July 2, 2018

Moving on Down... to First Grade, That Is!

Hello, friends! It's been a while a really long time since I blogged. Please excuse my absence. Life happened. That's another story, but for now, I wanted to share my exciting news. After 16 years in fourth grade, I am moving to first grade! At first, I said no way. Then, I said no. Then, my friend Kim from A Love of Teaching, convinced me to give it a try. I said yes, but only if my principal really believed in me. Of course she did, she said. She also said she thought it would be a perfect fit for me! So here I am, getting ready for first grade!

Where to begin?
So where do I start? There is SO much to learn! Moving down is going to be quite a change for me. Fourth graders are much more independent, so that is going to be a huge shift for me. I'm also used to doing everything on my own, but now I have an assistant (who is amazing, by the way)! I've only moved classrooms once, when two of our elementary schools merged. So there's that.

My classroom of 14 years...now empty. It will be used as a reading classroom.
This room has been amazing!
Getting Excited!

Now that the shock has worn off, I am getting very excited!! I'm gathering resources, I've chosen a classroom theme, and I'm playing with classroom arrangement ideas. I wanted to share a few of these things with you, with lots more to come!

My NEW "OLD" Classroom Theme

My theme for this year is... wait for it... VINTAGE CARS! How fun is that? Everything in my room will relate to cars, transportation, etc, with the focus being vintage!

Student nametags will be "license plates"

My alphabet looks like roads!

How cute is this vintage truck? The bed lifts up for storage, and the kids can drive it around the room! It's huge, too!

How cute is this clock? It's not really vintage (it's from Kohl's) but it fits the room perfectly! Plus, I got it on sale and used the "Retail Me Not" app to save a ton!

More to Come

That's all for now, but stay tuned! I'll keep you updated on my transition and my new classroom!

January 29, 2017

A Must-Try Vocabulary Resource!!

I was at a workshop last week. The workshop was about building vocabulary. Our literacy specialist, Ms. Sonya Vannoy, who is AMAZING, taught us lots of ways for students to interact with and learn new vocabulary words. She informed us that research shows that students score lower on tests because they don't know the vocabulary words. Students struggle when a question asks them to go back into a text and define a word. As she taught, I began to think about the math vocabulary my students have to know. Yes, I have taught the skills and strategies. But honestly, no -  I cannot say that I have spent enough time on vocabulary words. Then Ms. Vannoy showed us Quizlet. I wanted to run back into my classroom and begin using it immediately!

Here's how it work:
  1. Sign up for a FREE account at Quizlet.com. (You can also upgrade, but for now, I'm sticking with the free version.
  2. Create a "set" of vocabulary words. You need to have at least 12.
  3. Once you have your "set" made, you can do so many things!! Students can:
    1. Study flashcards
    2. Learn the words
    3. Spell the words
    4. Test on the words
    5. Match the words
    6. Play "Gravity" with the words
    7. Play "Live" with the words

I'm going to tell you about the "Live" option.

  1. Make sure everyone has a device that can connect to the Internet. We use Chromebooks.
  2. Go to your account and choose "Live."
  3. On your interactive board, it will tell students to type in www.quizlet.live. It will also give them a log-in code.
  4. Once they type in the code, they type their first name.
    1. I make it a rule - first names only. If someone doesn't follow the rule, you simply click their name to remove them. This ensures that no one puts a silly name.
  5. When everyone is in, you hit "Start."
  6. Each student will have an animal appear on his/her screen. This animal represents the group he/she is in. For example, all the students with a rhino on their screen are in the "Rhinos" group. I give students 20 seconds to find their groups. All groups are also displayed on the interactive whiteboard. 
  7. Once you click "begin," questions will start. 
  8. Each group will have the same vocabulary word on their devices. However, each student in the group will have a different set of word choices. Students must view all members' screens to see who has the correct word.
  9. If the group is correct, they move ahead. (All teams are shown on the interactive whiteboard throughout the game). If groups miss one, they go all the way back to zero!
  10. The first team to 12 wins!

* This game is excellent for teaching teamwork and collaboration! If students don't work together, it is impossible to win the game!

* Your students will learn their vocabulary words because they want to win!

* If groups miss a word, the correct word and definition appear on the screen for them to study.

January 17, 2017

Classroom Organization Tips

An organized classroom is a happy classroom! Today I'm going to share a few organizational tips that help me keep my sanity!

These drawers are a life-saver! I teach math, science, and social studies, so I keep papers that I will need soon in these top drawers. I am very cautious with personal student information, and my own, so I have a shred drawer. When it gets full, or when I have time, I take this drawer to the office shredder. We use behavior cards for behavior management, so I keep a drawer full of these. We use NC Studies Weekly Newspapers to supplement our social studies curriculum, so I have several weeks' worth run off in this drawer. Every morning we do NC "Tidbits," so I have these in bags, ready to go each week. I give a weekly math homework sheet, so I have several weeks of this run off, too. I also send home weekly multiplication games for students to play at home, so I have these ready to go, too!

Supporting My Pen Obsession & Tracking Assignments
Does anyone else have an obsession with pretty pens? I keep mine organized, by color, using this organizer that I purchased from Michael's. In the middle of the organizer, I keep my grade sheets. My homeroom is pink and my block two is green. When assignments come in, I use a corresponding grade sheet to see who has turned everything in. My grade sheets also have a place to record grades. When grades have been recorded, I file the graded work to send home and I put the grade sheets in a drawer to record later. Once grades have been recorded, I put the grade sheets in my "shred" drawer. These grade sheets, which are editable, are available for purchase in my store my clicking here.

Chromebook Storage
I have 10 Chromebooks in my classroom. When I had six, I had them on the countertop. Now that I have more, there wasn't room to store them. I have tried lots of options, but this is my favorite. I use file organizers to store them. Mine are metal and came from Wal-Mart - they were around $10 each. I used a silver Sharpie to label them #1 - 10. One file holder holds #1 - 5 and the other holds #6 - 10. I also numbered the chargers. Everyone knows which number to use and they know to put them back, in order. It clears up the countertop for students to work and it looks so nice! I also purchased a metal crate to store headphones in. Most students use earbuds, but someone always forgets them at home.

At My Desk
I like to keep my desk area organized. I purchased a file holder and pretty folders to keep important papers at my reach. I also purchased a file drawer from Lowe's Hardware to keep important items in. It was an ugly blue, so my husband spray-painted it purple, my favorite color! Then he drilled it to the wall. I made cute labels and used double-sided tape to tape them on the inside.

Helpful Boxes
The last area I want to share with you is by the door. I have three important baskets here. The first is my BoxTops basket for students to turn in BoxTops. The second is my "Lost and Found" basket. This has helped tremendously! Students simply put things they find in here, rather than bringing them to me or wandering around the room asking who something belongs to. When students lose something, they know where to look first. I have a student who is in charge of cleaning out the basket every other week. The third basket is my "Extras Box." This also helps maintain my sanity. If students lose a paper or for whatever reason don't get one, they don't have to ask me - they simply check the box.
I hope you have found some helpful organizational tips here! I would love to hear your best tips!!

January 13, 2017

Media Center Makerspace

I teach at a K-6 elementary school in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. Our media center has always been one of the busiest and most important parts of our school. Why? Our school knows the importance of reading, and we want to instill a love of reading in each and every student. Our media coordinator, Mrs. Laura Bowers, has spent countless hours choosing a variety of books for all interests. We don't force children to read "on their levels" or read books to take tests. Instead, we guide students to choose "just right books" that they are interested in. When new books come in, Mrs. Bowers does book talks on our school's morning news and children rush to the media center to get their hands on these treasures! It's exciting to see so many children that love reading! Our media center truly is amazing!

Not only do we have thousands of books, but our media center now has a Makerspace! Mrs. Bowers wrote and received a grant to make her dream come true. By definition, a Makerspace is, "A place in which people with shared interests, especially in computers or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment and knowledge." So what does this look like in a school's media center, and why does every school need one? To find out, I took my students to our media center this afternoon. Here is what we learned.

What is in a Makerspace?
Our school's Makerspace is a place for children to create. The Makerspace is located in our media center. Some of the items in the Makerspace are:

  • art supplies
  • Legos and a Lego wall
  • crafting materials
  • drawing books
  • Chromebooks
  • magnetic building kits
  • a chalkboard
  • littleBits building kits

What do students do in a Makerspace?
Students come to the Makerspace when they have an idea to create something. They may want to create a model of something after reading a new book. Maybe they learned about electricity in science class and want to work with the littleBits kits. They may want to come and make a card for a Veteran. Students can come alone, with partners, or in small groups to work. They share ideas and create together.

What are rules/guideslines for a Makerspace?
There are few rules for a Makerspace. Ours include:

  • respect the work of others
  • share ideas
  • share materials
  • work collaboratively
  • return materials where you got them from

I encourage you to explore a variety of Makerspaces and try to implement one in your school! And if you already have one, I would love to hear about it!!

December 31, 2016

Eight Resources Every Geometry Teacher Must Have

I had the privilege of spending a week with Dr. Lisa Poling, a professor at Appalachian State University, which is in North Carolina. Dr. Poling was a teacher with the MELT program - Mathemathics Education Leadership Training. She taught a unit on geometry, measurement and proportion. Each day was filled with hands-on lessons and activities that challenged the way we think about math. I'm excited to share what I've learned with you!!

1. Attribute blocks - I had never heard of these until our workshop. As soon as I used them, they were on my Amazon wish list!! These are perfect for getting students to pay attention to similarities and differences among shapes. To use these cards, students must put shapes on the card. If there is one line between shapes, there must be at least one difference between the shapes. If there are two lines between shapes, there must be at least two differences between shapes. The same goes for three lines - there must be three differences. Attribute blocks are also cool to use with a Venn diagram! 

2. Polydrons - these are so much fun! These are useful if you are talking about lines, edges and vertices. They are especially helps if you are teaching about nets of shapes. We were introduced to Platonoic Solids and asked to construct them using the Polydrons. This really stretched our thinking!!

3. Pattern blocks - I honestly thought these were mostly for recognizing shapes. Boy - was I wrong!! We made shapes with these. We also used them to talk about fractions. What was really cool to me was using them to measure angles. I know that a square is made of 4 90 degree angles. So I put these brown shapes into the corner of a square until the brown shapes equaled a square. It took three brown shapes to equal one square. Therefore 9@ degrees divided by 3 brown shapes = 30 degrees for each brown shape. 

4. Geoboards - Most of the teachers I know try to give these away. However, I learned so many new uses for these!! These can be used to for basics, from making shapes, to harder things, like measuring angles. I used these in a new way this week - to measure area. It stretched my thinking and gave me a much more concrete understanding of what area is and looks like.

5. Game - "24" - This is a really cool game where students are asked to make equations that equal 24. This game lends very well to differentiation, as it comes with various levels of cards, yet they all look the same.

6. Game - "Set" - This game is awesome! Students have to make a "set" of three cards, using pre-determined qualifications. When you play this game, there are four features to look for - color (red, purple or green), shape (oval, squiggle or diamond), number (one, two or three) and shading (solid, striped or outlined). Players must find three cards with three things either all the same or all different. I became hooked and immediately bought a set for my classroom. My students are also hooked and beg to play!

Image result for set game 

7. Hinged mirrors - These are so awesome for teaching angle measurements!! They also help explain how shapes can be broken down into other shapes. I could have played learned with these for hours!

8. Tangrams - Everyone has heard of tangrams, but again, they are underused in geometry class! Even if you don't have enough for an entire class, these are super easy to make with paper and scissors! These not only develop a stronger understanding of shapes, but they make students stronger problem-solvers! The web site, Puzzle Playground, has ready-made activities to use with tangrams.

July 29, 2016

Teachers Sharing Resources

This is a hard post to write, but it comes from my heart. I am a mommy to a precious five year old named Blake. My husband is a lineman, so he works out of town. So most of the time, it's just me and Blake. As a teacher, my income is minimal. My husband has a good income, but he has to use a lot of it to pay for housing while he is on the road. In order to keep our home and have food on the table, I had to pick up extra jobs. Right now, I spend most of my time creating resources for Teachers Pay Teachers. I also do photography on the side. This summer, I've had multiple yard sales to help pay bills. I'm not asking for sympathy - I don't mind hard work to help my family, and the good Lord has blessed us with so much. But. . . do I feel guilty for taking time away from my son because I have to work? Yes, I do. Is it sad that he brings me my laptop at night and asks me if I have to work some more? Yes, it is. But that's just how it is right now. I'm working hard so that in the future, we can relax a little bit and not have to worry about money. So when you read my post, please don't get defensive, or think I am trying to single you out. I just feel the need to shed some light on the subject. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts.

We've all heard the saying - "Good teachers beg, borrow, and steal." I've said it a million times!! We all know that teachers are grossly underpaid, so we have to share ideas, borrow materials, and work together. I send out e-mails all the time asking to borrow a book, or manipulatives, or this, or that - all sorts of things. And I'm happy to share my resources when people ask for them. That's what good teachers do.

HOWEVER, the last part of that saying - stealing - that is where I have to disagree with this statement.

Let's talk about that - stealing. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stealing in three ways:
  1. to take (something that does not belong to you) in a way that is wrong or illegal
  2. to take (something that you are not supposed to have) without asking for permission
  3. to wrongly take and use (another person's ideas, words, etc.) 
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 29 July 2016.

As a teacher, I have collected some great resources. Lately, most of my resources are digital. So when a colleague comes in and says, "Hey, Monica! That looks great! Can you send that to me?" What am I supposed to do? I paid for that resource and it's mine to share with whomever I choose, right? WRONG! When I purchased these products, they came with a Terms of Use that says I have purchased one license to use for my classroom. That means that if I share it, I am violating the Terms of Use and breaking the law. To put it bluntly - I am stealing.

Stealing Is:
  • copying a digital resource (on paper) and giving it to someone
  • e-mailing a copy of a digital resource to someone
  • putting a digital resource into Google drive and sharing the link with someone
  • putting a digital resource onto a local server so that others can access it
  • putting a digital resource onto a hard drive or jump drive and giving it to others
  • creating a shared folder in your Google drive and sharing it with your teammates/colleagues
  • posting a resource online (whether free or paid)
  • posting a resource on your school web site
But no one gets hurt, right?

  1. We are teachers. We are supposed to practice and model ethical behavior. We are hurting our students (and our colleagues) if we model inappropriate behavior.
  2. I am a seller on Teachers Pay Teachers. I use the money I earn in my store to help support my family. If we share resources, instead of others buying them, we are potentially taking money from other sellers' stores, hurting their families financially. If you aren't a seller, you may not know the time (and money) that go into creating products. Sellers take hours (sometimes days and weeks) creating a product, plus they have to pay for digital papers, clip art, and borders that go into the product.
  3. I cannot create my products without the amazing talent of the artists that I purchase from. Those artists work hard to provide clip art, papers, and borders. It isn't fair (or legal) to share their work.
So what can I do?

If someone asks you for a resource, you can still help them without breaking any Terms of Use violations. Not only this, but you are also supporting other teachers and their families.
  1. Send them a link to the resource - this way, your colleague can have and use the same thing you are using. You will both have a license, making it legal, and helping to support another teacher's family.
  2. Offer to purchase an extra license for them - on Teachers Pay Teachers, you have the option to purchase an additional license of a product - or more than one! Usually, the extra license is half of the price of the original. Your colleague can give you the money. Then you can purchase the extra license and send the product to them.
  3. If you've given away things in the past, you can make it right. Go back to your purchases on Teachers Pay Teachers. If you've given away a few copies of something, go and purchase a couple of extra licenses.
  4. If you have a shared Google drive folder, stop sharing immediately. Go into the folder, and click "share." If you have shared it with someone, their name will show up. Simply click the "x" beside his/her name and they will no longer have access to your files.
  5. If you have posted any resources online, free or paid, take them down.
I'm going to be honest. This is a touchy subject. It's easy to say "ok" when someone asks you to share, but it's much harder to say, "I'm sorry, I can't." If this is you, just be honest with your co-workers. Explain to them that it's illegal to share resources, but tell them you will be happy to send a link so they can purchase the product, or offer to buy them a license at a reduced cost. By abiding to a seller's Terms of Use, you are modeling ethical behavior and helping other teachers and their families.

A Special Note to my Customers
To each of you that have purchased something from my store, my family and I want to thank you. Lately, I have had several customers to purchase additional licenses. I want to thank you for your honesty.

June 28, 2016

Ten Ways to be an Amazing Teacher... From a Parent's Point of View

My son is getting ready to start kindergarten. Yes - I blinked and it happened! It's summer, so I've had time to reflect on his days in preschool. I've been able to see education from a parent's point of view, which has helped me become a better teacher. Here are some things I've learned.

  1. Treat everyone fairly. Blake was blessed with amazing preschool teachers. Every teacher and assistant that he has worked with has treated everyone fairly. If Blake did something amazing, he was rewarded. If Blake broke a rule, he was punished. Everyone was treated the same.
  2. Communicate. As a teacher, I didn't always communicate well with parents. Yes, I responded to e-mails, phone calls and notes, but I didn't really go any further than that. Through Blake, I've learned that communication is more than that. It's important to keep parents in the know. For example, if Blake had a rough day, I would get a phone call or a note. If there were skills he was struggling with, his teachers would let me know and provide resources for me to help him. His teachers would send notes about upcoming events, and then send reminders, too! As teachers, we can (and should) step up the level of communication. You can't be in contact with every family every day. However, I do feel that we need to reach out to and include parents as much as possible.
  3. Send work home. I'm sure most of us do this already, but I did want to include this because I think it is so important. In my classroom, I *try* to send work home on a weekly basis. I send it inside a manila folder with a sheet of paper inside. The paper has room for a parent signature, as well as a place to make any comments if needed. I love it when I pick up Blake and there is work in his cubby. It shows me what he has worked on during the day, plus it allows me to see his progress. A friend of mine has a son in high school and his teacher never sends work home. All she sees are his report card grades. She doesn't know what he is working on, doing well in, or struggling with, which is very frustrating to her. 
  4. Celebrate your students. Celebrate your students - anything and everything! It doesn't take long to call home and let a parent know that her daughter has finally mastered her multiplication tables. Or send a quick e-mail to let a parent know that her son has made a new friend at recess. In preschool, they make a big deal about birthdays. I wasn't able to leave school to be with my son for his school party, but his teacher took pictures and sent them to me. 
  5. Incorporate students' interests in your classroom. I had a few students who didn't really like school last year. They were great students, but it took a little more on my part to keep them interested. One student liked dinosaurs, so I made sure to incorporate some hands-on activities that I knew he would like during our fossils unit. Another student was a huge Beetles fan. So during morning work, I would make sure a Beetles song was on my playlist. These are little things, but they mean the world to students. It shows them that you care. After the last Minions movie came out, Blake was into Minion everything! So his teacher bought a Minions Jello kit and let the students make it in the classroom, complete with Minion glasses! 
  6. Take time to do arts & crafts. I am no artist, and any student that has ever had me will tell you that! However, you can still do art projects with your students. Give students the opportunity to show you what they learned through a drawing, a sculpture, or another format. Then send this work home. I remember several years ago, before I had my son, doing a Christmas craft at school. I didn't want to give up my class time to do it. Face it - it's hard work on teachers! However, my colleague did have a daughter. I remember her telling me how precious those crafts were to her as a mother. Now that I have a son, I totally see what she meant. So now, even though we are pushed for time, I always take a little time for art and crafts. 
  7. Love them. We don't always know what our students are going through. Maybe they have had a terrible morning at home and are looking forward to school. Or maybe their pet died last night and they didn't want to come to school. Whatever the case, love your students.
  8. Let them play. I have seen, more than ever, how important play is to children. I love that Blake's teachers give them so much time to play. They know how important it is to a child's development. I read a study from Texas where students were having recess more times during the day. The result was increased test scores. Maybe you can't have recess very often, but you can incorporate brain breaks into your routine. I love Go Noodle! We take breaks in between lessons, which helps students get refocused and recharged. It's vital to children't development to let them play!
  9. Let students have a voice. This year I asked my students to grade me. In the past, I've given a paper copy of a "report card" for them to complete. This year, I went Google! I sent students a link to a Google form and asked them to "grade" me. They loved that they were given a chance to be heard. I loved their responses!! They said they loved math, but added, "Please don't teach out of the book every day." 
  10. Be real with your students. This tip just makes life real. Sometimes you won't know the answers, and that's ok! Tell students that! Sometimes you mess up and it's ok! Students need to see that we aren't perfect. They need to learn skills to help them through situations where they may not know the answers.
I hope I've given you some ideas on for your classroom. If you have any additional tips, I would love to hear them! Comment below if you're willing to share!