Friday, November 22, 2013

Hot Potato

My new "hot potato"
Last weekend while out running errands, I saw a "Hot Potato" game at the Five Below store for $3.00 and picked it up thinking it would be great to use in the classroom somehow.   You see, us teachers are always, and I mean always thinking about school, our kids, teaching, no matter where we are or what we are doing.  The fact that I didn't know what or if I would use it didn't matter.  I had to have it.  

I tucked it away in my closet at school Monday morning, noticing the "Two AA batteries not included" notation on the front of the box.  That would probably be the biggest obstacle in using it in my classroom.  It wouldn't be the first item to sit in my closet all year simply due to the fact I didn't have all the pieces. 

I open and close that closet several times a day as I get out our classroom Netbooks, grab a piece of chocolate for myself, or search for paper plates or plastic utensils for kids to use with their lunch.  Kids being kids, they love to look inside and see all the very interesting things that "teachers keep in their closets".  After all, it is also the closet where I hide away the birthday gifts that I give to students that I purchase through Scholastic book order points.  I imagine it's a very magical closet to a kid.  It's the closet where, no matter what we are searching for, can always be found inside.  Yarn, magnets, paper bags, you name it, it's probably stored somewhere inside this closet. 

So, today, during indoor recess, I noticed the kids had a little ball and had arranged themselves in a circle on the back carpet and were playing a game of "Hot Potato".  
Hmmmmm.   Interesting.  We've had several indoor recesses already and not once had they played this game. In fact, in all my years of teaching I have never witnessed a game of "Hot Potato".   I couldn't help but wonder if one of them had seen the game in my closet and decided to organize a game today during recess.

So, as the kids were reading at IDR time, I came into the classroom, strolled over to the closet and took the "Hot Potato" game out.  Instantly,the class was riveted.  Their eyes got big and they mouthed "HOT POTATO" to each other.  I walked to my desk and opened the box.   

"Are we going to play "Hot Potato"? squealed one little one, bouncing in his chair with excitement.  

"Maybe," I answered.  "But I need batteries."   I pointed to the notation on the box.  

In a flash, one little cutie raced to my desk.  

"I can bring in the batteries on Monday!" he offered.  "I'll remember!" 

Such exuberance.  For a $3.00 game. I loved it. 

"Well," I began, looking seriously at the little boy at my desk.  "If you want, you could go and ask Mrs. Payne if she has a couple of batteries."  

I barely had finished the Mrs. Payne part of the sentence and he was out the door.   The students pretended to read as they waited for our little friend to return, suspended in anticipation. 

Withing seconds, literally, he was back at my desk, beaming ear to ear as he dumped the two AA batteries into my hand. 

"There!" he announced. "I did it!"  

The majority of heads smiled and bobbed up and down.  They wanted to play.  They hoped we could play.  But they weren't sure if I would let them or not.  In our busy day, there's not time for playing silly games.  Besides, I like keeping them in a bit of suspense sometimes.  So I told them to put up their books and their reading folders.  I explained that we would be reading our weekly Scholastic News next.    At this point they were torn, as they love Scholastic News (we use the Promethean board so it's interactive and has videos) but they also really, really, really wanted to play this "Hot Potato" game.  

But they are kids.  And I am the teacher - the one in charge.  So they dutifully put away their book boxes and returned to their seats.  They saw Abraham Lincoln appear on the Promethean - the cover of this week's issue.  And they are kids.  So they immediately were sidetracked with Abe and excited to see what was in this week's magazine.  

After we finished learning and reading the Scholastic News, I clicked on the game, a favorite with the kids.  It is a Jeopardy like game that lets the kids review the important elements of the week's issue.  I picked up the potato.  I clicked it on.  

"Hot Potato!  Ready?" it screeched.   

"Well.  Are you ready?" I asked the students, as the toy began playing a tune. 

And before they could respond I gently tossed it to a student.  He laughed and tossed it to another and on the potato went as the music played.  Suddenly the music stopped and we all froze.  

"You're up!" I told him.  "Go select a category on the board and answer the question."

They were so excited.  Although the game is usually enough to keep them engaged and on task, the hot potato was something new and fun.   

"Does this thing get hot?" questioned one as he quickly tossed it over to a friend.

Third graders can be so fun.  And so literal.

After the game, I put it back in "the closet" and closed the door.  It had been a hit.  It had helped make learning more fun today.  

This week, I've felt like I've been in the middle of my own "Hot Potato" game.  Being tossed back and forth.  Rushed.  Running out of time.  Afraid I will get stuck with the potato.  

Lucky for me, I work with wonderful people that are always there to help me keep the potato in motion.   And let me tell you, it is not easy some days.   

Friday, November 15, 2013

How Do You Spell Fun?

Some days as an elementary teacher are fun.  And some days, meh, not so much.  Every day is an exhausting one filled with lots and lots of activity.  Every day is filled with kids talking, singing, laughing, shouting, running, jumping, whining... well you get the picture.  Anybody who has children of their own can certainly see my point.   Honestly, lately I haven't been as diligent as last year in finding the positive and happy parts of every day.   I've been stuck in  a kind of rut, feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated.  

So, today, as I sat on the back carpet giving a spelling test to one of my groups, I looked around the room in between words and felt a really warm feeling about all these great kids and their variety of personalities and styles.  I told myself that I would, starting that very minute, do more of what I did last year.  Look for positives.

It didn't take long for one to hit me smack in the face.  

"Number 6.  Information.  [Student name] couldn't find the information he needed for his animal report," I directed to my cute little spelling group.   

I always use names of my students in the spelling sentences I give.  Yep. That's just the way I roll.  The kids get a kick out of it so why not?  Personalized spelling tests.

A little hand waved in the air as the student continued to write next to the neat "6" on his paper.  "How do you spell that?" he asked.  In all seriousness.  

I laughed out loud.  The other three kids in our group caught it and laughed.   He looked up over his glasses and smiled.  Then he laughed.   

"Oops!" he exclaimed.  "I'm silly.  I am the one who has to spell it," he said, still chuckling. 

"Nice try," I told him, trying not to laugh.  "But no sale.  Spelling the word is what you are supposed to do." 

And from that minute on, my day got significantly better. 

At lunch, I peeked into the hallway and saw two of my little boys laughing and waving their hands in front of their faces.  Now, anybody who spends much time around eight year old boys probably already knows where this story is headed.  

"What's the story here?" I asked them, heading towards them.

[more laughter] 

"Well, it smells in our room!" giggled one as he exchanged looks with the other boy. 

"Yeah, it smells because he farted in the room!" added the other boy.  

[louder laughter]

"Well, let me get this straight," I started.  "You're out in the hallway waving your hands frantically in front of your faces, claiming it smells because of something in the room?  That doesn't make much sense to me," I said.

[really loud laughter]

And then, another boy who had walked out into the hallway and overheard our conversation chimed in.  

"There are about twenty smells in our room at any given time," he stated.  And he shrugged.   So I shrugged and walked back into the room. 

He was right, of course.  Step into an elementary classroom and you're bound to get a whiff of some smell or another.  Usually it's kind of a crayonpencilpizzaoldsocks kind of smell. Yummy.

So, maybe I felt more positive today because it's Friday.  Or maybe I can start to turn around this negativity and look, once again, for all the positives that surround me every day and appreciate them. 

We all have our own ways to spell "fun", but right about now, the word I'm thinking of starts with a capital "T" and ends with a "g".   

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

More Than One

Today during Writer's Workshop we were discussing nouns and plural nouns.  The third grade students have a pretty good handle on nouns and quickly wrote down and shared some common nouns.  

"What is the difference between a noun and a plural noun?" I asked them.

"Well, the plural noun is a specific name for a noun.  Like Target," voiced one little one in a confident voice. 

"How do you all feel about that information?  Agree?  Disagree?" I prompted.
I tried to keep my tone very neutral and not make eye contact so they couldn't detect that the answer was incorrect.

You see, the little ones can read a teacher's body language very, very well.  Our voices and tones as well as our stance can give clues as to correctness and incorrectness of information.  In the "old days" we would have just immediately corrected any wrong answer with a snappy, "No!" and wait for another brave one to attempt to guess the correct answer.  But things have changed.  We teachers now throw most things back to the students and let them think about things and figure them out.  We don't just give them the answers.  We make them work for it.

"Well, I agree," ventured one of the students.  "Because nouns with words that are capitalized are called whatever that word was you said before.  That p one." 

A couple supportive friends nodded in agreement. 

"No.  That's not right," interrupted one. "I remember that those kinds of nouns that specifically name something are called proper nouns, not plural nouns."

"That's what I meant," replied the student who had answered before.  "Like I said, it is a p word." 

I giggled a bit as did a few others with the "p" comment.  Never gets old.

"Yes, store names, like Target are indeed called proper nouns," I confirmed to the class.  "But have we decided what plural nouns are yet?"

"Toys!" screeched one student, smiling.  "A plural noun."   

Again heads nodded in agreement.  Anyone who can answer with such enthusiasm must be right. 

"Then if toys is a plural noun, is boys?" I questioned them. 

"Yes," came a round of voices.  

"Is desk?" I continued.

This met with about a 75/25 yes/no.  Their little eyes squinted and they tried to determine if I was trying to trick them.

"Desk is not," I stated.  "So what's the difference? Talk at your table about what you're thinking."

Within seconds, the little ones had figured out what a plural noun was and wrote several examples in their writing notebook.  They concluded that a plural noun means more than one and you spell it by adding an "s" to the word.  Case in point:  Boy --- boys and toy -- toys.

"Look!" I said suddenly, pointing towards the window.  "A deer!"  All heads turned and looked out the window. "Oh wait!" I added.  "It's three deers!"

A couple astute ones laughed and immediately corrected me. 

"It's not deers. It is deer," they said.

"Well I thought you said you just add an "s" to make a noun plural," I argued back.

You could practically see the little wheels spinning in their heads as they thought about this. 

"Well, not always," one explained.  "But most of the time you just add an "s" for more than one."

We continued for a few minutes with a lively discussion about goose and geese and mouse and mice and tooth and teeth and wolf and wolves and cherry and cherries.
And then I wrote the word 'dress' on the board.

"What about if I have 10 of these?" I said tapping the marker on the word on the board.

"Then it would be 10 dresses," answered several.  

"So, I wouldn't have 10 dresss?" I hissed, spitting out the "sss".  "Have you ever seen a word  spelled with s-s-s?"

Our conversation continued for several more minutes and the kids were having lots of fun changing singular nouns to plural nouns, describing the patterns,  and having more fun saying them out loud.

It was fifteen-twenty minutes in a productive, entertaining discussion about words. 

It was a long, busy day at school but now it's time to relax.

My feets hurt.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Still Looking

Would love some more guest bloggers this year.  How about it?   There must be some brave souls (teachers or otherwise) who would like to have a go at blogging.  It's easy. Just sit down and tell your story.

The pay isn't great but the feeling of accomplishment is unmatched.  

Ray Of Sunshine

Teaching is the hardest job in the world.  I'm not kidding.  I'm utterly and completely exhausted as I sit here blogging and it's only Monday.  And I got an extra hour over the weekend when the time changed.  

Teaching is hard because you have twenty-some little ones that count on you every second of the day to meet their needs.  Academic, social, emotional.  They can be very needy.  They cry sometimes.  They get sick.  They are scared and fragile.  They are curious and rebellious.  They are naughty and nice.  There is not one minute of the day that a teacher can not be "on". 

I dragged myself into my classroom this morning and, after dumping my school bag, purse, and lunch in my room, immediately headed over to my teacher friend's room across the hall.  My reason was two-fold.  One, she has coffee.  And two, I knew she would listen to me.  In part because she would be trapped in her classroom if I stood blocking the doorway.

She mirrored my look of exhaustion and nodded as I began my tirade.  About how much I had to do.  About how much I did over the weekend.  About all the things in the upcoming weeks ahead.  Wah.  Wah.  Lucky for me, she is a good listener and understands the job - we've both been teachers for many years. 

"It's unrealistic and impossible to sustain our level of involvement and energy and work, day in and day out, year in an year out," she offered, no doubt trying to calm me down a bit and get me to leave her room so she could finish up all of her own work.  "Impossible," she added again for emphasis, even pausing for a minute from her grading to show her seriousness.   

You see, it's like that when you talk to a teacher.  We are so unbelievably busy every single second of the day, that when we do talk to one another, we are also undoubtedly doing some sort of paperwork or planning at the same time.  If we somehow manage to get a few extra seconds in our day, we either use the bathroom or scrounge up something to eat that does not contain 48 g of sugar. Time is of the essence.

"You're right!" I exclaimed, feeling a bit better.  And I headed to my room to attempt to get through sixteen hours of preparation, grading, and work in sixty minutes.

On the positive side, the days fly by!  Teaching certainly isn't a job where you are ever sitting around bored or watching the clock.  Although I'll admit, there are times I watch the second hand waiting for the bell to ring for recess!  My Nike fuel band registers at least 4,500 points a day with, on average, 13,000 steps.  I think those numbers rival the spinning instructors at my gym.  And I'm not even trying.   

It's a workout, mentally and physically.  And on days like today, emotionally.  These occasional days when I feel like I just.can'

Which brings me to my point.  Although teaching is by far the hardest job in the world, it also holds some one-of-a kind job moments.  And on days like today, it's those moments that revive us and sustain us.  I tried my best to be happy and positive, even when there were many times during the day today that I wanted to just sit in my chair and put my head on my (very cluttered) desk.  But, like the Energizer Bunny, teachers keep going and going and going and going.  We have to.    

And then it happened.  At the end of the day, three darling little girls approached me giggling and smiling.  

"Mrs. Jeppson?"  they giggled holding a folded up bunch of papers between them.  At this point, all the other girls in my class joined them. 

"Hmmmm?" I replied.  Honestly I was just hanging on for the bell.  I wanted to be home and finish up my pity party in peace.  I knew I would be better tomorrow.  

"We made this for you!" they squealed, unfolding a banner that read M R S . J E P P S O N
Each of my girls had made a beautiful, colorful letter on a piece of paper, and they had taped them together in a gorgeous display.  There were swirls and hearts and stripes.  

Several leaned in for a hug. 

"Do you like it?" they asked, hopeful little eyes looking up at me.

"No, I don't like it," I started.  And in a split second their eyes changed and stopped twinkling. "I don't like it because I LOVE it!" I finished.   "I am going to put it up right over the door so I see it every time I walk out of the room."

The bell rang and they all bounded out the door as I dragged a chair over to put up my banner before I went home.  My sunshine on this dreary Monday.

And suddenly everything seemed better.