Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This Year's Journey

In a previous post, I shared with you my excitement about heading back to the classroom this year. And, though I am utterly exhausted during this second week of school, I am also calmly reflective and overwhelmingly renewed, reconfirming for me that I am exactly where I should be at this point in my learning journey, with the children.

It's been fascinating coming back into the classroom not only with my teacher's eyes, but from the perspective of a coach, too. Things have caught my attention that might otherwise quietly pass, because I am intrigued by the small details that make all the difference in the big scheme of things. I feel called to try and document my experiences this year, though I admit that classroom planning and sleep have won out over all else the past two weeks. I'm sure many of you reading this can certainly relate. However, just so you know, I am committed and there is a post in the works on the Rituals, Routines, and Expectations so student learning time throughout the year is maximized. If you are a system's thinker, you'll definitely want to stay tuned. 

Finally, I wanted to invite you to join me at  The blog is the combined effort of my SOLAR (Shall, O'Leary, Lipsky, and Russell) Power team this year as we guide and educate our young learners.   

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Last week, just days before the teachers returned to work, students received a postcard in the mail from Mrs. Phillips announcing their homeroom teacher. Children and their parents eager to meet the new teacher, joined us for an  Orientation on Friday before the new school year begins.

You know what they say, "You only have one time to make a good first impression."  So, teachers take great care in the way they set up their classrooms, dress for success, and display personal touches of love. What parents mostly want to know is if the teacher is nice and if their children will be loved during this 180 day learning journey.  

To prepare, Ashley and I set out Orientation packets and made Batman Cookie Medals for the kids.  We set up a back table for easy sign in, pulled out chairs, and had a established place for them to unpack the their child's school supplies. We made sure each student's desk was already labeled with their name so they would know exactly where to sit when they entered the room on the first day of school. We organized our thoughts on a themed PowerPoint to use after we welcomed parents to highlight some main points.  But, mostly what we did was make them feel welcomed, loved, and excited to return on Monday. We can't wait for the learning adventure to begin. Stay tuned...

Desks are set up and ready for Orientation.

Lovingly made themed cookie medals send the message to children that we care about them.

Sign in table, volunteer sign up, and wish list items on stars make it an easy one stop shop.

Creating a place for school supplies helps relieve stress and congestion, and makes for easier put away when Orientation wraps up. 

Our Third Grade Classroom

The preparations are well underway as an exhausting yet thrilling week of pre-planning comes to an end. Our superhero theme, Empowering the Future, made it easy to decorate for the student WOW factor, and no detail was overlooked as we strived for an organized classroom that would provide purpose and limit student transition time between activities. I feel like we were thoughtful and successful in setting up a learning community that will meet the needs of our students and ourselves. Take a sneak peek inside our classroom before the learning journey begins...

The Hallway of Our Learning Headquarters

Upon rounding the corner, the hallway comes alive with color thanks to the hard work of a parent volunteer who graciously gave up days of her summer to help us WOW our future students. The black clothespins fastened securely to red construction paper await the hanging of student work that soon will adorn this Hall of Fame. 

 We welcome all superheroes on this year's learning adventure!

At the bottom of our yellow promotion cards, filled out on every student at the end of each year, the teacher writes something good about the student. The incoming teacher uses that valuable piece of information to make sure that every student feels loved as they enter their classroom on the first day of school in the new year. This tradition titled, I know something good about you, has been a Chets Creek tradition since our doors opened in 1998. This year my co-teacher, Miss Russell, had the great idea of creating bookmarks to post the Something Good About You sayings so when the board comes down students can track their reading with their new bookmark.

The Math, Science, and Social Studies heroes are ready to go outside the Headquarter of Learning.

Our classroom plaques remind us of our Guiding Vision, Learner Outcomes, and Core Values. 

A sneak peek inside our classroom... You may notice the stars over each table which have been set up purposefully with table groups and numbers that will be used for rituals and routines around gathering materials and working in small groups.

The bare walls are departmentalized with an area designated for math, science, and social studies artifacts. Hot gluing plastic clips makes it easy to put up and remove necessary charts as student learning unfolds.

The cubbies are numbered with a metal shelf in between to make sure that student back packs are organized and are not a distraction to learning.

There is a corner designated for our Math EDC area. Calendar, clocks, two hundreds chart, measuring tools, place value charts, thermometer, counting tape, and math manipulatives are set up and ready to go.


Place Value Chart

Organized and Labeled Math Manipulatives

 Counting Tape--Set up in groups of five and ten will make it easy to record each day of the school year. Cards are waiting for numbers 1-180 and students will look for many patterns along the way.

Our classroom has a gathering area were students can come to the floor and be up close and personal for classroom lessons. To secure the carpets, double sided tape works like a charm.

The board set up with colored masking tape allows for ease in recording the day's events and essential questions. Notice that just below the whiteboard our number line is easily seen and reachable by all students. 

Above the board, we have math strategies posted.

Math and Science Portfolios and items used for Tuesday Folders.

The word wall, though blank, is set up and ready for learning. Velcro dots secured to laminated posterboard and attached to the classroom cabinets leave plenty of space to display words. The words are pre-made on Avery labels that have been attached to index cards and laminated. The front of the card has the word and the back of the card has the definition. After words are embedded in classroom instruciton, they can be easily found placed on the word wall from pencil pouches organized in a three ring binder by unit. The words can be taken down by a student if they need to look up a definition and placed easily back on the chart with the velcro.
Thank you to Melissa for such a great system that keeps on giving! We miss you!

We have five student computer stations in our classroom. In addition, Miss Russell and her former co-teacher, Mrs. Ross, were selected as technology magnets in our district, so we are blessed to have a laptop cart, too. We will certainly put them to good use this year!

Our PTA sponsors Sunshine Math, an additional math homework sheet, used to push student learning to new levels. We are prepared to record and reward students who are going above and beyond the call of duty.

In third grade, students will learn how to multiply and divide. We have two doors in our classroom designated to record student progress. As they master a set, they will get to "sign the door."

Student work bulletin board is ready for some SUPER work!

With part of our science textbook adoption, we received leveled science readers. We removed the books from their boxes, organized them by their science content and put them out in our Research Library.

Each day when students enter our classroom, they will receive two SOLAR dollars. They will log their money in their account books and keep their money in pencil pouches in the pouches on the back of their chairs. Students will have the opportunity to save their money and spend it on our store items when the store opens each week. We have items to buy, but more maybe more popular, items to rent. Offering items like Teacher Assistant, special desk, special chair, and extra computer time are great perks that don't need to be replenished by the teacher. Kids can also rent popular games and have time to play during Store Hours.
(Displayed beside the Store is our birthday wall and this year students will get to wear a birthday cape on their special day. Pictures to follow soon.)

Science can be messy business and time consuming, but with prearranged rituals and routines, it doesn't have to be. These cheap ($2) trays are labeled by table number and already contain student maginifying glasses. In the morning, science items for experiments and labs can be set up, and student handlers can easily transport their trays during classtime.

I hope you enjoyed the "sneak peek." Stay tuned as we begin this year's learning adventure...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Empowering the Future

Learning Leaders will emerge from summer vacation and return to another exciting school year in just four short days. As always, we will be greeted with a new school theme and a 180 teaching days full of new possibilities.  With this school theme, I know the kids will transform from tired eyed and groggy to alert and energized!  The Learning Headquarters are going through a supersized superhero transformation as we speak. Stay tuned...

Chets Creek Elementary – Empowering the Future! from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A New Learning Journey

After much time and consideration during the last year, I've made the decision to return to my roots and head back into the classroom. I couldn't be more excited. Over the past decade, other than a short one year hiatus to another state, I've been dedicated to moving curriculum and instruction forward in our elementary school as the Instructional Coach. And, though I've enjoyed every moment, I'm overjoyed to embark on a new opportunity.

This year's learning journey will have me teaching in a third grade departmentalized co-teach setting. Miss Russell and I will share a classroom and have a group of 36 learners in the morning and a different group of 36 learners in the afternoon. We will teach Math, Science, and Social Studies.

My partners and I, known this year as Solr Power due to our superheroes-Empowering the Future- theme, will have a classroom blog dedicated to communicating with our parents and students. However, most likely, some of my thoughts will end up here, as they won't be relevant to the other blog's purpose. Stay tuned as the new journey begins...