Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How do you "Halloween" in the Classroom?

Cool air, bonfires, hoodies, pumpkin spice everything...who doesn't love this time of year? *

*Okay, confession...I live in South Carolina and it was literally over 80 degrees most of this week, so yeah, the "cool air" part is not really happening, and therefore hoodies and bonfires aren't either yet, but autumn is still my favorite time of year!

Anyway, another thing I just love about the autumn/fall is Halloween!  Ever since I was a child I just loved the "spooky" decorations, ghost stories, and dressing up like someone or something else.  Okay, and the candy...who can leave that out?

But still, it can be tricky this time of year in a classroom.  Some schools and districts allow Halloween related activities or decorations, some allow limited activities or decorations, and some don't allow any Halloween related items or activities.

Whether or not your school allows Halloween items and activities, the kids sure remember that the holiday is going on and you can't exactly just sweep it all under the rug.  I know as a child (*cough* and adult) I was drawing jack-o'-lanterns, ghosts, and bats on the margins of my papers.  Some of us get wrapped up in the fun and it's hard to completely let that go no matter whether you're at home or school.

 Some schools also may only allow Halloween activities so long as they comply with your state standards in some way, and some not at all.  So, how do you balance what you're allowed to do versus engaging the kids in the fun of the Halloween season?

Even if you aren't allowed to do "Halloween" activities, there is still some fun to be had in relation to Halloween themes! Let's take a look at some ways to incorporate the fun of the holiday into your classroom without breaking the rules:

Costumes, Dressing Up is Always Fun!: 
* Okay, this is always a BIG deal for kids this time of year.  One way we helped combat this was holding a "Dress Like a Book Character Day" at school.  The trick was, the character had to be in a book.  I usually dressed as Hermione Granger myself, but the kids got really creative with this one, and we always had a lot of fun sharing who our character was and why we chose them.

You could even visit other classrooms and have the students write a quick 30 - 60 second monologue from their character's point of view to get other kids interested in their book and character!
(Yes, that's me above...about 10 years ago or so in my friend's classroom!)

* You could hold a "Vocabulary Parade." Now, if you have never read Miss Alaineus, A Vocabulary Disaster please consider reading it.  It's hilarious, the kids will probably relate to her plight, and in the book they have a Vocabulary Parade where she totally lives up to her mistake and has fun with it.  The kids all dress up as a vocabulary word in their own creative way.  My friend and I did this with our students and then had them parade around each other's class.  They had the word displayed somewhere on them, but the costumes were creative and fun.  Each student came up and said their word and definition, it was the most fun we've ever had with vocabulary words!

* If your students are researching historical figures, inventors, or even careers, you could have them dress up as that person, or someone who has that career!  It always adds fun to the project, and allows the kids to dress up at school.  Plus, you don't need a lot of special materials to make this happen!

Using "Spooky" Themes...That Aren't Really Spooky:
*This is a great time of year to have a day to focus on animals that might bring a fright to some students (and adults).  You could have activities centered around snakes, bats, owls, or "creepy crawly" invertebrates.  You could assign different types to students and have them research them. It may also teach them that the animals aren't really that "scary!"  If this interests you, I have one of these units already made: All About Bats!  In my unit I tried to cover different subjects and give you a variety of activities to be done over a day, or week!

*Pumpkins...not really "spooky" but definitely related to Halloween!  One activity I did with my students was dressing up pumpkins as part of a descriptive writing activity.  I used to do a "Which Witch is Which?" but when things got a little more strict with Halloween activities, I opted for the pumpkins which are arguably representative of autumn/fall as much as Halloween!  Both of these activities are here: Which Witch is Which? and Guess That Pumpkin!  For the pumpkin activity, they had to decorate/dress up their pumpkin and write a very descriptive paragraph using a lot of adjectives to help students guess their pumpkin.  A lot of pumpkins came in looking similar, but if they did a great job with their description, usually the students guessed correctly!  We then sometimes voted on the "best dressed."

*Another pumpkin activity was reading two books about pumpkins (fiction and non-fiction) and comparing them.  For this I used Big Pumpkin by  Erica Silverman (this was with 3rd graders), but if you wanted to skip the witch in the book, there is also Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White or Pumpkin Jack by  Will Hubbel.  For the Non-Fiction book, I just chose one that talked about pumpkins and their life cycle and uses.  I chose Seed, Sprout, Pumpkin Pie by Jill Esbaum, but any non-fiction abotu pumpkins will do!    We read them aloud and discussed them together, then we made a venn diagram and the students used post-it notes to help compare the books.

*And more pumpkins... Pumpkins are just so accessible and can be used in science and math so easily! (Although I haven't had time this year to put all of my pumpkin activities together, I'm planning it out, so be on the look out next year!)  With the help of parents I got each child a "baby pumpkin" and about 6 large pumpkins for the entire class.  Over the course of a week the students weighed their pumpkin, measured it's height and circumference, compared their pumpkins, and then some even used them in the above mentioned descriptive writing activity! With the large pumpkins, we weighted each and then predicted how many seeds we thought would be in their pumpkin (each group was in charge of one large pumpkin). We graphed the results, which was a great class activity. I had a volunteer come help cut the tops and in the science lab we scooped out the seeds, and tried to count them.  Was it a little messy?  Yes, but with lots of newspaper on the tables, and sinks near by, it wasn't so bad!  We compared the results to their hypothesis, and then I even had a parent volunteer to roast the pumpkin seeds for later in the week.  Healthy treat, anyone?

For those of you who are allowed to do some Halloween related activities, but need something to fit standards, be sure to check out my "Halloween: Five Subjects, One Day" product in my TpT  Store!

No matter how you celebrate this festive time of year, I hope that you have some ideas you can use in your classroom!

 To add to the fun, I've decided to give away a set of logic puzzles if you share how you incorporate Halloween (or Autumn/Fall) into your classroom!  The winner will choose either a Halloween or Fall themed set from the following:
* Halloween Logic Puzzles (single and double matrix set)
* Fall Logic Puzzles (single and double matrix set)
* Halloween Double Matrix Logic Puzzles
* Fall / Autumn Double Matrix Logic Puzzles

Be sure to enter on my Facebook page by October 18th!

Cheers and Happy Halloween!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Starting Off The Year Right!

Wow, it's here again...back to school time!

Boy can it be hectic, right?  Between getting your classroom ready, figuring out your roster, and the loads and loads of paperwork, you deserve a medal just for making it through the first week!

Well, I just wanted to share something that was a tremendous help to me in the classroom to help with organization of student papers from the get-go!  Once all of those student and parent information forms, volunteer forms, PTA forms, etc... are gone, then you'll have the daily assessments and activities that students will be turning in.  I wanted a way to be sure students were held accountable for turning in their papers, but in such a manner that I could keep everything in number order (alphabetized) in order to make grading (and especially recording those grades in my computer) a breeze!  

This is the system that I came up with after some trial and error.  This isn't a huge revelation for many of you, it's simple, but it worked really well!

First Goal:  Finding an efficient way to have students turn in papers where I can easily see who hasn't turned in work, but also keeping them in order.

My solution:  Hanging pocket chart with student numbers!

Why does this work?  Well, I tried paper turn-in's a couple ways.  First was the "mailboxes," you know, the stacked plastic paper sorters. With this method, while it kept the student's work in number order (I had my mailboxes numbered to keep them in alphabetical order), it took up a lot of room on my table.  Also, to see who hadn't turned in their work, you had to go over and look into the boxes to really tell, so I then tried a system with clothespins to see who had turned in work, but some mornings when we had 2-3 assignments, some students got a little confused as to if they owed work or not.

What next?  Well, I then tried downgrading with only boxes (paper sorters) for each subject.  While this reduced the space used, I couldn't see who didn't turn in work, and the papers had to be sorted into order each time.  This didn't last long at all...

Finally, we came to my final solution of the pocket charts with numbers.  Why does this work better than the other ways I tried?

First off, this pocket chart can hang on a wall or bulletin board, and takes up a lot less space on tables or my desk!  

Second, when work was turned in, I could see which pockets were empty (even from across the room) and could monitor to see if those students were on task, needed help, etc... Also, it allowed me to quickly write down those names that owed me that work before moving onto another assignment. This allowed me to remind them or help them during any down time or other opportunities they had to work on it!

After each assignment, you could either have someone collect them, or leave them in the pocket for the end of the day.  If you waited until the end of the day, this still worked great because I'd start with the assignment that was last turned in, collect them in order, write down what was missing...and it was all in alphabetical order!

Third, it was much more neat, streamlined, and tidy.  I was always a teacher who struggled with being tidy with my papers, and I wanted to be a good model for the students.  This was a huge help!

If you're looking for a pocket chart like that one (I actually received mine from Highlights magazine as a gift for participating in their classroom program) there is one on Amazon just like it here: Learning Resources Organization Station Chart.  (I am currently not an affiliate, so I'm not making anything off of this suggestion!)  Also, those cute little circle cut outs with their numbers can be found here in my TpT store!  I used these suckers for everything...even their cubbies!

However, if you prefer to have a little bit bigger pockets (that can also hold file folders, I could suggestion this one on  Amazon called Organization Center Pocket Chart.

But wait...what about after grading?  How did I get those papers back to the students to take home?  

Well, all the schools I've worked at have "take home folders."  This was a weekly communication method to send home important information and grades to the parents. So, it was important that I had a way to collect all of the papers for one student so that stuffing the folders was a breeze!  

(Note that my portable box got damaged during a move, and so I had to show my file folders in my crate - which can also be used!)

The easiest method I found was using a portable file box (one with a lid and a handle) and multicolored hanging folders that I numbered with the student numbers.  After grading a stack of assignments (that were in order, thanks to my pocket chart), I simply dropped them one by one from front to back into my hanging file folders.  By the time I stuffed folders for the week, I could simply start with student #1's folder, grab everything in their folder, and stuff it into their folder.

But wait...what about any papers that needed to be signed?  Well, as I filed away my graded papers, if the student had to get a paper signed (for me this was anything lower than a C), I stamped it with "Please Sign" on the top.  As I filed my papers, if it had this stamp, I simply filed it vertically so it stuck up out of the top of that student's folder.

That way, when it came time to stuff folders, I could grab the "Please Sign" paper(s) that stuck up (if they had any) and put those on the "please return" side, while everything else went into the "keep at home" side.   (For those of you who do this, I have a method for being sure those papers come back, and I'm going to share that in an upcoming blog post about take-home folders!)

Another reason I loved this file box was because of the portability!  If I had a ton of things to grade, I could take my paper clipped stacks of assignments, place them in one of the unused folders in the back, and take the entire thing with me.  It even held my grade book, my stamps, and my pouch of pens/highlighters. 

Mine was similar to this one by Sterilite, but this one by Oxford works as well and is a little cheaper! As for the folders, it helped me to have a repeating color pattern so the folders didn't look too similar.  My set is similar to these by Amazon Basics.  There are tons of color varieties around if you look!

I hope that if you are struggling with keeping up with student work from turn in, to grading, to returning in folders that this post helped you out!  The best thing to do is find a system that sounds like a winner for you and try to implement it as early in the year as you can to keep the students responsible for turning in their work where it belongs! 

Let me know if you have any questions and best of luck as you begin your new school year!


Monday, March 13, 2017

What'cha Workin' On?

Hey everyone!

As you can see, the blog has had it's "redesign" and I'm still working on making it match my store and Facebook so you might see some changes there too.

In the mean time, I wanted to give you a little update on what I've been working on:

One of my latest projects (posted) was the Plant Life Cycle products and bundle including my own personal set up for growing plants in your classroom without having to buy one of the expensive "plant kits."  Thanks to some items around your house (or the dollar store...or Amazon) it can be pretty simple.  I've included links to help if you want to purchase items (including the seeds) from Amazon.  However, the items are simple and cheap and you might already have them in your closet at school!

I also wanted to let you know that after many requests I will be working on the 5th grade version of my Common Core Math series.  It will include presentations, assessments, activities, interactive notebooks, and vocabulary just like my 4th grade products.

Also, be sure to follow me on Facebook because I'm hoping to do another giveaway to celebrate hitting 1,100 followers on TpT!   Stay tuned, because I'm planning a lot more blogging, and that means more fun and giveaways!

Thanks again for visiting...cheers!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recognizing Every Student

 I just want to put it out there...I'm not one of those "participation trophy" people.  I feel like there is so much intrinsic value in things like team sports, extracurricular activities, and music lessons.  I just think the experience is enough in itself!  However, in our classrooms, we are with these children for the better part of nine months of the year.  You learn a lot about them, they learn a lot about you, and they learn a lot about each other and who they really are.

There is an increasing push to "recognize" all students at the end of the year, and I can understand this.  Especially when they aren't on the honor roll, and caught the flu (so no perfect attendance there) but their parents took time off work to come to your class "end of the year" celebration/ceremony.

We always had a grade level awards day, usually together as a grade level in the cafeteria or other large area.  Then, we would head back to our individual classrooms to give out other awards that we didn't have time for as a grade level.  These were things like participating in Student Council, being a part of the Garden Club, etc...  But, these kids have been a community for a year, you've been a family...why not recognize things that we see as strengths in each other?

My first year teaching I toyed with the idea of superlatives.  I was going to let my kids vote, but I also wanted to recognize the kids myself.  So, I came to a compromise.  I'd let the kids vote (because that means a lot to them), but I also would stop before each award and talk about the student for a minute.  A little brag time, if you will.

I made it fun by not revealing who it was until the end.  For example, I might say something like, "Wow, this student amazes me on a daily basis.  They are always looking to help others, to push in a chair for someone, or to pick up a dropped pencil.  This student is always asking for ways they can help me around the classroom as well.  They exemplify what it means to be a good citizen....so, Garrett, you are our "Helping Hands." (and I'd have them come down, give them a hug, and give them the award.

That little snippet, that little tid-bit about what that students means to you and to the rest of the room really means a lot to that kid.  It also means a lot to their parents who took time off of work to come to your celebration. I find this especially true for parents who sit through the entire grade level awards ceremony knowing that their child isn't getting honor roll or perfect attendance.  They are simply there to support their child, to lift them up for completing another year of school, and you just made their day by taking just 45 seconds to point out something great about their kid.

So, as the year is winding down, think about how you can recognize something great in each of your students.  Whether you choose the reason for recognition or you allow the students to.

You can make up your own awards, but if you do need a place to start, I have some superlative awards that are editable with a voting sheet for your kiddos.

No matter how you decide to recognize your kiddos this year, they will appreciate it so much!

Best of luck as you begin to wind down the year!  (At least my Northern Hemisphere friends!)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Using Animal Webcams in the Classroom

...I'm back!  Again.

Seriously, I was having blog issues with my background and didn't want to do anything until I fixed them.  It has been an issue since the holidays and I finally figured out the problem, so thank you for staying with me!

Last year I did a similar post, but I wanted to remind everyone that it is the season of awesome live webcams! Also, I have extra links to even MORE cams.  There are such a variety out there now that I wanted to post again to share with you the awesome live cams that I found. In science, it isn't often that our students get to study and observe real live animals, and some animals are just not feasible to observe in real life.

One example are birds because getting a bird box and installing a web cam on it isn't cheap, and sometimes just isn't feasible depending on where you live. This is a great time of year to watch birds via live web cams and use those for your students to make observations.  Once we used one of the eagle web cams for this, and holy moly...you would have thought we were watching the winning touch down of the Super Bowl as one of the eggs began to hatch right in front of the kids.  Everyday they came in asking if we could watch a little more.  "What about during snack time?" they would ask.  "Could we watch while we pack up?"

Kids love watching animals, and they start to feel an all-too-important connection with nature at this age.  Want them to care about not throwing litter on the ground?  Show them a turtle who has stuck his head through one of those plastic soda holders.  I saw that as a kid and everytime we threw one in the trash, I got the scissors out and cut those bad boys in pieces.

These animal observations are easy, and you can choose how many you would like the students to do, or over what time period you want them to complete them in.  Also, if you do have a class that all have access at home, they could even do some extra observations at home.

There are many, many webcams to choose from, and some aquariums and zoos have them all year long.  Here are some of my favorite web cams that I have viewed.  (***Disclaimer, you never know what ads will be on the site, so I always preview the sites, and even make the video full screen when possible to be sure nothing unsavory pops up, just like with YouTube videos!)

Hanover, PA Eagle Nest Cam - Eagle web cam, even includes an IR (infrared)  camera with a second viewpoint.  There are is one chick hatched as I type this, and another egg that should hatch soon! (3/29/16)

Cornell Labs Live Bird Cams - Cornell Labs has a TON of bird cams for you to view.  My favorites are the Barred Owls (she's on three eggs right now!) and the Great Horned Owls, but there are a ton to choose from, even a live cam on a bird feeder!

Explore Live Cams - This site has everything from orcas to polar bears to eagles!  There is even an underwater cam that students can watch.  The hummingbird cam is also very cool, and students will love seeing what their nest looks like!  I also really like that it tells students the local time, location, and temperature of each cam.  This is also a great way for students to study biomes/habitats.  (the link automatically goes to their eagle cam, but click "Live Cams" and see the selection)

Mangolink Cams - This site has a huge variety!  You can even choose if you want the cam to be in the wild or in captivity.  They have them grouped by type of animals (mammals, birds, etc...) and whether it is in the wild or not, then you choose the specific animal you want from the list.  Very cool, and again, GREAT for habitats/biome study as well!

Well, I sure hope this list got you started on ideas for using web cams in your science lessons.  I wanted to be sure to remind you that I have a free product in my store with observation sheets for using animal cams in your classroom here.

I hope you and your students enjoy the web cams as much as my classes and I have!


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Easy, Inexpensive, but Thoughtful "Teaching Team" Gifts

This time of year things are just a tad bit crazy at school (and at home!)  There is so much going on, and you are hoping that your Winter Break shows up before you run out of energy!

It's also the season of giving, and so many of us have a checklist of things we need to buy or do before our break gets here.  There were many years where I really wanted to give my grade level team a little gift, but because of lack of time and money, it just didn't happen.

So, I wanted to share with you a very easy and inexpensive gift you can make for your grade level team, special co-workers at school, neighbors, or friends and family! 

The reason I like this gift is that it is perfect for teachers (because teachers are on their feet all day), it is easy to find what you need to make it, and anyone can use it (unless they are allergic to peppermint!)  Also, I've made bag toppers if you want to put it in a zipper bag (Ziploc).  I normally put mine in jars, but hey, use what you have or is easily attained! 

I have FREE jar lid labels/bag toppers in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.

Here is my "recipe" for Peppermint Foot Soak:

2 cups sea salt (I like the fine one instead of coarse, but either will work!)*
2 cups Epsom salt
1 cup baking soda
2-3 teaspoons olive oil (or grapeseed, sunflower, or other similar oil)
2 - 3 tea bags of peppermint tea or 1/8 - 1/4 C of dried peppermint leaves (some health stores have them!)
6-8 teaspoons of peppermint extract (or 15 - 20 drops peppermint essential oil)

*You can use Kosher salt instead of the sea salt if needed!

Supplies Needed:
large mixing bowl
large spoon for mixing
jars or small zipper bags

Step 1:  In a large mixing bowl pour in your sea salt, Epsom salt, and baking soda.  Be sure to mix them thoroughly.

Step 2: Next, add in the oil and peppermint extract, stirring to mix and breaking up any clumps that you see.

Step 3:  Add in the peppermint tea bags one by one and mix.  Use your judgment on how much to put in, 2 or 3 should be plenty!

Step 4:  Before placing your foot soak into jars/bags, smell the
results.  If you feel the peppermint smell is too weak, you can add in more extract (maybe a quarter teaspoon at a time), or more tea!  If your mixture is clumping for any reason, add in more baking soda and salt.  Another fix it to add in a little corn starch, a quarter cup at a time, as needed until it isn’t clumping!

Step 5: Finally, use a measuring cup or large spoon to scoop the mixture into your air-tight container of choice.  Keep in mind that it takes about 6 heaping tablespoons for each foot soak!  Decorate, or simply attach a gift tag, and that’s it!

I sure hope you can make some of this as gifts this year!  If not, be sure to save it for later and download the free jar lid labels and bag topper here!  It is a great gift any time of the year, because our we are always on our feet!


Sunday, November 29, 2015

I'm back! TpT Sale and Freebie!

My apologies for having been absent recently!  A lot has gone on since the beginning of September including buying a new house, starting a new part time job, family illness, and a two week trip to Chile!  

Now with the holidays getting ramped up, I wanted to touch base with you and let you know that I am here!  Since we're back from the trip and Thanksgiving is over, I feel like I have time to breathe.  So, no worries!

I wanted to let you know about the TpT Cyber Sale going on Monday and Tuesday of this week!  Be sure to check out the site.  My store will be on sale, and the entire site is marked down for up to 28% off total!  So be sure to check that wish list twice, I know I'll be busy filling my cart...

I also wanted to be sure you saw my new Christmas Logic Puzzle freebie!  It's in celebration of the sale and hitting 800 followers, so be sure to grab it.  It is a great activity as a morning work, Christmas party activity, group work, or a center!  You can find it by clicking HERE or the picture above.

A Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, and happy shopping!