June 5, 2018

March/April/May: What to do in the classroom



The end of one school year is the perfect time to figure out what you want to work for the next year. You can try out new systems, techniques, and routines, just to get a feel for how they work with an actual group of kids you already know. Starting with something new for you, with a new group of kids in August, is stressful and unfamiliar. For example, flexible seating. You want to try it out before you introduce it as "the way we'll do things" because you could end up hating it or you could see some major or minor tweaks that need to be made right away.

Here's a few of my go-to activities for the end of the year...

24 March Madness Bracket
Every year, I teach the kids how to play 24 and let them practice for part of math most days. It's a great center activity. We practice in January, February, and March and then, in April, I run a one or two day challenge with a bracket and the winner gets their own set of 24 cards. It always goes that most of the class will really enjoy this, especially those higher-level math kids. I always make it optional, though. Not everyone enjoys it.



Little House on the Prairie
I show this movie in 10 minute snippets most years. The kids really look forward to it each day. I'm shocked how into it they get: yelling at the characters, shouting out predictions, and screaming (actually screaming) in frustration when I turn it off each day. This actually ties in really well with our curriculum on homesteading and what people had to deal with. I read them certain chapters from the books but this movie really ties it all together for them. They have said things like "I never knew I liked history!" and it makes my heart swell. This year, the kids were particularly emotionally attached to it. They adored the part where Pa made Ma a rocking chair as a surprise and shouted at me when I turned it off because "she was just about to sit down!!!".

I started this in Missouri because the second-graders there actually read the book as part of the curriculum.



A weak attempt at flexible seating.  
Back in April, I let the kids sit on the floor or stand if they wanted to. I never trained them in this (you must train if you're going to use flexible seating), and just let them do what they wanted in regards to their chair. By mid-day, I completely regretted my decision but was like Whatever, it's one day and they were SUCH good kids that it didn't really matter. I would not recommend this strategy if you have "not good" kids.
At the end of the day I told them I hoped they had enjoyed their day of freedom because they would be using their chairs again tomorrow. Some were disappointed but I noticed that they slowly, one by one, went to get their chairs and were choosing to sit in them, at their desks for the last 20 minutes of the day.
I think they honestly just appreciated the option and it was fascinating to notice which kids never gave up their chairs in the first place. (Note: it was the most well-behaved kids and the kids with straight As and Bs who never gave up their chairs.)
Of course, my controlling nature came back the next day and when someone asked if they could sit on the floor I told them they could sit on the floor next door in another classroom and spend the day there (this is typically a punishment) and that ended the conversation.

Read-a-thon.
Every year, during the last week of school (when we have a lot of down time), I give the kids their end-of-the-year gift of a new book and we all just read for about an hour. They can sit where they want and eat a snack and it's just very relaxing. I read too, and tell them "Shh, I'm reading" if they try to talk to me or each other. They appreciate this, I've noticed. A teacher I worked with in Alaska did this as an all-day event but I've noticed that 1-2 hours works well for 10 year olds.

Have the kids help you tear everything down. (Note: This backfired on me one year when a student who was taking down trimmer in the hallway accidentally pulled the fire alarm.)
This year, I decided to leave my trimmer and paper up: I wasn't taking the trimmer with me, and I thought ripping it down and wrapping it up would be more unnecessary work if I were just going to leave it for the new teacher. Especially if the new teacher is brand new, it would be helpful (I think) to see how things were previously set up. The hands-down hardest part of moving into a new classroom is figuring out where furniture should go and what the walls should look like. Giving her/him a idea might be my idea of being helpful? Or I could be one of those deluded veteran teachers who is really just giving them more work to do...
But kids can help you pull things off walls, remove staples, organize supplies, carry out recycling, wipe down desks/chairs/furniture with Lysol wipes/etc. And they love it.

Purge and take stock.
This is especially pertinent to you if you're leaving the profession or moving to a new place where you're not familiar with what you may need or not need. I used to hold onto materials dearly. Then I realized that if I found these resources online once, I can find them again, and I don't need to tote a filing cabinet's worth of original copies with me.

I condensed a 4-drawer filing cabinet to this:


I condensed four shelves of books to this.



And then I had two boxes of decorations and a couple of crates of things I've bought myself, like novel sets, in the last couple of years.

Again, I don't know when I'll get back to teaching and, when I do, I don't know what I'll actually be teaching. No need to pack and haul everything. When I left Alaska, I had to start over in Missouri because I was teaching a different grade level. When I moved to Colorado, I had to start over because I was teaching a different grade level. ...you get the idea.

However, even if you're staying in the same classroom for the next year, it's a good idea to go through everything at least twice in a school year. Usually sometime in the winter and then again before school is over; you'll know what you want to keep/change/adjust, so just organize it before the new year's planning begins.

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I don't have an eloquent way to end this post, as I have no planning/prep/etc to say is forthcoming as a new school year begins. (See: Resigning from my teaching job.) I do plan to continue compiling a lot of my teaching ideas into an ebook that I've been working on for a few years now.

However, the takeaways I've gotten from ending school years are:

1. Purge what you don't need and didn't use that year.
2. Organize what you know you'll need for next year.
3. Prep ahead and get materials/copies/supplies ready for the first week of school if you can. I was able to do this in Alaska and also in Colorado, when I knew I'd be in the same room and same grade level the following year.

HAPPY.SUMMER.



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