I Have Moved to Wordpress

Hello to all my loyal followers. I want to let you know that I have moved my blog over to Wordpress. My new blog address is www.carrberrycreations.com
I hope to see you there!
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Good News for Teachers Today on NPR

Today I was listening to NPR in my car and heard this great news I wanted to share with you. The senate is trying to re-write no child left behind with some changes that teachers and students alike have been sorely needing. The news program was on NPR and the audio of it can be played by clicking below.

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Amazing Health and Wellness Fair

Last night, my family and I had an amazing time at my children's school's annual health and wellness fair. It was so great I just have to share with you all about it, in case your school might be interested in hosting one this year or next.

When students entered the building they were handed this card with all the information on it they would need for the night.
Check out the schedule of events! :)

And all the Activities... Swoon

There really wasn't enough time to do everything, but my kids had an absolute blast, and there were a lot of community resources there I hadn't even heard of before. My son's favorite activity was family yoga (that lady's company must have filled up all the classes for her next session). And my daughter couldn't decide. She loved the rockwall, obstacle course, and free food samples equally. I loved that the local high school basketball team was playing in the gym and letting all the little one join in with them.

I highly recommend setting up an activity like this in your school. It was a great opportunity to get together as a community and think about being a healthier community.

Here are some more inspiring photos from the night (I wish I had taken more)...
Showing off their rock wall skills to their parents.
Family Yoga ran out of mats but was super fun anyway!

Obstacle course and basketball in the gym.
Have a great weekend!
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How to De-Stress Students on Test Day

Stress's impact on other life functions is one of the most researched psychological issues. It has been shown by researchers  by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson as early as 1908 that too much stress can negatively impact performance in many ways including on tests. Many many studies have gone on to support their research. So, finding ways to keep kids calm(er) on test days is extremely important.

My son's school started SBAC testing last week. He's a struggling 4th grade perfectionist. His stress level has been very high, and we have 1 week to go. His teachers have given him 2 weeks off of homework, and bubble gum during the test taking time. When I asked my son how he felt about the test he put his thumb out to the side, thought about it for a second, and quickly turned it downward.

This got me to thinking about the strategies I have used over the years to destress students for test days. I have used several different strategies which I will share with you, and no one alone seems to do the trick. Every child is different, so what calms them is different too. It is important to try using multiple strategies for students to get the most impact from the effort.

One strategy I use with my students they love to call "Lolipop Test Day." I buy large bags of sugar free lollipops from our local discount shop, and on any day when my students will have 3 or more tests in the same day (uh oh, the science unit test, math unit test, and weekly spelling test coincidentally all fell on Friday) then they get to suck on a lollipop during the tests. My students know that the rule is if they take them out of their mouths they get thrown out. (That rule just keeps the test silent for me.) During the test, while I walk around monitoring students I carry a trash can with me. Easy, cheep, and sucking on things can be very soothing for tactile learners. I should mention that I just read that some research is pointing to cinnamon, and peppermint scents as being very soothing as well, so perhaps I might have a sugar-free peppermint option next time.

Click the pic to view on Amazon.com
Another strategy is to provide stretch breaks between (and if possible during) tests. This targets your kinesthetic learners. Before the tests we stand beside our desk and I put on a yoga CD (great for your musical kids) and we do some stretches together as a class from my yoga pretzel deck. My kiddos actually love doing this activity for inside recess. during the tests to keep the calm mod going I turn down the volume to a whisper and keep the CD playing. Some of the yoga poses can be done while sitting, so I scanned those cards and put them up on the smart board for children to use at their seats if they need to during the test.

Don't ever lie to your students and tell them that the state test won't be that hard(this applies only to high stakes testing to regular everyday end of unit tests and such). Kids know when your lying, and being lied to is rarely comforting. Worse though would be if a child actually believed you, then spent the rest of the test time wondering why, if the teacher said the test is easy, are they having such a difficult time. It it better to be honest with your students. Over the years my "speech" before big tests has changed slightly, but I find that the best thing is to tell them that they test will be hard, that is may intact be too hard on some things, but that it is ok if they don't know an answer. Tell them that if they look through the test before they begin answering questions, that while there may be some frustrating sections, there is also a lot of things in there that your students may find easy, or average. Tell them you are really interested in how much of the test they can do, and you don't care about the stuff they threw in there for MIT geniuses to have trouble with. It usually make the kiddos giggle and feel a bit relieved when they hear some of the test is meant for Albert Einstein, and they they only have to try their best and get the stuff they know well right. I also watch my students expressions during the test, when they start looking particularly frustrated I walk over to their desk/computer take a real good look at what they are doing, and say, "I had no idea how much you and Albert Einstein had in common before. Boy do they smile. Then I ask if they need to get a drink of water, or take a quick stretch before getting back to work.

Do you have any other strategies you use for distressing students on test days? Please share your ideas in the comments section below. The more strategies we all have to pull from the better!

Have a great one!

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How Do You Celebrate Birthdays at School?

I have been teaching long enough to remember the days when a child's birthday in my classroom involved gigantic cakes, party games, treat bags for students, and huge interruptions to the day. I also remember when it swung all the way to only being allowed to give a no homework certificate at the end of the day.

Recently 2 of my children celebrated their birthdays at school. The rules were no cupcakes or candy. We sent in fruit cups which are more expensive than the cupcakes, but at least they were able to bring something in. I honestly think that my kids are more excited to bring a fruit cup to school to celebrate their birthdays than they are about their birthday parties. Which is why I wanted to share with you how I handle these important days in my classroom.

I have beside my desk a basket of pinwheels. Each pinwheel has a tag with a student's name and their birthday written on it.

When each child's birthday arrives, we have a special morning work assignment. The class makes the birthday boy/girl a book full of birthday wishes. The birthday child colors/decorates the cover of their book, and the rest of the children have a page from the book to write a nice birthday note to their friend. I collect all the notes and staple them together with the cover on top, and at the end of the day I give the child their special book and the pinwheel from my basket. It is a fairly inexpensive and fun way to celebrate a student's birthday in class. Plus pinwheels make me smile.:)

If you would like a copy of my student birthday book, you can grab it here for free:

How do you celebrate birthdays at school?

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April Fool's Day Memories

When I was in 5th grade my teacher, Mrs. Lund, played the best April Fool's Day prank on the class. Perhaps it could inspire some last minute pranking for you.

Mrs. Lund stood in front of the class and reminded us of a big test we had that day (we had not been previously informed of any such test.) Then she proceeded to pass out test papers to us. She instructed us to read the directions, before beginning, but like most 10-11 year olds, we did not read the directions. The test was hard, I mean HARD! It might have come from a 6th grade math teacher. About 20 minutes into the grueling exercise there started to be some giggles in the room. Once most everyone had stopped taking the test and started looking around at what everyone was giggling about, Mrs. Lund calmly walked to the front of the room, and raised the projector screen to reveal April Fools! on the chalkboard.

You see if we had actually read the directions as she had instructed us to, we would have read,"
Directions: Read all the questions on this test before beginning." The last question on the test said, "If you have read this question, you do not have to answer any of the other questions on this test."

Oh brother! It was one April Fools joke I will never forget!

Have fun today!
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Parent Communication Blogging

I wanted to share with you all today one of my favorite strategies for parent communication... blogging.

Every year I set up a new classroom blog on blogger, and I use it to send out important notices to parents, reminders about upcoming tests, and even homework helpers. Not every parent checks in, but those that do love it. I have surveyed my class time and again, and hands down the blog wins on most favored form of communication with parents. Parents generally state that they like the blog because they have busy lives and can't always get notices from school the traditional way. Most often they check the blog from their Smartphones. They also love that the blog has a translation button, that they can push and get everything translated into their native language. They do say that the translations aren't always perfect, but they do help with getting a good idea of what is said on the blog. My administrators love the blog, because our teacher evaluation system in our state requires that you document that you notified parents of important goings on in the classroom, and while the blog is not the be all end all, it is a great tool and easy to document that you have tried to communicate with parents.

If you are interested in trying a classroom blog for yourself here are some tips for you for getting started.

First of all, you will need to choose a blogging platform. I use blogger (by google) because it is free and very easy to do. You can set one up by going to https://www.blogger.com/

You can set up your blog to only be seen by registered users by going to the setting tab and choosing "Basic" then "Blog Readers" Then "Private-Only These Readers". When you are ready you can invite parents to sign in using their email addresses. Until then, only you will be able to see your blog, so play around and get it just they way you want.

Next you will need to decide what kind of information you want to have up on your blog. At first you may only want to have a home page where you post notices such as field trip reminders. My class blog has:

  • Home page with student notices
  • Spelling page with this month's weekly spelling lists, and spelling homework grid
  • ELA  page where I highlight this month's reading strategy and vocabulary 
  • Math Page where I post examples of problems from our current math unit and how to solve them.
  • Science page where I list and define the vocabulary from our current unit in science
Other pages you could include could be class celebrations, data, social studies, messages from the principal, student drawn cartoons. You name it really.

Whatever pages you set up make sure you update them in a timely fashion. While you are learning I would just do notices, and homework assignments on your home page by creating a new post for every new notice you have. You can always add more pages later. 

You can always type your post right in like you are typing an email, but for things such as homework helpers and vocabulary lists I always type them in Microsoft Word first then copy and paste them into my blog post. That way I can save my vocabulary lists & Homework helpers in my .doc files to use again next year if I like. Why re-invent the wheel overtime when the vocabulary for my plants unit isn't going to change?

I have a scanner at home, so any notices that I get for my class from other teachers such as notices about a choir try-out I scan those in and put them in a post as well.

Classroom blogging is a pretty easy way to communicate with parents and students. If your students are old enough, they can even have a hand in getting the information up on the web for their parents. If they post something incorrectly you can delete it out, or go in and edit it, but it is easier to check before they publish it.

If you are interested in trying a classroom blog for yourself, I have a permission slip you can use. Grab it here.

By the way, looking for some cute blogger backgrounds for your class blog? I have some on my site, but I also have to recommend my favorite blog designers shabbyblogs.com Their super cute blog designs are totally free, but some things say that they are for personal use only so make sure to check.

Have fun!
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Tips For Your Next Biography Project

I personally have a love/hate relationship with biographies.

I love that reading biographies with my students can encourage them to dream big, about what they might do with their lives. I saw this in my classroom in the inner city. Before starting my biographies unit with First graders I would always surgery the class to ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up. I always got the same 3 answers (yes only 3 it broke my heart), "I want to work at Dunkin Donuts", "I want to work at Walmart.", or "I don't know". Now, don't get me wrong, There is absolutely nothing wrong in anyway with working in a fast food place, department store, or not having made up your mind when you are 6, it just seemed sad to me there was no one dreaming of a career that involved going to college, or even really, graduating high school.

Then we would dive into our biographies unit, we would read about Dr. Seuss, Jacques Cousteau, Hank Aaron, Johnny Appleseed, Abraham Lincoln, and Albert Einstein among many others. We read the books, compared the historical figures, discussed text features, wrote letters to the famous people, and if they were still living, mailed them. We had a great time. When we were all done I surveyed my students once again and now along with wanting to work at Dunkin Donuts, and Walmart, I had students who wanted to be doctors, lawyers, politicians, authors, and inventors. Even those who said "I don't know" were now shifting to, "I can't make up my mind." It is amazing how biographies can help children realize that they have endless possibilities. That is what I love about them.

I also love the projects. I tend to have students complete a lapbook, which we leave on desks for parent conferences. My son had to do a super cute poster project where he cut out his face and drew the body of his hero (Wayne Gretzky) then stood behind it to deliver his oral report. The 4th grade at the school I began teaching at always did an elaborate and amazing wax museum, as a fund raiser. There are so many ways to use projects to make biographies come alive for students.

Now the bad part, biographies for children can often either be engaging but lacking much substance about the individual, or have loads of information, but be dry as toast. The other issue, is it is hard to have enough biographies in your classroom to go around, especially if you are new to teaching.

I want to share my trouble shooting tips and tricks to help you have a great - big dream building - biographies unit this year. It's not too late I promise.

First, gather together all the biographies you have access to (personal library, school library, local library, classroom library), group them by type (books about authors, books about scientists... etc....) and make a list. Are there any categories you do not have books for and wish you did? List those categories too.  In advance of your unit, send home a letter to families letting them know about your upcoming unit, and asking if they have any biographies at home they could lend to the class. You never know, I have had some sent in before, and it never hurts to ask. Add any books you have borrowed to the list.

The last place to look for biography information is online. This can be the trickiest, but it is an important  resource. It is important in this day and age for students to be able to access technology for research, however most website are written for adults, not children, and can be extremely difficult to read. Web research can be extremely frustrating as a result. I find it is best if as a teacher I do the research in advance, and make a list of websites my students can actually use. For example biography.com has loads of information on many many people, but it can be difficult to read without an adult's help.  On the other hand, ducksters.com Has excellent biographies for children, but there is a much smaller selection. It is important to make a list of which famous figures students can read about have web biographies they can actually read.

Once you have your list made, I would have students choose their research topic, from your approved list. It is great if they have other ideas, but I promise you, for your sanity, and theirs make them choose from the list you just spent so much time creating. If it is not on the list you probably do not have enough information for them to complete their project without tears being in the mix.

Another strategy you can utilize, is to have groups of children study the same individual. This works best when you have several books on the same individual,  and each book has a bit of new information over the others. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind for this option. This set up is great for students who probably need a bit of extra help on the project. They can take turns with the different books, compare notes, and discuss them like you would a book club. The teacher can it with them, and monitor, and in the end they can either complete 1 project together, or each do their own project from their shared notes.

Whatever you choose to do, remember to save your list to use again next year. It will save you time and headache and help make your biographies unit a big dream success.

If you would like a copy of my organization sheet, feel free to click the image below and download your freebie.


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Happy Friday!

Yeah it is Friday, but even better it's the first day of spring!!!!

 Click to get your freebie

To celebrate, today I am linking up with the Teaching Blog Addict's Freebie Friday to bring you a flash freebie. My addition facts practice lap book! This file will only be free until Monday so click the pic and get it while you can, and have a great first day of spring!

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Lapbooking 101: For Classroom Teachers

If you are a classroom teacher, reading that post title most likely made you go "huh? What's a lap book." Or perhaps you know what a lap book is and thought, "it's that thing that homeschoolers do." For those of you who have already used a lap book in your classroom, I will have some tips for improving your next classroom lap booking experience in this post.

Lap books are generally made of manilla file folders folded in like a science project board and then filled inside and out with mini books, art projects, and student writing on a predetermined topic.  hey often include some sort of art project to add interest to the activity. Lap books are generally a teaching strategy used by homeschoolers to teach their children how to sort and organize important ideas an facts of interest on a similar topic. When the lap book is finished, children have a ready resource for reviewing previously learned information, and a project they can be proud of.

While this learning activity is most often utilized by homeschoolers, classroom teachers also could get a lot of benefit from this teaching strategy. For example, some subjects like science are all too often scheduled to only be taught a few minutes a day, or a few days of the week. A lap book project can quickly remind students about their previous learning on the subject before they move on to the next lesson. Lap books can also introduce students to the concept on an in depth research project, such as a biography study, or a genre study of different books read over several weeks.

I really think you should give one a try, you may find it is your new favorite way to end a teaching unit, or for setting up a skill review children can take home and use again and again.

There are loads of great resources online for setting up your first lap book. Some resources are free like this great one from homeschoolhelperonline.com. There are also loads of paid lap booking products available on the Teachers Pay Teachers website (there were actually 1778 paid and free lap books for sale on TpT when I checked just now).

With so many options, it can be difficult to decide where to begin. My first piece of advice give yourself permission to take it one step at a time. I do not recommend beginning by trying to make your own. I know, I usually don't take that advice myself, and the first time I tried setting up a lapbook myself there may have been tears involved. I am a very organized person by nature, and I love crafting and doing-it-myself, but there are so many options for what you can do with your lap book it can be extremely overwhelming. For the first time around you should download a remade lap booking template to get your feet wet on so to speak.

As I said before there are loads of paid and free lap books out there, so how do you decide on which one to choose? The first time around choose one that has no options for extra books. Some of the downloadable files contain 20 different foldable books you or your students can choose from to include in your lap book. While this amount of choice is awesome for teachers and children who have organized a lap book before, it is not great for your fist time. First time around choose a lap booking template that has one layout design with just the books you need for setting up - no more no less. Next time around a bigger file with more choices would be great, but not the first time, trust me.

Try out the project yourself. I know most teachers make exemplar's of the activity for students to see. The first time around I recommend making the exemplar at home, and then in class doing it again one book at a time in front of the students so they can see the whole process.

It has been my experience that children really love completing lap books. It ties all their learning together in a pretty package and they feel a great sense of accomplishment when they get to show off their work. I love lap books in the classroom, because it gives me something to show that my students have been digging deeper into he concepts we are working. After all, that is the big push with common core, and let's face it, we all know our administrators love seeing a good project.

If you are ready to try one for yourself I do have a few up on my TpT store you might be interested in. My Nutrition Lapbook is one of my biggest selling items, and my Biography Lapbook is brand new and in need of some love. Also check back Friday for a flash freebie TBA on this topic (surprise surprise).

Thanks for reading through this long post. Have you tried lap booking in the classroom before? Do you have any tips you would like to share with others? Leave a note in the comments section below and join the conversation.

I would love to hear from you!

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