Virtual Learning: Round 2

Wednesday, 28 October 2020 1 comment

As you all know, I'm on round two of virtual learning.  It has definitely proven not to be my favorite way to teach kindergarten, but we are making the best of it!  I'm very fortunate to have a wonderful class of students and supportive parents and get to see most of my kiddos during our live sessions each day.  I really think that helps me to feel like I'm really teaching because I'm getting to have that interaction with them.

I have learned so much while teaching virtually and have had a lot of time to reflect on things.  I've decided to share some of my takeaways with you and hopefully you will share with me!  We can learn so much from each other and become the best versions of ourself!

1. Create a routine.  I try to keep things in a very similar fashion for each day.  This has really helped not only my students, but also my parents!  They all know what to expect each day and are mentally prepared to work.  I have also found it so helpful to give my students similar assignments each day so they know what to expect. While the content changes, they know that there is going to be a reading assignment, a math assignment, work to do on our computer programs, a read aloud each day to listen and respond to, and sometimes a special assignment or project.  I try to pull the other content areas into those assignments so there aren't a lot of extras for them to be overwhelmed.  If we do a special project or assignment, this is always something I let them know about ahead of time so they can be prepared.

2. Connect with your families.  Teaching is so much more than just getting to know your students, and getting to know the rest of their family is more important than ever during this time.  I have gotten to know their families during my weeks of teaching virtually.  When I say their families, I mean immediate family and people beyond the parents or primary caregivers.  I have parents that are working, attending college, or have other prior engagements and can't be home to help their child get online for these live sessions and make sure they complete their work.  So, this duty has fallen on grandparents and other people in their families, which is perfectly fine.  I have really connected with them and done whatever I can to help them so they can help their child!  We all want the same thing--student success!  So it has been very important for me to connect with them so they can help in the best ways and make sure the student is able to attend live sessions and complete the work.  Reach out to them to check in via email, phone call, Zoom or Google Meet, or whatever other platform you are using in your classroom.  The world never expected to be in this situation, but it's such a good feeling to have families that care and want to do what's best for their child no matter the situation!

This shirt has gotten a lot of laughs from other staff members!  Thank you to Lulu's Vinyl & Gifts for another awesome shirt!  Use code "kindercrazy" to get 10% off your order!

3. Keep it simple.  I have seen some amazing technology out there!  There are so many awesome apps and programs and it all looks so exciting.  However, it's also important to know your families and understand who is helping the child at home.  My students are kindergarteners, so obviously they can't complete their work 100% on their own and need some assistance and support to navigate.  It's important to take into consideration the family and their knowledge of technology to know what they can do to support their child.  I have so many grandparents that are taking a part in their child's education and just don't understand everything technology has to offer.  Some of them are in their 70s, so it's quite amazing to me to see what they have accomplished so far!  I have LIVE Google Meet sessions daily, which I also record in case they need to go back and watch later.  I also send paper packets of work home to supplement my live sessions, which is what we would normally do in class at this time.  We are still learning letters and sounds, so the students need this sort of work so they are getting the practice they need, as well as working with various handwriting utensils (crayons, pencils, highlighters, etc.) and scissors!  This work is also easy for anyone in the family to assist with if the child needs it.  To submit their work, they take pictures and attach to the assignments on Google Classroom.  Simple and beneficial!  We don't always need the extra bells and whistles that come with fancy technology.

4. Utilize your computer programs.  We have some wonderful programs that we use such as Lexia Core 5, Symphony Math, Happy Numbers, Zearn, Epic Books, and Teach Your Monster to Read.  You can access Zearn, Epic Books, and Teach Your Monster to read for free online, so check them out!  Most of the programs have weekly goals for the students, so I can assign them a program to work on for a few minutes each day and it gives them some skills practice and helps them reach their weekly goals!  This is also an activity they can do completely on their own, so it provides some relief to the adults at home.

5. Schedule your assignments.  There are so many amazing platforms out there, but my district is using Google Classroom.  I always have my week planned ahead, so my assignments are ready to put into Google Classroom.  When loading an assignment, I can schedule a day and time for it to show up on our Class Feed and the Classwork section.  This is one of my favorite features so that I spend 30 minutes on Sunday evening loading all my assignments for the week and not have to stress about it!  It's also great for the parents so they can check Google in the morning and see what assignments are due for the day.  Many are working in addition to holding a household together, so they don't have time to check Google several times a day to see if I've put up any new assignments (who has time for that?!).  They know exactly what is due for that day and can plan accordingly.

6. Be EARLY for live sessions.  I have to open the room up for our Google Meets before students can enter, so it's important for me to be early.  It can be frustrating for a student to try and get on for the live session, but keep getting an error message because I don't have the room open yet.  To prevent issues, I always log on 10-15 minutes early and play some music for my class to listen to as they join the room (you can do this on Google or Zoom).  It allows everyone time to get on, sets the tone for the meeting (I play fun, upbeat songs), and gives everyone time to get settled in so I can start right on time.  My kindergarteners have been loving Super Simple Songs on YouTube, so I just share my screen so they can watch the videos and sing along to the music!

Virtual learning has definitely been a "learn as you go" type of experience.  Along the way, you'll find what works best for you and your class.  My biggest piece of advice is to be organized.  Create yourself an agenda for any live sessions to help keep you on track.  If you plan to screen share anything with your class, have your slides, documents, and links ready and loaded so you can click and go straight to it.  Try to think and plan ahead so you can hopefully prevent as many technology issues as possible.  

What are some things you have learned during virtual learning this year?

It’s Spooky Week! πŸ‘»

Saturday, 24 October 2020 No comments

Celebrating holidays at school is one of my most favorite things about teaching kindergarten!  We love dress up days and parties and all the other fun activities that come along with it!  Everyone (and by "everyone" I mean ALL kindergartenersπŸ˜‚) is always hyped up about the holidays, so we may as well ride out that excitement and make it fun!

Things will go a little different this year since all the kiddos are home and we are back to virtual learning.  So, I'm going to have to work a little harder to make things fun for them this week.  It's a little tougher to plan things and make sure they have materials they need, but I was able to come up with some fun activities on short notice--thank you TPT! LOL

I decided to choose five books that the kids typically love to read this time of year, and send home activities centered around them.  This will throw some festive fun into each day leading up to Halloween next Saturday!  In addition to these fun activities, I plan to demonstrate some fun science experiments for them to observe (normally we would get to do them together at school) and we are even having a Virtual Costume Party on Friday!

1. There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Bat

I really didn't have time to create something new, so I was so excited to find all kinds of super cute activities to go along with this book on TPT.  I decided to send the kids this adorable interactive sequencing activity they could do while I was reading the story, and they can use it to retell the story again and again at home!  Watch my Instagram for pictures of actual student work I'll post this week so you can see how they did!

2.The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything

There was a whole set of fun activities to go along with this book, but I just chose one craftivity to send home to my students.  They will get to listen to the story, then put together the pieces to make their own scarecrow and then match the sounds to the object from the story.  Get the set of activities here and watch for me to post some students examples this week on my Instagram account!

This book is always a favorite for the kids!  Anything with underwear and potty humor seems to hold their attention and keep them giggling.  Luckily, there are also lots of fun activities on TPT for me to choose from.  I purchased this set, but I am only going to send the bunny craftivity and writing as the assignment.  I can't wait to see how this turns out and post a sample on Instagram for you to see!

4.Room on the Broom

This is a very popular choice right now since there is an animated version on Netflix.  It's super cute and the kids are loving it any time of year!  I can't wait to share the book with my class and see how this cute witch craftivity turns out for them!  Be sure to keep an eye on my Instagram account this week and I'll show you how they turn out!

The final cute story I will be reading during Halloween week is this one!  It's adorable and the kiddos always love it!  My students love doing directed drawings together, so that's exactly what I plan to do during one of our LIVE sessions this week.  There are all sorts of versions out there, but I really love Art Projects for Kids and can't wait to draw with my students!

What are some fun things you are doing in your classroom this week?

Math Toolkits

Friday, 23 October 2020 No comments

Distance learning.  Virtual learning.  Whatever you call it, I'm back to it after two and a half weeks with all my kiddos in the classroom. πŸ˜”  All of my students are logging on from home each day and I've been doing a live reading and math lesson daily to keep them on track and in routine.  In addition to the live sessions, I record videos as needed and they complete other activities during the day and submit on Google Classroom.

I will be the first to admit that this is hard.  Hard for me.  Hard for the students.  And soooo hard on the parents who are also working and hold down the fort at home!  There are so many things to think about and consider.  It took some time to see what would work for my students and their parents, but I feel like we are really in the groove of things!  As I plan my lessons each week, I have to think about what materials they will need and get it to them in advance.  Many things have already been sent home for them to use.  But, as we move along through our content, new things are needed.  One thing that I sent home for this round of Virtual Learning was a Math Toolkit.

We started the school year out virtually for the first three weeks.  Then we finally got to come to school in person for two and a half weeks before we had to switch back to virtual learning.  This time, I decided to send the students home with their math toolkits.  We had been using them in class, so I figured I may as well send them home so the students will have a set of manipulatives to use during math lessons.

The Math Toolkits have proven to be a super handy was to keep manipulatives at their finger tips, while also giving them individual materials that they won't be sharing with anyone else.  We started out with some basic things and can add whatever we need as we go along.  Right now, here is what the students have in their toolkits:

a ten frame
foam die
red and white counters
foam square tiles

The Math Toolkits have been a great addition to their supplies at home.  We are able to use them during live sessions and it also gives the students access to materials while they work independently.  We did have some serious talks about taking care of our materials.  Once we return to school face-to-face, the students understand that they will be bringing their toolkits back to school so we can use them there.

Have you made toolkits for your students?  What did you include?  Any tips or suggestions for things I could add in later?

Mini Classroom Makeover: Student Desks

Sunday, 18 October 2020 No comments
This year has been anything but normal.  I feel like I have to put an extra effort into everything I do to make school fun and interesting for my kindergarteners.  All the activities I have done in the past have to be modified and tweaked so that they follow the guidelines set for in person classes, but I have managed to make everything work.  One thing that I had to do in my classroom that I didn't like is space my desks apart from one another.

I know this is nothing new to the world we are currently living in.  Desks are spread apart in classrooms across the United States and teachers are making it work.  It definitely isn't my favorite classroom arrangement for kindergarten, but I have also managed to make it work for my students.  I typically like to have them grouped together so that they can socialize.  Making friends, sharing, and helping others are some very important skills that kids learn and practice in kindergarten and is easily done when the students are close together.  This year, we had to learn to do these things with our desks spread apart.

The day I spread my desks apart, separating my students on their own "island," I hated it.  It made my classroom so ugly and it lost that inviting feeling it usually has.  I had to do something!  My KinderTeam had seen a teacher in a Facebook group paint her students desks and we all loved the idea, but just weren't sure how to tackle this project!  We didn't know what kind or how much paint we would need, the decision of colors seemed so overwhelming, and we kinda just sat on the idea for a while.  Then, one day, Mrs. Fletcher surprised us all by being brave and purchasing the paint.  She talked it over with the paint specialist at Lowe's and they recommended what kind of paint for us to use.  So, she dove right in and bought it in six awesome colors!  Here is the paint we used.

Mrs. Fletcher was so excited about painting her desks and ready to dive right in.  I figured I would let her go ahead and paint first as a trial run so we could see how it worked out.  πŸ˜‚  She used all six colors and her desks turned out great!  Here is a before and after of what hers looked like.

Before Painting

πŸ’œπŸ’›πŸ’šπŸ’™The Finished ProjectπŸ’™πŸ’šπŸ’›πŸ’œ

Next, Mrs. McGinnis painted hers.  She decided to use all 6 colors as well and her desks turned out so pretty and colorful as well!  This really brightened up the classrooms and made them look so cheerful!  Here is how her project turned out.

I painted my desks last.  After seeing theirs, which I loved, I decided to make mine a little different and just use three colors instead of all six.  I tried to think ahead to the future and what color schemes I might like next school year because this isn't a project I plan to repeat. πŸ˜‚

The painting didn't take nearly as long as I expected.  I did have to put two coats of paint on the desks, except the yellow, which needed three coats.  I absolutely loved the way they turned out.  My classroom was feeling so dark and dreary and this little bit of paint changed the whole feel of the classroom!  I felt so proud of this little project once it was finished and I'm so glad we decided to do it.  It made my happy place so much happier!  Below is a before and after of the desks in my classroom.

The "Blah" Before Pic--Ignore all the messes in the background.  Students were just coming in for a transition day that was planned on the fly. lol

Painting the desks seemed like such a small thing, but the kids were so excited when they came into the classroom on their first full day of face-to-face learning.  They loved that their desk was a special color and it personalized the space for them.  I can't believe I waited so long to do this little project!

πŸ’œπŸ’›πŸ’™My Finished DesksπŸ’™πŸ’›πŸ’œ

What sorts of things have you done in your classroom to perk it up this school year?  Do you have any special little projects that you have completed to brighten your classroom space?

Alphabet Crowns

Tuesday, 13 October 2020 No comments

Kindergarteners LOVE hats!  Hats are a fun way to celebrate learning and we make them any chance we get!  Two of our favorites are the crayon hats as we learn about our colors (you have seen those several times) and our letter hats.

Here are the super cute crayon hats we love!  Click the picture to go to this FREEBIE!

Over the years, I have used several different things for letter hats.  If I find a newer version that I like better I use it.  Currently, I am using these Alphabet Crowns from Teacher's Breathing Space.  They are very inexpensive and the file includes all 26 letters of the alphabet!

As we learn about a letter and the sound it makes, one of our activities is to make this crown!  I love it because the students are actually practicing uppercase and lowercase letter formation, identifying pictures that begin with that sound, and distinguishing the difference in the upper- and lowercase letters.  So, they complete a few quick practice activities, cut them out, glue onto a sentence strip, and I staple it to fit on their head.

The kids look so cute walking around school in their letter crowns!  They often wear them everywhere they go and their parents love to pick them up at the end of the day while they wear them because they make a great conversation piece.  They already know what letter they learned about that day and they can ask their student what sound the letter makes and discuss what else they know about it!

The alphabet crowns include the same activities for each letter, so it becomes a project the students can learn to do completely on their own!  These have even been great to send home during distance learning and the students would wear them to our live sessions!  If you are looking for a way to make learning letters and sounds fun, I definitely recommend these letter crowns.  It gets the students excited, is great practice, and keeps them engaged in learning.

Back to School-Face to Face

Sunday, 4 October 2020 No comments

Wow!  Just wow!  Last week was a whirlwind, but I survived it!  After 3 weeks of virtual learning, my students came to school in person for the first time this year.  It was all very surreal. We had a solid start into our content and virtual learning, but we had to pump the brakes a little so I could teach rules and procedures and switch gears now that we are face-to-face.  We don't know how long this will last or if we will have to switch back to virtual learning, so I'm trying my best to get them settled in quickly so we can be flexible, just in case we have to switch back and forth.

I have several students who did not have any sort of school or daycare experience, so they didn't know how to walk in a line, share, sit at a desk or table, etc.  For anyone that hasn't taught kinder before, this is a very big deal!  My students were eager and ready to learn, yet we had to slow things down and learn some back to school basics that I'm not typically teaching in October.

So many things are different at school, so there were lots of new procedures to teach.  Here are some major changes we have at school this year.

1. Everyone must have their temperature checked before entering the school.  I think this is pretty standard for a lot of places these days, but it still seems odd.

2.We have a restroom in our classroom, so it must be sanitized after each student uses it. Yes, this takes a lot of time.

3. Our classroom has sanitizer and soap everywhere so it's easily accessible to the kids.

4. Students must be socially distanced during breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria.  To do this, all tables were removed from the cafeteria and replaced with desks that were placed 6 feet apart.  Also, this wasn't enough space to accommodate our students, so desks were also placed 6 feet apart in the gym and meals are served there.

5. There are directional arrows in the hallways as well as lines marking 6 feet apart to help with lining up and walking down the hall.

6. Masks must be worn by students in grades 1-6.  Lower grades do not have to wear a mask, but they must be socially distanced.

7. During car rider pickups (after buses have left), students must wait in the classroom until their name is called.  In previous years, we had them all grouped together in one place and waiting together.  This has made my work day a little longer, but each day has gotten better and we have gotten the kids to their vehicles in an efficient manner.

One of my students, ready for lunch!

There are tons of other smaller changes happening, but those are the biggies that I feel affect us the most.  Things are very different, but the staff at my school is working hard to make the most of it.  Overall, the kids are so excited to be back in school!  Many haven't seen their friends in more than 6 months!  In the midst of the madness, I've tried my best to find some sense of normalcy for my students.  Here's a little of what I'm doing.

1. Procedures, Procedures, Procedures

Kids need the structure.  I need the structure.  And with all the extra health and safety concerns we have right now, there isn't room for error.  We started our procedures on day one and practice them everyday.  We have procedures for everything!  There are procedures for wearing masks, lining up, walking in line, sitting down for breakfast and lunch, bathroom and playground sanitizing, etc.  It all felt very overwhelming the first day, but once we started working it all into our routine, it just feels like part of our day now.

2. Mask Wearing

My kindergarten students aren't "required" to wear masks, however they must be socially distanced at all times if not wearing one.  This just isn't possible given the number of students I have attending in person and the space I have in my classroom.  Fortunately, I was able to space their desks out so that if they are sitting properly (facing forward, bottom in their seat, and feet on the floor under their desk) then they can remove their mask.  If they turn around in their seat or get up and move, they must mask up.  This has allowed them to take a break from the mask so they can breathe and their poor little ears aren't hurting from the mask wearing.  I basically moved all furniture to the walls, then had to remove my classroom rug, and this gave me the optimum amount of space in my classroom to spread out their desks.  It's definitely not our typical kindergarten classroom, but it has allowed them to be present, listen to a story at their desk without having to wear a mask, and work at their desk without having to wear a mask.

3. Playground Time

From day one, all my students wanted to know about was the playground! lol  They can't wait to get out there and play with their new friends.  I'm thankful that we are able to go out and play.  My students do have to wear their mask out on the playground.  Each child sanitizes their hands before and after using the playground equipment. I also have to sanitize the equipment.  It's a little extra work, but totally worth the extra effort for these kids to get this social interaction!

4. Restroom Use

I have a restroom in my classroom.  So, I have to keep a restroom log each time a student uses the restroom.  The log has their names and lists the times they went.  Also, the restroom must be sanitized after each student uses it.  I'll be the first to admit that this is a headache.  But, if it keeps my kiddos safe and healthy, I'll do it with a smile!  Of course, extra sanitizing and cleaning such as this cuts into instructional time, but this is something that is out of my control.

5. Student Supplies

All students have individual supplies in their desk.  I typically keep the scissors and glue out of their desks because issues always arise, but I don't have much of a choice this year.  They each have a crayon box with crayons, scissors, glue sticks, pencils, highlighters, and a dry erase marker.  Nobody is allowed to share or be in someone else's crayon box.  In their desk, they also have an additional crayon box that is their math toolkit and contains an individual supply of math manipulatives.  In addition, there is a basket in their desk that we use to put their work when completed.  The basket also hold their writing journal and stays in their desk at all times.  I will be the first to admit that this is a lot of supplies to manage for them.  It's still a work in progress to have them to get out only what they need and not play with the other supplies.  These are all supplies that they need access to and this ensures that nobody is sharing anything and they all have their own.

Hard at work and taking a mask break!

My biggest piece of advice to teachers going back to school in person is to sanitize everything and be prepared with procedures for everything.  There will be plenty of things that come up along the way and might catch you off guard, but you'll figure it out and get through it.  There is a learning curve, so give it a few days and things will smooth out.  You'll find a way to do most of the things you're used to doing, you might just need to modify and do a little extra prep work.  

I feel like this post is all over the place.  There is so much to take in and I'm still digesting everything from last week.  Good luck to all teachers going back in person and to those of you already rocking it!  You are amazing and you can do it!  How is your school year going?  Do you have any tips or tricks for in person learning to share with us?  Any specific questions for me?

We now take our group photos with masks on! 😷