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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A Great Idea for Mother's Day Planting & For Earth Day Lessons

I have previously admitted to being a Better Homes and Gardens junkie. I get about 3 emailed out newsletters from them everyday and I read/watch them all. A short while ago I got an mail with the most amazing idea ever for starting your springtime plantings from seeds and I had to share it with you.

It is a video about how to use a tool called a "potmaker" to makes little planters for starting seeds in out of old newspaper.  Yeah! Once you grow a plant in your newspaper pot you can actually transplant it newspaper pot and all right into the ground as the newspaper is biodegradable. Awesome huh? You can watch the video for yourself here.

I wanted to run right out to my local hardware store and pick one up, but alas, they are not carried in stores around me, so I ended up ordering one online. If you decide to order one I do recommend shopping around. I found them some places for as much as $19.95, but ended up ordering one for $9.95 on Amazon.

It arrives tomorrow, and I can't wait to get started on one. I will definitely post pictures for you of how they come out.

I should mention that after ordering the "correct" pot maker online I found this blog post  from Natalie at Tend Collective about how to make one out of sections of PVC pipe for much less money. I'm still glad I ordered the "right" one, but I'm kind of interested in testing out the PVC version as well to see if it really does work as well.  Anyone else interested?

Happy Planting!

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Time to Start Thinking About Mother's Day

Every year I plant something for Mothers on Mother's Day, but I always forget to do it soon enough. So I usually end up sending home little shoots of something unrecognizable as a flower... or sometimes even worse, little buckets of dirt with a label promising that someday they might be something. One year over a long weekend I actually swapped my dirt filled buckets with transplanted beautiful blooms I bought at the hardware store. So bad I know.

This year I am determined to have blooms or at least near blooms by Mother's Day without cheating. I saved flower seed packets from last year, looked on the back to see how long it should be until they blooms, discovered I had saved the packets for nothing because they only tell you when they sprout, so I looked it up online and found the following information for us all. So mark your calendars:
Marigolds - 45 Days to flowers - plant by March 28th
Zinnias - 62 Days to Flowers - Plant by March 10th

Or if you are interested I'm my windowsill herb garden project I posted about a couple of years ago, here and here.

Chives - 60 Days to harvest - Plant by March 12th
Rosemary - 42 Days to Harvest - Plant by March 30th (Fully grown these are very large - So I
               actually would recommend planting Mid April)
Basil - 42 Days to Harvest - Plant by March 30th
Parsley - 70-90 Days to Harvest - Plant Now
Lavender - 126 - 161 Days to Harvest - Plant Now

I found these 2 sites to be very helpful in locating this information.

They both have loads of information and lots of different plants you may choose to grow in your classroom this year.

Happy planting!

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A Dr. Seuss Themed Freebie Friday

Happy Friday!

Today I am linking up with Teaching Blog Addict's Freebie Friday, and with Plants and Pillars,  to give you a Dr. Seuss Themed Board game you can use to have students practice any drill type skill. The file contains a Lorax themed game board, spinner, and game pieces in High color, Mid color, and black and white options. There are also directions in color (only a bit of it), and game question cards.

Click the pic to download your freebie

Currently the file is set up for practicing the dolch primer list with more lists to follow. I have also included a file of blank cards you can program for any type of skill practice you would like. It would be great for math facts, or story recall type questions. The directions sheet included can also be customized by you to match any adjustments you added to the file.

This is a very large, file, and I spent many hours working on hand drawing all the images in the file. As such I am only offering it for free for 1 week, then it will become a paid file. If you download it this week while it is still free you will get all the subsequent updates for free as well. I have the remainder of the dolce lists and a couple of other Seuss themed game boards in the works.

You may be asking yourself how I can offer such a huge amount of work out for free? Well, I am hoping that some of you may choose to pay it forward.

If you have been following my blog you may have read about a local tragedy in my town last week. Father Mathew Baker was driving his young children home from service in a snowstorm, and had a terrible accident from which he did not survive. Fortunately his children received only a few bumps and bruises.

Their mother, a certified teacher, has been homeschooling the children so they have now lost their only income. We teachers all know that finding work in our profession this time of year is next to impossible. They are in great need of help and support.

I am asking that those who download this free file consider making a donation of the amount you would pay for a file like this to Father Matthew Baker's wife and children. If you are unable to donate, that's fine, download the file and enjoy it anyway. I am just hoping people will consider helping this family out. It would be awesome if his wife could buy a home, and send their kids to college when the time comes.

If you would like to make a donation  Father Matthew's Go Fund Me account Can be found here.

Thank you and enjoy the file!
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Did Somebody Say Thematic Teaching?

I know I've seen posts on this topic up somewhere, but I wanted to add in my 2 cents on the subject.

First of all, I LOVE thematic teaching.It makes planning so much easier, when you have a bit of inspiration for which lessons you may choose to do.  Also themes can be fun, and appropriate laughter has been proven to improve student learning. (If you are interested you can read an article from The American Psychological Association about it here).

When I first started teaching I work for an amazing principal, Dr. Cathy Evans-Truitt, who was always telling up to "teach smarter, not harder". It has been my teaching motto ever since. Teaching smarter, not harder means doubling up on concepts you can teach at the same time. For example, If you choose your read alouds to align with concepts taught in your Science or Social Studies curriculum, you are killing 2 birds with one stone. You can also double up on math, and science by having students run an experiment which requires that they record and analyze their data using grade level appropriate math skills.

I used to teach my students library research skills, by telling them if they bring me a book on the topic of the week, we could add an extra "story time" at the end of the day. During that extra story time I just read the book, no stopping to be teacherly, we read to enjoy. My students loved it, and the school librarians took to asking me what next week's theme would be ignored to have some books laid out for my kiddos.

When planning I generally choose a month long umbrella theme, and then 2-4 themes to connect below it. For example, when I taught kindergarten my March Themes were like this:

March: Magical March
Week 1:Weather (Signs of Spring Focus)
Week 2: St. Patrick's Day
Week 3: Fairy Tales
Week 4: Fairy Tales

The month long theme kept everything tied together, and allowed for some things like centers students visited only once a week, to remain the same throughout the month, and still tie back to the weekly themes.

If you are interested in trying to teach a theme week I highly encourage you to do so. You will have fun I promise, and having fun leads to lots of smiling. Smiling has been shown to reduce stress and improve social and emotional intelligence.

My thematic planner looks like this:

It is not my lesson plans, but just my collection of ideas for a theme study. That is why not every box is filled in all the time, and why I may list more things to do in a space then we could really cover in a week. Since I look these over when planning every year I always fill these in in pencil so I can add new ideas and erase off ideas that didn't go so well. I keep all my monthly reproducible sheets in a monthly binder and these pages go right in front. That way when I go to plan each year I have a quick cure for writers block.

I am wondering if I am seriously being too old fashioned here. Do any of you still do thematic planning? If so how do you keep it organized? I would love to hear your ideas too. :)

If you would like to use my planner for thematic units, Grab it for free by clicking on the picture. The first file is a document format so it may not match up well unless you have the noteworthy font. The second file is a PDF form so you can change the topics/center titles to match your needs.
Document Format
Adobe .pdf Format

Also, If you interested in my Oh Leprechaun Fluency Center (It is programmable to practice many different skills), or MyPot of gold Creativity. You can find them at my TpT store.

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Some Sad News

I am sorry to say I have some sad news to share with you all today. Yesterday, we had yet another snowstorm in my little corner of the world. There have been a lot of Sunday snowstorms this year, and we have had some Sunday services cancelled as a result. Church was not cancelled yesterday because the storm was projected to start around 3pm, but began 4 hours earlier.

Our priest had a normal service, and spent time afterwards talking with parishioners. It was about 4 pm when he buckled his 6 children into their minivan and drove a mile down the street to the highway entrance. The snow was getting pretty heavy at about that time. They had not travelled far when Father Matthew lost control of his car which crossed the median and rolled over several times. Father Matthew was thrown from the car, and did not survive, but miraculously his children ages 2-12 survived with only minor injuries.

His wife had been a teacher, but she left the teaching profession, to homeschool their children. As such, she has no income. Someone has set up a go fund me account to raise money for their family and try to help pull them through this difficult time. Please consider, if you can, making a donation of any amount to their family.

Also, if you can pass this one to anyone you know, it would greatly be appreciated.
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