Teacher Week 2015

Hi, Teachers!

I'm linking up with Blog Hoppin' this week for Teacher Week 2015. If you have a blog, this is a great way to connect with other teachers so you can soak up all of their good ideas. You can also get to know other teachers a bit more as a people so you can understand more about them as teachers! That's my hope for this week's posts. If you're interested, read more about how to connect here:

So today's post is obviously 5 facts about me! (That means I lied in my last post about my next post being my classroom reveal... oops! Sorry! You will have to wait until Wednesday I guess.)

1. My Other Half

This is Mr. Word On Third... his real name is David! We both met each other right after we graduated college, and I knew I was in biiiiiiiiig, big trouble by the middle (OK, if I'm being honest, right at the beginning) of our first date. I love him insane amounts, but the best part of being with him is that he is my best friend. That's why I know we'll last. We are total goof balls together, and every night I feel like I'm a twelve-year-old having a slumber party. We giggle all the time, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Mr. Word On Third, if you're reading this... I love you!

2. My Furry Children

These little knuckleheads mean the world to me. The dog on the left is named Ruffles. He is almost 3 years old. He is a Fox Terrier-Poodle mix (often referred to as a Wire-Poo or a Foxy-Poo). We brought him home when we was ten weeks old. The dog on the right is named Pongo. You can't see them well in this picture, but he actually has tons of spots. We named him Pongo after the dog in 101 Dalmations because we believe he is part Dalmation. We adopted him when he was about 6 or 7 months old. He came from Puerto Rico, but we found him on overstock.com! Yes, you heard that right. We were looking for furniture, but instead we got a dog. That sounds about right to me! Pongo is about 1 and a half years old.

Funny story--Mr. Word On Third made us promise not to get any pets until we had been living together for one whole year. After about a month, he let me get my hermit crabs. After about two or three months, he let us get a hamster. After six months, I couldn't stand it anymore, and I ended up convincing him to get Ruffles. It took me a good week or two, and I was so glad Ruffles hadn't found his forever home in that time! The rest is history!

3. POP Pilates

I am a huge fan of POP Pilates, an exercise routine developed by Cassey Ho. I was a huge couch potato until I found Pilates. I liked yoga a lot, but nothing ever really stuck with me. When I found Cassey's YouTube account filled with exercise videos and her blog, I knew I found a match for me. I've had an active lifestyle for about a year and a half now, which is totally shocking to me. POP Pilates gave me what I needed to get interested in moving. In the above picture, I am hanging out with Cassey in tree pose after she held a book signing and Pilates class in NYC. That was a really fun day!

4. Vegetarianism

I am a clean-eating, lacto-ovo vegetarian. I made the switch to vegetarianism almost two years ago. It's a huge part of my life. I decided to switch for ethical reasons. While I'm really glad that my diet is much more environmentally-friendly, the real reason I made the switch is because I love animals too much to eat them. I really liked the way meat tasted, though, so often I feel like this guy from Finding Nemo:

Honestly though, this switch has made me feel great. Ironically, I eat way more protein than I did before I made the switch. I have tons of energy, and I feel better about myself. I think I was the perfect candidate for vegetarianism because I love vegetables so much. Eggplants, brussels sprouts, pumpkin, string beans, zucchini.... these words all make me happy!!!!

5. Singing

I love to sing! It's one of my favorite things to do. I took voice lessons for ten years, so technically, I guess I am classically trained. Mr. Word On Third was the handsome bassist in an awesome band in and after college. I got to sing back-up vocals in a few of the tracks on their album. It was definitely something on my bucket list. I was in the studio in the above picture. Clearly, I was not aware that a picture was being taken! That's OK, it's a cool action shot, right?

Anyway, I really urge you to link up with Blog Hoppin'. I want to hear more about you and build our community. :) If you don't have a blog... what are 5 cool facts about you that others might not know?! Comment below!

First Day of School

Hi, Teachers!

I am writing a very short post today, but I wanted to talk about the first day of school. For the past few years, I have done things pretty similarly with minor changes in my plans due to a different schedule each year. If you're in the same boat I am in right now, you are trying to get your lesson plans for your first week finished. I highly recommend using this book to help you:

This book was designed to get you started smoothly. I say this all of the time, but I really believe it: You must go slow to go fast. My Responsive Classroom mentor said this during my first training, and I couldn't agree more now. Starting off slowly and smoothly lets you get SO MUCH MORE done during the year. The book has everything from goals you might want to meet each week to sample schedules for many different grade levels. I use this book religiously at the start of every year. It helps me get off to a great start! Each year, I pick up something different from it. If you're interested, click the picture above to be taken right to amazon to order it. If you have Amazon Prime, you'll have it in only two days! (I looooooove Amazon Prime.)

My first day of school is Wednesday, so I am only planning for 3 days right now. Here are a few highlights of my first day that you might want to try:

Scavenger hunt
In my school, the kids enter the classroom on the first day at all different times. My kids start arriving at around 8:45 and can get in as late as 9:20ish on the first day. I need something to do to keep the kids occupied when they arrive. I tell the kids to read the directions on our smart board after saying hello. Basically, it tells them to find their desk, put their backpack down, read the morning message, and get started on a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt is fabulous! It sets the tone for cooperative learning and helps you build your community right away.

The only rule of the scavenger hunt is that you can only ask one question for each person at a time. So, if I ask a student named David one of the questions on my scavenger hunt, I must ask someone else about another item before I can ask David another question. If someone answers yes to a question, they sign their name next to the item they answered. There are questions like "Who had toast for breakfast?" and "Who went to a different school last year?" I love the way that is structured. It makes the kid from another school a really important part of the game and makes them feel special when they're likely really nervous. Third graders are really up for this challenge. Last year I tried this for the first time, after being used to first graders, and my jaw was pretty much on the floor watching my class in awe. They were so much more assertive than I would have been as a kid! They did a lovely job with this. Of course, once in a while a few students break the only rule of the game by asking someone more than one question at a time, but that doesn't really matter. The point is that it builds community.

Morning Meeting
Of course, I am a huge fan of Morning Meetings, and I have them every single day in my room. However, on the first day I do things differently. I like to introduce Morning Meeting by first talking about the concept of meetings. After we talk about what meetings are and why they are held, I tell the kids we will be having meetings every day in our room. I introduce the rules of Morning Meeting (these are separate than class rules, which we make together later on in the first weeks of school) next. They are a few short rules (like, "Keep empty hands at meeting" and "Listen to the person speaking") that outline what we need for discussions to run smoothly.

Next, we have a greeting. I pick one that is low-risk at first, and we gradually build risk as the kids get to know each other. I do "1, 2, 3, POP" on the first day. The kids sit in a circle and count off by 4's. The person who would say 4 says, "Pop" instead and stands up. Then I have them say their name, their age, and their birthday. Easy and quick for the first day. Then the person next to them starts counting again. We do this until everyone has had a chance to "pop." This is lower-risk emotionally for students. They are not forced to shake hands with someone they don't know or do things they are uncomfortable with. I think this is really important.

Last we have our Morning Message. Now, the typical structure of a meeting is: 1. Greeting, 2. Share, 3. Activity, 4. Morning Message. I gradually introduce morning meeting. After these two components are easy for students (usually it only takes a day or two) I introduce activities. Next I introduce sharing. Last year I was doing all 4 components of a Morning Meeting by the third day of school. Each class will have different needs.

Read Aloud
Reading aloud is so much fun for the kids, and it is a nice way for kids to start doing academic work without feeling like they're taking too many academic or emotional risks too soon. Every year I read the book First Day Jitters to my students. They always love it. So do I!
Click the link above if you'd like to purchase the book. Basically the book is about how a girl named Sarah is nervous for her first day of school. It's a REALLY cute book with a fun twist, but I won't ruin it for you if you haven't read it yet.

Guided Discovery
This is an important piece of my first day. I do not introduce any materials to students without doing a guided discovery first. Guided discovery is similar to interactive modeling, except it is used when there are many ways to do something. For instance, there may be one way to walk with scissors safely, but there are many ways to use paint. In short, here are the steps of a guided discovery:

1. Introduce the material(s) you'll be exploring. (Many teachers like to add the element of surprise here by putting items in a bag and having students guess about what the object(s) are. Not necessary, but sometimes fun!)
2. Generate ideas. I ask the students what they can do with the materials. We brainstorm ideas. Sometimes we right them down on chart paper or a dry-erase board. Then I have some students quickly model some of the ideas. Sometimes, especially in younger grades, teachers will have everyone model an idea together.
3. Explore. The kids get some time to experiment with the materials on their own.
4. Share. The kids can share out their work with the class. Sometimes it's with a partner, sometimes it's quickly and at-a-glance with the whole group, sometimes it's a museum walk.
5. Procedural Pieces. This is where you get a chance to tell important things about an item. Maybe you will model how to clean it up.

On the first day of school, I do a guided discovery with students with the materials in their table caddies. These caddies include pencils, erasers, post-it notes, colored pencils, markers, and crayons. I give them paper and let them do what their hearts desire. It may sound silly, but it's really important to do. You also have something student-created to hang up in your room by the first day.

Partner Tag
This is a favorite of my students. We go outside and play tag together, but it's not just any tag--it's partner tag! Everyone is assigned a partner, and the only person they can tag is their partner. Basically, it's a bunch of tag games being played at once. To play partner tag, you must walk. It makes it a safe indoor game if there is enough space and your students can handle it. I will often take kids to our small gym on indoor recess games for 2 minutes of partner tag. It makes all the difference in the world!

First, I model safe tagging with the kids and give them a chance to practice. Next, I model the game. If I'm "it" first, I cover my eyes and count out loud to three. Then I can start walking after my partner. I tag them safely. Then my partner repeats. When you give guidelines for space kids can use, they can get really creative with walking around other classmates to avoid being tagged. This game always leads to lots of giggling, even with adults. I highly recommend this game. But make sure to model how to be safe and make sure to partner students up so they know who they are playing with. You might need to tell them who will be "it" first as well.

Well, those are my big first day activities. We do a lot of interactive modeling, but I feel these are the best parts of my day. They are the non-negotiable activities that happen every year, regardless of my schedule. It's so much fun!

My next post will be my classroom reveal. It's so close to being finished! What do you do on your first day? Are there special activities you love? Do you have a special read aloud you like to read? Make sure to comment below so other teachers can benefit from your awesome ideas! :)

Butterflies in the Classroom

Hi, Teachers!

I'm super passionate about what I want to talk to you about today. I'm sure most people who know butterflies can see that my logo has a Monarch Butterfly. Did you know that these little critters are actually really great to have in your classroom? A few years ago, I attended an amazing workshop presented by the Monarch Teacher Network. You can find their Facebook group here. I suggest going to the first link I posted and seeing when the next workshops will be. Most workshops are in the summer, but they sometimes have some during the year too. The one I went to was supposed to cost $99, but I didn't have to pay for anything. There are tons of grants available so teachers can go to these for free. I didn't even have to apply for a grant! The grants are given out on a first come-first serve basis. Anyway, the amazing people at this workshop showed me literally everything I needed to know in order to raise Monarchs in my room.

Whether you teach about organisms, insects, life cycles, butterflies, or just teach different subjects in science, I think it's absolutely worth it to raise these guys in your room. If you don't have a ton of time to devote to teaching about this, you can get tons of great books to read to your kids, and your kids can at the very least observe the caterpillars or butterflies during snack time or quiet time. Almost all teachers have a nonfiction reading unit. I find that many students end up wanting to write nonfiction pieces about butterflies as well. I don't have insects as part of my third grade curriculum, but I make room for this in the very beginning of the year. These are some of the books I read aloud:

This has tons of great photographs and really fabulous information. Most third graders can read this independently, but it works very well as a read aloud too.

Gail Gibbons is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. My first graders used to love this book, and my third graders do too! However, the illustration on the cover looks more like a Viceroy butterfly to me. You can talk to your kids about that. Technically, it's only an illustration, so it's not quite wrong, but it can begin a great conversation.

This is great for older kids (think 4th-5th grade and beyond) because the text is so complex. You could also use it as a read aloud for older kids or just read a few pages/sections.

If you decide to teach about monarchs in your room, which I HIGHLY recommend, you should really look into going to a workshop. Check out the links I listed above. However, another book for you to get to help you learn as much about Monarchs as possible is here:

This book is for you as the teacher. It gives you tons of information about where to find milkweed (the only food that Monarch caterpillars eat), how to solve different problems you might run into when raising Monarchs, and more. Ba Rea is well known in the Monarch Teacher Network community. She even posts on the Facebook page! 

If you're serious about teaching about Monarchs, the first thing you'll want to do is find a reliable source of milkweed. If you can't find one, plant some. Monarchs are dangerously close to becoming endangered right now, so planting milkweed is already something you should be doing if you care about keeping this incredible species alive. You also need to make sure to know the difference between milkweed and other look-alike plants. (GO TO THE WORKSHOP! I'm telling you, you'll know all of this stuff like the back of your hand afterwards.)

This is milkweed. It has ONE stem. Sometimes it has seed pods, sometimes it has flowers. When it has flowers follow the rule of 5. There will be five pedals facing up and five facing down. When you cut milkweed for your caterpillars, make sure it's fresh, green, and bug-free! Other bugs that like milkweed can be really harmful to Monarch caterpillars.

This is Dogbane. It's not milkweed. Notice how the stem is red. Also, milkweed has one stem. This has other stems coming out of the main stem.

So there's your crash course on milkweed. I just found those pictures by doing a quick google image search. They are not my images. If you do the same, you'll find tons of images to help you! All you need for your milkweed is a bucket, and you're set. If you put your milkweed directly into water after cutting the stem, it will keep for several days. Once you put your milkweed in your cage, slit the stem vertically in half for an inch or two on the bottom. That's a great trick to help you get the most life out of your milkweed!

Monarchs shed their skin 5 times, and the last time they become a chrysalis. Hey! Fun fact: the plural of the word "chrysalis" is "chrysalid." Here's what they'll look like each time they shed their skin:

Click the above picture to be taken to the website where it came from.

Every summer, I look for milkweed patches. When I find a bunch of milkweed, I look on the under side of each leaf for eggs. They can be really hard to find! Every now and then, you will find more than one egg per leaf, or eggs on stems, but usually monarchs lay one egg on the underside of one leaf.

These are some of my eggs from this year! These guys hatched a few days ago. They turn black on the top right before they hatch. When the caterpillars hatch, they eat their egg shell. I leave my eggs and small caterpillars in a container that looks like this:

Of course, I always poke holes on the top of the container. I used corn holders to poke my holes. That way, they are big enough so air can get in, but small enough so caterpillars can't get out. They are SO tiny when they are born! These are some of my Monarch caterpillars at about 2 - 3 days old:

I made sure to put my hand in there so you could see just how tiny they are. They are actually already a lot bigger than they were when they hatched! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT!? Every year, this just amazes me. They grow sooooo quickly too!

Eventually, I end up putting my caterpillars in a little container like this. However, I prefer to use the set up below:

This is just a tomato planter, some tulle, clothes pins, and cardboard covered in foil at the bottom, fastened onto the enclosure with binder clips. It's perfect--my big caterpillars can't get out, and I can put bigger stalks of milkweed in here. There's also lots of room for caterpillars to set up shot and form their chrysalids. Just make sure that you cover the top of any water bottle you use with foil. You don't want your caterpillars to drown! They will definitely get in there if you let them!

You can see the top of my smaller cage here. There are tons of caterpillars hanging out on top. They are going to hang soon and form a "J" shape with their bodies. Then, they'll shed their skin one last time and form a chrysalis. You can see one chrysalis at the top of the cage! It's really important that chrysalids have enough room underneath them. If you leave too little space between chrysalids and milkweed plants, butterflies won't have any room to emerge from their chrysalids. The chrysalid will also turn black right before a butterfly emerges. You will actually be able to see the patterns on their wings! I definitely prefer using the bigger black cage that I made for the bigger caterpillars though--you can see when they emerge from their chrysalids much better. However, after a very sad first year of bringing that cage to school for the first time, some of the chrysalids fell and were damaged. I was heart broken! I learned that the green cage is easier to transport to school.

My kids LOVE learning about butterflies. They are so excited when they can see an egg hatch, a chrysalis form, or a butterfly emerge. The looks of wonder and excitement on their faces are so exciting. Then, once the butterflies have dried their wings, you can have your kids release the butterflies into the wild (as long as it's not raining!). It's a truly magical experience. I hope I've convinced you to think about attending these workshops so you can raise Monarchs in your room!

Do you raise butterflies in our room? If so, what kind? If not, do you raise any other critters in your room? Comment below!

I DID IT!!!!!!!

Hi, Teachers!

I went into my classroom on a mission today, and I COMPLETED IT! WHOOOO HOOOO. Can you guess what I'm talking about? Yes... of course, I'm talking about the file cabinet I've been working on for the past week. It was actually really quite difficult for me today. The spray painting was the fun part, but contact paper is officially the bane of my existence! And, no, I'm not being dramatic.

Here's another shot of the file cabinet all by itself!

There it is! Phew! I'm so glad that's over and done with. It actually looks really cute. You'd never know that I lost 384092384 brain cells from banging my head against the wall. (Don't worry--I didn't do that. I may or may not have been tempted to do that though!!)

I put more contact paper and some polka-dotted washi tape on the top too. All in all, it was a success! But I'm not doing that again for A VERY. LONG. TIME. I'm also relieved because I got all of my files organized and put away! Now my little round table is empty (except for a globe) and my window sill is LOADS clearer. While I had the god forsaken contact paper out (I'm not bitter...), I decided to make over my desk too. That thing was UUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGLLLYYYYY! And now, with a little help from some contact paper and some washi tape, it also looks fantastic! The best part is that it cost less than $3.00, and that's a liberal estimate. One roll of my contact paper was about $5.50, and the washi tape I used probably cost about $.50. I used a very small amount of contact paper, but you could use fabric too. I love how cheap this makeover was!

I feel great right now! It is so important that we set up work spaces for ourselves that make us happy. Even when I was desk-less, I made sure to do this. I find that it makes me more productive, but frankly it makes me happier too! What's the point of working in a space you don't like? For me, this really improves my state of mind when I'm at work. All day, I'm so busy thinking about the kids that I don't notice things about myself (like how hungry I am or that I have had to go to the bathroom for the past two hours), so I try to fit in some ME stuff when I can. 

I also bought an adorable little chair from Home Goods. It will be super cozy. I can just see it being a popular spot during reader's and writer's workshop. It's SO important to add elements of warmth into your classroom design. Here's what the chair looks like:

But it has a pattern similar to this:
I know my kids are going to love it. I'll make sure to take a picture next time! I plan on going back to school on Monday. My goals are to get my desk cleaned out, my math cart all set up, and my calendar area up and running. I can't wait! Setting up my classroom always gets me so excited. :)

What did you do this year when you designed your classroom that you are trying for the first time? Comment below!

Setting Up My Classroom!

Hi, Teachers!

I've been moving a lot of stuff around in my room, and I'm really excited about it. Unfortunately, I've been unable to get into my school for the past 2 days, but I should be able to get back in tomorrow afternoon. I plan to finish my file cabinet then. I'm so excited! it looks SO awesome so far! Here's what it looks like at the moment:

I wasn't going to paint the hardware, but I realized the person who has this before me painted it. It was preeeeeeeeeetty ugly looking, so I had to make it all blue! You can see what this awful thing looked like before if you look at the picture below. You can see how the handle has a bit of paint left on it.

YUCK! All I have to do now is add contact paper to the doors and the top, and I'll be done! My contact paper is sitting in my bag right now waiting to go to school. :)

I also cleaned my Sterilite organizer. I'm so glad, because it needed a good clean. I just used a magic eraser and got so much dirt out of it. Look at the before and after:
Before... yuck!

After... all clean! :)
Another project I dealt with which was pretty awesome was my mailboxes. Each year, I put labels on my mailboxes with my students' names. I have put new labels on top of old labels for a little while, but frankly, it was getting really old and dingy looking. Well, after a bit of scraping, I had the brilliant idea to put some washi tape (I LOVE WASHI TAPE!) on the plastic parts. Now, I'll be able to put new labels on and it will look *awesome* ! I'm neurotic, I know, but it was really bothering me. You can see how much better it looks already.

I'm thinking I'll also put some of the chevron contact paper on the top or sides and finish the whole mailbox off with some more washi tape. I got my tape on sale at Michael's for 5 bucks for several rolls. I'd recommend checking it out!

I also FINALLY got all of the big pieces of furniture out of my closet! WAHOOOOO!!! Now all I have to do is clear off the two shelves in the closet.

Once my filing cabinet is finished, I won't have those files on my window sill anymore. I figure there's no point in putting them in my cabinet just to take them out again. I also put a few jobs I want to accomplish next time I'm in my classroom on my easel. I find when I do that, I'm much more productive. When I go to school over the summer without a plan in mind, I can get a bit overwhelmed with how cray cray my room looks!

Anyway, that's that for now. I just got my schedule for the year, and I have to try to plan what my days are going to look like. This year, we moved from 40 minute class periods all day to two 60 hour class periods for reading and writing and 40 minute class periods for the rest of the day. We didn't add any more time in our day though, so other class periods are 25 minutes. Ahhh! It's so confusing. I can't imagine how much more confusing this was for the people creating the master schedules for the school.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll have some new classroom updates! :) For my New Jersey teachers: What are you doing in your classroom right now? For all of the other teachers who have already started school: What are you thinking about trying for the first time this year? Comment below!

Back To School Sale Tomorrow!

Hi, Teachers!

I wanted to announce that tomorrow (Wednesday, August 19th, 2015) I am having a one-day Back-To-School sale in my Teachers Pay Teachers store! Click on the link to the sale in the sidebar or click the picture below to see the items in my store that are 20% off! Simply use the code "MORE15" when checking out to apply the 20% off. My Weekly Shared Reading Lesson Plan Template (Common Core-Aligned Grades 1-5) and my Math Enrichment Activities Pack: Student-Created "I Have, Who Has?" are both on sale.

I've been browsing Pinterest today to get some ideas for my file cabinet, and I'm set on what I'm doing now! I read a lovely tutorial written by Jena over at Sew Much Music. Check it out by clicking the picture below!

I actually bought the same gray chevron contact paper from Amazon. It should be coming tomorrow. I can't wait! As soon as I finish blogging, I'm heading off to the Dollar Tree to get a couple of plastic table cloths to use as a drop cloth. I'll be spraying outside. Instead of the cute pink and yellow paints that Jena used, I chose this color:

I think it will match nicely with my classroom decor! Even though I won't be able to put the contact paper on my filing cabinet today, I'm really eager to see how this turns out. Apparently, a ton of paper comes in the pack I ordered, so I have a feeling it will end up in many different places in my room. I have a really good cart in my room that I put a lot of math manipulatives on, but it is really in need of a makeover. Maybe if I have enough paint, I'll spray that too! AHHH I'm just so excited. We'll see what I come up with!

I also love the look that the washi tape does for this filing cabinet:
Oh boy. Now I'm super excited to get into my classroom! Time to shower, make my post-workout breakfast and ORGANIZE!!!!!!!

Math Enrichment & Filing Cabinet Organization

Hi, Teachers!

Things have been pretty crazy on this end! We go back to school on September 1st, so I'm trying to get ready for my kids this year.

Those of you who know me personally and are familiar with how things run in my room know that I love having enrichment activities available that my kids can always work on when they finish early. My super, amazing, and talented cooperating teacher started me thinking about this, and some of my awesome colleagues and supervisors now have continued me thinking along this path. This applies in all subject areas. In reading and writing, I follow the workshop model, so there's always something else for the students to do. In science and social studies, I have books and artifacts that students can read or explore. Math is really fun, because my students get to work on TONS of different things. Sometimes it's a project, sometimes it's a game, sometimes it's some brain-teasers or word problems. Either way, it's always something fun and challenging! You might remember my old post about some of my favorite math enrichment activities.

My most popular item in my store is a student-created "I Have, Who Has?" place value project. It's listed as "FREE Place Value Enrichment Activity - DIY "I Have, Who Has?" in my store. In short, I listed criteria for students to create their own game. This product has been featured on other blogs and pages (like Evelyn Stevenson's First Grade Class), and I've actually had a few people contact me about this game asking for me to create some more student-created "I Have, Who Has?" projects and criteria.

Well, I listened and thought it was a great idea! I am going to be using these in my classroom all year. I've created a new product: Math Enrichment Activities Pack: Student-Created "I Have, Who Has?"! Here's a preview:
A Word On Third

These math activities are perfect for your early-finishers to work on while your class is studying any subject in math! This pack focuses on: the CCSS math practices, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, rounding, place value, and fractions! You can still use any of these activities at any time during the year though. For example, if you've already finished your unit on addition and choose to pull out the addition enrichment in this activity, it just gives your early finishers the added benefit of review. By nature, all of these projects are differentiated; your students will create finished products based on their current abilities. With almost no prep, this is very teacher-friendly! The only materials you need are index cards/construction paper cut into cards and a few copies. Here's an added bonus: if you use your students’ games during whole-class instruction or Morning Meeting, you will really support your sense of community within your classroom, and you will have additional classroom math tools to use! Your students will be creating possible enrichment activities for other students when they make these games also. Head on over to my Teachers Pay Teachers store to check it out!

Now... onto my classroom! I'm just getting back into my room now. Here's what it looks like right now... eeeek!!!

Here's what everything looks like from the doorway. AHH!!! You can see a tan filing cabinet in the back there, and brown paper is covering most of my classroom library. I've also got another book shelf on the wall hiding behind my filing cabinet.

Here's the corner where my desk is. I've got one filing cabinet and a wrapped up book shelf here too.

Here's what the room looks like from my doorway if you immediately look to the left. You can see that ALLLLLL of my stuff is popping out of my closet. I feel my blood pressure rising right now!

And here's the closet. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. SO. MUCH. STUFF. AHHHH.

And this is how I feel right now looking back at all of these pictures I took for you. I only have two weeks to make this a functioning space again. AHHH! How many of you can relate to this facial expression/feeling?

Anyway, I knew that I had to tackle something, and I decided to work on my filing cabinets. I have a love-hate relationship with these bad boys!!! They take up SO. MUCH. SPACE. However, they can be really useful if you use them strategically. First things first--I knew I wanted to get rid of one of my cabinets. I have two, and a lot of the stuff inside of them is stuff I don't use from the teacher who had this room before I did. I took EVERYTHING out of both cabinets. I threw out at least half of the stuff. Okay... I didn't throw it out, but I am donating it to teachers who might want it! The bottom line is that I'm getting rid of it, getting it out of my room, and making more space! Whatever doesn't get taken will be donated to my public library or thrown out if it's garbage. I found lots of stuff from different grades that I don't teach. Yes, it's possible I'll teach those grades in the future, but here's my general rule of thumb: throw it out if you don't see yourself using it this year, or throw it out if you haven't used it this past year. I really don't miss anything I've gotten rid of so far, and I highly doubt you will either. As teachers, we can get overly ambitious sometimes and hold onto stuff we have no immediate use for. The truth is that we teachers are resourceful, and most of the time we can figure out something else to use. So, teachers... GET IT OUT!!!

Now my little corner looks like this. I've gone from two filing cabinets two one! Wahoooo! (Keep in mind that my garbage can is in a temporary home!) My goal for next year is to get rid of my desk. I have gone desk-less in the past, and I really liked it. Pushing my desk against the wall made a lot of extra space for the classroom though. Next year I'll probably leave my desk in my classroom, but make it a surface for student materials rather than a teacher work-space. I have to leave something where my desk is so that I can put my laptop on it-that's where my smart board wires are.

Now that I've taken ALL of my files out of my filing cabinets (do you see them all stacked on the window sill?), I will have one drawer for literacy stuff, one for math stuff, one for science stuff, and one for social studies stuff. I'm totally stoked. I can never find stuff because I just threw everything into the open drawers I had. That's kind of what you have to do when you move classrooms and have limited time to set up! This year, however, I've got plenty of time to set up, and I'm not switching grade levels. Ahhh, sweet releif! However, the Type A personality in me is not happy with the look of my actual filing cabinet. I'm planning to make it over on the cheap! Therefore, I don't want to put my files back in until my cabinet is finished!

Click on the above picture if you'd like some cute filing cabinet makeover inspiration. I found this link on Pinterest and pinned it to my Word On Third account. It's on my Classroom Design, Decor, and Organization board. I haven't decided if I will paint my filing cabinet with chalk board paint and use contact paper on the drawers, use contact paper on the whole thing, or spray paint the whole thing. I'm going to go with whatever option is cheapest. :) Have you guys done this before? What has worked for you?

Anyway, that's all for today! I'm off to investigate what's going on with this filing cabinet business! I will make sure to update when my filing cabinet looks like it's ready for America's Next Top Filing Cabinet, a reality TV show making it's way to you this September!

What are you working on in your classroom right now? And if you're already in school, what is your next goal for your kids?

Connecting With Families & A Giveaway!

Hi, Teachers!

I finished book #2 of my summer reading challenge: Parents & Teachers Working Together.  I tend to have fabulous relationships with my students' families, but I still learned a LOT about how I can make those already-fabulous relationships even more fabulous!

Connecting with families can be really difficult. I consider myself lucky because my school does such a great job of taking on this task. We have an incredible PTA, an amazing staff, and so many interesting, meaningful events at school. However, not all teachers are as lucky to have so much of that connecting work done for them by their school. Some teachers have to do this all by themselves. Some teachers don't work in a welcoming school with staff that work hard to create a positive, supportive environment for families. Of course, even if you're in the best school, you still have to work to connect with families.

Whether you're in my boat, or, sadly, you're in the other boat, I promise that this book is worth your time. You will get some great ideas that are easy to implement in your room. I'm going to write about the ones that I'm planning to use this year. I'm really excited!

The first strategy I'll be using this year is writing a weekly newsletter

I have done this for years, but it has always taken me a lot of time. I draft up an email, re-word it a million times, check for typos, sometimes attach pictures... the whole enchilada! Honestly, since I want to be so thorough and give such a genuine snapshot of what happens in a day, this task ends up taking me an hour a week, easily. I know how important it is to communicate, but I knew there must be a better way to do this quickly. Well, there is. I am SO thanking the universe for pointing me in the direction of this book. Writing a newsletter won't take me longer than five minutes anymore, and if I want to give a really conservative estimate--ten minutes maximum! HOW!? How, you say!? I'll tell you how!
A Word On Third
I created a really easy-to-use classroom newsletter. You can get it by clicking the picture above. The link will take you right to my Teachers Pay Teachers store. This cute, editable newsletter template is a wonderful tool to help you connect with your students’ families! Because you will be following a simple, bulleted list format to write about the bulk of the goings-on in your classroom, you will be saving yourself a lot of time. Additionally, this format keeps your newsletter simple and easy to read, which greatly increases the likelihood that families will read it. It's easy for a parent to forget about your 234098324-page-long email update. If you send it when they're busy (which is probably MOST of the time), they might intend to read it later but then never get around to it. I know I do that with a lot of my personal emails! Don't you? Most importantly, the “Ask Me About” section of the newsletter helps to create meaningful conversations about school within families. The bottom line is: you no longer have to spend hours writing up a fancy newsletter for your families!

The "Ask Me About" section on the newsletter is my favorite. It is SUCH a brilliant idea. The bulleted list will include things you did during the week that parents should ask their kids about. Wait, it's that simple!? Yup, it's THAT. SIMPLE. You can decide on topics to include in the newsletter on your own or you can involve your students in the process. Involving students always makes any experience more significant for kids, so since the brainstorming session can easily be done in only a minute, why not involve them? It would be a great do-now question or activity to do while waiting for students to be dismissed at the end of the day. Jot their ideas onto a post-it note quickly and type it up later. You could even try to make it a shared writing experience and type directly into the PowerPoint document on your Smart board or projector. I recommend sending this newsletter home once per week on Fridays, but you can also send it home bi-weekly or even monthly. If you involve your class in generating content for the newsletter, you can easily ask them in a flash on Thursday afternoons. That way, plenty of the week will have gone by. You could always add something special on your own if you know you're doing it on a Friday too (for example, attending an assembly).

There's a section to include a picture, so you can include a photograph of your kids, student work, or anything relevant for that week. Just make sure not to break any school rules about taking pictures of your students. There's also a section to include any important reminders, which might range from field trip days, due dates, a change in the lunch schedule, conferences, etc. There's even a spot to put the date. All the work of making it pretty is done. You have minimal editing to do because you're using a bulleted list. And best of all, you have a more meaningful newsletter that really stimulates conversation! I LOVE IT! I am so glad I am going to be doing things this way now. Sometimes I would avoid sending emails home because I felt like I didn't have the time to deal with it. If you choose to download the newsletter template, all of the cute fonts and images will be on your screen (they don't need to be installed on your computer), and the text boxes are right there for you to start writing with right away.

The next strategy I'll be using this year is sending home positive news

It is so easy to not contact families until we have a problem. The problem with that is that our relationship seems to start off on a negative tone. This can make families understandably defensive. I want to make sure to send home positive notes and emails and call home to share positive stories for my students regularly. Let's say the average class has 25 kids. If you can manage to notice 5 awesome things a day and contact home about it, you can contact each family in one week. Keep track of who you've been noticing so you can make sure everyone gets a positive contact home. This is so easy, and it involves minimal effort from you. You can even send home postcards! I thought that was a really personal touch that the students would love. I know if I had received a positive-news postcard as a kid, my mom would definitely have put it on our fridge and made a big deal about it.

Adjust this system so it works for you. If you can do this two weeks a month, you will be a really caring teacher in most parents' eyes. If you can't deal with noticing five kids a day, can you notice two kids? All you need to do is keep track and make sure that everyone gets to experience the feeling of taking a positive note home.

Another strategy I will use this year is a weekly exit pass. 

This one is easy, peasy! I also have a form I'll be using. It's a freebie on my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It's my Weekly Exit Pass For Self-Directed Learners. You can grab it by clicking on the picture below!

A Word On Third
Basically, I will be having the kids fill out this exit pass each week. This particular exit pass is a wonderful tool to help you connect with your students’ families, but it's still simple and easy for kids to use! I'm not using this to teach handwriting or writing--it's meant to get students thinking about their work and their choices over the past week. It will assist families in having worthwhile conversations about school. 

Even though this activity is very short, it helps students to become more self-directed because they set goals for themselves and reflect on choices they made that week that made them proud. This should take you no longer than a few minutes to complete each week. I recommend having students fill out the exit pass on Friday afternoons and bringing it to a closing circle to share with a partner at the end of the day. Then they can take it home to share with their families.

Another plan I have is to start Wonderful Wednesdays. 

This will involve more planning, but I'm really excited to try it. Wonderful Wednesdays are an opportunity to invite parents into the classroom at any time during the day. They simply drop in and act as participants for as long or as short as they'd like to stay. Many trained Responsive Classroom teachers have this every Wednesday, but I will probably try for once every month or two until this feels comfortable for me. If you choose to try this, I suggest starting small so you can reflect and be successful. The trick is to invite parents in as participants, not presenters.

I will be sending a schedule of our day home to parents prior to the Wednesday I choose so that they know what we'll be doing for the day. Parents can participate in whatever the day's schedule involves. For Reader's Workshop, I'll have them bring a book. For Writer's Workshop, I'll have them bring a notebook. During word study, they can play spelling games with the class. During math, they can work on the project we're working on. You get the point. The big thing here is that the parents aren't under pressure to perform--they are simply participating in the daily classroom routine alongside their child. They get to see what their kids are learning and experience our classroom culture first hand.

I will not be starting Wonderful Wednesdays until my classroom community feels really strong. I will also not be inviting parents to specials (Can you imagine how annoying that might be for another teacher!?) or lunch. Of course, I'll make sure the day is OK with my administrator and check my school calendar too. The best part of this experience, though, is that parents can come in for part of the day whenever they want. They might come visit for 15 minutes during their lunch break, stop by for Morning Meeting before heading off to work, or something else they can manage to fit in. It's a great way to excite the kids about learning too.

Those are the biggest things I am really hoping to get done this yea to really involve my students' families. Honesty, it's a lot to start doing in one year, so I am pumped to see what kind of positive changes I see these ideas making in my room.


Do you like free stuff? Of course you do! That's why I'm giving away my newsletter template to a few readers who comment on the A Word On Third blog, Instagram, or Facebook community. That is ALL you have to do. Winners will be announced on Wednesday. So get commenting, Teachers!! What strategies do you use to connect with families? Comment below for a chance to win my newsletter template for free!

That's all for now! I'm off to read my next book in my summer reading challenge.