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Digital Learning

Best Year Ever

Some of us are already back in class. Some of us are watching the last days of summer slide all too quickly away. And some of us are watching you all and remembering happy days in the classroom at the start of a fresh and shiny new school year.

Hoping that you have the Best Year Ever, here is a list of my personal favorites, some things I think you should not go back to school without!

A smile! 
Be the happiest teacher in the school. Even if you don't always feel so happy. Research has shown that the simple act of smiling will actually make you feel happy. Smile at everyone you see when you arrive at work. Even the complainers. Respond with a smile and a positive thought. Smile at your students when they arrive. Smile often throughout your lessons and throughout your day. A smile is contagious. As Annie sang, "You're never fully dressed without a smile!" Make that smile part of your back to school wardrobe! 

A little piece of home!  
Bring something to school with you that will make it feel a little more like home. It will be your home for most of your waking hours for five days a week for the next 10 or 11 months! Make it homey! I always liked to keep my favorite hand lotion on my desk, and of course some photos of my family and my dog. 
Can we talk about the teacher's rest room for a second here? I know! Can you hold it for the WHOLE day just to avoid that place? Didn't think so! Try bringing in a little basket of nice toiletry items that you would use in your powder room at home. Replace them when they get used up. Make it your back to school gift, Christmas gift, etc., to colleagues. I made sure to keep my favorite hand soap in that teacher rest room all year long. It made me happy when the room smelled like Sea Island Cotton after the last person washed her hands. 
And just one more rest room thought before we go. Is it often left in just a little worse shape than you have hoped so that you find yourself cleaning EVERYTHING before you use the facilities? Well, I made a cute little meme, laminated it, and hung it on the wall. Frame it if you like - it will have even more impact. Don't tell anyone it came from you. Just smile every time you enter a clean space when you have like 30 seconds to use that bathroom and get back to your class! Here's one just to show you what I meme. 

You're welcome!

Erasable pens!  
You will thank yourself every day if you have a set of erasable pens in your teacher bag and another set on your desk. OK, I'm a little OCD on this one. And a set in my purse, and another set on my desk at home....  Get the idea? The greatest invention ever for marking papers and for commenting on them. I bought one set at first to use in my planner, but then... found that they had so many more uses. At meetings, you can write what you're really thinking on that exit slip, then cleanly erase it and write the politically correct thought. When you mark papers and make a mistake, no one will EVER no! ummm....know!  

My favorites are Frixion by Pilot. Get some now! Don't go back without them! 

A custom bundle from Rainbow City Learning
 You will also thank yourself for this one! I promise! All materials in my TpT store are based on many years of classroom experience, research, and training. They are all kid-tested, tested in other classrooms, and teacher-approved. But maybe they don't all fit your needs and you're wishing that you could get a bundled price, but choose your own items. Here it is! The resource you have been waiting for! (Didn't even know you've been waiting, did 'ja?) 
Hope you'll download this free look at it and let me know which items you'd like in a personalized bundle named just for you!

Teachers, have The Best Year Ever!



R - E - S - P- E - C -T

Find out what it means to me
R - E - S - P- E - C -T
Take care, TCB

Hi Teachers! Sorry, but there's another oldie running through my head again today. The original title of this post was "What's On My Teacher Desk?". For real. 

I was going to share some tips for things that would be helpful to you in the new school year - props to have at the ready for your "performance" as a teacher each day, my favorite planners and pens, family pictures, the best cold and hot drink holders. Thought I had some great ideas for you. May share that at a later time. I'm also planning a series of posts about easy, fun, and healthy family meals for busy teachers. I taught Shakespeare to third, fourth, and fifth graders for eleven years, and have had so many requests to share how that was done, that I'm also planning to start spilling all those beans right here soon! Hope you'll stick around for the fun to come!

As teachers, holding the next generation in the palm of our hands though, I feel we need to tackle some of the tougher issues as well. Please don't take this as a political statement by me in any way, but our Vice President Joe Biden mentioned teachers in his speech at the recent Democratic National Convention. He said that teaching is not just what we do, but who we are. That's a pretty powerful statement in my book. Look in the mirror, teachers. You know it's true. You are a teacher every day of every month for 24 hours, and for the rest of your life even if you leave the classroom. Always a teacher. 

RESPECT was written and performed by Otis Redding in 1965 and later performed and made iconic by Aretha Franklin in 1967. The words of our elders which so many fail to pay any attention to these days. Don't you hear it all the time in the hallways of your school, in staff meetings, and on your Facebook pages: "These kids just don't have any respect. I don't know what's wrong with them. How can I fix this?" 

I'm hoping that my 36 years in the classroom gives me the right to tell you that the easiest and most efficient way to "fix" that is to give respect rather than to just expect it. You can talk about respect and teach about respect all day long, but the children are watching you every second. They can see who you really are. So you not only have to give respect to the kids in your classes. You have to live your life that way. When you treat another person - any person anywhere - with disrespect, it changes you. It changes who you are. It changes the teacher you face in the mirror each morning before you head off to school. 

TCB stands for "Take Care of Business", as in "get a job" in 60's slang. It can also be interpreted as "to do a good job". Isn't that just what every teacher wants? To take care of business in his/her own classroom? TCB. So many outside forces trying to disrupt that business every day. What can we do? We want respect and we want/need to take care of business.

The current climate with our upcoming election mixing with social media and people weighing in everywhere, many without thinking first, is particularly trying. Hard to maintain who you always thought you were. Stand strong, teachers. You are good people with the most positive of intentions and the chance to make a real difference for kids and to impact their future. Please don't let them down!

Some things you might try:

A favorite questioning technique of mine when I was in the classroom was to ask a student who might be reluctant to answer (when they said "I don't know.") , "What would your answer be if you DID know?" Try it! You will be amazed! I was.  So WHAT IF you truly loved and respected every single child in your class from the first moment you met? What would that look and sound like? Get to know as much about each unique and wonderful little human as early as you can before classes start. Find something to love and show it. I promise it will be returned in kind once the initial shock wears off. So many of our little ones aren't used to being treated that way. So WHAT IF? 

What? No, no, please stay with me here...So what if you called your students by the name of the adult role you were trying to create? Instead of "Boys and Girls", "Dudes and Dudettes", or even the wildly popular "Class!" "Yes!" (Yeah, I tried that too!), how about calling them "Writers"as you start a writing lesson, "Readers" as you begin to read (Like Lucy! But I was doing it long before she published those units. It's just good practice,) Call them "Scientists" as you pull out the equipment you'd like them to respect. Announce, "Engineers, I have a challenge for you today." as you begin a STEM lesson. You get the idea. They will rise to the occasion. I promise.

I got a letter from a former student who now works as an architect in California designing the interior spaces of public buildings like hospitals. She said in her letter that when I called her an architect in third grade before we built those houses that the big bad wolf couldn't blow down, she realized that this was something she would like to be, and it had a name. Name calling! Love!

I recently posted a beautiful (I thought) cartoon of three children on both my personal and business Facebook pages. It showed a little white boy with the caption: (Since 1789) "I could be President." Next cartoon photo - little African American boy: (Since 2008) "I could be President." The last photo showed a little girl with the caption: (Since Tuesday) "I could be President." It drew some wildly polarized comments.

I got slammed on my business page by two Trump supporters even though I stated first in my post that it was not meant as a political statement by me in any way. I took it down. I am sure they are no longer following me. That's fine. BTW, I monitor all comments on this page, so if you've commented (and I hope you will!), just wait a few hours before expecting it to appear. No need to post it twice!

And on my personal page, from another former student also now a successful grown up, "I love how she shows young girls they too can be President. Maybe it was my awesome third grade teacher and elementary school, but I always knew I could be President." She always knew! Love! And proof! Try some name calling this year!

As I said above, and as I said in a previous post Tackling Tough Issues, I always try to stay completely neutral around kids. They deserve a neutral environment in which to form their own conclusions and to grow. I also try not to make political statements on social media. Nobody likes to be attacked, and I don't want my responses to those attacks to change who I am. Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion on any topic. As teachers though we owe it to ourselves and our students to keep a watchful eye over what we say and do in public. You might not be media friends with your particular students or parent community members, but a friend of a friend of a friend could someday see what you have posted. 

I told my students when disagreements arose that I may not love everyone I work with, but that they would never be able to tell who I might not like so much. I really recommend that.  A coworker might be a royal pain, but you will feel oh so much better inside if you treat that person with kindness and respect. 

Build relationships this year with your students in the kind of community where they feel safe to take risks with learning and friendships, and to speak their minds in a discussion. Once that community is functioning the way you had hoped and built upon, each day that you close your classroom door, you create a safe zone for every child. When people are shown respect, friendship and love, they learn to spread it everywhere they go.

I hope each of you has an awesome year, taking care of business in a classroom built on R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

And for a few ideas and resources to build that amazing learning community of yours, I hope you'll visit Rainbow City Learning on TpT

For more August Teacher Talk ideas, check out the blog posts below:


New Blog Design

You know how you kinda like the outfit you picked to wear today, but you've worn it so many times and might just be a little tired of it? That sort of happened to me a few weeks ago. 

I liked my old blog design. I worked with a very talented designer and she designed exactly what I asked for at the time. It was cute. I like cute. Sometimes I like it way too much!

I read a lot of teacher blogs. Always have. I've always enjoyed reaching beyond my classroom and checking out what other teachers are doing and thinking. And so when I tried blogging myself a few years ago, I found that this sharing thing could work well both ways, and maybe I have a thought or two that might help another teacher. I've enjoyed the blogging journey so far!

I've been noticing for awhile that many of the blogs I read regularly have taken on a clean new look. Lots of white background, moving images of posts, and a more modern look in general. I was discouraged to find that most of them have been created on Wordpress rather than Blogger, and I am definitely not in the mood to learn a whole new format right now. When I'm ready to share my thoughts with you, I want it to flow easily between us. For me, that means staying with Blogger for now. Sigh. No new clean and white look for me. No moving slides of my posts.

Then, I noticed my friend Tracy's blog (Wild Child's Mossy Oak Musings - if you haven't checked it out yet, you should - It's all kinds of amazing!) Hmmm....sliding images, clean modern feel.... Wait! Can this happen on Blogger? 

Immediate text to Tracy: "I LOVE your blog!!!!! How?!?!"
Tracy: "Rachel Vincent designed it for me with Blogger! Here's her info:"
Me: "I don't know... I paid a lot for my blog design. Do I want to do that again?" 
Tracy: "Rachel's rates are so reasonable. You can't afford to wait!"
Me: (The way I often shop. Ask my hubby.) "You're right! I need to do this now!"

And blogger friends, I've got to tell you it was an amazingly good decision! I feel like a kid who has just opened the most fabulous present ever! I'm surprised that I'm even writing a post today because honestly, all I can do is click on the link to my blog and stare at it with a smile on my face. I love everything about it. Rachel has taken all the cutesy stuff I love: rainbows, flowers, hearts, watercolors, and clouds and given it all a clean and modern feel. I am in love! It was a little hard to lose the polka dots. I love polka dots. The little dabs of paint on my blog button are kinda polka dotty, but not really. The total package has made me so happy! 

And as always, I am not telling anyone to run out and resign your blog. But of all my impulse buys, this is not a dress with the price tag still attached a year later. This one is a keeper! Thank you Rachel! 

Here's her link in case you are also falling in love with Rainbow City Learning's new look! (If you are, by the way, please look to your right and follow me! I promise lots of good stuff is coming up soon and you don't want to miss it! I just can't stay away from here!


Dive Into Digital Portfolios

"I was country when country wasn't cool..." (Barbara Mandrell) Why is that song running through my head as I sit here beginning this blog post? Maybe because I was and it wasn't, but now it sure is!  As a veteran teacher (sounds like I've been through a war!), I have seen so many trends and teaching ideas cycle through and reappear years later with a new name.  Individually Prescribed Instruction has become Intervention and Differentiation, Integrated Learning has become PBL, Hands On Lessons have morphed into the Maker Movement. I could go on, but I know you get it!

And so first, a little story: Long ago, before  the dawn of technology in our schools, in a little classroom named Rainbow City, in an idyllic woodsy setting, a teacher had an idea. What if each of my students could leave with a memory of this year that could be a keepsake for years to come? A piece of their childhood to carry into the future. This teacher was already in love with technology, and  jumped in with both feet whenever a new advancement appeared on the horizon. Thanks to supportive parents, giant shoulder-carried VHS video cameras, and TV/VCR combos on a table in the back of my classroom, the video portfolio came to be a part of every child's year in Rainbow City.

Parents would visit our classroom when they could, no matter what we were doing, and gather video footage of the kids in action. The giant VHS tapes would be kept in a plastic storage box (no Pinterest yet for guidance, alas) and another parent would come in once a week and copy film clips from the master tape to the individual tape of every child who appeared in that clip. One TV setup to the other with cables. Endless, tedious work, and  to the parent who continued the process even after her kids had left my classroom, Vicky - I love you to the moon and back!

No teacher drudgery, but also no real student input to the collection. It was the best we could do with what we had at the time, and to many seemed very futuristic!

Fast forward to now, thanks to the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak), who dropped out of college to give us the future we all now enjoy and often take for granted! 1:1 computing in millions of classrooms throughout our continent (Also a "What-If" asked by this Rainbow City teacher long long ago, when the first Commodore PET computers arrived in our classrooms. Ask my teaching buddy Beth! She remembers!) Student digital portfolios can now contain amazing things: work artifacts, assessments, videos, photos, links to personal wikis and web pages, blogs, journals, poetry, athletic performances, and the list goes on and on. Best of all? Student choice and student creation can now be the driving forces behind these new collections. Teachers, the future is here!

The new school year is a great time to dive into digital portfolio creation. Do a little browsing this month, and when the new school year arrives, your feet can hit the ground running like a marathoner! Your students will think you've always been a Portfolio Boss! Set the tone and get started on a portfolio of your own to use as an example, and a great way to "Meet the Teacher" for students and for parents. Make it a preview of the magic still to come in your fresh and shiny new school year!

Explore the many apps out there for your students to use as they imagine and create their own keepsakes of their year with you.  Just a very few suggestions: Glogster (my own recent students' fave!), Creatubbles, Lego Movie Maker, PicMonkey, Flipsnack, Tux Paint, Animoto, and Chromville.

Some tips for getting started:

  • Set up some folders on your school network or on Google Classroom for your students to have individual folders and also folders to share photos and videos from projects and field trips, group work, etc. for your whole class.
  • Set up a Google Slides , Power Point, or Keynote bare bones portfolio with slides representing things you want your students to include. You could have a slide for each month, each subject area, a journaling section, work sample artifacts, etc. Keep it simple so students can use their creativity to make each portfolio unique.
  • Use your own sample as a model, and continue to model by sharing the progress of the earliest students to get moving on their collections. Seeing where another student has taken the idea provides a big aha and a surge forward for so many students.
  • Zero in on the students who need extra support by assigning partners and providing individual teacher help whenever you can. Parapros and parent helpers can be a huge support here. Also consider asking your local high school if there are students who would like to earn some community service credits by helping out. (I'm writing from a 3rd through 5th vantage point, so the high school helper option was always a good choice in my classroom.)

Of course, the Teachers Pay Teachers website is beginning to explode with digital materials for your students to create and collect on Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive. Here are a few of mine, aimed at providing pieces for your students to include in the unique portfolios each of them will be creating. To read the product descriptions just click on the graphic.

Have an amazing, digitally oriented new school year!


Tackling Tough Issues

Like most teachers, I've always wanted my classroom to be a sanctuary. A safe haven for kids where they can be free to take risks as learners. A place where the outside world stops at the door.  This week has been one in which the horrific news events have permeated  every aspect of all of our lives. Children have heard and seen things that we all would rather they had not been witness to. 

It happened on and after 9/11. Who doesn't remember exactly what they were doing when they got the news? We all knew that living here in America would never be the same again. Patriot's Day is a tough topic to take on for so many reasons. Although there are picture books and kid friendly reading passages to address this sad piece of our shared history, many administrators still prefer that we pause for a moment to reflect and then move quickly on. The curriculum demands weighing down on us every day also stage whisper in our teacher ears to keep on steppin'.    

Election time can be fun to address in most election years. Hold a "candy bar" election, discuss voting and vote on something fun like more recess time or pizza for lunch every day. Done. Not this election year. Americans are sharply divided over the candidates in the 2016 election. Divided more than ever. Friends are learning things they probably did not wish to know about their friends. Families are divided in their preferences. The children are listening. Watching. Absorbing. Whether we care to see it or not, each of us is setting an example of some sort for the next generation. 

As teachers, we have a chance to shape the thinking of our students in very subtle ways.  Sharing our political views in class is certainly not recommended!  The best way to handle the difficult questions that are sure to come up in our classes this year is to be prepared. We need to think through exactly what our responses will be. 

I like to have some powerful, memorable quotes handy. I hang them around the room. They are subliminal messages; environmental inspiration. When I say them to kids, they think (and often say!), "Hey, I've heard that before!" Yes, you have, sweet child. Now get out there and say it to others. Live by it. It will shelter and protect you. It will make you a person who brings goodness and light into our world. All time, top of the list quote for my kids: "When you know better, you do better" (Maya Angelou). Walk into our local high school in September, and say, "When you know better..." to almost anyone, and I'm pretty sure you'll hear, "You do better. And I know better!" My babies are out there spreading the word! "We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish as fools." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Who wants to be seen as a fool? Uh, not me! Not you, and not your students either. Don't hammer it in. Subtlety is key. Hang it up, and say it when it fits.

I've thought long and hard throughout the primary debates this election year. What would I do in the classroom? How would I address the election and the very polarizing candidates this year? How would I keep my administrator happy, and my parent community satisfied that I have taken a neutral stance? Here's what I came up with: a quick series of lessons around general election knowledge to weave into Social Studies standards or even a classroom economy and government. I think some election talk would be a great way to get an authentic classroom government off the ground. 

Next, I would present a brief and neutral view of each candidate. Close reading of that view would provide a test prep experience and arm my students with some knowledge. Then a "Me for President" campaign in which kids could identify issues important to them and share those issues with each other. Make it kid friendly and all about them with just enough of the outside world intruding. Just enough. Not too much. (Secondary teachers, I know you have different rules and different approaches. You probably stopped reading awhile ago though!) My thinking here is what would work for third through sixth graders. Those are the students I know best!

Here's what I came up with. I hope it will help. I'm also working right now on a Google Drive version of this bundle for your paperless classroom. 

Wishing you a peaceful and nurturing new school year!

For more July Teacher Talk, check out the latest posts from these awesome bloggers!