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Gifts of the New Year



A new year, and yet another chance to get it right. Another chance to be the teacher they'll always remember, and to have the class that will stay in your heart for the rest of your life. Wait, what? You're dreading your return to school, worried about an unruly class of kids who have forgotten "how we do things around here", worried that they'll never settle in enough to pack in all the standards that you will need to cover before the next round of testing, or just worried that the peace and serenity that you found over break is about to crumble before your eyes. I've heard teachers talking about all that. Really. In many ways, the January return is just as anxiety-producing as the first day of a new school year. We've all just had too much time to get really used to not doing school.

Here are some resolution suggestions to help you and your students ease back in!


The Gift of Time

Time! Don't you wish you had more of it? So do I, and so do your students! Why not resolve to schedule some more choices into your day. I know! You don't have time! Right? I seriously always found that the time added to give kids a voice and a choice in activities was easily made up by subtracting the time I might have had to use to wait for the class to pay attention, stop talking, or just settle in.
Try giving your students a little more time in the day to read. Just read. Any book they choose, without a book report or reading log dangling from the edge of it. Just some time to indulge themselves as readers. You just might build a beautiful lifelong habit here!

Have you tried Genius Hour or any type of Project Based Learning yet? You could resolve to stretch your students' brains with a little more open-ended and less time-urgent work this month. They just might amaze you with all they can be motivated to learn!

Do your kids enter talking and keep it up all day long? Try surprising them with an occasional "conversational opportunity" during the school day - a time when it's a-ok to just talk with each other. Walk around and listen. Awesome sauce amazement!

The Gift of Kindness

Do you wish that your students were kinder to each other and maybe even to you? Why not make the teaching of kindness a standard for your classroom community? Infuse it in your lessons by finding examples of kindness as a theme in reading novels, biographies, and in studying current events. Find or write some math story problems in which the theme is kindness. (Hmmm... I think I'll do that myself!)

Remember to model kindness too. Please don't ever be afraid that another teacher or an administrator will think that you are being "too easy" on your class or that you are weak as a teacher because you are too kind. Been there. Heard that. My thirty six years of classroom experience tells affirms that you can never be too kind. Never. How can choosing to let other human beings know that you care about them and are there for them be wrong?
Talk about acts of kindness every day, maybe at a morning meeting, or just in passing as you notice them. In a kindness-focused classroom, the noticing will become more and more frequent over time!

The Gift of Peace

Aaah... Peace! Remember: You in your pjs or yoga pants, your coffee or tea or hot chocolate, the fire softly sighing in the background, soft music playing... CLASSROOM NOISE!!!!!! Ugh, back to reality! Well, maybe not. Why not try to recreate a little of that peace in the immediate environment of your classroom every day? Play some soft music while kids are working. Use music for your transitions. You might even bring up a screen saver fireplace video on one of your classroom computers. Remember to have a thermos of a warming and soothing drink that you enjoy, and let the kids have a thermos of their favorite on their desks. (Spillproof please! Contigo makes some inexpensive and great ones.)

Here's an idea you might or might not have tried yet. Speak in a very soft voice. Even when your class is talking loudly all around you at first. Watch the fun as they strain to hear, nudge each other to listen, and then just focus in on what you're saying. Even if you think this is nonsense, how will you ever really know unless you give it a try? So many kids only know one volume level. They hear it at home, and they hear it all around them every day at school. Show them that the volume level is adjustable, and they have the power to turn it down.

Try bringing the elements of peace you have at home into the space where you spend most of your waking hours each day. Try a yoga break, a breathing break, or a short meditation time. Before you know it, school just might not be the place you need a break from. It might be yet another peaceful spot in your life.


The Gift of Safety

Everyone needs to feel safe and secure in the space where they are. Kids who feel threatened and under stress can't learn. You need to provide a safe zone within your classroom. You can do that by making sure your kids feel that they are noticed and heard and respected and cared for. Give them a voice. Show them that things happen WITH them, not TO them.

Make sure that your students feel safe in expressing their opinions and feel safe answering questions, even if they aren't really sure they have the exactly right answer. They need to feel safe to explore learning and new ways of thinking and looking at things.

 Home and neighborhood aren't the safest-feeling places for many of our kids. Make sure you know who your kids are and what challenges they find outside of your classroom. Then provide that place for them where they will feel safe and valued.


The Gift of Significance

Ownership. Authorship. Knowing that the work that you do is important and that it matters. This is a resolution that you can make today and give as a gift to your students every day. Frustrated that kids rush through assignments, turn them in looking sloppy, often with no name on it? You might want to try finding ways to lessen the paper load. Find some other ways for kids to respond: discussion, graffiti boards, individual and group performances, computer work. When people believe that work is valued and important, they don't forget to put their name on it. They're proud to announce that it is theirs!

Don't forget to celebrate the achievements of your kids often. When planning a unit, make sure that you add a plan for how you will celebrate the works produced by your students. Will you invite parents/community in to view your work, will you have a panel presentation, set up a fair, will kids make videos for students in future years to view, or will you invite another (perhaps younger) class in to be an audience? Celebrating at the end of unit is a great way to pause and say, "Hey! Your work has significance! You have made a contribution! Thank you!"


The Gift of Wisdom

Finally, you can resolve to give your students and yourself the gift of wisdom this year. Wisdom is an elusive and slippery little creature. You won't ever hear its soft voice unless your mind is quieted and you are listening carefully. Acquiring wisdom takes time and reflection. We can't stuff our heads full of facts and equations expect to emerge with wisdom.

You can share this gift with your class by offering plenty of reflective time for the lessons you are teaching. If you haven't tried Interactive Notebooks yet, this might be a good time. Just please, please, please make sure that your Interactive Notebooks are truly interactive. They really shouldn't even be about cutting and gluing. (Although that's the first vision that comes to mind for most teachers when they hear the term "Interactive Notebook". Admit it - that's the vision you had just now, too!) Don't make you Interactive Notebooks cutesy fill the blanks and color receptacles. Make them a place to collect valuable notes on the lesson, and then a space for reflection and individual responses to the learning. Time + Quiet  Reflection = Wisdom.

Here are some resource suggestions to support your use of any of these gifts this year!


                   TIME                                                                                                       PEACE          

KINDNESS

               SAFETY                                                                                              SIGNIFICANCE   
   


WISDOM


           


I hope you found an idea or two here to make your New Year even better! Wishing you a year ahead filled with all the joy that makes you remember why you chose to be a teacher!









For more ideas to make your January easier, cozier, and filled with learning, be sure to check out these bloggers talking about teaching.







Top Ten Resources to Try in 2017




Getting together with some friends to offer a #bestof2016sale for a couple of days, so I decided to look at which resources were the top sellers at Rainbow City Learning in 2016. I hope you'll click on some of the covers below to try in 2017! Some of them may even be on sale!

Take a look at what other teachers are saying about each of these classroom tested and kid-approved resources, all designed to make your teaching day easier, more relevant and fun, on right on target for meeting the standards! 


All you need to get your class or school maker space started and to keep it in use throughout the year! Rated by teachers as "simply genius", "all you need", and "gorgeous resource with fantastic lessons"! This was the first ever Maker Space kit on TpT and is still the best way to roll out the maker movement for elementary students!

Dreaming of a new way to add some fun and whimsy to your classroom Maker Space or to your elementary science classroom? Storybook STEAM invites students to think about their favorite classic storybook tales in a new and stimulating way.

One teacher says this is an "incredible resource... All the planning has been done, all I need to do is to plan the time out. I am so excited to use this for Friday STEM activities. Now, I don't have to work as hard to get things together." 
Another adds: "As always, Rainbow City Learning has hit it out of the park! I cannot get enough of these activities and neither can my students!"

Best of all: This bundle is still growing, so a purchase today ensures more storybook activities to come!



Gratitude SCOOT provides a fun and motivating way for your students to reflect on all they have to be grateful for. It’s a great activity as we enter the Thanksgiving and winter holiday season, and great for encouraging an attitude of gratitude at any time of year.

Teachers report that kids really enjoy this SCOOT game, and that it's perfect for a focus on gratitude any time of the year!



This resource provides some basic ideas for getting started on a Maker Space project. There are three levels of task cards here: The blue level is for your independent learners, the true geniuses of “genius hour”. In this level, students receive a task that names only the sector of society that might benefit from the project. 
All else is open-ended. The green level defines a problem for the student or group to solve. The purple level provides a scaffold for those who need more direction and suggestions.

Backs of cards are included here as well as grayscale versions of all the cards. Three pages of blank cards are also included in case you want to add some tasks of your own!

Teachers say these are great for early finishers or to get a maker space off to a great start!

Help your classroom community to handle stress, breathe easier, and work at the same time! Posters for poses, breath, and motivation!
From a satisfied teacher:  "Just what I was looking for! Complete, thorough, and relevant to the needs of my students. Also, the pictures on each page were exactly what the kids needed to understand the task. Excellent!"

This resource for Close Reading in Math was the first ever on TpT. I developed it specifically to help a struggling student deal with the standardized math tests and the longer story problems found there. Close reading in math helps all of our students to make sense of the problem and develop a blueprint for their work. 
The pages in this resource will work with any multi-paragraph word problems. 

Teachers love the scaffolding of graphic organizers and the rubric. From a teacher who uses this resource: "FINALLY! Some close read skills and strategies for our math teachers to use with students! Thank you so much - great resource!!"



In addition to the great graphic organizers and rubric found in my other close read resources, this one includes a clear explanation of what narrative nonfiction is and how it differs from expository nonfiction, along with a suggested book list for upper elementary students of narrative nonfiction (also suitable for read-alouds).

Teachers have called this resource "awesome" and "great", and also note that it is just what is needed when approaching lessons on narrative nonfiction.


Close reading of science texts and articles will help students become more knowledgeable thinkers in science class.
The pages in this resource will work with any science text or science article in the news that your students need to read as part of their coursework. They may also become more confident test takers!

One teacher says: "Thanks for developing a way to read difficult science articles with my students. This works great with our science book for Sun, Moon and Stars." 
Another says, "These will be a great way to introduce close reading in my science class this year. I appreciate the scaffolded reading notes as well...leads to independence. Thanks!"


Electricity SCOOT” is a fun and motivating way to review Science concepts about electric energy and circuits. The concepts covered in this SCOOT game are now part of the Next Generation Science Standards focusing on Energy for Grades 3 and 4. The responses can be used as a formative assessment, or just a review before the test. 
A copy of the answer key also can serve as a study guide for the test!

Teachers agree that this a fun way to review electricity, and some choose to use it as is for their unit assessment!





Growth Mindset SCOOT provides a fun and motivating way for your students to reflect on the ways in which they react to new learning opportunities and challenges. It’s a great activity at the beginning of the year, as new units are introduced, or as a reflection at the end of the year. The questions on these cards are also perfect to use for brain break discussions, as writing prompts or prompts for a growth mindset journal.

Heather recently said, "My kids loved it and can't wait to do it again. The questions can also be used as discussion prompts or exit slips!"


Hope you've gotten a few ideas for getting 2017 off to great start in your classroom. Be sure to look for a few of these to be specially priced between now and Jan 1!

Happiest of new years, teachers!



















Kids Giving Back


For many years, along with my class, I adopted a local family at Christmas time who was struggling to make ends meet. We would have a fundraising day which was built around displaying project work we had completed, and would serve breakfast and lunch while entertaining parents, friends, and school and community members in exchange for money to spend on clothing, gifts, and even paying an electric bill for the family we had adopted.

It was never hard to find a family in need, especially during the holiday season. We got referrals from a local social service agency, or sometimes we were alerted to the needs of a family in our midst by a caring friend. The family always remained anonymous, and the gifts were delivered by someone who represented us. My students have brought holiday joy and relief to many homes over the years. The gratitude, love, and warmth they received in return was priceless.

I have continued this practice during my recent retirement, and this year I am reaching out to help a five year old girl who is living with her disabled grandmother.  She needs so many of the basics: shoes, socks, boots and a jacket for the winter besides a few toys and books to brighten her Christmas. As a grandma myself, their story has touched my heart. It's still so very true that we need never look very far to find someone who could use a little help.

As I prepared for retirement a few years ago (Please come and take ALL my stuff!), a few of my teaching friends added to the list of ideas that they hoped I would have written down somewhere for others to follow in years to come. The Adopt a Family project was on that list. In this post, I hope to share some ideas with you on how to launch an Adopt a Family project in your classroom. Try it for a group Act of Kindness this month, or tuck it away for next year's holiday season!

Getting Started

Always a great believer in integrated and project based learning, I notice that it is coming back! I couldn't be happier about that, and this project can so easily be a part of subject integration. This will help you to "buy" time to work on your community service project with your kids. My students worked on a group project for display and an individual folk tale for am oral presentation.

As an example, at the time of year that we were working on our project (The Rainbow City Cafe), we were studying biomes, folk tales, sequence, and storytelling. Students had worked in groups on a project asking them to design, build, and set up for display a tourist spot in a particular biome, including a hotel, restaurant, leisure activities (including one involving math), a website, and an advertising brochure. Hmmm...Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. That's STEAM, and we were STEAMin' long before STEAM was cool! 

I taught in a very multicultural school , and several of my students each year could read and speak in a language other than English. Each student could choose to prepare a folktale for storytelling in English or in their first (or second) language. If the second language was their choice, they also needed to prepare a short summary in English for our guests. 


Setting the Stage for Giving Back

We discussed the meaning of the holiday season, had presented the various holidays celebrated by families in our community, and thought about what people who may not have been able to afford the trimmings of a holiday celebration might be feeling. We had a community organization where families in need could sign up for some help with the holidays, and in most years got a family referral from that agency with first names and lists of items on their wish lists. One year, a principal whose school was in a lower socio-economic area contacted me with a list for a family in his school community who had asked him for help. Churches, temples, and synagogues also often have such lists. 

The discussion of our service project moved quickly from my own discussion with the class to our "Town Meeting", run by our class Mayor and City Council. From that point on, each year's project looked a little different, based on the input of our Rainbow City citizens (our mini-society name for our class). 

I would print a list of items requested for our adopted family, using only labels like Mom (size 10), Dad (size L), Boy, 10 years old (size 14), Girl 6 years old (Size 6X), etc. I would also list household items or foods requested and add that cash donations would be accepted for help in paying utility bills. Parents would receive that list, along with a note telling what we were up to, and asking for volunteers to support us in our efforts.

Volunteers can also come from your local high school or house of worship, where teenagers often sign up to work on service projects. This whole project can be run without volunteers, but they sure make it easier and even more fun! I would usually donate the foods that we would serve for breakfast/lunch, and also the paper and plastic serving goods required. Parents can certainly be asked to donate those as well though. Try setting up a "Signup Genius" online to make the gathering of supplies and volunteers more streamlined.

The meals we would serve to our guests ranged from fancier to very simple. One year, a team of parents brought electric griddles and served a pancake and french toast breakfast and others had pizza sent in for the lunch guests. Other years, breakfast was bagels and cream cheese, and lunch was hot dogs served from a CrockPot slow cooker. Easy-peasy! 
Drinks were apple and orange juice in the morning and lemonade and Kool Aid in the afternoon.

Our plan was that each group of guests would spend one hour in our room, eating for twenty minutes, listening to our storytelling for twenty, and then touring our project displays. Students served as greeters who would welcome our guests and take their donations, servers who would bring their food, entertainers who would tell their stories, and tour guides who would show the displays and answer questions about them. Each student also had one free hour during which they could eat and listen to stories, and then assist where needed. Students with diabetes or other special diet related needs would have that consideration built into their schedule. 


Announcing the Event

I created an invitation to be sent home and also to be sent to our school board, central office folks, our school staff, and the staffs of other buildings. I was surprised the first year when the superintendent and assistant superintendent showed up, along with other central office staff. After that, I just came to expect their participation! Other teachers found time in their busy day to have lunch with us, or breakfast during their prep period. We were thrilled to welcome grandparents, aunts and uncles, and neighbors as well!

To make this part of the plan easy for you, I have created a Google Slide resource with editable text boxes for your invitation, rsvp, and teacher and kid schedules. Of course you won't be calling your project "Rainbow City Cafe" (although you are welcome to call it that, if you'd like!), so every part of these slides is editable. Change fonts, words, times, and add and subtract as you wish! Only the backgrounds are locked down. Thanks to Kelly Workman and Paula Kim for those backgrounds! You can get that document by clicking on the graphic below, and then clicking on "make a copy".





Scheduling and Operation 

Our school day started at 8:15, so we planned the arrival time at 9 am for our first guests. Five sessions were scheduled, and we welcomed about 20 guests per session. The guests sat at our student tables with student chairs. Students of course were way too busy to be in their seats! 

Four to six students (depending on class size) were assigned to each job for each session. Each student wore their Rainbow City shirt and a badge holder around their neck showing their own schedule. Student roles were: Greeter, Server, Entertainer, Tour Guide, and Off Duty. I did this project in different years with third, fourth, and fifth grade students. All of those grade levels performed beautifully and independently in these roles, including Special Ed inclusion students from Basic classrooms and EI rooms. Kids wanted to pitch in and help, and it just all came together every time!

Food was prepared in a corner of our classroom or in the teacher's workroom when possible. Most years, we made sure it was very simple and foolproof. Parents and my hubby picked up the food orders from the bakery, grocery, or pizza restaurant. All food was handled with food service gloves and great attention to hygiene. 
Wrapping and Delivery

The day after the Cafe was when the wrapping fun began! Every gift was wrapped by students. Cards were made, decorated, and signed (first names only), and gifts were tagged. Cash and gift cards received the same wrapping attention as clothes and toys. 

Parents volunteered to deliver the packages. If no volunteers were available, I delivered them myself. Drop off was usually at the community agency sponsoring our project, but several times, I was asked to drop off the gifts myself or with the principal from our adopted family's school. Those memories are held in my heart to this day. It really makes you appreciate all you have, and realize that hard times can fall upon any of us. 



What You Receive 

Aside from the beautiful thank you letters and cards to share with your students and their families each year, the magic that comes back to you is immeasurable. You and your students will share the memories and inspiration for other acts of charity and kindness for many years to come. You will have met your curricular goals in an authentic way. Your students will see that they are empowered, they are needed in this world, and that they can make a life changing difference for others. I hope you'll give this idea a try, and I wish you an amazing, joyful year ahead!












A Celebration of Values


Happy Holidays! I wish you the happiest of celebrations this season, no matter what holiday you celebrate. If I know for sure that you celebrate Christmas, of course I will greet you with "Merry Christmas!" The same for "Happy Chanukah!" if I know that to be your holiday. I also find it easiest to answer in the way I am greeted, whether the greeting fits my own celebration or not. If someone greets me with, "Joyous Jellybean Day!", I will be sure to answer, "Thank you, and a Joyous Jellybean Day to you too!"

For me, the celebrations at this time of the year are all about the values they instill in our hearts, not about the specific names or even specific religious practices. As a teacher of mostly diverse populations over the years, I have loved learning about the diverse celebrations that occur at this time of the year. The similarities have always amazed me. For one, the presence of candles in the rituals associated with so many of our winter holiday celebrations. Candles can symbolize so many different things, but they all succeed at bringing light and love into our hearts. Each of the winter holidays we have studied in Rainbow City also comes complete with lifelong values tidily wrapped up to reaffirm during the holiday season.




And so, as we sing, wrap, greet, feast, and otherwise make merry during these winter months, it's also a great time to address values education with our children. What do we stand for? What's most important to us? What really lies beneath the shiny ribbons and glorious boxes?  Unless we teach in a religious school, we probably shouldn't be teaching religion at any time of the year. But values? Solid, character-building values? Of course we can address those!

In my opinion, Kwanzaa is a perfect holiday to address values that many of us hold dear already. This year, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and Chanukah all converge during the same week. Chanukah -
December 24-January 1, Kwanzaa - December 26-January 1, Christmas - December 24-25. I view this convergence as a sign that it just may be the perfect year to get a Kwanzaa celebration going in all of our homes and classrooms.

If you prefer not to put a label of a specific holiday on your celebration of values this year, it will still work. Who could argue with celebration of unity in your classroom community? Or a celebration of the creativity that dwells within each of us? Responsibility? Self-determination? Purpose? Of course! All of these are so connected to what we try to instill in students every day in every lesson!

You might want to start by introducing a value each day (or each week) in your Morning Meeting discussion. Or start with journals. Start somewhere this year, and build on it next year. I have blogged about this before, but a favorite activity I'm my classroom for years was a carousel of holidays, where we shared the values, foods, and fun of each of our own special holidays. Here's a post you may be interested in:


For an actual Kwanzaa celebration or lesson, you might like this bundle I've put together for you!


Studying Christmas around the world may be fun and enriching for a homogenous classroom, where all families celebrate Christmas. (Are you sure that EVERYONE in your class celebrates Christmas? Have you asked?) Even if you're positive that you stand before a truly homogenous Christian class, taking a look at the values and celebrations of others can't hurt, and may be enlightening! 

Wishing you all the peace and joy that you seek in this holiday season!




For more great December teaching ideas, be sure to check out these Teacher Talk bloggers!