September 22, 2015

Managing Multiple Classes

I teach fifth grade.
But at my school, fifth grade is departmentalized.
So I teach fifth grade STEM.
Every day I have 4 class periods.
Students rotate every 70 minutes, taking their supplies with them.
I stay in the room and teach the same content 4 times.

There are definitely some positives of this set-up.
1. I can really focus on planning engaging lessons for my content area.
2. I only have to write lesson plans for one subject.
3. I know ALL the fifth graders.
4. I work closely with the other teachers since we share students.
5. I use the line "repeat for each class" when writing sub plans.
6. I know exactly what to say and what questions are likely to arise by fourth period!

There are some challenges too.
1. Seating charts. I hate making them and now I need 4 seating charts.
2. Notes. I use a teacher notebook to record class notes and model activities during lessons.
3. Assignments. I have 4X the papers when I give an assignment and just as many when I return them.
4. Journals. I have to collect them on occasion. That's A LOT of journals.
5. Supplies. There are supplies that I provide and managing them is a pain.
6. Projects. I need 4X the supplies as well as the space to store the projects during the unit.

I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!

I've come up with a few solutions.
But if you have any ideas, PLEASE comment below.
I'm always up for new or better ways of doing things!

CHALLENGE #1: Seating Charts
I don't really have a good solution for creating seating charts. I still have to consider a lot. Who bothers who. Who talks to who. Who needs additional assistance. Who has a 504 or IEP requiring preferential seating. Who needs (but does not have) glasses. Who is struggling. Who needs a challenge. Who is boy crazy. Who is girl crazy. Who drives ME crazy. Just kidding. (sort of)

I did come up with a strategy that seems to be helping a bit.
I created my seating charts by using the Popsicle sticks I use for calling on students. This way I can group, arrange, and rearrange the students over and over before writing the final decision down. I have a container for each class with all the students' names written on a Popsicle stick, so it's just a matter of figuring out everything I listed above. Yikes!
 I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!

I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!
When I'm done, I staple the seating charts together and keep them laying beside my computer. Most of the time I don't need them now that I know everyone's names. But there are those days when I can't seem to remember my OWN name that I really rely on those charts. Plus, when I have a substitute in my room, they can simply flip through the charts for each class period.
I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!
I actually started recording other important information right on the seating chart. Students who are pulled for RTI (intervention classes) are marked and the time is written. Students with IEPs that allow for read-aloud testing are marked - this reminds me OR a sub. Students who are pulled for reading or math special services are marked and a time is recorded. Students who have speech or ELL services are marked with times. Sound like a lot? It is!!! That's why I started recording it right on my seating charts. That way I only have to look in one place for all of those times. So far so good.

Students in fifth grade don't know how to take notes completely independently. Well, some might, but MOST do not. They need guidance. They need me to model for them. When it comes to vocabulary definitions, I have them copy what I write. Some students need this support until the end of the year. Some students begin to learn how to write important information down without being shown what to write. It's a process. For this reason (and more) I keep a "teacher notebook" with all class notes, activities, and interactive folded papers in it.

Here's the thing.
I need FOUR NOTEBOOKS since I have 4 classes.
I realize that I could just uncover the notes that I write during my first class, but I've tried that. The students were less likely to be engaged in what was going on. Also, I spent a lot of time feeling like I was just "waiting" for them to copy what I wrote. I often have students develop the meanings of vocabulary terms in their own words. Each class is different, so I might have different versions for each one. When we collect data from an investigation, the data is always different so I found myself rewriting things a lot anyway.
I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!
So my solution is to have a separate interactive notebook for each homeroom class. This has been beneficial since I am creating an interactive notebook right along with my students. It helps me to keep track of how far I have gotten with each class. I try to stay at the same pace, but that isn't always realistic. Also, when a student is absent or pulled out of the room for some reason or another, I have a ready-made notebook for them to access so they can copy any notes or data that they missed.

CHALLENGE #3: Assignments
I'm not complaining about having papers to grade. That's not the issue. My struggle is with the returning of the papers. And even more so, when a student is absent. Keeping track of who missed what assignment and who hasn't turned in work is tricky. Especially when I factor in the number of students who miss only a part of my class. I remember seeing them, but sometimes forget that they were out of the room when I pass out the homework. Sheesh! It's a lot to manage.

My solution to this organizational problem is two-fold.
First, I have four file folders that I keep on the flat file behind my teaching station. One for each homeroom class. If I grade a test, quiz, exit slip, or homework assignment, I place the papers in the folder based on the students' homeroom. That way I can simply open the folder and return any papers at the beginning of class. I also use these folders to store papers that I have passed out (assignments, foldables, etc.) when a student is out of the room. So for example, if Johnny is at speech when I pass out the homework, I leave a copy with his name on it in the folder for his homeroom. That way if he is responsible (some are) and asks what he missed I can give it to him. It also helps me to be sure to set aside the papers for any students who have missed school. Even if it is for more than a day.
I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!
Second, when collecting assignments, I mark who has NOT turned it in. These are 10-11 year-olds. I would love to be really strict and say "If it isn't complete the moment I collect it, I won't accept it." However, that's not really practical. So, I keep a spiral notebook next to my computer that I note the names of students who still owe me something. It's nothing elaborate. Just a notebook with my chicken scratchings. But it works. I give a reminder the next day. Then it is up to students to turn work in before the week is over. At that point, it is too late.

CHALLENGE #4: Journals
We use our interactive notebooks EVERY SINGLE DAY so collecting them for a grade is my way of showing the students that I value the time and effort they put into their notes. It's a pretty "easy" grade to earn because all they have to do is keep up with notes and be sure their notebook is organized correctly. But the days that I choose to collect the journals are tough.

With four classes and almost 100 students, I have a lot of notebooks to collect. And taking them home is pretty much a nightmare. I drive a VW Beetle, after all. So I make sure to collect the journals on a day I am giving a test. The plan is that while students are taking their test I will give their journals a quick look and record their grades. That way students can get their journals back the same day.
I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!
How can I score 25 journals in about 30 minutes?
While still monitoring students taking a test?
I can't.
That's the truth.
I usually get about half of them done.
Then I work through lunch and planning that day to complete the rest.

I do have a few tricks for making it go faster.

The notebook is basically a completion grade.
For this reason, I am looking for certain things to be included.
I pre-print address labels with these requirements listed - one for each student.
I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!
As I look through each journal, I circle anything that is missing and place the label on the inside of their journals. I write the final score on the label too. That way students get immediate feedback AND know why they may have missed some points.
I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!

Since I need to keep track of the journals for four classes while I grade them, I have students turn them in to the bin labeled with their homeroom teacher's name. That way I can work on them one class at a time and bring the whole bin to their homeroom by the end of the day. AND avoid having to bring home 100 interactive notebooks.

CHALLENGE #5: Supplies
For the most part, students are expected to come to class prepared with the supplies they will need each day. Pencils, paper, notebooks, colored pencils, glue, scissors, ruler, binder, etc. But there are a few supplies that I provide for student use. Dry erase boards, cloths (to use as erasers), old CDs (for drawing circles, calculators. Having to pass these out at the beginning of class and then collect them again at the end of class was ridiculous. Time consuming and frustrating for me.
I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!
So I ended up purchasing some cheap bins at the dollar store. In this bin I have placed enough dry erase boards, cloths, CDs and calculators for each table group. This bin is NOT a trash can. Students know this - since I had to get on to them about it the first week. Having the supplies right at hand is great because sometimes I make a split decision to use a supply I hadn't planned on and it's right there for the students.

CHALLENGE #6: Projects
Oh my goodness. I really LOVE doing STEM challenges. And so do my students. Especially when the challenge involves actually building something. Sometimes I do a challenge and give students only a day (class period) to complete the challenge. But that isn't really feasible for some of the projects I plan. There are times when students need 2-3 days or even a week to build, test, improve and retest their models. With four classes, that's A LOT of supplies to distribute, manage, and store during the duration of the unit.

So far I have utilized plastic bins and gallon size Ziploc bags for the distribution part of the project. I spend about an hour "filling orders" by placing supplies onto the bags or bins for each group. Students can then use the bins to keep track of their group plans, building materials, and data collection logs. This allows me to be prepared ahead of time with all the supplies students need. It's not a fun time trying to organize supplies with 25+ students breathing down your neck!
I love teaching science to multiple elementary classes (sort of like a middle school teacher) but there are some classroom management challenges too! Here are 6 teacher tips for managing multiple classes. #2 might be the best one!
As far as storage of the projects while students are working on them? I have no good solution. I've tried a lot of things, but really I need some help. I need some creative storage ideas. How do YOU store student projects (especially 3D ones) for several days at a time?

If you found these ideas helpful, you might like to follow my Classroom Management board on Pinterest! This is where I pin all sorts of ideas that I find helpful in the classroom.


September 9, 2015

Tech Thursday - SignUp Genius

I'm excited to be linking up with Teaching Trio for Technology Thursday this month!
I've been trying to think of which of the many great resources I wanted to share, and it has been hard to narrow it down. I finally decided to focus on something that I think would be helpful to every teacher - regardless of grade level or subject area.

It's almost fall and with that time of year comes Parent Teacher Conferences.
I actually look forward to meeting with each parent - despite the long hours. Some parents don't ask for meetings through the year and I feel like I've missed the opportunity to connect if I don't catch them for a beginning of the year conference.

Every year I struggle.
I create a sign up list and ask parents to list their top three choices.
Some of these papers get returned and some don't.
I keep sending notes and eventually most parents give me a selection of times.

I have to figure out who fits into what time slot. I have to rearrange things multiple times because everyone seems to want the same times. It's a headache and I just didn't want to face it again.

Last year I tried SignUp Genius for my parent teacher conference scheduling.
It. Was. A-MAZ-ING.

Tech Tip: Use this free online tool to create sign-ups for everything from parent-teacher conferences to food donations for classroom parties to field trip volunteers. Read about how simple it can be for teachers to create an online sign-up.
Step 1:
Create a free account.
I used my school email - I get notifications when a person signs up.

Step 2:
Click "Create a Sign Up" following the directions provided on the website. It really is user friendly. Each step is explained and you can navigate between screens if you choose to make changes.

Step 3:
Invite/Publish your sign up. You have the option of inviting people immediately, or you can wait until you are ready to take your sign up live.

Step 4:
Wait to get emails notifying you of the sign ups. I got 14/24 conferences scheduled the very first day.

Okay, so maybe you aren't sold on this yet.
Here are the main reasons I see this as a major benefit:

First, all parents are invited via email so there is not a worry that the students will forget the paper or lose it or simply not give it to their parents.
Second, any parents without an email can be given a link to access the sign up online.
Third, any parents without access to the internet (or who don't sign up on their own) can be contacted by phone and YOU can add them into a slot.

You determine the dates, times, and length of each meeting when you create the sign up. It is first come, first serve. Parents sign up for the exact time slot they want and know they have that time without worrying that someone else will be given their choice. Once a person signs up for a time slot, the slot is no longer available and others will know what times remain available. No more sending home additional notes with certain times/dates blocked out. And, if a parent needs to change times, they can do so online without you having to do anything!

I still send a Remind notification and include a reminder in my newsletter that tells parents that conferences are coming up, but I no longer have to send specific reminder notes to parents home with students. SignUp Genius has an option of sending a reminder email to parents 2 days before their conference with the specific time and location of the conference.

After I used this for my sign ups last year, I got the rest of my team on board. They loved it too!

And the best part is that SignUp Genius is great for any type of sign ups.
I have used it to collect party foods and supplies for our holiday celebrations.
I have used it to ask for donations of supplies for a STEM challenge.
I have used it to encourage parents to volunteer for field trips or other school events.
It's amazing and I don't know how I ever lived without it.

Try it out this year.
I guarantee it will save you so much time!
Has anyone else ever used SignUp Genius?
Do you have any other ideas for using this site?

September 5, 2015

Teacher Week - Favorite Subject

I'm kind of sad that the week is over and that this will be the last time I am linking up with Blog Hoppin' for Teacher Week 2015. This challenge has really given me a chance to get back into gear. To reflect. To share. To learn about other teachers. To find some great blogs to follow.

But the day has come.
Today's topic is to share what my favorite subject is to teach and why.
Uh, this is a no-brainer for me...
My favorite subject to teach?
What (seriously) could be better?
I mean, think about it...

If you say reading is your favorite subject to teach...
Students are given close reading passages that we work to pull apart and understand together.
Students are required to find the main idea and use text features when reading a passage from their books.
Students are challenged to answer questions using text-based evidence.
Students use their reading skills to become experts on a specific subject then summarize what they have learned to teach their classmates.

If you prefer teaching students to be proficient writers, don't feel left out!
Students are given prompts to which they must respond in writing.
And I don't mean a sentence or two.
Students last year wrote an opinion piece about whether or not they would be interested in being a part of the MarsOne mission. They had to read, research, brainstorm ideas, organize their notes and ideas, and ultimately write a paper about their choice, citing examples to support their opinion.

Is your favorite subject to teach math?
As I tell my students ALL THE TIME:
STEMMMMMMMMMM includes an "M" for math!
There are days when I find myself getting so excited about teaching students a different strategy for dividing decimal numbers (because we need to find the averages of our data from an investigation) that I almost forget I'm not the dedicated math teacher for fifth grade.
My favorite is when my students have these "ah-ha moments" when they realize that something they have been learning in math class is actually useful in my class to!
Go figure, right?

Maybe your favorite subject to teach is language.
Especially when I am introducing vocabulary terms.
Last week we were defining unicellular, multicellular, microscope, and organelle.
We highlighted the prefixes and root words of each term and then also highlighted the "clues" in the definition.
Students come up with analogies to help them remember the meaning of words or processes in science.
Students have to use language to communicate their ideas, questions, and results on a daily basis.
Students can't get away with answering a question using one or two words. They have to use complete sentences to justify their thinking.
Students actually catch my punctuation errors when I am writing notes on the board.
Fun times!

If social studies is really your "thing", don't despair.
Students make connections to the topics from social studies when we learn about various technological innovations. They talk about the inventions that really made a difference in the early 1900s. They consider the social and ethical implications of solutions they come up with during a STEM challenge. They analyze maps and historical data to draw conclusions or make predictions.

Don't worry. I haven't forgotten the related arts!
Through integration of these subjects in activities and simulations.
Students draw and label plans, color code diagrams, create various types of foldables, and present their results using different types of media.
Students sing songs about science concepts to help them remember what they are learning. (Currently I can't stop singing the Cell Rap - even when I am trying to fall asleep at night.)
Students use computers, laptops, iPads, cameras, Vernier probes, timers, digital scales, calculators, thermometers, websites, apps, and more when collecting data, presenting their ideas, researching possible solutions, and turning in homework.
Students use fine and gross motor coordination as well as their minds while acting out molecules, simulating predator-prey relationships, learning about camouflage, and more.
Students are given opportunities to work in groups, discuss ideas using accountable talk, respect the ideas of others, be honest, be responsible, be fair, be cooperative, and display integrity as they collaborate with others during STEM challenges.

And finally, if you'd rather teach science over any other subject...
STEM is a way of teaching science by integrating it with other content areas.
Students still learn about and utilize the steps of the scientific method.
Students make decisions about variables in order to ensure a fair test.
Students actively engage with science content on various levels.
Students use steps of the engineering design process when solving real world problems.
Students add notes to their interactive notebooks to help them remember the more complicated information that quite honestly might not be easy to grasp.

I guess I just love teaching.
And I'm lucky enough to be the one who teaches STEM by integrating all the other subjects on a daily basis.  

September 2, 2015

Teacher Week - Sanity Savers

Day 4 of Teacher Week.
I'm linking up with Blog Hoppin' to share some tips about how I survive my life as a teacher.
I really only have one tip:

Sometimes days are so "bad" that you have to laugh just to keep from crying.
We've all had those days. (admit it)
When it seems like one thing after another just keeps happening. 
Like we can't catch a break.

It was a day like this not too long ago that I sat down and wrote this story.
Please take the time to read it.
I really think many teachers will be able to relate.

If You Give a Teacher an Apple…
Written by: K. Coker

If you give a teacher an apple,
She’ll want to write you a thank you note for it.

As she walks to her desk to find a pen,
She sees a stack of papers she keeps meaning to file
So she sets the apple on her desk and picks up the stack of papers.

She starts to open the filing cabinet,
But she notices a pile of dirt on the floor
So she goes to find a broom to sweep it up.

On her way to get the broom,
She knocks over a chair that wasn’t stacked properly and it lands on her foot
So she hops around waiting for the pain to subside.

Once her foot feels better, she puts the chair back onto the desk
But then she notices three other chairs that were not put away
So she puts them up too.

The teacher heads toward the broom again,
But the morning bell rings and her students start to arrive
So she stops to greet them at the door.

The students enter the classroom in a good mood,
But they are talking loudly to their friends
So the teacher rings the bell and points to the CHAMPS chart on the wall.
And the students settle down to eat a nice breakfast of graham crackers, apples and milk.

While carrying their mess to the trash can, lots of milk is spilled
The teacher needs to find a rag to clean it up, but she has no clean rags.
So she grabs some napkins instead.

The teacher returns to the mess, but she sees that the crackers have been dropped onto the floor
And stepped on 100 times
So the teacher demands that all of the students help clean up.

Next the teacher takes attendance and tries to start the lesson
But the announcements come on while she is speaking
So she stops and says the pledge of allegiance with the students (and is grateful for at least one moment of silence).

After the morning announcements are over, the teacher begins the lesson…
But when she asks the students to get out their homework, seven of them have an excuse for why they don’t have it done.
So she marks them down for detention and hopes they will finish their work then.

During detention, those same students show up without their papers or pencils.
But the teacher wasn’t born yesterday
And she quickly provides them with a new copy and sends them to work.

The teacher walks her class to the cafeteria for lunch
But when they get there, one of her students remembers they left their lunch in the classroom
So the teacher has to walk back with them to unlock the door

The teacher takes her class to PE, grateful for a break,
But then she realizes she is supposed to be in a meeting
So she hurries toward the conference room without stopping to use the bathroom.

She gets to the meeting on time
But the five minute meeting ends up taking her entire planning time
So the teacher has to speed walk to get to the gym to pick up her students.

On the way back to class, one of the boys tells her he doesn’t feel well
But while she is writing him a pass to the nurse, he throws up all over his desk
So the teacher has to call the janitor.

The janitor cleans up the mess
But now the students are rowdy and distracted
So the teacher makes them “practice” being quiet for five minutes.

She is able to teach the next lesson,
But when she checks for understanding the students only give her blank stares
So she makes a note to reteach the same concept the next day.

At the end of the day, the students start to pack to go home
But they have already forgotten how to be quiet
So the teacher has to yell to get their attention

The students finally get lined up in order to walk to the buses
But it starts to thunderstorm
So the principal announces that they will need to do a rain route dismissal

The teacher plays a game with her students to keep them busy while they wait for their bus to be called
But another announcement informs them that there are three late buses
So the teacher calls her husband to tell him she will be later than she planned.

As she is hanging up the phone, she hears two students yelling at each other in the back of the room
So she rushes to referee.
As she runs, she sees that someone has written with marker all over the counter top.
Once the fight is stopped, the teacher searches for supplies to remove the marker

While looking for another cleaning rag, the phone rings.
It’s a parent of one of her students who wants to know why her child is getting a bad grade in science.
So the teacher patiently explains that the students hasn’t turned in any work for the entire quarter.

The parent is upset and wants the grade changed
But the teacher offers to give the student an opportunity to earn some extra credit
So she has to add one more thing to her mental to-do list.

When the last three buses arrive, the teacher starts to pack her bag
But she realizes that she hasn’t eaten anything all day
So she reaches to grab the apple off her desk.

And when she picks it up,
She remembers she still needs to write a thank you note
And for that she will need to find a pen…

I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to "funny school memes" because some nights I need to read through them and remember not to take all of it too seriously. Feel free to check it out.
                Follow iTeachSTEM's board School Memes on Pinterest.    

One last thing.
I ALWAYS keep an emergency stash of chocolate...

And antacids...
(Notice the bottle is almost empty?)
Because some days chocolate will fix things, and some days it takes something stronger.
Good luck this year, my dear teacher friends!