Monday, December 17, 2012

In Remembrance

I know I am not alone when I say that this weekend was pretty tough. I cried the whole way home from school on Friday, and didn't feel like myself all weekend. I just felt numb, in a funk, confused, and upset. I was also in the process of actually becoming sick (both my boyfriend and about half the kids in my class are dealing with something icky, and it's finally found its way to me). I had a heavy heart and a heavy head full of sinus congestion. I couldn't stop thinking about the teachers, students, families, first responders, and community of Newtown, Connecticut.

In the wake of this tragedy, I have found solace in remembering that with the bad, there is also good. I believe goodness will always triumph over evil. I have faith in and believe in humanity. I have faith in children, teachers, families, friends, neighbors, and strangers. I believe in kindness, compassion, grief, acceptance, and selflessness. Above all, I have faith in love. I believe in love. With these things, we can bring peace and comfort to all those who are suffering and bearing the weight of so much unimaginable pain.

As of right now, I don't know what else to do or say other than share this with y'all, as well as the illustration below. Seeing it helped me, and maybe it will help you, too.

Source: Lisa Congdon
To the people of Newtown: we carry you with us. You are not alone.

Have a blessed rest of the week with your family, students, friends, and colleagues, and may your holidays be filled with peace and love.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Rocket, our class' shelf on the shelf! Rocket first came to my class last year, and I have been looking forward to his return this year. On Monday, his first day, we discovered him on top of our TV, and noticed he had brought snowflakes! He also wrote us a letter, and he said he thought everyone should have snow around Christmas, so that's why he brought some to us! He is not used to 80 degree days in December!

Then on Wednesday, he perched himself on top of the dry erase board. When we noticed him there, I told the kids I was a little nervous about his new spot because last year, he sat in that same spot and halfway through the day he fell, but his legs stayed put, so he ended up hanging upside down for the rest of the day! But, we think he learned from his accident, and that's why he was holding on to the flag pole. It worked, too, because this year he didn't fall - crisis averted!

That day, he also brought us a special mail box to use. Rocket likes to write letters to us, so he thought it would be useful to have this mailbox so that we could have a special and safe place to put our notes to each other. Now, the first thing the kids do when they get to school is look for Rocket and check the mailbox to see if he's left us anything special!

My students decided it would be a good idea to keep all his letters in one place so that way they wouldn't get lost (and so that they could go back and read them!), so I found a binder to use and now Rocket's letters are kept here, neat and tidy, just like the teacher likes! The portrait of Rocket was done by one of my students!

Then, on Thursday, the most exciting thing happened! Rocket brought a little Christmas tree to our class! There was no note on the tree, however, so at first, we didn't know if Rocket brought it or not. But, we've recently been learning about inferencing and how to draw conclusions, so my students determined that Rocket must have been the one who brought the tree because (a) I told the kids I didn't put it up, (b) Rocket was on the tree, and (c) he had told us in a previous letter that he would always leave something for us every day, be it a note or something else.

I am glad to have a shelf elf in my class because it makes the holiday season that much more fun and exciting. And, as it turns out, Rocket isn't just visiting our class to keep an eye on us - he told us in one of his letters that he wants to learn more about the 7 Habits from my students! Rocket takes his job as a shelf elf very seriously, and he told us that he would one day like to be a leader among shelf elves. He said he thinks learning about the 7 Habits could help him be a better leader, and this has motivated my students to use and model the habits more than they have been recently. So, my students are remembering to make good choices, and Rocket is learning from their example - it's a win-win!

I'll be back next week to share a few more holiday ideas and to give an update on what Rocket has done! Do you have a shelf elf in your classroom or at home? I'd love to hear stories of what your elves have done!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

December Currently

Tomorrow, very special holiday visitor will be coming to my class, but before I run up to my school to prepare for his arrival, I wanted to share this month's Currently:
I used my new Maggie font for this month's Currently. If you like it, you can grab it here!
Oh, pop music. I love it. All of it. I grew up with the likes of Britney and Nsync, can you blame me? Every time I hear a song I like on the radio, I Shazaam it on my phone and then add it to a pop music playlist on YouTube. I also recently bought Taylor Swift's new album because one of my students picked DJ for a Day for her reward, and she brought the CD to class and I immediately fell in love (my favorite tracks are I Knew You Were Trouble and 22).

Part of the reason I love doing these every month is because it's nice to have these to look back on and see what was going on in my life each month. This month in particular I am loving (no, LOVING!) the fact that my mom got a new job and will be moving to Houston in just a few weeks. When I graduated from college in 2007, my mom was offered a job that took her to Africa (Algeria, to be specific), and after about a year and a half there, she moved to Beijing, China. Then, when my grandmother's mental health began to decline, my mom moved back to the states to live closer to her mom in North Carolina. So, for nearly six years, I haven't lived in the same state as my mom, so I am over the moon excited for her return to Texas. She will be moving here during my last week of school, so the timing couldn't be better. I can't wait to have her be just a few hours away!

I have no idea what to get my boyfriend for Christmas! What do you get for a guy who says he doesn't need or want anything? I'm open to suggestions!

I'm sure I'm not alone in needing more sleep. This past week, specifically, however, I couldn't seem to fall asleep before midnight, and because of that, I developed a nasty twitch in my right eye. I could feel it flare up every now and then, but I didn't realize other people could SEE it until one of the kids in my guided reading groups said something about it! He tried to be so polite about it, too, but you could tell he was kinda freaked out that my eye was going crazy! My boyfriend has a Temper-Pedic pillow and I love it, so I'm thinking I should get one of those to help me sleep.

Last weekend, I decided to bite the bullet and buy myself a new MacBook. My old MacBook laptop is five years old and doesn't do what I need it to anymore, so even though I'll be pinching pennies for awhile to pay for the new one, it has been SO nice to have a computer that works well again! Now I just need some time to transfer everything from my old computer to my new one.

My RAK is from last week - one of my teammates had a terrible day (like the kind where you just want to quit your job right then and there), so to cheer him up, another teacher and I blasted some uplifting music in the third grade hallway to let him know he's our hero and that we love him. During Red Ribbon Week last month, my third grade team and I all wore shirts with each others' pictures on them to show we were each others' heroes, so that's why we played the hero music for him after his bad day!
Me (on the left) and my third grade team with our hero shirts.
Our third graders got a kick out of us dancing and lip syncing to the music in the hall. It was a fun way to start the day!

Another fun way to start the day is by doing this:
That's our assistant principal, me, our principal, and librarian doing the chicken dance in front of 500+ students, teachers, and parents at our awards assembly on Friday. Because at my school, we work hard, play hard, and dance hard, too.

Have a great week, friends! 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cyber Sale on TpT!

Hey y'all! Can you believe Thanksgiving is already over?! My sister and I both live in Austin, and we went to North Carolina to visit our mom. The three of us always have such a great time together. My mom and sister are two of the most understanding, generous, and thoughtful people I know, and my heart is full after getting to spend a week with them. We did a little shopping, spent some time with my grandmother (she moved into an assisted living facility in February), and did a little wine tasting.
My sister, mom, and me.
My mom also pulled out a bunch of old cards and school + artwork that my sister and I had sent our grandparents over the years. My sister discovered this spelling test I took in the second grade:
She and my mom just about died laughing at the irony of how I got a 100 on a spelling test, but spelled the word 'spelling' wrong. Glad I've since learned how to spell that word right now that I'm a teacher! :)

On Thursday, we went to Charlotte to have Thanksgiving dinner with the rest of my mom's family. My cousin John got married in March, and his wife Sarah's parents also came down for Thanksgiving. On my mom's side, there are only four grandchildren, and we're all close in age, so we always have a blast playing games and catching up whenever we're all together.
My lovely family!
I didn't get back to Austin until late Friday, so I've been working like crazy to get things done before the weekend is over. I've gotten a lot of work done at home, but I'll be heading up to my school this afternoon to get a few things ready for tomorrow. I've also been preparing for TpT's giant Cyber Monday + Tuesday sale! Starting tomorrow, you can take 10% off your purchases from TpT if you use the code cmt12 at checkout. I'm joining in with a bunch of other bloggers and TpT sellers to offer an additional 20% off everything in my TpT store. (PS - I decided to start my sale early, so everything in my store is already discounted!) I just uploaded another new font (this one's called Bita, named after my crazy kitten), so be sure to check it out as well as all my other fonts + products before this awesome sale ends on Tuesday!
I've got a bunch of awesome products on my wishlist, so now I've just got to fill up my cart so I can jump straight to the checkout line tomorrow on TpT!

Have a great afternoon, and don't forget to support your fellow teachers by cyber shopping on TpT tomorrow and Tuesday! (Many thanks to Ashley for the cute button!)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Turkey Time

Hey friends! Before Thanksgiving comes and goes, I wanted to share a few of the things my kids have been working on this week. We just began learning about author's purpose, and to help the kids learn more about what it means to persuade, I read I Wanna Iguana to the class. We talked about how persuading someone means you are trying to convince them to do, think, or feel what you want them to do, think, or feel! Then I told my kids that they were going to have to convince me that I shouldn't eat them for Thanksgiving, because they were going to pretend they were turkeys! They had to write a persuasive story from the turkey's point of view to convince me, the reader (and the eater!) that eating them for Thanksgiving isn't such a great idea. Some kids suggested I eat something else as my meat (like chicken), some tried to convince me that they were small, so they wouldn't be as delicious as a bigger, fatter turkey, and one student even told me he thought turkeys evolved from humans, so eating a turkey would basically be like eating a human! I love it!

One student's final draft. So cute!
We've also just started a unit on money, so I wanted to find a way to incorporate finding the total value of a collection of coins with Thanksgiving. I found inspiration from this pin, and my kids created turkeys using pattern blocks. Each pattern block had a coin value, and the kids had to calculate how much their turkey's tail feathers were worth. Their creations turned out so cute!
This was my example. Below is the record sheet I used to calculate the total value of my turkey's tail feathers.
My students had so much fun with this, so I thought I'd share the record sheet with y'all in case any of you want to create these with your class! You can pick up a copy of the record sheet for free here in my TpT store. If you grab a copy, please let me know!
Only two more days until we have a week off! I can't wait - I'm going to North Carolina with my sister to see my mom and her side of the family, and I'm looking forward to having a little down time before I come back to school. I can't believe it's almost December already - how has the year gone by this fast?! At least that means the Holly Bloggy Christmas Exchange is coming soon! I loved participating last year, and am looking forward to doing it again this year! Have you signed up? If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here to read more about it and sign up!
Have a great day, friends!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Don't Be Scared...

I'm still alive, y'all, this isn't a ghost posting on my behalf!

I swear I keep waiting for the moment when I'll finally feel like my head is above water. I thought that would happen after parent/teacher conferences were over, but then I had to finish up a few wedding projects for one of my BFF's weddings (she lives in LA but she and her husband met here in Austin, so they got married here!). They got married on the 21st and this past Thursday, we had our first field trip, which began with one of the buses being 45 minutes late and ended with us coming back to school an hour and a half before we had originally planned!

This week, I've been working hard to make tomorrow fun for the kids while also making things align with our curriculum, but as soon as school's out, I have to go visit my doctor for (what I'm hoping will be) a quick out patient surgery, but I have to take Thursday off to recover, so I'm also trying to make sub plans! And, not only am I preoccupied with thinking about this surgery; I've also been thinking non-stop about my friends in New York and on the East coast, which currently includes my boyfriend. JJ has been in Boston for the past few days, and although Hurricane Sandy didn't hit hard where he was staying, I'm hoping he'll be able to get home without any delays. 

Anyway, let's move on! My students have been working hard these past few weeks, but of course my camera is still at school. So, I'll share what my class has been up to soon, but for now, I can at least tell you about something else that's new...

I've made a few new fonts and they're now up for sale in my TpT store! First up is Curly Sue:
Then there's Sandy (I told you I was preoccupied by the hurricane!): 
And last, there's Maggie, which is named after my crazy cat: 
In what little spare time I've had, I've really enjoyed making these! Definitely more fun than making lesson plans and grading papers! Also, just in case you didn't know, all of my fonts can be used for personal + commercial use, which means once you purchase them, you CAN use them to create and sell your own products on TpT!

I hope to be back soon to share what we've been up to at school! And, as a thank you for your patience with my lack of posting, here's a little freebie for you! 

 All you need are individually wrapped packages of Halloween marshmallows, M&Ms, and pretzels!* I plan on having my sub do this on the day after Halloween - this way my kids will get a little day after Halloween treat, but only after they use it to help them practice a little math and measurement! Click here to grab it - I'd love to know if you get a chance to use this in your class!

I hope y'all have a happy Halloween! Enjoy!

*You can also buy these in bulk and put a little of each into a small baggie - as much as I hate the waste of individual packaging, it does make for a much easier hands-on math lesson, in this case!

Monday, October 8, 2012

October Currently

Hey there friends! As I'm sure you all know, Farley hosts these wonderful Currently linkys every month, and even though it's four days late, I'm linking up for the month of October - better late than never!

A note about those hot drinks - I don't drink coffee, but I do drink tea (chai, to be specific) and hot chocolate. I've heard a million and a half wonderful things about the pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks, but since I don't drink coffee, I thought I wasn't ever going to be privy to the taste of pumpkin spice. Well, this morning one of my co-workers brought in Coffee Mate pumpkin spice creamer, and she told me to add a bit to my chai. Let's just say my mind is BLOWN. It is the most deliciously fallish drink I've ever had. I'll be heading to Target tonight to get me a bottle (or 12) to keep at school to add to my tea in the morning! 

As for my book choice, The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey is always a favorite in my class because the town I teach in hosts a Wiener Dog Festival every spring (yes, for real), so they super love this book since the main character is a wiener dog!

Now I'm off to finish up my parent/teacher conferences! Have a happy Columbus Day, y'all!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bucket Fillers

Hey friends! Can you believe it's already October?! I love this month because it means cooler weather and fall colors, flavors, and fashions are finally here! However, it also means it's parent/teacher conference time for us, which will quickly be followed by open house, so I'm going to be one very busy teacher! Today I just wanted to pop in real quick to share a little about how I use bucket filling in my classroom. This is my first year to read the book and use that phrase with a class, and so far, I'm really loving it. Already, this model has reduced the amount of negative choices, words, and behaviors because now, if a student (or I) notice a friend making a not so great choice, we remind them that what they're doing might be dipping in someone's bucket and that we should find a way to be proactive and be a bucket filler instead! 

After we read the book, my students brainstormed these lists of what it means to be a bucket filler and a bucket dipper:

Then, on the back side of the shelf near my door, I posted my students' "buckets." Instead of using small pockets or actual buckets, I just used some leftover report card envelopes I had from last year. The size is great, and I like that my students got to decorate their "bucket" with things that were a reflection of themselves. Since we made these on the second week of school, my students were still getting to know each others' names, so I included a small picture of each student on the bottom corner of each envelope bucket.

On the open side of the shelf, there is an envelope that holds the blank bucket filling slips as well as my bucket. My students have been writing me the sweetest things, and I've really enjoyed this new opportunity to share a little love with my class!

My students can fill someone's bucket by completing one of these strips. I made these because I wanted to give my students enough space to write a few sentences, if they wanted, and I made the space blank so that they could also draw a picture, too! I've encouraged them to fill someone's bucket by recognizing a good choice a person made, by saying thank you to someone if that someone did something nice to or for them, or simply by saying something nice to someone they may not interact with much during the day. 

Bucket filling has provided my students with the chance to have meaningful, positive interactions with each other, and now that we're getting deeper into learning about the 7 Habits, I'm hoping to see a few kids fill each others' buckets when they notice a friend making a healthy habit choice! If you'd like to use my bucket slip, you can find it on Google Docs here!

Do your students practice bucket filling? I'd love to hear how it works in your class!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cooperative Learning + Freebie

Hey there teacher friends! I'm not even going to start making excuses for being an absent blogger because (a) I know you all know just how busy the beginning of the year can be and (b) it would not be very proactive of me to make excuses (habit #1, if you remember!). So with that, I'm going to share a few things with y'all that I made and used to get the year started.

A few years ago, I went to a Kagan training with a few other teachers from my school. Ever since then, I've made a conscious effort to incorporate cooperative learning strategies into my lessons. One of the very easiest ways to encourage cooperative learning is to set up your classroom desks in groups, not rows. In my room, if you remember, I have round tables instead of desks, and I chose those on purpose because I love how easily they lend themselves for group work and student participation. At the training, I learned how giving students roles and assigned partners within their groups would also help foster the cooperative learning style, so I made these table mats to help my students remember their roles:

This is how the mats work: you can see that each student has a number as well as a letter assignment and two partner assignments. Because of this, if you ever needed to have students get supplies or record their answers while working with their table group, all you have to do is assign a number to a certain job - say, all kids who are #4 would be the record keepers. The numbers and letters also help if you ever want to mix up the way the kids are grouped - you could have all the letter As stand up and then find a partner with someone who is standing OR with someone who is sitting, or you could group all the ones together, all the twos, and so on, so that the kids get to work with a group other than those kids at their table. Shoulder partners and face partners are just terms that help kids remember who to talk to if you ever ask students to share their thoughts, predictions, or connections during a lesson.   

I laminated these mats and put them in the center of each group's table. My table groups are named and also have a color, so I made each mat match the table's color. I made these round to match my round tables, but I also created rectangular table mats for those of you who have long tables or clustered desks. If you are interested in using cooperative learning table mats in your classroom, you can find them here for just $1 in my TpT store! The file includes both the round and rectangular mats in five colors! 

Now, about that freebie: when I started my reading lessons this year, I made sure to spend a lot of time discussing with my class what it means to pick a just right book. Since my third graders aren't really learning to read anymore (they're reading to learn!), they are much more free to pick books. However, I wanted to be sure they were choosing books that were not only on their level, but books that they'd enjoy and be able to understand. That's where the I PICK phrase comes in. This little acrostic comes from the 2 Sisters, and it stands for:

To help my students remember the phrase, I made these bookmarks for them to fill out and color. I gave my kids the blank ones (with just letters) because I wanted them to complete the phrase themselves - I figured if they had to write what the letters mean, they'd be more prone to remember it! Here are a few examples of what my students came up with:

I know that not everyone's kiddos will be ready or able to write in the phrase themselves, so I also made a version that has the phrase included. I love seeing my kids use these in their books, and most of my students have been doing a great job choosing books that are just right for them. If you'd like to use these bookmarks in your class, you can download them for free here in my TpT store!

I hope your weekend was wonderful, and that you and your class are having a great start to your year!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Beginning of the Year

Hey there friends! I know it's been awhile, but I'm still here! I started back at school on Monday, August 20th, immediately following a four day trip to California for one of my dearest friends' bachelorette party. My flight leaving LA was delayed, and I nearly missed my connection to Austin in Phoenix - I was the second to last person on the plane! If I hadn't sprinted through the airport I would have probably been stuck there overnight, as there were no more flights to Austin that night. Thank goodness that didn't happen, and I made it back to school on time along with my teacher friends.

The first day of school for students was August 27th, but we had a Meet the Teacher night the Thursday before school started, so I got to meet all of my new kiddos before the first day. I had every intention of sharing my room pics, back to school info, and first week plans with y'all before school started, but it seems I always forget just how overwhelming the first days back at school can be! I'm finally feeling more settled and on top of things, so for today, I want to share pictures of my classroom:

This is the view when you walk in the room. Two of the best decisions I made this summer were to get rid of my teacher desk and to move my teacher computer next to the student computer. I haven't missed my desk at all (I don't have nearly as many piles of papers now!) and I've been much less inclined to check my email during the day now that my computer is incorporated into a student area.

This is what you see to the right of the door - I love my new giant dry erase calendar (it's from PB Teen, and it's on sale right now!). Below the calendar are my emergency plans and sub folder. Those files are resting on top of a small bookshelf that is used to hold student lunch boxes. To the left of the monthly calendar is our daily class schedule, and underneath that is a student desk that holds Friday Folders and filing basket that holds all the papers accumulated throughout the week (those papers are what go home in the Friday Folders - things like lunch menus, PTA announcements, graded papers, etc.).
My classroom library is to the left of the door. The brown shelf on the left is where my math station supplies will go (in the black baskets); the bottom shelf holds dry erase boards, lap boards, and clipboards. The tall brown shelf now has text books on it, and the colored file bins now house my students' writing folders and journals. The green file boxes on top of the shelves are my students' book boxes (or browsing boxes). These boxes hold the books the kids are currently reading and their morning work journal, desk folder, and reading workshop folder. The bookshelf on the right shares a wall with our classroom bathroom, and above the shelf is my 7 Habits tree.    

The door to the classroom bathroom is to the left of the homework holder hanging file. I was inspired by this pin to make a sign to hang underneath the mirror that says "I can see the leader in me!" (source). The counterspace to the right of the sink is where students put their take home folders and agendas and the space underneath has two huge bins that hold student backpacks (one for boys, one for girls!).

This is the back wall of my classroom. I spent a good chunk of my summer organizing my math and science supplies, which are housed in the tall gray cabinet.  Last year, I stored a bunch of lord knows what underneath the counterspace - I just hid it with a polka dotted curtain like the one that's underneath my sink. I love how much more open my room looks because I'm no longer using that space as storage, and it's been a wonderful spot for the kids to write. I cut up an old writing process poster I had to make it eye level for the kids so they can see it as they sit back there and write! This is also where my word work/work on writing supplies are stored for Daily 5 (more info on those supplies to come in a follow up post).

This is my favorite space in my room - my teacher "desk" area (which is really the guided reading table). I spent a lot of time organizing and purging my teacher resources this summer - I'd collected a lot of duplicates and junk in five years of teaching, and it feels great to have less stuff! I'm really OCD about things matching and being organized - need proof? If you remember, the red bulletin board above my sink is for reading. Guess what kinds of books are in the red plastic bins on my shelf? Yup, my reading resource books. I also made my students' reader's workshop folders red. I love me some color coordination! I also spent way too much time creating binder covers for my teacher, sub, and student data binders (you can see them on the second shelf with the chevron spines), but having them all match makes my OCD heart happy! Also, I'm super in love with this space because of my handy dandy rotating desk apprentice from Staples. I love how all of my supplies are right there at my elbow, and the center section holds hanging files. 

I love this wall - it's behind my guided reading table, and it's full of memories from former students and pictures of my family. I made a section of the dry erase board to note student objectives for each subject for each week.

This is the view from my teacher area. The carpet to the left is where we gather for read alouds and syergy meetings. This view better shows where the bathroom is, and you can see the black plastic letter trays on the sink counter where the kids store their folders and agendas (the backpack bins underneath the counter are kind of hard to see, though). The computer station is underneath the yellow bulletin board.

These were all taken before the first day of school, so a few things have changed since then - for example, I now have 5 round student tables instead of 6. I have 20 students, and each round table seats 4, so 5 tables is perfect. If I happen to get another student at some point this year, then I'll have to get that table back, so although I know I'm running the risk of having to rearrange, there is so much more space without that sixth table so I think it's worth it!

I am in love with my classroom this year - it's by far the best set up I've ever had. I love how coordinated everything is, even down to the black border I used for each bulletin board. I just cut up strips of black construction paper to make it, and even though it took me several tries and many hours to get everything hung just right (each board is 12 inches from the ceiling - I told you I was OCD), I love how streamlined it makes my room look, so it was totally worth the time and effort.

I have loads more to share about the beginning of our year, so check back soon for another post about first week activities and ideas on how to begin teaching the 7 Habits to your class! Have a wonderful week, friends!