August 2014 - Down River Resources
Names Chart
Howdy, friends.

It is the second day of kindergarten in Room 109. The students are remembering to push in their chairs and use their walking feet. Hooray!

Today, we focused on our names as we continue some basic "Getting to Know You" activities. Our sweet librarian came in to save the day, since I still have a small voice, fighting a cold, and read Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. The kids really enjoyed the story and the librarian does such a great job reading it with expression and gestures. During the story, they learned the word "dreadful!" I forget how almost everything we do is new and exciting to them!

We created a name chart and compared each others' names. They found this activity to be pretty interesting, it also helps me continue assessing them in their counting skills. The chart took awhile to make, but I did a few names at each sitting so by the end of the day we were finished. We made some basic generalizations about our names because everything is a learning experience even these fun activities!

Many procedural routines were reviewed and practiced today with specific feedback: lining up and exiting the building during a fire drill, pushing in chairs, and rules for playing a language building exercise I play with my kids. (I will have to feature that on the blog sometime. The students I have had in all grades love it!)

ENGAGE: BrainPop Jr.

In the afternoon, we reviewed what the study of science is and watched a BrainPop Jr. video, "Making Observations." It was great to engage the students more into the depth of what scientists do. The video used a lot of academic vocabulary and previewed the science tools that we would be talking about in the "explain" part of our lesson.

EXPLORE/EXPLAIN: Tool or Toy? Sort and Science Tools Tree Map

After the video, we explored the topic with toys and tools. We also played a game with our sorting cards. (These sorting cards come from the wonderful Kindergarten Kindergarten.)  Each student received a card. They had to come up to the front and tell their peers what was on their card, if they thought is was a tool or toy, and why it is a tool or toy. The students really took off during this activity! They were engaged and everyone was using the sentence stems. The words they expressed were pretty amazing. This is the first time they are speaking in an academic content area. Here are a few rationales that were memorable...goggles are for protection, a doll is something you play with, a stuffed animal is for cuddling, a balance is used to see if something is lighter, "the pinchers help you pick up things". The "pinchers" are tweezers! For the record, there was not one item that was mislabeled by these kindergarteners! Is that not amazing?!

Science Tool Charts

Then, we created a Tree Map to organize our tools into four categories. I had the science tool sorting cards printed (these came from our StemScopes subscription) but wasn't too sure how I wanted to use them in the classroom. I got to thinking, it would be cool to put them into a Thinking Map. I played around with the cutout pieces and after two rough drafts came up with the Tree Map featured in the photograph above. Fortunately, I have enough brain power fighting the common cold to think through this stuff!

My kindergarteners are amazing, did I mention that yet? They knew what the word "collect" meant. I am really going to have to challenge them with higher order thinking skills and academic vocabulary. This is something I naturally do, but the "big words" I am used to using with kindergarteners are not "big enough. For instance, I was going to use observe as a word to put into our Cognitive Content Dictionary, but that's out of the picture. I wish kindergartens could take a STAAR test?! Okay, be careful what you wish for! Right?!

The science tools chart was very easy for them. They actually helped me categorize the science tools using these four verbs: collect, observe, measure, record. I look at this chart and think to myself, "This would have been a cool chart in second grade and here my kindergarteners are doing this." This speaks volumes to the Pre-Kindergarten teachers and families! I am very impressed.

That's enough bragging on the new bunch of buckaroos. They are students with great potential and I am eager to continue creating a positive classroom culture that will allow them to grow in their intellect.

Thanks to my faithful readers. To any kindergarten teachers that haven't covered science tools yet, I would highly recommend these two charting activities. I did not do either of these last year, I took a different approach. I think these help them start thinking like scientists quicker and will allow me to use the process skills in a most efficient way.

Happy Observing!

Howdy, friends.

Happy First Day of School to most of my friends! Happy Second Week of School to my other friends! I started my new school year with 13 buckaroos. Parents filled the hallways at our elementary school and new shoes worn by eager students squeaked on the tile floor due to an early morning downpour.

Despite the rainy morning, my kindergarten students were ready to listen and learn. We quickly ate breakfast. After opening 50 breakfast items, we cleaned up in time for our Good Morning Song, sung by none other than me.

What I am failing to mention is that I have sick since last Friday with a very sore throat and head cold. I slept 16 hours yesterday in preparation for today! I am so glad that I did!

As we gathered on our colorful rug, we discussed feelings. Each child had the opportunity to select from "excited," "okay," and "nervous." As you can tell by our data, most of the classroom was feeling pretty good about our day. (At the end of the day, we revisited this graph.)

We followed our graphing activity by a tour of the school and got to meet our principals. Then, I read "The Kissing Hand," to the kindergarteners. (I have never read this story to my class before! Shh! Don't tell anyone!)

The kids liked the story and they learned what a raccoon is and the palm of their hand. One student knew this animal was raccoon! We have no schema of raccoons here. I was about 22 before I saw my first one!

The students got to create a hand puppet of Chester, the raccoon. They loved this activity. Out of all of the things we did today, this was their favorite. (I have never made a puppet with my class before! Shh! Don't tell anyone! seems like this is a year of "firsts" for me as a teacher--perhaps my lucky 7!)

We shared a meal in the cafeteria together. One student said, "This food is great!" That is encouraging news! After lunch we finished our puppets and cleaned up our areas in time for Physical Education.  We had an inclement weather day due to the rain so the students were inside for P.E., which did not seem to bother them since they were reviewing rules, etc.

We came back to the classroom and created a circle map. One student knew exactly what we were creating. He said, "You are going to write words in the circle!" Yeah, buddy, that's exactly what we are going to do! Hooray for your Pre-K teacher!

As you can see by the predictions we collected today, I have a lot of work to do with my little scientists! I can't wait! (I integrated a Texas English Language Proficiency Standards-ELPS- into this lesson with 1.A Use prior knowledge and experiences to understand meanings in English.)

We then began our "Graph of the Week" today with the question, "How do you get to school?" We practiced our friends' names by asking them, "Name, how do you get to school?" The students responded with the sentence stem, "I get to school by..." The kids understood quickly how to complete their thoughts using the sentence stem. This is very encouraging! (This is just one way that I emphasize the Texas ELPS- 2E- Use visual, contextual, and linguistic support to enhance and confirm understanding of increasingly complex and elaborate spoken language.) Today, we just built our graph by collecting data from each student.

After our math session, we went back to our graph we started this morning about how we felt on the first day of school. Students were able to vote on how they are feeling now that they have been in school for one day. As you can see, the data shows that most of the students are very excited about their new year. This is also a good formative assessment to let me see which students may need additional support in their transition to kindergarten. I was also able to formatively assess their counting skills as we counted our data.

 I am going to get some sleep now and recover from a full day of kindergarten!

Happy Sleepin'!


P.S. The best news of the day--not one kindergartener cried! WOO HOO! (This is another first)
Photograph Courtesy of School District
Howdy, friends!

I hope everyone had a good week! I had a busy fun-filled week. I am so happy to be back with my colleagues and have been fortunate enough to make some new friends (shout out the newbies at my campus- Ms. G, Mrs. L, & Mrs. R!)

This week, I had the honor of listening to our new superintendent of schools, who was selected this earlier this spring, address the instructional staff. He was filled with energy and excitement wishing us all back to a new school year. For many of us, this was the first time we heard him speak in person. He is often being interviewed on the news. So...the photograph with tons of people was just one of the convocations that was held on Wednesday. We are a BIG district! You will see me, stunning brunette in the millionth row.

As you may have read in a previous post, I was extremely busy with this doing staff development for my colleagues. I was able to meet great kindergarten and fourth grade teachers as I gave a math training. Then, I was welcomed at my campus and had the pleasure of presenting with several master teachers to our colleagues back at our campus. We led a training of the use of foldables in the classroom. I hope to write more about this soon! Stay tuned.

I was also able to squeeze in my classroom preparation time (mostly after trainings 'til the janitors kicked me out! I started with a clean slate (see photos on the left side) and ta-da, after one week of preparation, my room turned into a colorful classroom! It's amazing what a little color can do...and in just a little more than one day....some eager new kindergarteners will add even more color to the classroom! I was able to meet about half of them at our Meet and Greet day on Friday. The kiddos I met are great and so are their families. I am looking forward to a great new school year. Take a peek around my classroom...
Each year, I change the style in my classroom. I do this for my sanity. I do not like looking at the same things year after year. I use many of the same things, I just organize them in a different way. I usually make a few trips to Hobby Lobby, Michael's Arts and Crafts Store, Dollar Tree, and Target to buy some items to make my room unique and organized (well, just a little bit more organized.) That is my continuous goal: being more organized. (If my husband is reading this, he is nodding along. He might hear this a few times each week.)

For the past three years, I have been very committed to making an eye-catching word wall. Most classroom have a focal point, where your eye goes as soon as you walk into the room. My focal point is always my word wall. I will be creating a post soon to show my word walls from past years so you can see the transformation. Stay tuned!

Here's to you, teacher friend! May your year bring you and your students much fruitfulness and lots of color!

Happy Teachin'!

Howdy, friends.

On Monday, August 18, 2014, I began my seventh school year as an elementary school teacher (eleventh year in education). It is amazing how quickly the years add up and now how they start meshing together in my memory. I still have a way to remember what grade a former student should be in for the new academic year and how their smiles change with new or lost teeth. While I have been preparing my classroom for a new bunch of buckaroos, I have been responsible for three training sessions this week. I will highlight the first training today.

I was responsible on Monday for delivering a staff development workshop for the Division of Academic's Math Department for my district. I was so fortunate to work alongside about 24 of the brightest kindergarten teachers in the district's family. My mission for the day with my peers was to walk them through the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards (TEKS) that were revised in 2012 and will be implemented this year. As we looked at the TEKS, we perused the new textbook adoption, Pearson enVision MATH 2.0. This will be our first year using this resource. We also looked how we meet the TEKS using the Pearson text according to our district's curriculum documents. WOW! After typing all of that, I realize how much that is!

The day flew by! There was time to look through the TEKS and textbook and even begin planning our first week in kindergarten teaching real-object graphs (K.8BC). I shared with the teachers how to incorporate a graph per week in their classes. I shared with them how five minutes a day can help students delve into data analysis. We also talked about backwards design and how it can be used in a graphing unit. I will share more on this next week!

As we studied the various resources, we built a bar graph together. Each group talked to their team about the more useful district curriculum document for planning. Below, you will see a graphic organizer for a math subunit. This document allows teachers to see what the focus and supporting standards are for our subunit while integrating the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS--strategies we use to assist all students, especially our English Language Learners).

Graphic Organizer- District Curriculum Document
Below, you will see the Clarifying Document. This document allows teachers to plan the subunit using big ideas, essential questions, and academic vocabulary. It address the content knowledge teachers need to have to understand the concept and possible misconceptions students may have so they can be address in the context of the subunit.
Clarifying Document- District Curriculum Document (They usually come without the creases!)
After the table team discussed the documents and their purposes in lesson planning, each person was asked to vote on their favorite document. I handed out one Post-It note per teacher. Each group came up to the graph with their notes. One by one, each teacher used a sentence stem to make their selection. I modeled how this would look and sound like in my kindergarten classroom.
Teachers chose their favorite curriculum document.
I said, "Alight, everyone listen as Sarah tells us what her favorite document is." Sarah tells the group. If she uses a complete sentence, I leave her alone and thank her. If she just says the word, I tell her: "Sarah, will you please use a complete sentence to answer the question? My favorite document is...?" Then, Sarah continues. If she does this correctly, I give her specific praise: "Sarah, you did an excellent job telling us your choice using a complete sentence."
As the table groups come up to the graph, I think aloud as a mathematician. I say, "Oh, I notice that there are a lot of teachers selecting the category of..."
We finished this graphing model and I was able to see that the clarifying document is the most useful tool for the 24 kindergarten teachers at the training. On Thursday, I will be doing a similar training for a group of fourth grade teachers. I look forward to reporting the results and seeing if this trend continues or if it differs in other grade levels.
Happy Graphing!

Howdy, friends.

Since I have been providing teachers with resources on Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT), I have encountered many friends who have no idea how a basic program that rewards buyers works on the site. (I didn't really know myself until I was on the opposite side of the store front.)

TpT announced today that there will be a One Day Boost Sale on Wednesday, August 20, 2014, to help teachers have one last chance at a great deal as we all are back to school already or very soon.

Kindergarten Down River TpT Resource Center

As you click on your favorite items and add them to your carts and wishlists, I wanted to advise you of a program that TpT uses to help support their buyers and sellers: TpT Credits. Please continue reading to become informed about this program. If you do this before the sale, you will be able to have some credits to put towards your purchases on the day of the sale.

If you click on dropdown menu "My TpT." (It is located to the left of the Log Out button.) As you hover over "My TpT" the dropdown menu will appear on your screen. Directly underneath "My Account," you will see the "My TpT Credits" link. Click on it and you will see a screen that looks similar to the photograph of it I added above.

My TpT Store
Look in the above photograph. Do you see the green link, "Provide Feedback?" If you click on it, it will take you to your purchases. Click on the thumbs up icon to provide feedback on your paid purchases. This allows you to earn the TpT Credits.

Happy Providing Feedback and "Wishlisting" Before the Sale!


Howdy, friends.

Yesterday, I shared with you the way I typically communicate with parents when I see them face-to-face; however, we know that in reality we do not see many of our students' parents on a regular basis. Depending on who picks the child up from school or they ride the bus or daycare van, you may never see the parents. If this is the case, I have tips for this scenario too.

During my "life" as a teacher, I once had a mother of a student who was the "breadwinner" of her family. She worked a regular 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. job. Daycare picked up the child each afternoon. This doesn't promote communication as there an opportunity to talk. This is where I had to step out and take a little initiative. I would, at least monthly, call her cell phone and we would talk about her child's progress. (You can use the FREE Parent Contact Log to keep track of your communications with parents.) This mother was struggling as the wife of an abusive husband. There are so many times when teachers see these situations, but there's few opportunities to make an impact. I kept the lines of communication open with Mom and she willingly spoke to me each time on the phone. She was always so happy that I called her and was thinking about her child's growth and progress. Those 15 minutes I spent on the phone could have minimize my piles in the corner of my classroom, but I made a choice.

Parent Contact Log
The papers will be there years from now in my room (I am a busy girl!), but the children will not. I only have them for a short period of time. I want to light their little candles, so when they are grow big, they can light the world! That's today inspiration for new teachers and us "old dogs!"

P.S. The mother reported at the end of the year that she started taking the son to church and their whole world has changed.

Happy Inspiring!


I have been working diligently to create resources that will help K-2 elementary teachers with the newly revised Mathematics TEKS (Texas). There have been so many things added and deleted. In addition, who realistically has time to sort through all of those TEKS! (#nerdalert: I love doing that on the weekends and late at's like college work to me! #loveit!)

The whole idea behind the Down River Resources store is to support teachers, especially those from
Texas, in mathematics and whatever else I conjure up to use in my classroom. I have a list of the TEKS and all of the resources I have created  that correspond and am only a few shy of having resources for all of them (I do already if you count the Kindergarten Math Notebook).

This is the latest of the resource packs from the new TEKS and it will help support me and others in kindergarten and our friends in first grade teachers too. In my district, we only spend five days on teaching coins. Our grade level chose to teach one coin per day last year and on the last day review all five coins. This was not nearly enough time for students to proficiently recognize the coins, nor are there enough resources to spend additional time practicing; hence, the idea behind this bundle. If my grade level needs it, I am sure others across Texas do as well.

Realistically, you only NEED about 10-15 pages to teach the standard in the allotted time, but this pack helps provide you with enough resources to use for small group instruction and tutoring. There's enough here to use some for homework too. In addition, there are also five engaging centers that this bundle comes with so you can use one per week, for five weeks or a week's worth of centers. My favorite are the coin puzzles. My students always love puzzles! (UPDATE: Now that I have been using this bundle for a few years now, I have found even more benefits. I start introducing the coins slowly throughout the when my five-day unit comes up on the calendar...I am not scrabbling to get my students to proficiency. There are enough printables to do this!

I hope this bundle helps you as much I know it will help me!

Happy Preparing!

Howdy, friends.

Yesterday, I shared with you the most impactful way that I communicate with parents through our weekly note. If you missed it, click here to get caught up. Today, I will be sharing with you the a few of the secrets to my face-to-face communication with parents.

Parents come from all walks of life, just like our students. Some are very knowledgeable, have advanced degrees, and are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. kind of people. Others, are teenagers that are trying their hardest to fulfill their parents' dream, sometimes their own dream, of finishing school, as their parents take a large role in the raising of their child. Each year, I have a mix of these parents, each one has something that makes them marvelous! I try to find that in each of them. All of these parents truly want what is best for their child. Most know how to create that while others need support. Believe it or not, I believe that I help families, not just the students who walk through Room 109 each year.

There are good days and bad days in my classroom. Sound familiar? I hope so. It doesn't matter which day it is, I talk to each child's parents daily when they pick them up from school, after shaking their hand. In a later part of the series, I will talk about my written communications with parents too.

Most of the conversations are one of two types. Positive conversations are the norm for most students in my classroom, especially the sweet girls who do everything they possibly can to be helpful in the classroom. Optimistic conversations occur sporadically for other students and there is at least one of these per student each year. Read the following:

Positive Conversation

Me: "Hi, Mrs. So-and-So." Handshake exchanged.
Parent: "Hi, Mrs. Williams."
Me: "_____, had a great day today. She was helpful to her friend who was having a rough day and she learned a new science word today, repeal. Ask her about it tonight."
Parent: "Wow! Great news! Thanks, Mrs. Williams. See you tomorrow." Looking at the child, "Tell Mrs. Williams, thank you."

Optimistic Conversation
Me: "Hi, Mrs. So-and-So." Handshake exchanged.
Parent: "Hi, Mrs. Williams."
Me: "_____, had a great morning. He was well-behaved and polite with his tablemates. As the day progressed, he chose to talk while I was teaching. We talked about what he was doing and why it was inappropriate. We came up with a plan of how he can share with his friends appropriately next time he has something to say."
Parent: "I'm sorry to hear that. ____, what happened."
Me: "I would appreciate it if you could reinforce the appropriate behaviors at home and if it happens again provide a consequence."
Parent: "Yes, we will have a talk at home. Thank you for brining it to my attention. What do you tell Mrs. Williams?"

Each day, parents count on speaking with me about their child's day, whether it is positive or "optimistic." If they are on their cell phone, they politely ask for a minute from the person they are communicating with, to speak to me. If they are stopped by a friend's mom, they tell them they will return after they talk to me. Parents are creatures of habit once you form the routine with them.

These conversations create a special bond with each family. One mother told me, during one of our many conversations, "Let me know when you are having a baby! I would love to plan your baby shower!" (I only know this parent from being their child's teacher. We do not text or aren't friends on Facebook.) That is the power of communication! P.S. No babies on the way. I hope the offer will extend for another year or two!

Every now and then, I will have a parent who is distant and wants to stand by a corner and wait. I do not allow their child to run a small distance to them, parents must come to me for the dismissal of the child. They might get a little upset the first few times and if they are visibly upset, I will tell them something about how their child's safety is the upmost importance to me and this is one way that I am keeping them safe for them. (They usually digress when it is put into perspective.)

It  does not matter the grade level I am teaching, I still create parents as partners using this technique. I have done this in fifth grade too, though I would usually only see one or two parents daily. I hope this gives you a new perspective on face-to-face parent communication for your new year. This is another way that parents and I create a partnership of expectations each year.

Stay tuned for more on creating parents as partners.

Happy Contemplating!


Howdy, friends.

If you are just joining us for Part One of the "Creating Parents as Partners" series, please check out the series introduction from yesterday, August 10, 2014.

After my dad's recovery, he began chemotherapy to kill cancerous cells that spread from the massive tumor the doctor's removed last August in an emergency surgery. It took me about nine months to get to a chemotherapy appointment with my father. Nine months. Sound familiar? No, no baby here. Just a school year that was interfering with family time. My father wasn't too happy that I was joining him at the appointment. I ask many questions and inquire about my dad's current status, goals for the future, etc. But, wouldn't you?! It was this appointment that brought me even closer to the realization of what I had been doing for years in my classroom without even knowing it.

As the back door slammed, all of the patients let out a sigh of relief. The doctor arrived at the office. As soon as he arrives the four patients awaiting the "juice" (as my dad calls it), can start the long two hours process of watching all of the fluids slowing drip into their ports that were surgical implanted in their chests. The doctor's face lit up as he walked into Room 1. "Oh, Laura! How have you been? We miss you!" the doctor exclaimed.

My dad's face lit up too. He is a proud father and loves when he hears nice things about his eldest daughter. The doctor asked some questions about where I was teaching and told me how the parents miss me. Later, when he returned to check on my father, he made one important statement. He said something to this effect, "We always knew what was going on when my child was in your class. You sent home that weekly note to tell us what he was learning and how we can help at home. We don't have any idea what he has been learning since he left your class."

WOW! A very informed, well-respected oncologist liked something the, at the time, 24-year-old teacher was doing and impacted his whole view of the education I provided for his child and the other students in my classroom. is the lowdown on the weekly note he was referring to:

Every week, on top of the weekly homework packet, I place a note that has a small paragraph about something that happened the previous week or that is happening in the next two weeks for families of my students. Then, in the boxes, as you can see below in the photographs, I list each subject for the upcoming week. This is where I inform parents about what their children are learning that week. It gives them the heads up on homework and a direction to support their children at home.

The photograph on the left shows a September version with the Fundations box with the letters we are learning that week. By April, as seen in the photograph on the right, there are more sight words, etc.

I feature a "Coming Soon" box where parents can count on me informing them about important dates that they might need a babysitter (such as when school is on an early release schedule or there's a parent night.) I ALWAYS inform my parents of events as soon as I know the final date. The school sends out great notices but always the week that the event occurs, so parents have a small window of time to make plans to attend. At most events in the past year, my class had the highest parent involvement and I believe this is why!

Things change often so a monthly calendar is usually not as easy to maintain for me. There are too many changes that I would have to send so many updates that parents would get the calendars mixed up. I stick to this weekly notice that I staple on top of their child's homework packet. Parents become routinized and except the notice and homework. If their child doesn't have it, they immediately contact me because they know that this is how this system works in my classroom.

If this prestigious doctor was impressed with this way I communicated with parents, don't you think most parents would appreciate knowing what is happening at school? Tomorrow...more on ways I build parents as partners in my classroom.

Happy Thinking!

Howdy, friends.
Last May, as I was wrapping up a busy year, I decided that gumballs would be a fun kindergarten theme. It is bright and colorful...and what kindergartener doesn't love gumballs? So...after searching the internet and teacher websites, it doesn't appear that there is a lot of "stuff" for a gumball theme. Luckily, I create things for my own classroom using cute clipart and great fonts! So...this is the first of a few things I have in the works for my classroom.

This first creation was something that I need! I need more math centers. I always need more math centers. Even when I have bags of cardstock pieces waiting to be laminated, I still need more math centers. Can you relate?

8 Gumball Math Centers Bundle
There are many games I made in this eight math center bundle, including: Clip It, Count and Write, Counting Mats, Number Cards, Number Tens Frames Puzzles, Number Bonds, and Roll and Cover Games. My favorite is the Coin Puzzles shown below. They are VERY easy to cut. I included the front and back views of the coins, the coin names, and their values.

The coin puzzles are needed because this is the first official year of the newly adopted Math TEKS in Texas. It makes a great center for the new personal financial literacy TEKS. While this covers kindergarten and first grade math TEKS, it also meets six kindergarten CCSS and two first grade CCSS.

I know that there is a great need in Texas and elsewhere for Spanish resources too. I will am offering the Coin Puzzles in Spanish for my friends who teach mathematics in Spanish.

Please note in the picture to the left the color coding. I keep the puzzles separate by printing the puzzle on different colored cardstock. I printed the four sets of puzzle on two different colors, but it might be better to do each puzzle set on a different color.

Happy Preparing for a New Year!


Coin Puzzles in Spanish

Howdy, friends. 

On the first day of school, August 26, 2013, I was wrapping up a busy day as a first-time kindergarten teacher, when my phone buzzed. As soon as I was able, I went to its location and read the devastating news. My sister notified me that our mother took Dad took to the emergency room, two hours away in our hometown. I frantically got the kids packed up with all their belongings anxiously awaiting the dismissal bell.

Putting on a happy face, I released the students to their parents letting each of them know their child had a super day (which they did!) After fifteen minutes, I still had three students left with no lingering vehicles in sight. I waited...and waited, which seemed a lot longer in my situation.

I eventually decided to walk them to the front office where I notified the principal of my family's situation. My principal, of course, told me to leave, but I waited until each of the students' parents picked them up. How could I leave these babies alone with a stranger on the first day of school? They'd never want to come back to school again. Two hours after the dismissal bell, yep, two hours, I got in my car and drove to my house. I met my husband and jumped in his truck. He made me some hotdogs to eat on road and drove me to my hometown. We met Mom at the hospital one minute after they took my dad in for emergency surgery.
This long story brings us to one point: my father's life was saved that night by a parent, a very well-skilled surgeon, whose son I taught back home in New Mexico two years before this long day.

After the situation was resolved, the surgeon and I chatted in the hospital room where my dad was recovering. He remembered me as his son's teacher in such a personal way. I was touched that I was able to reach his child in a way that created a lasting memory with his father (a very busy man, who often works late nights at the hospital doing what he did for my family). I am eternally grateful for his vocation and his family's commitment to it. His wife came through the hospital's sliding glass door the night of the surgery, upon the request of their three small boys wondering where their daddy was so late at night. We made eye contact as she saw me sitting in the waiting room. I told her, crying, your husband is saving my dad's life. She, also being a doctor, scrubbed in and assisted. Talk about an amazing family!

In our business of teaching, it's not about location. I have taught in beautiful schools with students who can afford a generous amount of school supplies. I have taught in schools where I struggle to get supplies and the buildings have cracks in the walls. There is one constant, the basis of relationships.

Our business is about relationships. Relationships, relationships, relationships. There was mutual trust and respect shared that day of my dad's surgery, and everyday before that one. I took great care and concern, for not just the students who enter my door each day but their families as well.

Over the next couple of days, as I begin to prepare my classroom for a new group of students, I want to share with you a few ways that I support the families of my students. These are some things that have been shared back to me by, none other than the parents themselves, so you can trust that they have impacted them. The surgeon was not the only parent who resurfaced during my dad's journey for restored health this year.

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on powerful ways to partner with parents.

Happy Sleeping!

Laura, a relieved daughter who loves her daddy
Howdy, friends.

Teaching kindergarteners how to be scientists is one of my favorite things to do! It is so exciting when they start calling themselves "scientists" in the classroom. Talk about a happy teacher!

It usually goes something like this:

Me: "What do you think you are good at?"
Student: "I'm a good scientist."
Me: "Oh, yes you are, Student! Oh, yes you are!"

I have several "non-negotiables" in my classroom. I explain to the teachers during the presentations that I lead, that each of them serves a purpose. (I'm not crazy!) One life skill that I teach my young scientists is to draw and color accurately. YES! No purple-faced kids in my classroom. Sorry, friends.

Whether we are doing color, cut, and paste vowel activities or scientific drawings, my students must color accurately. I even use that word too! They learn what it means as I use the word in context during modeling so often. The rationale for this is that during science time I want them to observe various things and draw and color accurately, so why not practice in all we do?

Coloring accurately helps us when we draw diagrams in our science notebooks. I first introduce students to diagrams in a text features unit in the genre of informational text. We look at diagrams in our reading series' big books. There are so many examples to show the students. We usually make a diagram of a student, which helps them make connections to this idea. Last year, we made a diagram of a penguin in a mini-unit on penguins that I connected to our larger informational text unit.

When drawing diagrams, students must write out the full date: August 7, 2014 (This is something we start at the beginning of the year.) When I taught second and fifth grades, I would also make them write the time and location of the observation. Students are responsible for drawing their best representation of the object or experiment. Then, they label their illustration. I hold them accountable for making their labels horizontal. (In college, my professors would take off points for crooked labels! Really! That is my rationale behind that! Teach them correctly from the start and they can do anything but succeed!) Finally, the students color their illustration accurately. When the students are finished with their diagram, they usually write a sentence in their notebook using a sentence stem that I write out on a sentence strip. By April, the students' work looks like this:

Scientific Drawing of a Plant this Student Grew in the Classroom

I look forward to doing more drawing with my students this year and look forward to showing you more examples and the various ability levels.

Here is a sample of a college rubric for scientific drawing, do you think your students can meet some of these requirements? I now my students from last year could...ah, a new bunch of kiddos await...less than three weeks away.

Happy Drawing!
Howdy, friends.

I recently vacationed in Costa Rica and I am now even more impressed with animals, big and small. Many interesting organisms have found their way in my backyard as of late. One week of monsoon rain each night probably helped in the manifestation of this! (It has been a very cool end to the summer in Down River, Texas!)

Our first friend of the week. Luckily, we saved this animal from the demise of Jedi, our playful puppy! What can I say, she is full of the "force!"

Critter 1
Our second friend was this interesting moth. I looked it up. Perhaps, an American Dagger Moth?! Any experts reading?

Critter 2

 Our final friends were hiding in the tall grass that we call our backyard. After three months of living here, perhaps we should get a lawn mower. But, why would we want to do that?!

Critter 3
That's all, folks.
Happy Identifying!

I presented some staff development workshops this summer  about cooperative learning strategies and was able to share my classroom with other teachers in my district. Just for the record, these teachers are the inspiration behind "Down River Resources." They helped me realize the full potential of my vocation. Thank you, Texas friends.

Using Cooperative Learning Strategies in the Classroom

During these workshops, a specific format is used. It goes something like this: I model and share a piece of a lesson and then the teachers share the instructional strategies they saw present. This really holds me accountable for the correct modeling of these strategies. Finally, the teachers apply the strategies that I shared during the workshop by modeling their own mini-lesson with a small collaborative groups.

I am a "newer" teacher in comparison to many of the teachers whom I meet at these workshops, but they are truly so excited to learn "new tricks" (as one sweet teacher shared with me in an email today.) In college, this newer generation of teachers has been taught more about building a classroom community of learners, rather than being taught content knowledge (I have a real problem with this--but that is not the topic of this post!)

Many of the cooperative learning strategies that can be utilized in the classroom are much newer to a large group of these teachers. I must say, my school district has put a lot of emphasis on the structure of the classroom and I have yet to see a classroom, at the schools I have worked at, with individual desks separated into "the grid."

Here are a few tricks that you would see if you walked into my class:

Students are grouped in teams of three or four.
  1. All students are separated into teams of three or four.
    • Smaller groups allow (force) students to communicate.
    • Any group larger than four usually is more problematic as far as behavior is concerned.
  2. Each student chooses a number in the group (1, 2, 3, or 4--depending on group size).
    • Students have the choice to pick the number so they have ownership of it.
    • Each student is required to know the response to my question because they do not know who is will be called on in their group. (I tell them after they have time to discuss! This way every student is "on the hook" or accountable!)
  3. Each group is assigned a different color.
    • I place $1.00 small metal buckets in the middle of the tables that are the color of the team. (Target sells these in the party aisle. Hobby Lobby has some in seasonal and party sections.)
    • When I dismiss groups to join me at the rug or line-up for lunch, I use their group color.
    • There are other variations to this: You can use shapes, numbers, or academic vocabulary words that change but meet a specific unit. I have lots of great ideas on how to do this, but I stick to colors as it is just easier for me to remember. Once you get in a habit, it is hard to break it!
  4. I have a small metal bucket with spoons in it. Yes, I said, "Spoons!"
    Cups or Buckets to Label Table Group/Spoons to Call on Students
    • Each spoon has a number on it. The number written on the spoon represents the student in the group is that number for their group (See Step 2 if you forgot already!)
    • I just bought these new Crayola plastic cups the last time I was in San Antonio at H-E-B for 66 cents.
    • I only used standard white plastic spoons for this with Sharpie marker written numbers. My friend, who I often collaborate with, gave me a great idea this summer. Have you been to a frozen yogurt shop lately? Does your favorite shop stick a funky spoon in your yogurt when you pay? Mine does! Take a break, grab some "fro-yo" (I think that is what the youngsters call it), and SAVE YOUR SPOON. The future of the Earth depends on it. Think about your carbon footprint. You can save the planet!
  5. Here the routine I use to implore this strategy now that you have all the key pieces:
    • Tell the students that, "In just a minute you will be responsible for discussing a question with your team. It is important that all team members have a turn to speak. When each member has a turn to speak, you need to work together to come up with a response for your team. You will not know who I will be calling in, so it is important that everyone is ready to share."
    • Ask ALL of the students a question. Have all the students repeat the question. (This helps build language skills which is very important in a classroom with a high ratio of English learners.)
    • Then, tell the students something to note that they need to begin. I say, "Heads together," and use a visual cue. The visual cue I use for this command is I put both of my fists together which represents the word, together.
    • I allow enough time for students to process the information, being mindful that some students need additional time.
    • Then, I call all of the students "back together." I say, "Back together." All of the students who are finished put their eyes on me. Anyone that is in the middle of their conversations, finish up quickly and then put their eyes on me. (This is a routine I teach that values all students and their processing times.)
    • I grab my metal bucket with spoons in it and I mix them up. As I am mixing them up, the students all stare at me because they are very curious as to what number I will pull out of the bucket. (This is why I emphasize that each student should be prepared.) I pull a spoon out of the bucket and reveal the number to the students. Typically, they all shout out the number on the spoon. This is one less job for me and helps them read their numerals which supports our mathematics standards!
    • I say, "Everyone listen, as number 1 from the purple table shares." Everyone listens. I usually thank that student for sharing. Then, I say, "Everyone listen, as number 1 from the blue team shares.." and so on. I KEEP THE SAME NUMBER FOR THIS ROUND OF REPORTING OUT. There is no need to switch them each time, or it lets students "off the hook." It is important that each team reports out and you hold them accountable.
  6. Use this cooperative learning strategy in all subject areas, no matter what grade level you are in and you will see your students' language skills greatly improve.
I hope this post inspires you to build these types of cooperative learning structures in your classroom.

How do you integrate cooperative learning in your classroom?

Howdy, friends.

Aside from filling up my shopping cart today on Teachers Pay Teachers, I am preparing my things for the new school year. I have been VERY busy and haven't put as much thought into as I feel I should. I have been doing curriculum writing for my school district in the area of science which consumes a lot of personal time, but I love it!

I created a data analysis and graphing bundle recently based off of what I did in my kindergarten classroom this past year. A big push from our school district last year was graphing since it is so heavily tested in the upper grades on the STAAR test (Texas). I recently completed a "study" on the third, fourth, and fifth grades mathematics assessments and was blown away at the results. See the full results on the Preview for the bundle.

5 Minutes a Day Bundle

Anywho, I proved that data analysis and understanding how to read and interpret data from graphs is very important, especially in the format of a table. Okay, you may have known that--but I proved it to myself! I created and designed more than just a cutesy pack, but a practical pacing guide with scaffolded critical thinking questions (based off questions found on STAAR in the three grade levels--they are shown below clipped together with binder rings--binder rings sold separately.). Looks can be deceiving! THIS IS A HIGHER LEVEL THINKING SKILLS BUNDLE OF JOY!
5 Minute a Day Bundle
The idea behind the pack, and what I do in my classroom, is to devote five minutes a day to graphing and data analysis. I have used a system where I do a small five minute piece a day, and by the end of the week, I have a beautiful graphing wall. Disclaimer: it wasn't so beautiful last year. I used sentence strips, index cards, random colored markers, etc. This is why I dedicated so much time and thought creating this pack for you as it is something I will be using in...three weeks! Saddle up!

Students take ownership as they collect and record the data on the graph of the week (each student "graphs in" weekly). Each day, something different is done we collect on the first day (including converting data on bar graph to a table, questioning, and labeling the parts of the graph to build content-specific academic vocabulary).

5 Minute a Day Bundle

The scaffolded questions are written to be a direct match to the TEKS (Texas Standards). They grow in complexity and are arranged in stages. Stage 1 represents basic "right there" questions while Stage 3 are the most complex questions where students have to combine the data set. In the middle are inferencing questions and basic operations (finding the difference, etc.) As a bonus, I added some sentence stems cards (for English learners) and multiple choice cards (for upper grade to write their own questions.)

There is also an extension piece that is added, especially designed for English learners. Look at the photograph above. Do you see the blue arrows? These are blackline masters and include significant vocabulary for data analysis and graphing. A special piece I like to do with my students is having them label the graph, after we study it for a few days. Not only do they begin learning the content-specific words, but they also have a concrete example for learning these new words. If you label the graph and table every week, can you imagine what smart statisticians you will have in your classroom?

My students were very successful in this method of teaching graphing and data analysis and I know yours will be too!  There is only printing and preparing on your end...everything is done for you!

I hope this post inspires you to incorporate data analysis in your classroom and if you want to use my five minutes-a-day data resource, it's in my TpT shop. 

Howdy, friends.

I just returned from the back to school charitable event of the year! Despite a dreary start to the day after being in Flash Flood Warnings all weekend, The Northeast Youth Stride for Success Foundation held their Third Annual School Supply Drive today at the neighborhood Kmart.

Upon parking my car, the sight of little bitty cheerleaders in their bedazzled outfits filled me with joy. I got out of my school supply-packed car to hear the shouts of "Thank you!" as people donated backpacks and school supplies galore.

The organizers of the event promptly assisted me carry the boxes of school supplies I donated. I stayed around the drive for a while surmising the crowd to get a feel for the reaction of this event from the community. I was very impressed with the organizers, volunteers, and the residents in the Northeast.  Plastic boxes in the hands of varsity cheerleaders quickly filled up as the hearts of community members opened. They greeted K-mart customers as they entered the store and thanked them as they exited. Customers left goods they purchased for the drive or their change for backpacks to be purchased with it.

All the while, handmade posters adorned street corners. Football players and cheerleaders gathered from Irvin and Andress High Schools, two competitive Northeast teams. Normally, a rivalry exists between the two teams as they go head-to-head in the annual Battle of the Helmets. They put their helmets down and formed one team for one cause--giving backpacks and school supplies to students in need in their neighborhoods.

The tiny tots that greeted Kmart customers represent the Northeast Raiders, a city cheerleading team. The junior-varsity and varsity cheerleaders wore their black and hold uniforms from Parkland High School.

Event organizer, 27-year-old veteran Rick Ramirez, spoke of the event as a "complete community effort." This was evident in my time at the event.
As I hung around watching this fruitfulness unfold, a large purple character arrived, Grimace, from McDonalds, and a team from Cricket Wireless. The Nike Outlet donated $25 gift cards which were raffled. Little Caesar's fed volunteers. This particular Kmart allowed the organization to purchase backpacks and supplies from their store with the money they raised at a discount.

Ramirez told me a story of a homeless man who passed their tables earlier in the morning. He came by and pulled out the change left in his pocket and donated it for the Northeast  kids to have new backpacks and school supplies. This is the generosity that exists in West Texas.

I was very impressed with the community supporting this event to help students in El Paso. I am proud to be a West Texan.

May your backpacks overflow of blessings in the school year.

Happy Donating!
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