In less than one week, I will have my kids. One week to finish my classroom, to write lesson plans, prepare for the 73 students and lead my team to academic victory. This is hard, this is taxing, and this is exhausting. 

I'm excited to welcome my short people. But my current classroom view is stacked high with unwanted text books, piles of curriculum, and a to do that would stretch the length of the Mississippi River; twice. 

Synthesizing material takes me a couple of days, and right now I am overwhelmed with everything that will happen in the next two weeks. There are so many wonderful changes happening this year, but change is a little intimidating and there is so much pressure! My confidence level is acting bipolar: one minute I'm all, "I've got this, this is going to great" and the next I'm all, "Oh my gosh what am I going to do, this is too much I'm going to fail in a gargantuan and humiliating firey ball of suckitude!"

And then I breathe and the oxygen returns to my over stimulated brain, and I calm down and realize that it's going to be alright. My principal has my back, she chose me for lead because she knows I can do it, and I will improve this new set of lead teacher skills as I practice them. My team will be great. I honestly think that what is making me panicky is that I am suddenly confronted with a situation that I haven't navigated before. I've led a team of students, I've led peers, but I've never led peer adults, especially peer adults with years more experience than I've had. This means that I'm still learning how to lead my team, and how to work with and manage my adult peers. I love these ladies, and I am super excited to be working with them! Together, this is going to be the best 4th grade ever, and our students are going to achieve amazing results. 

Changes are happening all over my school building! About 65% of the teachers are new to teaching or new to the school, and already the building feels more energized, motivated, and excited than it did last year!

4th grade has also undergone major changes this year. We have made the decision to departmentalize. This means, we will have a three block schedule where students will transfer to each unique block every 90 minutes. The blocks are: a) Reading/Language Arts/Read 180/System 44; b) Mathematics (me!); and c) Social Studies/Science. This effectively means I have 73 students this year! Oh my!  

I am ecstatic that I have the honor of teaching math. Now, this seems odd for a woman who majored in English, but I absolutely love math. Manipulating numbers has a poetic quality about it, and when you truly understand how our math system works, it is beautiful. Additionally, I did my teaching practicum in math - 4th grade fractions in fact, and my master's inquiry was in math, so when I look back on it, I'm not really that surprised! And I can't wait for pi day! (3/14) :)

This change is slightly overwhelming at the moment, as all the preparation that I have done this summer to prepare for Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies is no longer vitally relevant to my teaching. I am mourning the loss of some of the projects I had in mind for those subjects, but I plan on incorporating all subjects into math, so I may have to scale back, but I will not lose the other subjects. 

On a somewhat different note, my principal is amazing. Not only is she incredibly supportive of the teachers, but she is supportive of our support staff. Last year, our support staff such as the school nurse, T.A.s, and office personnel had to supervise the students in the cafeteria during the teacher's lunch time. Now, the teachers will be in charge of supervision during the students' lunch time. We will eat with them and go to recess with them. We will have our true "off-duty" lunch period adjacent to our plan time. This way, the teachers have an opportunity to further classroom community, the support staff has the time and opportunity to complete their work, and teachers end up having a make-shift extended plan period. After all, let's face it, we are going to use those "lunch" minutes as plan time. Especially, since the plan time is at the end of the day!

Oh, and for anyone wondering how my foot is doing: more bruising showed up today, it's still swollen, but I can walk on it with only the slightest of limps, so progress is happening!

Yes, that's right. My bookshelf tried to kill me! Today was my first day back in my classroom, and in the short 1 hour time allowance I had, my designated goal was to organize all the furniture in my classroom. 

Now, I have been planning my layout for a while, and all seemed perfect on paper. Then I opened the door and realized that I had forgotten about some of the furniture and my in-head dimensions were shall we say, a bit off. So I had to do some rearranging.

Well, as I was swinging my bookshelf around, it decided to rocket towards me and crash into me: smashing my legs and feet. The pain was excruciating in my right foot, and I couldn't put any weight on it for about 30 minutes. I just sat on top of my other bookshelf and cried. So for once I was glad that my classroom is at the end of the hall where no one can hear you scream lol. 

I have a bruise and the rest of the day was spent in a lot of pain, but I can walk on it, there are no broken bones, and after returning to my summer job, (while on my afternoon break) I was able to draw new schematics that more accurately represent the dimensions and furniture of my room. 

Now, I'm desperate to get back in the classroom, and since I have Reading 180 training tomorrow, I don't think that is going to be plausible. Although, I will try to get back into my room tomorrow afternoon-- hopefully someone will be there to let me in!

The other day I began my adventures with donorschoose.org I had mixed feelings about using this website. One reason was that, I never seem to be quite sure about what my school will be able to provide me with versus what I should ask for. Should I be asking for paper and pencils? I know last year, my school didn't have paper for weeks. A parent had to complain to the district before we received free paper! I certainly don't have the funds to purchase enough paper for my classroom. Should I ask for the academic items I would like, but that my school doesn't have? What about books? I definitely want to ask for some class sets and literature group sets! But what books do I need? 

Everything is a bit cloudy at this point. So, I asked for organizational tools for the classroom. I don't have the money to purchase these items, but they will directly benefit my students. We need organization. Organization helps create a routine and a designated place for each item. New brain science is showing that when students are stressed, they are physically unable to learn. You have to be in a calm state of mind in order to learn. Now, my students have enough stress in their lives, and it already makes everything a great deal harder. If I can teach them organization and self control, it will be one less thing that they have to worry about! 

So, I've asked for donations to purchase 3 things:

1. Pencil Caddies-these will hold all our supplies for each college group. This way we do not have to waste time looking for supplies since everything is within reach! Last year, we had a hard time with being responsible for our supplies, until I used some pencil boxes as caddies, (they were already broken and now are just plain falling apart, and my next resort is Kleenex boxes!)

2. Book Boxes! My students love to read, read, and read! And reading is a core tenement of our classroom. In order to maximize reading time and minimize library searching time, we need book boxes, aka magazine files. In these awesome boxes, students will put their "checked-out" books, so that they can continuously read just right books, without having to search every day. Each week they will go shopping for new books, and then store them in the boxes. Additionally, we will no longer have piles of books sitting on top of, and getting constantly knocked off of desk corners (and my students will have the full surface area of their desk to work with!)

3. An organizer! This may not be the most glamorous of purchases, but we desperately need an organizer for all those papers! I can have students turn in their assignments and practice work by subject, which will free up a lot of my time to plan excellent lessons for my kiddoes!

Also, I just learned that the Shusterman Foundation is offering half off right now! So please help my students out! Just over $100 to go!  And I promise, you will receive lots of love from 26 extremely grateful students and one delighted teacher!

If you would like to help out my students, please visit my donors choose page at : http://www.donorschoose.org/ashleyobanion THANK YOU!

I am hoping to add a classroom pet this year, and as you may have guessed it will be fish. More specifically, I would like a betta fish and a borneo sucker fish. 

To help offset the cost of proper animal ownership I have applied for a http://www.petsintheclassroom.org grant. If I receive the grant, I may receive up to $150 towards the set up and cost of the aquarium. This would be a tremendous help. On the grant application, I had to answer a few questions and I wanted to let you know this information, so I am posting it as the rest of this entry. 

Pets in the Classroom Grant Application Questions:

The fish will be used in all parts or our classroom. Curriculum wise, we will use our fish in math, reading/language arts, and science.  Another way we will be using the fish is in our "safe spot" within the classroom. Scientific research has shown the watching fish reduces blood pressure and stress. Out fish will be housed in this quiet corner of the room, where students can retreat when they need to take a breather and calm down. At this spot, there are tools (including the fish) to help the students calm down and work through their emotions, so that they can rejoin the class in a relaxed and open state of mind, ready to engage and learn.  In other words, our fish will be instrumental in helping our students relax and learn to navigate, identify, and control their emotions and actions. The fish will also be used as a behavior incentive. Students who are improving their behavior may be rewarded with the opportunity to care for and feed the fish. The fish will also help our students learn responsibility as they take care of another living creature and provide for its needs.

My students love hands on, real life learning. With our fish tank and its occupants, we will have a real life example to use in our curriculum. During math, we can do: volume, measurement, estimation, perimeter, area, multiplication, division, and fractions (what fraction of the fish are greater than 1 inch in length) and (what is the ratio of fish to gallons of water) and we will be able to get up and move around taking the measurements. To promote literacy, we will have reading to the fish time, where reluctant readers are able to read to the fish, increasing reading fluency and confidence. Similar programs such as, Read to Rover, have experienced a great amount of success since animals are nonjudgmental and give a sense of friendship and love. Additionally, we can use our new fish as inspiration for countless writing activities, such as, "What does Mr. Fishy dream about when we leave at night?" and "If Mr. Fishy could talk, how would he describe our classroom?" Furthermore, our fish will be used as a springboard into reading informational text. Most literature sources in a classroom are non-fiction and fiction based, and statistically there is a lack of informational text. As an introduction to reading informational text, we will read care sheets, pet management books, information about fish and how to properly care for them. We can also use it for learning how to read brochures and diagrams (placing a new filter cartridge in the tank).  Overall, our fish will be more than a purely decorative animal in our classroom; the fish we receive through this grant will be an active part of our everyday learning as a tool in our curriculum and our social and emotional development.

Over long weekends the betta fish will accompany me, the teacher, to my home in a large critter keeper tank. During the holidays the entire tank will accompany me home so that our betta fish can be well taken care of. I choose not to let students take the fish home because I cannot guarantee the safety or quality of care that the fish may receive at a student's house.  As the teacher, I am ultimately responsible for the care and well being of our animals, and I want to make sure the animals are safe and well kept.

"Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads." -- George Bernard Shaw

So, I've been loosely preparing for banned book week this year: September 22-28, 2013. I disagree with banning books. I feel that people should be free to chose their own literature, read it, and make their own decisions about it. It assumes the reader can neither think critically, nor judge morality and ethics on their own. When people ban books, what they're really banning is critical thinking, and independence.  

Anyway, this year I plan on having students pick out a banned book and read it during banned book week. We will do the selection the prior week, and we will take "mug shots" of us with our banned books. I claim Harry Potter! These will be posted around the classroom and school building! Then after the students have finished reading them, we will research the reasons why the books were banned, and the students will write a persuasive essay outlining whether or not the books should be banned! I'm excited! 

My classroom library is going to be set up with police tape and "Do Not Read" signs, and maybe even a fake book burning thing. 

So far, here is a short list of some elementary titles that have been banned and why according to Amazon:

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is a junior high-level book. Reasons for banning it have been descriptions of injuries and trauma that were apparently too well written.

Harry Potter Hardcover Boxed Set: Books #1-7 by J. K. Rowling have been banned widely for themes of witchcraft, supposedly tied to Satanism despite that only Christian holidays are celebrated or even mentioned in the books, and sometimes for the themes of challenging authority. One censor complained that it "made magic and witchcraft alluring" to children. 

The Lorax (Classic Seuss) by Dr. Seuss, banned in some U.S. areas for, and I quote, "being an allegorical political commentary". Yes, that's an (pretty basic) analysis; what's wrong with that!

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank for being too depressing for students; sheesh, she shouldn't have let her imagination run away with her on the details, eh, stuck more to real life.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh for the apparent poor influence it will have on children which is anti-authoritative; it just won't do for the little minions to think outside the box.

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein, apparently for a single poem and accompanying illustration which suggests that children could avoid washing dishes by breaking them.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (Stories to Go!) by William Steig, for a quite ridiculous reason, possibly the most ridiculous of all these: the depiction of the characters as animals, particularly the police as pigs, apparently upset people. 

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition is one of my favorite cases, although not exactly a kids book; it was banned in some libraries for containing "39 objectionable words" such as slang terms "bed" "knocker" and "balls". I wonder what Orwell would think of banning the Dictionary, but he's banned, too, so no one will wonder.

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings by Shel Silverstein has been banned because the poem "Ladies First" apparently supports cannibalism; I would have never even thought of this, considering that the cannibalistic king is portrayed as evil in that he will be eating the narrator.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis, which I suspect is most frequently banned because of the term "witch" in the title by overzealous Christians; not that the banning would be okay otherwise, but Lewis was a deeply devoted Christian scholar, so calling his works unchristian is kind of ridiculous (of course though!).

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, one of the best books I read in my childhood, has been banned for grief, swear words, and suggestions of witchcraft.

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks was challenged for containing mild curse words and suggestions of racial stereotypes.

The Five Chinese Brothers (Paperstar) by Claire Hutchet Bishop was banned from an elementary school (it is a classic picture book) because it is deemed too violent.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, one of my favorite books of all time, has been challenged for containing mild profanity and depicting positive anti-authority behavior and cruel aunts.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, which some apparently considered sexist.

The Little House Collection Box Set (Full Color) by Laura Ingalls Wilder has been challenged for its negative treatment of Native Americans.

The First Captain Underpants Collection (Books 1-4) by Dav Pilkey have been challenged for the diaper and poo themed superheroes. They are tremendously fun books. It may just be the revenge of teachers who told Pilkey as a student that he would never be a good artist or author.

For more of these books, and to view the descriptions for yourself head on over to: http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/

As I continue to prepare for this upcoming school year, I've been keeping record of my ideas. And although it's been difficult to select so few out of five pages of ideas...here are my top 10 new year teaching ideas:

1. Homework: Students are assigned daily homework, they bring this back daily. When I am correcting their multiplication quizzes, students are correcting their homework with red pens. (They must show their full work on each problem for credit. This will eliminate cheating, as only the answers will be shown on the board). Then we will go over 3 problems together as a class. On Friday, students will turn in their homework folders with all completed work. Homework will be graded by me based on completion. Friday/Monday, those who completed their homework will be allowed to play Homeworkopoly! This means I don’t have to go around checking if all of it is done every day! It gives them the flexibility they need,  but the accountability and regularity of a daily homework.

2. Interactive Student Jounals: For reading, science, social studies, math, and writing. These ISJs will include the objective in both formal and student voice, the how-to portion of the lesson, examples, and a student created proof! 

3. Ice Cream Cone Multiplication- When everyone has mastered a particular fact add an ice cream scoop/topping. When everyone has mastered all the numbers= ice cream party! Each number earns one scoop or topping. For instance, mastering the 0's earns a bowl, and mastering the 12's earns a scoop of rocky road!

4. Sadako/Paper Cranes/Book Review/Citation- Read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes as the first read aloud of the year. Then each time they complete a book review, (diff colored paper) they can make it into a paper crane which will hang in the window. Our book goal and crane goal is 1,000 paper cranes for the year. Each time a student makes a crane, we will get someone to sponsor the crane for 2 dollars! Half of the money will go towards classroom supplies, and the other half of the money will go to the Children's National Leukemia Foundation. As part of the book review students make a small illustration, a summary, and a citation for the book. Citations are on the state test, but without practice, it is a difficult skill. 

5. Word of the Week:  Wall that includes a word with a prefix, root, and affix. Students search for the word or word part in everyday text sources and can bring it in and post it on the wall! 

6.  Word Wall Ceiling! The sky's the limit on this one, so each drop down tile of my ceiling will have a giant sky blue letter on it. When we add words to the word wall, the words will be written on clouds that will be appropriately affixed alphabetically! Also, there will be a kite flying that says, "Sky's the limit! READ!"

7.  Must Do/May Do Board:  Tells the students what they are allowed to do when they have finished.

8. Boggle/Noggle: Boggle board for reading and Noggle board for math!

9. Math Critical Thinking: The answer is_____. Board. I provide the answer, the students provide the question. I will read one each week!

10. Reading Motivation: Would You Recommend Book, Book Raffle, and Mystery Books. :)

**Oh, and I managed to combine the 3 competing classroom themes jumbling around in my brain. 1. College/University: Our focus will still be on college preparation, and groups will be named after universities. 2. Owls! I love owls, they are so cute! They will be our classroom mascot. Afterall, owls are often depicted as the bird of academia, and I have a little owl stuffed animal in a graduation hat. Now I just need to come up with a name for our owl, maybe Hedwig? 3. Sky's the limit. Our literacy theme is sky's the limit. Well, owls fly so it works! Plus as a Harry Potter reference, I can call our big tests O.W.L.s. 

This happy owl is so cute!
First of all, sorry that this post is so long. Second of all,  I think it's worth it.  Third of all, eh, nevermind...just go read the post! ;)

So, as mentioned in my previous post. I have a million and one amazing new teaching ideas swimming around in my head for this upcoming school year. Some  of the reading ideas I beta tested on my students last year, and WOW did they work. 

Here is the story of the 3 reading strategies that could: 

I took three reading strategies that I created/borrowed from Pinterest (love that site) and TeachersPayTeachers (love that site too), and implemented them in my class in order to generate a plethora of reading love during that last month of school, when generally, students have been known to slack off on their reading. At our school, students are allowed to check out books from both the school and classroom libraries that are on their lexile (reading) level. This ensures that students are reading material that is at an appropriate difficulty level. Additionally, this method is used as a motivational approach to try and convince students to improve their reading skills in order to read higher levels of books. 

For many of my kids, the most tantalizing part of these three strategies was that every student was allowed to read them no matter what their lexile level dictated. This freedom to read the really cool books genuinely motivated most of my reluctant readers. I saw more strategy practice and reading effort exuded with these books than I ever had with the normal reading. Yes, it was a difficult challenge for my lower readers to read an on level, or (gasp) above level book! Yet, even though they may not have  understood the book as well as I wanted, they were trying! They were really, really trying! They struggled, and they improved. To me, it was vastly more important for them to be working with the text, and developing their skills. Now, obviously I don't think that this is a sustainable option if used exclusively. Students need to practice their skills with appropriately leveled text, but boy oh boy, having this little extra challenge really helped motivate them!

Well, I never realized just how successful these strategies would be and I will use them FOREVER!
The Strategies:

1. Mystery Books- Originally "Blind Date with a Book", but I teach 10 year old kiddies , so that was out. I decided to make a blank book jacket for 3 novels, and slip them onto the books so that the title was no longer visible. I introduced these books to my kids with a little melodramatic mystery shenanigans and they just loved them! Kids were constantly vying for an available book to check out and read! Yippee! This year, I want to add a few clues to the book jacket, that will hopefully entice the reader to pick up this book.

2. Would You Recommend Book- Pretty self explanatory. I selected a book, and students were able to read it, and then write on the wall whether they would or would not recommend the book and why. This book was so popular, the first time the book became available, I put it back in the library and I almost had a stampede in my classroom! (Make sure you have a civilized, and thorough way of deciding who gets to read it next... might I suggest a sign up sheet, which is what I did!)

3. Raffle Books- These need a better name (suggestions please!), but they were the highlight of the reading incentives. It's actually a rather simple idea- I chose 3 books out of my collection ( I bought 12 books for $4.25 at the thrift store, so even on a teacher's salary I could afford this) and read a selection from each to the class. As I read the selection my kids could barely keep still in their seats, they were so excited and ravenous ; it was too funny! To increase their appetites for these books, as I read, I would lean in close to a student or two and they would pretend to snatch away the book from me as I was reading it. I've never seen students so hungry for a book!

Then I was so, so, so, sooooooo mean, and caged the books in full view of the students without letting them read them. They went crazy! I had kids begging to read them, and I even had a couple students attempt to sneak read them! Lol! Anyway, for each "just right" book they read, they would complete a book review, and when approved they would staple their book review to the classroom library wall and get a raffle ticket. 

On the last day of school, we all gathered in a circle and had a raffle to decide the winners of the books (imagine that, a prize that encourages reading!!!) OMG, the energy in that room was enormous! Granted, it was the last day of school, so they were already semi-bizonkers, but the raffle was just the most exciting event of the day. Students were barely able to sit in their chairs, they were buzzing with excitement and jumping out of their chairs each time a name was drawn from my giant pink crayon raffle piggy bank! Each time my hand slipped inside the crayon, a deathly silent hush would instantly cascade over the room, and the slight buzz of 24 students crazy with anticipation reverberated through the circle like the drone of an electric live wire! The tension and excitement was palpable. And oh my, when I drew out that name and read it aloud, the combination of victory yell and cries of anguished defeat stood testament to just how intensely my kids coveted these books.   Inside the books I wrote a personalized, heartfelt message to each of winners, who then got to keep the books. I'd like to think that one day, they will read that message and remember just how much I loved them, and believed in them. I plan on doing this again, and hold the raffle every month. 

There are a ton more ideas that I can't wait to share with ya'll, but that will just have to wait for the next post. Until then, ADIOS!

** A note on the pic below: many on my students are ELLs. So sometimes idioms can be complicated. I told my kids to, "get your nose in a book" one day during read to self time, and I turned around to see these three with their noses literally inside their books.  I just had to get a picture! I love these kids!

Idiom practice: "Nose in a book!"
Where in the world has summer gone? Seriously though, it feels like just yesterday I was wrapping up my first year of teaching. Now, I feel like I'm barreling headfirst into my second (awesome) year! I'm excited, jubilant, nervous, eager and worried all at the same time. Honestly, I feel like a jumble of a bazillion different emotions and anticipations. 

There are so many ideas and techniques that I want to do with my kids. I learned so much last year, and I know that it will reflect in my teaching this year, and that is exciting and exhilarating. On the other hand, I also understand the enormous responsibility this profession has, and that can be a little nerve racking. My kids have so much talent, energy and potential, and as a teacher part of my job is to help them harness these gifts and develop them. 

We, my students and I, have a difficult road before us, many are coming to my class woefully under prepared academically. It's a huge challenge. Currently, my motto seems to be that, "I'm on your back, because I've got your back." In other words, this year is going to be full or both challenges and rewards, and I am going to push my kids hard. I'm not doing it to be mean or vindictive, I'm doing this because I want what's best for them, and I know they can do it. It's going to take a lot of hard work and creativity, but I know that together, we can do it! Every time I think up a new way to grow their brains I think, "Geez, my kids are going to hate me. (Smiles) Good, it means their learning!" Obviously, they aren't going to hate me....but homework on the very first night of school does set a precedent of high expectations.

Well, that's enough rambling for tonight. Oh, and "Happy Birthday!" to the new Prince! And on that note, I thought this little quirk was pretty funny (I love Harry Potter) ...

Elementary, My Dear Miss Watson!