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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Compliment Party: Pillow Fight

Part of my classroom management plan is having my students earn class parties. We earn these parties by earning compliments from other teachers, administrators, and visitors to our room/ building.

If you see us in the hallway and we're all in a good looking line- give us a compliment!

If you visit our room and we impress you with our brilliance- give us a compliment!

Over the years, my students have earned pizza parties, ice cream parties, nachos, popcorn and movies, pajama days, and even a nap party. That's right- NAP. My students got to bring a small pillow and/ or small blanket and we had hot chocolate and read a bedtime story during the last 20 minutes of the day.

This year my students came up with another first- a pillow fight. Of course we had to come up with rules.
1. No head shots. Body shots only.
2. No ganging up on one person. (Unless the person asks for it. I had a few volunteers for "chase me!")
3. Watch out for holes in the ground. The last thing we needed were sprained ankles.

So, at 2:15 on Friday we headed out to the field next to the playground, my students found their starting positions, and off they went! They had a blast!

I even got video! ( I had a 4th grade helper)

I can't wait to see what they come up with next!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Science Tubs: Made with Units in Mind

This past Monday I had the pleasure of taking a Professional Day to go do something I've wanted to do for at least a year now: take an inventory of science tubs at Barger Academy.

It was a dream come true! (Yes, really!) It all started when I attended the Hamilton County science PDs. (Professional Developments) I also started attending an extra PLN (Professional Learning Network) for elementary science teachers. Susan Dorsa at Barger Academy allowed us the use of her room and equipment.

She has tubs. For everything.  

Great, big tubs full of wonderful science magic and happiness!!

 She would bring a different tub to each of the sessions; each full of materials organized by topic of study. And these tubs are available to the Barger teachers to borrow and use whenever they need. Simply wonderful!

So, my idea was to inventory these tubs to see what makes them so magical, then take the inventory back to my building to see what we can recreate. I know we have the materials floating around the building, it's just a matter of getting them in a central location for classroom consumption.

Below are pictures of what Mrs. Dorsa had. Some of the tubs were for large units, some were for mini lessons, and others held random materials for different lessons. If you'd like a PDF of the materials list, you'll find a link at the bottom of the post.


Electricity and Circuits

Rocks and Minerals
Bird Beaks: Animal Adaptations
Cell Making
Chemical Reactions 
(This tub was bought, not created. The PDF has links to where you can find the Student Manuals and other activities)
Sea Turtles: Adaptations and Conservation
(The PDF has a copy of a game you can play with your students.)

Food Chains and Food Webs 
(You can find a link to a Food Chain War Game HERE! Leave a comment on this post and I'll send it to you for FREE!!)
(PDF file has link to printable activities)
Inherited vs Acquired
(PDF has a printable version of the game included)

Extra Materials
(full list of extra materials included in the file)
She also had a Magnets tub, but 3rd grade had checked it out. 

I was like a nerdy kid in a science candy store. It was wonderful. I can't wait to share my findings with my school. I would love for  my school to have these kinds of easy-to-access materials. (And I'm just the Type-A personality to get it done!)

Thank you, Mrs. Dorsa for allowing me to invade your space! 
I had a wonderful time!

Want a guide to help you make science tubs? 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Catching Up

Here we are, starting a new school year, and I'm just NOW blogging my first post! Shame on me!

To be fair, I did start a little late. My first day was right after Labor Day, which is a little funny since I started late due to some hard labor. :)

She's pretty cute though. Totally worth it.

But now I've been at this school thing for a month and I know you're wondering what we're up to. Allow me to catch you up.

We created math equations using popsicle sticks in PE. Here you see the winning team!

We created a new Text Talk poster- "The better to make connections with, my Dear." (Make a text-to-text connection!!)

We did a Mystery Matter experiment! While studying physical properties, I found some liquids that we could describe without being able to use one of the physical properties- color. Students used toothpicks to help them examine the liquids.

 Here you see students filling out their graphic organizers. 
They had to use their 5 senses, yes, including taste, to be able to describe the liquids. I told students that none of the liquids would hurt them, but not all of them were truly edible. In other words, you can take a lick, but not a drink! I had students dip their toothpicks in the Mystery Matter and put it on their fingers, then they could lick their finger. 

 This was our first Mystery Matter that I modeled for the class. It's clear Karo syrup. 

Here's how we described the Karo Syrup.

 Our chart- ready for our observations!

1. Sprite
2. Vinegar
3. Baby Oil
4. Water

 My new batch of Soldiers had a great time and did some great work. I think they'll be able to do some more experiments in the future. :)

Keep checking back to see what we're up to! I promise to get better at this posting stuff this year! I might just make you look at some cute pics of my baby though.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

iZone Summer Institute: Healthy Teacher, Healthy Student, Healthy Environment

Donna Elle was the guest speaker for this session. She's an educator, motivational speaker, personal trainer, radio personality, and an awesome example of dedication and determination!

This session revolved around being a healthier educator, and a better role model for our students.

As teachers, we tend to focus on the lesson plans and day-to-day education of our students. We tend to forget that our students are watching us. All the time. We need to remember that we are preparing our students for LIFE, not just the test at the end of the lesson.

Donna started the session by showing us this video:

Powerful, right?!
 I know that this video shows that healthy habits start at home, but did you notice that the teacher in the video encouraged the behavior as well?

Now, I'm just as guilty of this as the next teacher. Candy is fast, cheap, and easy. It's bribery, pure and simple, and I'm guilty of using it. Often.

I like to think that my classroom is a little bit healthier than some. We are in charge of our school garden, and had fun trying the squash we grew. I also like to add motions and song in my lessons to keep students engaged and moving. But seriously, is that enough?

So, here are some things that I'm going to incorporate into my class this coming year:

  1. Fewer candy treats. Notice I said fewer.  Candy isn't terrible, but it shouldn't be the one and only treat given as rewards. I'm going to try bringing apples, Cuties (those small oranges), really just fruit in general. Granola bars, NutriGrain bars, and those kinds of items are better as well. 
  2. More feet time. This is as simple as walking laps around the classroom. I do this already, but there's always room for more. And, this coming year I'll be working off baby weight. There's my motivation right there!
  3. Brain and Body Breaks. We teachers know that students have a limited attention span. If students are too long on their seat, make them move their feet! Have students get up, do some stretches, run in place, play some music and encourage movement. This is great for refocusing their attention and getting their brains active again by encouraging blood flow. 
Thank you, Donna Elle for making sure we teachers help our students' bodies as well as their minds!

Some websites to check out!

You can find Donna Elle on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!

iZone Summer Institute: Putting Active into Activities

I made the (fortunate) mistake of going to this session after lunch. At 37 weeks pregnant, the last thing I wanted was to be in a session that required constant movement.

Guess what? At 8-9 years old, I'm sure my students feel the same way after lunch. That's why I'm glad I went to this session. I was engaged in learning, active (which my doctor would appreciate), and happy. That's right. Happy. I was getting to socialize in a productive way with my colleagues. That makes me happy. :)

This session was created to make sure that our students are actively engaged in learning.
That means moving.
That means productive conversations.
That means manipulatives
That means a whole lot of modeling for teachers before letting students go at these.

Get ready! It's going to be a fun ride!

Putting Active into Activities
 ** Anything written in italics is something I would do to modify the activity in my classroom**

Walk- About Cards

This was our opening activity.
  • Every student has a folded index card- question on the outside, answer on the inside. 
  • Students also have either a stamp or sheet of small stickers.
  • Students walk around the room asking each other the questions on the cards.
  • If students know the answer, they receive a stamp or sticker from their partner. If they don't know the answer, their partner tells them the answer from the inside.
  • Students trade cards before moving on to find another person to ask. 
  • After time is up, students write down as many of the facts as they can remember. Teacher would also walk around and tally how many stamps or stickers were earned during the game. Possible prize?
Possible uses:
  • Vocabulary review
  • Informal pre- assessment
  • Fast facts (like math)
  • English/ Spanish (or any other foreign language being learned)
  • Grammar skills (like singular/ plural nouns)
  • Science/ Social Studies review

Three Strikes

(the example from the session)
  • Students are in pairs for this activity
  • Each student has his/ her own set of questions to ask their partner. Questions can be teacher created or student created, based on what your class can handle or what you need them to cover.
  • Partner A asks Partner B questions. If PB can answer on the first try, he/ she gets 3 points. If PB can't answer, then PA will give them the answer, put an X in the circle, and move on to the next question. 
  • When all questions have been asked, then PA goes back and re-asks the questions that PB missed the first time. If PB gets the answer the second time around, he/ she gets 2 points. If PB still can't answer, PA gives them the answer again and goes on to the next previously missed question. 
  • Keep going until each question has been asked 3 times.
  • Once Partner A has asked the questions on his/ her sheet, then Partner B gets to ask PA questions on their sheet. (questions should be different)
  • Once all questions have been asked, students should add up their points. (Prizes given at teacher discretion)
  • Students go back to their seats and fill in answers to all the questions asked. (from a teacher prepared sheet)
Possible uses:
  •  Science content review
  • Social studies content review
  • Vocabulary review
  • Book study review
If you'd like a blank copy, follow these links!


Scavenger Hunt

(example from session)
  • Teacher prepares the puzzle based on a chosen topic (in the example, it's a review of the book The Outsiders)
  • Cards with answers on the front and "secret letters" on the back are taped to the walls around the room. 
  • Some cards can be decoy cards with the wrong possible answers (I thought that was genius!)
  • Students will walk around the room filling in the blanks with the answers. Then they will flip the card up and fill in the letter for the "secret message" at the bottom. 
  • If the secret message at the bottom is not correct, students will know that their top answers should be checked!
Possible Uses:
  • Story reviews
  •  Math word problems
  • Science/ Social studies review

Scramble (Matching)
This is just a matching game. The thing to remember is to have materials already prepared and separated. You can have students cut and paste, but if you want to be able to reuse the activity, use cardstock and laminate the pieces. 
Students can work in pairs or independently. Make sure they have a documentation sheet to turn in for a grade.

Possible uses:
  • ANYTHING!! That's the beauty of this type of activity! It can be as simple as matching color cards to the color words, or as difficult as Latin prefixes/ suffixes and their meaning. The choice is yours!
Free Matching Games from my TPT store- GO GET THEM!!


  • Teacher prepares 8-12 index cards with errors on each, and places them around the room
  • Students should have a documentation sheet to turn in. Teacher discretion as to whether the sheet has the sentences already written on it to be fixed.
  • Students can work in small groups or individually as they go around the room to "fix" the sentences.
Possible Uses:
  • Vocabulary
  • Spelling
  • Math facts
  • Science/ Social studies facts
  • Grammar practice (ex. noun/ verb agreement, punctuation, capitalization)
  • This activity lends itself well to the previous game- matching. You might have some "sick" sentences and some "well" sentences. Students would have to decide which is which, and then "fix" the "sick" sentences.
These next activities were given to us in our packet, but we ran out of time to do them in the session.


 Possible Uses:
Review on any subject: reading comprehension, science, social studies, etc.


Thank you, Valery Taylor and Patricia Jones, Ed. D for these great ideas!

Monday, June 22, 2015

iZone Summer Institute: Engage Me or Enrage Me

My second session at the Summer Institute was also with Dr. LaMarr Shields.

 Engage Me or Enrage Me

This session was about how to keep boys engaged in the classroom. The session mainly addressed the importance of keeping "boys of color" engaged, but he did make the point that all boys are basically wired the same way, and these techniques can, and should, be used across the board.

Dr. Shields shared a lot of statistics about the drop out rate of black and Latino males. From what I can remember, (and I hate that I didn't get this written down) roughly half of black and Latino males will drop out of school before graduation, and, of the half who stay, only around half of them will go on to higher education.
So, for those of you with simple math minds like me, of 100 black and Latino males only 50 will graduate, and 25 of the 50 will maybe go to college. That's just sad.

Again, I don't want to share all of Dr. Shields' strategies since this is how he makes his living. So, I chose a few highlights from this session.

General Strategies: For School-Wide Implementation
  • Parental Involvement
  • School Outreach
  • Better Teacher and Staff Training (I think this is extremely important!)
  • Male Mentors and Instructors (CHES has a mentor program called Boys to Men that has benefited our male students this past year. I hope it gets to continue!)
  • Extracurricular Activities
Specific Strategies: For Classroom Implementation
Dr. Shields provided us a list of 52 tips. You read that right- 52!!  I'm giving you the 5 that he covered today. At the end of this post, there's a link to where you can find posters for 8 of them. All of the tips were provided by The Cambio Group and Dr. Shields' website.

I hate Dora the Explorer. I find the show extremely annoying. Have you heard the map song? Just that song alone is enough to make me want to tear my hair out. Seriously.

So, why do I even bring it up? Because when it comes to boys, you need to give directions like Dora. When Dora goes on an adventure, she uses no more than 3 simple directions, and she repeats them until they are imprinted in her brain.
Oh, you're going to the erupting volcano with your purple monkey, singing backpack, and obnoxious map, are you, Dora? How you going to get there?
  1. River!
  2. Forest!
  3. Volcano!
Then she repeats the 3 directions in a sing-song voice until she can remember it. She must cross the river, walk through the forest, then she's at the volcano!

Teachers, do this in your classroom! Parents, do this at home! Simple directions.
In my classroom I'll write the directions on the board simply as well, with pictures if possible. I'll model the expectations as well, but I'm not going to over load my board with superfluous words.

1. Cut!
2. Sort!
3. Glue!

First you cut the words out, then sort them on your page, then glue them in place! Done!

p.s. And when they get it right- PRAISE THEM! Even small successes deserve praise!

Not only does having them repeat instructions make them actively involved in class, it also lets them "play teacher". In my classroom, this looks like me giving the simple directions (see above), then students get into "teacher position" (hands on hips and pointer finger up) and they repeat the directions to a partner.
Yes, I am an elementary teacher. I actually have no idea if that particular action would work in upper grades. But, I will tell you that my students, boys included, think it's hilarious to pretend to be "teacher" or "bossy momma".

Dr. Shields recommends having students practice Deep Listening. Closing their eyes, holding their hands palms up, and focusing on their breathing.  Yes, they will need to practice this. Yes, they will pretend to be Buddhist monks or doing crazy yoga. But, eventually, they will learn to quiet their bodies (at least for a moment) in order to focus on certain tasks- like listening to you. Once they are focused, they can listen to instructions and properly mirror them back to you.

By having students mirror back instructions you're checking to see that they understand the expectations of a certain task. If they can repeat it, that means they heard it.

Boys, much more so than girls, need movement. Blame it on their wiring, but boys have the need to move like girls have the need to talk. I see it everyday in my classroom, and also at home with my 2 sons. They. Can't. Sit. Still. 

They tap, stand, walk, itch, whatever!! I'm not a stickler for sitting, as long as you're not in the way of someone's view of the board. You can stand next to your seat, sit through your seat, sit on your knees in the seat, whatever; just be able to keep up with the lesson.

With this in mind, why would we expect boys to be able to stand perfectly still when being disciplined?

Discipline doesn't have to be harsh. It had a bad stigma, but discipline is just a way of redirecting or refocusing a behavior.

When thinking of your boys, allow for movement. Maybe a Walk-and-Talk, which makes it feel like more of a conversation.
If possible, try to make discipline private: in the hallway, quietly at the student's desk, maybe even nonverbal. (Give them the Teacher Look)
For my younger son, I have to hold his hands. He stands in front of me, places his hands on top of mine, looks me in the eye, and we talk. His feet and hips may still be swaying to his inner beat, but I have his hands and eyes.

When the talk is over, go back to the previous tip: Have them repeat the instructions. Make sure they are walking away from the conversation with a sense of direction and expectation.

Boys are always on the move, remember? That means their eyeballs too. Give them something to focus on.
I've done a book study on the book Teach Like a Pirate.

It's a fabulous book all about  different teaching "Hooks" to use in the classroom. Every "Hook" gets teachers moving, and students' attention. I highly suggest reading this book before walking into your classroom again this fall. It's mainly geared toward middle and high school, but this elementary teacher gleaned A LOT of information and strategies.

Not only is teacher movement good for grabbing student attention, it's also good for observation. A college professor once told my class, "A teacher on her feet is worth 10 on her seat."
The only thing to be gained by constantly sitting is another pant size. GET UP. See what your students are doing. Observe class discussions, peer editing, think-pair-share, and independent work. Take notes, keep records.

Cause, you know, it's YOUR JOB.

And not just your body- make students use theirs as well! Do yourself a favor and Youtube "Whole Brain Teaching", then click on your grade level. There are videos galore of students learning new concepts by engaging their whole bodies into the lesson.

Yes, it's a little weird at first. It takes time and LOTS of modeling. But many teachers swear by its technique.

If you find that it's still a little too weird for you, then go small: rhythm and rhyme.

Remember the movie Akeelah and the Bee? Akeelah learned to spell by tapping her hands on her legs. She used the rhythm of spelling to help her. When they told her to stop tapping, she became lost. Don't take that away from your students! Encourage it and use it to your own purposes!

In my classroom, when I teach the parts of a plant, we use the song Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.
Flowers, leaves, stems, and roots- stems and roots!
Flowers, leaves, stems, and roots- stems and roots!
Stems and roots!
Flowers, leaves, stems, and roots- stems and roots!

When we sing "flowers" we have hands on our heads, "leaves" we shake our arms, "stems" we pat our legs, and "roots" we touch our toes. 

We use songs and jingles a LOT in my class. For everything. I give them copies of the songs and jingles to keep for reference in their journals. During tests you'll see kids bopping in their seats, quietly singing the songs. That's cool with me.

We also use a lot of picture vocabulary, especially in science and social studies. Whatever works. Engagement is the key. Get the kids moving!


The biggest take-away from this session, for me, was that our male students just don't feel connected to their learning. They might not see the point of certain lessons because they can't see themselves using the knowledge later in life. 
Or maybe they don't see the point in trying, period. They've been told they can't, so they won't. 

Please, teachers, don't let this happen in your classroom. Be the teacher who is willing to connect and engage students, especially the boys of color. An engaged student is focused on learning, not on being a disruption. Use all the tricks in your teacher bag to make sure your students are actively learning. 

Thank you, Dr. Shields for all you're doing in the world of education! Keep up the good work!

If you'd like a copy of the Engage Me or Enrage Me Posters (8 total), click HERE!