Saturday, October 15, 2016

Books Teachers Love ( Old Lady Swallowed a Turkey )

Every month Books Teachers Love brings you 12 read aloud recommendations for your classroom. It's probably my most favorite thing ever.

Eventually I am going to need a larger bookshelf, because there is certainly no such thing as too many books.
November is a month full of so much stuff to teach about... especially this year. Thanksgiving, the Election, fall, fall turning to winter soon, turkeys. AHH!

Just thinking about it makes me so excited to set up my classroom bookshelf, especially because there is one book I am so excited to share with my students...
Houston, I have a problem... I am deeply in love with the Little Old Lady books. Well, it's not really a problem... mostly because these books are fabulous kids and fun for adults too!

The silliness of the book and the colorful illustrations, tied in with the repetition, rhyming, and opportunities for lesson extensions, makes this book one that every elementary school teacher should have on the bookshelf.
This is the latest book from Lucille Colandro, having just been released in August 2016. You can find it here.*
My students are very familiar with this Old Lady. We read about her several times a year, and it never gets old to them that she eats the craziest things! It's a great conversation piece, though, that gets them talking about what a person can and cannot eat (or should and should not eat).

Sequencing and retelling a story are skills we focus on a lot in my classroom. This story also offers a lot of opportunities for answering "wh" questions, like "who is the main character?" "what did she swallow?" "why did she swallow the ___?" The pictures in the story are a great form of context clues for my students, helping them to answer questions.

We use a variety of worksheets, differentiated for all of my students, that focus on sequencing, vocabulary, and... their favorite! The dauber activity where they get to daub the items found in the story. Let's be honest, any time we get out the daubers, they know it's going to be fun!

Plus the fine motor practice of cutting and pasting the story in order or matching vocabulary words to their picture counterpart is a skill I love to always incorporate.
We work on the story for 2-3 days, depending on how quickly we work through activities. On the first day, we read the story and complete the dauber activity. We will also work on a sequencing worksheet and a vocabulary worksheet.

To finish out the first day, we complete the hands on sequencing activity shown in the picture above.
On the second day, we will start with looking at the pictures in the story. Then we will sequence the events from the story again using a different worksheet. We also talk about vocabulary again. Repetition of the skill is key.

To finish out the lesson in full, we will make a paper bag Old Lady and use her to sequence the story once again.

I really like doing activities like this with my students because they are things the students can take home and share with their families. It's simple to write numbers on the backs of the sequencing cards to help parents know the order of the story, and it's a great way to include parents in their child's education (which is important!).

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Implementing a Coffee Store in an Elementary Special Needs Classroom

The idea of having a student run Coffee Store in a school is not a new concept, and it's definitely been done before in middle and high schools.

Over the last 3 weeks, I have been sharing short Instagram Stories about my class's Coffee Cart Friday. Ask and you shall receive! Is that the saying? Well so many of you have questions about how my classroom is running our Coffee Cart Friday at the elementary level, that I've decided to share our setup and process so you can being implementing this simple, yet effective Friday activity!

A "life skill" is a skill that is a necessary, every day skill that a person needs to get through life.

Life skills we practice with our Coffee Cart include following a recipe, sequencing steps in an activity, fulfilling an order, appropriate social skills, sharing, peer-peer work, basic number recognition, reading and comprehension, health and hygiene, and so much more.

When the idea popped in my head last school year, I first went to a teacher that I thought would be interested in helping our class (and theirs). This happened to be the 2nd grade Gifted teacher in my building. From there, we spoke with our school principal for permission and to discuss guidelines of what is and would not be permitted.

Questions you may want to ask your administrator:
- Are we permitted to ask for donations from staff / parents / etc?
- May we ask for staff to pay? What is an acceptable price? (Our participating staff members pay $0.50 each Friday).
- If we are permitted to charge staff, where can or should we keep the money?
- What documentation is needed from us (example: do we need to keep track of who participates and pays?).
- Where can we fulfill orders and where can we store the coffee makers?
- What is your administrators opinion and advice on how often to run the Coffee Cart? you want to do only one grade level per Friday, or maybe only have the Coffee Cart open every other week.

So what supplies will you need to get started?
The most obvious need is  a coffee maker. For ease of use and safety, we decided to purchase 2 Keurigs. The funds for this purchase came from me... yes, I purchased both Keurigs with my own money. I think I paid $80 for each one at Target.

You will also need sugar, creamer, cups, lids, stirrers, spoons, and a variety of K-cups. 

The other teacher participating donated a few boxes of K-cups to start. For more supplies, we asked parents to donate. Throughout the school year, as we begin to run low on supplies, we will use the money we earn each Friday to purchase more supplies, but for the initial opening, donations were vital.
The first step in implementing your Coffee Cart is all behind the scenes work and occurs before you actually start implementing the activity. You could do these steps in a variety of ways, but I will share how we started.
By now you know that my classroom is color-coded (view those blog posts here and here), which also means I had extra bins that I'd purchased just doing nothing but sitting empty. Now they're filled with K-cups!

As we purchase or have more K-cups donated, we use Sharpies to color a dot or line on the bottom of each K-cup. Then we place those K-cups in the appropriate, colored bin. This makes it easy for fulfilling orders because the kids just have to grab 1 K-cup for a colored bin that matches a teacher's check on an order form (which you'll see in a minute).
The next behind-the-scenes step is deciding where you will have your Coffee Cart stations set up. We have 2 Keurigs, so we have 2 separate stations. Each station has all of the same materials so we can fulfill orders twice as fast.

As with the K-cup bins, we make life easier by using Sharpies each Friday to label teacher cups with the appropriate color of drink they've ordered. So let's take a look at the order form...
Before our first Coffee Cart Friday, I sent an email to all of the staff in the building to let them know about Coffee Cart Friday and ask if they wanted to participate. I then created a list of teachers to collect order forms from.

On Thursday afternoons, we deliver new order forms to participating teachers. Our school has grade level hallways, so I will take a few students and my para will take a few students to make the process quicker. This also helps students learn where certain classrooms are and introduces my students to more teachers within our building (building more relationships!).

As you can see on the above order form, we print it in color (there are 4 order forms per 1 sheet of paper, so it helps with paper usage). *Side note: I have my students cut out the order forms to practice fine motor skills.

Where you see the word "pumpkin" in purple is our specialty beverage of the week. This all depends on what is donated or purchased. It might be pumpkin this week, caramel macchiato next week, and cinnamon donut the next. We will carry that flavor until we're out.
Now... all of your behind the scenes work should be ready for the big day. The first day of Coffee Cart Friday!

When collecting orders from teachers, I take a few students and my para takes a few students. We stick to the same hallways each week. We have envelopes ready for students and take turns with the jobs: (1) person collects the orders and (1) person collects the payment.

So we don't interrupt classes in session, we have asked participating teachers to tape their order form to their door outside of the classroom. They can also then put their money inside of a baggie and tape it up with the order form. We, also, do allow teachers to pay in advance.
As the students are collecting order forms and payments, I and my para are keeping track of which participating classroom teachers' rooms we've visited (we both have an updated master list every Friday of participating teachers) and how much the teacher paid.

Like I said, we do allow teachers to pay in advance. On this paper is where we would write "paid for 2 weeks" in the margin next to that teacher's name.

If a teacher pre-pays for a week, before we pass out the order forms on Thursday afternoon, I will write that teacher's name on the order form along with "PD" at the top of the order form, as well as put a dot next to their name on the master list. I use a specific pen and color each week to keep myself and my para more organized.
Now on to fulfilling the orders and what the "stations" look like. As stated before, we have 2 Keurigs in our classroom dedicated to Coffee Cart Friday... which means we also have two sets of stations set up for fulfillment.

We are fortunate enough to have a classroom sink with plenty of counter room on either side. In the above picture, you can see how we've set up one of the stations. It doesn't take up a lot of room, and all of the supplies can easily be cleaned and put away after we've fulfilled orders.
The picture above shows two stations. Yes two.

The first station is getting the orders set up. This includes writing teacher names on cups and getting the correct K-cup from the color-coded bins. The orders are then lined up as shown above.
The second station is brewing the beverages. This includes keeping the Keurig filled with water, emptying the K-cup after each brew, making sure the liquid is making it into the cup. You know, the basics.

As the student is brewing an order, the order form is placed in front of the Keurig. This helps us avoid confusion as the order is passed to the next station.
When an order is finished brewing, it is passed down to the last fulfillment station. This is where students will look at the order form to see if the teacher wants creamer and/or sugar and how much.

After creamer and/or sugar is added, the student puts a lid on to the cup. It is then placed on a table at the front of the classroom.

The last and final station is for delivery. As orders are completely fulfilled, the students from the GT class deliver the orders to the teachers. This is another reason why we write teacher names on the cups.
Once an order is completely fulfilled and placed on the front table, a student takes a pink marker and puts an X on it. This signifies that the order is completely filled.

After fulfilling all orders (on average, we've had about 30+ orders each Friday), we start clean up. This part is typically done by my students and myself. We rinse out the Keurig where the cups sit, empty all of the water out, and then I put it away. It is kept in a locked cabinet in our classroom. We, also, wipe down the counters and tables so our classroom is ready for more learning!

Coffee Cart Friday takes between 45-60 minutes each Friday morning. As we continue to practice the tasks, we are getting quicker at completing the tasks and fulfilling the orders we get. The first two weeks were rough... meaning I gave up a good portion of my planning time to help make sure all of the orders were right and sent out to teachers. But week 3 was a breeze, so just keep that in mind.

Hopefully I've answered all of your questions. If I missed anything or you have more questions, please reach out to me. I'd love to help you get started!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Do's and Don't's of Water Beads in a SPED Classroom

It is not out of the norm to see a special education teacher utilizing sensory integration techniques in the classroom. When our students become overstimulated or overwhelmed by the things going on around them (ie. the environment), they may begin to experience a meltdown.

Part of our job is to help each student learn how to appropriately respond within and to his or her environment.

To help with sensory input and output of each of our students, we try many different things. Fidgets, sensory breaks throughout the day... and in my classroom we have 30 minutes of pure Motor Lab each day.

Our Motor Lab time includes a trampoline, a spinner, a ball pin, Playdoh, blocks, cars and trains, and water beads. (...and lots of other stuff too!)

I only discovered water beads last school year, but I instantly fell in love with them. I found myself sitting at the center, sifting my hands through the beads and realizing how calming it was. Just the other week I saw a foot massage kit in the kid's section at a store that had water beads in it. They're everywhere now, and it's so cool.

But in all honesty, there are some really great things you can do with water beads in the classroom... and then there are some things I have tried and not been successful with at all.

1. Sensory output
You can create so many different sensory output bins and containers for your students using water beads.

2. Science Experiments
There are a couple of different experiments you can try with water beads.
A. Using different colored water beads, have students make hypotheses about which color will expand the most/least and then use different tools to measure the time and size. You could also, then, have students make hypotheses about which color will shrink the quickest/slowest.
B. Using 3-4 of the same size cups, students can put different quantities of water beads in each cup and hypothesize on how full the cup will become.
C. Make a guessing game out of it. You know, "how many water beads do you think are inside of the container?" This could also be used as an incentive, kind of like the marble earning gig.

3. Fine Motor Fun
Using an empty water bottle and some expanded water beads, students can practice their fine motor skills by putting water beads inside of the empty bottle.

Now that you're all in for stocking up on water beads for your classroom, let me just tell you a few things to expect not to be able to do with your new favorite toys.

1. Freeze them
I mean, you can. You can freeze water beads... and they freeze up just like ice cubes. I tried this experiment thinking if they froze, it would make for a great cold sensory station.
But all that happened when I defrosted them was mush. They turned to mush as soon as you touched them post-freezer. So much so that I couldn't even get a picture of them mashed because I had water bead guts all over my hands. #fail

2. Expect them to shrink up fast
I shared this experiment on my Instagram Story a few weeks ago... over the course of about 2 weeks.
Yep, that's how long those lovely water beads took to dehydrate themselves on my kitchen counter. Thankfully my husband didn't question me when I had tens of water beads just chillin' on the kitchen counter... for two weeks.

3. Keep them forever.
Saving the best advice for last... and let me be so honest with you. These babies S-T-I-N-K after awhile. Seriously. Stagnant sewer water stink. YUCKO 1.

Image all of the germs on our hands and our little friends' hands. The water beads are like a huge cesspool in a science lab just soaking up the germs. YUCKO 2.

Now I have tried essential oils, using special water, and steered clear of using bleach to clean them (not safe at all for anyone!)... and about every 2 weeks, I found myself dumping them out and creating a new batch.

You can view more fidgets and sensory bin ideas on my Pinterest board.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fine Motor Friday in Special Education

Fine motor skills are the coordination of small muscles in a person's hands, fingers and forearms. These skills include things like picking up a marker off of the floor, holding a pencil to write, and zipping up a backpack (just to name a few).

Fine motor skills help kids perform crucial tasks in the classroom and at home... okay, all day long, and in every single environment they enter throughout the day. They help our students become more successful and more independent. Fine motor skills are very important!
And I honestly probably should have gone to school to be an Occupational Therapist because I love working on fine motor tasks with my students. Cutting, pasting, building... you name it, we do it in our Life Skills classroom.

That's when I had the idea to turn an empty, dormant storage corner of our classroom into a Fine Motor Skill haven for my students.
This is the corner of storage in my classroom. Last year I had 7 students, and so far I have 2 this school year... so I have quite a few desks and chairs left over that have to stay in my classroom.

My original idea was to use the desk stacks as "walls", drape a sheet over them and create a sort of reading nook. Well... the first 3 weeks of school went as fast as they came, and I wasn't exactly sold on the safety of it. Until last Friday when we had our first Fine Motor Friday.

Now we have been doing Fun Food Friday the past 2 years (see a video about it here), and we will continue to do that this school year. But why not make Friday even more epic with an afternoon of Fine Motor Fun?!
So against my better judgement of putting up a bulletin board only once this school year, I decided to put up one large bulletin board to cover up the old Velcro tape marks on the wall. Plus, the large bulletin board makes the whole area look like an actual center area, not just an awkward corner of furniture.
Then I got to work on some bins. I bought these bins are Target over summer, but you can use any type of bin you want. I just like to keep everything color-coded.
As with the rest of my well organized classroom (hey, it's the beginning of the year! It won't be like this for long!), the PlayDoh and dough supplies were all ready to go.
So I split up the PlayDoh and sorted all of the dough supplies into categories.
Then I found a bunch of dough tools, including plastic cookie cutters, that the previous teacher left. Jackpot!
So I made 6 activity-specific dough bins for students to choose from. Each bin has 2 different colors of dough inside of the bin, plus lots of other fun stuff to use with the dough.
On the front of each bin, next to the pockets, I put cute little dough splats on the front to match the color of dough inside of the bin. This will help students in putting the supplies away.
But dough isn't the only fine motor activity we will be working on on Fridays. If you look inside of the desks, you'll see a couple of labeled bins. Those bins contain even more fine motor fun.

PS. The big blank space on my bulletin board will be filled in throughout the school year with pictures of the students participating in Fine Motor Friday. :)
Perlor beads are an amazing fine motor task for our friends. The beads are small and to fill in the whole grid, the students have to be very careful. It's a fine motor task that is fun for students, without them even realizing they're doing work.
I think I love Legos just as much as I love PlayDoh. In our Motor Lab bins, we have the duplos and megablocks ready for daily "play." So I decided to use the smaller Legos in our Fine Motor Friday bins to really practice on our skills.

I made 2 separate bins of Legos for students, and tried my best to separate the pieces evenly. Sharing is an ongoing skill, and is an important skill we work on daily, but it was not necessarily the major skill we are working on during Fine Motor Friday... so 2 bins of Legos.

In our Fine Motor Corner, you'll also find 4 bins of kinetic sand and 2 bins full of cut up straws with string. Students can build sand structures and form the kinetic sand, and they get to string up the straw "beads" on to string in the other bins.

How do you practice and build fine motor skills in your classroom?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

There was an Old Mummy Who Swallowed a Spider ( Books Teachers Love )

October is probably one of my most favorite times of year when it comes to children's books. This section of my classroom library is enormous, and I can never say no to a good Halloween book.
My blogger friends seem to think so too because we have some amazing read alouds picked out and ready to share with you for the month of October.
There was an Old Mummy Who Swallowed a Spider is the story of a mummy who is making his way through the night swallowing a bunch of stuff. He's kind of like the little old lady.
The rhyming and catchy-ness of the story pair well with the illustrations, for a book your students are sure to enjoy.

I found this book as an Amazon recommendation. You can own it now too by clicking here*.
Sequencing anything is a tough skill for many of my students. Numbers, following a word in sequential order to spell it correctly, and retelling events in a story to be more specific... we're going to make these adorable mummy bags to help us retell the events in TWAOMWSAS. We do this activity with all of the Old Lady books and my kids LOVE these little retelling bags. They take them home at the end of the day too, so they can tell their parents all about the book.
If you don't want to create the baggie mummy, you can create a lunch bag mummy. Both are a super simple activity that engages students and helps them with sequencing.

We do the baggie activity first because it helps students then re-sequence the story as we work through other sequencing pages. The kids can write numbers on the back to help them remember, which is a super easy accommodation.
Then we switch gears to bingo daubers. I know, we have so much fun in Life Skills!
We go circle by circle and determine if the object / animal inside of the circle was in the story we read. If it was in the story, we use the dauber to highlight it. It's a great quick check activity that students can also perform independently too.
We do all sorts of cut and paste sequencing activities with pictures and words. It's super easy to differentiate for all of the learners in my classroom, or use the same for each to practice vocabulary words.
To finish off our lesson, we make our own mummy! All you need is crepe, tissue, or construction paper, a little glue and the pattern.
Glitter Glue is a f.a.v.o.r.i.t.e. in our room, so we break it out on super special occasions. Not only do we practice using on a little bit of glue, the kids really love seeing the spooky, sparkly purple glue peak through the mummy's wrappings.

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