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Back to School Backpack

August 20, 2014

This summer I read books by Alan November. He provides great ideas and resources for empowering students and creating learning environments. I was particularly interested in his The First Five Days.
When I first started integrating technology into the curriculum, I worked under the misconception of  “waiting until the students were ready”. I quickly realized the students were ready, and I wasn’t.
We only get one chance to make a first impression, so just imagine the impact of starting the first five days of school by setting up an engaging, self-directed, learning environment using technology.
Integrated activities can be set up for students to learn about themselves, their classmates, the school rules, classroom rules, and procedures.

  • Click on MyLifein5Letter for fun, getting- to- know you homework.
  • Picture 041Imagine yourself as a young student walking into a classroom. On your desk you see a Neo waiting for you to explore. The teacher can project a welcome and introduction letter to her/his students on the screen or whiteboard. Students can then write their own letter of introduction to their teacher.
    Another Neo activity could be to give the students My Teacher Needs to Know sentence starters  from which to choose. This activity could give the teacher a snapshot of information about the students.
  • Students can create an All About Me Sticky Note by using the Sticky app for iPhone and iPad.
    It is easy for students to manage. Use the iPad to take individual photos of each student.
    Read and discuss the Characteristics Word Bank. Encourage students to add other words.
    Then students can create their own Sticky Notebook. The notebook can be saved by using the iPad to take a picture and emailing it to the teacher email. The teacher can then save it to a file and print, or insert into a blog.
    stickyStudents can use these words to help them write an “I am…” poem.
  • Students will enjoy sharing information about themselves in the form of trading cards.
    Read Write Think provides an excellent interactive activity for making trading cards.
  • Students can create a visual word cloud using Tagxedo. It is easy to use, save, and print.
    The student can upload a self-photo or choose from a variety of symbols that are provided.
    boytagxedo Students can use these descriptive words to write a descriptive narrative.
  • Students can create an interactive All About Me presentation by using ThingLink.
    Students can upload an image or avatar that represents them. Then they can add tags with information about themselves.  Click on Tutorial 1 and Tutorial 2 for some information as to how to use ThingLink. This valuable tool can be used in so many ways in the classroom. My first grade students created their interactive presentation on ThingLink as their end product of an animal research project. Have fun!

Setting Up the Classroom

August 16, 2014

As I drove past schools this week, I could see the parking lots were filled with teachers giving up their last free days to set up their classrooms.
Setting up the classroom use to be a stressful time for me, until I realized that less is better.
A beginning resource for me at the time was Spaces and Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy by Debbie Diller. My school closet use to be packed with items that had not been used in years. I turned it into a functional closet that stored items that were used and easily accessible.

My principal was also a resource. He provided the opportunity for me to visit other schools with the purpose of looking for efficiency and student centered rooms. This principal also provided me the opportunity to have furniture on wheels. Mobile furniture is more conducive to setting up a  student centered classroom. It was exciting to see that there were mobile furniture booths at the TCEA convention.
Hopefully, more principals will elect to furnish their schools with mobile furniture.

The mobility factor in furniture, led to a more mobile and differentiated view of setting up the room in learning areas. There are six areas needed to set up a student based learning environment.

1. Class Library: This is a comfortable area that contains leveled reading material and books of different genre. Most of the books are my personal collection, but I also check out school library books for seasonal or unit topics. Students are encouraged to recommend books they would like to place in the class library.
Students are involved in setting up the library and organizing the books in tubs that they label.
They have ownership of the library and know where to look for the books and where to return the books.

2. Community Center: This is a carpeted area that is the gathering point for class meetings, routine procedures, small group, and other similar purposes.
Students may also choose to utilize this area to work in a group, with a partner, or individually.
(I provide portable lap tables and small pillows for the students to use in this area or in any other area of the classroom.)

3. Peace Pad: This is an area for anyone who needs to regroup, reflect, or just take a break. It is not a punishment area. Books about feelings and emotions, landscapes, and places are provided. I recently purchased a Buddha Board for myself, and I highly recommend that this be included in the Peace Pad.
I had my iPod with soothing music available in this area.

4. Resource Area : Instead of setting up stations for each subject, I use mobile utility carts that have 4 drawers. Each drawer has the resources necessary for students to work on subject area tasks, projects, and activities. Students take the drawer to their workstations or wheel the cart to a central locality for others to use. I also have the iPads on a utility cart for student access.

5. Supplies : A mobile utility cart is also used to store a range of supplies for all subjects. Different types of paper, pads, pens, crayons, markers, pencils, etc. Students may wheel this cart around to any working area, or just pull a drawer.
A small shelf is used for math manipulatives and supplies. Construction paper is stored in a construction paper storage sorter.

6. Work Stations: If mobile tables are not available, I recommend asking for rectangular or round tables.
(Arrangements can be made for seating during state testing.) If individual table desks are available, I recommend that they are arranged in work clusters. The most efficient cluster is four desks, but sometimes it is necessary to arrange six in a cluster. These are work stations, and not individual desks, so students get to choose where they sit each morning when they arrive. The seating changes as they begin their tasks and are working in groups that have been formed according to differentiated criteria. The desks are turned so the opening is not available. This helps in keeping the room organized and clean. As previously mentioned, students may choose to work on the floor using the lap tables.

It was a personal choice to remove the teacher desk in order to provide more space in the classroom.
I did use one of the mobile tables for small group. My personal teaching supplies were stored in a utility cart with drawers. The top of the cart had a flat surface that was used as my desk.
I also used the bottom shelf of utility cart that held the teacher lap top computer to store other items that were needed for instruction.
Large file cabinets are a thing of the past, since curriculum and lesson ideas are all stored online.
I used a small rolling file cabinet for any private documents. This was locked in a closet.


Bulletin Boards

July 15, 2014

During the first years of my teaching career, I would spend two weeks in the summer covering every bulletin board and wall space with educational merchandise.
The students walked into a room that was splashed with information and color .
There was one wall to post some of their work, but students had no input in setting up the boards.
Basically, the bulletin boards emphasis was on decoration rather than on  instruction, learning, and showcasing the indivdual student.
After a few years of experience, conversations with my peers, and researching the topic of the purpose of bulletin boards, I changed the manner in which I prepared my room.

Of course, the grade level you teach dictates some items that must be posted.  Also, the design and space of your room will affect what you can post.
Here are the basic teaching tools necessary in your classroom:

  • grade level appropriate alphabet (even if it is just for the proper formation of letters)
  •  grade level appropriate math chart and number line
  • Word Walls for each subject are also important instructional tools. Words should be added as students are introduced to the words.

It helps to divide the bulletin board space into the major subjects (math, reading, writing, science, and social studies).
One style of border for all the boards, and labels for each subject keep the room environment simple and less distracting.
The boards are left for student work and anchor charts that are changed regularly in order to keep current with the instruction that is taking place.
Students enjoy being in charge of what is posted on the boards. It helps to promote the feeling of ownership.
The information on the board is utilized more since the students created the charts with the teacher.
Anchor charts can be photographed and posted in Power Point presentations or in hard copy and placed in folders for students to use as reference or review.
I was fortunate to have enough bulletin boards to include a large area for displaying student art.
Here are four questions to ask before purchasing any items for your room:

  • Will it reflect the learning that is taking place in the classroom?
  • Will it promote student ownership of learning?
  • Will it add to the learning environment and be used for referencing and review?
  • Will it showcase the individuals in the classroom?


Back to School Preparations

July 6, 2014

July 4th has come and gone.
Stores are now setting up for Back to School.
Teachers are getting the jitters thinking about what they need to set up the classroom.
Before you rush into an educational store or order from catalogs, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I need in order to design a student-centered classroom?
  • What will help me create a safe and comfortable learning environment?
  • How can I make the students feel ownership and pride in their classroom?
  • What will help me organize materials for the students and for myself?
  • What manipulatives and resources are already provided by the school?

For years, I would walk into an educational store and purchase items that really had nothing to do with promoting a student centered classroom.
Cute posters, center activities, teaching charts, and workbooks are eye candy and sometimes distractions.
Workbooks are outdated and are not aligned with how today’s students learn.
They also are not guaranteed to be aligned to the needs of the students in  your class, the state standards, or the standards that your school’s data shows you must be targeting for instruction.
I look for ideas that can be adapted to more updated techniques, but I do not purchase any workbooks.
Anchor charts made by students and teachers are more effective teaching tools than ready-made posters.
They can be made on chart tablets that are usually provided by the school or purchased with grade level funds.
Anchor charts can also be created with technology and projected on the screen/Smartboard as needed.

These are the only items that I would consider placing on a purchase list:

  • Seasonal Stickers
  • Book marks
  • Borders ( Keep it simple and purchase one style for all of the classroom bulletin boards. For hallway bulletin boards, I purchase seasonal and solid border. )
  • Word Wall chart holders ( I prefer the felt background type for the reading word wall. For math, science, and social studies word walls, I create interactive walls with the students. We use an iPad and QR codes to create these. There will be more information about this in another post.)

Walk around a school and you will probably see many classrooms that reflect the teacher’s personality and taste instead of the students’ work and evidence of learning.
Student learning is enhanced when the room is centered on the students and not the teacher.


Students are given a school supply list, but I purchase a class set of supplies during the Back to School sales.
I never use the student’s personal supply as a class community supply. I believe they need to have their own.
I use what I purchase as the classroom supply.
Many parents often offer to purchase what is needed throughout the year.
For organizational purposes, I usually purchase the plastic folders for the following subjects:
Leadership/Communication folder – Red
Poetry Folder-Purple
Composition folders (Students at our school come with 2. I purchase 2 more for each student. They are used as notebooks for writing, reflection, math, and science.)




June 30, 2014

There are three good reasons to be a teacher – June, July, and August.  ~Author Unknown

The unknown author of this quote apparently is not an educator!
As teachers, we know that the summer months are for re-energizing with family and friends, continuing professional development, engaging in book studies, and planning for the next school year.

I am listing some titles that I recommend for professional summer reading.
These books are resources that can help you have a more successful year.
During my summers, I would often reread highlighted chapters and passages, just as a reminder to strengthen good teaching practices.

teachingll Teaching With Love and Logic by Jim Funk, David Fay

Wong the First Days of School by Harry Wong

championTeach Like a Champion by Doug Lemove

glasser 2
Choice Theory in the Classroom by William Glasser, M.D.

glasserThe Quality School by William Glasser, M.D.

greenlightGreen Light Classrooms by Rich Allen

brooksDrawing with Children by Mona Brookes (Great ideas for developing  visual learning!)

Enjoy your summer!






Mrs. Cunningham’s Corner

May 12, 2012

This has been an exciting school year, more than usual. I created a classroom blog and both the children and myself have had a major learning experience.
My intent is to update my TeacherThinkTank based on my experiences from this school year. Until I can get this going,  you can get a glimpse of what has been happening by viewing our class blog: Mrs. Cunningham’s Corner

Friendship Task Menu

January 30, 2012

During the month of February, I display a collection of books about friends. Students have a choice of the book they want to read for Reading Workshop.
They then have a choice of tasks that are designed based on the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. Students can choose to complete their task on computers, using Kidspiration, Power Point, or Publisher. They can also choose to use the iPad 2. Another choices is paper and pencil. They are to focus on completing one task. They may move to another task after I have approved the first completed task. Some of these tasks may take a week to complete. Task Cards and Worksheets are on the links below.
Remember Task Card
Understanding Task Card
Apply Task Card
Analyze Task Card
Evaluate Task Card
Create Task Card Plus another Evaluating Task Card


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