Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Classroom Q&A...With Jennifer from Elementary School Garden!

Jennifer lives in Auburn, New York with her husband, Jeff. They are expecting their first child (a baby girl!) in mid November. She teaches 4th grade at an intermediate school and shares her classroom ideas and educational freebies on her blog Elementary School Garden. Last Thursday, Jennifer and I met up at Friendly's to chat and answer some questions for the Classroom Q&A Interview Series.

Q: You have a pretty long commute - 55 minutes. How do you pass the time as you drive? 

A: Now that I don't live so close to my Mom anymore, I usually call her on the way home and talk for half the drive. And by the time I get home, I've relaxed if it's been a stressful day, and I've had that time to transition so when I get home I have my home life. I try not to do too much school work at home. 

Q:  I noticed that you have an aquarium in your classroom. What do you do with the fish over the summer?

A: I used to take them home, but this year it was just going to be too much so the custodians said they'd feed the fish for me over the week. I go into my classroom once a week anyway, or once every other week, so when I'm in, I just change the fish water and put a new filter in. The kids love the aquarium. It's an easy thing to keep in the classroom and yet there's enough they can do with feeding the fish or changing the water.

Q: How many fish do you have in there? And what kind?

A: Right now we have 4, but usually we have 7 or 8 tropical fish. If I redid it though, I'd probably get goldfish just because there's been times throughout the year where they'll turn the electric off over the week or something and don't tell us, and my tank will turn off and there's fish floating when I get back.

Q: Do you think you'd ever have a different class pet?

A: Probably not for awhile. If I did, I'd probably go more for a turtle or frog or something.We had gerbils for awhile when I first started teaching. We had three of them and they were pretty good, but the problem with gerbils is they're so squirmish and if the kids let them go, they run really fast. So we'd spend time trying to catch the gerbils or find the gerbils. So...when they were gone we didn't replace them.

Q: Maintaining a balance between school, blogging, and home life is something you've talked about on your blog. How do you think parenthood will change that balance? Are there some things you already know might have to become less of a priority for now?

A: I'm sure it's going to be a big difference at first because everybody tells me that the first week home with the baby is a huge transition, and it takes a little while to adjust to it. So initially I think I'm going to have to let go of my schoolwork a little bit, and as I get closer to my due date I plan on scheduling some blog posts ahead of time so that I don't necessarily have to go on and blog for a couple weeks until I can figure everything out. I'm also trying to prioritize.  I'm doing a lot of fluffy stuff in the classroom that necessarily I don't have to do, so some of that I might have to cut out.  As far as the "extras" we do in our classroom, one of the projects we've done is I got some video cameras and green screens from Donor's Choose and did a huge project with that. I used to take all that video footage home and turn it into movies for the kids, and it would take hours to cut and paste and add transitions and titles and all that. I might have to tweak how I do that.

Q: What are your top selling items on Teachers Pay Teachers?

A: I have Math Problem Solving Posters I made last summer and those are selling the best. And then I have an Endangered Animals Research Packet that they can print out and the kids fill in the different pages to made their research book. Most recently I made an Interactive Notebook Pack for the new Common Core Standards for 4th Grade Math that follow the modules they're putting out. 

Q: What unit or topic do you enjoy teaching the most? 
A:  My favorite unit is Erie Canal. The kids get to go on a nice boat ride for a field trip and then we do this program called The Living Timeline where we have actors from Young Audiences come into our school and meet with the kids for like 6-8 weeks and teach them different acting strategies. The kids write their own scripts and perform. Then they get in the gymnasium in a horseshoe shape, and we have pretend boats that parents load into, and they stop at each station and the kids act out a different part of history - all the way from trying to plan out the Erie Canal until tourism today. It's really neat to watch.

Q: You've mentioned that you like classic cars. What's your dream car?

A: When we were little, my dad had a red '69 Fastback Mustang so I have memories of that, and every time I go to a car show and see an older Mustang, that's usually what I wish to have.

Q: Where are your go-to places to shop for back-to-school supplies?

A: I absolutely love Target! Especially their little $1 section in the front when you walk in. I like The Dollar Tree and Wal-mart just because usually they have the cheapest prices consistently. As far as ordering online, my favorite store is Lakeshore Learning. I get a lot of stuff through Donors Choose from them because I like a lot of their educational software.

Q: How many times have you done Donors Choose? 

A: A lot! Probably like 50 or more.

Q: Wow! So do you have any tips for getting your project funded?

A: I try to keep my projects as close to $100 as possible because you have to do at least a hundred and once the project goes under a hundred it usually gets funded. Almost immediately. People must search more for projects they can finish because they get the pictures and the thank you cards. If it's something bigger (we got Kindles donated to our classroom last year) they have a page on Donors Choose to see what funding New York State has, and there's certain companies and organizations that will fund a lot of your project. If they have one for Math or Science, then I try to gear my proposal more towards that so they'll pick it up. Sometimes they're funded in a couple weeks and sometimes it takes 5 months.

Q: What's your favorite holiday to celebrate with your class?

A: On Halloween our school does a big Mystery Day and the PTA puts it on for the most part. They do a really nice job - they have a Mystery Room and Mystery Boxes and science experiments that are mysterious and they play mystery games.

Q: You completed the process for National Board Certification. What was that like for you?

A: It was very time consuming, but it was a lot of fun. I like professional development and the nice thing is you do it all at your own pace with nobody really holding you accountable for it. You can work on it whenever you want. You don't have to attend any classes for it. There's 4 portfolio sections and 2 of them you have to video tape yourself teaching for about 15 minutes. That was the one part that made me really nervous, and I put it off for like a year! I don't like watching myself teach - it's embarrassing!

Q: Would you recommend it?
A: I definitely think it was worth it. The one thing I was scared about in the beginning was the price of it - $2,500 - but there's an Albert Shanker Grant that pays for $2,000 of it. A lot of districts will also compensate you for doing it. My district gives $2,500 a year extra, and you have the certificate for 10 years. So at the end of ten years that could have bought you a new car!

Q: Do you keep a Bucket List? Are there crazy things you want to do?

A: No Bucket List. But...I've never been on a plane. So that's definitely on the to-do list. And my husband and I both like to go rock climbing or on ropes courses or zip lining, so I wouldn't mind flying somewhere tropical and going on a zip line course through the rain forest or above a waterfall or something.

Want to know more? 
Check out Jennifer's blog...
...or follow her on Facebook or TpT.  

1 comment:

  1. It was fun reading your interviews (both blogs). I also live in CNY.


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