Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Catching Up and Balancing: Finished Open House, Started Instagram Project

   Despite all of my best intentions to write a blog post way before now, I just couldn't get my act together. Plus, I've been trying to have a little more balance to my life.  It's hard, especially at this time of the year, to stop myself from compulsively working on school stuff.  Want to know a big secret?  Most of the time, I really enjoy making school stuff.  I'm such a dork!  I don't enjoy correcting though, and would pay handsomely for a correcting fairy to swing by every day.

  I'm working on making sure that I work out at least 4 days a week.  I'm going to work on increasing the number of days when I can.  Yoga is helping me to balance myself a little more.  I enjoyed doing yoga outside yesterday.  

   Leading up to last week, I spent my time preparing for Open House.  It was just a matter of finishing hanging up kids' work.  For the last 2 years, I have purchased paper guitars for the kids to decorate with pictures that are all about them.  Last year, I taped them to the wall and it was a losing battle!  Every day, I'd walk in the room wondering which one I'd find on the ground.  This year, when the kids were working on their guitars, I had a light bulb moment.  Why not hang them from the ceiling?!  Why had I never thought of this before??  So I jumped up on a table to see how far the guitar would come down.  It seemed perfect.  So far, the guitars have been up for a week and a half and none have fallen!  Such a difference from last year.  

   Open House was last week and it went great, even though I was nervous.  I've been teaching for 9 years and I still get butterflies waiting for the parents to come in.  I hate public speaking and, even though I do it everyday, it's not the same.  It's so much easier talking in front of a classroom of kids.  

   Anyways, so now that Open House is past us I'm hoping that life will settle into more of a routine.  

   Last year, I wrote a grant to purchase 2 iPads.  I LOVE my iPads!  This year, my goal was to use them more often in the classroom.  Originally, I had wanted to create a Twitter account for the kids to use, but sadly, Twitter is blocked at my school.  So I had to figure out what else I could use that the kids would enjoy and probably use in their outside of school life. I personally thoroughly enjoy Instagram.  I checked  to make sure that it worked at school... and it did!  Yay!  I was psyched.  My next step was to make sure that my principal was okay with us trying it out.  Obviously, our account would be private.  He told me that he was okay with us trying it out, making sure that I got parent permission.  I presented my idea to parents at Open House.  Parents were so excited about the opportunity to have a daily window into our classroom.  I stressed that the account would be private and that it would be a great chance for kids to practice internet responsibility.  

   The parents have sent in their usernames so that I could approve their following us on Instragram.  We've had a wonderful time posting pictures of our day and creating the hashtags together.  Starting tomorrow, it will be the job of 2 students to take a couple of pictures throughout the day for us to post.  They will create the post, and I'll approve it.  I can't tell you how excited we all are for this endeavor.  

   I even made an Instagram worksheet for an activity in reading class!  I can't wait for them to see it!

   Do you use social media with your class?


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Classroom Idea: Nameplates

I don't know if you are like me or not.. but for years now nameplates on desks have bugged me.

For 9 years, I've either taped them down - which is a pain.  I hate taping them down, because it makes it challenging to truly clean the desks, and the kids peel the nameplate up and the tape isn't sticky anymore... and then you're taping them again.   Who has time for that?  

Last year, I tried to use velcro dots, which I was initially excited about.  It did work great for several months.  It was easier to clean the desks.  You just had to temporarily take the nameplate off and scrub.  Yay!  But then some of my friends started to play with the velcro... some of the dots mysteriously disappeared from the desks, some stopped working..   In the end my hopes were dashed.

So my newest idea came to me in the middle of the night, when I should've been sleeping.  In the middle of the year last year I saw an idea on Pinterest about using binder clips for name tags on mailboxes.  Loved the idea!  It worked so great!

Inspired by my love of binder clips, I decided to try to find ones that were a little bigger to use on my desks to hold the nameplates.  I sent the hubby off to the Dollar Store to score some binder clips.  I couldn't wait to get to school to try it out.  You should've seen my happy dance when they worked!

Added bonus of the binder clip.... built in pencil holder!  As long as you have an eraser cap on the pencil.

Before getting your binder clips, check to see how wide your desks are.  When I was helping a colleague to put the clips on the desks a few popped off at us.  The desks in that room were a little wider in the middle, so we had to move the clips to the edge a little.  It's only been 1 day in use, but I'm in love with my clips!

                                                          How do you put nameplates on desks?

Currently: First Days of School - Jitters and More

I can't believe that it has taken me this long to write a new post.   I always forget how exhausting the first few days of school are.  Partly due to the excitement of beginning a new year, AND to the never-ending to do list that races across my mind.  For some reason I do my most creative thinking late at night when I should be sleeping. This is why I keep a notepad by the bed... Because if I don't write down the idea right then...it's gone forever.  Check out the next post for one of those ideas!  I'm pretty excited about this one!

Anyways... so 3 words to describe the first days of school - exhausting, exhilarating, exciting

Exhausting:  Having the First Day Jitters is tiring... I was up nights before thinking about how this year would be...nervous about everything!  It's crazy that I still get the jitters even after teaching for 9 years.  Seriously... do they ever go away?  Or if they do... is that when I should retire?  This is why I always read the story First Day Jitters.  You have to read it!  It's a great story and the kids love it.  

Anyways, the first day made me realize that I wasn't in "teaching shape."   My feet hurt and I was tired of standing and talking.  Even though I was so tired after the first day it was a great first day of school.  (I slept for over 12 hours on Friday/Saturday.  It felt good.  My mind finally slowed down and I could relax.)

Exhilarating:  I had a fantastic day with my class.  I think that we will have a wonderful year in fourth grade.  And even though it's hard to say goodbye to summer, it is nice to get back into a routine.  Well, it's kinda nice... I do miss being lazy in the morning and not having to set the alarm clock for 5:30.

 Exciting:  It was great to get back to school and see faces that I had missed over the summer.  It was heartwarming to see my last year kiddos and the 6th graders that visited at the end of the day.  Can't believe how much some of them have grown!  Also, I'm psyched that we have a new colleague on our team.  I think we are all looking forward to a pretty fabulous year together.    

Currently:  This is the first time that I am linking up to Farley's Currently Linky Party.  I'm a little late to the party...
Listening:  Right now I'm listening to the Train station on Pandora, but still hearing hubby's NFL Red Zone.  It is his favorite channel.

Loving:  That I finished correcting all of my assessments yesterday.  I finished them while I watched the CBS special Teach, which I also loved.  Hope I don't offend anyone.. but one of the things that I loved the most was that it showed public schools in a positive way.  I feel like often public schools are the scapegoats in documentaries like this.  We are often portrayed negatively, while charter schools and the like are viewed as our saving grace.  I'm proud to work in a public school!

Thinking:  That it's been too long since I've blogged... I'm going to have to work on that.  I also need to put something new on my TPT store.

Wanting:  To wrap up my work so that I can enjoy the day.  I'm trying to brainstorm some ideas for Open House.  I also want a Starbucks latte... but I don't feel like leaving the house today... guess the Keurig will have to do.

Needing:  To put laundry away.... I'm fortunate enough that my hubby does the laundry on Mondays and Fridays (little like Danny Tanner...) but I still wish that it would magically get put away.  Maybe one day the laundry fairy will visit me.

For Me:  1.  I need to work on balancing life and school.  This is my new school year's resolution.  I'm someone who has a hard time not thinking about school stuff...  So this year I'm trying to work on focusing on other things to balance me out.  We'll see how it goes!

2.  Get myself back in gear... I've been too busy with school that I've been neglecting exercising.  (see #1)  This happens every year, and I resolve every year to make it not an option... but then something has to give and school wins and fitness loses.  BUT this year I am resolving to make it non-negotiable. I will plan it and do it!

3.  I need to try to unplug sometimes..  I adore technology and sometimes it becomes such a time vacuum.  I would love to spend some time reading.  I read so much in the summer, but it always stops with the school year.  I'd love it if I could continue to read during the year.

                                                               What are you doing currently?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Back to School: Setting Up My Classroom

Wow, time has flown by!  I know that many teachers have already gone back to school.  I am still enjoying the little bit left of summer.

I spent several days last week setting up my classroom.  I haven't had a chance to sit down and blog since then.

This summer I finally went through all of my first, second and third grade "stuff"  that had accumulated in the garage.  I crossed my fingers and hoped that I'm set in fourth grade...  Surprisingly, I couldn't find anyone all summer who would come and take my bins full of first and second grade resources.  I gave all of the third grade materials to my student teacher from the previous year.  So, we packed up the in-law's van with all of my stuff for the free table at school.  

I was lucky enough to get the help of my great husband and his parents.  We had a LOT to unload at school.  Over the years, my husband has become an expert in setting up a classroom.  His parents volunteered to stay and help too.  It was wonderful to have so much help in setting up the room.  I was so wrapped up in getting started that I forgot to take pictures before.  So you'll have to use your imagination!

Here are my happy helpers peeling off last year's contact paper.  My guy loves that stuff!  Haha...  He wanted to go home when I told him that we were going to redo all four tables.

I'm sticking with the Rock Star theme this year.  I love the theme and I'm not ready to switch quite yet.

Here's the reveal... There are a few things that I am still working on, but here ya go!

I love hot glue, even though I always burn myself....

Setting up my new front board.  This is where I'll be my learning objectives.

My guy actually set up the door (which we covered in contact paper) and all of the above bulletin boards.  I totally have an addiction to black contact paper!  

**The time to work sign is actually hiding a broken clock that I covered in black contact paper... Yep, see I might have a problem....

Newly covered table!  Love the lime green duct tape.  

Clip chart and job chart and 2 more contact paper covered tables...  To the right of the picture is my desk area.  It's still a work in progress.  

My writing bulletin board, which is titled The Write Stuff.  The NKOTB reference makes me smile.  

New hallway display this year.  I made colorful song lyrics and added stars and music notes.  I have a few gaps to fill in.  I'm going to put some lyrics from The Script's Hall of Fame.  

Book bins with new labels.

Homework assignments board with Homework Club board on bottom.  It's a great new idea that is out there in the teacher blogoverse.  

I'm planning on going in again tomorrow to work on a few things.  I haven't put names on anything yet, because we always get a lot of move-ins to our school.  

When do you start school?  Are you ready?  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

New Teacher Thursday: Parent - Teacher Communication

One of the hardest things that you will have to do as a new teacher is communicating with parents/guardians. There are 2 words that should describe your communication with parents:  frequent and open.  

Obviously, communication with parents is VERY important but it can be hard due to your concerns about the child or finding the time in the busy day.  There are many ways that you can communicate with parents:  phone call, email, or note.

One of the keys to effective communication is building a relationship with parents.  Parents shouldn't only hear from you when there is a problem or concern.  It helps if they hear about positive things that their child has done.  I can't stress the importance of positive communication enough.

With that being said, when problems arise in the classroom it is imperative that you communicate with parents.  Admittedly, this can be hard, as parents might become upset by what you have to say.  The majority of the time I have found that most parents are very receptive to what teachers have to say.  I have heard of phone calls going bad, such as a parent claimed the teacher said something and it wasn't true.  If it is a potentially contentious conversation that you have to conduct over the phone, then make sure you have someone sit in the the room with you and listen.  Make sure that whenever you call a parent that you have any data to back up your concerns.  You also need to have your calendar easily accessible for scheduling a face-to-face meeting.

You should make sure to keep a record of your communication... it's helpful to have.. just in case.  If you are looking for an easy to use form, check out one that I've created.  It's for sale in my TPT store.  

                                Learn how you can make a difficult phone call to a parent when you're a teacher.

There is a very helpful article here about speaking with parents on the phone; it is definitely worth the time to read it.  

Another way to communicate with parents is through email.  I've found that a lot of parents prefer this method of communication.  It's easier for them to get a hold of the teacher.  It's also possible to correspond this way outside of school hours.  Also, it's great because you automatically have a record of your communication.

When emailing parents consider your wording very carefully, because it can be easily misconstrued.  And vice versa!  Don't jump to conclusions based on what you think the tone is.  I've been guilty of that.  It's a good idea to have a colleague read the parent's email or yours.    

It is likely that you will receive several notes each morning.  It's a good idea to have a place for students to put these notes, instead of handing them to you or piling on your desk.  (Chances are these notes will predominately be about changes in dismissal routine.)

There are two main ways that I communicate with parents through notes.

My team uses a system that a colleague had developed and we've fine tuned over time.  We send home a Friday Folder (it's really a binder) with graded assignments, a missing homework chart, and a communication log.  The log allows us to write a note to parents about any concerns and/or give positive concerns.  It also provides an easy place for parents to communicate with the teachers.  It's extremely useful because we know that we are communicating with each parent every week.

I also use something called a Rock Star Note.  If a student reaches the top level on the behavior clipchart, then I send home a note that lets their parent know.  Students LOVE getting these notes.  I copy a stack of these notes so that it is easy for me to fill it out.  

What are some ways that you communicate with parents?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Back from NY with a New TPT Product

I'm baack!  I've been away on vacation and enjoying the time before the craziness starts soon.  I can't believe that school starts on September 2nd!  I'm trying to make the most out of the weeks I have left of relaxation.

Here are some pics from my vacation.  I love visiting NYC... it's my favorite city.  It has such an unbelievable energy.  While we were there we had the chance to stay with family on Long Island.  It was great to spend time with everyone.  

I decided to get back to creating some products today.  I put a new product on TPT.  It's another Reading Street product for 3rd grade that I had from when I taught that grade.  

I'll be back on Thursday with a New Teacher Post!  


Thursday, August 1, 2013

New Teacher Thursday: Technology Tips to Try

If you haven't noticed already... I really like alliteration!  Haha...  Yep, it may border on a problem.  I also am very enthusiastic about using technology in the classroom.  I just wanted to take this chance to share a few websites/apps that I love and use on a daily basis.

A couple of years ago a colleague introduced our staff to a wonderful website/app -- Class Dojo.  This website is useful for tracking student behaviors.  There are many ways that you could use it.  Students enjoy it because they can customize their monster avatars.  Also, parents can log-in to the site if you want that possibility.

Personally, I found that it was easier for me to tie Class Dojo into my existing clipchart.  (You've probably seen those on Pinterest and various blogs.)  I would include a picture of mine, but it's packed away in my classroom.

The chart that I use has 7 levels.  Everyone starts off the day on the one right in the middle.  At points during the day, students will be asked to move their clips up or down.  Students earn 1 point for being in the middle.  If they moved up, then they earn a point for each time they did so... so the highest amount a student could earn would be 4.  If they are moved down, then they lose a point for each time they moved down.  **If a child works back to the middle after being moved down, then they do earn a point for the day.  

At the end of the day, one of the students logs in the points for the day.  I let students choose to use either our interactive whiteboard or the iPad.  The students enjoy being the one to log the points.  So you're probably wondering.. what happens with the points?  Well, at the beginning of the year, as a class, we brainstorm possibilities for what they would like to earn.  We call it the Rock Star Store.  Previously, we've had items such as spelling homework pass, sitting in one of the special chairs, or lunch with the teacher. Students write down on a list what they have spent their points on.  

Every couple of weeks, I use a form on Google Drive to keep track of the points that they have spent and how many they have left.  I can't say enough good things about Class Dojo.  I actually carry the iPad when we are walking down the hall or at an assembly to give and take points using the app.  The very best thing about it is...that's it's FREE!


Classroom Organizer is an easy to use a site that lets you create a classroom library system.  It takes a little bit of time to input all of your books that you have in your library, but in the end, it is worth it.  During the year, when I would get books through Scholastic, students would help me by adding the books to the inventory.  I would recommend using the app to scan in your books.

Once you set up your class list and library, then students can checkout books.  There are several options for how students can checkout books.  Students can use the website on the computer. OR...If you have an iPad, iPod, or Android they can scan the book to check it out.

The website lets you track who has which book, and you can also check out a student's reading history.

I highly recommend this FREE website!


Spelling and Vocabulary City...This website is a time saver!  It allows teachers to create spelling lists for students to practice.  I love it because once you enter in your spelling words, they will be there the next year!

The very best part is that students can take their spelling test on the computer!!  They each put on their headphones and listen to the word, then the word is used in a sentence.  Next, the student types the word in the box.  This site is great because students are practicing their typing skills each week (common core standard).  Also, the site grades the spelling test for you!  I absolutely adore anything that will grade for me!  
This website can either be free or you can pay for some special features.  

Sum Dog is a website where students can practice a variety of math skills (they are in the process of developing a writing site).  Students LOVE this website.  One of the things they enjoy about it is that they can compete against classmates.  A lot of students would play on this site after school.  If your school sets up an account, then students can compete against anyone in the whole school.  Or students can choose to play against any student in the world.  It's a safe and fun website that reinforces math skills.

Again the best part... it's FREE!!


That Quiz is a useful website where students can take quizzes.  I know you probably weren't expecting that!  Students can either take quizzes that you create or they can practice with ones that other teachers have created.  I find it useful for weekly timed fact quizzes.  It keeps a track of the scores for you.

It's another FREE site!

What are some of your favorite sites?