Friday, April 30, 2010

3D Bulletin Boards - Featured Friday

Today's Featured Friday Topic is:
3D Bulletin Boards
I was recently visiting my friend Jill's room and noticed her cool science bulletin board.  I was reminded about how much I love adding 3D elements to boards.
She had created a display for her fifth graders that included an actual terrarium and seeds.  Both were showcased in clear containers and labeled.  It looked great.

With a little imagination...or a walk through a craft, party or dollar store for'll find many ideas for making your bulletin boards more interesting.
I love to add interesting borders by attaching vines, fake foliage, holiday lights, garland, streamers, hawaiian leis, etc to the edges in place of commercial border.  

Most items can be attached with push pins or hot glue.  Be creative! Have fun!  
reative classroom ideateaching tips teacher ideas classroom organization

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Free Storage Containers - Thrifty Thursday

Today's Thrifty Thursday Tip is:
Free Storage Containers
Places like Ikea make me giddy.  The Container Store brings me happiness that words can not describe.  Yet, there are many fantastic items available that will serve the same purpose for FREE!  Below is a list of some of my favorite containers for sorting, storing and organizing: 
Pringles Cans
Crystal Lite Canisters 
Baby Wipes Container
Formula Cans
Baby Food Containers (these are great for small items...I avoid the glass ones for safety reasons)
Smart Ones dishes (handy for passing out small supplies or manipulatives)
Parmesan Cheese containers (I like these because they are clear)
Microwavable Soup Cans (these usually open in a way so that there are no sharp edges)
Copy Paper Boxes (I love the sturdiness and uniformity, but I always cover them in contact paper)

money saving ideas for teachers, ways for teachers to save money, saving money in the classroom

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mystery Theme Open House Ideas - Whatever Wednesdays

Today's Whatever Wednesday Topic is: Open House Themes/ Mysteries

Our annual Open House is coming up in June. I have discovered that I love doing a theme for Open House each year. It gives the projects a focus, makes everything feel coherent and keeps me on task. A couple years back I did a Mystery Themed Open House. In the weeks leading up to the Big Night we read lots of mystery books. I used a lot of the elements that my teacher hero, Beth Newingham has so generously shared on her website. The kids loved the theme and it made for some fun projects to showcase at Open House. This would make a great classroom theme as well.

I already shared the Story Cubes and Silhouettes a few weeks ago. Below are some more ideas you might want to use. Click on any photo to enlarge it,

WANTED POSTERS: Each student created a character for himself and wrote a story explaining their alibi and why they were innocent. The alleged crime was: Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar.

CRIME SCENE TRIORAMA: After writing their own mysteries based on a Nursery Rhyme (i.e. Was Humpty Dumpty Pushed? Who really scared Miss Muffett?) we made trioramas based on their writing.

MYSTERY NUMBER: There are clues written on the front of the page with the question mark. You can lift the page to reveal the mystery number.

MAGNIFICENT ME: LOVED THESE!!! Each child painted a self portrait and wrote a bio poem about themself. I printed their poems on an overhead transparency and attached it to the magnifying class cutout. So stinking cute!

JUST THE FACTS: This was another favorite. I took a picture of each friend wearing a detective hat and a trenchcoat with a badge. The printed page read, "Just the Facts About (insert student name)." The children then wrote interesting facts about themselves on the paper. I mounted each onto brown cardstock, rounded the corners and used aluminum foil to make them look like clipboards.

I SPY: Each student wrote a descriptive paragraph about an object. I took a picture of each with the magnifying glass held up close so that it magnified one eye. They were lots of fun.

HANDWRITING ANALYSIS: Third graders learn to write in cursive. They each wrote the alphabet in cursive and then wrote clues about themselves in cursive on a separate card. The parents tried to match the clues to the "handwriting sample."
SCAVENGER HUNT: When each child arrived, I had a badge (came in packs of 4 from The Dollar Tree) anda clipboard waiting for each of them. The clipboard held a scavenger hunt for the night to complete with their families. This encourages them to show off all of their work. The hunt included things like, "What is the third word in the third sentence of your I Spy paragraph?"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pace Yourself - Teacher Tip Tuesday

A hectic week in the heat, an early morning flight, and the tail end of a tummy bug (and OK, I admit it, a dose of Infant Tylenol) resulted in the best case scenerio for us (and the bazillion and one other passengers on Southwest Flight 174)...sleeping babies.

As in, out cold for 2.5 hours of a 2.75 hour flight.

It was the traveling twin mama jackpot.

While I was not able to enjoy a magazine or even an itty-bitty pouch of peanuts, I did enjoy some wonderful, quiet cuddle time. Given the alternative possibility of 2.75 hours of screaming babies, poopy diapers at 30,000 feet and/or angry seatmates, I was thrilled. I used that time to just sit and think. Vacation was ending and it was time to transition back to real life.

I started to think about school and the fact that the year would start winding down.

I started to realize that there was only 8-9 weeks left until summer vacation.

And then the realization hit.


There is so much that needs to happen in those 8-9 weeks. On my plate alone we have: a 3rd grade play, math MCAS, report cards, promotions, Open House, conferences, setting up for next year, field trips, field days, cumulative folders, portfolios, and more and more and more! I'm sure your to do lists look the same.

So I thought today would be a good day to blog about pacing yourself.

1. Start by making a to do list. Brainstorm every little task you can think of that needs to be accomplished between now and that blessed event known as summer vacation. Include anything that comes to mind.

2. Grab a highlighter and highlight any task that can be farmed out to a para, parent or even a student.

3. Break down the remaining tasks into manageable parts. If you have 25 students then plan on writing out 5 report card comments a day for a week.

3. Print out calendars for the remaining months of school. I like these.

4. Look at the items that are on your list that you need to do yourself and plug them into the calendar so that you are able to pace yourself and allow ample time to complete each item. Set deadlines earlier than required when possible. Having everything written down will make you more likely to get things done efficiently and less likely to feel overwhelmed by all there is to do.

Home Sweet Home

All that merchandise and not a single, "I survived Disney with twin babies" Tshirt to be found anywhere.  It was every bit as exhausting as you would imagine, but tons of fun too.  Back to reality now.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Phone Script - Featured Friday

Today's Featured Friday Topic is:
A Phone Script

This great idea comes from my friend Gail's classroom. She posts a "script" by the phone so that students remember what to say when answering.
creative classroom ideas teaching tips teacher ideas classroom organization

Thursday, April 15, 2010

***Doesn't Hurt to Ask - Thrifty Thursday

Today's Thrifty Thursday Tip is:
Asking for Donations

Donor's Choose

money saving ideas for teachers, ways for teachers to save money, saving money in the classroom

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Notebook / Journal Storage - No Mess Monday

Today's No Mess Monday Tip for Classroom Organization is:
Storing Notebooks and Journals in Buckets

I use tables in my classroom in place of desks. To store journals and notebooks I use bins. The students are taught to return their items to the bins so that they face the same direction with the spines facing up. When the time comes to use the journals I pick five students and tell them to "Take 5."

This means that those five students go to the bin, form a short little line, each take the five journals that are in front and pass them out to their owners. The process is very quick and by instructing them to take the top five, they do not waste time digging through the stack to get the journal that belongs to a choice buddy.

If a child is absent, the student who is passing out the journal will put it into his/her "unfinished box" so that the assignment can be made up.

There have been years when I have assigned passing out the journals to specific students each time. I have found that it is better to stagger the role. Sometimes there are students who really benefit from the little movement break that is provided by walking around to distribute the books. Also, it is a coveted task so I will sometimes say, "while I am giving the directions (or teaching the lesson) I will be watching for five role model students to 'take 5' when it is time to do the activity.

I should probably note that the term "take 5" is based on me having 25 students. If you had twenty students you may opt to choose five students to "take 4."

Individual Bulletin Board Space - Teacher Tip Tuesday

Today's Teaching Tuesday Idea is: Individual Bulletin Board Space

I once loved creating bulletin boards.

And by loved I mean LOVED.

I would plan them in my head and tweak them until the reality matched the vision.

At the risk of being institutionalized, I will admit that I have used actual levels and tape measures to perfect them.

Each was a work of art worthy of it’s own gallery premiere. People should have worn black dresses and tuxes as they sipped wine and stared in awe as they discussed the merits of my work.

And then the desire slowly fizzled and the demands grew and time became limited and priorities changed and now bulletin boards have become something else on the to do list. Occasionally, the creative bug will bite and I’ll go all old school and whip up a masterpiece, but for the most part I try to keep it simple.

I have a lot of “interactive bulletin boards” in my classroom now. These are things like word walls, a weekly language arts focus wall and my CAFÉ board that are ongoing throughout the year. But, there are those boards that need to be changed regularly. One simple way to do that is to create a board that is maintained by your students.

Provide each student with a space on the wall that belongs to him. You could hang a background paper and label it with the child’s name. Let the student select what he wants to display and allow him to put up the work he wants to showcase in that spot.

Below are a few simple options to make changing the work quick and easy:

  • Slip a paperclip over the back of the construction paper background. The child can slip his work under the clip.
  • Attach a self-sticking plastic clip (same effect as the paper clip, but more costly)
  • Mount photo corners to the background paper. This looks very cool and artsy, but has some downfalls. The children are limited to the size of the work they can hang and some lack the fine motor skills to use the photo corners.
  • Tie a line of string, twine or fishing line and provide each student with a clothespin that has his name on it to hang the work with.
  • Staple a large Ziploc bag to the wall and let the students slip the work into the bag.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Posts Are Coming

I swear it.

I've slacked this week.

And by slacked, I don't mean bonbons and Oprah.  

Oh, how fun would THAT be?  Does anyone really do that?  

Note to self - sometime before retirement take a Bon Bon and Oprah personal day.

My slacking from blogging has been made up for ten times over in other areas.

Because next week, our little Party of 5, is taking to the air and traveling from the green state in the Northeast to the yellow one in the south to hang with the Mouse.

My organizational skills are being tested like never before as I pack for this little getaway.  My head is spinning with to do lists and tasks.  In a moment of pure brilliance, I packaged up all of our clothes and SHIPPED them to Disney.  

That's right we are leaving  our oversized, monogrammed as newlyweds, bought-for-the-honeymoon luggage at home and our couture is traveling ahead of us via Fed Ex.  I LOVED the idea of not having to schlep luggage.  I LOVED the idea of not having to worry if all of my cutesy-cutesy-matchy-matchy outfits for the kids would arrive or be lost.  I can use my handy tracking number to watch it make it's way down 95 South via Fed Ex ground.  I LOVED that I would have a signature for the person responsible for receiving my package further ensuring that my fabulous kiddie clothes and I would reunite in Orlando.

I was seriously about to nominate myself as genius of the year.

And then I realized something.

The true owner of the title, "Genius of the Year" would be smart enough to inventory his/her underwear and not put the majority of it in a box on a truck and send it 1300 miles away.

And so, in addition to being a frantic trip planner this week, I must now go out tonight and purchase new underwear.

The posts are coming.  I promise.  
As an added bonus, next week will feature great tips for travel.   Teacher vacation season is coming soon.  

Consider today's "never ship all of your underwear to the Sunshine State without you" tip a freebie.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Where Did You Go? - Featured Friday

Today's Featured Friday Topic is:
A "Where Are You?" Board
This idea comes from my friend Gail’s 2nd grade classroom.

She used a magnetic white board and programmed it with the places a child would be when they are not in the classroom. These include the bathroom as well as our reading specialists, speech therapists, social worker, etc,  She then made each child a magnet with his name on it.  When the child leaves the room, he moves the magnet to the appropriate spot.  The teacher can tell at a glance where the students are.

Love it!  Check out this similar idea I posted last summer for letting everyone know where your class is.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Trading Books - Thrifty Thursday

Today's Thrifty Thursday Tip is:
Trading Books

I love today’s Thrifty Thursday tip.

Because I love books.

And because we are so close to that cherished little thing called “summer vacation” when you get to read books for pleasure.

OK, I admit it.  I tend to read ‘teacher books’ in the summer.  But, I also read a bunch of books just for fun too.

Today I want to tell you about a gem of a website called Paper Back Book Swap.    If you visit the site you can get all the details and even watch a quick video that explains how it works, but I’ll give you the quick overview.

You sign-up (quick and easy).

You post books you own and no longer need (super fast).

You pick out new books you want instead.

People mail them to you FOR FREE.


Alright, you got me.  Nothing is totally free in this world is it.  The only “cost” is when you send a book to someone else.  You pay for the shipping.  

But, it’s media mail.  And usually only a little over $2.00. 

You can even print the shipping label on regular old white paper and drop it in the mailbox.  I avoid the post office whenever possible so I’m a fan of that little feature.

When you sign up and list 10 books you’ll get 2 credits for free books immediately.  So you can try it out without worrying about it.  

They have books for please.  They have books for children.  I’ve even received some amazing teacher resource books (Daiy 5, Classrooms That Work, Making Words, etc.)

If you do decide to sign up, pretty pretty please use the following link: 

If you use the link above to join, I'll get a free book when you post your first ten books (and you'll still get free books for posting them!) 

money saving ideas for teachers, ways for teachers to save money, saving money in the classroom

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Student Silhouettes Made Easy - Whatever Wednesday

Today's Whatever Wednesday Topic is:
Silhouettes Made Easy

Teachers will often trace student’s profiles.  They make great displays for Open Houses and back-to-school bulletin boards.  They are cherished parts of Mother’s Day gifts.  That doesn’t mean they are easy.

In fact, just the opposite is true.

If you’ve ever attempted to get 24 Kindergarten students to stand in front of an overhead and “freeze like a statue” while you frantically try to outline the projection of their cranium onto black construction paper then you know what I mean.

Just getting a 5 year old to stand still is a task in itself.  But, getting a kid to stand still and not turn his head to see the giant shadow of himself that is bating him to one side and the illuminated treasure on the other is a real accomplishment.

I did a mystery unit with my third graders a couple of years ago.  Inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock logo-ish thingy, I wanted to use their profiles as part of a “guess who” writing display.  However, the thought of tracing all those heads exhausted me.

Then I had a lightbulb moment (pun intended).

I had them stand in front of the overhead as I normally would.  Instead of tracing their silhouette, I simply snapped a photo of it.

So. stinking. easy.

And they came out great.

I used the photos as they were, but you could easily enlarge the pictures on a copier and use them as a template for cutting out the traditional black construction paper.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Stationary - Teacher Tip Tuesday

Today's Teaching Tuesday Idea is:

Teacher Stationary

Children are very familiar with email, texting, voice mail, and IMs.  However, good old fashion letter writing is often a foreign concept to them.  Keeping some teacher stationary on hand in your desk will expose them to more written language and allow you to model good social skills.  As an added bonus, it will free up your time outside the classroom and save you a bit of money on postage.

I like to keep “generic” stationary and envelopes in my classroom.  By generic, I mean it doesn’t specifically say ‘thank you’ or ‘happy birthday.’  It can be used for anything. When children bring in small gifts for me or when I catch them making a great choice, I like to send home a quick hand-written note.  

In the past I would spend holiday breaks and the start of my summer vacation writing out thank-you notes which would then need to be mailed home.  By having stationary readily available I can write an immediate note of gratitude and put it into their mailbox or folder that day.  I also like to write a thank you note to parents who volunteer in the classroom for a special project or chaperone a field trip.  In those cases, I try to print a digital picture from that day of the parent with their child and include it with the card.  It’s a fairly simple touch on my part, but is always much appreciated on their end.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

I lectured my kids about the importance of a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast in prep for today's "big bad state mandated test."  In a classic case of do as I say and not as I do, I logged a mere fraction of a good night's sleep and am kicking off the day with iced coffee and a brownie at 4:40 a.m.  I'm crossing my fingers that my kiddos and their little #2 pencils bring it today.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Under Bench Storage - No Mess Monday

Today's No Mess Monday Tip for Classroom Organization is:
Under Bench Storage

In many classrooms, storage is limited.  Finding items that are multi-purpose is always helpful.  The photos above show class meeting areas where the student seating doubles as storage for student supplies.  The 1st photo is from a 5th grade classroom.  The teacher turned milkcrates onto their sides and attached wood planks with hardware.  

The 2nd photo is from a 4th grade classroom.  The teacher bought unfinished wood shelves, turned them onto their sides and painted them to match her room.  She used baskets to keep the student's books and papers organized.  The baskets can be moved around the room as needed.  Most big name craft stores (i.e. Michaels and AC Moore) carry these shelves and usually offer a weekly 40% off coupon on their website.  AC Moore also has a teacher card available for a 5% savings.
Thanks to my creative coworkers -Jill and Kara- for letting me photograph their meeting areas and share their creative ideas. 
class meeting areas classroom storage ideas storing student supplies classroom photos

Friday, April 2, 2010

Curses to You Easter Bunny

Retailers deal with Christmas.

Accountants face the deadline of April 15th.

Wedding planners scurry around in June.


Well, when are we not busy really?


There are some times of the year that jump out as extra crazy.

As in hubby knows to just steer clear of me and pick up the slack on the homefront crazy.

August and September clearly take the cake.

June is a close runner-up as the year winds down and my energy is spread between packing up a classroom and managing the behaviors of a room full of kids who probably checked out mentally 3 weeks prior.  June is tough because you also factor in the emotions of "the end."  I never like to see a class go.  I could get down with the Laura Ingalls Wilder school house thing.

But, I digress.

Because I am currently in the throws of my third crazy part of the year.  

State mandated-get out your #2 pencil-bubble until you can bubble no more-test season.

The thing is, they are ready.  We work hard all year and teach them what they need to know and they are brilliant.  I am proud of our hard work and the hard work of their teachers before me.  Our joint efforts have produced little geniuses and this week they have the opportunity to prove to the state of Massachusetts that they are, as we say in these here parts,  "Wicked smAHt" students with good teachers.

Except, despite all of our combined efforts, there are variables out of our control.  And oh how I hope they do not negatively factor in.

The forecast for the long weekend is...gorgeous!

Seriously, they are calling for sunny skies and temps that will rival a June day.  Some of my kiddos will be traveling for the holiday.  Others will have family visiting them.  Their routines will be shot, they will be sleeping on air mattresses, they will be staying up late and they will be playing outside in shorts.  It will feel like summer vacation for sure.  And with summer vacation comes a mental shift from school to leisure.

But, they need to take the biggest test of the year immediately following this weekend of summer-like fun.

Oh, wait.

Let's also factor in that there is a good chance that they will arrive to school with a Cadbury egg in each cheek and blood sugar levels that are through the roof.  

Sugar crashes and belly aches should help them focus on the test.