Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Our Little Earth

Wow, it's time I start writing again about my teaching year. I will start with thoughts about how to educate students about current world events. Since we live on a tropical island, it can be challenging to help students see what is going on elsewhere in the world. I have to say, there are times I find the island culture similar to rural, midwestern culture, where I grew up. As a kid, it was hard for me to understand what life was like outside of rural Wisconsin. However, I developed a love for other cultures later in my teen years and early twenties, mostly because I was attracted to how others live. Anyway, one way I educate students about current world events is through a website called Our Little Earth.

Our Little Earth is an electronic newspaper that writes about currents events in a kid-friendly way. I use it as part of UHM, or Star Homework (check out Whole Brain Teaching---they're awesome!). For homework each night, my students have a choice for practicing reading comprehension. One of their choices is to read an article on Our Little Earth and write a "good fifth-grade paragraph" explaining what they read.

To me, using this website has been a huge success. I have a handful of students who chooses to do this assignment on a weekly basis, including those who are ESL. We take time some mornings for students to share what they read on Our Little Earth. Some even ask to pray about situations in other parts of the world that they read on the website (I teach in a Christian school).

Since the writers update the website with new articles every two weeks, I am planning on reading and writing or discussing the events as a class later on in the year (after the busy Christmas season is over). For those who are looking to broaden their students' horizons, I highly recommend it!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Advice for New Teachers

Stephanie at Teaching in Room 6 is linking up posts about advice for new teachers. As I'm beginning my second year as a classroom teacher, I felt led to contribute.

Be humble. 
The best way to learn how to teach is to teach. Teachers are learners themselves. Embrace the mistakes and turn them into learning experiences. Ms. Frizzle says it best, "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"

Be confident. 
You know more than you think you do.

Get to know your students and let them get to know you. 
Just like students are easier to teach once you know them, students will learn easier from you if they know you and trust you.

Take time to have fun with your students. 
Really? Yes! Find a time to laugh with them. That will help create a positive classroom environment.

Ask questions. 
At one time your coworkers and principal had a first year (and they got through it just like you will). They probably asked the same questions you have.

Take time for yourself. 
You need to feel good and enjoy life if you want to enjoy teaching. Find an outlet; a place where you can go where you can forget you are a teacher. If you're in a new community, find some friends and get to know the area. That will help you feel part of the community as well as understand where your students come from.

Find a teacher-friend
especially if you're one of those people who just needs to talk about their day to get it off your mind. There will be times when you can't get the frustrations of teaching off your mind. Other times you will be bubbling with happiness from your day. Share it!

Follow a routine. 
After teaching a year, I realized that I could have 5 great lessons in a row, but they would not go smoothly unless I followed my routines (which developed throughout the year). Develop routines for ELA, math, science, etc. as well as transitions.

Read other teacher's blogs. 
They're wise and know what they're doing (thank you, teachers). :) Here are five that I follow on a regular basis, which I highly recommend (I should say five of the many I follow):

Teaching in Room 6

Teaching My Friends

Marvelous Multiagers!

Runde's Room

Corkboard Connections

Monday, July 23, 2012


In order to motivate students to turn in their work on time, I use Homeworkopoly. This has been a lifesaver. Overall, fifth graders are given more responsibility from their parents (aka parents don't check over all their assignments). Last year, I remember quite a few struggled with turning in assignments on time. At the same time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to assign for homework. Though it seemed like a disaster at first, I figured it out (and students figured out how to complete their homework), and thus, Homeworkopoly in 5th grade began. Here's the link to the explanation on teach.net.
I'll tell you how it works for me. Every Friday (sometimes Monday, depending on our schedule), the students who turned in all assignments on time get to shake dice and move their clothespin around the board in hopes of drawing a "free-homework card" or a "sit in the teacher's desk all day card." I don't spend any money on homeworkopoly. I have personalized the game so all the rewards have to do with something in the classroom. I have the "Citizens of the Week" in charge of making sure everyone gets a turn and no one cheats. It works well. And if I forget, I have more than enough students reminding me that we have to play. At first it took about 15 minutes for 17 students to go (I let everyone play the first week), but eventually we got it down to 5 minutes.

 I have a hard time hanging things up on the walls in my classroom, so I hang the Homeworkopoly board on a movable chart. It's not the prettiest, but it does the job!

Here's a list of the rewards: (sometimes I duplicated the reward by changing the time)
  • Decorate or change something in the classroom
  • Write the homework on the board for the entire day
  • Have Pickle (the class’ stuffed animal) on your desk for 1 hour
  • Draw on the board for 10 minutes
  • Sit anywhere in the classroom for 1 hour (need permission from your teacher)
  • Homework Pass! -1/2 assignment
  • Choose music for work time
  • Write in pen the entire day (except for math)
  • Stay in recess and play with a friend
  • Operate the projector and PowerPoint for a day
  • Choose an activity for the entire class to do for 15 minutes
  • Sit in the teacher’s desk the entire day
  • Switch seats with someone for ½ day
  • Move your desk to a chosen location for ½ day
  • Special time to teach the class something or share something
  • Eat lunch inside with a friend

Variety is the Spice of Life

(Actually written April 11, 2012)
If I could only remember all the funny things my students say.

Fifth grade theology:

Variety is the spice of life means..."Life is like a noodle. It's boring but when spice and things come into your life, it becomes exciting!"

"...Does that mean life is wiggly?" asked another.

Fifth grade humor:

(During science notes about classification, there was a picture of a red mushroom.)
“Are the bacteria on red mushrooms poisonous like they are in Mario Brothers?” asked one student.

“Haha that’s fungi!” laughed another.

Fifth grade...ers:

"Hey guess what Mrs. Van Ee, I have arm pit hair!"

"Haha he's rated R for 'Men Only!' "
"Mrs Van Ee, I think I'm ready to have a girlfriend." (Oh, no!)

I'm Humbled.

(Actually written March 19, 2012)
Student: "Thank you for giving me good grades on my report card!"
Me: "You don't have to thank me, you worked hard for them."
Student: "But you help me understand things I don't get, so thank you."

And I had this conversation with more than one student.

Their next report card may not be as great as this one because I would like to keep them as 5th graders for next year. :) Seriously, they are a wonderful group of students. They've been with me through the ups and downs of my first year of teaching. I will never forget them.

Math: Transformations

(Actually written March 19, 2012)
I could see the students in suspense since they arrived at school last Friday. It was report card day as well as a 1/2 day. One girl even came to school crying. Since I had a busy week, I did not have a very detailed lesson planned for our lesson on transformations.

As I was laying in bed Thursday night, a brilliant thought came to my head (which is the worst time to think about school!). I should have them create mirrored images for reflections and do a pivot such as in basketball for a rotation. That meant I had to think of a movement related to translations.

During our lesson, I used this format for each transformation: first introduced the three terms, showed them on the board with the letter "R," then had them to the movement. I demonstrated reflections by pulling the twins in my class to the front and moving their extremities so they mirrored each other. Then I had groups of students do the same thing. We then did rotations, which they caught on to quickly. I left translations for last. For translations, I had them stand up by their desk and slide to the left and then to the right. All of a sudden, the song "Cupid Shuffle" came into my head. I started singing, "to the left, to the left, to the right, to the right..." and the kids followed. Brilliant! It was time for recess, so I dismissed them and quickly found a YouTube video of the Cupid Shuffle. After recess I showed them and we did the dance together, calling out translations and rotations.

Though I should have had this planned before hand, it turned out to be a good lesson where I met those who learn kinesthetically. I think I also took many students' minds off of the report cards.

Welcome to my Blog!

Alright alright...it's time for me to blog about teaching. Soon I'll begin my second year as a classroom teacher at a private school in Saipan (google it...it's in the middle of the Pacific. Reserch it when you have time because it's actually part of the United States). Money is scarce, which means they (and I) do not have the money to spend on professional development. That resulted in me searching the internet for ideas. I discovered wonderful teachers who share their ideas through blogging. My zest for teaching escalated as I began to see what worked for other teachers. Reading teachers' blogs helped me organize my classroom and be more creative in my lesson planning (thank you).
So here I am, just two weeks before we begin school (yeah, we begin early August). I'm excited for this second year, for I feel like it took me the entire year to figure out how I wanted my classroom to be like. Lately I've been piecing together my classroom management plan and organizing the curriculum. I've decided to make it a goal to blog about my second year of teaching. I did start a blog last year, mostly to organize the other blogs that I follow. I'll repost some of the posts from last year. But more than that, I'm creating this blog to share things that work for me and have this be a place that I reflect on the struggles and smiles of teaching.
And if anyone of you want to teach in the unique and very diverse community of Saipan, may the pictures below act as an invitation. Yes, the people who have always lived here have a beautiful island. It's a privilege to live on Saipan.