loved and had been hearing for the weeks leading up to her visit.  For many this will be a day that is pressed into  their  memories for a long time to come and it will help them realize that authors are real people and help them visualize the possibility of becoming an author themselves! For some of our second language learners who are struggling each day to comprehend what is going on around them, I think this visit must have renewed hope as they look at how well things turned out for Carmen.  Amazing day!

Check out this delightful retelling done by a Cuban-American (former teacher) mom with  a kindergartner in Mrs. Mallon and Mrs. Dillard's class!  People just wouldn't believe what happens at our school!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

One of the writing assignments we do at almost every grade level as we return to school for the new year is to explain to our children about goals and resolutions and then have them write a New Year's Resolution of their own.  In Kindergarten the teacher started by reading the book Squirrel's New Year's Resolution and then discussing with the children her own goal for the new year.  Then she had the children turn and talk to a partner about a goal each might have for 2012.  Finally the children shared out their goals giving each child even more choices and expanding their thought process.  Finally the little writers were asked to go write a resolution ( or "revolution" as one little kindergarten put it!)   Enjoy the adorable writing of some of our youngest writers below!
My resolution will be to help my sister make better choices at home so she does not get in trouble.

Taking out the garbage

My resolution is to clean up my room.

I will recycle because it can help the environment.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The First Day of the New Year

The first day back to school after Christmas is always hard.  The alarm clock rings so early and this morning it was so-o-o cold - at least for Florida.  It was hard to crawl out from under those warm covers.  I got to school to find the laminator out of film so I couldn't use the centers I had worked on over the holiday.  Then it was printers that didn't work and teachers stressed by their inability to print their Newsletters and morning work.  Computers had been "deployed" over the break and every bit of a semester's work for four of my students vanished.  Their daily computer intervention was lost for today, and probably forever, since I can't ask them to repeat a semester's worth of work to figure out where they are in the program. I HATE technology.  I'm sure at some executive level, technology decisions make lots of sense, but for those of us in the trenches, technology is a nightmare. 

With that kind of start, I guess I could say it was a dreadful start to the new school year but then the students walked through the door.  Their new haircuts and clothes - Kayla with her special toboggan knitted by mom, Christian's adorable Superman hat, Grace's cute little gingerbread tee-shirt that made us all laugh - and all those little toys sneaked into backpacks to share.  They walked in with such enthusiasm - smiles ear to ear -chattering away about all that had happened since we had last been together.  Their faces were so eager and some of them seemed to have grown while they were away.  A million stories had been etched into their memories - both good and bad - and they shared so willingly - places they had been, nanas they had seen, cousins they had played with, hugs they had shared... and then there was the one child who said nothing good had happened over the break and told about her dad being so mad on Christmas Eve and crying all night.  Even with the few sad stories, the sun shone brightly through the windows as the children began to take their places in the room melting the fog and dark clouds of the earlier morning.  I guess this is why I teach... because no matter what is going on in my own life, no matter the distractions and roadblocks of the "system," the children warm the air.  They remind me of all that is good in this world and of my responsibility to them for these 180 days that we have together.  Life really is good... and I feel blessed to be able to spend my days teaching children...  Welcome new year!