Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Our Elf Infestation

I adore the magic of Christmas, but I have never been a fan of the Elf on the Shelf. As a mother, the last thing I need is one more thing to do EVERY night in December.  As an elementary teacher, trying to explain why one child's elf baked a cake, wrote the child's name in frosting on the wall, and left a new Easy Bake oven to another child whose elf hasn't moved in a week is especially frustrating.

You better not cry!

The elf was responsible for my darkest moment as a teacher.  Every teacher has that moment they wish they could take back. The moment when you cracked for just a second. After listening to the antics of her classmates' elves, one of my students announced her mother was going to buy her an elf that afternoon.  The other children immediately informed her that the elves don't come from the store. The magical ones come from Santa and just show up at your house. She starting crying and she continued to cry. And cry. And cry. Nothing I did to console her seemed to work. Finally, I snapped. I blurted, "Honey, they ALL COME FROM A STORE!" As soon as it came out of my mouth, I winced. As the tears stopped and she blinked a few times in surprise, I attempted damage control by asking her to please not share that information with her classmates. I would have felt worse about it, but this child's mother is a busy professional. The child is the youngest with several adult siblings. I never admitted my slip, but quite frankly I think I did the mother a favor.

You better not pout!

So among my friends and fellow teachers, my disdain for the elf has become common knowledge. I think they find it amusing because I love almost everything else that brings magic and wonder to children's lives. I never caved and bought one for my own children. By the time the elves became popular in our area, my son was already too old to buy in and I figured my daughter had one or two Christmases at most. I stood firm.

You can imagine my surprise when I woke up Saturday morning to find an elf in my kitchen windowsill with a sign. I assure you I didn't put it there. Everyone in my family vehemently denied any involvement. The next morning I awoke to see that it had moved into my bathroom. When I walked into the kitchen I realized it hadn't moved. The one in the kitchen was still there. There were now two elves. On Monday morning, two more had shown up. I couldn't decide if it was sweet or creepy. I found myself going to bed last night with four elves in our home wondering if more would show up or if they would move.  I had to admit that I enjoyed the wonder of it all. My dislike for the elves was all very practical, but nothing about the Christmas season is practical. Bringing trees into our home to decorate, hanging stockings for a jolly, chubby stranger to come fill, all the way back to the very first Christmas when Christ the King was born in an old barn and laid in a feed trough, none of it makes any practical sense and that is why it is all so beautiful and magical. In my rush to keep the Christmas wonder alive for my students and children, I had forgotten how wonderful it feels to be a recipient of that magic.

I'm telling you why...

And then it definitely got creepy. Two more elves showed up this morning with a more ominous note.  Just when I was beginning to have a soft spot for the little guys. Oh well, perhaps they are still angry at me for spilling the beans to my student. We have three more days until Christmas. It is anyone's guess how many more will show up by then. I suppose if this turns out to be my last blog post, please let the police know that the suspects are a foot tall and dressed in red. Merry Christmas to all!


12/26/2015 UPDATE:

"You didn't believe..."

For the next three days, the elves continued to multiply in our home.  Each morning there were two more elves with a note. Clearly the elves were unhappy that I had been so vocal in my disdain for them. The elf in our tree on Christmas Eve morning was particularly disturbing. Yes, that is a toy gun he is holding.  

"...said we came from the STORE!"

At the Christmas Eve service, I asked a few children when and how their elves disappear after Christmas. I was assured they go back to the North Pole with Santa when he visits. The first person to wake up in our home on Christmas morning, I was relieved to find all of the elves gone. The last gift I opened was large and round. As I tore off the paper, I realized it was an old hat box. I lifted the lid and found all of the elves soaking in a fake snow filled "hot tub." The note included was addressed to Amy Sellars "elf hater." 


All along I had suspected my friend, Kim, was involved. Turns out she had a great deal of co-conspirators, including my husband, children, friends and co-workers. Apparently almost everyone I know is extremely good at lying.  It is frightening how convincing I found everyone, especially my twelve year daughter. At some point, in the craziness of the last day before Christmas the teachers in my school had sent all of the classroom elves home with her. It really was a brilliant plan.  

My children are twelve and fifteen and Christmas can lose a bit of its sparkle by that age.  The prank certainly added some fun and magic to our week. Well, you know what they say about payback, but it might take me awhile to come up with a plan. Perhaps I'll hold the classroom elves hostage and demand a ransom.  I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas and have a fantastic New Year full of joy and laughter!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

When Life Hands You Lemons, Redesign Your Classroom!

Although I was exhausted last Friday night, my husband lured me out of the house by offering to take me out for Crocked Onion Soup and a McGuire's Irish Red. It is my favorite meal on a rare, chilly night in Florida. My plan of waking up early to go work at school for a few hours the next morning was shattered by a text from my 7th grade daughter. She had heard on Snapchat that the school was on fire!

Specifically, my daughter had heard that the Art Room was on fire. Unfortunately, my classroom is two doors down from the Art Room. I was hopeful that it was all a 7th grade prank. Turns out the 7th graders knew what they were talking about. The kiln started smoking and set off a sprinkler. It was only one sprinkler, but he was very diligent and managed to soak the floor in both third grade classrooms. We were lucky so little was damaged. However I wasn't allowed back in my room until Monday morning, so a company could dry everything out. No time for prepping, no time to put every desk back in place, and no time to put everything back where it belonged before my students walked in Monday morning.

Fortunately, the administration arranged for subs to take care of our students all of Monday morning, so we could focus on our classrooms. It was a little overwhelming at first, but my co-teacher and I strive to be glass half-full type of people. With our wonderful custodian eager to help us out all morning, we realized we had the perfect opportunity to redesign our classroom spaces. Using a recent article from edSurge sent to us by our lower school head as our inspiration, items from the students' desks were placed in baskets, most of our desks were carted off to storage, and we searched the store rooms for surplus furniture.  The author of the article, Kayla Delzer, explains how she transformed her second grade classroom to be "more like a Starbucks" with flexible seating for the students. It is a wonderful article that addressed all of our concerns.

Ditch the Desks! http://rowdykids.blogspot.com/

I now have eighteen students and five desks. The rest of the students sit on small rugs, at low, medium or high tables, or on a small bench. We drew names on Monday to decide who would pick their work area first for the week. However the students have organically moved around and swapped seats as needed. I do have five extra work areas, so the students have room to spread out and make alternative choices. This is totally off subject, but I have to take a second to brag on my incredible whiteboard wall in the above picture. The wall is painted with special whiteboard paint. The projector is an Epson BrightLink Interactive Projector. It turns any surface into an interactive whiteboard. If you school is looking to purchase interactive whiteboards, the Epson BrightLink is cheaper and my students would tell you it is "way cooler."

When it came time to actually teach on Monday afternoon, kids were spread out all over the place. It was a little chaotic. This was fine for independent or group learning, but I still occasionally need to have a little whole group instruction. The strange thing was that the kids were more engaged than ever during whole group instruction!

Ditch the Desks! http://rowdykids.blogspot.com/

My co-teacher and I were afraid our classrooms were too small for this type of arrangement. When I look at pictures of other teachers' classrooms on blogs it always seems like their rooms are gigantic!  We realized after we ditched most of the desks that we had plenty of extra room. It is amazing how much room those thirteen extra desks took up. Each student has a basket filled with all of their individual books and supplies. I was thrilled to find the baskets at Dollar Tree for $1 each. I was wondering aloud where we would store these baskets and one of my students spoke up.  He explained that if we put the baskets under or beside their work area during class, and put the baskets on top of their work area at the end of the day, we didn't really need separate places to store the baskets on shelves. It made perfect sense! At the end of the day the students stack their chairs and place their basket on an open table or desk. We clean up our room in record time and it is tidier than ever.

Ditch the Desks! http://rowdykids.blogspot.com/

We have only been in our redesigned classroom for three and a half days, but so far I am very pleased. The rowdy kids are loving it and seem to understand that it requires a little more self-control and responsibility on their part. It is so nice to have the extra open space, although I have had to ban the children from jumping from colored tile to colored tile and yelling, "Parkour!" Even I have limits on the amount of rowdiness I can endure.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Magical Potion Test


The week before Halloween, I downloaded a wonderful freebie on TPT. It was from Rebecca Bettis, and it details an experiment to test if students have magical powers or not. Students choose a pigmenting agent, chemical, and magic word for their potion. As the magical powder is mixed in, the students eagerly watch to see if they were able to create a potion. Some are successful and some are not.

My amazing co-teacher loved the idea, but insisted I make sure it wasn't just fun and games. I need her to keep me in line, or I might just spend an entire day playing four corners with my kids. With her encouragement, I created a lab report and slideshow to help guide the students through the scientific process as they tested their magical powers. The experiment was a huge success. The kids loved it and didn't even mind filling out the lab report.

A few weeks ago, I offered to send Rebecca my slides and lab report to add to her freebie. She suggested I post it on TPT and we cross promote on both our sites. What a great idea! So, if you are looking for a fun experiment to launch a Harry Potter novel study or just want to add a little magic to your study of the scientific process, head on over to TPT and download my freebie and Rebecca's. To check out more of Rebecca's products visit her TPT store.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

FREE Minecraft Simple Machines STEAM Activity!


My Minecraft Natural Resources Activity has been my most popular product on TPT. Since we are wrapping up our study of simple machines, I created a Minecraft Simple Machines product. You can buy the full version for $3.

The rowdy kids in 3 enjoyed this activity so much that I decided to offer a sample as a free product. The free product only includes the compound machine portion. The full product also includes a scavenger hunt in Minecraft to find all six types of simple machines. If you download the free sample with your students, please leave a comment and let me know how it goes. I can't wait to hear! Hope you enjoy the FREEBIE!

"The Best Teacher in the World!"

This week has been rough. After a full week off for Thanksgiving, I had trouble jumping back into school. We had a field trip this week, my father had surgery, and I didn't seem to gain any traction at school until Thursday afternoon. I like to be fully prepared for at least a week ahead. This week I had completed my lesson plans, but seemed to be prepping for the lessons about five minutes before we started each activity. It probably was not a good week to completely rearrange my classroom, but that is an entirely different blog post.

I remembered at 5:30 a.m. on Friday morning that I was supposed to be making a volcano in the afternoon as part of our study of Ancient Rome and Pompeii. I think I did this once in 4th grade, so it required a little research. Luckily, I found directions that only needed supplies already in my kitchen. As soon as I arrived at school, a quick look at my students' grades revealed several students were missing work. Our entire morning was thrown off by trying to catch them up. By the time the students were packing up, I felt frazzled and exhausted. I hadn't started plans for the following week even though I had a sub coming in for me on Monday. I hadn't even started the newsletter that we normally send out on Friday afternoon.

Before the students lined up to leave, I told the students I would be absent on Monday for professional development. I explained I was going to be a student for the day, so I could learn to be a better teacher. One of my boys said, "But you're already a great teacher. You don't need to go." I took the opportunity to promote the concept of being a lifelong learner. I told them that I wanted to be the very, best teacher I could be.

"You are already the best teacher in the whole world," another boy exclaimed. I smiled and told him that I didn't want the second best teacher in the world to gain on me, so I needed to keep improving. That seemed to satisfy them.

Ginger Snap is exhausted by the amount of work I brought home.
Empty flattery doesn't do much for me. Ten other students in my class could have given me the same compliments and it wouldn't have phased me. However, these two particular boys almost brought me to tears. At the beginning of the year, neither of them liked school. They have both turned a corner since August and grown so much as students. Their comments were not empty flattery. At that moment, despite the fact I was a Last Minute Lucy all week, these boys truly believed what they said. They are the reason I came home Friday afternoon to work on the newsletter, with a giant stack of papers to grade this weekend, and lessons to plan, but with the motivation to complete it all. These boys reminded me that my best IS good enough, even when I'm beating myself up. It is ok to have a rough week, as long as I don't give up. Good thing, because if you read my next blog post you'll find out about my latest stumbling block!

P.S. The volcano was awesome. I used these directions.