Monday, June 17, 2013

How to help you pick your classroom THEME

I've had lots of friends and colleagues ask me multiple times: "How did you ever settle on a theme?"  Isn't it hard to just pick just one?  Isn't it a lot of work to make your own? The answer is YES and YES!  But is it worth it?  ABSOLUTELY.

The truth is, I love to go to local teacher stores and browse through the different themed decorations they put on display (owls, turtles, monsters, monkeys, etc.)  But, there is something really cool about having something true to your own personality in your classroom.  Your theme (if you so choose to incorporate one) should really choose YOU.  I decided on the PIXAR companies more so because their core values and movie topics always seem to mesh really well with what I feel is most important to push in my character and peer development values in my class.

It also really is more fun to make decorations than to buy them.  I love Carson-Dellosa, Learning Resources, and Creative Teaching Press as much as any educator...but the amount of money they pluck out of teachers' hands right before the start of every school year is almost sickening.  I think after purchasing all of the poster board and using coloring resources from my room, I will spend no more than 10-15 dollars on all my decorations for the entire theme I chose for this year.  Later, I'll have a tutorial on just how I do get those characters into poster size and hung up.

The main point of this post today, though, is to help you narrow down your buzzing mind on what kind of theme would be a "just right fit" for your classroom setting.  Here's some things to keep in mind:

- What kinds of movies, books, or TV shows do your students find most interesting?  Of those topics, which could be friendly to BOTH genders?
- How much wiggle room does your district provide you with in decorating?  (for example, can you come up with your own PBIS theme or are you required to do a school wide program?)
- It's fun to be original and try something new...have you ever heard of your theme being done before?
- What kind of central messages does your theme set heavy on?  (Ex: friendship, academic success, perseverance, family, etc)
- Do YOU enjoy the theme?  Your kids will know if you aren't into it.  Anything you find incredible and innovating, they will too.  You set the example.

So, after some heavy thought and consideration, I decided on my theme this year to be "Up." I'll share with you some of the reasons why I narrowed it down to the story of an elderly man with no heartwarming intentions at first, and a clumsy overweight boy scout who changes your whole perception of bravery.

+ Carl & Ellie embody the entire definition of loyalty and dedication.  Throughout the first 15 minutes of the movie, we see these characters evolve from unlikely childhood friends to two people who devoted their lives to making each other happy and accepted.  A child like Ellie should have never tried make a quiet, introverted kid like Carl feel he belonged, but she stopped and saw something in him that brought out all his best qualities.  Even after Ellie had passed, Carl still carried on the promise they had made to one another to travel to South America on their ultimate adventure.

 + Very similar to our free-spirited friend Ellie,  Russell saw something in the elderly and bitter version of Carl that no other character tried to find the depth in.   After they embarked on their adventure to Paradise Falls,  Russell had every reason to want to turn back and return home.  He pushed Carl to let him stay, partly because I think he knew Carl needed him.  He could have immediately written this man off as ornery, non affectionate, and hateful...but Russell chose to have a little faith in the situation.  This is something I love to push on my students with one another.  To trust each other to try to find the good in everyone, and have a little bit of faith that everyone has their own quirks that make them loveable. 

+ After we meet Dug's character (who is 80% of the reason I adore this movie so much) we are introduced to a type of personality we don't often see as much as we'd like.  Regardless of the fact that Dug is a dog, he shows quite a long list of character traits that I found invaluable.  Dug is bullied by his peers and separated from them just by the sheer fact that his temperament is considered "different."  We hardly notice that Dug is affected by any of this because he stays optimistic and positive. He marches to the beat of his own drum could care less how he is viewed.  Later in the movie when Dug's loyalty to his master (Charles Muntz) is tested, it would have been a much EASIER decision for him to fight alongside all the other dogs and help capture Carl and Russell.  He instead shows bravery and loyalty by helping his friends and not backing down even when he was outnumbered.  

+ Lastly, I just love how visually stunning this entire movie is.  From the views PIXAR captures at Paradise Falls, to the scenes of the house floating across the sky with the thousands of balloons, I was mesmerized for the entire film.  I thought this would flow over well into a bright and colorful scene for my classroom.  

More to come later on HOW to incorporate your own homemade theme into your classroom, for almost no cost!  :)

On the "Up" and Outs!

Here's a sneak preview of what's to come for Ms. Hall's class 2013-2014.  Let me know your thoughts/suggestions.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A targeted outlet for my summertime restlessness

I've decided to do it.  My thoughts and ideas towards teaching are spoken to my teammates, teacher friends and family on a regular daily basis, but the absence of reaching out to a digital community has nagged at me for quite a while.  

As a teacher, I'm known for my themes.  These themes always somehow point in the direction of one central company that helped mold my childhood and let's face it, most of my life so far.  This company would be of course....Disney.  With the accompanied support of my family morals and ethics, Disney movies always managed to instill some important life lessons every time I had the privilege of watching a new flick.  I would sit mesmerized (however not fully knowing it at the time) at the underlying stories of bravery, knowledge, loyalty, friendship and love.  About the time that Pixar merged, I was hooked on anything that came with a Disney label attached.

My first experience with Toy Story sparked a flame that has long since been burning inside me since '95.  I was hooked on the characters.  I loved the quotes.  I laughed at the humor and wit in the banter.  And my heart was forever roped in by a loveable cowboy named Woody.  Slinky, being a close 2nd favorite.  

By the time that I had gone through the second movie and was sitting in the theater watching the third installment with tears streaming down my face by the end, I knew this particular trio of movies had gotten me.  It appealed to all ages, and yet again I was touched by the amazing story lines and morals that Pixar had incorporated into its characters.


I began my first year of teaching in the Fall of 2011.  I racked my brain all summer for what "theme" my first classroom was going to carry on through the year.  I wanted something that appealed to both genders, and also would have a strong presence of good character and strong knowledge for my students.  I decided to go with a Toy Story theme.  As first I became discouraged after browsing for endless hours online trying to find some examples of how this theme was incorporated in previous classrooms.  What I realized after quite some time was that, it hadn't.  So I started to create my own components to add to my room.  With the help of my mom and girlfriends, we had everything colored, laminated and cut by Open House.  

My room quickly become The Toy Story room.  I had kids coming by just wanting to peek in to see what it looked like. 

 I've done the Toy Story theme for 2 years now, and it is time to move on to something new.  After some careful thought and consideration, I've decided my new theme is going to be:  Up.

But, more to come on that later. ;)  

Use Potato Heads as a PBIS idea for students to add different pieces to their potato head for positive behavior