Sunday, January 19, 2014

Happy New Year

So, I originally wrote this post on August 12 and never got around to publishing it because school started and my life went bye-bye!  Here it comes, better late-than-never, with updates on my actual progress.  :)

Yes, that's right : Happy New Year!  New school year, that is.  I was talking with one of my best buddies yesterday (as she was helping me scramble to get all of the last minute odds & ends done before Orientation) about the fact that I don't really care about resolutions in January, but every August I make new school-year resolutions!  The funny thing is that they aren't typically school-related per se.  Its just that I am a teacher to the core, so the only calendar that matter to me starts in late summer!

So here are my New (School) Year's Resolutions:
- To cook dinner at least once a week.
Sadly, I am the queen of take-out, drive-thru, and frozen food.  This year I am going to make a concerted effort to legitimately cook something in my own kitchen!
UPDATE: That didn't happen AT ALL, until January started.  But I've been on a good role this month, due to the fact that I told myself I was not allowed to spend any money on fast-food this month.  

-To take advantage of my membership to the Y
I've been paying for this thing for over a year and only make it in sporadically.  Body Flow & Zumba -you ARE going to be my best friends this Fall.
UPDATE:  I did great for the month of August and then cancelled my membership in September.  Fail.

-To set aside cash each week to save for a rainy day
I am terrible at budgeting and dedicating money, so this year I am going to set aside one dollar a week in my "Dreams" jar.  I've found that I don't dip into my cash reserves near as often as my real savings account.
UPDATE:  Yeah, this hasn't happened at all either!  Maybe this can be a 2014 goal...

-To be a positive influence on the world around me
I know that sound hokey, but I really believe that the people we hang out with shape who we are.  I want to be a glowing, happy friend this year - not just some of the time like I am now, but everyday. Especially on the days when I want to have a pity party!
UPDATE: Finally, one I can say that I tried to accomplish!  I have really been working hard this year to be a positive person and I think it is paying off because I was named "Teacher of the Year" this year and I knw a lot of that has to do with my general attitude towards life.  Yay me!

So that's my list!

What goals/resolutions have you set for yourself this year?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Stay tuned for my Classroom Reveal as soon as I get a real camera.  The iPad just doesn't do it justice.

Ready for Day One,

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Currently: August

Hello friends!

I'm linking up for the first time with Farley to share what's currently going on in my world.

Some of these need no further explanation, but I'll elaborate on a few.

Loving: My sister has decided that her kiddos are finally old enough to enjoy Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World and I just purchased my ticket and my nephew's (birthday present done).  Yay!!!  It's become an entire extended family outing, complete with camping out for the weekend.  Wish us luck because we are not exactly wilderness people!

Thinking & Needing:  I've had all summer to do it, but yesterday I FINALLY moved the last of my belongings (my two class pets) up to my new classroom.  I am officially 100% moved in!  Now if only I could find my hole puncher...and my white out...and all the other random items that I just can't seem to find.

Must Haves: Today I purchased this newWriting Goals Chart.  Each year, I seem to pick one area of curriculum to really beef up and this year its writing.  I'm so excited to use it this year to differentiate my kid's writing goals that I've already laminated it and posted it in my classroom.

 I am obsessed with sticky notes!  I always need lots and lots of sticky notes for me and for my kids.

And last, but DEFINITELY not least, you have to start off the year with a positive outlook.  I just know that I'm gonna have the best kids ever, the most awesome lesson plans ever, and the smoothest year of teaching ever.  Remind me of that in a month when I'm drowning, ok?

What are some of your must haves?

Savoring my last few "free" days,

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Organizing my Class Store

Hello friends!

Today I'm linking up with KristenElizabeth for their final Optimum Organization Linky.  I have gotten sooooooo many awesome ideas from these all summer long and I'm excited to finally be able to contribute something back.

Yesterday, I made a trip to IKEA in search of some finishing touches for my room, especially a way to store/organize all of my Class Store items.  Last year, I kept them in bins that I got really sick of pulling out and putting away each week.  But now that won't be a problem thanks to this beauty:

It is called IKEA PS and it is intended to be a mobile wardrobe.  It comes in black or white and would be a great addition for anyone who doesn't have a lot of closet space in their room.  When I first looked at it, I thought it would be a great way to store center supplies or materials for weekly activities due to its five spacious shelves, but I quickly realized that it would best suit me for storing my Store.

Here's what I love about it: it's on wheels.  From the back, the shelves are hidden, but if you pull on that handle it easily spins around and Voila!  Store galore!

It is extremely lightweight (9lbs) and spins like an ice skater.  I'm a little afraid that it spins too easily and some of my more enthusiastic buddies might accidentally topple it, but I think its gonna be the absolute organization solution I needed.

You can't actually see in these pictures, but I do have two dishpans stored on each shelf, so they're pretty deep.  I think I'm going to make some cute bunting to hang on the outside so it doesn't look so blah.  Great organizational find, right?

I use a classroom economy inspired by Beth Newingham.  Each student in my class rotates through a different job each week.  I choose the jobs based on what I know I need help with, but we decide the pay scale for the jobs as a class during the first couple weeks of school.  In addition to being paid for their classroom job, My students can earn credits and debits each day based on their status on the clip chart (credits for clipping up, debits for clipping down), as well as random rewards throughout the day whenever I feel we need a little "boost."  For example, I might give credits to the first two kids to pull out all the materials needed for a math lesson or to the entire class after receiving a compliment from another teacher.  Students record these by making a T chart in a small notebook (I buy these at Walmart each year - $0.88 for 4) and at the end of the week each child totals their tally marks along with weekly pay in order to receive a paycheck from me.

Students can cash in their paychecks at the Bank to receive Wild Bucks, which can then be saved or spent at the Store.  Families are invited to send in small "treasures," but I also supplement with cheap items as well.  I've found that party favors are great bang for my buck, as well as scouting the clearance items in the Target and Michael's dollar bins.  I also have coupons for items such as Lunch with the Teacher, Sit by a Friend, and Use a Teacher Chair.  Students can even work together to purchase really big ticket items such as a popsicle party or game day.

Last year was my first year doing the classroom economy full force.  I like that my kids learned a lot of economic principles first hand.  For example, each student pays $30 "rent" at the beginning of the month to cover their desk & chair usage.  As the year went on, I started charging late fees for students who did not have the full amount to pay on time.  One student who was a habitual spender didn't have any money for January rent, so he owed me the full $30 plus a $10 late fee.  He did not earn many extra credits and it just happened that the weeks of that month he was on some of the lower paying jobs.  By the time February rolled around, he had earned just enough to pay off his $40 debt, but did not have much leftover to pay rent so he went into debt AGAIN.  It took 3 months for him to work his way out and during that time he quickly became the Debt Preacher, educating his classmates on the woes of overspending!

It was also so encouraging to see them work together to earn the bigger items.  One student wanted a Popcorn Party so badly that he created a pledge sheet and had kids sign up to donate different amounts of their weekly paychecks.  He went around each week and collected the money and marked off each student's donations while meticulously keeping track of each and every dollar.  He even gave biweekly status updates to the class.  It was adorable and also satisfying to see how much they trusted this child to faithfully invest their money.

Do you use a classroom economy?  I'd love to hear more about it in the comments below!

Spending more than saving,

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Evolution of My Classroom Library

Hello friends,
I wanted to take a little time today and tell you about my favorite (and IMO most essential) part of my classroom: my library!

I am a HUGE book-aholic, always have been. In fact, my mother blames my near-sightedness on trying to read in bed after "lights-out."  I can clearly remember reading my first book independantly at age 4 and many of my friends, mentors, and inspirations are characters I have met in books.  I knew even before I had my own classroom that it was worthwhile to invest in books.  I remember going to Barnes & Nobles during my college internship and buying bunches of books (at full price!  Foolish child!) for units that would last a week.  So my collection has grown and grown and still continues to grow!  But its definitely been work to get it there.

After 6 years building a top-notch picture book collection while teaching Kindergarten & PreK, I got the news that I would be teaching third grade the following year.  As in, the opposite end of the early reading spectrum.  At this point, I owned exactly ZERO chapter books.  And although I was at least inheriting some books (including two -2!- sets of Encyclopedias copyright 1973) many were in terrible condition and completely unappealing.   Yikes.

It was time to get smart.  I used tons of points to get books from Scholastic (although they weren't technically "free" because I got most of those points by buying a crazy amount of books myself).  I scoured the used book sales at the public library. I picked through the bargin bin at Books-a-Million. I bought bundles of books off eBay. I gathered enough books to fill the 2 three-shelf bookcases in my room and I was happy with that (to start). 

I started a labeling system by simply looking up the A.R. Level (this is used school-wide) and typing that number along with a genre underneath it on printable Avery labels. The books were grouped on the shelf with like books, but there were no dividers or ways of telling them apart. Needless to say, it quickly became a mess.

Last summer, I hit the motherload when a grandparent at our school retired from teaching herself and donated a collosal collection of books to our school.  I'm talking BOXES of high-quality teacher-approved stuff.  A lot of teachers didn't want to take the time to sort through it, but you better believe I did!  As a result my library almost doubled in size - especially nonfiction and boy was I hurting there!  I also recieved a very generous donation from a parent to spend in my classroom as I wished so I purchased baskets from Really Good Stuff to get it all in tip-top shape. Massive book collection + organization = killer library!  After being inspired by Beth Newingham, The Book Whisperer, and many gorgeous pictures on Pinterest, I was ready to finally transform this oh-so-important area of my room.  So here is what I ended up with:
Overview of the area, then we'll work our way around counter-clockwise

All fiction books are stored on the built-in white shelves.  There are grouped by their genres, as well as popular series and authors.  Similar topics are in similar colored baskets. 

In the corner, you see Spots the Giraffe. He is everyone's favorite Reading Buddy!  The small footstool was bought on clearance and was also a popular reading spot until the legs snapped off in January.

This wall houses mostly nonfiction books. My first year, I owned none of these shelves. I had no need to own any of these shelves!  Three years later, look where I am.  :). You can also see that I haven't completely replaced all of the magazine holders yet!  That one mismatched shelf drives me nuts.

Here is my Mystery Author board. Each month I post clues about a popular children's author & the students research the possible answer on their own time. Guesses are placed in the bucket and at the end of the month, anyone with a correct guess wins a prize (usually a bookmark or a pencil, but I have been known to give away candy, computer passes, or even free books if I have them). The harder the clues, the better the prize!
This bookshelf got a zebra make-over by gluing wrapping paper to the background behind the shelves. It quickly went from being drab to FAB!

This is an IKEA shelf flipped on its side to make a bench. I used a body pillow for the cushion. Its lasted two years now with tons of kids sitting on it (they will cram 7 or 8 in at a time just because they all love to sit there!) and shows no signs of wear.  The little green rug is also from IKEA. 

The black-and-white polka dot labels on my baskets were made by my darling friend and coworker Katie.  If you are interested in a set for yourself, just let me know in the comments below & I'll send you one for free.  The label holders come from Really Good Stuff. They are called Universal Holders and as you can see, they really do fit all kinds of baskets, both from their company and not. 

So that's my really long rambling post on the evolution of my library.  I'm putting the finishing touches on this year's library this week so I hope to post updated pics soon. I adored my library last year, but I have to say, I might like my new set-up even more!

What are some of the best places you have found books for your classroom collection?

Keep reading!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Summer To-Do list

Today, I'm linking up with Lorraine over at Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies for her To-Do list Linky.  

I am starting to get a little nervous because I officially go back to work 5 weeks from today and although that seems like there's plenty of summer left, I know it's gonna fly by!  Here is my list of school-related Summer To-Dos:

1) Move into my new classroom
Ok, so technically all my stuff was physically moved on the last day of school, but it was pretty much just  dumped stacked wherever it would be out of the way since another class was still using the room. Also, my students worked like a train of ants to carry stuff from room to room so it was loaded up with absolutely NO organization!  The end result looked like this:

Yes, that's my teacher desk dumped on its side in the middle of the room.  The pictures don't actually convey the overwhelming dread I feel whenever I walk into this room.  I've got about 75% of it moved into homes now, but the remaining part is stressing me out because I truly don't know what to do with it.  The good thing is that I have access to my room all summer long, so its getting there.

2). Start a blog
I can check one off the list!  Yay!  I'm still just getting my feet wet, but I'm having fun and looking forward to making new connections with colleagues from around the world.  

3).  Organize the Spirit Squad
My coworker Katie & I have talked for years about our shared backgrounds & interests in dance and performance and wanted to find a way to encourage those talents in our students, but never figured out how to do it properly.  Next year, our principal asked each faculty member to take on something "above & beyond" our tupical duties (I know, I know), so we decided this would be the perfect time to launch the Spirit Squad!  Its going to be a conglomeration of dance, pom, color guard, and cheerleading geared towards our 4th & 5th grade students. We've got all the official paperwork finished, filmed a promotional "trailer" to send out with summer packets via QR code, and coreographed the first routine!  I'm so pumped for this new endeavor!  If you have something similar at your school, I'd love to hear more about it.

4). Enjoy Summer Book Club
Our principal also assigned summer reading: Best Practice by Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde. It's really a pretty basic book, so I thought it would liven it up a bit to start a summer book club for my fellow teachers.  A group of us have been meeting for breakfast each week (my favorite thing about summer is being able to venture out into the Real World on a weekday morning!) to discuss a chapter at a time.  So relaxing!  Of course, I've been doing lots of reading on my own, including following along with Gina from Third Grade Tidbits for the P.I.R.A.T.E. Book Study, in addition to the fun stuff (Just finished Tell the Wolves I'm Home - so good).

5.)  Map out integrated units & align to standards
Next year, I will be the only 3rd grade teacher at my school.  I'm sad to lose my partner, but fortunately she's going to be just down the hall teaching second grade. It's going to be challenging doing everything "alone," but I'm also taking the opportunity to really experiment with my teaching and try some new things this year. Part of that is completely integrated inquiry units!  I've done a couple of inquiry units before, but not all year long. I love to let the kids take control and really show me what they know, but I also know that in order for me to be successful in my role as Learning Guide, I've gotta have a clear map of where we are going.  Again, this is a half-accomplished project so far...

So, looking at the list now, I guess I've made some progress.  Hopefully, I can wrap it all up before the back-to-school madness officially begins!  

What's still on your list?  

Friday, June 28, 2013


Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Just a quick note to let you know that you can now follow me on Bloglovin'

I've been on vacation, so I've been a little quiet, but I'll be back later this week with new posts.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Classroom Tour

Sad news folks: I have to move classrooms for next year.  The room I am moving into is a long rectangle with ugly brown laminate cabinets, dim lighting, and two (2!) large green chalkboards.  Ick.  The good news is, I'll be challenged with creating a fabulous learning environment once again this summer.

I worked really hard this past year to create a classroom that was fun and inviting.  I hadn't had any "theme" to my room the previous two years and after perusing one of my favorite websites, Schoolgirl Style, I was inspired to makeover my room into something truly fabulous.  I'm sticking with the Zebra/Safari theme again this year, so some of the elements will stay the same, but I'm curious to see what it will all look like in my new room!  Here are some of my favorite elements of my room from 2012-2013:

I spent a lot of time reorganizing my classroom library.  I feel that if students are motivated to read, they will be motivated to learn.  I'll post on the specifics of my library set-up later, but wanted to give you a sneak peak because it was the absolutely most awesome part of my room!

I saw this idea on Pinterest and tweaked it a bit for me.  It was more of a daily reminder to myself of the power of my positive influence on my student's lives than it was for them.

I have no bulletin boards in my room, so I covered boring wooden clipboards with black contact paper and hung them on the wall with Command utensil hooks.  Student pictures were later added to the zebra name tags on each board.

Ignore the random junk in this photo as it was taken during the initial set-up phase!  This was my kids' favorite part of the room: zebra desks!  I covered the black bottom portion of each desk with zebra print duct tape. It took 8 rolls and about 15 mins per desk, but it was SO worth it.  I was afraid it would be overwhelming with all of the desks done this way, but it really wasn't.  My previous students who stopped by my room were super jealous that I hadn't done this for them!  I'm a little terrified of how much gunk will be left on the desks when I finally remove them (one of the main reasons I'm sticking with the zebra theme again this year), but I'm trying not to think about that part yet!

I set up a Math station this year. Mostly, this was used to store materials for our centers, but students also used this if they finished their regular Math Centers early.  The black bins had picture books about Math concepts, extra flash cards, and other small activities students could use by themselves.

I have used "Bucket Fillers" as part of my classroom management system for the past three years.  I found these animal print buckets through Oriental Trading.  The zebra curtain on the window is actually a cheap plastic shower curtain that I found at Walmart trimmed to valance length.  

These are just a few snapshots of my world!  I look forward to sharing more pictures and details for how I actually used these elements in future posts.