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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!