Monday, October 24, 2011

Fact Family Spiders

Looks like I'm finding out the hard way that blogging about teaching is somewhat hard to keep up with when you're actually teaching - it's been over a month since my last post! In these past few weeks I've finished up with all my parent/teacher conferences, I've had a few days away from school (and no I don't mean days off - I wish!), and I've had several projects going on at home that have kept me very busy. I still want to show y'all my classroom and share how I stay organized, but until then, I thought I'd show y'all a super cute idea I came up with on a whim when trying to figure out a fun way to incorporate our fact family lesson with something Halloween-ish.

At first, I was toying around with the idea of students writing their facts on to strips that would fill in the bristles of a witch's broom, but then I thought that would take too long and/or be too complicated. Then, I thought about trying to figure out a way to make a haunted house with opening doors/windows that, on the outside, would display the three numbers used, and on the inside, would display all four related facts, but then I took a big fat leap away from that after thought about how much time it'd take to create something like that. Then it hit me - spiders! Not only do they already have eight legs (meaning it's perfect for displaying exactly two full fact families), but I had just seen this tutorial from Dana about how to make a yarn spider web, and that sealed the deal. A cute project AND a cute display? Done and done!

I made the web loosely based on what I remember reading in Dana's tutorial, and, the night before, I pre-cut circular bodies, strips of paper for the legs, and created a quick and easy block of eight circles for the eyes on word. Then the day of the lesson, I asked my students came up with two of their own fact families. After I checked for errors, they picked up their supplies and got to work! I know it's hard to see, but they wrote each fact in white crayon on the legs. I'm so happy with how they turned out - I love that some of the girls added bows and eyelashes and one of my boys even added a red hourglass on the abdomen to make his spider into a black widow! And, the best part was, it was self-challenging - I had a few kids make their problems using triple digit numbers! Yay!

Happy Halloween y'all!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


When I first mentioned a few things about myself in the getting to know you first post, I should have mentioned that I adore organization. On the first day of school, the kids have their first "homework" assignment, where they have to reflect about their first day of third grade. One of the questions says, "My classroom is..." and I'm not kidding, almost half of my 21 kids completed the sentence with "organized." (That made me SO happy!!) And, apparently I've been an organizing fiend since I was a baby: my aunt Cheryl loves to tell the story of how, when I was young (like so young I couldn't walk yet), she was reading to me and at some point, my mom called for me. Before I crawled out of my room, Cheryl says I put all the books we had read back on the shelf, and then I went to find my mom. Well done, baby Katie, well done.

This morning, I woke up, and was determined to organize my Pinterest boards. Since I began pinning this summer, I've pinned over 200 things, just in my classroom board alone. Yesterday, as I began pinning things for specific classroom parties, I realized a pin for a valentine's day craft had no business being next to a pin for a math game. So, the organization began: I've now separated my initial classroom board into boards for classroom parties, math, reading/language arts, and science. I still have that original classroom board, and that's going to become the home for things that give me decorating inspiration, games, behavior ideas, and more.

I had a sub on Friday (third grade planning day, yay!), so I'm about to head up to school to get organized for the week ahead, and I'm going to take some pictures of my room while I'm there. In my next post, I'll be show you how I get things (and keep things!) organized in my room. How do you keep things organized in your classroom?

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Something that I revamped this year (largely thanks to Pinterest) is my rewards system. I don't believe  children should be rewarded for doing what is expected, but I do think it is acceptable to reward those who have exhibited exceptional behavior and/or those who make good choices. In my class, I like to acknowledge students both individually and as a team (meaning how well they work together in their table groups, but I wasn't really happy with the way I had been recognizing the great things my kids had been doing. 

For individual students, I used to do a ticket system where students were given a ticket for either great behavior or great choices. They'd write their name on the back of the ticket, place the ticket in a jar, and on Fridays, I'd draw three tickets at random. Then, those three kids could either pick a prize out of a prize box or eat lunch with me in the classroom. I was never in love with that system, but I did it because when I first started teaching, that's what everyone else on my team was doing, so I followed suit. My two main complaints about that particular system were that (a) even if a student had earned a ticket because of their good choice/behavior, if I didn't pull their ticket on Friday, then that meant they'd actually earned nothing at all, and (b) my prize box was full of CRAP (think McDonald's toys and candy). I wanted to continue recognizing the great things my students do, but I definitely wanted an alternative to what I had been doing, and this summer I found the answers I was looking for.

First, I found this link via Pinterest (unfortunately,  I have no idea whose blog it actually came from - the original pinner didn't link back to the source!), and I immediately knew I could make that work for me. My crafty aunt had just given me a big box full of old craft supplies, and a bunch of fun shaped punchers (like this one) were included. So, I whipped up my own little punch card, printed a bunch on cardstock, and was able to start this system on the very first day of school. Kids will get a punch on their card for anything that I think goes above and beyond normal expectations, or if they are repeatedly doing something right when other students aren't (like saying thank you, for example - manners are a BIG deal to me!). However, just as Ron Clark says (among the many great things he's said!), a student will definitely NOT get a punch if they ask for one.

To download my version of the punch card, go here:

I also like to reward teams who were working really well together, treating each other fairly and respectfully, helping out when they can, etc. When I saw a table group doing these things, they'd receive a tally on the board next to their group name, and once they had five tallies, they got to pick a prize. This system didn't really bother me, but when I saw this (again, via Pinterest - God bless whoever invented that site!), I thought it'd be way more fun that boring old tallies on the board.

Barrel of Monkeys! I've always had group signs hanging above my table groups, so I knew incorporating the hanging monkeys would be easy. It's a great visual for my kids, and you should hear the way they talk about those monkeys! A parent even told me that her son came home one day and started hanging his own Barrel of Monkeys from a hanging plant on their porch! (She told me at first, when he was explaining "It's just like Ms. Reynolds does at school!" she was thinking, ummmm what?! Ha!) Once a table group earns five monkeys, they get to pick their reward, the monkeys get removed, and they start over. But, if one group earns their five monkeys before another group, it doesn't mean everyone starts over; each group works individually until they can meet their goal of earning five monkeys.

**Also, just in case you were wondering, my table groups have space-related names. We are Ms. Reynolds' Rockets (have I told y'all I love space? because I do), so I came up with six group names that tie in to the space theme: Shooting Stars, Comets, Asteroids, Galaxies, Nebulas, and Novas. Those names hang above each table group, and this year JJ helped make them better by finding images that match each name, so on the front, each group name is displayed, and on the back, there is a picture of that thing so the kids can see what it actually looks like. (And I know that technically the plural of nebula /nova is nebulae/novae, but I wasn't sure if the ae plural form would mesh well with my kiddos, and my version is easier to say!)**

Anyway, on to the rewards! Like I said before, my prize box in previous years was just a bunch of junk. One year I actually bought come cool prizes, but that ended up being way too expensive to maintain, so back to the picked over junk pile we went. Even with occasional parent donations, most of what we ended up with in the prize box were fast food toys and candy, so towards the end of the year, most of the kids were choosing lunch with me, and who could blame them? I really wanted to make my rewards more fun and meaningful, so this summer, I decided I was going to have a pencil/pen prize option or lunch with me. I started buying fun pencils and colored pens to begin a good collection, and then I stumbled upon this genius idea: a rewards book. All of her options for rewards were fun, and better yet, they were free! Some of her ideas I had never even considered given how easy they are, and after reading all the comments on her post, I found even more ideas to incorporate! I made my book (called Rocket Rewards) and used clear page protectors to hold the pages in a small binder. Having this book as a reminder has already worked extremely well for our class. As soon students get their punch card filled or their table group earns five monkeys, they can look through the book and make their choice. If they're cashing in a reward based on a punch card, they write their choice on the back of the card and give it to me so I can keep track of who wants what (and then I return the card to them after their prize has been redeemed so they can share their success with their parents); if they're choosing a reward based on table group points, I'll just make a list on a Post-It so I can be sure everyone gets their choice.

I hope these ideas can provide you with some inspiration on how to incorporate rewards into your classroom! How do you do rewards in your class?

**Also: if anyone has any advice on how to embed documents within a blog post, I'd be especially grateful! Every time I upload the embedded link, all that posts is the giant URL. How are y'all getting your documents embedded? Help!!**

Monday, September 5, 2011

Better Late Than Never!

I had every intention of launching this blog before school started, but as always, the beginning of the year totally overwhelmed me. Even though I already have a growing to-do list at school, I really wanted to get this off the ground because I'm extremely excited to begin sharing my ideas and meeting new teachers. The teaching blogging community is huge, and I just love how open and giving everyone is about passing on their original ideas and products. Thanks to the genius behind Pinterest, I've found so many creative and innovative ideas, and I've already borrowed and tweaked a few to make them work for me in my classroom. And don't worry, I will definitely be giving credit where credit is due if I share an idea that isn't 100% my own!

My former co-worker Mandy also started a teaching blog this summer, and from her blog I discovered Blog Hoppin'. At the beginning of the year, Blog Hoppin' encouraged teachers to share a little about themselves, so to follow suit (two weeks into the school year still counts as the beginning, right?!), here's a little bit about me:

-My name is Katherine, but I am also known as Katie, Fireball, and Sleemo. At school, I'm known as Ms. Reynolds.

-My mom lives in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and is the metro editor at the Winston Salem Journal. My dad is a photo editor at the Dallas Morning News, and he lives in Dallas with my stepmom Nancy and my brother, Drew, who is 8 years old and in third grade (which is way fun for me!). My sister Claire lives in Austin, and I love having her close by!

-I attended the University of Texas at Austin, and I graduated with a degree (and a job!) in 2003. I've been at the same school ever since, and this marks my fifth year teaching third grade.

-I have six tattoos, all very small, two in white, and all but two are written in a family member's handwriting (the other two? one is in my own handwriting and the other is a small heart).

-I was born in Louisiana, so Cajun food is my comfort food. Now that I've lived in Texas for most of my life, however, I will never, ever turn down chips, queso, margaritas, or enchiladas.

-I really, really, REALLY hate raw tomatoes.

-I have two cats: Corona, who is 18 (I've had her since I was in the 4th grade) and who is missing her back leg and tail, and Maggie, who enjoys being in high places (the top of an open door is her favorite).

-My boyfriend, JJ, is working on a doctorate degree in Astronomy at the University of Texas. He is extremely useful when I teach about space. :)

-I am 26 years old and I am still in love with the Harry Potter series.

-I love to travel; last year, I went to China, Las Vegas, Costa Rica, France, Italy, Germany, and Hungary. I've also been to the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, and Spain. Next on my list is somewhere in South America, and I am itching to go to Ireland and Scotland. Australia wouldn't be too bad, either.

-I am mostly a vegetarian; if it weren't for seafood or bacon, I'd be veggie 100% of the time!

I think that's enough for now! If there's anything else you'd like to know, just leave me a comment! Come back soon to read about how I started off my year!