Monday, October 31, 2016

5 Tips for Successful Student Led Conferences!

I love, love, love doing student led conferences. I like that the student can really take ownership of their own learning. I love how it keeps the conversation open between myself, the student, and the parents.  I love how the student is there to verify or even say the things that I want to share.

I often find myself saying things like, "So in writing we are working on strengthening our ideas and checking for capital letters. So-and-so, what have you and I been working on in writing?"

In my grade level team, I teach language arts for all the second graders, so my conference day is PACKED! Each family can sign up for a 10 minute meeting time with me, where everyone is present. Then I send them out to the lobby where the student has a reflection packet and work samples to show. The 10 minute meetings work because reports are sent home few days before conferences giving parents time to read over the narrative and process the things I've written. When they come into conferences they already know what I have to say and they can spend more time asking questions or sharing concerns.

Here are our bookboxes with all of our reflections inside!

So...on to how to make your student led conferences great!

1. Appreciate, appreciate, appreciate!

o   I begin every conference by telling my student what I appreciate about who they are and what special qualities they bring to the classroom. They often find this a bit embarrassing, but it starts off the conference on a wonderful note. Students (and sometimes parents) can be very nervous about conferences and beginning with heartfelt appreciations makes everyone a little more calm. This appreciating should also extend to the parents. I try to make it very clear to them that I am incredibly grateful for all that they do at home to support their child’s academic progress.

     2. Structure Student Reflections

o   For the majority of my second graders in the Fall, this is the first student led conference that they have ever done. Before moms and dads come in, I want those kids confident with what they are going to say and do. About a week before conferences I have the student fill out reflections on the topics that we have been learning about. These are always very specific to what we have learned in that quarter. I also have them choose a few samples of work that they can show off. I get some big ol' tables and put all the relevant reflections and work inside the student's temporarily emptied book boxes.


    3. Pass out presents!

o   And no, I don’t mean toys or candy. (I'm like the anti-candy teacher; I never give out the sugary stuff!) I use CAFÉ strategies when teaching reading to my students, so this conference each child received a ring of the reading strategies that he or she was working on. I love doing this at conferences because then the student can explain the reading strategies to their parents. This keeps the parents in the loop and gives me the opportunity to share how important it is to read at home and practice using the strategies. Also, for my lower readers, I print out and assemble a ring of sight words for them to keep at home and review.

·         4. Give ‘um stuff to look at!

o   Occasionally, (I mean, ALL the time) these things get backed up and sometimes people are waiting for a few minutes. Give them something to do!

Bored people are grumpy people and nobody wants grumpy people on conference day!

       I always try to put up a new bulletin board right before conferences so that it's new for everyone. I also always leave out a table of ipads with our class website up. (This website is my baby, I LOVE posting pictures and vids of my students on it) Students especially love sharing the website videos with parents!

The unveiled bulletin board. We had just been working on our insect unit!


     5. Ask for feedback!

o   I want to know what my students AND parents are thinking about how the school year is going! I always ask them during the conference, and have received really great suggestions, some of which I’ve then implemented immediately in my classroom. Occasionally, there are things that parents don’t feel comfortable bringing up in person. To make sure that there is an avenue of communication for this, I set up some anonymous parent surveys. During the conference day, I set up a table with survey sheets and a box to put them in. Because I work in Guatemala, I print English on one side and Spanish on the other. If you would like to snag these super, simple survey sheets, head on over to my TPT store and check them out by clicking here: PARENT SURVEY SHEETS or clicking no the picture below! I also sent out a SurveyMonkey form via email. SurveyMonkey lets me know if anyone responds and can even chart responses entirely anonymously. I want to make sure that my students and parents feel that their voice is being heard!

Well, those are my 5 tips to FANTASTIC student led conferences! I hope they help you to make conferences an enjoyable and valuable experience for you, your students, and their families!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My Foray Into Flexible Seating

So for this new school year, I decided to shake things up a bit by switching over to flexible seating in my classroom! I know that's the "in" thing in teaching right now, but I don't think it's just a short lived fad. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Choice in the classroom is a HUGE motivator and I have seen its success within Daily 5. So the leap to flexible seating seemed natural.

"If my students are behaving and doing what they should be doing, why does it matter WHERE they sit while doing it?"

I, personally, am a carpet lounger. I LOVE to lay on the floor and do work. (In fact that is exactly where I am as I write this post.) Give me a fuzzy carpet and some floor pillows and I'm as happy as a clam! And I want all my students to feel like that!

To begin, I got rid of a whole bunch of desks in my classroom and put in more carpet space and a low table. The low table is my personal favorite! My kids also love to be able to sit on the floor and work. (They particularly enjoy scootching themselves underneath it while doing Read to Self.)

I then set up two different table groups with different types of desks. In each group, I have a standing desk, (actually just a normal high school desk without the chair. My kiddos are short!), 2 conventional second grade desks with chairs, a desk with an exercise ball, and a lightweight stool. 

Sitting at these table groups have actually been the most popular area for my students.

In this same general area I put down a 5ft x 7ft rug and threw some giant pillows on it. Right next to the rug I put baskets of clip boards and a few lap desks. This small rug, the table groups and the low table make up one side of the classroom. I call it the "seating area" and it is right in front of my white board and projector. Off to the side of the classroom is the "circle carpet" with an easel whiteboard. This area is used more for class discussions, morning meeting, and such. It is also scattered with pillows and has easy access to clipboards.   

But what about classroom supplies, you ask??

I have always preferred community supplies and over the years, have worked out the method that works best for me. I got these bright colored divided buckets at Target. (I love bright colors AND Target!) In one of the small sections I stuck a metal pencil holder and filled it with about 15 sharpened pencils. In the other small divider I stuck a plastic cup and filled it with crayons. The larger section was filled with 3 pairs of scissors, 3 glue sticks, 3 big erasers, and a handheld pencil sharpener. I wrapped patterned duct tape around the handle of each bucket, the scissor handles, the pencils, the glue sticks, and the rim of the crayon cups. This keeps the stuff from wandering around the room. 

Last year, for some reason, the glue sticks always migrated to one basket, while all the scissors ended up in a different one. It was slightly infuriating.....This fixes that problem!

The extra time it takes to wrap the stuff in duct tape is totally worth it. If you have students that come into school early in the morning, I guarantee they will LOVE to re-sort the buckets so everything matches and then sharpen the pencils for you.

The best part about these buckets is that they can be moved around the room wherever you need them. If a whole bunch of kids have chosen to sit at the low table, we can just grab the supply bucket and plop it down with them. The supplies are always within reach and there aren't children wandering around the room looking for things!

Scattered around the room, I have areas that we use during Daily 5, that can also be used as smaller areas to work in. 

My Work on Writing area has a trapezoid table and a beanbag armchair. The beanbag chair is great for Read to Self and occasionally small groups will choose to use the trapezoid table.

This is NEW this year! My kids ADORE it! Read to Self works perfectly in here and its just big enough that two kids can fit in it for Read to Someone or partner work. I do ask that they not be in while we are doing something with the board, or while I am giving directions. 

One thing that can be intimidating about flexible seating is how to introduce it so that you don't have complete anarchy on your hands. This is how I went about it:

The first day I introduced the students to all of the seating options. We talked about behaviors that were appropriate and behaviors would not be considered so appropriate. I also used this t-chart to make it clear which items could "travel" about the room and which needed to stay in one place. 

I made the exercise balls a "one place" item because they are just so tempting to kick across the room! The less they move, the better, in my opinion. I also made the beanbags a "one place" item because one of them has a teeny tiny hole in the cover and whenever it moves, styrofoam bits fly out and get all over the place. 

The first week of school, we tried out all of the different options. I had to demonstrate how to use a lap desk, because quite a few of my kids had never encountered them before. I made sure that everyone had a turn to try out everything. Intermittently, we had short discussions on "choosing places because they helped you to become a better learner" not "just because they are fun." **cough cough, exercise balls, cough cough**

Right now, I am giving out 2 warning to friends who play with the seats (mainly the pillows and exercise balls) and then they lose the seat they are playing with. Consistency is key, but it is working! 

And that is how I am using flexible seating in my class this year!

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or want clarification or if you want to share how flexible seating is working in your classroom!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Introducing the Passport2Teach Youtube Channel!

Hi everyone!!

One thing I really enjoy is video editing, and over the past few months I have been working on videos to explain and supplement my products in my TeachersPayTeachers store, as well as educational videos just for the heck of it!

Below is my youtube channel intro video!

I have a couple of different playlists that I've been putting together. My most popular one so far has been my Educational Songs playlist. The really cool thing about this playlist is that the songs posted there match up with freebies in my TPT store!!

My students often end up singing these songs ALL year long! We glue the freebie song lyrics in their journals and they love to flip back to them!!

These have been a blast to make! Look out for more in my TPT store soon!!

I also have another playlist that I use to explain my TPT products in more depth!

For example, here's one of my spelling foldable products: Spelling Foldable Draw and Label. Perhaps you're interested in the product, but not sure if you want to shell out the moo-lah to own it for yourself. So you click on the video link in the product description. Check it out below!

Did that help you make up your mind??

I don't have many of these videos out yet, but plan on making MANY more. If you are on the fence about any of my products and want me to make a video for a specific one, please send me a message thorugh my TPT store or comment on this post!! I'd looooove to hear from you!

I've been reflecting recently that although my blog is called Passport2Teach because I am an international teacher, I sometimes feel that the international bit doesn't always come across in my blog posts.

I wanted to have some part of Passport2Teach that really focused on the global as well as educational aspect of what I do.  

Thus, my youtube playlist Experience the World! was born! These videos are short 3 to 4 minutes of an experience that I've had somewhere in the world, be it releasing turtles in Guatemala or hiking on a glacier in Iceland. Each video includes elementary appropriate information and images and videos. 

Check those bad boys out! I had such fun making these!

In terms of using them in the classroom, I have a few ideas, but really, the sky is the limit!!
  • Writing prompts
  • Introduction videos to topics
  • Cultural awareness
  • Independent student research 
Got other ideas?? Feel free to share them with me by commenting on the bottom of this post!

If you like the videos in my post, why don't you head over to my youtube channel and subscribe? You'll then get updates whenever I post more interesting and educational stuff! Click here or on the videos tab at the top of the page!!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Brrrrr! Arctic Animal Adaptations Gallery!

I am so excited to share the second installment in my Take Home Projects series!
"Design-An-Arctic-Animal Take Home Project"

In my second grade class, we learn about arctic animals and their adaptations. We spend a long time talking about how the animals' bodies have changed to help them survive in their icy, arctic home.  Later in the post I'll explain more about the Arctic Animal Adaptation Sheets that we use!

After building a knowledge base in effective adaptations, I introduce my Design-An-Arctic-Animal Take Home Project! (Click on the pic to be taken to my TPT store to purchase it) The purpose of this packet is to get parents involved in talking with their children about science learning. This packet includes a parent explanation sheet that lays out the project in clear and simple terms. 

Want to check out a different Take Home Project? Click here to go to my post on the Dinosaur Fossil Take Home Project!

A BIG component to the success of these Take Home Projects is successful teacher modelling...

I basically do the whole project in front of the class before I send it home. We talk about each step as we go, I make sure students are fully aware of the expectations, and I answer ALL questions.

The LAST thing that I want, is for my students to go home and say in that whiny voice to mom and dad, "But I don't know what to do!"

For this project, I also had the students set up some of the project before taking them home. My school provides posters so I had the students glue on the title and the paragraph organizer. I stapled a sheet of the adaptation labels to the poster. Then the poster, the parent explanation sheet, and the arctic animal design sheet are all safely tucked into backpacks to take home. 

I like to print these Parent Explanation Sheets in color to make them more "special" and eye-catching!

When the students brought back their projects, I was blown away by their creativity and use of interesting materials! My kids used sequins, pompoms, clay, paint, styrofoam, magazine clippings, fake flower petals, and all kinds of other things. They also did an excellent job using their knowledge of animal adaptations to create an interesting arctic animal!

To showcase all of the amazing student talent and learning, I set up an Arctic Animal Gallery and invited parents to come and see what we had been up to!

Looking for some more arctic themed activities? Check out my Arctic Animal Adaptation Sheet by clicking below!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Digging Up Some Fossil Activities...

What student isn't immediately entranced by the topic of fossils? It brings to mind digging in the dirt, finding amazing things, and dreaming of giant long-dead reptiles...Cool, right?

I usually introduce any new science or social studies topic with a vocabulary foldable. This way any topic specific language is dealt with upfront; this also benefits my students who are still picking up English and probably have never seen some of these words before. 

I mean, would you know the word for paleontologist in Spanish??

(It's paleontologo, btw)

Click here or the picture to grab this spinning Fossil Vocabulary Foldable!

I only give my kids three basic terms for fossils: Fossil, paleontologist, and extinct. Many fossils terms are technical and their little brains explode if I try to give them too many technical definitions at once! The fact that this foldable spins, makes it an instant crowd pleaser with my second graders. If you can find sparkly or gemstone brads to use, then its a real winner!

At my school, we focus on the different types of fossils: true form fossils, trace fossils and cast and mold fossils. For each of these, I designed a little craft to make the definition more memorable. You can see our trace fossil footprint craft above! That product isn't quite ready for unveiling yet, but look out for it in my TPT store soon! To help the kids remember the names of these different types of fossils, I busted out my set of plastic dinos and my ipad and whipped up this cinematic masterpiece! (If you want to check out any of my other educational videos, CLICK HERE to head over to my youtube channel or simply click the videos tab at the top of the page!)

That dino may have some moves, but the clear star here is my cat! 

In a perfect world, I would introduce the topic, do a little bit of learning and then hop on a bus and field trip over to a museum where we could stand, awestruck, in front of real dinosaur bones. Alas, living Guatemala City, there are no dinosaur museums to visit. As a result, I've become very good at persuading scientists from around the world to skype with my class... (Thank you random meteorologist from my hometown!)

This time I managed to find Adam Pritchard, through his website Past Time: A Paleontology Podcast Where the Past is the Key to the Present. Let me tell you, he did an excellent job! He often does skype sessions with classrooms around the world. If you're interested, you can find out more details and contact him by going through his website!

THANK YOU SO MUCH for skyping with us, Adam!

I love getting my kids all fired up about the science and social studies topics that we learn about! (chatting with a real paleontologist is one way to do this) I really love it when they take that enthusiasm home with them; and it makes my day when parents tell me that they got involved researching or talking with their child about the topic!

I try to keep parents updated on the things that we learn in class, and one way that I do this is through Take-Home Projects!!

Introducing the

I try to make sure that these projects are simple to complete and don't require too many materials. I also send these home a week and a half or two weeks before I want them to come back. If anything, I want to give families more than enough time to work on together on the project!

Another key aspect of assigning these projects is modeling. The day that I send them home, I basically do the entire project as the students watch. I take them step by step through the entire thing and then save a good chunk of time for questions.

I want these kids to be experts on what they need to do for the project before I send them home!

I also send an email heads-up to all of my parents that project instructions will be making their way home that day.

The key to these Take-Home Projects is the Parent Explanation Sheet. It lays out the project so there is no confusion or frustration at home.

In this packet, I also include a sheet to organize due dates, 2 rubrics (one that I use and an editable version) as well as a class book cover, and the actual project sheets.

For this project, students are researching a dinosaur, filling out an encyclopedia sheet, and finally writing a paragraph about the dinosaur using the information on the encyclopedia sheet. 

We had a looooong talk before I sent it home about how to research, remembering to use introduction and conclusion sentences and MOST IMPORTANTLY writing in your own words. When it came time to turn in projects, I still had a few that I had to have a little conversation with:

"Hmm, do you actually know what the words "theorized", "bipedal", and "biomechanics" mean? Are you sure this is ALL your writing?"

But all-in-all the projects came back great! My students loved the opportunity to talk about, and complete, the project with their parents and the finished products are now hanging with pride on our bulletin board!

Check out some pictures of the finished products below and if your interest was piqued by this Take-Home Project, check it out in my TPT store by clicking the cover picture above or RIGHT HERE! If you download the preview on the TPT page, you can see a mini version of all the sheets in the packet!!


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Landforms, Landforms, Landforms! {{FREEBIE INCLUDED}}

At the end of last semester my students and I were working on an Landform unit! I've been working on a rehaul of the Social Studies and Science units to make them more engaging and the Landform unit was next in line!

Click the Pic to Get the Project!!

One of the highlights of this unit was the Landform Plate Model project!

Before starting this project, we learn all about the different types of landforms. During this unit we did this through a landform song, at-home research project and QR code activity.{COMING SOON TO TPT}

I always start the project with this sheet. We read the directions together and, as a group, brainstorm some landforms that would work well. 

One of my favorite things about this project is how well it lends itself to parental involvement. I invited the parents to come in this year and help to mix the salt dough that we use and set up for the project. Most of them stayed to help their child with constructing the landforms. I love to hear the students explaining the different landforms to Moms and Dads!

After completing the model and painting it, I have the students label the model with toothpicks. Finally, they create a 2-D map of the landform plate. I tie this to our mapping unit by having students label a compass rose and create map key with symbols for the different landforms.


Looking for more Landform activities??

Coming soon to TeachersPayTeachers......The Landform Activity Packet!! Check out the pictures below for a sneak peek and head back to my TPT store soon to grab it!