Monday, July 22, 2013

Online Collaboration Round 1

Alright, we are just a few weeks away from school starting up again, and I am sure some of us teachers are feeling the dread. Early wake up calls, long days, long evenings, work over the weekends... We can easily get into the negative feel of things!

But lets not do that this year! Let's get excited! Whoo! :)

I want to start a string of good ideas, things that will make your classroom AMAZING this year! If you are anything like me, you have been talking to other teachers, researching online, and pinning great ideas that you want to use in your classroom.

Your creative ideas can help another teacher out, so lets start some online collaboration! I am going to to start with a pin I found this morning that I am absolutely in love with, and then, I want you to share a pin or idea you have found. If there is a link to go with it, we would all appreciate it as well. This can be any grade, any subject, because we can all alter things to fit our classroom. Who knows what we might find!

Then, here is the best part: watch and steal everyone else's great ideas! :) Sounds like fun to me!

Alright, here is the pin I found! It's the little things in a classroom that can make it much more comfortable, and this year, since I have a ton of windows, I want to make curtains. I am horrible with a needle, but no worries, because I found these amazing no sew and inexpensive curtains made out of plastic tablecloths! If you didn't know, you can get those cheap at the Dollar Tree. Here is the link if you are interested as well!

Alright, awesome teachers, what ideas do you have for this year! Start sharing so we can steal from you!! :)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Goodbye First Year, Hello Summer!

Last night, while eating dinner with my roommate, Brittany, it was brought to my attention that I should start up on my blog again. At first I thought it was a crazy idea. This is my summer for goodness sakes! I want to be lazy and do nothing school related!

But then, today, after waking up to an empty apartment and no where to be at 6:50 a.m., I began to think that maybe this blog would be a good thing to continue through the summer. Maybe it would rub off on me, and I would actually update it throughout the school year... though I make no promises!

So, it has been decided. I will start up on my blog again this summer with the hopes of actually keeping up on it. Surely my second year of teaching will be MUCH easier, right?? :)

To start the summer blogging, and wrap up my first year, I sat back and thought about what it was I wanted to be different this next year. The sad news is, they took my AMAZING classroom away and placed me in what I like to call, "The Shoebox." The classroom is quite small. Sad day. This being said, a lot is going to have to change if we all are to survive...

I am sure you will see and hear about some of the changes that are coming as my blog continues through the summer. But to start off this process, I asked my wonderful 7th graders (who have now left me to be 8th graders... sob!) to complete a reflection activity for me on the last day of school.

If you don't do one of these activities as an educator with your students TRY IT OUT! I know some teachers avoid these types of things, simply because they are afraid their students are going to be rude, and at first, I was nervous. But here are the facts: I had 125 absolutely normal 7th graders this year who completed 4 reflection activities and were very honest and sincere through them.

It is a great way to see what your kids are growing through and where you can continue to grow. The actual reflection was simple. By this last one, the kids had done three, so they didn't even need direction. So, how does it work? Very simple.

**Note: If you want to skip the steps, go for it. I put them on here for future use through the Master Teacher program I am now part of. The funny comments are at the bottom. :)**

Steps to a Productive Reflection Activity:
1. Have a guided worksheet made up: Don't give them a blank paper and say, "Write!" They will get all flustered and just give up. Be very explicit in what you want them to give you feedback on. Here are some example questions I use every time:
        a. One thing I learned about (insert your topic here) was...
        b. My favorite activity in this class was.... because...
        c. My least favorite activity in this class was.... because...
        d. If you were Ms. Forster, what is one thing you would have done differently in class? (this       one always cracks me up, though they sometimes give very insightful thoughts...)

On the end of the year one, I added some more, for example "What words of wisdom would you give Ms. Forster?" This had some pretty great answers.

2. Actually give them time to do it, and set the tone: Help them to see that what they say now will impact students to come. With my first reflections, I read what they wrote, and it affected their class, but this last reflection actually doesn't impact my current students, it impacts next year. Everyone wants to make a difference and your students will feel good that they had a say. Making sure they see it as a serious activity will also be beneficial. Encourage them to be honest (I always tell them I won't hurt them if they disagree with me... Well, at least not when we are in school. They find it humorous, but get that they can be sincere).

3. Actually read them: Really take time to read what they have to say. Your classroom is only successful if you include your students 100%. It is their room too. Oftentimes, they would write things I didn't even realize I had done. One student wrote on a past reflection, "I really appreciate that you patted me on the back and smiled the day my parents gave my dog away." I hadn't even known the dog had been given away. Wow. Another student wrote, "We can tell when you get frustrated because your face changes. Try to not make your face change so much." That is something I needed to work on.

4. Bring up discussion: There are going to be a couple things you and your students may disagree with. For example, a majority of my students said they didn't like the Gallery Walk activity and felt like they hadn't learned much from it. I saw, from their work, something quite different. So, I did a short class discussion with my students. Turns out, if I would just change a few things with it, they would have felt much better about it. So we changed it, and the next one was a success.

5. Don't take it so personally: Ok, we are human, and you will take it personally sometimes, but the trick is to not make a big deal out of it. Perfect Example: The last reflection I did this year, I had a student who was having a rough day. He came to my class frustrated and made some poor decisions. By the time he got the reflection, he was livid. He made a big show, filling it out, bringing it up, and he proudly stated, "Read this miss." So I read it. He had written, "You Suck" as the answer to every question. I looked at him, while he grinned, and could just feel the class waiting. I could have flipped out, could have screamed. Instead I simply smiled and said, "Glad you got your feelings on the reflection, but can you back them up with any evidence?" His reflection was actually a reflection when he turned it in later.

There are going to be students that you might get at a bad place or time when you do these, but remember: They are kids. They have good days and bad days. Look for those reflections that build you up. Keep them for a day when things are tough. And as for the kids who struggle, use it as a discussion tool to break down some walls.

I couldn't do this without sharing some of the more humorous things I got on my final reflections. Reading them the last day had me tearing up, because I had to let my first year classes go. They didn't leave without their final say, though!

When asked, "What words of wisdom do you have for Ms. Forster" here is a snapshot of what I got:

- " Keep working hard, you baby teacher! You are now a toddler!"
-"If a student acts up, set them free... to the principal's office!"
-"Please be kind to the 6th graders... They are crazy, those poor kids."
-"Want quiet kids? Pay them money!"
-"Drink less pop. I mean it. You will die. Not that you are fat!!! You will just die."
-"When life gives you lemons... squirt them in your student's eyes!"
-"It is hard to stay dry in a swimming pool. Keep this in mind over the summer."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

And We're Back!

Wow, how Spring Break flew by! I swear, it was Friday one second, and I was thinking, "Wow! A whole week to sleep in! I don't have to be anywhere by 6:50 a.m. for seven days!" And then, the next thing I know, my alarm is going off and I am late getting up! Geez!

The good news is, the trip was FANTASTIC! The great news is, my students came on Monday, begging to enter our classroom! (Too bad this feeling wore off. Today was Tuesday, and they were not so excited to go take notes!)

If you want to see the video of my travels, I have posted the link here, on my blog. It is quite lengthy, 20 minutes or so, but it is pretty fun, and you can see all the 'middle school humor' I worked into it. If you don't know who Slenderman is, or One Direction, I am sure you will be looking into them by the end of this movie. :)

Aside from the goofy stuff, it has some great information. You would be amazed what the kiddos find interesting when you put it to an catchy song and mix it in with some genuine dorkiness. :)

Video Link: (Note: Some of the slides have blanks. That is ok, they were meant to be that way.)

I learned a few things through this project, first of all being that my students LOVE a serious challenge. I thought they would be complaining the whole time, begging for computers, but the truth was, I was more devastated about that than they were!

The second thing I learned is that we have some AMAZING travel agencies here in Kansas! Thanks goes out to Travel KS for giving us a class set of Kansas maps, the Belle Plaine tour center, for providing us with over 200 student friendly brochures, and to the Dodge City Tour Department, who is swinging by tomorrow with goodies for my kids! I am always amazed at what people will do to support education in their community.

But probably the best thing I experienced from this project was the pride my students now feel for themselves. A HUGE shout out goes to Mrs. Edwards, who so very kindly featured our project on her blog. I showed the students the article the other day, and many replied with, "Oh my gosh! My class is on the internet! I'm famous!!" Not quite, but who wants to squash their excitement? Not me! :) We now have a copy of the article framed in our room. I will be passing it around for their 'autographs' starting tomorrow. What joy it has brought our little room at Jardine!

If you choose to watch the video, enjoy!

Until the next update!

Sarah Forster

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On The Road Again!

Wow. My posts are getting fewer and fewer... I really need to get better at this! Thank goodness I can still use the excuse that I am a first year teacher! :)

I am writing to share a little about the project my students have been working on. Most people who know me by now know about some of the details, however, for those of you wondering what exactly is going on, I thought I would do a quick share before I pull out tomorrow!

My students worked VERY hard this past week and a half to complete a project entitled, "Where in Kansas is Ms. Forster?" I was very demanding on this project, and not only was the workload something to really challenge them, they worked up until Spring Break, which is spectacular at the middle school level!

During the project, the students were expected to research and create 'The Ultimate 3 Day Kansas Road Trip.' So they weren't sending me all over the state, the students were asked to pick a specific region in Kansas (NW, SW, NC, SC, NE, or SE). They then narrowed their search down to 2-3 cities in that specific region. This was pretty tricky, as they had to watch distance and got some extra practice with scale!

From there, they had to find 5 attractions they would send me to. They had the following guidelines:
2 attractions had to be historical
1 attraction had to be about nature or sports
1 attraction had to be science or arts themed
1 attraction had to be a quirky or weird Kansas landmark.

I tried to keep it fairly loose, so the students had creative liberty. They loved this part of the project!

The thing I found to be most interesting was how they approached the research. My little troopers did not get to use computers for this project (due to a shortage of laptop carts). All research done was either completed using brochures I had collected from a local Kansas tourism center or completed at home. Boy, did they take this well! The movement actually proved to be beneficial in my classes with very kinestetic learners.

After completing the research, my students were asked to put the information into a 3 day itinerary and create a brochure. They had also researched facts about the Kansas ecosystem and included this in their brochure.

The final projects were amazing! It was hard, but I took them home that night, went through, and chose the 'best' brochure from each region based on the rubric given at the beginning of the project. The top six were then put to a vote. We even invited the staff to come in a vote! What fun!

The brochure that won got a very special award. Not only do they get bragging rights for the remainder of the year, I will be taking their trip, starting tomorrow! I plan to vlog the entire trip, take many pictures, and create a video for them to see! I will be visiting Topeka and Overland Park over the course of the next few days, learning everything I can!

Below are pictures of how things were laid out, etc. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

I will let you know how the trip goes when I return Saturday! Until  then!

Ms. Forster, Kansas Explorer

The top 6 brochures. Such a hard decision!!

Winning Groups Itinerary

We tried out a Media Center with this project. It was a great way to expand our knowledge base and involve the school staff! I made a Facebook Status asking for ideas and sent an email out to the school staff. Anytime a new suggestion was made for a neat place in Kansas, we wrote it down and posted it on the board.

We tried a new seating arrangement, and I loved it! The circle made it easy to float around and help, and the students loved that the resource center was in the middle, where they could reach it easily. The only rule was that one partner could be up at a time.

Our resource center. I sorted the brochures by region, so the students wouldn't have to dig through 200+ brochures to find one they could use. They did a good job keeping them sorted until the very end, when they got a little too hasty in putting things back...

Our very 'official' voting station. :)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Did she die?....

Wow! How times flies! It has been a few... days... since my last update. However, after some rather obvious reminders (...Barb... haha) I realized it has been three months, and then some, since I last wrote on here. Whoops! I know you all have been waiting for this next update anxiously, so I thought I would try... again...

At least I know what my New Year Resolution will be.... :)

I don't even know where to start with this post, seeing as so much time has passed. I say, lets start with the good!

My kids keep me smiling everyday. I have no choice otherwise. They are so very goofy and just know how to enjoy life! We have had some good laughs together. Some highlights from our classroom have been:

-When Ms. Forster was taught the official "One Direction" dance in the hallway. Those poor six graders... They are never going to want to enter my room.

-Making Mayan numbers out of candy on Halloween. Such a fun project (not to mention delicious!)

-The day a student boldly announced, "I studied like a little girl for this quiz!...... wait... That makes no sense! What am I saying?!" (We still don't know what he really meant to say)

-Growing snakes in water for my one math class and calculating how big they were supposed to get. 

-The video clip of Ms. Forster 'dancing' with One Direction the day before Winter Break. It was an experience for us all! (JibJab=lifesaver)

-Amanda Everlove speaking to us about her Paralympic experiences and eating pizza with a select group of students!

Sadly, first year teaching isn't all peachy keen. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, they are not being honest. I have had my ups and downs as a first year teacher. Some things that I have learned are:

-A good behavior management program. We are finally headed in the right direction with a positive-based program, rather than a program that focuses on negative actions. 

-Don't let people discourage you from trying new things. You will miss out on some great chances with your kiddos!

-Organization is key to EVERYTHING you do!!!!

-As a first year teacher, you will have sick days. No questions asked. So, instead of letting them stress you out, approach them as a (forceful) chance to take some much needed rest. You can catch up on worrying when you get back! (Note: I am still working on this one!)

I am still learning, and growing, but luckily, I have some amazing colleagues who help me out, some amazing education role models to look to for guidance, and some rather fantastic students who take me for who I am and are always willing to laugh at my mistakes. They are the greatest, at least I think so!

But, who knows. Maybe I am a little biased? :)

Until next... time... hopefully next week!!

This blog update was sponsored by the Camp Hope Newsletter (I promise I will get my application in ASAP!). :)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Here We Go Again!

Time to dust off the old blog and try again... Yes, I did just miss an entire month of blogging. No, it wasn't intentional. Due to moving, the 'Great Internet Fiasco of 2012,' and just life in general, I haven't been on here to make a new blog.

A lot has happened in the last month for me as a first year teacher. I don't think you want to sit and read about it all, but that is my guess. I don't think any of you are that bored... :)

So, to make a long story short, I figure I will do what I am best at: a list! Here you have it, some of the funny things that have happened to me the last month!

You Know You are Ms. Forster, the First Year Teacher, When...

1. Your students have lost track of how many times you have sang "Why Can't We Be Friends?!"   to the projector in your room.

2. You leave your keys at home on a Monday, sneak into your room via the classroom next door (thank goodness for connecting closets ), and then lock yourself out a total of 7 times throughout the day. 3 of those times, you have students in the classroom... haha... ha.

3. You have worn a cowboy hat into the hallway, all the while speaking in an accent and dancing around. Your students loved it. The 6th graders, not so much... Therapy, anyone?? :)

4. You have a lab stool in your classroom closet, and hide in there for five minutes at lunch every day, all the while playing "Cut The Rope." The funny thing is, you aren't ashamed.

5. You have finally given into the peer pressure and learned the One Direction songs.

6. Your new theme song on the drive home ALWAYS has something to do with summer or summer.

7. You spend more time on Teachers Pay Teachers than Pinterest (for those of you that know me, that is a HUGE deal!)

8. Your students are tired of hearing you say, "I found this idea on Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers!" :)

9. You swear a student said, "Miss, I need help!" while you were making dinner the other night at your apartment.

10. You wake up late almost every morning during the week, but wake up at 5:20 every Saturday morning, ready for another day. (Curse you, early start schools!!)

11. You have convinced your students, on more than one occasion, that the calls you are getting in your room are from your 'boyfriend.' (NOTE: This really gets your kids quiet fast! haha)

12. Your students don't know how to say your name, so they oftentimes call you Ms. Forest or Ms. Forter. They apparently have trouble remembering Ms. F.

13. You and your students had just decided to move to Canada, when you started a new unit in geography. You have since decided Guatemala is waaaay cooler. (This will probably be a continuing trend...)

14. You are counting down the days to a 3 day weekend you actually get to participate in!


15. You are loving every minute of this crazy thing you call teaching!

Have a great week guys! I promise to be back next week on schedule!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's a Roller Coaster Ride!

I realized early this week, while eating lunch, that some serious changes need to happen. After a rather obnoxious class period ( the students would NOT STOP TALKING!!!) I realized that I had worked myself into a rather horrible predicament: I was caring too much about what other people think. Simple as that.

It easily happens. As a first year teacher, you are pounded with mentors, observations, well-meant suggestions, not so well meant suggestions, flat out commands, and insults. Some people, in essence, think you know nothing about anything. Though it is important to acknowledge that you are, indeed, still learning, it is also important to establish that you are, in fact, a teacher, and you should be allowed to make certain decisions on your own.

That wasn't happening. What was really happening was the opposite. I was caving under the unbelievable pressure. However, I found my inner peace over a turkey sandwich at 11:22 a.m. on Tuesday morning. I realized, for the first time, that I was already turning into a miserable, grumpy, angry teacher. I was expecting way too much out of myself and my students, because I thought my room should be like everyone else's in the school. Looking back, I can laugh about it. But in the moment, it really turned my week around. I can honestly say, the last few days of teaching have been the best, because I am no longer focused on opinions, insults, and 'well meant' suggestions. I am focused on what really matters: my students, myself, and our quest for knowledge. Nothing more, nothing less. 

Magical things happen when you start teaching to your style. So, to boost morale, and celebrate, I photographed the things that HAVE been working for us (my students and I). We hope you enjoy them!
The 'Now What?' board. LIFESAVER! Students can pick something to do if they need to fill time and others are working. They can go to the classroom library, draw or write about what they learned that day, or look through geography flash cards. They love it, and I do too!

My pop up books and picture books. All the students love looking through these, it is pretty funny. And to think, I was told once by another middle school teacher (whom I met at a meeting and knew for 5 minutes) that picture books have no place in middle school. Hahahaha....

Best bulletin board. EVER. It took an hour to staple up the hands, but it was really one of the best things I could do as a teacher, because it really gave me a glimpse into the lives of my kids. Students traced their hands and then wrote a goal they have for themselves. Every goal was wonderful, some even brought tears to my eyes. Though they are chatty, and sometimes push the limit, I have some of the greatest kids in the world!

The fact that every single pencil is still in my room, and there are times they are all being borrowed. HUGE achievement for middle school! I must have really scared them, because there is even a pencil in there that isn't mine. Haha. Small victory!

Today's assignment. We are learning parts of a map, and the students were given the task of mapping out  their very own country. Also had to use the 5 themes of geography while telling me about their country. It has been so fun to walk around and hear what they have to say! Examples include an island made fully of candy and Superman Island. They are still in the works, but they are already so proud! :)

The hats. The one thing I thought nobody would notice has been the BIGGEST conversation starter. Who knew??