Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ten New Things I'm Trying in the Classroom this Year

The first day of school is less than one month away.  My first official day back is this coming Monday! How did that happen?  Where did summer go?  However, I'm heading back early by choice.  My school district, The Palo Alto Unified School District, is partnering with The Teacher's College Reading Writing Project to hold a homegrown writing institute.   I feel so fortunate to have four full days of professional development from the people who've actually made it work for teachers.  So, I really don't mind heading back to school on July 29th.

In addition to implementing, collaborating, and trying all the new things I learn at the institute, I am so excited to try many new things in my classroom this year!  Last school year, the whole year felt new.  I moved schools and grade levels.  This year, I feel settled in at my grade level and school, and am looking forward to shaking things up a bit.

My ten new things for the 2013-14 school year (my twelfth year as an elementary school teacher):  

1.  Twitter in the Classroom
I set up a Twitter account for my class!  My goal is to Tweet our learnings once or twice a day.  The challenge here will be to remember.  Teaching is busy, and I often feel like I'm juggling ten things at once.  Our days are jam-packed full of academics, special classes, and fifth grade craziness.  To make an honest effort to Tweet, I need to enlist my students in reminding me.  They are always good at that!  My other challenge is to have us collectively come up with a 140 character Tweet that the entire group agrees with before we send it out.  Wish us luck, and follow us, @Room20atPV

We'll be Tweeting starting this August!
2.  Skype in the Classroom
While I'm excited and comfortable about Twitter in the classroom.  I'm a little more apprehensive about Skype in the classroom.  However, I want to try!  I'm hoping to find a few fifth grade classrooms to partner up with to have Skype chats about our learnings, especially around our novel read alouds.  The wheels in my mind are still turning on this one, so I'll write more when I have my idea solidified.  I'm meeting with a few experienced Skype teachers to figure out how this will work.

3.  Digital Quizzes
I love Google Forms, and already use them quite a bit with parents.  This year, I am using Google Forms to do digital quizzes.   It will save both paper and time!  Not everything will be in digital form, but a lot will.  I'll also write more on this once I've given a few of the quizzes.

4.  Interactive Social Studies Notebooks
My favorite subject to teach is social studies.  In fifth grade, this means all American history all the time!  Thank you, Pinterest for giving me the idea.  Many teachers already use these as a way for students to write their learnings and refer back to them for reflection.  Again, I'll write more on these once I've been implementing them for a couple months.

5.  Interactive Math Notebooks
I've used Math Writing Notebooks with success for a couple years now.  Bringing in the interactive element for students to go back and reflect will make them much more powerful!

6.  Introducing Think Time as a Classroom Norm
As all good teachers do, I've always given ample wait time for students to think and answer questions.  This is something that is stressed.  However, I've never had a big discussion with students about it to make it a classroom norm.  This is something I will do on day one.  I explain it here on a blog post from a few weeks ago: Think Time:  When Learning Takes Place

7.  Daily Compliments or Positive Reflections 
I've always had students give each other compliments, but I have never done so on a daily basis.  Many of my fifth graders from last school year expressed how much those compliments meant to them.  One of my more gregarious boys explained his appreciation for them by saying, "I never knew people thought I was smart.  I never saw myself as smart before.  I guess I am!"  At that moment, I knew I had to implement compliment giving and positive reflecting time on a more frequent basis.  Three to Five minutes a day is all it takes!

8.  Crate Seating
I love this idea.  Again, it's one I found on Pinterest.  I already have bean bags, a couch, pillows, a big therapy ball, and different size stools in addition to traditional student chairs in the classroom.  I want to make my classroom more cozy and comfortable with lots of options for seating, especially portable options.  Since most of my files are stored digitally now, I have no use for the many file crates that I've collected through the years.  It's time to turn them into cute and cozy seating!

9.  Rethinking Reading Homework
Last year, I used a Mon-Thurs log and a one paragraph reflection as my reading homework.  Students were given the log every Monday and turned it in every Friday.  I hated it.  Students dealt with it.  I really need to rethink it for this upcoming school year.   I'll write more once I find my solution!

10.  Weekly Independent Work Time 
Last school year, I found that my fifth graders became a little overwhelmed at times from the amount of work they needed to finish.  We have quite a bit of content to cover in fifth grade, and our fifth graders work hard!  However, there often simply wasn't enough work time for them to finish projects and assignments.  This is when I took a step back and realized that I had to give them more independent work time.  So, every Friday, students will get one hour of uninterrupted, quiet, independent work and reflection time.  Each student will choose what he or she will do during this time.  The only rule is that students must first complete assignments that are due.  Once due assignments are finished, students may read, write, create, or explore however they wish.  This is not to be confused with free time!  It is a time devoted to academics.  Last year, many students gave sighs of relief when they saw Independent Work Time written on the daily schedule.  This year, they'll see it on the daily schedule every Friday.

I'm looking forward to trying these new things and writing about them once they've been implemented for a while.  Wish me luck!  Now, I'm off to enjoy the day.  A bike ride by the Golden Gate Bridge and an afternoon using my free teacher pass at The Exploratorium await!