Monday, June 18, 2012

It's Center Time

I have heard a lot of different feelings about "center time" and what that means in the classroom.  Some people will argue there should not be centers, and others feel confident that it should be a part of everyday in the classroom.  I have adapted my ideas of centers and have found them to be extremely useful when done appropriately.  At the beginning of the year, each student is assigned to one of the five centers in my classroom each day of the week. 

For Example, Student A's Schedule:
Monday: Book Shopping and Word Work Center
Tuesday: Science/Social Studies Center
Wednesday: Math Center
Thursday: Writing Center
Friday: Computer Center Time

Each child has a similar schedule and 3-4 students have the same schedule in the classroom. This way, no center is too busy.  The great thing about centers in my room is that students are able to go to their center when finished with their work during designated time during the day.  This provides each of my students motivation to complete their work. They are able to go to their center when finished with morning work, math or social studies/science work.  They do not get the opportunity during reading because they are Independently Reading, which every child is responsible to do.  At each center there are activities they can complete, which are changed every few weeks throughout the year.  For example, on Monday Student A finishes his/her morning work and gets to Book Shop for five new books for the week.  He/she may choose 3 on-level books and 2 "desert" books which might be above or below level.  Once book shopping is completed, this student can choose to read quietly or go to the Word Work Center and complete an activity such as a Synonym/Antonym Find.  On Tuesday Student A can visit the table with Science and Social Studies activities, which match the units we complete in daily lessons.  They may be playing a map game or sorting rocks into different characteristics.  On Wednesday, this student would work individually or with a partner to play math games on the red rug, enhancing the math lessons we are focusing on like money, flash cards, or clock practice.  On Thursday students have several options at the Writing Center to complete different activities with language, letter writing, or choose a specialty paper and gel pen to complete a final draft of a previously written story.  On Friday this student has the opportunity to complete an activity on the computer in previously chosen programs such as Destination Reading/Math, Reading Counts Quizzes, Voki Classroom, Starfall, or type a story in Microsoft Word.  Once I ring a bell, students know they have to clean up whichever activity they are doing and go to the next activity.  It works very well, as I can modify the amount of time spent at centers.  If a child would rather read a book independently at their seat rather than go to their center, that is always an option.  I believe my students motivation to complete work has increased drastically as I implemented Center Time in my classroom.

                                      Social Studies/Science Center Table

Writing Center with Activities

Word Work Center in Reading Area

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Grant Writing and Student Rubrics

This week I have been working diligently on a Teach for Excellence Grant offered by the Pinellas Education Foundation in my district.  As I go through the process, I find myself very dependent on the rubric they provided to help me write the best proposal I can.  As I sit and look at the rubric for tidbits of inspiration, I think to my classroom and my students use of rubrics.  This year, I created rubrics for most writing assignments the students did.  They really appreciated the rubrics, and would look for them as we started new projects.  As my students were coming up to the end of the year Writing Common Assessment, I explained to them how they would not have a rubric to use, but felt confident that they knew the strategies to include.  I was proven correct as all of my general ed students passed the assessment and produced high-quality writing.  But I also sit here and wonder, why shouldn't students have a rubric as they complete their story?  I am so dependent on my grant rubric and feel that I can produce a lot higher quality piece of writing with this support, and I am sure that my students feel the same way.  And the second question I wonder is, why can students only have 45 minutes to complete their best piece of writing?  That is too much pressure.  As I am completing my "grown-up" writing, I need frequent breaks, a lot of time, and a relaxed environment.  Since I cannot offer my students the true gift of time, or a rubric with expectations, at least I know that I can provide a calm environment with peaceful and inspiring music to help motivate them during assessments.  I also can spend the whole year teaching them to "think like writers," help them gain their personal voice, and confidence to know that their writing matters and is important to share with the world!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Choosing a Classroom Theme

My first three years of teaching were theme free.  I was just beginning my teaching career, and wanted to focus on the curriculum and my instruction.  After I got a good grasp of teaching, I started thinking about my classroom environment.  I knew I wanted to have a classroom theme.  Something that distinguished my room from other classrooms.  The summer I was moving from 1st to 2nd grade, I started searching for the perfect classroom theme.  A lot of this research was done online, visiting education boards, like a wonderful website full of ideas for teachers.  There is actually a board for bulletin boards and themes on this website.  So many teachers offer great ideas, and you can ask questions and teachers from around the country and world will help you.  One teachers website that I spent A LOT of time visiting was Beth Newingham.  She is a 3rd grade teacher in Michigan, and is truly inspirational.  You can visit her website at: it is full of ideas for any elementary teacher! 

As I started thinking about themes, I really wanted to have an educationally based theme.  Even though ideas such as racing, Hollywood, frogs, or ladybugs are really cute, I don't think they have a lot of educational value.  I began by thinking about the units we teach in the classroom, and things that I have a true passion for.  After a lot of thought, I decided since travel is my true passion, I wanted to find a way to have a Social Studies theme that involved maps and the world.  I continued searching for ideas and eventually found ways to include license plate name tags, continents as table groups, and street names for the different areas of the classroom.  I have also expanded my classroom jobs to include "airline jobs" since I chose my tag line for my classroom.  LAK Airways: Where Learning Takes Flight!  seemed to be a clear and concise way to share my passion for travel and adventure and my feelings about how wonderful learning can be.  I call my students "Globetrotters."  Instead of a Star Student, we have a First Class Globetrotter in our classroom.  Above all, students are interacting with maps and learning about the world around them daily through this interactive theme.  As a word of advice, I suggest you find a theme you really enjoy and can keep for a long time.  It can be a challenge, can cost some money (although, if you go to tag sales, flea markets, and dollar stores you can be very creative and not spend a lot of money!), and involves some extra work.  I have had LAK Airways for four years with no plans of changing it.  If you find something you love, that is academically based, where students can feel safe and secure and free to explore their learning, it can be a place where students achieve great success!  While I do not believe you have to have a theme to be a great teacher (as there are many great teachers who do not), I think it can be a fun way to enhance your classroom environment!  Here are a few examples that specifically show how I have incorporated my theme into my classroom.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The End of Another Year

As I sit here in my classroom, which is now completely cleaned up and everything is stowed away, I think back to everything I accomplished this year.  I also start looking forward to what I can do next year.  One thing I learned during my National Board Certification, is to constantly reflect on what I did well this year and what can I change and do better.  I am very happy with the progress I made with my students this year.  I sent a group of children to 3rd grade who I feel are ready to attack any task at hand.  What I hope most is that I instilled in my students a love of learning that will continue.  Even though they may struggle at times, they will continue to face each challenge and use the skills needed to succeed.  So now begins my thoughts towards next year.  I will make my lists of the activities that worked well, which I know I want to do again, and the activities which need tweaking or should not be done.  I will spend a lot of time online, searching for great activities to match the curriculum, and find ways to infuse the Common Core into all activities I complete.  I just received in my school year this morning two new books to read over the summer.  Even though they did not come with a note (rather odd if you ask me!) I am assuming they are to prepare me for my upcoming role as 2nd grade mentor teacher to all new teachers in Pinellas County.  My district just asked if I would like to provide Professional Development, work as a mentor teacher, and provide support to all the newbies to 2nd grade.  And considering our district, being the 24th largest in the US, has over 80 elementary schools, I think that this will be a full-time challenge.  So as I read Pathways to the Common Core, Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman; and Opening Minds, Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston, I can only hope to be fully prepared to help these teachers achieve success in their classroom as well. 

As you begin cleaning your classroom and getting it ready for next year, my biggest advice is to STAY ORGANIZED!  Don't just throw things anywhere, thinking you are exhausted from this school year.  Use a little extra time and make sure everything has a place and a purpose.  Also, you don't need to keep everything.  We, as teachers, tend to keep everything thinking we might need it in the future.  My motto is: if you haven't used it in 2 school years, you don't need it!  Keep organizing, and going through all your stuff, and enjoy your summer break!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

TeachHUB Teacher Spotlight

This week I was selected as the Teacher Spotlight at!  It was an exciting week as I was also announced the first place winner in their Battle of the Boards competition.  Thank you to everyone who voted and gave me support.  What a wonderful way to end another year of teaching!

Ms. Suzanne Lak | TeachHUB

Congrats to Suzanne for being the first place winner of the Battle of the Boards Photo Contest! Her "Poet Tree" classroom display took home the most votes, winning her a $250 gift card to

John M. Sexton Elementary School Saint Petersburg, Florida

Who was your favorite teacher? Why?
My favorite teacher in my life is my mom. She is the person that inspired me to be the teacher I am today. Spending time in her classroom, I learned how to be a great teacher.

If you could have any person (living, dead or fictional) as a principal, who would it be?
Walt Disney. He has amazing ideas to make the world a better and happier place. I think he would share positive ideas and be a great principal!

What profession other than your own would you most like to attempt?
I would love to work at a non-profit such as Make-A-Wish Foundation, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or Special Olympics. I enjoy donating my time to these organizations and feel it must be very rewarding to work for them.

Describe your all-time favorite lesson/unit activity
I LOVE teaching writing. I love sharing my passion for writing with my students, and enjoy the days that I can sit for a moment and watch my entire class engrossed in their writing, pencils moving continuously across the page...with groans when the bell rings to signify the end of writing for the day.

What is the greatest misconception about teachers?
Our job is easy. 8:00-3:00 and done. I spend my nights, summers, and weekends devoting time to creating lessons and activities! I go to bed thinking about my classroom and wake up thinking about what more I can do.

What stereotype about teachers is true?
I think there is definitely a "teacher look." I can't pinpoint exactly what it is, but anywhere I go I can see a group of people and say, "They must be teachers!" Most of the time, I am right!

How did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
When I was 4 years old I came home from pre-school and announced that I was going to be a teacher. I never changed my mind. My devotion to teaching showed when I was 11 and wanted to take Red Cross babysitting course to be a certified babysitter. I was too young, so I wrote a persuasive letter explaining why I should be allowed to take the class. They let me in, and I babysat up a storm for the next several years.

Friday, June 8, 2012

School's Out for Summer

Yesterday was the last day of school.  It was a very emotional day.  Yes, I always get excited for summer break.  An opportunity to travel and see more of the world.  This summer I am heading over to Europe (Zurich, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague), and out west to Sedona, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon.  It sure will be an exciting summer full of adventures.  I have a passion for travel and I share that passion with my students in the classroom.  As excited as I am for summer, I really do miss the children.  I love teaching, and I especially love the spring when I get to complete many projects with my students who have gained in independence.  Over the last month of school my students were able to create PowerPoint Presentations, investigate and discover new things in science, write persuasive reviews on a variety of subjects, and spend a lot of time integrating technology into everyday lessons.  But alas, as summer is officially here, I will now spend my time researching ideas for next years class and feel confident that I fully prepared a classroom of 2nd graders to head to 3rd grade!


Saturday, June 2, 2012

In the News Again

From the Pinellas County Schools Newsroom:

Cast your vote to vault Sexton teacher and her students to victory in contest

June 1, 2012

Suzanne Lak’s bulletin board in her second grade classroom at Sexton Elementary School has been chosen as a finalist in a national bulletin board contest sponsored by, an online resource center for educators provided by the K-12 Teachers Alliance.
Lak’s “Poetree” display contains original poems created by her students.
The board was chosen “based on overall look, creativity and the educational value of the classroom/bulletin board display,” according to the TeachHUB website. The winner of the Battle of the Boards will receive a $250 cash prize and will be determined by votes by visitors to the site. Voting ends at noon Monday, June 4.
Click to cast your vote in support of Lak, her students and Sexton Elementary!

Tagged as: competitions, elementary schools, poetry

Friday, June 1, 2012

PowerPoint Presentations

Today was a big day in LAK Airways!  We celebrated our completed PowerPoint presentations on habitats in the morning, and the children had Water Day with the PE coaches in the afternoon.  For the last two weeks my students have been working in groups of two or three to create a ten slide Habitat presentation.  I have already taught my 2nd grades how to use Microsoft Word with success, so guiding them through Microsoft PowerPoint was a logical succession.  It is amazing how much the students will pick up, with little instruction!  I did a few whole class lessons to teach the basics of PowerPoint.  They also had a rubric with expectations, along with a detailed description of what to include on each slide (example: animals in habitat with pictures and words or where to find this habitat with map).  This project was an integration of technology, reading, writing, and science.  The students loved this time of day.  They couldn't wait to research facts in books, work on the computer and write facts.  During this time, I was available to help all groups with what they needed.  Sure they had questions, but they also were able to figure out lots of things on their own.  Today, as a culminating activity, we presented our PowerPoints to our class, and welcomed another 2nd grade class to join us.  The students shared their presentation, a Voki animal, a poem they created, and their persuasive review of what people can do to help their habitat.  I am including one great example.
View more presentations from Suzie Lak