Friday, December 27, 2013

Day 11-15 Fail!

In case you didn't notice, it is well past days 11-15 of the December School Day Photo Challenge.  And, I was doing so well the first two weeks!  Sort of disappointed that I couldn't/didn't follow through with the last week.  I'll give you a day by day rundown of how things went afoul!

My last post was on Friday, December 13th.  It was Day 10 of the challenge.  I usually write my Monday post on the Sunday before, so I will start there.

Sunday, December 15th - Spent the day prepping for the coming week as that night I went out to dinner and then to see The Nutcracker ballet.  Every year around Christmas I try to get to at least one holiday show.  I wish I could say it was a fun night, but the dinner (at a pretty expensive restaurant) was awful and the show wasn't much better.  I would have been better off staying home and writing my post! I was really disappointed because I have always wanted to see The Nutcracker ballet.  I'm not going to let this sour me, though.  Next year, I'm going to get tickets to see it at Lincoln Center.  They have it there every year, and it can't help but be better than what we endured.

Monday, December 16th (Day 11 of the Challenge)- Start of the last week of school before winter recess!  To say the kids were a little nuts this week would be an understatement! Had planned to catch up on my missed post when I got a phone call asking if I would please come over and watch The Santa Clause and The Santa Clause 2 with my little cousins.  How can I say no to that?! Especially when the kid asking doesn't say please but pleathes! Missing teeth make pronunciation hard! :-)  My cousin's kids were totally into ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas programming this year.  So, no post written on Monday.

Tuesday, December 17th (Day 12 of the Challenge) - Nothing fun.  First of two dentist appointments after work and grocery shopping for cookie baking supplies.  After that?  Just totally forgot about blogging!  I had dinner and went to bed.  Womp! Womp!
Wednesday, December 18th (Day 13 of the Challenge) - This year, we had two Christmas shows planned.  As The Nutcracker was a bust, I had high hopes for this night.  We went to Madison Square Garden Theater to see A Christmas Story the Musical.  It was AMAZING!!!

If you are ever in New York and get a chance to see anything at the MSG Theater, go!  The theater is fairly small so there is not a bad seat in the house.  As for the musical, it was great.  It followed the movie pretty closely.  The leg lamp song and dance was really good, and there were lots of laugh out loud moments.  We didn't get home until around 1 AM, and I had school in a few hours so no blog writing that night!  Now, can we just have a moment of silence to admire how well little Ralphie grew up in real life?!! ;-)

Thursday, December 19th (Day 14 of the Challenge)- A very tired school day.  I was much more tired than I thought I would be.  I was so tired I actually had a headache all day. But, somehow I managed to make it to our school's staff holiday party that night.  Yeah, I'm a trooper like that!  Does your school do a holiday party?  We have ours in a local restaurant and have an gift swap that is always a lot of fun.  However, I was exhausted and crawled right into bed when I got home.  No blog post.

Friday, December 20th (Day 15 of the Challenge)- LAST DAY OF SCHOOL BEFORE VACATION!!!  You know what craziness this day brings.  Lots of class parties, gift giving, happy teachers, and giddy children. We had a half day, which was a wonderful thing because I was still crazy tired.  It was like I just couldn't catch up from a few late nights.  After school, I did a little Christmas shopping and then just went home.  Way to tired to even think about blogging.  At this point, I knew it just wasn't going to happen.

Saturday, December 21st - Holiday Shopping and Lunch with Friends!  Fun Day! But, still so tired and a headache that wouldn't go away. No blogging.

Sunday, December 22nd - Cookie Baking!  I had planned to do some more involved cookies on this day and bake all the drop cookies on Monday.  It was so nice to have a weekend off before Christmas. It gave me so much time to get things done.  This was the first year I had ever made some fancy cut-out cookies, so I needed that extra time!
Monday, December 23rd - Woke up knowing I was getting sick. I didn't feel awful but knew something was up.  I had a dentist appointment in the morning and went right to the doctor from there.  Turns out what I thought was just a sinus infection was a sinus infection and strep. By three that afternoon, I was down and out!  I didn't get off the couch until the next day.

Tuesday, December 24th and Wednesday, December 25th - It really stinks to be sick at Christmas.  Especially when you wake up on Christmas morning and find that you have been given the additional gift of pink eye in both eyes!  Like I needed one more illness! 
That would be a chalkboard mug I got from one of my students.  I can tell you I have been drinking a lot of tea from that mug the past few days!  I basically spent a couple of hours with family on the 24th and 25th to open gifts, but was asleep the rest of the time.  They just had to make merry without me this year!  And all those cookies I baked?  Yeah, all thrown out.  I didn't want to take the chance of getting my entire family sick. So instead of those pretty cut out cookies on the left, it was the bakery cookies on the right for all!
Thursday, December 26th - Back to the doctor for the pink eye and much more sleeping!
Friday, December 27th - Today.  This evening is the first time I have felt somewhat human, so here I am blogging!  Blogging and trying to figure out what to do with all these baking supplies I never used!
Hopefully, you can now see why the third week of my December School Day Photo Challenge turned out to be a fail.  BUT, I don't count it as a total fail.  The point of it all was to get me back to blogging, and it did. At least for the first two weeks!  I blogged for ten of the fifteen challenge days.  Not too bad! 
Having said that, I am signing off until after the New Year.  I feel like I've lost so  much of my vacation being sick, I want to take some time to enjoy these remaining days.  I hope your vacation has been a good one.  I will see you in 2014! 
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Day 10 - Tis the Season!

(I just realized that I keep changing up the name of my own photo challenge in all these posts!)

Day 10 - Tis the Season!

Today's post is going to be short for a couple of reasons I will explain at the end.

Tis the season for. . .
Decorating and Germs!
My room has a minor snowman theme this year.  The snow sculpture above I found in Goodwill for a dollar.  You can't tell in the picture, but it is huge!  And, I'm all about snow days which this always reminds me of.  The snowman in my door window is one of those jelly-sticky window clings.  I can't even touch it because the texture of it grosses me out so.  I had to have one of the kids put it up in the window!
Then there are germs.  It is cold and flu season, but our school has seen a lot of stomach bugs this year.  That is the very large bottle of hand sanitizer that is next to my bathroom sign-out sheet.  It has been there since September.  Notice the level of the sanitizer?  It's like new!!!  Those germy critters just won't use it! Ugh! I know they know it is there because they are fascinated by the Lego blocks in it.  Granted, I travel to a lot of different classrooms so it wouldn't get as much use as if I had a homeroom in there.  But, still!!  I have to be more diligent in telling them to use it.  My luck, I will catch some crazy bug the Friday before winter recess! :-)
So, why a short post tonight?  Two reasons:
1.  I have plans and need to get moving!  No time to write a long post tonight, especially since the time I did have was cut short by a comment in another post.  Which leads me to number two.
2.  A teacher-reader posted a comment tonight on a previous post I did about teacher observations.  The teacher was observed under a new evaluation model, and it didn't go as well as it could have.  The teacher explains the situation a bit and asks for some advice.  I spent some time offering my thoughts, but thought I would open it up to you.  Please stop by and read the comment.  It is down toward the end (around comment #44) and you will see my advice below it.  Perhaps you can help a fellow teacher and offer some ideas.  CLICK HERE or on the link above to go to the post.  Thanks!
Gotta go fa la la la la now! Bye!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Day 9 - Sweet Treats

Day 9 - Sweet Treats

Sweet treats are a given this time of year.  Lots of class parties before the winter recess!  I know there are many restrictions in many schools these days regarding food due to allergies.  In my own school, most of what I'm posting below wouldn't be allowed.  All food brought into our school has to be packaged, labeled food so that it can be checked for allergens.  That means no home baked goods.  While I totally understand the reasons for this, it still makes me a little sad.  I enjoy baking and making treats for my students.

So, in keeping with the theme of Sweet Treats, I went on a Pinterest hunt to compile some treat ideas.  Below show some sweet treats that fall in four categories: healthy, sweet, fun packaging and some misc., and what I have done in previous years.  So, not one picture for the school day photo challenge, but a few!  While I browsed Pinterest for these ideas, I did my best to link to the original posts the pictures and info on each come from.  A quick click will take you to some great blogs and sites!

Healthy Snacks

4.  Cheese Stick Snowmen - This wasn't linked to anything, but it seems easy to do.  You could just use colored Sharpies to draw the hat, face, and scarf to make it even easier.
5.  Green Bagels - The link is just a picture source, but when I saw the picture I thought it would be great for the holidays.  I always get green bagels for my friends on St. Patrick's Day. How awesome would these be as Grinch bagels?  With some strawberry cream cheese you have a holiday color match.  I'm sure a bagel shop would be make them if asked.
8. Grinch Poppers - Another one that only linked to a picture, but it looks simple enough.  Green grape, banana slice, strawberry, and I think a mini-marshmallow stacked on a toothpick.
9. Veggie Tray - No link, but a great idea.  There are so many holiday shaped trays you could fill with fruit and veggies and automatically have a festive and healthy snack tray.

Sweet Treats

1. Snowman Candy Bar Wrappers - I liked this one a lot because no special printing is needed.  All you need is some plain white paper and markers.  You can even draw on the scarf and jot a special message to each friend.
2. Snowman Doughnuts - So simple!
4. Green Rice Krispy Treats - No link, but just add some green food coloring to your treats, stack the squares, and sprinkle on some M&M "ornaments!"
5.  Brownie Bites with marshmallow? frosting? and a strawberry Santa hat.
6.  Jolly Rancher Candy Message - Okay, I've linked to the blog the pic is from but I seriously couldn't find the post.  And, I looked!  This is a super simple gift for your friends!
7.  Rice Krispy Christmas Coal! - This totally made me laugh.  I think we all know some who may have earned a little coal!
8.  Reindeer Candy Canes - Yarn, googly eyes, red pom poms, and a couple of candy canes. 
Easy peasy!

Fun Packaging And. . .
1.  "Melted Snowman" Water Bottle Labels - No link given, but fun and easy to do.
2.  Snowman Cups - Again, no link but these are so cute.  You could put drinks ready to go in them or treats to take home.  Looks like the black and pink are magic marker and the nose is a glued on orange, felt triangle.
3.  Reindeer Bags - Another fun way to package treats or a take home surprise.
4.  Classroom Crock Pot Hot Chocolate - This is the "and" in this category!
5. Reindeer Food Popcorn Bags - This link will tell you how to make Christmas colored popcorn and provides a free download for the Reindeer Food label.

Previous Years
If you click  this link, it will take you to a post where I 
detail some treats I made for my students and teachers in the past: 
snowman and snowlady cupcakes, Snowman Soup packets, 
and cinnamon white chocolate pretzels.  

Hopefully, you found a sweet treat you like!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Day 8 - Kids

It's Day 8 of the December Photo A Day Challenge!

Day 8 - Kids
What follows is just my opinion!

Today's topic is kids.  Today's picture is a quote that I wish more teachers would take to heart.  

". . . when in doubt, choose the kids.  there will be plenty of time later to choose work. . . "

I should mention at the start of this post that I don't have any children.  However, most of the teachers I work with do.  Most have more than one child.  And, I see most all of them struggle to find the balance between school and work.  I think we all do, even people like me without children. But, I believe having children makes finding this balance a particularly difficult struggle. 

The field of education is always evolving, however it has undergone some significant changes in the past few years that has resulted in teachers being asked to do more and more in the school day. With the common core and new evaluation models, we are asked to revamp what we teach and how we teach it.  This doesn't just magically happen.  It takes hours and hours of time to revise instruction and create new activities, lesson plans, and materials.  We then are asked to find time to reflect on what we teach, correlate data, and revise instruction again.  I'm not making any statements that this is good or bad.  I am simply saying it is tremendously time consuming.  Time well spent? Usually, yes it is.  But, it is often time teachers are hard pressed to find.

For the most part, prep periods haven't gotten any longer.  Also, we tend to do this thing with the rest of our day called interacting with children and teaching which makes it impossible to do all that revising, planning, and creating.  Oh, and then on that prep period we still need to grade the work the children are doing, return parent emails and phone calls, handle discipline issues, counsel that child you know is bothered by something but not talking, and try to get in all the miscellaneous paperwork required in general.  

How do we try to keep our heads above water as the demands continue to increase?  We take work home.  We take lots of work home. We spend weeknights grading papers and Sundays writing lesson plans.  But here's the thing.  We've always done that.  It's nothing new. Any new teacher coming into the profession learns during their student teaching that it's just part of the job. But, as the demands increase, when do we cry uncle?

Our students are important.  The work we do is important.  How we do it is important and deserves all the attention and effort we can give it.  But, sometimes you just have to take a step back and realize you can only do what you can do.  Teachers have families, too. Their families are important, too.  I see teachers who regularly work through their lunch every day so that they can try to keep up and maybe take one less assignment home that night.  I have seen teachers bleary-eyed because they stayed up until 1:00 in the morning to get grading done as they couldn't start until their own kids finished dance/sports practice, had dinner, took baths, went to bed, and lunches were made for the next day. I see teachers who arrive at school almost two hours early so they can get some work done and others who stay so late the parking lot is pitch black when they leave. 

Still we can't get it all done. And, that I believe is something we teachers need to accept.  We just can't do it all.  Don't get me wrong.  I love teaching.  I love working with my students.  I love creating new projects and lessons that will capture their interest, motivate them to work, and teach them what they need to learn.  And many a nights I have worked on lessons to do just that.  But, many nights I have thought that if I had children this would just have to wait.  I am in awe of the teachers I work with that try to get it all done and raise small children.  But, I also see them frustrated and upset that they must continually struggle to find time to get all the school work done. I have to say my advice to them would be. . . 

". . . when in doubt, choose the kids.  
there will be plenty of time later to choose work. . . "

It would be so much easier if we made those infamous widgets.  We could put it on a shelf and get back to it the next day.  You can't put students on a shelf.  We know that the new day brings new demands, and we have to be prepared.  But, sometimes you just need to choose your family.  I'm certainly not advocating any dereliction of your teaching responsibilities, but we need to realize it just may not be the end of the world to put your family first at times. Leave no child behind applies to your children, too!  And quite honestly, no matter what your profession, sometimes you just need to put your family first.  Hmmm, kind of feeling like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol right now!  God bless us, everyone!  :-)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Day 7 - Stockings

It's Day 7 of the December Photo A Day Challenge!

Day 7 - Stockings

Well, today's post has been totally thwarted.  I am unable to take the picture I had planned because today turned out to be, much to my utter joy, an unexpected snow day!  
The snow here in my area of NJ is just insane right now.  
But if you know me, you know that I love, love, love every snow day we get!!

Since my planned post isn't happening, I'm improvising!  Today's challenge is stockings so I thought it would be fun to come up with a list of some teacher-themed stocking stuffers.  Stocking stuffers are as much fun as actual gifts in my family.  I think they can be harder to buy than actual gifts, but it is always fun to see what's in there.  Some of these might really qualify as gifts rather than stocking stuffers.  So, here is a list of some fun, assorted stocking stuffers/gifts for the teacher in your life or if you are the teacher, ideas for your wish list!  Or, if you are a parent, here are some suggestions!  All pictures are from the linked to sites.

  • Let's begin with that picture above.  It's actually a t-shirt from They have a lot of fun teacher-themed shirts, but I kind of love this one!

  • An Apple for the Teacher!  I've written about my apple cozy before.  It' silly, unnecessary, and totally cute.  I saw these on Etsy and think they are great.  They're from the shop KnoodleKnits and just $6 each.  Apple not included. :-)

    • I would definitely be a lesser teacher if I didn't have my coffee each morning!  However, being a teacher usually means I have a cup of cold coffee on my desk because we all know it is impossible to just sit for even a minute.  I would always joke that every day was an experiment to see how  many times I could reheat my coffee until I actually poisoned myself. :-)  Then, I finally found the perfect thermos!  This is the Thermos Stainless King 16 ounce leak-proof travel tumbler.  It keeps my coffee hot for hours.  Honestly, not just warm but hot well into the afternoon.  It also is totally no drip or spill.  Once it is closed, you could twirl it in the air and not a drop comes out.  That has saved me a few times because I tend to throw it in my school bag where it tumbles about.  I got it on Amazon for $19.99.  Well worth every penny!  I have no idea why it is listed now for $39.99.  Not sure I would have bought it at that price, but I do love mine. It comes in black too, but I got the raspberry color.
    • Lanyards!  These days we all have to wear an ID, so lanyards are a given.  I like these Vera Bradley chain lanyards a lot.  They are breakaways, so if a friend happens to catch it, it will pull apart.  The best part is that they are now on sale for 50% off on the VB site.
    • Every teacher needs a good bag to tote around the million plus papers we need to grade.  I couldn't not post about my Thirty-One Organizing Tote.  I won't go in to detail as I just posted about it in Day 5 of the December School Day Photo Challenge.  

    • Okay, I had to add this one.  I so wish it were a sign, but it's actually a cross-stitch pattern.  The perfect gift for any teacher!  If it were a sign, I would hang this in my classroom in a heartbeat.  I can't begin to tell you  how many times I've had the, "A lot is not one word!" conversation.  If you cross stitch, please buy this pattern from nerdylittlestitcher on Etsy and make it for me!

    • Flash Drives!  If you search for them on Amazon, you will find a million options.  I really like the bracelets.  There are all kinds of fancy ones available.  Amazon has some that look like real jewelry in gold and silver, with rhinestones and engravings.  They have fancy necklaces that are flash drives, too. 

     I opt for the cheap rubber bracelets like those below.  It is easy to throw it on your wrist and go.  I having to dig through my pocketbook to find it.  Also, if I'm on my way to the copy machine, it is one less thing to carry. Plus, they just are un-stylish enough that I remember to take it off before going home!
    • Let's not forget the obvious teacher gifts, gift cards!  My favorites are Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks.  Truthfully, I like any gift card I get! I don't know about you, but I always save mine for the summer. In my district we are only paid ten months of the year, September to June, so no paychecks over the summer.  It makes it nice to have some gift cards to treat yourself with over the summer.

    • Finally, if you're the teacher, here's a little something for your husband! A "Real Men Marry Teachers" t-shirt.  This link will take you to again where they have a number of different variations on this shirt.

    So, that's my improvised "stockings" post.  
    Hope your stocking stuffers are all you want them to be this year!

    Monday, December 9, 2013

    Day 6 - On the Shelf (and Read 180)

    Day 6 - On the Shelf

    This day made me think of Elf on the Shelf.  Are any of you doing it in your classrooms?  One of the teachers I work with has the sneaky, little guy in her classroom.  Every day when I come in the kids challenge me to find the Elf.  They really love it.  I always joke with them that if they don't pay attention in guided reading I am going to touch it!  :-)

    For this post, on the shelf would be all the books for the new reading program I am teaching.  Last week, I began teaching Scholastic's Read 180 program.  My shelves are full of teacher's guides, student books, independent reading books, and audio books!

    The program has four components: a whole group lesson, then three rotations of a small group lesson, interactive computer work, and independent reading.   Due to some scheduling constraints, we've had to modify how we implement the program, but so far I like what I see. The kids seem to really like it as well.  That's always a plus!  When we were first handed the student book, we thought it was the teacher's guide.  It's a full on spiral bound, full color, consumable book.  The kids were hesitant to write in it at first.  They even asked more than once if this was really their book and if I was really sure they could write in it.

    I've only started week two today, so I need to give it more time and dive in a little deeper before I can really comment.  All I know is that right now, I have lots of learning to do!  Just take a look at that bottom picture!  All teacher materials. That shelf doesn't even encompass all the online components nor show the teacher's guide, which weighs 800 pounds.  Okay, not 800 but that thing is huge!

    From our training, I remember also learning that we can generate something like over forty different data reports.  Don't hold me to that number, but I think it was about 40.  Not sure what I will do with 40 different data reports yet!  I've seen a few that seem really helpful, but 40 of them?

    It's all very overwhelming when you are starting out a new program.  
    If any of you out there are doing Read 180, PLEASE feel free to leave any tips, tricks, links, etc. in the comments.  I would love to hear from anyone who is actually working the program!  

    Friday, December 6, 2013

    Day 5 - Favorite Things

    Day 5 - Favorite Things

    One of my favorite school related things is my school bag.  Or, in this case, school bags.  I actually posted about this bag in an odds and ends post I did in March of last year and I still love it.  The black and white bag is from last year, and I got another one for this year in a different pattern.  It's the Thirty One Organizing Utility Tote.  It seems to have gone up a bit in price from last year.  In the post I did about it then, it was $25.  If you click over to the current Thirty One site, it seems the bag is now $30.  Still worth it I say! My post from last year explains why I like this bag so much, and all the reasons are still the same! Definitely one of my favorite things!

    Thursday, December 5, 2013

    Day 4 - Joy

    Day 4 - Joy

    Today's post will be short and sweet as I had evening conference tonight and am soooo tired!

    Joy.  What has brought me some joy recently is completing a Pandora's Box project with two of my classes.  We've been studying Greek myths.  Having read about Pandora's box, my friends created their own version, a box that would release only good things into our world.  They created a Power Point presentation in which they had to justify their choices and explain how they would benefit the world.  We finished this particular project by painting their own actual boxes.

    The joy comes in the art project.  I find that we are so common core driven there is little time allowed for craft projects anymore, particularly in upper elementary.  I see a lot of teacher blogs where awesome class projects are happening.  I even look back at my own blog and see some great projects I've done in the past that I would love to do again.  Unfortunately, is often becomes all about data and standards making it difficult to fit in projects that don't explicitly fit those parameters.

    This Pandora's box project was a joy for my students.  They were so excited to get to the project and kept asking when we could start.  It was a joy to watch them complete the project.  I watched them work cooperatively, offer suggestions and tips to each other, praise and encourage a classmate who thought her project wasn't any good, share materials, and {GASP} have fun! 

    Joy was had by all!

    By the way, if you are wondering about the boxes, I used papier-mache boxes from Oriental Trading Company. They have a more expensive wooden box available, but I found the papier-mache boxes held up just fine under acrylic paint and Mod Podge.

    Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    Day 3 - Family

    Day 3 - Family

    Family for me this week means parent-teacher conferences.  In fact, that's what I am doing today. We have two days for conferences.  Our students have half-days both days.  One day, we have afternoon conferences that begin pretty much as soon as the kids go home.  The next day, we have evening conferences.  I always wish we had a bit more time with conferences, but somehow we always make it work.

    The photo-a-day pic above is the schedule that is hanging on my classroom door. I've blocked out the personal info for obvious reasons.  Since I work with several different teachers, I pretty much hop from room to room to conference with the homeroom teachers.  It makes for a pretty busy day.  I'm constantly watching the clock.  It can be messy sometimes if the homeroom teacher is running behind, but again we somehow always make it work! As I do travel to different classrooms, I put the location of each conference on the schedule.  It lets parents who may have forgotten know where they need to be, and posting the schedule lets any drop in parents know when I will be available in my room.  

    Since I am busy with conferences this week, I am going to refer you back to a previous post I wrote in 2011 called "They're Back."  CLICK HERE  if you would like to read the post.  It pretty much tells how I run conferences, gives some tips on preparing for your conferences, and an idea for how to have a stress free conversation with your parents.

    Happy Conferencing!

    Tuesday, December 3, 2013

    Day 2 - Wrapping Paper

    Day 2 - Wrapping Paper

    Well, this one is kind of obvious.  Wrapping paper makes great bulletin board background paper!  The picture up top shows a bulletin board a fellow teacher made using shiny, blue wrapping paper as her background.  With so many dollar stores around, getting wrapping paper for any occasion doesn't have to cost a lot.  Plus, you can customize it for almost any holiday or season.

    The bottom half of the picture shows wrapping paper used to cover textbooks.  One things for sure, kids won't mix-up whose book it is when the wrapping papers can be so distinct.

    One idea I had for wrapping paper and school comes from the idea of wrapping 25 different Christmas books as a countdown to Christmas.  Your child gets to pick one a night, unwrap it, and have it read as their bedtime story that night.  This would so easily apply to school!  Think of those last couple of weeks of school.  You could wrap ten books that have summer themes in summery wrapping paper.  Put them all in a basket and have a student pick one book to unwrap each day for a read aloud.  You could do this for Halloween, too.  Wrap Halloween themed books and put them in one of those plastic cauldrons you can also usually pick up at the dollar store. The kids could open and read one a day to countdown to Halloween. Actually, it would work for any holiday or event where you want to do a countdown of some sort.  It is a total hook to get them into a book, and who doesn't like to unwrap a gift?!  If you have certain books you want to read on certain days, you could number them rather than having the kids randomly pick.


    The picture above is from the Clean Mama blog.  She has a great site (not an education blog, but more homemaking) where she offers a free download of the numbers shown in the picture above. She also explains how she does a Christmas Advent countdown with books.  As a person who loves things to be organized, I love that she also has lots of tips for organizing pretty much everything!

    So, back to wrapping paper and school. . . here are a couple of other quick ideas for using wrapping paper in school.
    • Line the back of your bookshelves with strips of wrapping paper using some double stick taper for a pop of color.
    • Wrap a few books from your class library that you know are great reads but have uninviting covers.  As much as we say don't judge a book by its cover, you know they do!  Cover a few of the books like the textbooks above are covered. Put them in a basket with a sign that says, "Don't Judge a Book by its Cover!" and encourage your friends to try one.  If you wanted, you could even write the title and a brief description on an index card, and tape it to the cover. This would be a chance to sell the book in a quirky or funny way.
    Okay, that's all I have for wrapping paper!  If you have any ideas, please feel free to share in the comments.

    Monday, December 2, 2013

    Day 1 - Giving

    Day 1 - Giving

    I come from a school full of amazingly generous children and adults!  The photo above shows just four giving programs currently going on in my school.

    The bags full of groceries are some of the Thanksgiving dinner donations brought in by the children and staff.  It's part of the Pick A Feather program run by out PTO.  In our office is a big construction paper turkey with lots and lots of construction paper feathers.  With parent permission, students go down to the office and pick a feather off the turkey.  On the back of each feather is a food item which the students then bring back to school.  Our PTO organizes the food into GIANT care packages that are donated to local families.  It's a great program that really helps out many families, and the kids love going down to pick a feather.  This program coordinates with a meat drive done by our Student Council.  Parents are given a window of time during the school day in which they can drop off donations of turkeys, hams, etc.  It's run like a little drive through in the school parking lot. Parents don't even have to get out of the car!  These are also donated to the families in conjunction with the groceries.

    Some classes recently got together to run a charity event for Alex's Lemonade Stand, an amazing charity that fights childhood cancers.  The classes ran a lemonade stand during our lunch periods for two days and collected over $600!  Parents volunteered to come in and help, but the kids were front and center.  It was a huge success!

    Pop Tabs!  Our school is one of many that collects pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald Houses. The tabs are recycled and the money is given to Ronald McDonald House Charities which distributes the funds to a local Ronald McDonald House.  In addition to helping others, our kids are practicing recycling.

    Every holiday season, our school does a toy drive for a local charity.  The kids enjoy seeing the toys pile up in the front lobby the weeks before the holidays.

    Those are just a few of the school wide giving programs that happen in my school.  I've always felt it is important for students to learn the importance of helping others.  When I was a homeroom teacher, I actually did a few things with my class to try and instill this idea.

    One thing my kids always did that didn't cost a penny is Free Rice. This is a great site for kids in upper elementary through high school.  Free Rice is a web site that quizzes children on the subject you select; English vocabulary, geography, multiplication practice, grammar, and more.  The topics even include an SAT prep question category.  For every question a student answers correctly, ten grains of rice are donated through the World Food Programme to help end world hunger. When you sign up, you can actually track how much rice you have earned but you can also play without signing up.   If you think ten grains of rice isn't a lot, think again!  In fact, this is a great site to use in conjunction with the book One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi.  This is an awesome book!

    Set in India, it tells the tale of a raja that hoards all the rice harvested in his village. Not a problem until one day there is a shortage and the villagers are hungry.  He is reluctant to give the rice to the people, but a young village girl tricks him into giving away a billion grains of rice by simply asking for one grain of rice, then for thirty days the raja agrees to double the amount each day.  Thinking doubling the amount each day will come to nothing, he agrees.  The raja is, as your students will be, astounded to see how quickly doubling adds up!  In the back of the book there is a great chart that shows just how the concept works.  If you would like to preview it, below is a reading of the book. Not the most exciting of readings, but it will let you experience the book.

    And, in the spirit of Day 1 Giving, in the end (Spoiler Alert!) the young girl ends up with all of the raja's rice.  When he asks her what she will do with it, she replies that she will share it with all the hungry people.  She also leaves a basket of rice for the raja.  This is a great book for any teacher's bookshelf.

    What giving things are your school or classes doing?

    Sunday, December 1, 2013

    December School Day Photo Challenge

    So, I didn't blog for the entire month of November! 
    Since I've started this blog, that has never happened! 
    I've never gone that long without blogging. There's LOTS that has been going on, both in school and at home, but much of it I can't really blog about.  In looking back, I'm amazed at how the time got away from me.  I didn't even check my blog email in all that time, and there were some great emails that I want to share with you in a later post.   In order to get back on track with my blog, I've created a
    December School Day Photo Challenge.

    The goal was to come up with some way to make sure I blog this month. Trying to get back in the swing of things!  I wanted something that would make me have to come back and post something, at least a picture, each day.  I saw lots of different December Photo A Day Challenges out there and was going to just grab one.  Then, I realized I needed to be a bit more realistic.  With Christmas coming, I'm probably not going to get to blog on most weekends.  Heck, this time of year it's going to be tough enough to do during the week!  So, with that in mind, I created a challenge that limits itself to just the school days in December.  For me, it's just the first three weeks.  After that, we are on winter recess. Hooray!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Then, I wanted a challenge that had a holiday theme but could in some way relate to school since my blog is mainly education focused.  So, take a look at the challenge below. 

    The goal is to make each holiday idea connect to something school related.  Then, take a picture of it that day and post it with a little explanation of how it connects.  It's just 15 days of blogging.  I should be able to keep up with that, right?  I hope!  If you would like to join in, please feel free to copy the picture and use it on your blog.  Maybe just leave a comment that you are doing it so we can all check in and follow each other.  I would do it as a linky thing, but I have no idea how to do that! 
    And, I know it starts tomorrow, but it's okay if you jump in late. 
    The more the merrier!

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

    The No Excuses List

    By the time my friends reach 4th and 5th grade, there are some things that should be non-issues. There are some things I should not have to spend instructional time on.  Basics.  Thus was born the No Excuses list.

    Each year, after the first couple of weeks of school, I do a quick intro to the No Excuses list. This is a chart of things that, by the time they get to 4th or 5th grade, a student can reasonably be expected to be responsible for doing.  Things like starting sentences with capital letters and putting endmarks on sentences.  It is not unreasonable to expect those things of my students.  However, I find so many of my friends do not have automaticity with them.  They should be no-brainers, but my friends have shown (year after year) to be very lax in doing them.

    To intro the chart, I have the chart done with just the title.  I explain what a No Excuses list is. I tell them that this chart will have on it the things that we know every 4th and 5th grader has been taught in previous grades and can be expected to do when reading or writing.  These are things your teacher this year should not have to teach again because you learned, practiced, and did them in 1st, 2nd, and/or 3rd grade.  I then have the kids brainstorm a list of what they would put on the chart.  THEY KNOW!  They know what they should be doing!  Without fail, every year, they come up with the exact things we need to have on our list.

    I usually start with the top two; capitalizing sentences and using endmarks/end marks. (I always write endmarks as a compound word. I've seen it both ways band have just always written it as a compound word. Spell check does not agree!) We add teach item to the chart and in the bullet, put the date we add them to the chart. On my chart, the 27th and 28th were actually both added on the same day, but I was talking and writing at the same time and wrote the 28th by mistake.  Except for those two items, I usually add items one at a time with at least a week or two between adding an item to the chart. This gives my friends time to work on each without being overwhelmed.

    What makes the chart work is the rule.  Once it is on the chart, from that date forward, it is expected to be done on all work. No Excuses!  If a paper is turned in with any of these errors, the student will get the paper back to fix or redo. Or, if I notice it on the paper before they turn it in I will say that I can't accept that paper and they need to check the No Excuses chart.   I find that it is usually not that kids can't do these things.  It's more that we don't, at some point, draw that line in the sand and say, "Okay, this is now on you!  You have been taught and/or retaught these things year after year and now it is your responsibility to do them without being told. No excuses!"  I know this might sound harsh to some, but I promise you after just a couple of weeks you will see a dramatic drop in students forgetting to do these basic things.  I find the key for me is to stick with the expectations and be consistent in not accepting work that doesn't meet the standard.

    Now, I also know there may be some students you need to make exceptions for.  But, in general, if something makes it on to your No Excuses list, everyone is usually expected to do it.  What you have on your list can be tailored to the grade level, students' abilities, and the expectations you set in your classroom. You know your students best, so you have to create a list that works for you. The list can be added to as the year goes on, but I generally focus on things that have been taught in previous year(s) and are reasonable expectations of my students.

    Is this something you think would work in your classroom?  
    What would be on your No Excuses list? 
    Or, do you handle this issue in another way 
    that might be good to share?

    Saturday, October 19, 2013

    A Techy School-Wide Halloween Costume Idea

    I saw this picture on Pinterest.  
    It's from a post on Popsugar about cheap and easy Halloween costumes.

    It got me thinking this would be a great school-wide teacher costume.  
    What if everyone was a different education app?  
    Teachers at each grade level could be apps most useful for that age group
    Admin, secretaries, and other non-teacher school personnel could be apps for parents 
    such as ones that provide info on common core, homework timers, etc.

    Then, at the end of the day you could send home a list to parents 
    of all the apps with a quick blurb explaining each.

    It really is a quick, cheap, and easy costume idea 
    with the added benefit of encouraging technology and parent communication.

    The boards are also small enough that after Halloween they could be 
    mounted as a big bulletin board in the school.

    Just a thought!  

    Saturday, October 12, 2013

    Carpet Manners - FREEBIE

    I have a nice, big carpet in my meeting area for my friends to sit on.  When I had a full class of 5th graders, we always had to sit close together.  The biggest problem was making room for each other and keeping our hands and feet to ourselves.

    This year, I meet with about eight students on the carpet.  That would be eight students max.  This leaves plenty of room to spread out and create some new problems that I never really had with a full class.  Problems like kids sitting way at the back of the carpet no matter how many times I remind them to move up.  I even had one child rolling around on the carpet during the lesson. Rolling as in tucking his legs and arms and rolling like a Weebles from one end to the other!  This called for some carpet rules STAT! Here's the poster I made that is taped to the bottom of my chart stand.

    Rather than come up with more rules, I went with carpet manners. Manners sends the message that it is all about being polite to others and ready to learn!  I'm sure we all have different behaviors we expect, but for my kids these seemed to be the ones that were most needed.

    1. Sit Pretzel Style - There was a lot of lying down on tummies or on their sides with head propped up in their hand.  I'm okay with this for some carpet work but not when I'm giving direct instruction.  We also sit M&M style sometimes, but I didn't add that to the poster.  This is an example of what we call M&M sitting, even though its just one M:

    I think it is sometimes called a W position, but M&M sounds more fun!  I have some kids that prefer to sit this way.  Honestly, I would have to break some bones to make my legs do this now!  :-) It is totally for young knees only!

    2.  Face the Speaker - This means the teacher or turning to any other person speaking. With my small group, we usually sit in a semi-circle so that helps this work a lot.

    3.  Place Materials in Front - Notebooks, pencils, novels, etc. sit on the carpet in front of you until needed.

    4.  Listen Actively - I had fun modeling what active listening does and does not look like with the kids.  They were completely offended when I turned away from them and started looking around the room or looked down and began playing with my shoes while they were talking to me! Got my point across rather quickly!

    5.  Raise our Hands to Speak - I don't always need this one as with such small groups we often have more natural conversations that don't require hand raising.

    The poster is just a Word document on two pages that I printed, taped together, and laminated.  If you would like a copy of Carpet Manners for your own, you can download it by clicking HERE.

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    Check Marks to "Stop and Check-In"

    Me:  You just read this page.  Can you tell me a little about what you know?
    Student: Ummmmm. . . . (Insert wait time here.)
    Me:  I know you were really interested in reading this book when you chose it.  Who did you read about on this page?
    (Insert more wait time.)
    Student:  A boy? (Yes, answered as a question.)
    Me:  Hmmm, can you tell me a bit about the boy? What was he doing?
    Student: Ummmmm. . . . 
    (Insert lots more wait time here to be followed by 
    major prompting that led to more answers phrased as questions.)

    And, this would be why we revisited the "Stop and Check-In" strategy yet again! I find that my friends (reluctant readers) have a habit of reading straight through without really stopping to check comprehension. This led me back to revisiting the Stop and Check-In strategy.  

    It is always amusing to me that I really have to explain why this strategy is so important for reading. In explaining it, I try to find a way to make it relatable to them so it isn't just another thing a teacher tells them they should do when reading.  I asked my friends to imagine that they had broken their favorite game system. They take it to be repaired, but the two repairmen have never fixed one before.  So, they promise they will read up on it and learn how to fix it.  One repair man reads the book but doesn't really understand what he's reading.  He decides to just keep reading and hope he understands at the end.  The other repair man stops every couple of pages to make sure he understands what he read.  Only when he thinks he understands does he keep reading.  The next day, both offer to fix your game system.  Who do you want to fix it?

    Without fail, every single student wants the man who stopped and checked-in while he was reading to fix their game system.  When I ask why they tell me all the wonderful reasons that make this strategy so helpful to them  He will remember what he read.  He understands what he read, so he will know how to fix it better.  The other guy will mess it up because he didn't understand anything.  From there, it is so easy for them to connect how this same strategy helps them as readers and test takers. I sort of hate that I have to even mention the latter, but it seems to be our reality these days.

    To make the strategy more concrete, I made check marks using two basic questions as found in The Cafe BookWho did I just read about? What just happened? Two short and sweet basic questions that force them to self-monitor and check for comprehension. Here's a link to their Ready Reference Form that explains the strategy in-depth. 

    The Cafe sisters had a parent make balsa wood check marks, but seriously? How many of us can do that?!! I don't think I would even want that.  Mine were made using clip art and text boxes.  I just printed them on card stock and laminated them.  The laminating turned out to be especially important.  One of my poor friends has been a sneezing, snuffling, nose-drippy mess all week and my check mark was certainly not spared! I actually took the laminated check mark to the bathroom to wash before using it with the next group! Here's to hoping my little friend is feeling better soon. 

    I modeled the strategy with a friend first.  Then, when it came time to practice, we used one of our reading selections in which we marked stopping points.  Then, I paired up each student.  Student A read aloud to student B.  When they reached the stopping point, student B would hold up their check mark and say, "Stop and Check-In!"  Student A would then briefly retell by answering those two questions.  Student B had to listen to make sure student A didn't leave anything important out or misinterpret what was read. If that happened, they helped out. They would then switch roles for the next section of text.

    I'm well aware that I'm not sharing anything new here. Many others have blogged about it before this. The strategy has certainly been around forever, but it is well worth mentioning as it is so very effective.  I think that the physical action of holding up the check mark and saying, "Stop and Check-In!" aloud was especially helpful to my friends.  It helped to cement the idea in their minds. 

    We then used the strategy independently the next day with their independent reading books which had sticky notes placed at strategic stopping points.  They did a quick jot on the sticky to stop and check-in when they got to that point.  A quick and easy way to assess how well they are using the strategy.

    Unfortunately I can't share the bookmark I made because it wasn't until after I made, printed, and laminated them that I saw the check mark had a very, very, very faint watermark.  But, I did search for some that you might like.
    If none of these work for you, it really couldn't be easier to make your own. You could even draw one on card stock using colored Sharpies.  Quick and easy!