Colleen’s Classroom: Lessons Learned

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Colleens ClassroomThe month of May always brings about the hurried pace of wrapping up lessons, scheduling end of the year field days, finishing up final report cards, and putting away supplies for the summer. Each event marks its place on the calendar with an equal sense of urgency. While reflecting upon this past school year, I couldn’t help but notice how the sense of urgency had seemed to permeate its way through every month. The pace of each school day seemed unusually frantic.

As educators, we are familiar with implementing new mandates, new curriculum, evaluations, and testing. We are pretty good at catching and juggling the many balls that are thrown our way. This year however, I dropped more balls than I care to admit. As the year progressed, I just couldn’t seem to maintain the rhythm I needed to juggle successfully.

It was toward the end of February when the balls in my juggling act collectively fell out of the air and tumbled down out of my reach. I was handing out one of the umpteenth mandated practice tests –yes I am aware that umpteenth isn’t a word- when a very sweet mannered student looked me straight in the eye and said, “Not again. What are you trying to do…kill us?”

Good question. What was I trying to do? I was trying to be a good soldier. I was trying to be compliant. I was trying to do what I had been told needed to be done to make my students successful on the spring test.

As my juggling act came crashing down around me, it suddenly  became very clear to me that if I was going to save my students from remembering their third grade year as the year their teacher tried to do them in with practice tests, I had better change my act.

Within the following week, I gathered together my favorite books for literature circles and resurrected the writing workshop. We returned to going outside for mindful walks so we could think about what we were going to write. We took time to play community building games and we researched science topics so we could write books. New homework assignments came to life when choices were given on ways they could be completed. In turn, kids delivered their homework on power points or as animated picture streams on iPads. It didn’t take long before my students were engaged and excited about learning again. It didn’t take long before I was successfully juggling all the balls in the air with the same enthusiasm they were exhibiting. Smiles and laughter soon took the place of moans and groans.

Years ago, my mother had advised me to always be true to myself. Those are simple enough words, but not so simple to do. When I tried to teach in a way that made no sense to me I was not being true to myself…or my students. As long as I am in the classroom, I will continue juggling. As long as I stay true to myself, I will have the rhythm and stamina to keep the balls in the air. Well, most of them anyway. Next year there will be new balls, new challenges and new students. One thing that will stay the same however, is my ability to be true to myself. I won’t forget my mother’s advice again.

Next year I will be leaving third grade and returning to first grade. I have missed the curiosity and wonderment of the little ones. I know my first grade students will provide me with plenty to write about next year. I look forward to a relaxing summer with a pace less hectic than this past year. Summer always recharges my batteries and creativity, and of course, provides so many hours of joyful reading.

I hope all of you have a great summer. Please take time to read, reflect, and recharge. In closing, I would like to share some lines I pulled from my students’ May metaphor poems. My students never cease to amaze me.

 A memory is a wolf,

Guarding feelings,

Hunting for thoughts to be remembered.


Sadness is a boomerang.

You try to forget,

But it comes right back to you,

Bringing you more sadness.


Love is honey,

Sweet as sugar,

Gooey as a kiss,

The color of sunshine.



Presidential Reading Initiative to get ConnectED

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iStock_000027015790Medium (2)President Obama has announced new initiatives to spark greater support behind America’s libraries. His goals include all students obtaining library cards and free eBooks to low income students.  President Obama hopes that community leaders, schools, and libraries come together to get students access to books. Read more about ConnectED through Library Journal.

At Rourke we know the power a single book can have. We stand behind teachers and librarians by providing them with quality books and support. We are glad that more attention is being made to emphasize the importance of librarians and the value of partnerships between schools and libraries. To see how Rourke can partner with your library, reach out to us at 800-394-7055.




Create a Math Rich Environment

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Common Core Math

Children are naturally drawn to math at a young age. They come to preschool and sort toys, line up shortest to tallest, and sit in a circle during rug time. You are already creating a math rich environment even if you don’t realize it. Research suggest that a preschool classroom is the best environment for children to develop mathematical concepts. An article by NAEYC offers ways to create a math enriched classroom for students in early childhood.

But what about older students? How can we create an meaningful and math rich environment for them? Research shows that simply memorizing basic facts do not increase mathematical understanding. Dor Abrahamson, Assistant Professor of Cognition and Development at the University of California, is developing manipulable technology and using humor to help embody mathematical understanding in students of all ages. Why? Because students need to understand what these things are and use math in the real world to identify and solve problems that are meaningful to them. He explains that math is everywhere and that educators need to help the students see the world mathematically through understanding, not just scribbling numbers.

What are your thoughts? How do you help students understand mathematical concepts versus memorization of facts, numbers, and formulas?

Flipping Summer Reading

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With summer just around the corner many schools are preparing their summer reading lists for their students. What books are on your school’s reading list? But what to do with the books that students read is the bigger question. SLJ  recently published an article that gives out-of-the-box ideas that keeps reading fun and meaningful for students and teachers. Traditionally, students journal about the book but SLJ suggests having students be more creative and have more fun. Ideas like redesigning the book cover or drawing a map of the setting not only allow the students to share the knowledge and understanding obtained from the book, but it gives them freedom of choice and creativity. Keep reading and learning fun. Try out some on the ideas suggested by SLJ. What other ways do you keep summer reading fun and creative?

The Benefits of Audio in the Classroom

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Audiobooks are not a new product. Teachers and librarians have known there were always benefits to reading aloud and using audiobooks in student learning. A recent article by Publishers Weekly, shared that the Audio Publishers Association is putting some meaning behind that approach in literacy. The Audio Publishers Association and several educators and librarians have created a free online resource called the Sound Learning toolkit. This amazing resource provides K-12 lesson plans, lists of grade appropriate audiobooks, and ways to integrate audiobooks into your curriculum. Audiobooks are not just a great fit in your ELA blocks but also in science, math, and social studies. The toolkit even helps librarians in understanding how to insert audiobooks into their area. You can access the website here and start planning how you can use audiobooks.

Don’t forget that Rourke has audiobooks across all content areas.

Contact a rep at 800-394-7055.
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