Thursday, March 29, 2012

I wanna soak up the sun...

We colored Easter eggs today, using one of my favorite seasonal tools, our egg spinner. Have you all seen these? They are awesome. You can get them for $6 at Meijer or Target or the like, and it's mess-free egg coloring, perfect for kids with limited motor control (or just for very young kids, too). It really colors them nicely, too, kind of a marbled look/texture. The kids love it!


And now...I am officially on spring break!!!!!! Please excuse all the exclamation points; I'm just very excited. In less than 24 hours, I will be here:
...soaking up the sun, perhaps with a fancypants fermented-type drink in hand, reading one of the many library books I put on my Nook last night...and not thinking at all about our brand-new IEP system that's already broken and losing us data, one of my little friends who gave me a near-black eye today, the unit I should be working on, the scary legislation in Lansing...not at all! Just thinking about the sun and my fancypants drink and my book.

Aaahhhhhhhhhh........

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lunchbox Linky

I am linking up with Tara @ 4th Grade Frolics for her Lunchbox Linky party! She's also having a giveaway for a cute Thirty One lunch tote, so click the adorable button to link up and show what's in your lunch bag!




...And man, I could really stand to win that giveaway, since I don't have a lunch box/bag/anything! Here is what I will be bringing for lunch tomorrow:

Yep, that's a bag from the Dollar Tree! I put everything in a grocery bag to take to school, then usually leave the bag at school since we use plastic bags every day in our classroom for various needs. I'd love to have something cute and reusable! On the menu for tomorrow:
-Greek yogurt for breakfast
-bread, red pepper hummus, and avocado for a sandwich at lunch
-pomegranate green tea mix (and water cup - my one cute thing at lunch!)

If I get hungry for more, I can buy a salad from our school cafeteria. This is a pretty typical lunch for me - I either do sandwiches, or bring dinner leftovers. Since I'm getting ready to leave on spring break and trying to rid the house of food, I haven't been cooking dinner this week, so it's sandwiches all week.

I technically have a 30 minute off-duty lunch, but I never take it. It's just not feasible with my classroom. Instead, I eat in the room with my kids, scarfing down bites in between supervising/preparing meals/feeding/tube feeding kids. Sometimes, if we're lucky, my classroom staff and I get to eat together at the group table in our room, if the kids are doing all right on their own. But someone is always needing help, or needing more of something, so it's a very up and down time. We joke that we feel like waiters during lunch, since most of our students are not physically able to serve themselves. We usually do lunch around 11:15 or so, depending on that day's schedule.

Go ahead and link up - or at least stop by 4th Grade Frolics to see everyone else's lunchy posts!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Let's get political - political (plus a freebie!)

(I apologize if now you've got Olivia Newton-John's song - or that disturbing music video - in your head after that subject line...And if you didn't before, well, now you know just how bad at puns I really am.)

A fair warning: this is a post about current politics. If that's not your cup of tea, just feel free to pass this by. There's an Easter egg freebie at the end, so go ahead and skip to that! I promise I won't do this often - if ever again! Who knows. I much prefer to talk about teaching - but this is important enough I wanted to mention a few things about it.

So, attention Michigan teachers: I'm sure you know there is current legislation in Lansing that is aimed at stripping unionized teachers (and all other unionized workers) of our collective bargaining rights. This is very similar to what happened last year in Wisconsin. Now, I don't think my union is perfect or anything...but I'm sure glad they've been there since I've been employed to negotiate a contract for me and my coworkers...to negotiate salary, health care, working hours, etc...It's scary that collective bargaining is being taken away from workers! I want a say in how I'm treated by my employer...I don't want legislative muckety-mucks in Lansing who know nothing about educating children dictating how I'm compensated and evaluated...how I receive health care...how I can bid or be bid out of a job...whether or not my job will be privatized...my retirement benefits...and so on and so forth.

There is a chance to stop this stripping of collective bargaining rights. If the current Protect Our Jobs petition gets enough signatures, an amendment to the state constitution protecting bargaining rights will go on the November ballot. This is our best chance, and a pretty good one, I think! At our building union meeting this afternoon, we each got a signature collection form. It can be signed by any registered voter in Michigan, not just union members. If you have not gotten one, or had a chance to sign the petition yourself, ask your school union representative, or contact the MEA directly.

Here is a link to info from the MEA about the petition.

Okay, I promise I'm done with the political talk now. Freebie ahead!

We did this Easter egg addition activity today - and typically, I forgot to take photos in the classroom, so I recreated it on my dining room table tonight. It's a simple/typical Easter egg activity - I had a set of 18 plastic eggs from the Dollar Tree, and I wrote a number (1-6) on each, paired with its corresponding dice dot pattern. I filled each egg with the right number of manipulatives (decorative jewel rocks, again from the Dollar Tree). The kids took turns rolling two dice, finding an egg that had the two numbers on them, and adding to find the sum. All but one of my kids are just at the counting stage of math, so they used the jewel rocks to count. My one kiddo who is doing addition was able to add more typically, but all could participate!
If you're going to do a similar activity and want the recording sheet we used, I uploaded it to Scribd for you to snag:
Egg Addition
Graphics are from KPM Doodles and From the Pond.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

money, and an Easter freebie!

I finally got my money unit materials all spruced up, thanks to amazing coin and dollar clip art from Michelle @ The 3am Teacher! I posted them at TPT, if anyone is interested:


You can click the images to go to each activity bundle.

I also have an Easter-themed patterning freebie for you all...using adorable clip art from KPM Doodles, of course:
ABAB, AABB, AAB and ABC patterns all included. Again, click the image to snag it for free - enjoy!

I'm excited for those of you who have been able to see the Hunger Games movie already...I might have to wait until after spring break to see it, myself. I can't wait!! (Four school days left until spring break for me...but who's counting?!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Are we there yet?

Parent-teacher conferences are over for another year. It's been a long week already, with three late nights at school! I had very few conferences this time, since I've had so many IEP meetings in the past couple weeks and those parents don't come in again for conferences.

In fact, I had no conferences scheduled tonight, so it was purely a work night with my classroom staff in the room. We totally organized our student work cupboard and our office area, too. I forgot to take photos, but I'll have to tomorrow. We also had a cookout! It's been summer weather lately in Michigan (still in the 80s at 8:30pm!), and now I've had my first grilled burgers (bean burgers for me - I'm vegetarian), potato salad, and watermelon of the season!!! In March! We are lucky to have a classroom with a back door to outside, so we set a grill out back and my non-cert's boyfriend grilled for us while we cleaned and organized. Talk about a great deal! I'll chalk that up as a fantastic conference night! ;)

Being so late at school also means we finally got to meet our night custodian. She is new to working at our school, and is absolutely fantastic!!! She goes way above and beyond, even going so far as to doing our classroom laundry for us (and folding it, too!) if we haven't had a chance to do so before we leave for the day - all because (as she says) she wants us to feel good when we walk into the classroom in the morning. She is such a blessing! She even left our kids treat bags on Valentine's Day. We have taken to writing notes back and forth with her, but have never met her, so it was fun to put a face to a name tonight. We invited her to our cookout dinner and had a great time getting to know her a bit.

In money unit news, Michelle at The 3am Teacher has an absolutely wonderful clip art set of US currency out! It came at the perfect time! Gorgeous and - most importantly to my very visual and literal kids - realistic images of coins and bills...It's awesome. Go check it out! I am in the process of sprucing up all the supplementary materials I've made for our unit with her clip art, and I hope to have it uploaded to TPT sometime this weekend. Here's a little preview of one of the word work activities:

...And it's T-minus 9 days until I'm in Mexico for Spring Break...but who's counting?!

Friday, March 16, 2012

show me the money!

As part of our unit on economics, we joined with two other classrooms and put on a bake sale yesterday and today. The kids decorated posters to advertise, helped bake items, ran the cash register...We didn't expect to make much money - really, it's about the experience more than anything - but we were shocked at the final count this afternoon to find we made over $80!! Now we need to figure out what to do with our profit. When we thought we'd only make more like $20, we were thinking along the lines of a pizza party for our classes...now, we will be able to do something a little more. The staff is going to come up with a few ideas and have the kids vote.

But more important than the money we made was the experience...





Yesterday, the sale was happening during part of our physical therapy time, so we quick made some small signs and had kids do real-time advertising while walking in pacers and riding bikes through the halls!












Some of the spread - we went with a St. Patrick's Day theme, of course! Shamrock sugar cookies, rainbow cupcakes, green Rice Krispies treats, Lucky Charms treats, etc...















"Fifty cents, please!"









Fun stuff! In our unit we have also been identifying and sorting coins, figuring out if we have enough money to pay for something, talking about the difference between things we need to buy and things we merely want...We have been watching and singing along to these two videos to help us learn the coins.

Money Money Money by Rhonda Crigger:

Show Me the Money by Jack Hartmann:

This youtube user, HarryKindergarten, has a lot of fun, concept-supporting videos, some with original songs and some with commercial songs. It's a great resource! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You've got to know when to hold 'em...know when to fold 'em...

(I sincerely apologize if you've now got Kenny Rogers in your head!)

We play a group game almost every day in our class - sometimes as a center activity, and others as a whole-group activity to end up our day. Games are, of course, learning disguised as fun...even the most basic of games that cover content my kids already know (ie, colors) are valuable to us. We work on social skills, communication skills, turn taking, appropriate voice volume, listening skills, polite talk, gentle hands (holding onto game pieces/cards appropriately), fine motor (rolling a dice, drawing a card, spinning a spinner)...We even cover a bit of democracy, since I always choose two or three games and the kids vote on which one to play that day.

We play a lot of card games, since they require the least amount of very precise fine motor skills, which my kids do not have (most of my kids cannot, for example, control their movements and/or hand strength well enough to play games like "Ants in my Pants" or others that require delicate pincer grasp or balancing any game pieces on top of others!). And I really can't believe I hadn't thought of this great idea to hold cards...I saw it on Pinterest, of course. It's really helped my kids be able to hold their own cards without assistance, and it also cuts down on confusion - it's now obvious which cards are their playing hand and which they have already won, during games where you can win hands or matches.

I found jumbo chip clips at the Dollar Tree (2 for $1) and they work great! Why did I not think of this years ago?!

Here are some of our favorite games, which all work well for kids who have limited motor (especially fine motor) abilities, as mentioned above, as well as little to no reading/verbal language skills needed:

-Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed Card Game (pictured above - matching by color and emotion, visual discrimination)
-Hisss (matching by color, making choices, counting)
-Silly Animals 4 Up! (matching by number and/or animal)
-Uno Attack! (crazy twist on the classic Uno that my kids love)
-Count Your Chickens (counting, one-to-one correspondence, concept of one less)
-Candyland (who doesn't love this one - or hate it from overuse?!)
-Lucky Ducks (sorting by color and shape - really quick game we use for those 5-10 minutes in between specials, etc.)

Of course we also have versions of "standards" like Go Fish, Memory, etc., as well as games I've made myself or found online. And Bingo. We play a lot of Bingo!

What am I missing?

I get most of our commercial games at garage sales or Goodwill. Often pieces are missing, but they're usually easy enough to duplicate on a good color printer. I print on cardstock and laminate all cards!

**Disclaimer: Neither Amazon nor game companies have paid me to recommend their games ;)

PS - This weather in Michigan right now is AWESOME! We broke a record-high temperature record today - it was 78 while I was driving home from work! It still feels like summer even now, at almost 8pm! Happy Pi Day to me!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Unique Learning System


I promised I'd provide my answers for the Unique Learning System linky party, so here they are:

 -Do you use ULS or N2Y or both? My district pays for Unique Learning System (ULS) for all center-based classrooms, so I use that. They don't pay for News-2-You (N2Y). I think I'd probably like to use N2Y with my students, but I haven't yet. There is a teacher in my building who uses N2Y with her students, but she has to pay for it out of her pocket, and I'm just not in a position to do that right now. If I'm going to spend on a "big ticket" item for my classroom anytime in the near future, it's going to be an iPad! (oh my goodness...want, want, want!)

-What type of classroom do you have? I have a self-contained (center-based) classroom of students who are SXI (severely multiply impaired, for those who do not have the same acronyms as Michigan does - they are all both cognitively and physically or otherwise impaired). They are MOCI (moderately cognitively impaired) and SCI (severely cognitively impaired) level cognitively.

-What level of ULS do you use (elementary, intermediate, middle school, high school, transition)? I use the intermediate level. My students are mostly middle school aged now, but when I started using the curriculum (with the same group of students) they were intermediate age. I think I could change my subscription level, but the intermediate level still works and is appropriate for my students so I haven't bothered to check into that.

-How often/how extensively do you use the curriculum? I am required by my principal to do at least one activity or lesson from ULS per day. As my students need a lot of repetition, we repeat a lot of the activities throughout the month (which is assumed by ULS) and do more than one per day, usually, with some always being repeats or extensions. As far as the month goes, I always do all the stories and articles and their corresponding comprehension questions. We always do the Bingo game, the cooking lesson and the art/craft activity. Most months, we do the science experiment and the "survey and chart" activity. Other activities - the leveled math and literacy activities, etc. - get put into individual students' work boxes or used during centers, depending on what kids need to be working on which skills. I don't use everything, certainly, but definitely enough to make it worthwhile.

-How long have you been using the curriculum? I've been using it for 3+ years now (on my fourth year...I think! maybe I'm only in my third year...yikes. I'm becoming forgetful in my old age). The first year, two other teachers in my building and I piloted the curriculum, and then the next year, the district adopted it for all center-based special ed.

-What do you like most about the curriculum? I really love that it gives me a framework for instruction that goes beyond the standard seasons/holidays. Before using ULS, I had no curriculum to follow (other than the AUEN, but that's merely skills and skill sets, and certainly drives IEP goals but not how to teach them or anything resembling themes or units). So, I followed the seasons and the holidays...and felt really stuck in a rut. Especially since I have my kids for several years at a time! I would stress myself out over finding fun and new activities for, say, winter...that my kids hadn't done the year before. So, I love the variety!

I also really like that it's aligned with the EGLCEs (goodness, I'm getting that acronym wrong, aren't I? no? yes? I always just say it ee-glickies...) and works on content and form that's similar to our state assessment, the MI-Access. My kids have improved on their MI-Access scores since starting ULS, and I believe that has a lot to do with their exposure to similar activities and ways to present items as are on the test. And no, I'm not all about "teaching to The Test," (don't get me started...just DON'T GET ME STARTED...on how I feel about NCLB...) but when your school has been a failing school for a few years in a row, and you have to squeeze in more and more professional development hours or start to lose funding and/or your job...The Test becomes pretty important. So there's that, too!

-What do you like least? Honestly? I think most of the stories (lessons 1 and 3) are stupid. Very, very dry. I know, I don't expect great literature from curriculum-based stories, but I could quite honestly usually write something better. But...on the other hand, see what I said above about The Test. They're not all bad, for the purpose they serve. And I can (and do!) certainly supplement.

I'm also not a fan of the fact you're only given access to two months at a time (the current month and the next). It would help in planning if you could have the entire year - or even half of it - at a time. I mean, I'm not obsessively planning my year four months in advance. But sometimes it gets irritating. Like for example, when they have the unit on voting in, say, September...I'd love to be able to save that for November so it's a bit more topical. But if I save voting for November...what do I do in September...yeah. I don't really get their timing rationale sometimes. But that's a rather minor issue, most of the time.


So, if you use ULS or N2Y now, or have in the past, or might in the future...link up here!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Unique Learning System/News-2-You LINKY PARTY!

Before I started teacher-blogging, I knew no other special education teachers who use the Unique Learning System curriculum, other than those in my school/district. Now, I've discovered a few other bloggers who use the curriculum, and I thought it'd be a good idea to have a linky party for those of us who use ULS or News-2-You in our classrooms. Let's get a network going - because it's always helpful (and fun!) to see how other teachers use the curriculum!

So, if you use Unique Learning System and/or News-2-You in your classroom, please link up and tell us any or all of the following:

-Do you use ULS or N2Y or both?
-What type of classroom do you have?
-What level of ULS do you use (elementary, intermediate, middle school, high school, transition)?
-How often/how extensively do you use the curriculum?
-How long have you been using the curriculum?
-What do you like most about the curriculum?
-What do you like least?

And of course, feel free to share anything else you'd like about how you use ULS/N2Y in your classroom!

If you don't have a blog, tell us about using ULS in the comments on this post - otherwise, use the linky tool to link up to your own blog post :) I'll add my answers later this weekend.

(This is my first time doing a linky party, so I hope I got the technical bits right!)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book on Disabilities - recommendations

Since I teach kids with severe and multiple impairments, we have tons of different disability-related "stuff" in our classroom. We have wheelchairs and AFOs (braces), arm splints and adaptive toilets, communication devices and tube-feeding supplies, hearing aids and glasses, helmets and weighted vests, adaptive spoons and cups, wedges and bolsters, sensory and behavior aids...the list goes on and on.

We are all very honest and frank about disability in our room, too. "Why does so-and-so get to sit in that chair?" someone might ask. "Because his body doesn't work like other bodies do, and he needs more help sitting up tall," is our answer. Or, "How come I don't have to wear hearing aids like so-and-so does?" comes another question. "Because your ears work just fine, but so-and-so's don't, so he needs help hearing. Just like you wear AFOs to help you walk!" One of my higher-functioning kids has some severe behavior issues (self-abuse and violence towards others), and if we have a sub or visitor in our room I ask him to explain to the new person about his disability. "I wear arm splints so I don't bite my fingers, and I'll try hard not to scratch you with my fingernails or hit you but sometimes I can't help it," he'll say. "And sometimes I spit at you. Cover my eyes when I'm eating and drinking so I don't spit. That helps me relax." We don't mess around with disability...we own it and it's just a fact of life with us!

But...until recently, I have never had any books on disability on my kids' level in my classroom. It seems like all of the books about disability written for kids are either for siblings of special needs kids, or are about autism (publishers seem to think the only disability out there is autism!!! Is it just me, or is autism the cool kid of the disability world?!) or were so obviously published in the '70s (as evidenced by the yellowing pictures of "retarded" children wearing Bill Cosby sweaters!). I know other teachers - both special ed and general ed - teach units on diversity/disability, so I want to share this great book series I found recently!



This nonfiction/information-text series is called "Understanding Differences," published by Capstone Press. I have the three books pictured above - you can also find them and the other two books in the series on Amazon. I also want to get the "Some Kids Wear Leg Braces" one. I love these books for the simple, straightforward language - they are meant for/appropriate for pre-k to 2nd graders - and the real photographs of a variety of kids with the disability at hand. The "Some Kids Use Wheelchairs" book shows manual and motorized chairs, kids who look like they have a simple motor impairment and those who obviously are more severely impaired. The books (very simply) introduce types of equipment kids may use, different therapists who may work with the kids, and reasons why a child might have a certain disability.

I read some criticism of these books that they don't show the kids interacting with non-disabled peers...but that's completely not the point of the books! The point is introducing the disability and what's involved in it, and not to promote or even speak in any way for or against inclusion. If you're looking for really simple intros to some disabilities, these are great books to have.

And my kids LOVE these books! Finally, books that show pictures of kids like THEM!!!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Currently, The Good Doctor, and Awards!

It's been a while...my computer died on me last week, like won't-turn-on-died (ack!), so I am using my "back up" laptop - which I replaced several years ago in the first place since it was so slow and couldn't be fixed! Thank goodness for a flash drive I had all my school stuff on...And I hope this post goes through. I also hope the Geek Squad at Best Buy can fix my other computer...fingers crossed! Here's some major catching up:

First, March's Currently at Oh Boy Fourth Grade - I love these linky parties! Pay special attention to this month's rules for the last space :)
(Hilarious...it's true. My students laugh at me all day long! I can't even almost drop something on the floor or stumble over one word in a crazy tongue-twister Dr. Seuss book without someone cracking up! It keeps me honest, I guess!)

Next, speaking of Dr. Seuss...we spent all of last week reading the good doctor's books and doing fun activities to celebrate his day. Here are just a couple of the things we accomplished:


ABAB patterning with Cat in the Hat hats. We talked about the pattern on the Cat's hat (red-white-red-white-red-white). The kids had to choose their own colors and make a similar pattern. We do patterning every morning on our calendar, but this was still a tough project for my kids, since they are very visual and major copiers. They all wanted to do red-white-red white...and were aghast that I didn't provide them white paper to complete their patterns! Eventually they owned the project and no one created the same pattern :)





We also did The Teacher's Cauldron's "Roll a Lorax" activity, which turned out so great! I traced the Lorax onto several different colors of paper, so with each roll the kiddos not only picked up the correct body part, but also chose the color they wanted...we have some darn cute Loraxes on our hallway wall now!

And last, but certainly not least...I received some absolutely wonderful blog awards! Karlie at We Are All Special and Karla at Life in Special Education gave me the One Lovely Blog Award
...and Miss S. at Just Teaching Kindergarten gave me the Top 10 Blog Award
 I am so very honored - thank you so much to Karlie, Karla and Miss S! Please, everyone, go check out their blogs!

In return, I am giving both awards to these wonderful blogs I follow (and you should check these out, too):

Rachel @ Ms. Rachel's Room
Stephanie @ Teaching in Room 6
Erin @ Creating and Teaching
Miss Foote @ Chickadee Jubilee
Amy @ The Resource(ful) Room
Amanda @ A Special Kind of Class
Heather @ Heather's Heart

I know I didn't check if you have received these awards already - I would have checked, and split the awards up for that matter - had my computer been working at all this week - so I'm sure there are some repeats...but you all deserve it!
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