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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking Back at 2015

Wow. I can't believe it is the end of 2015 already! This sure has been a great year.. I got a new car, started a blog, and launched my TpT store... all things that I wanted to do for a while. I can't wait to see where life takes me in 2016!

I don't really do new year resolutions. But here is my "to do" list for 2016:

1. Blog more. I think I'm starting to figure this whole blogging thing out so you should definitely expect to see more posts from me in 2016!

2. Design more TpT products. Just like the blog, I think I'm starting to figure this out. And I'm having a fun time designing my products! 

Side note about that.. While I was student teaching I had a student notice that I gave different worksheets (differentiation) so students could show their knowledge in different ways. I made a joke that I made worksheets for fun, and at the time I was kidding, but it seems like that's kinda true now. 

Anyways.. back to my list!

3. Keep the house clean. Over winter break, I've FINALLY cleaned the place and it was so bad before I was too embarrassed to take before and after pictures so now it's time to really start decorating it. 

That's about it! Well, of course the whole spending time with friends and family, travel, eat healthy, read, but that's old news. 

Stay safe out there tonight & cheers to a great year!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Learning Contracts

Gifted students. Early finishers. We all have those students who sometimes need that extra push, another challenge that they can conquer. The question is – how do we challenge those students with

meaningful work, without having the teacher do a ton of extra work?

I use "Learning Contracts" with my students to challenge my gifted students, and also any high achieving students who can handle an enrichment project. These contracts are a simple solution to keep the high achieving students engaged and challenged, AND they can be used for any grade, any subject, or any standard. It takes the current objective to the next level for the students who have already mastered or have some level of proficiency with the topics you're teaching in class. 

You choose the learning objective, and how the students will show what they have learned. I usually include a few activities, but this could also be one larger project. There are "checkpoints" where you meet with the students and review the work they have completed so far. This keeps you updated on where your students are as they complete the project, and if you see a student is very behind then it will let the students who are behind know that they need to use their time more wisely. This is probably the most important part of the project because the students need timely feedback so they can complete the project correctly and finish by the due date. 

This year I have used learning contracts a lot with phonics. In the past I have used contracts in math, science, social studies, and reading. I have a lot of strong readers in my class this year who don't need as much of the "word work" when learning new phonics patterns, and get bored easily when working through centers. Instead of having these students write words various ways, they have done tasks such as reading through the decodable to highlight the words with the pattern, rewriting them, and sorting into categories when applicable. Many of my other reading groups complete this, but this is done at the end of the unit after teacher directed instruction. The students who complete the contract do this independently without the targeted phonics instruction in small groups. Now I am having my students write their own decodable with words with the phonics. 

This is not intended to be a whole class project. It is designed to challenge the few students in your class who constantly finish early and need an additional challenge. There is no way you could manage 30 learning contracts and keep your sanity at the same time!

This product is on sale in my TpT store for 20% off until Friday. Click here to check it out!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cyber Monday Sale

Just stopping by for a quick post to say that I'm putting my store on sale for Cyber Monday. 

Happy Shopping!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday Sale

Oh. My. Goodness. 


Life has been busy these past few weeks! Well, months really. I'm sure you're all in the same boat. All I can say is I sure am ready for Winter Break! How many more days to go? Not that I'm counting down or anything... #14schooldays #icanmakeit

I have some new ideas in the works, and I can't wait to write about them. I just have to find time between wrangling 28 2nd graders, my graduate class, report cards, and cleaning my house. Just thinking about all of this is enough to make my head spin.. so in the meantime.. I'm having a sale!

Click the image to visit my TpT store. 

Happy Black Friday Shopping!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sink Or Swim

Have you ever heard of the game Sink or Swim? I love playing games in the classroom because it's fun and something different. The students love anything and everything game related so it's win-win! We played this game today, and the students and I thought it was just about the best thing ever!

Here's why Sink or Swim is awesome:

1.  100% student participation (Yay, engagement!)

2. Soooo fun

3. NO PREP! 

4. You can modify it to fit whatever objectives you are working on - Today we were working on double digit addition.

5. Competition

Back to the game, you want all of your students engaged so they all need something to write on. I used white boards today, but you can always use a journal or scratch paper.

Everyone solves or answers ALL problems. Today I wanted students to practice solving problems by drawing it out in base ten, and I really just wanted the students to solve a bunch of problems I didn't make copies of a worksheet and couldn't find one (and didn't look for one) without any regrouping problems. 

You divide the class into 2 teams, and they get to sit on their desks. They are immediately excited at this point since they never get to sit on their desks :) They see me sit or stand on desks and tables all the time, and this is the closest they will ever get to that in my room... so it is just about the best thing ever!

Assign each team a student 1, 2, 3, through however many kids you have in your class. Today, each team had 1-12 since I had a few students absent/out of the room at this point. This is important because ALL students solve ALL problems!

To begin, write a problem (or pose a question, depending on what you're working on) and have all the students respond on the white board (journal, etc). Give them adequate time to solve it and then call out a number - say number 12. The student who is number 12 on team 1 and 2 will show you the answer. The right answer allows them student to "sink" someone on the other team, or "save" someone who has been sunk on their team. If the student gets the answer wrong then they are sunk. When you're sunk, you sit in your chair instead of on your desk. BUT IT'S OKAY IF YOU'RE SUNK - YOU STILL HAVE TO SOLVE THE PROBLEMS! You can either be saved by someone on your team, or if the teacher calls your number, and you get the answer right, then you can get back in the game. The winning team is the team with the most people who are still "in" the game.

Here are some unwritten rules I play by:

1. I always do an extra tricky question at the end that's worth sinking or saving more people at the end to keep it interesting.

2. Arguing with me or showing poor sportsmanship results in the student being sunk until I say otherwise (Be careful and be reasonable with this - usually the students who argue or show poor sportsmanship are the ones that NEED engaging activities like this)

3. You talk out of turn or cheat - you're out! The only person who can save you is the teacher - with good behavior once being out, of course. Remember, this is an academic activity and we want ALL students answering ALL questions all the time. The student just would not have the option to save themselves OR sink someone until the teacher has allowed them to be back "in" the game.

4. Keep the game moving - don't give them too much time to solve the problems. It needs to be fast paced in order for the students to be engaged and STAY engaged. Give them enough time to solve the problem, but if the students you call aren't finished - they're out. I'll say something like "I need a final answer!" because sometimes they know the answer but couldn't write fast enough, but if they aren't finished then they're out. You don't want to sit around waiting for everyone because you'll be waiting forever. This is why being "out" isn't a big deal - keep the game moving fast and they won't be upset that they didn't finish in time. Also, they know that if they sit around wasting time then they could be out, which gets rid of a lot of kids just spacing out.

What games do you play in your classroom that are quick and easy?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Five for Friday

Happy Friday! 

The first box from my Donors Choose project has arrived! The kiddos were so excited to open it up, and check out the frog habitat and read the frog books. Now we just have to wait for the tadpole to arrive and we will be good to go! 

I cannot thank Donors Choose enough for this opportunity. I am beyond excited to begin this project with my students, and I'm pretty sure they are even more excited than I am. If you haven't done a Donors Choose project before, and there's something you need, then I highly recommend checking it out! It is well worth it. :)

We had the APEX Fun Run fundraiser at school, and I managed to trample several children run 24 laps! I didn't have to go to the gym that night.. woo hoo!

I've been catching up on my new favorite show on Netflix. I looooooove this show!

I am addicted to these books. I have literally spent hours two entire days reading them over the past few days. I just can't put them down! #booknerd

It's time for a haircut. I love having long hair, but I just don't have the time to deal with it. #teacherrproblems 

These are my top 3 picks, so we'll see what I decide tomorrow! 

Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Working the Crowd: All About Seating Arrangements

I've never had a seating arrangement that I really like. I like to have my students in groups for various cooperative learning activities, and because it's easier to move around the room. The problem is that my classroom is much longer, which drives me crazy because some of the students are just so far away. It didn't matter if I constantly circulated the room because no matter where I was standing I was too far away from at least one student who needed redirection or help. I didn't know it at the time, but I wasn't working the crowd.

Fast forward a few months, and I see a class pop up about classroom and behavior management. I always am trying to up my game when it comes to classroom and behavior management, so I signed up right away. The class is all about "Tools for Teaching".

According to Dr. Fred Jones, you need to work the crowd, or the crowd works you. We all want classroom management that is cheap, meaning that it requires very little of our time and effort. That's just what we all need.. am I right??

 Each child is constantly asking himself or herself the question, "Is the coast clear?" Well, it depends on their proximity to the teacher, and we all know that we need to circulate around the room which is why our feet always hurt so stinkin' bad. The child may answer the question with one of the following responses:

1. No, the teacher is right next to me. THE COAST IS NOT CLEAR! (red)

2. Eh, well the teacher isn't too close, but they're facing me. The coast is probably not clear. (yellow)

3. The teacher isn't too close, and they're facing away from me. The coast is probably clear. (yellow)

4. The teacher is on the opposite side of the classroom. GO CRAZY THE COAST IS CLEAR! (green)

It all comes down to working the different zones in your classroom. Each classroom has 3 zones: red, yellow, and green.

The red zone is directly around the teacher. Students in this zone know the coast is NOT clear and that they won't be able to get away with anything since you are near them. The yellow zone is just outside of the red zone, and the coast may or not be clear depending on which direction the teacher is facing. The green zone is on the opposite side of the room, and anything goes in the green zone since you're so far away from those students.

Ideally, you'll move around the room during guided practice and constantly change the zones. With the zones changing quickly, the students won't have enough time to register that they're in the green zone, since in a few steps and they'll be back in the yellow and then red zone. It's the cheapest form of classroom management.

Now here's the question that I am constantly asking myself:

How can I constantly change the zones without killing my feet?

The answer is.. an interior loop!

You want an interior loop that you can walk around your classroom to monitor behavior and "check in" with your students. This allows you to "work the crowd" with the smallest possible amount of walking to save our feet. After a few hours tries, I finally came up with an arrangement for my interior loop!

This loop is maybe 10 feet. I hope it'll save my feet AND work out for my students!

I hope you can find ways to make this work for you. I'd love to hear how you work the crowd and manage your zones! 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Parent Night

The first round of conferences the past few years have driven me INSANE! I mean, I absolutely love meeting with my students families and learning more about them. It really is an eye opening experience. The reason it makes me crazy is that I answer the exact same question at conference after conference after conference.. 

after conference..

after conference...

What can I do to help my child at home?

At some point I feel as if I should record myself and just play the prerecorded response to keep my sanity. 

Do the homework, read 20 minutes every day, memorize math facts.. 

Don't get me wrong - I am so happy that parents want to be involved in their child's education and help their child achieve success. The frustrating part is saying the same thing over and over and over and over again. 

Well, I am a problem solver and tried to figure something out. I want the parents to have their questions answered, but I don't want to repeat myself 15 times in one night. I realized, we don't do an open house where I can talk about these kinds of things. Well, why NOT do one? If I have to stay late one night and answer parents questions then it'll hopefully save me from answering the same question over and over and over again in one night.  Soo.. I got one of my team mates on board and out came 2nd Grade Parent Night!

I wish I had time to make a cute cover. It's on the to do list for next year! The pictures in this post are of the handouts we gave the parents. 

We opened the evening up to all of the parents at the grade level and had a great turn out - my room was completely PACKED! We had to grab chairs from other classrooms. It was a GREAT turnout!

P.S. - We had food donated from Macayos. People LOVE free food, and businesses love to donate to education. If you need a good turn out - make sure you offer free food! A big thank you to Macayos for feeding me the parents at Parent Night!

Suggestions for parents to help their child. Click the image if you want to download this freebie from

I still get nervous speaking in front of  group of adults, especially parents. I guess I have a hard time telling them things to do with their child at home and offer parenting tips since I don't have kids of my own. Once I got started talking about the content though I was good to go!

We discussed the reading, math, and field trips for the year. We went over the goals, expectations, common errors students make at this age, and ideas for activities to do at home. It wasn't anything too fancy, but a lot of parents have said that it was a great event. They said they thought all grade levels should have one, and they were disappointed that the grade levels where the siblings were didn't have something like this.

I think this is a great visual to show the importance of reading 20 minutes at home. It is in English and Spanish on the opposite side, and I cannot remember where I got it. If this is yours please please PLEASE let me know so I can add your link!
Dolch Word List

This is a game that comes with my math curriculum. It's really good practice with money, and it can be made more challenging or easier depending on the age and ability level of the child.

Similar to Collect 25 cents, but the subtraction version. 

This sheet included the field trips for the year with the cost per student and chaperone. We did not collect money from anyone at this time, but since I teach at a Title 1 school it is easiest to give the families plenty of advance notice when we are asking for money.

I'd LOVE to hear from other teachers about what you do for your Open House/Curriculum Night/whateveryouwanttocallit. What activities do you do? What do you give the parents? I'd love to hear all of the wonderful ideas out there to add to my list for next year.

P.S. - I had to take pictures of the handouts from home. I completely forgot to take pictures of how we set everything up. I promise I will remember the pictures next year, or even later in the year if I get to host a Reading Night! 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Five for Friday

Happy Friday! 

You know that means it's time for...

These past few weeks have been absolutely INSANE! I know you all understand since you're in the same boat. There never are enough hours in the day at the beginning of the school year.. Am I right?! 

Since my days have been mostly about trying to get the gigantic pile of papers off my desk and out of my life - my weeks have not been all that exciting. This Five for Friday is more like a Five for the Past Three Fridays. :)

My godparents came to visit from Florida, and we had a fun little lunch with them at Buca di Beppo. 

I'm in the middle of planning the my first Parent Night for all 2nd grade parents. I hope that this will help answer the questions parents have about how to help their child, things they'll learn in 2nd grade, and all of the field trips we'll go on this year. I'm not used to speaking in front of a large group of adults so I'm a little nervous. #wishmeluck

I'll post about how it goes in a week or so! As soon as I find an extra minute to sit down and write the post.. I know all of you understand how crazy life is right now! #tiredteacher

I have only received a few Stitch Fixes, but I am hooked! 

You know when you get this email that it's going to be a great week! One of these days I will have to write my post about all of the super cute finds I have bought from Stitch Fix. My stylist has been on point each time! Monica, you rock! 

We were able to escape the heat here in Phoenix for a few days in Flagstaff. It sure doesn't feel like Fall here yet - we're all still burning up with temperatures over 100 degrees. 

I FINALLY put up my first Donors Choose Project! 

We read all about Frog and Toad in 2nd grade, so why not learn the nonfiction side about it, too? My goal is to get a frog habitat so we can learn about the life cycle of a frog by watching the frog go through it's life cycle, and reading books about it to make sure we understand. What better way to bring learning to life, then to literally bring something to life? 

My project was funded within a week, and I cannot wait to get started! I hope that this will end up being an engaging and informative learning experience for my students. I mean, it has the engagement, science and literacy integration, and I didn't have to personally pay for it. What more can you want?

Enjoy the weekend! We have definitely earned a break!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Bat Cereal Boxes

Oh.. Halloween. Is it too early to start thinking about Halloween? Halloween decorations are out in the grocery stores so you know it's on the kiddos minds. I still think it's a little ways away, but the closer we get to this holiday.. the more difficult the kiddos act in class. I mean.. I know they smell the sugar that they'll be eating way too much of and they're excited but.. Oh. My. Goodness.  They can be difficult to teach at this time! A few years ago I was left wondering.. What can I do to keep them engaged in learning when their minds are on costumes, candy, on anything except what they're supposed to be thinking about and haunted houses? Then I found the answer... A Bat Cereal Box project!

Something about putting a report on a cereal box just keeps them interested in learning, even on Halloween! My first year doing this project, I looked around on Halloween and saw that all of my students were engaged in their learning and working to the best of their abilities to put the cereal box together. Score!

This is something I usually begin prior to Halloween because it takes a lot of research and there just isn't enough time to complete it in one day. We have a story that is about a bat in our basal reader and we usually start the story the first week in October, and once we begin reading that I introduce the project. At my school we have a subscription to Reading A-Z, so we read a few books about bats from that site to help us research. And of course, you have to include Stellaluna with this project, too!

We begin our unit on bats with our Bat Scientist Research Journal. I really emphasize that real scientists use journals to record the things they learn, and I try to remember to call them bat scientists to keep them engaged in the note taking aspect of the unit.

The students learn a lot of vocabulary, and use a lot of graphic organizers to show what they've learned in this unit. Here's a sneak peek at some things you'll find in the unit:

Last year, I had my students complete two parts (the cover and the game) of this project at home, and it was a huge success. I sent home a parent letter with some game templates so the student can choose whichever game they want to do. (And, if they mess up then they have another game template that they can use!) On the front of the cereal box the students think of a creative name to "sell" their cereal. It needs to be about Bats, of course, but I let them know that they can choose whatever name they want.

Here are some of my favorite covers from this project:

Other names I've seen in the past are Battios or Bat Loops. I love the creative names they come up with!

Here is my favorite example of the games they have created. Another option for the word bank would be to use a clue bank and have them write clues for the given words. You could do this by the number, or leave the numbers off.
Unscramble A Word using bat vocabulary. 
The other sides consist of different writing prompts, which we do in class. On Side 1 the students take on the role of a Zookeeper that takes care of bats, and write an informative paragraph about what they would say if they were giving a presentation about bats. On Side 2, the students write fun facts that we learn about bats. Differentiated pages are included so you can choose how many facts one student should write about things they learned. The minimum is three, but there is a template for 5 facts for your more motivated writers.  On the bottom the students write facts and opinions about bats. There are several templates available so you can choose how many facts and/or opinions you want your students to write about bats.

This project has been one of their favorite activities from the entire year ever since I began this unit. It is on sale in my TpT store for 15% off from now until October 1st, so click the image below to grab it on sale!