Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Blog Posts from 2014

I can't believe that 2014 is already over?  There is SO much more I wanted to do!  Well, I didn't want anybody to feel like they missed out on reading some really great blog posts, so I have asked some of the best bloggers around to link-up their TOP blog posts of 2014!  All the great posts in one location.  What could be better?  If you are a blogger, feel free to post your top blog post from 2014 in the link up below.  Thanks for visiting and happy 2015!

10 Ways to Get Fit in Your Classroom

One of my biggest challenges as a teacher is finding balance.  Between the endless responsibilities of teaching, being a wife, mom, and friend, I find that I seem to always come last.  There is never time for ME to do something good for ME - like working out!  Well, a few years ago, I discovered some simple things I could do during my school day to help me lose weight and get healthy.  I lost 40 pounds in one year!  These pictures are from the Marine Corps Ball 2011 and 2012.

In 2011, I remember not wanting to go dress shopping.  I was so grossed out with myself and refused to buy the size that I actually needed.  I found something in my closet with enough elastic to work.  Looking at the picture, I can't believe how booby-licous this was and I actually wore it like that!  And now I am putting it on the internet!  Oh, lord!  I believe it will help others, so I am willing to make this embarrassing sacrifice.  Don't judge!  :)  In 2012, I had lost 40 pounds.  I had not gone dress shopping and there was only one dress in my closet that would fit me for the ball.  It was the same dress I wore to my first ball with my husband when I was just 19 years old.  (Saved only for the memory, I never intended for it to be worn again!)  How freakin' awesome is that?  Three kids later, I was rocking the same dress I wore at 19.  No spanx, no sucking in!

Here are 10 little tricks that I implemented to help me achieve this success and keep the weight off!
  1. Walking Club - So one day, I was standing on the playground doing recess duty when I realized that instead of standing, I should be moving!  I rounded-up some kids and started "the walking club".  Our walking club does laps around the playground.  To keep it fresh and exciting, I came up with little "challenges" as we walk.  One wall has an ocean mural.  When we walk by it, we pretend to swim and hold our breath.  There is a small hill that we call "danger hill".  Every time we go down the hill, we say, "Oh, no!  It's Danger Hill!"  We raise our arms in the air and run down the hill.  There is an alcove near the office.  This is a bear cave.  We tip toe across very quietly so that we don't wake the bears.  There is also an electromagnetic wall that we run past (or we may stick to it), scary trolls, and we stop to smell the flowers (another mural).  When we walk by my classroom door, we raise our hands and give a little woot-woot, because this marks one completed lap.  I keep a tally chart in my room to track our laps.  Last year, we got almost 200 laps.  Kids want to join the walking club.  They see me walking and run to join.  Walking club is for all kids on the playground - not just my own students.  My class this year has added another fun twist on the walking club.  They use sidewalk chalk to create obstacle courses.  They make bombs that we can't step on, tight ropes, stones that we must jump on, and more.  They get so creative and are super excited for our walking club to walk their course.  Their obstacles work even more muscles.  Jumping on the "stones" is a real workout!  I also love that they label the side walk with "bear cave" and "danger hill".  I love to see that they are motivated to write.  
  2. Skip Count and Move - I totally created this as a way for me to get some exercise into my day, but they are good for my kiddos, too!  These are PowerPoints that get us moving while we practice skip counting.  You choose which number you want to count by.  Numbers 2-10 are included.  There are simple exercise moves to do as we count.  We do frog squats, polar bear jumping jacks, penguin knee lifts, and more!  This runs through numbers three times for lots of practice and exercise.  The squats make me sore every single time we do them!  When we started jumping jacks, I could not finish them all.  Now, I do them easily.  I am so proud of my progress!
  3. Fitbit - If you have never heard of a fitbit, it is a small pedometer that syncs to your phone or internet account.  It is SO fun because you can add friends from school.  It shows who from your group got in the most steps for the week.  This gives me a little more motivation to move more.  It also tracks active minutes, flights of stairs climbed, and calories burned.  There are even fitbit community groups.  I am part of a teaching fitbit group.  Just think of all the steps you can log if you start your own walking club!
  4. MOVE IT - This series features lessons with built-in brain breaks.  This is a GREAT way to get in some cardio in the classroom.  My class does a MOVE IT about three times a week.  They love it because they have a chance to get out of their seats and move.  I love it because I can move, I can assess their skills and give immediate feedback, and I can throw out a boring workbook page.  To read more about MOVE ITs, click here!
    30 seconds of jumping jacks!
  5. Drink more water - I have not had a soda in four years.  NO soda for 4 years!!!  When you don't drink soda, there is not much else to drink, so I have a lot of water.  Drinking only water can get really boring, so I spruce it up with fruit slices.  Here is my trick for yummy school water.  I buy produce, slice it up, put the slices on wax paper or saran wrap (so they don't stick together), and freeze them.  Once they are frozen, I store them in a container in my freezer.  If you put all the slices in a container and then freeze, they make one solid block and are almost impossible to pry apart.  When I am in a hurry for school, I can just throw a few frozen slices in my ice water.  Some of my favorite things to add to my water are: lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, cucumber, pineapple, mango, and fresh mint.
  6. Tie fitness into your curriculum - I like to introduce the subject of healthy food choices with the story The Gulps by Marc Brown and Rosemary Wells.  This is a story about a family that changes their ways and gets healthy.  It is a nice way of broaching the subject without making anybody feel bad.  I also really like the story Miss Fox's Class Shapes Up.  We use this as a motivation for our class to work together on fitness goals.  I use the morning songs Healthy by Ken Sheldon, Let's Go to the Market by Greg and Steve, and A Very Good Me by Penny and Pals.  Singing these songs in the morning is a reminder to me about the choices I need to make. 
  7. Get rid of your throne! - I used to have a comfy rocking chair in the front my room.  I found myself sitting in it way too often.  I replaced it with a cheap computer chair and found myself spending less time sitting.  If you have a stool that you sit on while you teach, or if you are often perched behind your desk, try to get away from that comfort zone.  Stand more. Walk more.  Move more!
  8. Alpha-Stretch - These are quick brain breaks that reinforce letter size.  We touch our waist for small letters, reach up high for tall letters, and touch our toes for letters with a tail.  These come in a variety of themes to last all year.  This is a great way to stretch and feels great if you find yourself sore from all that exercising you have been fitting it.  To read more about Alpha-Stretch, click here!
  9. Change the way you party!  - Instead of having cupcakes and cookies at your party, have healthy choices like strawberries and carrot sticks.  You will be shocked by how much your kids enjoy them.  Instead of having a popcorn or root beer float party, have a dance party!  There are two ways my class has a dance party.  For the first, se use my Freeze Dance videos.  These have fun songs to dance to and then "FREEZE!" to practice skills like reading sight words, reviewing phonics, skip counting, etc.  The other type of dance party is where they come to the rug where we have lots of room and I put on fun songs for them to dance to.  I have some kids bop CDs that they like for this.  With both types of dance parties, I always review the rules so it doesn't get too crazy!  There is no break dancing or mosh pit.  You are not allowed to be on the floor because we might step on you!  Our objectives are fun and safety!  If we do not review these rules, dance parties can get a little dangerous!  
  10. Make yourself a priority!  - Remember that you are a role model for your students.  It is important that they see you setting a healthy example.  By taking time for yourself, you are actually taking care of every one in your life.  Your students, spouse, and children will benefit from you being the best you that you can be!  Treat yourself!  Buy yourself a new outfit when you reach a goal.  Your appearance affects your attitude.  Set goals and work to achieve them.  If you have a bad day, brush it off and start fresh tomorrow.  
Do you have any healthy classroom routines to share?  What keeps you motivated?  Please share!  

Until next time, 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fostering Independence

Dear Teacher,
I love to go to you with all of my problems.  I love that you are always there to fix them for me.  When I told you that Sally wouldn't share the ball with me, you told her she has to.  When I needed help opening my chips, you were always there to do it.  When I need help on my work, I know you will be there to help me find the answer.  When my shoes need tied, you are just the one I want to go to.  Thanks for always being there to fix my problems for me.
Love Always,
The Dependent Student

Dear Teacher,
Thank you for NOT always solving my problems.  You were always there for me, but you gave me the tools to fix them myself.  When I told you Sally wouldn't share her ball with me, you told me how I should address Sally to take care of the problem myself. Now, I know how to handle conflict with friends and I don't need to rush to you when there is a problem.  When I needed help opening my chips, you taught me how.  At first my hands were not strong enough to pull the bag open, but with lots of practice, I can do it on my own.  When I needed help with my work, you reminded me to read the directions, go back and check my answers, sound words out.  You gave me the tools I need to do my work independently.  When my shoes needed tied, you taught me to tie them.  It took many lessons before I finally got it, but I am so proud of myself now because I know I can do it.  Thank you for not always doing it for me.  Thank you for teaching me how to be an independent, problem solver.
Love Always,
The Independent Student

I began my teaching career in preschool.  I knew I wanted to be a teacher so I began working with kids while I was in high school.  I started out in a classroom for three year-olds.  I thought those little kids were so darn cute!  So little!  So young! Babies really! The teacher in the room, Ms. Martha, was in her late sixties.  She has been teaching little kids all her life.  She would scold anybody who called her kids babies!  They were three!  They were capable!  They were not babies!  At first, I thought she was so harsh and callus.  She wanted these little tiny kids to put their own shoes on!  They had to clean up all their messes themselves.  She forbid anyone from carrying these little darlings.  She did not put up with crying or whining.  They had to make their own beds before nap time and put them away after.  I admit that when I started I felt bad for these little kids!  It didn't take long for me to see that even though she had high expectations for these kids, they always met them.  They could clean their messes.  They were capable of putting their own shoes on.  There was very rarely any crying or whining because they knew it would not work for them.  They made their beds and seemed to enjoy it.  The following year, I was moved to the four year old classroom.  This teacher was in her thirties and very sweet.  She had a different philosophy than Ms. Martha.  She viewed the kids as little babies who needed her help.  She had me cleaning their messes and putting on their shoes. I made the beds and put them away. There were constant tattles and whining.  Many of the kids were the same that I had in the three year-old room.  I knew they were capable.  The expectation had changed and so had they.  Working at the preschool helped me realize what kind of teacher I wanted to be; the kind with high expectations.  My classroom would foster independence.   I strive to do this everyday.

In the ten years I have been in first grade, I have seen a change in the children.  Every year, they seem younger and more immature.  We have farther to go to get them to that independent stage.  I have kids who cannot speak in proper sentences, "I go bathroom?" This is because they are not corrected at home.  Baby talk in first grade is not cute.  It needs to be corrected.  I have kids who cannot button their own pants.  I have had parents who do EVERYTHING for their children to the point where it has affected fine motor strength.  I have had first graders who expect me to wipe their noses!  How is this happening?
The other day, I was talking to my dad.  He was telling me about working when he was a kid.  When he was in first grade, he chopped fire wood.  I can't imagine my firsties with an ax!  How dangerous! When he was 12, he drove heavy machines at his family's sawmill.  I have a 12 year old.  There is no way I would let her drive!  That is just crazy!  I asked my dad if his family was crazy to let such young kids do such serious work.  He told me this was the norm.  His friends had these same type of chores.  Times have changed.  Expectations have changed.  What will the world be like for my children's children?  Will we have a future like in the movie Wallie where we are all obese and live in our own little bubbles?  It seems like a scary likelihood.
What can we do about it?  I try to teach my parents how to help create independence at home.  I give them realistic expectations for their kids.  They should be squeezing their own toothpaste on their toothbrush.  They can help load the dishwasher.  At school, I do not solve my students' problems for them.  I teach them to do it.  I will be honest, TEACHING them how to take care of problem takes ten times longer than just doing it for them.  Once they know how, my life becomes easier.  Second grade teachers will have a better year with them.  They are more confident and capable.  They quickly learn NOT to run to my with their problems.  They know what I will say, "How can you take care of it?"  I see them start to come to me, rethink it, and then try on their own.  If they try and can't, I am always there to help them.  I just expect them to TRY on their own before coming to me.  I also teach them the difference between tattling and telling.  Tattling is trying to get someone in trouble. Telling is when someone is hurt or could get hurt.  I always want them to come to me if someone is hurt or could get hurt because my job is to keep them safe.
That teacher in the four year-old classroom was doing her best.  She was trying her hardest and wanted only the best for those kids.  I was so fortunate to see these two vastly different approaches to teaching.  They have helped me as both a parent and a teacher.

How do you create independent students?  Do you agree that they seem to come in more needy each year?  Share your thoughts!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Hour of Code in First Grade

A few weeks ago, my sister asked if I had heard of the Hour of Code.  I asked if this was a movie.  She told me that if I was going to call myself "The Primary Techie", I better find out about the Hour of Code.  So, I did what any good techie would do, I Googled it!  The Hour of Code is a global movement to encourage children to learn basic computer coding.  Computers are our students' futures.  I believe that we should immerse them in technology.  I am a wannabe techie and know NOTHING about coding.  That being said, I believe that if I want to learn something, I can.
I signed my class up to participate and began watching the tutorial videos.  I was surprised by how easy it was to understand.  Many activities were based on popular characters and themes like Frozen and Angry Birds.  There are many activities to choose from.  The tasks become more challenging as more puzzles are completed.
Some of the activities seemed much more appropriate for older students (independent readers).  I borrowed a third grade class yesterday so that I could play with the more difficult activities.  The kids were so into it, that they asked for the website so they could continue coding at home.  With my firsties, I introduced all concepts on the smartboard.  We walked through the activities together.
The kids were bursting with excitement to try the coding on their own.  One of the many tutorial videos showed how two kids should work together on one computer.  They talked about one being the driver and the other is the navigator.  The activities are perfect for taking turns and working together.  I have four laptops in my room, so computers are usually one of my six stations.  I wanted them to try the partner work, so I used two laptops at two different centers.  This worked really well because the kids were able to keep their computers for two center transitions,  which gave them longer turns.
I knew they would learn computer stuff, but I was surprised by all the other benefits of the activities.  They are excellent for problem solving, mathematical thinking, reading, and communication skills.  Whether you are a techie or not, you should check out The Hour of Code.  After you sign-up, you will get an email with certificates to print for your class.    
I told the technology director at my school about our Hour of Code.  His response was, "What now?"  I was so excited and that response kind of deflated me a bit.  What now?  He is right!  What now?  We are excited about it.  We like it.  What now?  Does this fizzle out until next year when I do it again with a new group of kids?  NO!  I want my kids to continue this enthusiasm.  We need to keep it going.  We will add these activities to our weekly learning stations.  We will incorporate this in our weekly tech lab time.  The Hour of Code will not last just this week.  The Hour of Code will become the YEAR of Code for my students.
I took typing in high school - on a TYPEWRITER!  When I was in college, we didn't know how to cite the internet because it was too new.  Technology changes so quickly and encompasses every aspect of our daily lives.  I can't imagine what my students' futures hold, but I know that time spent teaching them about technology is a valuable use of time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Classroom Management Life Savers and FREEBIE

December is fun, but man it wipes me out!  These kids are pumped full of candy canes and hot cocoa!  Who wants to work when there are fun decorations and presents in your near future?  To be honest, most of the time I would rather be home wrapping presents and eating cookies!  I know my kids would, too.  Behavior management is serious business.  ESPECIALLY this time of the year!  That is why I am SO excited to tell you about my newest creation:  Classroom Management Life Savers!  Pretty serious name, huh?  Don't worry!  It lives up to the name!

  What is this?  
This is a behavior management system that you run on your board.  You do not need a smartboard to run this. Any projector will work.  I strongly recommend a wireless mouse, keyboard, or presentation clicker.  This will allow you to use the program from any where in the room.  You can redirect students with the push of a button.  It doesn’t matter if you are on the phone, talking to your principal, working with a small group, or testing students.  One click and your whole class is back on track!

Why I made this:
I have a marble jar in my classroom.  When the jar is full, we vote on a class reward.  I would often give my students challenges like “If you can pack-up quietly, you will earn 10 marbles.”  As they cleaned, I would count down.  “Now it is worth 9 marbles.” And so on.  This works SO well for me at clean-up time.  The problem is, I can’t do it while multi-tasking.  When I am running a reading group, I forget what number we are on.  I hate interrupting my readers to re-direct the rest of the class.  Now, my board does it all for me.  

How to use it:
Just start the slide show and do your thing!  These are great to use for a specific period of time (not the same one running all day).  I love these during reading groups.  Each PowerPoint gives the class a goal.  In Take Away Tools, the goal is to keep the objects (marbles, gingerbread men, etc.)  In Build Tools, the goal is to gain pieces to create a picture. The students must try to reach the goal before our next transition.  

About Take Away Tools:
Take away tools  count down and deter negative behaviors.  We always start with 10.  If my students get too noisy or are off-task, I just click the mouse .  One object will disappear and a chime signals the class that they have lost one object.  This sound reminds them to get back on-task.  YOU don’t have to say a word!  I love this because I can use it while I am working with small groups and don’t need to interrupt my group at all.  One click and they students are refocused.  I use Take Away tools along with my marble jar.  However many objects are left determines the number of marbles the class earns.  It can also be used as a consequence.  For example, if my students lose all of the objects, they lose recess or a fun activity.  I call this “Plan B”.  You never want to have a “plan B day”.  Plan A is always much more fun!  

About Build Tools:
I believe that positive reinforcement works much more effectively than negative, so I also created Building Tools.  With the Build Tools, positive behavior is rewarded by creating a picture.  When I catch them all working on-task, I click to give them a piece of a picture.  I tell my students that if they reach the goal by the end of our reading groups, they will earn a reward.  This can be a small treat like an M&M (yes, they do get excited about ONE M&M!), “take your shoes off” until our next transition, extra minutes of recess, everybody moves their clip up, or marbles for our jar.  These are just a few ideas.  I like to change it up on them all the time so it is new and fresh.  If it gets boring, it will lose its effectiveness. 

About the Files:
To keep students engaged, I like to switch themes often.  I have named the files to make them easy for you to find.  Themes that can be used anytime (like pirates, marble jar, fish, and aliens) have names that begin with 0.  All monthly themes are named with the number of the month followed by the name.  For example, Santa will be used in December.  December is the 12th month, so this file will be called 12- Santa.  If you are looking for St. Patrick’s Day themes, they will start with 3 because March is the third month.  
This is an expanding file.  I will continue adding new themes until this has a minimum of 40 to give you a new theme each week.  If you have a class theme that is not included, please message me and I will try to add it for you.  You can reach me at primarytechie@gmail.com or via my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PrimaryTechie if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.  I would love to hear from you!  

I am so excited about these that I want to let my blog followers have a set for FREE!  This exclusive link is not listed anywhere else!  Click here to download your own Build a Santa Tool.  
This full set will continue to rise in price as more themes are added.  The sooner you buy, the lower the price.  Check out the full set by clicking here.  

Thanks so much for visiting my blog and reading about my newest treasures.  I hope they save your sanity during this holly, jolly time of year!  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Workin' Hard with the Fit Desk

Cool, but not for me...
Ever since I began creating stuff on TpT, I have found myself sitting on the couch with my laptop for hours and hours and hours (and hours).  I get so sucked into my project that when I eventually stand-up, my legs are asleep and I have couch butt.  I hate this!  I like to move!  I saw these super cool treadmill desks a while back.

I considered buying one.  When I was researching, I found them to be over a thousand bucks each.  If this thing got me moving, it might be worth the money.  My real worry is, what if I get sucked in to my projects and forget to walk?  What if I hurt myself due to my lack of coordination?  As I was looking at the treadmill desks, I found this bike desk.

Here is what I like about the bike desk:
1) It doesn't take up too much floor space.
2) It was only $300.
3) If I forget to pedal, I am safely seated.

I ordered that baby right away!  It came in a little over a week.  I was a bit intimidated by all the pieces and the overwhelming directions.  I do love a good project, so I got busy right away.  I had it completely put together in about two hours.

It is not difficult to work and ride.  I can easily type and pedal.  It is smooth and not jerky.  Instead of spending 3 hours sitting on the couch each evening, I am now spending 3 hours on my bike.  I get all my work done, and get a workout in! I really love my bike and am so happy that I ordered it.  If you feel like you don't have time to work out, check out the Fit Desk!