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!



Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Saving the Macaws - Fund Raiser Bundle Deals!

If you have been following me on Facebook, in the forums (if you're a seller), or on here, you know that I have a passion for wildlife, and especially birds!  Right now (September - October 31st) we have a great fund raiser going on in the Saving the Macaws store on Teachers Pay Teachers.

There are bundles for K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, and clip art!
Click each link to visit that bundle listing!

 If you want to know more about why I'm doing this fund raiser, please see the explanation here!

Thanks, and please pass on the word!  Great deals for a great cause!


Oh, and Franz says thanks too!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Shout Out Board

I know some of you have already started your school year, and some of you are gearing up for the classroom this coming week.  Either way, I had a small idea that turned into a big deal for my kiddos and I wanted to share this idea with you!

Yes, it's just a message board, but before you dismiss it, let me tell you how this board can help you with behavior management.  First off, I tried to keep an eye out for kids doing something out of their way, or just a random nice act for someone else.  It could be something they do for another classmate, or stopping to let an adult walk through our line when there is traffic in the hallways, anything!

 The great thing is, no matter who was chosen that day/week, it showed that even small acts of kindness meant a lot to someone.  This went along with the community/family idea I was trying to foster in my classroom.  They might not think that bending over to help another student pick up a couple pencils is a big deal, but I made it a big deal.  Not by immediately going over, flailing my hands in the air, yelling "WOW, you're just the best person ever!," but I'd give them a sincere "thank you so much for helping her out!"  Then, the next morning (or maybe even when they got back from a related arts/specials, the board would have a message like this on it.

Why not just make a huge deal out of it when it happens?  Well, when I was little, I was really shy (hard for anyone to believe now, I'm sure).  I didn't like someone making a big fuss verbally over something that I did (good or bad).  I was the kid who ran down the hall away from her 4th birthday party because everyone stared at me and started singing, "Happy Birthday."  I didn't want attention, but as a child, I of course loved to be praised.

I have found that this method is a great way to show them what a big difference they can make with just small, every day, kind actions.  How can this help classroom behavior?  Well, obviously you have the overall effect of students feeling good about doing good deeds around the classroom.  However, I really felt it made a huge difference to the kids that don't hear a lot of praise.  

You know that student I'm talking about.  The one that everyone asks about with a face like they know your day must have already gone to you-know-where in a hand basket just simply because the child is in your classroom?  Yup, that one.  Sometimes it bothered me when people would do this because they seemed to only see the negatives of the kid.  However, with this system, I sometimes would even point out the board to another teacher or administrator who came to the door.  Then, they sometimes would call the child over and congratulate them for a job well done.

Overall, I felt this was a great way to say thank you for those little things that we sometimes overlook because of all of the busy-ness of the classroom.  Now, you might wonder, "Wow, did you do this everyday?  I don't think I can keep up with it!"  Honestly, it depends on your room.  Go with the flow and do what you feel works for your kiddos.  Sometimes I left a message up for an entire week.  Sometimes, I changed it two days later because someone else did something outstanding that I felt needed recognition.  Or sometimes, I even wrote a "Thank You" to the entire class if they got a compliment from another teacher, or were well behaved for a sub.  Make it work for YOU!

Let's talk materials for a second...
You can use the corner of your whiteboard, bulletin board, whatever you like!  I have found that the small black dry-erase board from Expo is great and easy to clean, but I don't use the neon Expo markers.  They may have changed, but they never quite had that "pop" that I was looking for on the black background.  The markers are "chalk markers" that I picked up at Hobby Lobby with a 40% coupon (which they have every week!)  They were normally about $10 (now about $12), but with 40% off, they are much cheaper.  I bought them and used them for about three years and they still are working just fine!

I hope that you can adapt this small, simple, yet effective method in your classroom!  

Best of luck whether you have started back, or you're about to dive back in!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New Organizer from MochiThings!

 I don't do a lot of "reviews" but I felt I needed to share my latest purchase with you.  I had been seeing tons of "Pins" on Pinterest with a picture of this adorable little organizer, and dared take a look on their site.  First of all, if you love cute "kawaii style" things...beware, they have tons of adorable stickers, post-its, notepads, index stickies...all for great prices, so don't say I didn't warn you.  I may or may not have even done a little Christmas shopping for stocking stuffers!

So anyway...I kept seeing this cute organizer that can hold an iPad/laptop, notebooks, sticky notes, pens, USB drives, just about anything you'd want to take with you to a meeting, school, etc...

Well, I decided that I really needed something to keep my things together because I move back and forth from my husband's office and our house with my notes for TpT, etc...  Sometimes I meet with other people or travel, so I felt this would work well with all of my needs.

I did some research on these and saw that they had great reviews.  I decided on the smaller one that is called the Better Together iPad Pouch because I wanted something more compact, but that would hold way more than just my iPad.  It turned out to be just right for me!

Now before I get into the details, you should know there are other versions that also hold iPads or other similar tablets, and some that even hold laptops!  For instance this Better Together Note Pouch v2 can hold a 13" thin laptop (and it is currently on sale!)

I also want you to know that I paid for this myself, and I don't receive any comission from MochiThings to promote this item...I just wanted to share my joy of being organized!

Okay, so let's get to it, the first thing is shipping.  They shipped my goodies for $5 and it was a Priority 2 Day shipping, so that was a good deal in my eyes since it came from across the country.  Also, they thankfully wrapped everything they sent me in plastic and bubblewrap because another package near mine leaked some mysterious fluid which damaged my box.  However, everything in the box was untouched because of the great packaging around the I was thrilled. As you can imagine I was excited about receiving my package, and quickly deflated when I got a note in my box instead telling me to come to the post office because of "damage!"  So, it was wonderful to open the box and see everything so nicely protected.

The organizer itself is covered in a nylon type material, so water beads up on it instead of soaking in.  The outside has two pockets a zippered one in the back and a pouch in the front:

I really like having a pouch you can easily tuck something in on the go, but also the security of having a zippered one for better protection.  The zipper itself is really well made, and I was impressed by the way the zipper operates.  With some zippers the sides of the zipper curve in and sometimes you  have to flip it back out in order to zip it closed, but not this puppy.  I also like the flexibility of the material, but the stiffness of the seams around the zipper to help keep the shape.

Now on to the inside!  I love how there is extra padding on the right for the iPad/tablet.  You can see that I have a thin protective case on mine, and it still fits easily into the iPad/tablet pouch!  There is also a mesh pocket on that side to hold any small items or notes.

On the left, you have a lot of options!  There is a large pouch for a composition notebook or medium sized legal pad, a zippered pouch at the top (great for USB sticks and smaller items that may fall out), and two pouches, one with a velcro flap.  I love the velcro flap for the pens, and it can easily be tucked into the pouch above it if needed!

Also, I wanted to show you just how deep that zippered pouch at the top is, just so you know it isn't just for tiny things!  I stuck a mechanical pencil straight down into it so you could get a feel for how deep it really is.

All in all, I am very pleased with this organizer! I feel that it's well made and has a lot of options.  I automatically thought "if I were still in the classroom, I'd definitely be getting one of these!"  Especially the slightly larger version just because I always came away from staff meeting with papers or folders from vising PD instructors.

I would definitely recommend this if you are looking for a way to keep organized and always have the materials you need on hand as you move from home, to the classroom, to numerous meetings in dozens of different locations (Can I get an amen?!) and back again.  The slightly larger models also have a handle on the binding to carry with you instead of a giant bag!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little review.  I was just really happy with my purchase and wanted to share with you in case you were looking for a tool to get organized!

Oh and those cute little things you see popping out of my pocket?  Another purchase I made from

I'm slightly obsessed with penguins and birds, and these cute little stick-on index guys were just $2.50 and adorable.  I couldn't resist.  Not to mention, I now have a great place to store them!

Are there any things I'd change, "cons," or things you should know?

I'd say having a handle on the binding would be nice, but since it is a smaller model, it isn't hard to hold at all.  It slips into a bag nicely, or under your arm!  The larger models do have a handle.

You cannot fit a normal sized spiral notebook.  If you have a regular 8.5 by 11 sized spiral bound notebook, it won't fit in the left pouch.  A composition notebook fits just fine, but something you should know!

Hope you enjoyed reading a little about my latest attempt at being organized!  Now to download some great apps to keep my TpT ideas straight!


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Calling all TPT Sellers!

Hello all!

I wanted to let all of my TpT seller friends know that I'm collecting contributions for the Tambopata Macaw Project fund raiser.  If you haven't read my post in the forums, read below for an explanation of the project, or go to the Saving the Macaws TpT Store where the fund raiser will be running from September - October for the free download explaining everything!

If you decide to contribute, please visit and fill out the Google Sheet for Saving the Macaws, and I will contact you before the 14th with what I need from each person!  We have some GREAT contributions already, but we want to have some beefy bundles for teachers to purchase.  And sellers, even if you aren't in the classroom, we have some mighty fine clip art as well!

If you want to help even further, please spread the word about the fund raiser.  We need a lot of sellers to participate, and if they all spread the word once the fund raiser begins, we will surely be a success!

Here is my post from the forums: 

Hello everyone! 

With the awesome help of Nicole and Amy at TpT, the director of the Macaw Project, Dr. Brightsmith, and hopefully many of you, I will be hosting a fundraiser during the months of September and October! 

Let me give you a little back story...
In the summer of 2013, my husband and I visited the Tambopata Research Center in Peru.  There, researchers are helping to study and conserve the macaw population, and study the parrots that live in the area.  We got to witness the absolutely amazing event of parrots on a clay lick.  I know it sounds dull, but trust isn't!  It was like being in a National Geographic special. In fact, the thoughts in my head started to sound like David Attenborough was narrating.  It was that cool.

Anyway, a researcher gave us a presentation about their efforts to help the macaw population (which is dwindling... sad ) and the other parrots.  They also shared their theories about why the parrots eat the clay, etc...  It was a wonderful stay at the ecolodge and we made 3-4 treks a day through the jungle to observe animals and learn more about the ecosystem.

It really touched my heart and it is such a worthy cause.  These researchers are out every morning by 4:30 counting parrots at clay licks, making observations, and hauling themselves up 100 foot trees checking on baby macaws.  Not to mention hauling huge man-made nests up into the trees (since the macaws nest in old-growth trees that are regularly cut down during deforestation and selective logging.) Volunteers from all over the world go there to help with the effort.  In fact, I'm hoping to go sometime and lend a hand myself.

If the name sounds familiar, two recent discoveries were made at the Tambopata Reserve: 
The "Decoy" Spider : … stery.html
(In fact, the guy who took that picture, Troy, was the one who gave us the talk about their efforts!)

and a "Glow Worm": … vered.html
(You 80's kids can appreciate that...right?)

So, we are looking for contributions to bundles.  I am planning on making a K-2, 3-5, 6-8 (hopefully by subject), 9-12 (again, hopefully by subject), and Clip Art!

After talking with Nicole and Amy, they both agreed it would be great to try to keep most contributions to the bundles "themed" with the cause.  So, anything pertaining to animals, jungle, rain forest, biomes, conservation, general science, insects, saving the Earth, etc...  

HOWEVER, if you want to contribute, but do not have an item that fits that description, please still fill out the Google Sheet!  We want this fundraiser to be successful and we want everyone who wants to participate to be able to!

Also, I'd love to make the clip art bundle a success!  Artists, if you want to contribute just an image, or a couple images from a set just for this fundraiser, that is A-OK!  

If you have any questions at all you can email me at!

We have the store set up, Google Sheet set up, and now we just need YOU!

Thank you SO much!
 (and Franz)

Some Classroom Inspiration

*Sniff Sniff* You can smell the "Back to School" sales from here...or is that tears because summer is ending?!  Well, either way it's time to celebrate jumping into a new school year with some inspiration and a giveaway!

First, let's start with the inspiration, or should I say "Pin-spiration."

I have had a board that I've been "collecting" classrooms on. It is eye candy, that's for sure. Thing is, everyone has a different sized room, different situations and surfaces, etc... So, finding inspiration that you can picture in your own classroom can be difficult. For the last couple weeks I've been pinning some stand out rooms that I have come across, and I hope that you will enjoy flipping through them as much as I did finding all of them! I am going to continue adding to this board as I see cool classrooms, so feel free to "follow" the board if you enjoy looking at the classes as much as I do!

"Great Classrooms! Board"

Now, to help you get "pumped" up for a new year, I've collected some goodies from Target.  Some of these were from the "dollar section" and some...(like the awesome InkJoy pens from PaperMate) were not in the dollar section, but still a steal at the price!  All in all, it is about $16 worth of goodies for you to kick off the new year.

You will receive: 
A beautiful blue pocket chart with 8 pockets and paper strips, a pack of  rainbow striped border pieces (15 pieces, looks to be about half the length of a normal strip), a set of stamps for student work, a pack of colorful pencils, a divided tray for storing small items, a pack of "please sign and return" stickers, a pack of colorful star stickers, a pack of "Thank You" notes, a pack of 18 assorted color "Ink Joy" pens from PaperMate, and an accordian receipt holder for collecting small papers or receipts for field trips!  **And a cute little "To Do" pad from Staples, as seen here:

So, how do you get into the drawing?  Easy!  Just use the Rafflecopter widget below, or go to my Facebook page to enter!  All you "have" to do to enter is follow me on Facebook and Pinterest! The rest are optional, but do earn you more chances.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to you and BEST WISHES on a new year!

*I also feel obligated to mention that I don't get any "kickbacks" from Target, Staples, PaperMate, etc...  I just saw some cute stuff and picked it up! :)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The First Day - Building A Community

The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and anxiety....yup, it's the first day of school!  The first day can be so exciting, but feel so rushed.  School procedures, paperwork, and numerous questions can make you feel like you are drowning!

However, the focus of this time should be building a community within your classroom.  Set the tone that you are a family and are going to be on a journey together for the next 9-10 months (or more if you're year round!).  Everyone in your classroom is going to be spending a lot of time together.  Many of them will be working together at some point, and all of them will be working with you.  It is crucial to have them share things about themselves to help them make connections.  Here are some activities I have done on the first day (or throughout the first week if you feel crunched for time) that have really worked for me!

Student Scavenger Hunt: (My version is free here in my store!)
Getting the kids up and out of their seats to mingle is a great idea.  It helps get them a little more comfortable moving in their new space, and gives them a chance to really put names and faces together if they aren't familiar with their new classmates.  The best thing about the scavenger hunt is the teamwork I see happen as the activity progresses.

Now before we begin, I should mention that this has worked well with even my shy students.  They usually start by just handing the grid to another student (since everyone knows what is going on) and not saying anything, but usually by the end they are at least using phrases like, "Can you sign one, please?"  I was painfully shy when I was little, so I always try to find a way for even my wallflowers to really participate!

Okay, so each student gets a grid with statements like "has a little brother," or "loves sushi."  The students must put their name on the paper, then go around and have other students sign one statement that they relate to.  I tell them at first that their classmates can only sign one block and that I will sign one block as well.  The kids start directing each other to people who can sign blocks, which gets them talking to many different classmates.

It is great seeing the quick discussions of "Oh, I never knew you liked sushi!", or "You lived in another state?  Which one?"  The kids also get a HUGE kick out of having things in common with YOU.  This will most likely be the topic of conversation as they get in the car that afternoon.  "Dad, can you believe that Mr. Wilson plays the piano just like me?"

Now, as kids sit down with their completed grids, I start to ask people to try and sign something for the people standing so we can review.  After everyone takes a seat, we go through each statement and have everyone that fits that statement raise their hand.  Sometimes I'll ask questions like "Oh, what team sport do you play?"  Then, I'll say "Oh really, so how many of you play soccer?"  This helps the students really look around and see how much we all have in common.  We're all woven together by common threads, and this is a great visual for them and for you!  Not only will your kiddos know each other better, you will have a better picture of your class for the year.


Be sure to check out the other "First Day Tried and True" blog posts here:

Monday, July 27, 2015

TpT Seller's Challenge - Weeks 3 & 4 (Sorry I'm late!)

Alright friends, I had the best intentions with the TpT  Seller's Challenge.   However, between a contract on a house falling through, a trip to the beach, and a new product that just blossomed into something way bigger and complex than I thought, it took me a while to complete my week 3 and 4!

So, I'm here to make things right!  Let's get started with Week 3.  Week 3 involved making a new product for your store.  I loved making the classroom theme decor packs, and wanted to make a new one for this year. Here is what I came up with:  Ocean Friends Classroom Theme Pack

Holy moly it turned out to be a lot bigger than I started with!  I added on things as I went back through my other two themed sets, and ended up with a ton of items.  One of the best things was printing out samples to photograph.  I've been going back through my store this summer and "revamping" covers and previews, and using real photos for products (that I'm able to) was one of my goals.  It worked well for this project, and I had a lot of fun setting everything up!

I sadly (being so tardy), didn't get to switch with anyone for editing, but my dear husband helped me out!

For Week 4, we were supposed to mention people we have met through the challenge.  I didn't get to really interact too much, and didn't make it to the conference, so I wanted to give some shout outs to a couple people!  I mostly have been following Third in Hollywood throughout the challenge and have appreciated her and the other lovely ladies, Teach, Create, Motivate, Sparkling in Second, and Peppy, Zesty Teacherista for putting on the challenge in the first place.  I'd also like to thank Nouvelle, for pointing me towards the challenge!

It has been a blast, and I can't wait to keep pushing myself to be a better seller and designer!


Friday, June 26, 2015

TpT Seller's Challenge: Week 2 - Dare to Dream...

For the TpT Seller's Challenge this week, we were asked to share our dreams!  We reflected on what we hoped to do with our TpT successes as they come.  Here were my top four:

1. Help my Family: Family is important to me.  I grew up with a lot of my family living near me, and so we did many things together.  We didn't have a lot, but somehow we always made the best, and I know sacrifices were made.   I know that my family has done so much for me over the years, and I hope that I will be able to help them when they need it!

2. Travel: I've gotten a head start on this one. I've been to Costa Rica, Spain, St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands, England, Italy, Peru, and Chile is coming up this year!  However, there are still many places to, much to learn about other cultures/history, and many beautiful places and animals to see as well!  One of my dreams is go to go the Galapagos Islands and to Antarctica!

3. Create:  TpT has given me a creative outlet, and the more I sell on TpT, the more I am driven to create!  I am blessed to have the opportunity to sell on TpT while nurturing my creativity.  I also love to draw and hope to be able to make my own clip art soon.

4. Volunteer:  One day, I hope to be able to volunteer on a trip, like at Tambopata Research Center.  I visited this special place (in Peru) two years ago and since I love science and birds, this would be a great place to spend a couple weeks volunteering.  Maybe one day when my travels wind down I can even have my own bird rescue!

Thanks for listening to some of my dreams, I have had a great time reading over other fellow sellers' dreams for the future!


Friday, June 19, 2015

TpT Seller Challenge!

Woo!  It is summer, and time to "revamp" as things are slowing down.  So, what better way to keep yourself accountable as a TpT seller than to participate in a challenge?  The TpT Seller Challenge to be exact!

Week 1 is winding down right now and the challenge was to find an older product that needed a little TLC.  So, I chose my American Revolution ABC Book Project.  I love this project so much, but felt that it needed a cover, a preview, and a little retouching of design for the rubrics and info sheets.  Here is a brief look at the difference!

I personally feel that it stands out more, and is a lot more attractive to the eye.  Giving this great project a breath of fresh air felt great and I'm going to continue doing so with my products this summer.

If you sell on TpT, I encourage you to jump on the TpT Seller Challenge train and have some fun and grow with us!


Thursday, May 28, 2015

End of the Year Tips: Organization Is Key!

Organization was not my concern in the first five or so years of teaching.  As long as it was somewhere in my closet or cabinets, I figured I could find it if I needed it.  However, there are many times I would forget to lay something out for a lab or lesson and here I am, with 26 pairs of eyes on my back, digging around saying "I thought it was here, I remember seeing it here....once."

 I also had WAY too much junk in my closet.  Your first few years as a teacher, when someone starts a sentence with "Hey, I didn't know if you could use these in your classroom, but..." you happily accepted whatever it was.  A giant box of felt cut outs of basketballs?  That might be day.  5,000 cotton swabs?  Sure, stick them in the tied up grocery bag with the Q-tips, craft sticks, and batteries.  Because, that arrangement makes sense...right?

Finally after about five years of digging around and the occasional closet avalanche, I decided it was time to get organized. Now, this is NOT something I suggest you completely tackle at the end of the year, but it is a GREAT time to get started.  Especially those of you who are moving classrooms, schools, etc...

How do you start?  Pick a drawer, closet, cabinet, something!  Then, simply go through and ask yourself, "Have I used this in the last few years?" "What was I planning on using this for?" "Would I have used this if I knew where it was?"  If you replied "no" to at least two of these, it is probably time to part ways.  This was hard for me at first, but then I went back through drawers a second and third time, getting rid of more and more stuff.  It felt great!  Do you really need 50,000 different behavior chart stickers?  No, no you don't.

Now, you don't have to "throw away" perfectly good items.  Sometimes other people in the school may need them.  I put out all of my unwanted stuff and told people they could come by and pick up anything in that pile they wanted.  If they didn't want it, sometimes at the end of the year the students wanted it.  I mean, I even used some of these items as "auction" items for our classroom behavior system on the last couple days and BOY do they get excited about your closet junk!

The rest is simply unwanted.  Donate it (if it is something you can donate), and the rest is TRASH.  Throw it out and don't look back!

Before I moved schools I decided that I wanted to be super organized because it had been one of my faults for many years.  I talked to my husband about it, and I sucked it up and spent over $100 at Wal-Mart on those great clear green clip boxes from Steralite.  (As much as I love Target, their boxes there were on average about $2-4 more a piece than Wal-Mart ...yikes!)  Now, the ones I got were all different sizes, but were "modular" and stacked perfectly.

Do you need to go blow that much on boxes right now?  No, zipper bags are GREAT for storage! I loved using gallon zipper bags and those great two gallon zipper bags for storing items.  You can use smaller zipper bags to keep items separate, and the larger ones to store them by unit.  You can even get those hangers with clips and store them in a closet if you have one!

Now, for my labeling system, I found those sticky labels by Post-It, wrote the label in Sharpie, and then used packaging tape to "seal" the label on for years of use.  If you really want to get technical, you can also color code your labels by subject or use.  For instance, in the picture above, my math items are labeled in blue, my science items in green.

I know one solution may not fit all, and it may take some saving or a couple of year to get all the boxes you need (I did mine over two years), but it greatly helped in my case. I felt great being able to walk over to my cabinets and find the hole punches immediately, or grab the "light and color" box to make sure I had all the items for the transparent, translucent, opaque lab tomorrow.  Measurement centers first thing in the morning? No worries, everything you need is in it's own box, labeled and waiting!

 It pays off in the end because the time you spend organizing now is time you will gain back (while you have all of those students in the room giggling and waiting for you to dig out of the pile that fell out of the closet.

Good luck, and start now so you aren't overwhelmed at the beginning of the year!

PS - The two pictures above are some centers that I stored, each in their own box.  It worked perfectly when it came time to use them!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Booked: Shhh...I Have A Secret!

I. Love. Books.

I always have, I always will.  When I was little, I used to go to the library with a canvas bag and my mind would race with possibility.  Why a canvas bag?  Well, when you check out the limit (which I believe was 20 books), you need a reinforced bag to carry them home.  That's why!

I was pretty balanced in my reading.  I loved fiction stories, but I was also really into non-fiction.  In 2nd grade I read a 75 page chapter book on hurricanes.  Why?  Because I was enthralled with them.  Little did I know, the next year, I'd get to see one in person. 

My two favorite subjects as a kid were animals and weather.  Funny enough, as a little girl, I remember checking out numerous books on sharks, snakes, and dinosaurs.  Not exactly your typical fare for a little girl, but hey, I was breaking those barriers before it was cool.  And weather?  Wow.  I was convinced I was going to be a meteorologist for the National Hurricane Center. Well, that or a marine biologist.  After all, I was going to research and completely decode sea mammal communication...  Yeah, I had ambition.  But, hey, it was because reading opened up a whole world of opportunity.

But, what does all this have to do with my post today?  Well, one name I have always associated with non-fiction is Usborne.  Even when buying books for my classroom, I always got excited to buy books from Usborne because of the quality of the content, pictures, illustrations, and their uncanny knack to make any topic super interesting!

Today, I wanted to share two books with you that I recently bought for my twin niece and nephew.  They just turned one, but I would have still bought these for them even if they were 8!  One thing I love about a lot of the non-fiction Usborne books is that they have a lot of leveled information.

These two books, "Secrets of the Seashore" and "Secrets of the Rain Forest" by Carron Brown and Alyssa Nassner are not just informative, but they have a great "hook" to pull in the kids interest!  They are "Shine-A-Light" books, which means that there are pages where you shine a flashlight, or hold the book up to a light source and an image/shape is revealed to them that they couldn't see before.

How. Cool. Is. That?

Very cool.  I could even see my fourth graders getting excited to see what was under that leaf, or hiding up under the rock.  And this isn't just a "gimmick" to sell a book.  These books hold their own just with the information alone.  I love that it calls the animals by their proper names instead of just "bird" or "snake."  When the kids see a bird by the tidal pool, it asks them what the Oystercatcher sees in the pool, and not the "sea bird."

I also love how this book addresses adaptations and life cycles.  It talks about some of the animals hiding to hunt for food, or hide from getting eaten.  I also like the "cycle" feel to each of these books where the "Secrets of the Seashore" starts with the tide coming in an the pool filling up, then the tide goes out, and it says the animals go back to hiding and wait for the tide to come in once more.  In the "Secrets of the Rainforest" it discusses the animals as they are during the day, but as night falls, it talks about how other animals will be coming out until the sun rises again.

Another great feature are the facts in the back of the book!  Each of these books has a section in the back with an illustrated "glossary" of facts.  As the child gets older, these are something that would be a great discussion piece.  Or, in the classroom, these would be great to write on cards, pass out to groups and have them illustrate or act out some of the facts.

All in all, I was super impressed with these books.  They are beautifully and brightly illustrated, and the animals and scenery is realistic.  None of the "cartoonish" eyes and weird smiles you see in some books.  They are well made hardback books, which make for a long life span, and the covers and inside illustrations could catch the eye of anyone, even an adult.

As a teacher, I could see using these in my class as a read aloud during a lesson on animal adaptations, ecosystems, or life cycles.  I'd use the facts in the back for group activities, or assign students animals from the books to enrich and further connect to the standards we were covering.

As an aunt (I'm not a mom), I would love snuggling in with my niece and nephew and reading these as we "discover" what is hiding under the rock waiting on prey, or what the spider monkeys are carrying on their backs.  When they get older, I'm sure it would be great springboard for talking about animals, being an intro or end of a visit to the zoo, or discussing some of my travels to the rainforest and shorelines!

Want to see that awesome "Shine-a-Light" feature one more time?!  Sure you do.

Now, I do want to add that if you are excited about these books, my good friend Laura (who was an educator too!) sells Usborne books!  She has provided me with a link HERE so you guys could purchase them.  She also is a fountain of knowledge and help if you'd like to buy other books for relatives, or for your classroom.  It is also worth is to ask about their 50% teacher "grant" matching program.  I put "grant" in parenthesis because it can be a purchase your team makes for your grade level, it doesn't have to be an actual "grant."  Definitely ask about that!

Thanks for reading, and I hope to bring you many more reviews (and giveaways!)

Just FYI, the link goes to an "Book eShow" with my name on it.  If you are wondering, I do get "points" for books that are purchased through this link.  My plan is that if I get free books, I will review them, give you my take on how they could be used at school or at home, and then I'll be doing some giveaways!  Woo, free books for you too!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

End of the Year Tips: Permanent Records

Alright, it is almost summer and things are getting crazy!  Take a deep breath...

Every year around testing time, I always felt that itch.  That "summer fever" if you will.  The desire that after testing, I just wanted to ride out the storm with the kids, shut it down, and go home!

However, I began doing little things here and there that made my end of the year more simple and less stressful.  But why just the end of the year?  Why not take small steps to ensure that the START of your year is also less stressful?  I quickly started realizing that if you leave a mess, you will inevitably begin with one as well.  I don't know about you, but there were years that I could only get in my room a week before school started.  That left very little precious time to get my room ready for all of those students and myself!

This little series of "End of the Year" tips is designed to share some practices that I found useful in my classroom.  I'll keep adding on my tips and linking them for you to easily read!

Tip 1: Permanent Records

If you have to go through your students' permanent records at the end of the year to purge old documents and add in new ones, you want to be prepared for this seemingly daunting task.  I remember when I started teaching and I was given this long list of items that were to be in each student's folder.  Some were there, some I had to add, and some I had to take out and shred.

Needless to say, I made several visits to the records room that year (and the next couple years until I learned better!)  I made one trip to make sure everything was in order (it never was...), another to pull out old documents, another to add in testing data stickers, another for writing samples...the list goes on.

So, how did I combat this?  Well, I started learning to pile up everything that was going to be added to the folder.  I sorted all items and then I alphabetized them all by last name.  Keep the alphabetized piles separated by binder clips, file folders, whatever you have!   I also took a piece of notebook paper, sticky notes, a pencil, a pen, a stapler, paper clips, and scotch tape.

Why all this stuff?  Well, the notebook paper was for making notes of any missing documentation that comes from the office (proof of address, test sticker sheets, etc...).  The sticky notes help mark where missing documents go so when you get the needed paper, you can put it directly in its allotted spot.  I took a pencil and pen for marking as needed because sometimes there are things on or in the folder that require a pencil or pen, so best be prepared!  I took the stapler in case I missed any essays/writing samples that were over a page long.  We also started stapling the "basics" (birth certificate, proof of address, etc..) on the inside of the front where it was easily accessible.  Sometimes staples were not allowed on certain documents or in the folder at all, in that case, the paper clips were useful!  What about the scotch tape?  Well, we had testing stickers and sometimes those buggers ripped or touched something else...again, just playing it safe!

My method?  Start at the front, go through the ordered list of items adding/purging as needed. I slid a piece of paper down the checklist so I could remember exactly where I was in the order.   Mark missing items with sticky notes and record them on one sheet of paper.  When finished, I stacked them back in alphabetical order, shredded the purged documents, got any missing paperwork from the office, filled it out, and went back through the sticky notes adding the missing items.

Phew!  A lot of work, but only one trip knocked it all out and I had everything I needed with me.  Just remember, you're not the only person doing it this time of year, so bring your own supplies!

OH and last, but certainly not least... if you have to move your records to another room because the records room is not large enough, bring a crate or wheeled cart!

I don't doubt that those muscles you have developed lugging home your work every evening can definitely handle the weight of the records, but have you considered how much work it would be if you DROPPED all of them on the floor?   You can pinch yourself over and over, but it would be a living nightmare, not one you can escape from!

Good luck with those records and stay tuned for more tips!  And, ah, don't drop those records!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Be An Earth Day Model (Giveaway too!)

If you've ever watched the Muppet Christmas Carol, and I have...many, many, many times while singing all the songs much to the dismay of my husband, and the delight of my third graders a couple years back because it is my favorite Christmas movie, you remember that line from the "It Feels Like Christmas" song,

It is the season of the spirit,
the message if we hear it, 
is 'make it last all year' 

Well, when Earth Day rolls around, I feel that this message is completely relevant as well!

For some kids, they never understand the three Rs, or why it is important to them until April 22nd. Then, on that one day they are told how they should reuse things, reduce waste, reduce water use, bike to the pool instead of driving, and to recycle those water bottles or scribbled on notebook papers.  They all make poems or cute pictures about how they love their home planet.  It is a great feel-good day all around as they bound out of your classroom feeling like they are going to save the planet the way you feel you could take on some baddies after watching a Batman movie.

....then the next day they are throwing their wadded up drawings from last week into the trash instead of the recycle bin.  Why?  Probably because the trash can is closer to their desk.

So, what can we do?  Well, modeling is the key.  When you have extra papers that are no longer needed and don't have "shred-worthy" info on them, toss them in the recycle bin.  If a student goes to throw away some paper, gently remind them that recycling would be a better choice.  I have found by doing this and giving a quick reminder, my other students would take on the role of the reminder.  I even had a kids who started picking up the recycle bin and walking around when we were cutting up paper for our interactive notebooks.  It was great hearing "No, don't throw it in the trash, recycle it.  That way it can get used again one day!"  I even had "dumpster divers" who would pick up balls of paper from the trash and throw it in the recycle bin.  

This April 22nd, get them excited about saving the Earth and keeping it a great place to live for all living things...but then keep that message going!  

In celebration of Earth Day, I'm giving away one of my Earth Day Activity Packs.  The giveaway will begin at midnight, and go to April 20th!  Good luck!

PS - I just learned two more Rs...Restore and Replenish....LOVE IT!

Click here to go to my giveaway on Facebook!