Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Food Chain

As many of you know, my school uses the Unique Learning System (ULS) curriculum for our severely cognitively impaired students. There is a unit theme each month, and October's unit for my age level is all about the food chain (it touches on ecosystems, too, but I am going to deemphasize that part since combining the two is going to be way too much for my students).

Elizabeth from Special Education - A Work of Heart recently sent me a message asking for some ideas for supplementing this unit, which she is also teaching in October. I admit, I have some of the same reservations she does about this unit. I love ULS, but the materials can be quite dry, and this month in particular seems to be very broad and covers quite a lot! How to make it accessible and relevant to my students...Hmm...

I am still creating materials for this unit, as I usually spend the first two weeks doing mostly curriculum activities and then the last part of the month supplementing and reinforcing with my own or other teacher-created materials and activities. I will be sure to post as soon as I finalize my materials to share! In the meantime, here are a few activity ideas I have and will probably do in my classroom throughout the month:

-The Little Red Hen - this story is great for talking about where our food comes from - which is my very literal students' best connection to the food chain. We have done many activities relating to this story in the past, which have included sequencing the story, making bread, writing/sequencing steps to make bread, and it can go into social/character lessons of being helpful, the importance of contributing to something you consume, too. My favorite version of this story is by Jerry Pinkney - it's gorgeous! I also love to use The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) and do some compare/contrast activities with the two.

-Apples! Great for fall (though the Michigan apple crop was decimated by the weather this year), apples are awesome demonstrations of, again, where our food comes from. We will do a lot of apple activities. Look for a Tasty Tuesday post soon on making our own applesauce from scratch (because applesauce does not always come from a jar at Meijer!). I love using apples for food source demonstrations, because it's so easy to cut them open and find the seeds...We talk about planting seeds, and what seeds need to grow into plants - trees - buds - flowers - apples...And when we cook with apples, we always remember to put our peelings and cores out in the woods just beyond our classroom window for the squirrels and the deer (very plentiful around our area) to eat - another connection to a more complete food chain!

-Farm Visit - We already have a visit to a local orchard/farm scheduled for the end of October. Like I said, the apple crop was basically destroyed this year, so we will probably focus more on the farm part of the visit, which connects to our animal food chain part of our unit. We will learn about what the animals eat and how they grow, what foods come from the animals, how the animals help the farm (yes - we will talk about manure - why not?!), etc.

...And if anyone has other wonderful ideas or resources for a (very basic) unit on the food chain and related topics, let me know! I will be sure to post my own created materials once they're ready :)

More about the Unique Learning System is here!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

ArtPrize Day

Our city has an annual three-week-long art competition that draws artists from all over the world and basically turns the central part of our downtown into a huge art gallery. Ever since its first year, three years ago, I have taken my students downtown to see ArtPrize. This is a highly anticipated outing every year. Today was our ArtPrize day!
Many of the outdoor pieces are large sculptures, like this metal fish, complete with a water feature (that encouraged people to throw coins in to make a wish - the artist is donating the proceeds from the change to Multiple Sclerosis research - my kids loved throwing change in this one, of course.)

Another of my students' favorites was this big red dragon, made out of recycled materials.

Music is art, too! This was a huge working "music box" and was a performance piece, too - the artist had made xylophones that the kids had fun playing along with the music box.

"The Firebird"

A highlight every year for my students is walking across the "Blue Bridge," a pedestrian bridge over the river. I don't know why they get so geeked about the Blue Bridge, but they do! We have to take a group picture there every year. This fish was hanging from the overhead beams of the bridge.

Each year, there is something pretty cool in the river (first year it was the Loch Ness Monster, which now lives at our zoo) - we were excited to go down on the riverwalk to see these horses, made from tree branches, up close!

There is definitely a lot of more "typical" fine art in the competition, but my students are certainly more drawn to the large, visually stimulating pieces! Public can vote - mostly via text message - for the top pieces and the eventual cash prize winner, so I always register my phone so my students can "vote up" (in ArtPrize lingo) their favorite pieces and they are a part of the whole phenomenon!

Of course, going downtown is a real treat in and of itself for my students. Because of their disabilities, most of them really never get downtown except to go to the hospital. They are amazed by hot dog vendors, tall buildings, taxis, the guy digging for something (bait? crawfish?) in the shallows of the river, and some even scream in delight as we push wheelchairs quickly across crosswalks with crazy-short 'walk' lights! Definitely my favorite outing of the year, too.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Math Centers (+ a freebie)

After an abnormally hot summer, I am definitely enjoying the cooler weather, so fall is a welcome change this year! So, I put out a couple new math centers for counting today, with a fall theme.

First, an activity center we completed today:
I picked up these orange, green, brown and red foam leaf stickers at the Dollar Tree over the weekend.
The kids took turn spinning the spinner for each color of leaf to determine how many (1, 2 or 3) of each color they could add to their tree...
...and added (or counted all, depending on ability) to find the total number of leaves.

And an ongoing fall center/independent work activity:
I picked up these great fall pasta shapes at World Market over the weekend...
...and made and laminated these fall-themed counting mats.

I uploaded the counting mats for free on my TPT store. Included are recording sheets with ten frames for students to show understanding...I laminated the ten frame pages (not pictured) so my kids will use dry erase markers to fill them in. Click the image to get the freebie:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tasty Tuesday 2

On last week's Tasty Tuesday, Allison from Miss Allison's Class asked me about allergies, picky eaters and cleanliness in our cooking lessons. I thought I'd share my answers here in case others are wondering:

-Allergies: I don't have any students with food allergies, per se, though I do have one student who should not eat bananas or rice, for other health reasons, so we do not cook with those. I have a staff member who is allergic to nuts, so we don't cook with those (or we make two versions, one with nuts and one without, since she can handle them, just not consume). I have two students who are tube fed and do not eat by mouth, but they both can have small tastes ("pleasure feeding") on their lips/tongues, so they experience the food we prepare that way.

-Picky eaters: I do have picky eaters! Oh my goodness, do I! I tell my students I was also a very picky eater as a kid, and my mom always required I take a "no thank you" bite, so we have implemented this policy in my classroom. (Mom is so proud.) As long as they attempt a taste of something new, I'm happy. Another tactic is to pair the unknown or new food with something familiar and desirable. For example, last week with the salsa (I have many kids who hate anything veggie!) I also had tortilla chips. If the kids wanted chips, they had to try salsa with them. Imagine that - everyone tried the salsa, and some (though not all) even went back for seconds!

-Cleanliness: Definitely an issue. Kids put their hands everywhere and in everything (use your imagination). Basically, we wash hands before each cooking lesson, of course. Then, a bottle of hand sanitizer lives on the table with us, and each kid has to sanitize before each of their turns during the course of the activity. If there are any major issues that can't be controlled by staff intervention, hand sanitizing etc. (one of my students has a behavior of spitting, for example) that student is not allowed a turn until he can get the unsanitary behavior under control. I've had weekly cooking in my class for 9 years now and no one has gotten sick yet ;)

Today we made pancakes! All the kids loved these (no vegetables involved!) and there were quite a few jealous looks and comments when we brought our pancakes into the cafeteria at lunch time. (We cook right before lunch on Tuesdays, so we can supplement the school lunch instead of having a separate snack time.) Yum! Here's the visual recipe (the recipe courtesy of my coworker - we doubled it from what is written here) on Scribd if you'd like to grab it:

The adorable chevron frame is once again by Teaching in a Small Town.

**I would love to edit these recipes with a visual ingredient list. I spent a long time tonight searching for clip art of measurement stuffs such as measuring cups and spoons, etc. Exhausted (I think) all of my bookmarked resources...Does anyone have something I'm missing? Any of the wonderful clip artists out there willing to make something for kitchen measurements? I'd love just the most basic measurements, like 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup measures, as well as the same of teaspoons and tablespoons. I'm certainly willing to pay, as I'd use the heck out of these! Do let me know if you have or can come up with something for me!

Monday, September 17, 2012

THE pencil sharpener

I'm sure by now you all have heard about THE pencil sharpener...if you haven't, let me introduce you!
This is the gorgeous pencil sharpener from Classroom Friendly Supplies! On Friday, I came home to a package in my mailbox from Troy of Classroom Friendly Supplies. I knew this was coming...I couldn't wait to get my hands on this beauty!

(I was secretly hoping he'd send me the green one! Isn't it great?!)

Since it was the weekend, and I have like one lone pencil at my house and it's the mechanical type...I actually went out to buy a box of pencils, purely so I could try it out before Monday! When something like this is talked up so much in blog-land, you want to try it out right away!

There are video tutorials on YouTube on how to use this sharpener, but I purposefully didn't look them up before trying it out the first time. It was super-simple. Pinch and pull the holder mechanism, insert the pencil, and turn. Voila! It comes with a clamp but I found it was just as easy to hold the top of the sharpener with my other hand to keep it steady.

Check that out! That's a brand-new pencil after about 5 seconds (maybe less) of turning. This baby really is as quiet as you've heard - in fact, it was so quiet, I was thinking it would take ages to sharpen! Not so much. You get a great point in seconds, and it also "feels" and sounds different when the sharpening is finished, so you're sure when it's done.

Of course, I brought it to school today - I wanted to wait to review it until my students had tried it out. (I ended up forgetting my camera today so I didn't get photos of the kids using it.) Here are our findings:
-My students love that it is so quiet! I have several students with sensory issues and sensitivities, so this is key. Most do not like to use the noisy electric sharpeners.
-It's easy! It does not take a lot of "oomph" to turn the crank effectively, like a lot of other manual sharpeners do.
-Because it is manual, and does not require an outlet, it is more portable and therefore more accessible to my students in wheelchairs, etc. Sharpening a pencil on a wheelchair tray? Why not?!
-Even my students with fine motor impairments could operate the sharpener, albeit some with assistance.

Bottom line: we love it!

In checking the website, it seems they are all sold out at this time! Bummer! Definitely do bookmark the site, though - I'm sure they will have more available later on.

Disclaimer: I received this product for free for the purpose of reviewing it, and did not receive any other compensation for this review. This review is my own honest opinion of the product.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Welcome to My Classroom!

Two weeks into the school year, my classroom is still a work in progress, but it's getting there! Still looking a little bare since we don't have the walls full of student work, etc.

I used PicMonkey to make these collages:
Clockwise: room from the doorway (large tables are "desks for our students in wheelchairs - and there is NOT that much empty floor space like that photo makes it look!), our student sign in station just inside the door, student group rotation board and hooks for bags and supplies, small group work table (for math groups and I also use this as my teacher table for our whole-group curriculum - "ULS" - lessons). The ever-present huge roll of laminating waiting to be cut out on the small group table!

Clockwise: our clip chart and ticket system display, our circle time/morning meeting board in one of our side rooms, part of our classroom job rotation and birthday display, and our vocabulary board and other supplies for circle time/morning meeting in the side room (yes, most of our Zoo Phonics alphabet has fallen down and the whole thing is going to be replaced with my American Sign Language alphabet, which is some of the laminating on the small group table ;)).

Other classroom pics I've posted previously are here:
-our reading group work area + word wall

Also 2 weeks into the school year, I have the first cold of the year. This one wasn't messing around - the sore throat and headache started yesterday...on the drive home. I hope all of you are managing to stay healthy still!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations, Cindy!! I have sent you an email :)

I've also emailed all you generous contributors with Cindy's contact info so she can receive her winnings.

Thanks so much to all of you who entered and donated! I appreciate all of you!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tasty Tuesday!

Life skills, self-care skills, or what we officially call ADLs (Adult Daily Living skills) make up an important part of our instruction. For my students, ADLs can and do include dressing oneself, using the bathroom, washing and grooming, cleaning, using transportation, using utensils and feeding oneself, etc...As my students get older, ADLs naturally include food preparation skills, as well. Learning to prepare simple snacks and meals is an important step in gaining independence - even if (like most of my students) they always will need some assistance.

Once a week, we do a cooking or food prep lesson. In addition to ADLs, of course, food prep addresses such skills as following directions, organization, time, measurement, etc. Something new I'm going to try this year is to take photos of each step of each food we prepare together and put them all together in a visual recipe booklet - for us to use in the classroom, to share with families, etc. Simple, numbered steps paired with a real photo are definitely going to help my kiddos be more independent if they want to re-make a recipe we cover in class.

I figured, why not offer our photo recipes to all of you lovely people? Since we usually do our cooking lesson on Tuesdays, I now present...Tasty Tuesday! I hope to post our visual recipe each Tuesday, and I hope it will be of use to some of you who are teaching similar ADLs or who just want some new recipes to try (no, we do nothing gourmet, so don't expect that!).

Today we made salsa! What a fun thing to make during fresh produce season! Last week, we were also reading Chicks and Salsa during our morning circle, so it was a fun connection.
Chicks and Salsa contains a salsa recipe, but this one isn't it. It's just something that sounded good...and it did turn out deliciously! Even some of my *cough* less adventurous eaters tried it at lunch today!

I've uploaded the visual/photo recipe to Scribd, so feel free to snag it if you'd like:

(The adorable Chevron frame for the title page of the recipe is from Teaching in a Small Town.)

This was definitely an "assembly" type of recipe, since I certainly don't let my kiddos chop vegetables with sharp that's why it starts with the veggies already chopped. Classroom staff prepped and then our students followed directions to put together the salsa. This was also such a great sensory experience for my kids - all but one had never smelled cilantro before. We smelled each ingredient before adding it! The vivid colors are a visual bonus, too :)

Also, there are still about 2 hours left to enter my 200 Followers Giveaway. I will announce the winner tomorrow!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sensory Letters

It's kind of crazy how quickly into the new school year the Sunday Night Slump comes, isn't it? Now, don't get me wrong - I had a fantastic first week back with my kiddos. I am just tired! I know they are, too. I dearly hope all of them are in bed by now (but I quite honestly believe a good half of them aren't yet, and it's 11pm).

Last week was spent heavily on reviewing old procedures and learning new ones. We are going to be ready to hit school work strong this week! My high reading/language arts group are going to be starting their study of Henry and Mudge tomorrow, so I can't wait to see how that goes! My lower group (there is a pretty big difference in the cognitive/academic levels of the two groups) will be doing this activity during language arts time:
That's a foam alphabet puzzle from the Dollar Tree...plastic shoebox from (you guessed it) the Dollar Tree...and dried beans (not from the Dollar Tree, because they're cheaper at my grocery store!). Basically, the kids take turns searching for one of the letters in the bean bin and put it back in its correct place in the puzzle. If they have verbal language, they will be required to say the name of the letter, and we will also talk about the letter sounds...I have a recording sheet for this activity, too, but I think it's on my computer at school. I'll try to upload it as a freebie for you all tomorrow.

I think I came up with this idea from Pinterest. I think the Pinterest idea used rice. Rice, when my kids are allowed to touch it, scares me. It's like glitter - you can never get rid of it! (I think this fear stems from when we used to eat lunch in our classroom...rice day was always the worst. Oh, the messes!) So, beans it is. It's a sensory activity as well as an alphabet activity! Bonus!

And don't forget to enter my 200 followers giveaway! 2 more days to enter!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First day name activity/class book

Here's a little activity we did on the first day of school - it's a Pinterest-inspired activity, of course. Here is the original pin:
The kids get the letters of their name, cut apart, and have to put them in the correct order and then count the letters.

Here is our version (yes, you get to see my page so I don't post kid pics and names on this blog - please excuse my red, shiny face - it has been SO hot and humid in our classroom this week!):
This was an easy, fun activity to ease us back into the first day of school. I took the pages home tonight to laminate and bind. My kids LOVE class-made books, especially ones with their pictures in them, of course. And yes, staff always have to make their own pages for our class books - even though my classroom staff always moan and groan when I whip out the camera and start snapping their photos! If we don't include staff, the kids complain!

For a fun last page, I added all the letters together for our grand total. For the cover, I used Wordle to make a word cloud of all of our names. I think this book is going to be a popular one in our classroom library!

Finally, don't forget about my 200 Followers Giveaway - enter for a chance to win a bunch of fabulous prizes from some amazing fellow teacher-bloggers :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Giveaway Time!!

I hope all my Michigan friends had great first days today! I did! It was great to see my kiddos, the last-minute staffing change did not happen so I have my same fabulous classroom kids even ate lunch in the cafeteria for the first time and they did great! So proud of them!

So, last week I realized that while I wasn't looking, I was suddenly up to 199 followers. Thank you, thank you to all my wonderful followers. I have loved being part of this bloggy community, and I've learned so much from all of you! And now that I'm up to 200 (actually, 201 today), it's time for a giveaway!

You guys, I want to enter this giveaway. Several brilliant teacher-bloggers have so generously donated products and other goodies (thank you!). Check out what one lucky winner will receive:

From me:
My Fry's First 100 Words pack, my Henry and Mudge pack, and a $10 gift certificate to Teachers Pay Teachers

From Valerie @ All Students Can Shine:
Her Smiley Sentences Writing Rubric Pack

From Mandy @ A Special Kind of Class:

Her Farm Math Work Station Activities

From Amy @ The Resource(ful) Room:

A $15 gift certificate to either TPT, Amazon or Target (your choice)

From Ashley @ The Resource Room Teacher:
Her CCSS Teacher Tracker (you pick the grade - she has K through 5)

From Sasha @ The Autism Helper:
Her Who Am I/Where Am I Making Inferences Games and her Behavior Social Story Packet

From Karla @ Life in Special Education:
$20 worth of products from her TPT store

From Rachel @ Ms. Rachel's Room:
Her Food and Nutrition Unit

From Erin @ Creating and Teaching:
Her On the Farm Unit

Wow!! I was serious when I said I'd love to enter this giveaway - heck, let's just be honest, I'd love to win it all. But instead, you all get a crack at it :) Enter using the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 3, 2012

September Currently...and a freebie!

I've been a bit MIA from blogging lately...busy with an extended family crisis on top of getting the classroom ready for the new school year. I hope to be a bit more here once things settle down a bit. I can't believe students come back tomorrow! I also can't believe it's time for another Currently!

My favorite things:
1. My "niece" and "nephews" - I don't have actual nieces and nephews yet, but I'm happy to claim an honorary niece - my cousin's 18-month-old - and two honorary nephews - my best friend's 4- and 2-year-olds. I love being Aunt Kara!
2. 'em. Self-explanatory, yes?
3. Canning is a new love for me! My brother has a huge garden in his backyard and is also a member of a CSA, so he has TONS of produce. This past Friday, he, my sister-in-law and I canned for 6 1/2 hours straight. I can't wait to taste the salsa and marinara sauces we made with such amazing, fresh veggies!

Go link up with this month's Currently - and remember Farley's Rule of 3!

And finally, here's a freebie for you - Bingo games for some of Fry's first sight words. We will be rockin' these games soon in our classroom! Click the image to grab it for free @ my TPT store:

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