Open Office + Two Real Life Tech Tips

So either you read this title and you went, "Big der, I know all about Open Office, next blog please," or perhaps you were thinking, "She has an office at school?"
Anyway, as part of our poetry unit, we made a class poetry anthology.  Each student typed their poem using Open Office.  I had done it before with fourth grade, wasn't sure about doing it with third grade, but those kiddos proved once again how awesome they are.

Open Office is basically free Word.  We have it downloaded onto the laptops on our WOW cart.  Why not use Google Docs?  I actually heard some of you asking that in my head.  Two reasons:

1.  You have to log on.  Which means setting up a different account for the class to use or figuring out the log ons for the every students to use their district account.  That's not happening.  Plus, they are not always log on savvy.  And someone locks themselves out of the account because they mistype their password 72 times.  And I don't have access to their account.  And it requires a tech person.  You see the downward spiral here?

2.  This is the main reason.  Google really really really wants you to use Chrome.  Which means some of their stuff is not really working that well outside of Chrome.  I do not need to deal with this and a room full of third graders.

So why not use something easy and free and no log on required?

Here's how it went down:

Day 1: Quick Class Review of Open Office and Play Day
This is where Tech Tip #1 enters.  Anytime you're going to use a new program where kids are expected to make a product, you should have a play day.  Trying to create a product and figure out a new program at the same time is stressful for grown ups, so I have to assume the same holds true for kids.

And now it is time for Tech Tip #2.  YOU CANNOT ASK ME ANYTHING UNTIL YOU HAVE TRIED ASKING EVERYONE AT YOUR TABLE FOR HELP FIRST.  Yes, I'm yelling.  Those kids will suck the life out of you when using technology.  I'm not sure why this is true.  It's new, they're nervous, they're excited, but you will make yourself insane running all over the room trying to help everyone at the same time.  Then you'll end up vowing never to use technology again because "Those kids can't handle it."  Actually they really really really can handle it.  They just need to try handling it together.  You should be the last resort.

Day 2: Tech Tip #2 still applies.  Type poem and illustrate using pencil.  Because it will be copied.  Because the copier doesn't copy crayon well. Because if I copy marker, the color won't look nice.  You will explain this 67 times.

Day 3: We're still applying Tech Tip #2 here.  Type and illustrate another poem.  You will only need to explain the pencil illustrating thing 19 times today.

After an extended time (which involves me copying and binding 42 of these and wondering why I do this every year), we have a poetry performance.  And it's wonderful, and the kids love it.  They amaze me every year with what they can write.

Test Anxiety

My poor kiddos were full of anxiety today.  Tomorrow starts day 1 of THE BIG TEST.  They're ready for it, I'm ready for it, so what to do with a room full of nerves?

Spend time focusing on the fact that they DO know what to do.

I had them buddy read and complete a practice passage.  (I think they would have killed me if I made them do one more "for real.")  While answering the questions, they had to discuss the strategies they used.

After completing the passage, they worked on this at their desks:

It was a good way to spend a chunk of our day.  It distracted my little balls of nerves and helped them focus on the test taking strategies that {unfortunately} my little 8 and 9 year olds have to be so savvy about.

Here are some wise words to live by during this high stakes testing time:
                                                                         Source: via Damaris on Pinterest

Hope all my Texas friends have an event free STAAR day tomorrow!

Writing Poetry

I've always taught poetry.  We read it, analyzed the rhyme scheme, meter, all that good stuff.

But I never taught it through writing.  Oh, we wrote acrostics or cinquains, that kind of stuff.  But just cut loose and write?  No way.  Every good elementary teacher knows without the right guidance, kids write poems like this:

I have a wish
For a new fish
It will go splish
On a dish.

Am I right?  I knew kids could do more, I just didn't know how to provide that right kind of guidance.  So, we didn't write poetry.  For a lot of years.

But, then!  Then, I found the winning combo.

Love That Dog teaches kids that they can like poetry that is not written by Shel Silverstein.  There is a sequel called Hate That Cat.  Picture this: Boys and girls fighting over copies of the sequel, discussing it with each other on their own, bringing it to me to point out elements of poetry or to tell me that they actually understood a poem.  Seriously.

Now that they like it, Regie Routman steps in and shows you how to teach kids to write poetry.  (Do not despair younger grade teachers, their are books for K, 1, and 2.)  It works.  I was FULL of doubt.  But I started the unit with the attitude of, "I don't really have any other good resources, so . . . . "  And then they wrote poetry.  Then, the next year, I started the unit full of doubt.   And then they wrote.  And then, the next year-well, you get the idea.

How about a reluctant boy writer saying, "Hey, when are we going to write that poetry stuff today?"  Basically, the book has really kids poems, you have the kids notice, then try.  I group the poems by theme-likes/dislikes, home, friends and family, feelings, etc. so that it gives them a topic to hold onto.

The first day of writing is a little sketchy, but after that, Wow!  The first day, I ask them for 5 minutes of try.  That's all.  They're willing to try for five minutes.  I bump it up a minute everyday until we're at 10 minutes.

Here are some of their poems:

I make a really fancy poetry journal for each student.  I fold four sheets of white paper in half and staple it.  Then, we decorate the cover.  Crazy stuff.  I make one for myself and write while they write and share it with them.
Not because I'm an awesome poet, just to show them you don't have to be awesome, just honest.  They share at their tables and then have the option to turn their journal in to me to read.  I just write a super quick note, but they love it.

This is also a huge support for our STAAR reading.  If there is one poetry passage on our test, poetry makes up 20% of their score.  You can teach poetry all you want, but it's much easier to understand poetry when you're looking at it through a writer's eyes.

We'll make a class poetry anthology next week.  Everyone will contribute two poems to it.  Then I make a copy for everyone.  It's a lot of paper (and effort), but the kids love it.  It takes them to a whole new world, so I think it's worth it!

Monday Made It

I love getting crafty.  It's just, there aren't 30 hours in a day, so my craftiness suffers.  I did squeeze in some fun projects this month (like sprucing up the look of this blog.  LOVE!)

First up, my Monday Made It for school.  A Make Up Poster.  In my March Five on the Fifth post, I shared the strategy Tammy at Forever in First has her kiddos use to resolve issues.  I thought we needed a nice poster for our make up spot.  Here you go.  Feel free to download.  It's an 11x17.  I'm a big fan of having these printed at Office Max on card stock for only $1.50.

On to the home Monday Made Its.
I'm a straight line sewer.  I can sew anything as long as it only needs to be sewn in a straight line.
I'm also a Pottery Barn fan.
I'm also a money fan.
Those last two don't go very well together, but I have found a way around it.  I love Pottery Barn pillows, but the price?  Not so much.

Their napkins aren't too expensive, and they're just the right size to make 18 inch pillow covers.  I make envelope covers for two reasons:
1.  You can reuse the pillow over and over.
2.  It's easier.

Napkin, meet pillow.
Images from Pottery Barn.
Here's how it goes:
3 napkins per pillow (mine were on clearance!)

Cut two of them down to 14 inches (don't worry about finishing that side, you'll just hide it)

Layer right sides together and pin.

Sew those straight lines.

Turn inside out.

Boom! Pillow cover.

I've also used plain fabric on the back because it's cheaper.  This is usually decided by whether or not the pattern I want is on clearance.  However, you have to cut it and finish one side.  More work, less money.  Some days it's worth it, some days it isn't.

I also had two projects I've been wanting to try out collide.  I've read about stuffing placemats (Thrifty Decor Chick.  Love her.)  I've read about using Citra Solv for fabric transfers.  And then I saw a cute placemat at Pottery Barn.  For $2.59.  The checkout lady and I both did a double take on that one.

Found a super fab graphic over at The Graphics Fairy.
Reversed it and printed it on my printer (it's got to be a laser jet, people, or it doesn't work).

I got my supplies all set up.

Citra Solved it using one of my girl's paintbrushes.  

Burnished it (that's a fancy craft word for rubbed on it with the back of a spoon) for about 2-3 minutes, removed my paper, and . . . .

Then I turned the placemat into a pillow.  I opened it up some.  Stuffed the heck out of it.  One whole bag of stuffing.  Who would believe?

Stitched that corner back up.  Nobody will notice.  Look how nice they look together.

See that nice lampshade in the background with no lamp?  There was a terrible, tragic glass lamp accident when my new couches were delivered.  I wish I could say it was the delivery guys' fault. Note to self: Before moving a couch, make sure the cord to your giant glass lamp is not wrapped around the leg.  Never a dull moment.

Now, go hit up your Pottery Barn's table linens department, and start jazzing up your couch!

I also read this totally freaky article on the chemicals in microwave popcorn bags.  I'm not a super hyperventilating we're all going to die kind of person, but this article did make me never want to eat microwave popcorn again.  I don't eat it often, but my kids do.

I had seen pins on Pinterest before about DIY microwave popcorn and decided to give it a try.  I'm super embarrassed about how easy and cheap it was. Dump kernals into a bag, fold, microwave for about 90 seconds, you've got a snack.  Even ignoring the cancer causing chemicals, I'd still think it was worth it to do this.  Observe:

Whew!  That's a whole lot of craftiness packed into one post.  Can't wait for summer!!!  Head on over to 4th Grade Frolics to see what everyone else has done.

Five on the Fifth

It's time for Five on the Fifth-my favorite time of the month.  I had a tough time choosing just five this month.  I should have made this Ten on the Tenth instead.  Y'all rocked this month.

If you're new around here, these posts show off the heart of teaching blogs-the sharing of really great ideas.  Five on the Fifth even has its very own Pinterest board.  You can follow it here.

So obsessed with this first idea.  Sabra over at Teaching with a Touch of Twang shared a ridiculous (in its amount and fabulousness) list of Monday Made Its.  Sitting in there is a little vocabulary pot of gold. She calls it Tricabulary.  I call it genius.  You call it what you want, but you need to go read about it.

Context clues.  Sigh.  We did a STAAR test prep passage the other day.  One of my kiddos (after missing a context clue question) said, "But I didn't know what that word meant."  I know, buddy.  Belinda at I Love 2 Teach shared a fun way to teach context clues.  This will actually work because the words are made up.  No already knowing what they mean!  Fun book + context clues + art project = winning.

I'm deep in the heart of biographies now (more on that this weekend.)  I loved this post from Amy at Eclectic Educating called Disney Lied to Us.  Using Disney movies to teach biographies?  Instant engagement.

Christi at Mrs. Fultz's Corner had an advice linky.  Which I did not join.  Because what she wrote was so awesome, I couldn't come up with any advice for teachers that would be better than that.  Dang it.

And last, but certainly not least, I leave you with a post that reminds us of why we do this crazy, overwhelming, sometimes thankless job.  It's not for the fame and glory, that's for sure.  Stacy of Funky Fresh Firsties shared a straight to the heart reminder of why we got into this business in the first place.

Well, that's it for this month!  Can't wait to start collecting more of your great ideas!