Starting to Get Settled…

I love to share what things look like when I first walk into the classroom in the summer.  Remember these from a couple of years ago?

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It’s the classroom I was in 2 years ago, but gives you a good idea of my first sights when I return to school at the beginning of the year to get stuff put together again.  This year’s view was very similar, only in the room next door.

Putting a classroom back together is a tedious process, with lots of bits and pieces to put in their places and a big puzzle to work out.  And that’s if you put everything back where it was last year!  If you decide to make any changes (because something didn’t work last year or just because you want to try something new for a new group of kiddos), then it’s pretty much like starting all over.  Your plan has to be completely different.

So I started by putting all of my furniture back right where it was at the end of last year.  And then I started thinking….

We really loved our room arrangement last year, and it worked for us based on our traffic flows and how we used each part of the room for different activities.  Except…that I knew I wanted to trade my desk with the table right next to it so that I could use the only whiteboard in our room for small group teaching times (instead of just having it behind my desk and covered with random things I tacked up there and didn’t really use).  Smart, right?  Yeah, it took me all year long to figure that one out…:)

So once I got the table and desk switched, I really liked it.  But then I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and it so it got me wondering what else I could move around that might work even better than what we had last year.  My carpet was the next thing on my list.  Maybe moving it into the corner (where my desk had been and where that new table was now sitting) would be a good idea–again because of that whiteboard.  Having it in our meeting space might be even better than for small groups.  So I picked up the fabulous carpet (remember when we got it last year?) and moved it into the corner, along with my easel and my chair.  That left me two tables, two filing cabinets and a supply shelf to figure out.  I think I like the new changes even better than last year.  I figured out that putting the rug in the corner also meant that the doors of my closets can now be used for charts and other things we’ll refer to during lessons (more on my ideas for that soon!).

And then….I looked at the spot where my next was and agreed that I liked it there…but then had another (even better!) idea: maybe I don’t even need a desk anymore.  I’ve gone back and forth over the last few years about whether or not I really need one; I don’t sit at it except before and after school, and it’s space that kids could probably use in a better way.  It really just serves as a place for me to house all my stuff.  What I really have wanted for a while is to have a dining room or kitchen table in my room.  I love the idea of kids (who are really a part of our learning family) sitting all around it having lively conversations and growing together.  The problem?  I still had a desk, and no table.  I knew I could probably find one on Craig’s List, after having no luck at Goodwill and garage sales over the last few weeks, but I thought instead to appeal to my friends on Facebook.  It worked.  I really quickly found a friend (who also happens to be a parent from our school!) who had a table that she’d been hoping to do something with–perfect, right?

I don’t have it yet, but I am SO EXCITED for what the room will look like when it’s in place.  My new plan is that it will go where my next was, and all of my stuff will find a new home.  Then, if I need a place to perch, that will be my primary home, but kids can also sit there with me when they like, as well as using it for conferences and small groups.  What do you think about that?  (Really, you can tell me. I promise. 🙂 )

So the title of this post is starting to get settled, then, because I feel like with the furniture in the right place, then I could start to get some things on the walls.  This makes me feel like things are closer to coming together, and it definitely makes it feel a little more like home.  So here’s where I am so far:

I got our We're Connecting with the World map up!  It's just waiting for some time zone clocks (a new addition this year!) as well as all the pins to represent the new friends we'll make around the world this year!  This is definitely an important part of our room.

I got our We’re Connecting with the World map up! It’s just waiting for some time zone clocks (a new addition this year!) as well as all the pins to represent the new friends we’ll make around the world this year! This is definitely an important part of our room.

I moved the calendar this year around the corner.  We only really use it for reference, but on this wall we can see it more easily from most parts of the room (as well as if I'm sitting at my new table or if I'm on the phone).  We'll see how we like it.

I moved the calendar this year around the corner. We only really use it for reference, but on this wall we can see it more easily from most parts of the room (as well as if I’m sitting at my new table or if I’m on the phone). We’ll see how we like it.  Oh, and I found that little bucket in my closet–it has the calendar numbers in it.  Cute, right? 🙂

This will give you a better idea of all that craziness I was trying to explain before: rug in the new corner, my desk which will become our new table.  You can also see (as well as in the previous pics, too) that I got our Read Aloud Timeline hung up and we're ready to get started adding to it for this year's new titles!

This will give you a better idea of all that craziness I was trying to explain before: rug in the new corner, my desk which will become our new table. You can also see (as well as in the previous pics, too) that I got our Read Aloud Timeline hung up and we’re ready to get started adding to it for this year’s new titles! Oh, and that big mess of books on the table is the middle of a reorganization project in our classroom library.  Anna and I are going to start tackling it on Tuesday, and believe me, I’ll share when I’m done. 🙂

The new birthday wall will be next to our meeting space here, as well as those closets I mentioned before.  I plan on changing the titles there to other topics...

The new birthday wall will be next to our meeting space here, as well as those closets I mentioned before. I plan on changing the titles there to other topics…

Ok, one last picture:

Just a little treat from the littlest Bearden's in our family!  Had to keep them busy while Mommy was working in the room the other day. :)

Just a small treat from the littlest Beardens in our family! Had to keep them busy while Mommy was working in the room the other day.

What does your classroom look like right now?  What about at the beginning of your work?  How do you tackle that big pile of “stuff?”  I’d love to hear how it works for you!

An Uncertain Future

I met with my team today–the fabulous Mrs. Hong and Ms. Turken–to talk about how to integrate reading, writing and sci/ss, as well as to update our curriculum calendar.  We only had 2 hours blocked out on the calendar, and so in some ways those were really big plans.  And we started 45 minutes late.  🙂

So, as we sat down and tried to tackle reworking the curriculum calendar (based on new Common Core standards, district resources and just things we wanted to change), we realized we had lots of work to do BEFORE we could address that problem.  You know how it goes, before you can do the job you actually sat down to do, you have to do this and before that you have to do this….we were in that boat.

We are wanting to reorganize our thinking and our schedule to allow for more integration, working Social Studies and Science topics into everything rather than having things so compartmentalized and isolated from each other.  But we had plans to UbDize (yep, just made up that word) our SS curriculum and organize our units around common EQs for each quarter.  But like I said before, it’s easier said than done.

And then there’s my crazy brain that isn’t just quite ready to think about these things.  For one thing, I have to have my space all done before I can planning for what we will do in that space.  Since it’s not even August, I do not have my classroom put together yet.  Granted, I do have all of my furniture where it will go and have big ideas for where things will go and what it will look like, but it’s not done yet.  And I have plans for how I want to redo parts of my classroom library.  And I haven’t met my class yet.

That last part is really the biggest piece of the puzzle that makes it hard for me to complete the calendar.  So in the mean time, I feel like I am facing an

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I know–you’re thinking, “Well, duh, Mrs. Bearden.  Isn’t the beginning of the year always uncertain?  You never really know what the school year will bring or what every detail of every day will look like.”  And no, I don’t have a crystal ball or any tarot cards, and so I guess in a way I always face an uncertain future at this point in the year.

But the reason why it so affects me is because I have such a hard time making decisions about things I’ll do and ways to go without actually knowing my students.  So much of where we go and how we get there depends on what my students need, and where they are when we start.  I have information and data about these things on paperwork (transition reports, testing scores, Lexile levels, etc.) from previous teachers, but until I really see what it looks like for actual kids in my actual space, I can’t really get a feel for it.  (My family has always said that I don’t have much of an imagination–maybe this is proof of that! 🙂 )

But obviously I can’t just not make plans.  I can’t not work with my team.  I can’t not try to figure it out now, because I owe it to these new students of mine to have at least an idea of where we will go, and how we might get there.  If not, then we’ll never get there.  And that’s definitely not an option.

Along the way I’ll tweak the plans–adjusting and reworking based on personalities, learning styles, academic and social needs, interests–and I’ll be totally ok with that.  And then, at the end of the year, I’ll look back at the plans we made around the table today in the summer and laugh, because of how different they are.  But I gotta start somewhere.

How does your “summer brain” work?  In what order do you do your work–space first or plans first? How does your team work before school starts to map our curriculum/unit plans?  I’d love your thoughts and/or advice! 🙂

Yes–I’m Still Alive…

In case you were wondering, no, I have not dropped off the face of the earth.  Summer happened.  And while I was well-intentioned to finish up last year’s blogging strong, summer vacation got the best of me and instead I haven’t typed a thing in weeks. Months maybe.

But for those of you who are loyal blog readers, I thought I’d at least let you know I’m alive and kickin’, doing what teachers do in the summer.  Hey–now there’s an idea for a new blog post….:)

Welcome to Rm. 202!

Welcome to Rm. 202!

I am so excited you’re here!

Please proceed with caution, and read carefully….

The following letter contains 2049 words that will begin to shape your fifth grade year. Be sure you have time to read them all carefully. You may like to have your parents sit and read with you so you can all be excited about fifth grade together.You should also have dancing shoes on (true story) and a video camera handy (extra credit).

Ready? Of course you are! Because you are about to become…

Fifth Grade and Fearless!

I am excited for the year ahead – but first, I need your help in knowing what next year is going to look like.

 

Yes, your help!

What next year holds, is, in large part up to you. I have my plans, my ideas, my goals….what about you?

I know some of you may have sneaked a peek at the letter I sent your parents, or may already know me, so this next part may be a bit of a review.  Too bad.  Keep reading anyway. 🙂  I have been teaching for 12 years and every one of them has been at Robinson!  I even did my student-teaching there long ago, so Robinson is definitely my home-away-from-home.  In my real home–which is in St. Peters–I have a fabulous family that I love dearly.  My husband, Grant, is a teacher, too, in Wentzville.  He is starting in 3rd grade this year, but has taught 4th and 5th grade like me, too.  Fun, right?  We have a 5YO, Riley, who will be at Robinson, too.  I am sure you’ll get to know him really well as we got through the year together.  We also have a little girl named Allison–we call her Allie–who is 19-mo-old.  We LOVE (yep, love) Disney World, and travel there often.  We also just like to hang out together at home (or anywhere, really) and spend time with each other.  So that’s me.  What about you? Can’t wait to learn more about YOUR family!

Like I said, I have been teaching for 12 years, and every year, I begin the school year as a different person. I decide on that first day and then every day thereafter, who I am as a teacher. What is important to me. What I want to accomplish. What I want my students to see when they come to school. I choose that. I don’t let other people tell me who I will be and I don’t just be who I think other people want me to be. I read, I think, I write and then I decide.

Who Will You Be? (This is a big question – take your time to think about this!) Will you be the kid who has brilliant ideas? The kid who loves math? The kid who looks to help other people? The kid who……? Fresh start. Clean slate. We all get one (that includes you!) and we all get to begin fifth grade as the person we want to be.

What is important to you? (This is another big question and one I am really curious about so I will ask it twice.) What is important to you?

There are lots of things that are important to me: my husband and my kids, sharing ideas, reading, writing, being able to have a conversation, making things, discovering things, sharing what I know, sleeping in, staying up late and knowing when to say sorry.

As a teacher, there are a few more things that are important to me:

* YOU!:   You’re the reason I’m there, after all right?  It is important for me to get to know you, and know you well.  Not just as a learner, but as a kid, too.  I want to know what you like, what you don’t like, what makes you tick.  Who you are.  That’s ok, right? 🙂

* Respect: If you’ve been around Robinson for longer than 5 minutes you know that respect is a HUGE part of our culture.  It’s pretty much what we’re all about.  I expect respect to be a huge thing in our classroom.  I will respect you, and I expect you to respect me, as well as everyone else in our community.  This counts when we agree and even when we don’t.  I have a saying that I learned from my good friend Mrs. Ford years ago, that is really important with this whole respect thing.  It’s this: You are not the sun.  In other words, the world does not revolve around you, and there are lots of other people in our classroom that have needs, wants, likes, dislikes, etc., that we need to take into account.  I love you, but I love everyone else, too!

* Mistakes:  I expect you to make them.  Yep, I said it.  I want things to be hard for you.  I want you to struggle.  If you need more than one try or lots more practice with a concept, you’ll get it.  If you need to show me what you know in a different way, then we’ll figure it out.  If  you need me to repeat something or explain it for you in another way, I’ll do.  If you need a big, fat challenge–watch out, you’ll get one! No, I’m not crazy, I just want you to try things that may be tricky at first.  I want you to learn to work through it when it’s hard and figure out what to do.   I want you to feel the joy and success when you learn something new and it’s because you persevered!  Not everything will be easy here. And that’s ok. We’re in it together and I’ll help you all along the way. 🙂

* Collaboration: I love to share ideas and get ideas and try new things and even when those things fail, I know I am just one step closer to finding what does work. I love to work with other teachers to figure things out and find new solutions to old problems.  But just as much as working with adults, I love to collaborate with students.  I love to hear what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling about things, what you think would be the best way to learn something.  Even when you don’t agree with me, or have a plan that is completely different than mine, I want you to share it!  It’s our classroom, and often your ideas are WAY better than mine.  I know I’ll share lots of examples with you about how that’s happened to me over the years.

Aside from collaborating with me, though, you’ll be collaborating with each other!  You will have lots of opportunities to share with your classmates, to give your ideas, ask questions, prove your reasoning and challenge each other.  I expect that we will work together to help EVERYONE in our class be the best they can be.  Together we’ll achieve much more than we would if we tried to do it on our own. 🙂

* Questions: I found a quote I love by a guy named Tony who loves learning. “No one cares what you know. What the world cares about is what you do with what you know.” Think about that. Chew it over. We can all google and find stuff out – but then what? After we know stuff, what we do with it = inquiry. And that is what the world cares about. Me too. You?

* Time is precious: So are you. I don’t like wasting time and I especially don’t like wasting your time. That means I try to come to school ready, fired up, and prepared to make a ruckus (I like to think that a ‘ruckus’ is the sound your brain makes when it is challenged to be creative, thoughtful, inquisitive and world-changing – it is a beautiful sound).  I hope–and expect–that you will come into our classroom every morning ready to learn, ready to work hard, ready to put your very best foot forward.  We only have so many days together, and we need to make the most of every single one of them.  We’ve got so much to do! 🙂

* Technology : I  love technology because it allows me to connect to new ideas. I like to think about what I want to do and look for tools to help me do it. I want to hear your ideas on technology and what works for you. We will be using technology in many new and exciting ways this year, so get ready!  You’ll be blogging, using iPads and laptops, working on the ActivBoard, making videos of your learning and trying out many new things that we may not even know about yet.  Whatever we do, though, the goal is always learning.  We will use technology in meaningful ways to better create new knowledge.  Excited?  I know I am!

* Community: our class, our families, our school, our neighborhood, our city, our state, our country, our world. There are so many amazing people doing amazing things. I bet you can think of ten amazing people who do amazing things right now. We need to hear those people’s stories. Your mom and dad should be on that list. They are awesome. (Assignment one; email me List of Awesomeness about people in your family* -*family = people you love and are connected to even if they don’t happen to live in your house or share your last name).

* Taking risks: I like to take risks.   I hope you do too. It is scary sometimes and it fails sometimes but sometimes, more often, it is just A-MAZ-ING! Usually when you do something scary you do things you never thought you could.  You surprise yourself.  And then you want to do more! Someone smart once said “Fear and Excitement are shades of the same color”. Cool, huh?

HANG IN THERE….THE END IS NEAR!

OK…if you made it this far and are still with me, congratulations, you are a rockstar. Stop reading right now and do some kind of victory dance.  No really, go ahead.  Dance.  I’ll wait.  Better yet, have someone video tape your dance and send it to me!  I’ll even post it on our blog!

So….what now? How can you best prepare for the extreme awesomeness of fifth grade?

  1. Have a great summer! Be extraordinary.
  2. Read something.  Write something.  Wonder something.  This’ll get your learning muscles warmed up. 🙂
  3. If you have any questions you can always email me. Anytime. No question to big or too small.
  4. Think about what I said about being who you want to be. Most importantly, remember that everyone else in our class is thinking about that too. Be gracious to those who are brave enough to set lofty goals and make the effort to become an even better version of themselves.
  5. Look around your house (or your computer, maybe) for a picture of your family.  I’d love to be able to decorate our room with us–pictures of all the people who help make us who we are and who encourage us to do our best.  If you want to email it to me, that’s great (I’ll add my contact info to the end of this post), or you can print it and bring it to school on the first day.  And if you don’t have one, don’t worry!  We’ll take your picture!

Despite having now used about two thousand words, there are no words to describe how excited I am about working with you next year!

Here’s To Being Fifth Grade and Fearless!

♥ Mrs. Bearden

PS. If you didn’t get up and dance before and are now wishing you did, there is still time to do it. Anytime. Send me that video with your best moves (extra credit).

When you have had a chance to relax, digest this letter (maybe talk about it with your family or friends) and get your fifth grade brain tuned up, I would love for you to write to me to introduce yourself, ask questions, maybe respond to something you read in this letter that made you think.

I look forward to hearing from you before the end of the summer!

Mrs. Bearden: Email–jennifer.bearden@kirkwoodschools.org; Phone–314-213-6100 x4214 (after August 15); Twitter: @jbeardensclass

**Thanks to @terSonya and Mrs. Hong for help with writing this post! Like I said, I love to share ideas!**

The Bed Boat

Teachers Write: Day 2: Tuesday Quick Write

Directions for today (ok, well yesterday 🙂 ):

Write for two minutes to describe a very specific place.  If you’re just free-writing, it can be a place that you love, or have visited, or a place that frightens you.

Then…When your two minutes are up, stop writing.

Now…if your place is real and you can go there, go there now.  I’ll wait….

If it’s far away, find a picture of it. If it’s not a real place, put yourself there in your mind. Now write for one minute about each of the following:

  • Everything you SEE – Pay attention to big things and tiny things. Search for concrete details.
  • Everything you HEAR – Be specific. Don’t just say “a scraping sound.” Say a “high-pitched, raspity-raspity-screeeeeaking noise.”  You can make up words if you want.If you aren’t in the place, try to find a video. Or guess what you might hear.
  • Everything you SMELL – Especially pay attention to the smells that surprise you. If you’re not in the place, pictures can help you smell. Look carefully…what would that dumpster smell like?
  • Everything you FEEL – Weather, wind, things that land on you or brush against you. Again – pictures help you imagine if you’re not there, and if it’s not a real place, try imagining images and then assigning sensations from a similar place that might be real (desert, tundra, etc.)

Now, go back and rewrite that descriptive paragraph. Include your best tiny, surprising details, and work on senses other than sight. Better?  More vivid?  This is a fun activity to do with kids, too. Have them write about the playground or gym or cafeteria; then go there and hunt for sensory details!

Wow.  If I thought yesterday was hard, then today was worse.  I tried the exercise.  And then I tried it again because the first go-round was so lousy.  I think the problem was that I picked a place that was too big, too broad, so I had a hard time specifically describing those details.  I do have to admit, though, that there was some really important teacher-learning that happened in that first try: I totally get it now how my kids feel when I tell them to share their words with their partner or with the class.  I thought I understood it, but I don’t really think I got it until it happened to me.  Priceless experience really.

So I tried again, and this time tried to focus in on a smaller–and closer–place that was important to me.  It is an actual place, and it is in my house, so that made it easier.  Well a little bit.

So here it is:

We own a boat.  But it’s not made of wood and nails or fiberglass, either.  It’s big, squishy and white–just the perfect combination of soft and strong, and there is always a breeze blowing overhead.  It’s a bed boat, and while it goes nowhere, it takes my family on magical journeys together.

Sometimes I sail there alone,  just me with my thoughts or a good book to keep me company.  Solitude is welcome.  But more often than not, the boat is filled with other passengers on the journey with me: one who is the captain and two who are smaller (and much louder) versions of myself.  As we sail on together, we might share a laugh, a story, a snuggle or even a snack.  We sense the safety of the boat brings; just being on it is enough.

The big, squishy bed-boat is where we begin and end most days, our safe harbor through the storms of life.  Problems are solved, plans are made and great days are joyously relived.  Tears are shed, questions are answered and the sailors are made stronger just by being there.  Together.  Nothing seems too big to tackle.  The bed-boat is safe, it’s strong and it’s special.

What is your favorite place?  Where do you go that’s special to you?  🙂

Other People’s Kitchens

Teachers Write Day 1:  Monday Morning Warm-Up:

Ok, Day 1.  Like I said, I can do this.  So the directions today were to describe the kitchen of our childhood using as many sense as you can.

So I sat down willing–and hopefully able–to do this.  But the more I thought about it, I realized that some of my most vivid memories from childhood are actually not from my own house.  Not that the ones I have form home are bad ones, they’re just not really there.  So I thought of other people’s kitchens that I spent time in as a child, and my assignment came together:

Bowls.  Small bowls made of wood-looking plastic filled with salad.  And that salad is covered in French dressing.  Yep, one of my clearest memories is related to Catalina-drenched lettuce eaten in Christy B.’s kitchen.  Dark kitchen.  Why?  Because we’d eat that soggy plastic-wooden-bowl-salad as a midnight snack after everyone else was asleep.  No Oreos or ice cream for us.  Health food all the way.  Well, covered in salad dressing.  Take the bowl memory several years forward and about 100 miles up I270 and you’ll be in Sheila’s kitchen.  This time it wasn’t salad, but tomato soup.  Why does tomato soup bring such a warm, vivid memory for me? Because it’s tied to a brand new experience (don’t think I knew tomato soup existed before I ate it in Sheila’s kitchen in her big, yellow house on Mignon Dr.) and a close, loving family.  I ate so many meals in that bright, sunny kitchen over the 5 or 6 years we were friends, every one of them lovely.  I can still picture every square inch of that room today–some 20 years after.  Memories of the smiles, laughs and late-night snacks shared in that space warm my heart. So what about my own kitchen as a child? It was hard to pinpoint just which kitchen to tell about, because we moved around alot.  And even when we were at home, my parents didn’t really cook.  Everything came out of a box.  So maybe that means my childhood kitchen smelled like cardboard? 🙂

What are your childhood “kitchen” memories? Tell me about them. 🙂

Teachers Write!

Yes, yes we do.  And for those of you who were wondering, no, we don’t really have the whole summer “off’, either.  No, we do not have to get up and get dressed and go to school, but we spend many, many hours learning new things that we’ll use in the next school year, planning with our grade level teams, reading and writing, and well, just becoming better teachers so we can help out students even more effectively in the fall.  Ok, but I digress….

So that being said, one of the exciting learning adventures I’m taking part in this summer (along with Mrs. Meihaus and Mrs. Berger–a few Robinson teachers you may know!) is an online writing camp called Teachers Write!

Every day for the next couple of months, there are assignments posted on the Teachers Write blog, and we do them and then post what we write for others to read.  Seems easy, right?

That’s totally what I thought going into this.  I mean, I’ve been a writer for many years.  Not a published author, but a writer nonetheless.  I thought that this writing camp thing would be a piece of cake.  But cake it is not.

Ok, let me explain.  It’s not necessarily the writing part that is hard for me, it’s the sharing part.  Up to this point, I’ve primarily written for myself and my students.  If I share my writing, it’s on my terms, when I want to and how I want to.  Usually its pieces that I’ve chosen to write, and I share them during the revision stages, so that my kiddos can help me fix it up and make it better.  That’s scary in itself, because kids can be really honest, but again, it’s on my terms.

This is a whole different ball game.  This time it’s writing prompts, and the “campers” I’m sharing with are other teachers and–get this–published authors!  Talk about pressure.

But I signed up for it, right?  And what an amazing opportunity for growth as both a writer and a teacher of writing.  So I guess I’m game.  Nothing but good things can come of it, and no one will die in the process.  I just need to put my pride aside and let people teach me something.  Goodness knows I have tons to learn!

Alright.  Here I go.  Taking the plunge.  Jumping in with both feet.  Wearing my floaties and nose plug and hoping not to drown. 🙂

Stay tuned for examples of my “homework.”  I’d love your comments.  Really, I would. 🙂