Monday, September 18, 2017

Beginning of the Year Letters

One of my favorite beginning of the school year activities is for students to write a letter to their future selves.

I review components of a friendly letter and offer minimal support.  I use this as a chance to see their background skills in writing and guide my future mini-lessons.

The letters are pretty enlightening.  Yes, I get to see their writing skills and yes, it's clear to see which teachers didn't really emphasize writing in second grade.  It's also another chance to learn a little bit about them.  Several have told me that they want to be a teacher just like me, which is sweet.  Several have also shown me that they didn't follow directions with how to organize their paper, so that's been very helpful too.

I don't take a grade on the assignment, so that puts students at ease.  I do however, read each one and take notes about student strengths and weaknesses.  I record these notes in a Google doc so I can quickly access it from any school computer.  While it's more work to type the data in twice, it also means I don't have to lug around a huge stack of papers around to all my meetings.

After I make my way through this stack:

(I'm about half done)

I'll seal them in envelopes.  We took a "brain break" and decorated envelopes.  

(It was nice to give them a chance to be creative and exercise the right hemisphere of their brains.  I also know I have a very artistic and creative class, so they loved this opportunity.  Plus it was only 10 minutes, so it can't really be viewed as "wasted learning time".)

I then take the envelopes:

And  hide them until May.  A majority of my students forget about them, so it's a fun surprise at the end of the year.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wait, What?

I blinked and it is week six of the school year.

I'm not quite sure how that happened, but I'm loving third grade.  I'm definitely still adjusting to the difference in ages.  When I plan activities, I'm thinking about where fifth graders are at the end of the year and quite frankly, that's a big difference when compared to where my third graders are right now. 

We've already had our back to school rodeo night:

Sorting into houses:


As well as received our first book orders, had book fair, and completed benchmark standardized testing. 

We've had fire drills and a practice lock down.  We've had our first Reading Rangers graduate, assemblies, I've been observed by several different teachers, and been in lots of meetings.  

Things are going well with my mentee, who is another third grade teacher in my pod.  I also have a student teacher and I'm learning how this teaching relationship works.  Both my mentee and my student teacher are doing great!

Bring on week 6!


I shall affectionately call this weekend my own craft-a-poluzza.

Friday afternoon was spent at Applebee's with a few coworkers, followed by a relaxing evening at home.  I did some laundry, graded the one assignment I had to, labelled some new books for my students, and washed my make-up brushes (living the dream, I know!).

Saturday started with breakfast with a family member, then shopping for baby showers until the early afternoon.

My friend Mrs. K has a birthday next month and I wanted to make her a new Disney wreath for her front door.  I used different sized grape vine wreaths to recreate Mickey's iconic outline:

I also wove in leaves to give it a fall theme.  I didn't attach the leaves on purpose so she can take them out and hang up Christmas lights or hearts for upcoming holidays.

I took it over and surprised her with it. 
I also finished a baby shower scrapbook, a baby onesie, and the next project in {Rule 11}.  However, since the gift hasn't been delivered yet, I'm keeping that one under wraps for now.

I also enjoyed a nap, friend time, went to a house warming party, and painted my nails in preparation for next week.

I didn't do a lot of school work this weekend but that's okay because work-life balance is important.

What to do with those extra Scholastic book orders....

Don't get me wrong, I love Scholastic and their book orders.

I don't love that I always seem to have extras and feel bad just throwing them away.

So, instead we sort!

One of the first reading standards we cover (or review) is the difference between fiction and non-fiction texts.  

I make an anchor chart with the kiddos:

I grab a few books off the bookshelf and model previewing the text, thinking aloud if it is fiction or non-fiction.  I do a few, then ask for student input.  They did a really good job this year identifying if a book was fiction or NF based on the back cover, front cover, and text features. 

From there, I use some left over Scholastic book orders, glue, scissors, and construction paper to have the kids create a sort.  I use this as an opportunity to teach (or review) making a T chart:

(Image from {fellow blogger})
Students worked with a partner to look at the book orders (which secretly gets them excited about reading) to find five examples of F or NF books.  They cut them out, glued them to their T charts, and then explained their thinking to their neighbors.

I walked around listening to their conversations and interjecting when necessary.  

Instead of just teaching procedures of how to use the scissors or the glue sticks, I like to have them practice immediately so there is a purpose to the directions.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Working for the Weekend

I've shared earlier that one of my {goals} for this year is to have more of a work-life balance.

Having a social life doesn't mean I'm not an effective teacher. It means that I realize there are more important things than work.

Last weekend was jam-packed with a friend's wedding festivities.

Friday night consisted of happy hour with friends from work.  

B was working on his fantasy draft, so I brought him home pizza.

Saturday we saw friends, went out to dinner, and went dancing.

Sunday we set up for her wedding at Mount Charleston and celebrated her magical day.

Monday we dropped our friends off at the airport and then I headed to another friend's bridal shower.  

A magical four days of teaching ensued and then it was the weekend again!

Friday night was low key with laundry and laminating new centers:

Saturday brought a lunch date at Olive Garden, grocery shopping, a nap, then a friend's birthday celebration.

Sunday brought putting the finishing touches on an upcoming baby shower, another nap, football, walking the pup, and a relaxing evening.

A busy week lies ahead, but next weekend is full of craft plans, family time, and more naps.

In the upcoming weeks, we've got a baby shower, 2 more weddings, friends in town, and an all day teacher conference (but it's close and paid!).

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Organization in a tiny classroom

One of my least favorite parts about being a teacher is moving classrooms.  When I made the decision to move down to third grade at the end of last year, that meant moving to a smaller sized classroom.

I took several of my tables and all my bookcases with me, but had to give up tables, a wardrobe, and a filing cabinets.

I love using tables, but it does mean I have to problem solve in terms of their supplies.

To compensate, I've purchased crates for storage:

To help them stay organized, there are distinct areas for all of their supplies.  The top section holds their reading binders and library books.  The bottom right section holds their math notebooks and math folders (where they keep old homework and problem sets to use to study).  The last section holds their science notebooks and text books.  The black bin holds writing notebooks, warm up journals, and clipboards.  The plastic colored tub is full of table supplies (and color coded).

It's working fairly well. It's an adjustment for them to not have their own personal space, but it also keeps our classroom clean, makes tidying a breeze, and allows them to move around without worrying about someone else in their desks.  I did allow them to have pencil boxes so they still feel that sense of ownership.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017's third grade going?

I'm quickly discovering there are lots of new and interesting behaviors in third grade students.  I'm used to the fifth graders, where many of these behaviors have subsided due to maturity or social pressure.  However, that's not the case for third graders.

Let's recap how third grade is going:

There's a lot more nose picking in third grade.

We've had the "everybody farts" talk several times already this week.  It's Wednesday.

We've had the "please say excuse me and don't laugh at farts" talk several times this week.  Again, it's Wednesday.

I don't want to tie shoe laces.  Those shoe laces are dirty and have gone through urine puddles on the ground in the boys' bathroom.  No thank you!
If you take your eyes off them, they may roll around on the ground, practice roaring like lions, or just start randomly doing push ups.  Yes, all these things happened this week.

They will find the one staple on the ground and interrupt your lesson to tell you about it. 

They will tell you lots of stories.  I keep waiting for a question at the end but no, there's just a story they wanted to share in the middle of the lesson.

I didn't realize I'd have to explicitly teach how to carry chairs or use a paper clip, but both of those mini-lessons were necessary this week.


However, I love it. I feel like I'm able to be such a better teacher when I'm only responsible for twenty four students (not thirty seven).  They are so eager to learn, enthusiastic about school, and I'm excited to see how much they'll grow and mature this year.  


Monday, August 28, 2017

Why didn't I think of that before? (round 2)

This past week, we've used a lot of math manipulatives for repeated addition, multiplication, and division.

I store the cubes in a plastic bin from one of the three tiered organizers (from Target):

I'd walk around and give out cubes by the handful.  It was working alright, but took a few minutes and in that time, students would start to play with them.  Once they've started, it's hard to reel them back in to the task at hand.  (Yes, they had explicit directions not to touch them before I said go.  Yes, they had "free play" time with them before we started using them for math.  But they're eight.)

Clean up was fairly efficient. I'd walk around with the large white bin and they'd take turns scooting the cubes off the table and into the tub.  There were minimal spills with this method.  (Attempt one was them bringing me the cubes, but I quickly realized that took too long and their hands are small, so we had lots of spills.  On to plan 2!)

However, I noticed I had several blue bins just sitting in the cabinet.  Last year I used them for tables to keep supplies in, but this year I'm trying pencils boxes.  I don't love them, but I forgot to take them off my supply list.  It's not too big of a problem (yet), but we had the class chat that if they become a distraction, they need to go home.

I grabbed the bins and started putting cubes inside.  The kiddos were working on their writing, so I thought I'd seize the opportunity to get ready for math.  Then I noticed something magical:

These four bins fit perfectly inside the white tub.  Why didn't I try this before?

As we wrapped up writing and transitioned to math, I pulled the kids to the carpet to share what I'd discovered.  Now I simply put four tubs out and they are fully in charge of the clean up aspect.  Not only did this save time, but the tub is more organized.  Double win!  It's the small things.

It worked wonderfully the first time, so I hope it continues!

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Earlier this month, I shared about my desire to {reclaim my weekends}.

Working all the time doesn't make me a better teacher. It drains me.  It doesn't make me a good wife, a good partner, a good (pet) mom, or a good friend.  

There needs to be balance and this is something I've struggled with for most of my career. 

I'm getting better at this balance.

I left work at 4:15 on Friday.  I stayed after to quickly grade their math quizzes, prep Monday's smart notebook, and run copies for language.  More importantly, I was having dinner with a friend and couldn't arrive too early, so I kept myself busy with some small tasks.

Friday night we went to the craft store to get stuff for her daughter's upcoming baby shower. I'm making a scrapbook and wanted her input on the album.  We stopped by Target for some very exciting items (batteries, carpet cleaner, and command hanging strips) before stopping by Panera.

She just completed her second week of teaching and needed to process the events.  She's subbed for me before, she completed her student teaching, but now she's in the classroom full time.  It's an adjustment and there are lots of growing pains when starting at a new school with a new team.

We had a nice long dinner and it was nice to catch up.  The rest of Friday night included going to bed early because teaching is hard.  I did come home to these:

Saturday brought about sleeping in and then attending a friend's bridal shower.  

We met up with friends for dinner and then played games at the house afterward.  I clearly made great choices at dinner:

My hubby did very well at picking out a birthday cake:

Sunday meant more sleeping in, lunch with family to celebrate birthdays (his mom and I are two days apart), a Target run, a nap, a bubble bath, decorating for fall, and talking with my momma on the phone.

I did manage to squeeze in a little school work this weekend.  I cut out photo booth props (shout out to Teach Create Motivate and her cute {freebies}), graded one of their beginning of the year math probes, and finished grading their diagnostic Words Their Way spelling inventory.  In total, this all took maybe an hour out of my weekend.  

I'm ending Sunday night with reading, touching up my pedicure, and heading to bed before 9 pm.  I'm walking into Monday with lesson plans done (for Monday), materials prepped, and no meetings.  I'll spend before school and prep getting ready for the rest of the week.  I have happy hour plans with friends after work (because it's my birthday) and plans lined up for next weekend.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Why didn't I think of that before?

It's the start of the school year, so naturally I've got all of my meet the teacher information handy.  Instead of just filing it away (or recycling it), I decided to make four bags of "meet the teacher" information for potential new students.

Inside I included:

My "meet the teacher" flip book (created by Chalk and Apples, a fellow TpT seller.  Snag yours {here})
Parent survey
Student interest survey
Student information sheet
A cactus to color (for the bulletin board)
Social media policy

I sealed all of the information in a ziplock bag and it's ready to go for new students:


As an added bonus, I have all my back to school forms ready for next year in one place.

Why didn't I think of this before?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Eclipse Mania

Like most of the country, we were swept up in Eclipse Mania this week.  (Funny how we don't doubt scientists about the eclipse, but attack them on everything else....hmmm....)

 The Thursday before the eclipse, I sent home permission slips from the school in regards to watching the eclipse (with proper eye wear of course).  Not all of the permission slips were returned by Monday, which caused some tears from my third graders.

Another member of my grade level managed to acquire 29 pairs of viewing glasses, so my class got to go out in smaller chunks.  I must say I love being part of a team that shares and values collaboration.

Las Vegas weather (rain, go figure) made viewing the eclipse rather difficult, so we live streamed from NASA instead.

My students loved seeing scientists of all genders, races, and ethnic backgrounds.  I didn't point it out, but it was heart warming to hear "hey, he looks like me!".  Diverse role models are important. 

We did have specials at 10:15, so I simply paused the live stream and we continued when they were back from music (thanks You Tube!).

We acted out the earth and moon's rotation around the sun, discussed important science vocabulary words, and set up our science notebooks.  We practiced making diagrams like scientists:

I didn't plan to devote two hours of my teaching day to the eclipse, but I'm glad I did.  By the time the next eclipse rolls around, my sweet third graders will be high school seniors.  That's a little terrifying to think about.