Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Relationships First!

Super hero photos and Figure me Out projects 

We are just about 6 weeks into the school year and we are just now getting fully into third grade content.  Why the delay?  Well, because the start of the year is a vital time for relationship building and putting in place the procedures and expectations that will ground our work for the rest of the year.  These things are not to be rushed!  We have been focused on activities that allow us to get to know each other better and help us to feel connected and safe in our new learning environment. Activities like sharing our family photos, decorating our writer's notebooks, tie dyeing t-shirts, completing our Brown Bag Biographies, and participating in teamwork challenges help to build a sense of community and connection.
Our family bulletin board

Learning requires risk taking.  Sharing their writing,  their ideas, and asking questions puts students in a vulnerable state.  It is essential that students feel valued and respected and these things don't happen without investing some time.


The beginning of the year is a time for me to learn about my new students.  Who is an expert Lego master? Who is obsessed with becoming an NHL hockey player? Who can name every dinosaur ever discovered and a few only found in the movies?  Who wants to go dumpster diving?  Who dreams of being a doctor?  Who wants to be an Olympic swimmer one day?  All of our "get to know you" activities are important for understanding, and connecting with students and allows me to be sure they feel seen, heard, and represented in the classroom.

What's your superpower?

The social curriculum at school is something that is not often reported on, but is certainly something that we spend a great deal of time investing in.  From the very first day of school we begin talking about creating a caring community that values Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self Control.  Student's know this as C.A.R.E.S.  Talk to your student about these characteristics.  See if they can tell you what each letter stands for and what it means to them.

CARES posters anchor our learning and remind us what these characteristics
look like, sound like, and feel like when we use them.

Cooperation is vital to the success of our classroom and it does not come easily.  Students will spend a great deal of time working with partners, small groups and the whole class.  Learning to cooperate with all kinds of different personalities is a challenge.  This is why building strong relationships is so vital.

Partner reading
Problems solving with partners

Assertion is another big focus in third grade.  There is a shift in responsibility that happens where the teacher is no longer the chief problem solver.  That power is transferred to students as they begin to find their voice and practice problem solving strategies.  With help, students are learning to communicate and make choices for themselves that allow them to be successful.

Talking circle led by middle school students

As we enter this time of year,  the academic content becomes the main focus and the workload  and academic challenge increases.  We will not, however, let relationship building fall by the wayside.  This is one reason we start out every day by coming together for morning meeting.  A time to great each other, check-in to see how we are all feeling, laugh a little, and center ourselves before jumping into our day.
Morning meeting time

Friday, August 3, 2018

Sneak Peek

It's August and I just can't help myself.  Even though I want to enjoy every last moment of my precious, Vermont summer, I find myself spending hours in the classroom cleaning, arranging, unpacking supplies and preparing for our year together.  It's about this point in summer that I feel the pull as my excitement for the new year builds.  I love spending time creating a warm, inviting, organized space that I will share with you for the next 9 months.  After all, we will spend a great deal of time together in this "home away from home".  I'm glad you have stopped by for a sneak peek of our room.

Please "leaf" me alone, I'm reading!
Pictured above,  is a favorite reading nook for 3rd graders.  This year I added some twinkle lights to brighten up the space.  Speaking of reading, here is a preview of a few new arrivals to our classroom library. Tom Gates is a diary-style, comic novel series by Liz Pichon.   The Baby-Sitters Club by Raina Telgemeier (who also wrote the very popular Smile, Drama, and Sisters) is a graphic novel adaptation of the original series by Anna M. Martin.  Dork Diaries is a diary style series about Nikki Maxwell's humorous and dramatic life written by Renee Russell.
New Arrivals!

This year I added more yoga balls to our classroom seating options.  These are a favorite for students who love to move and bounce.  Equally popular, are the Learniture Active Learning stools that allow students to rock and spin.  I was lucky enough to get 6 stools through a fully funded Donors Choose project last year.  Each table grouping has a minimum of 2 yoga balls, one rocker stool, and one chair with an optional stability disk.  This year I have submitted another project on Donors Choose ( ttps://tinyurl.com/yazyjwzh) because I dream of adding some flexible furniture pieces to create collaboration areas throughout our room.  

Flexible Seating Options

This year I want to honor the important connection between home and school by creating a family picture board.  I thought this would be a great way for your teacher and classmates to "meet" the important people in your life.  I hope that it will also bring you comfort to see these familiar faces, especially at the beginning of the year as we transition back to school.
This board is awaiting your family photos!
There is still plenty for me to do to prepare for your arrival.  Thanks for stopping by.  I am excited to welcome you to 3rd grade on August 28th.  I know that we will have a great year together!!  See you soon.

Room B214 - Mrs. Sullivan's Scholars

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Students Spread Kindness Like Confetti

As part of our study of Georgia government we focus on rights and responsibilities of citizens. I try to help my students understand that for every freedom that is protected we also have an obligation to act responsibly.  We spent some time brainstorming responsibilities and characteristics of good citizens.  Students were also asked to get input from their parents.  In addition to things like voting, staying informed about important issues, paying taxes, and jury duty, many students reported back that volunteering, helping their neighbor, and donating to local charitable organizations were important responsibilities of good citizens.  Unlike paying taxes, the ideas of giving back and helping those in need are a little easier for students to understand and to put into action themselves.

A sign to thank our janitors for their hard work.
Finishing touches are added to a sign for our cafeteria staff.
For the month of February our quotes of the day were focused on spreading kindness.  Inspired by this, I saw an opportunity for students to put what we have been learning into action.  I proposed that instead of planning a Valentine celebration, and exchanging Valentines, that we make Valentine's Day a day of services and spreading kindness.  Not all students were immediately on board...I could see them processing what that meant. (No valentines? No candy? No party?...No Way!)  I threw out a few ideas and told them to take the weekend to think about what this might look like.  How could they spread kindness?  How would they like to help?  Would they focus on our G.E.M.S. community or the Georgia community?  The choice was theirs.

"Be the person that starts a kindness trail!"
Students created and scattered messages of kindness, 
happiness, & love throughout the hallways at G.E.M.S.

"What I liked about making hearts is that we had to stick them on the walls and when we put them on the walls I felt happy to do that because I learned to spread kindness to people." - Emma R.

After our brainstorming session, and a democratic voting process, we had total buy-in from the class and we decided that we would focus on our G.E.M.S. community.  Students wanted to recognize our janitors and cafeteria staff for their hard work day in and day out.  They decided to give back by jumping in to help them with their job for a day.  They also decided on a kindness project.  Each student would create hearts with inspiring messages of kindness that we would scatter around the hallways at school.
Students work on compliment hearts for a classmate on Valentine's morning.

The afternoon before Valentine's we collected all of our kindness hearts and set out to decorate the halls.  Students were beaming with pride and excitement as they splashed messages of kindness around the school.  They were tickled to think what people would be thinking when they saw them.  

On Valentine's Day each student volunteered 20-30 minutes of their time.  Some wiped down tables during lunch.  Some went to Mrs. Rowell's kindergarten classroom to support students during literacy work time.  Some collected trash for the janitors at the end of the day.  A few students even sacrificed their recess and P.E. time to complete their volunteer opportunity.  

"Being kind made me feel really good inside, Valentine's is one of my favorite holidays of the year." -Marah M.

My hopes are that our hearts put a smile on someone's face, our janitors and cafeteria staff felt appreciated, and all students got a glimmer of satisfaction from giving to others. This may just become a tradition. One student's typo has even inspired a new name for this day...Valinteering Day. Perfection!

"Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear 
and the blind can see." - Mark Twain

Sunday, September 24, 2017


The Best Part of Me

Lily's poem
We began our year with a writing project that was inspired by Wendy Ewald's book:  The Best Part of Me, in which students write about the best part of their bodies and help to compose a photograph that highlights their best parts.  

Wendy Ewald's book
Every year I like to begin with a focus on our strengths, passions, and the things we like best about ourselves.  I want to get to know my students through their eyes, I want to see them the way they see themselves.  This was a great project for doing that.  It was also a good way to ease us into the writing process. 

Our wrting pieces are on display 
Together we took this piece through the brainstorming, writing, editing, revising, and publishing steps. Students found this piece easy becase they were able to write on a topic that they know a lot about... themselves!  The poem format also gave students the freedom to express themselves without worrying too much about structure.  There will be plenty of time to worry about run-ons, fragments, grammar and syntax.  In poetry, it's all allowed---we just chalk it up to stylistic choice!

Naysa's poem
Students were in charge of the compostion of their portraits.  They had imagined exactly how they wanted their body part captured and had the final say in which shot was used. The results are truly magical.  

Next, we are focusing on writing personal narratives.  Students have already begun the brainstorming process by listing people and places in their lives that are important to them and thinking of small moments they have shared together.  We will try to zoom in and make the story come alive for the reader by describing what happened.  We will focus on showing instead of telling.  We do this by using figurative language, dialogue, and focusing on our senses: what we heard, saw, tasted, felt, and smelled. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Friday Free Play

They call it Free Play Friday...I call it self-directed learning; we all call it F-U-N!

Two of the best decisions I have made as a teacher were to incorporate free play into our weekly routine in 3rd grade.  The other?  A second recess each day!  Yes, in this day of high stakes testing, rigourous Common Core standards, and the pressures of never enough time, I have made play and physical activity a priority and have not regretted it once.  

"Hey guys, I can feel the force of the
magnet through my hand!" -Chais
Inspired by a recent trip to Finland, where students have 15 minutes of recess every hour during the school day and the education of students is based on developmentally appropriate nurturing of the whole child, I decided to experiment with these changes in my classroom to hopefully improve the health and well being of my students.  To be completely honest, I was also inspired by one of my third graders who exclaimed, "No fair!" upon beholding an extravagently engineered cup tower in the block area of our kindergarten reading buddy's classroom.  His comment stuck with me.  I was as enamored as he with that tower and shared his sentiment.  Why should kindergartners have all the fun?  I went out a few weeks later and purchased an entire bucket of cups that students could build with during inside recess and placed an order for some wooden blocks.

Now, Friday mornings have a wonderfully relaxed feel as students come in, read the mornging message, create a learning statement for the week, and engage with their friends in 30-40 minutes of play.  After a long
week of very focused, challenging work, it is exactly what we all need.

Our second recess is short, only15 minutes during the final hour of our day.  During winter, with all the snow gear, it sometimes takes us as long to get ready as we have to be outside, but it is still worth it. Students get a shot of fresh air and a few minutes to run, yell, and well, be kids!  I expect a lot out of my students behaviorally and academically during the day.   At 1:30 in the afternoon I can feel the low energy settle over the room. We are all exhausted.  Our extra recess re-energizes the group and gives us the necessary stamina to make it throught the rest of our day.  

"For every 15minutes of play, children tend to use a third of that time engaged in learning about mathematical, spatial, and architectural principles." -Sarah Lewis in The Rise:  Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery

Thinking about incorporating more play in your school day?  Here are a few more reasons you should consider it straight from the experts...

"It gives your brain a break." -Kaitlyn

"It gives us another chance to be outside so that we can be more focused.  We can get our energy out." -Natalie

"Kids need, well everyone needs, about 2 hours of activity everyday." -Sam

"It give us a chance to talk with our friends." -Max

"It helps us calm down when we're inside." -Jen

So, as we begin a new year in 3rd grade, free play and 2nd recess continue to be part of this teacher's class schedule.  Here's to happy, healthy, focused students!  Have a great school year.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Rocking Our Way to Success!

I'm excited to announce that I have launched my first ever Donor's Choose project!  

It has been a dream of mine for a while to expand the seating options in our classroom.  Over the years I have slowly added yoga balls, stability discs, and Bilibo seats as my budget has allowed. However,  I have had my eye on these active learning stools for quite some time and haven't been able to find the funds to purchase them. These beauties have a curved rubber bottom that allows students a wide range of movement and encourages core strength.
I finally decided, after seeing other educators successfully fund their projects, to give it a go! Even if you can't contribute funding for my project, you can still help by spreading the word.

Hopefully, I will soon be posting pictures of happy, energetic students rocking their way to success on these stools!  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Under Construction

As the custodial staff is racing to finish sprucing up GEMS before our first day, teachers have begun to sneak into their classrooms this week to find freshly waxed, sparkling floors and piles of furniture to rearrange.  So it begins, the exciting process of putting our rooms back together to welcome our new students on August 29th.  
Our 3rd grade classroom is under construction this week.  
As a teacher, August signals the end of  summer vacation, but it is still one of my favorite times of year.  There is a palpable excitment to the start of school when the lifeless hallways are once again filled with reenergized teachers and wide eyed students bouncing down the halls.  I am so excited to welcome my new students and begin building an awesome learning community together.  We are going to have a great year!