Saturday, August 31, 2013

Day 4... Trash Talkin'

I think Pinterest is haunting my dreams!

One of the first items I ever pinned was this:

Whenever, I would look at my Pinterest boards, this was always the first pin that would catch my eye. Last week, I was having a back-to-school dream, and there was a polka dotted trash can in my just-a-dream room. But the reality was: I really wanted a trash can like that!

For years, I had one purple and one magenta trash can. There were big cylindrical cans--just right for a big class--and, of course, the perfect colors for my room.

Time got the best of them, however, and, after years of devoted service, they both cracked. I tried glue. And tape. And I can strongly suggest against both options.

I searched for a looooooooong time for a another colorful replacement, but the best I could come up with was black. In fact, I never really did see many other suitable-for-the-classroom options besides black, white and various shades of red.

So, for a year, I suffered in a state of trash-can-boredom with my plain back cans. And then Pinterest came along...

After pinning that picture, I was determined to buy a Cricut. Or a Cameo. Or both. I needed circles. Thankfully, those purchases didn't happen, because I have since decided that crafts just aren't in my future. However, I DID find these...

These are circular decals. And I found them in PURPLE! And they are available in LOTS of other colors too. Click on the picture to see some options at this site. They have sales all the time!

And, happily, JOYFULLY even, I now have two trash cans that look like this!

I think I should have taken the picture without the bag... but you know that this is an authentic picture because the can is nearly full after a day spent readying my classroom. (And you can tell it is a public school by the so-sad baseboards and the who-would-pick this-color aqua tile!)

I just love my trash cans. Sometimes it IS the littlest thing that can make a teacher happy...

Friday, August 30, 2013

Day 5... Bean Bags and Pringles

I am trying to get this post done (before midnight!), but I keep falling asleep on my keyboard... which results in the post looking like this: uyrsfnvjchfvdavscfw!

We worked for hours in the crazy heat at my school today. It was at least ninety degrees in my classroom for much of the day and not a hint of a breeze...

Still, I accomplished almost everything on my list and I only have a few things to wrap up tomorrow in order to be ready for kids. Alas, my grand library re-do may need to wait a week or two. I am hoping to involve the kids in the set-up, but I had wanted to clean out a few bins and make some new labels before they stepped into the process. At least I cleared everything off of their desks so that they will have a place to sit!

Yesterday I talked about the bean-less bags that kids use in my classroom during independent reading. I love them--they look like giant Skittles. Or they used to. They weren't meant to be bean-less, but plenty of use had left them... ummmm... deflated!

As I mentioned yesterday, I found some beanbag refills at WalMart that came in these semi-giant bags. They took up a lot of space in my living room and I kept catching the collection out of the corner of my eye and thinking that someone had mistakenly dropped off a toddler at our house. No... Just a big bag of Styrofoam beans (Four to be exact!)

In the comments section under this product on WalMart's site, someone had posted a nifty little trick. It was such a great idea, I just had to pass it along...

Refilling beanbags requires some pre-planning. If those little styrobeans get loose from the packaging, you will have a disaster to clean up... and, with the slightest provocation, they will easily go flying like some kind of magical lava. In order to keep them under control, the reviewer suggested using a Pringles can.

I do not need extensive prompting to eat snacks. Pringles can... check. Empty Pringles can... check! (crunch crunch...)

Cut a small hole in the corner of the bag. Wait! Before you do that, put the roll of tape nearby. If the tape is not nearby, and you put the now cornerless bag down... Well, you get the idea...

Place one edge of the Pringles can in the corner of the bag and tape it down, making a spout of sorts. Insert the other end of the Pringles can inside the beanbag... and then tip. I ended up holding the bag o' beans over my shoulder sort of like bagpipes (or so I am assuming), and letting gravity empty the contents. Of course, a few beans did escape, and I must admit I had a great time capturing those that were on-the-run by chasing after them with the vacuum hose. It was like living in a video game! Times like that make me glad I work by myself in the far corner of the school. That gleeful cackle would have sent any listener in seek of the authorities...

If you are interested in a re-purposing of one of Jennifer Smith-Sloane's Interactive Notebook pages, you can read my guest blog post from today at Jennifer's blog, 4mulaFun, by clicking on the picture below.

I've never been a guest blogger before. I thought it was kind of scary! It made me glad that Jennifer usually does the writing at her blog because I learn a lot more when I am only doing the reading. Let me know what you think.... and I hope you will try the place value flippable. All of Jennifer's notebooking products are great, and my kids loved using them last year. I am confident we will be doing a lot more notebook activities this year as well.

Two more days until I meet the kids. I am experiencing an odd mix of nervousness and excitement. Mostly, I am looking forward to having the room tidied up and being ready to meet my new friends as they walk through the door...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Day 6... A Case of the Uh-Ohs

Suddenly, B2SP has begun to set in... Also known as Back-to-School Panic!

I have "in progress" projects all over my house... and I can't imagine how I can possibly get them all finished and transported to school before time runs out.

We had meetings until almost lunch on the last two days. And it has been insufferably hot in the afternoons (and our building is not air-conditioned), so it has been difficult to keep up my motivation and my energy level. Tomorrow could be a good "work day" if I can hide from any would-be visitors and just work for several hours. It will be the last day that we can spend in our classrooms, although I am hanging onto the hope that someone from the office will come in on Saturday to give us a few more extra hours of access.

Here are a few things making it difficult to navigate to the front door...

Scary looking, huh? I need to re-stuff the bean bags... mine are currently bordering on being bean-less bags! I'm afraid these may take up most of the space in my car!

I need to add ribbons to my pennant to get it ready to hang up at school. Actually a necessary first step would be to find the spools of ribbon. I know they are in a WalMart bag. That does not narrow things down significantly!

I need to sort through my treasures and organize the supply baskets. At the moment, I am wondering where the other scissors are. I am thinking they are in the garage. Times like this, I wonder whether if it is better to buy new ones and just return the old ones when I come across the correct box... which could be some time in 2017 if you were get a glance at the garage!

I need to organize the supplies in the math Tool Kits. I have to add a few things because of the changes involved with Common Core. And I bought some wonderful new "moveable" number lines from Really Great Stuff.... but they don't fit in the boxes! (I hate when that happens!)

I need to finish the student binders so that we can start out organized on the first day of school. There are parts of this project in several different rooms in my house!

I need to get the technology set up at school. Our printers are connected into "the system" (?) with Ethernet cables. Of course, I could not pass on the opportunity to have this PURPLE cord in my room. So much prettier than the "standard issue"!

I need to clean and repair these fans--which will be one of my first projects tomorrow morning at school... so that I can make it through the rest of the day! Why does the weather always wait until a few days before school starts to really heat up?!

To top it all off, this afternoon I got this message on my computer... Or at least I thought that this was what it said...

And I thought that sounded a bit judgmental! I had to read it again more carefully. Here's the bad news... This is what it REALLY said:

Our poor secretary has spent a lot of hours inputting all of the students into our new computer program. And at some point today... POOF. They. Just. Vanished. Apparently, the system was overloaded and all of the class lists (and other things!) disappeared. When I left, they were going to have to re-type everything. Ahhhh technology. So often it simplifies our lives... and sometimes it  makes our lives a little harder.

I am hoping to get a class list tomorrow afternoon so that I can personalize a few things. If not, I guess we will be trying out some lower-tech options Tuesday morning!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Day 7... Numbering the Textbooks

I don't use numbers in my classroom for many things, but, for me, there are two situations in which using numbers is more-than-helpful. The first is lining up. My kids line up alphabetically. This translates into "number order." Why? I guess because it takes too many syllables to say,"alphabetical order."

When students are in alphabetical number order, I can quickly see if someone is missing. Somehow they learn that leaving a space to signify a missing person makes it easier on my tired brain. And, yes, I have had to move around a few kids because the person in front or behind them in line was not a good partner. And, yes, kids always seem to get added in mid-year (and their name never starts with Z), requiring either a re-numbering (which rarely works well) or a "phase two" strategy. I distinctly remember having someone be #2.5 in line. At least the kids in proximity to her learned decimals that year!

The other situation in which I use numbers is for textbook assignments. If you're #4 in line, you are assigned all of the books bearing #4. Our textbooks spend a lot of time on the shelves, but having them numbered allows a student to keep track of his/her books whenever we use them. Now and then, the system has even alerted me to someone who was missing. "Why is math book #17 still on the shelf? Oh, she is in the principal's office...?"

A few years ago, I found these neon adhesive labels and I knew I just had to use them for something in my classroom! Eventually, I decided that their bright color would be perfect for helping us locate our numbered textbooks. I made a very simple template  with TWO numbers so that the books could be identified from the front or from the side. A few snips with the paper cutter and everything was ready.

I just peel off the backing and apply the labels to the textbooks. Easy! There were four colors, so I alternated... That little detail makes me extra happy--and explains why the numbers look so funny when printed on a page.

I just love how the books look together. So organized!

In June, I found that the same-numbered books were missing from each collection of textbooks. This is how I knew which parent to contact because the child had left all of his books at home. The system worked (beyond looking pretty, of course!) and the missing books were returned. You will notice that the books are bar-coded. I'd like to tell you why that is the case. Alas... I have no idea! And I'm fairly certain our school does not have a bar code reader...

Here are the books lined up the shelves. A few were still on students' desks because the books fit on the shelves with little room to spare. Aren't school districts funny?

How do you keep track of textbooks in your room? Do you use a number system or something else? I'm guessing it won't be too long before there aren't any textbooks at all. I guess I will just have to resort to color-coding their iPads!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 8... Getting the Students' Attention...

As much as I like routines (and, honestly, I LOVE routines!), I also love variety. Especially with sixth graders, I like to keep them guessing a little, so they do not become passive participants (or, worse yet, passive non-participants)

Therefore, I use a range of different attention-getting strategies in my classroom. Depending on my mood or the noise-level or the activity, I chose the sound-maker that makes the most sense for the situation.
Last year, I incorporated some whole brain teaching into my classroom. We used some of the "teaching gestures and procedures" as well as the focusing technique of "Cllaaassss...." The kids enjoyed it and were quickly adept at imitating any variation in pitch, tempo or volume I modeled! But their was favorite was always "classity class."

In many situations, however, I tell my students that I prefer to use my voice for discussions and conversations, not trying to get them to focus or be quiet. There are also times when I request their attention simply by waiting. (Sometimes I sing songs in my head--but they don't now that!) I don't say "Shhh" nor do I like my students to say "Shhh" to each other. Since we use some sign language in our class, it usually only takes one student to sign "Look," and the rest will usually turn and focus quickly.

These "energy chimes" were the first "attention getter" I ever used. I use the three (melodious!) tones to remind them: 1) Stop what you're doing (nothing in your hands), 2) No sound, and 3) Eyes on the teacher. I like to let the last tone hang in the air and then fade away. This one has always worked for me. And it's sentimental too!

When the room is very noisy (a "good noisy" that comes from involvement in an activity), it is hard to hear most "traditional" sound-makers. I rarely use this "clacker" because the kids are often startled by the unfamiliar sound. It is the most helpful in a crowded noisy room and can be counted on to catch their attention (Although, invariably, someone says, "What was that?")

This bell has been my old stand-by for years (and years and years.) It looks fairly ancient too! I like the fact that you can continue ringing the bell until the students stop talking. It's not particularly loud, and the tone is gentle, so it's not ear-shattering when I ring it. I like that in a bell!

I saved the best for last. I saw this one on Pinterest and I simply HAD to have it! (I tracked it down in Pier One.) I love my new bell! It is not particularly loud, and the sound is pleasant--more so than the usual "school bell" or "sales clerk bell."  More to my liking, however, is the appearance. Love the bling! And the colors match my room. It just makes me happy to see it on my "desk" (which is now just the table that holds my computer and the doc cam--and the bell!)

I already know I am going to have to remind the stduents not to ring the new bell at random moments. And then I am probably going to have to remind myself...

What do you do to direct students' attention? Do you have a favorite sound-maker?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Day 9... ANOTHER Craft? Washi Tape Clothespins!

This certainly has been a summer of  "adventures." Well, to be honest, anything "crafty" is an adventure to me! And while (over the past twenty years), I have tried paragliding, parasailing, white water rafting and ocean kayaking, crafts are far more difficult for me. Truth be told, the level of endurance necessary to apply Mod Podge or use an x-acto knife far outstrips that which was necessary for any of those other "adventures" I have tried...

Over the summer, I noted that Jen Runde (one of my Bloggy Idols) had made some ADORABLE clothespins covered with washi tape (You will love how she uses them on a clip chart for her writing program--and you can read about it HERE). And then I saw about 4,682 pictures of washi-taped creations on Pinterest. Suddenly, I was surprised to find myself motivated to try another craft. (Or maybe I just sat in the sun too long yesterday and it affected my mind...)

I do adore washi tape. Not to use, mind you. I just like to line it up and rearrange the colors a few times. That's good enough for me! But then I got to thinking: It would be cool to have clothespins to match my room when I hang up my anchor charts.

So I  rounded up the tools and gave it a try. It was very tedious (for me) to trim the tape so that it matches the clothespin. It was like working in some obscure land of miniature handiwork. So. Not. Me.

To my amazement, they turned out almost okay! 

All day, I've been feeling like I conquered Mount Everest. I even looked at some pretty rolls of washi tape when I was strolling through the aisles of Office Depot. But then I put them back and bought some new white board markers instead. I found a new brand that has pens that match the colors in my room!

Oh and here's the bad news: Apparently giving the clothespins a quick coat of Mod Podge helps the tape to stay adhered to the clothespins. I haven't decided whether I am brave enough for another round of the 'Podge. I did buy a package of 100 clothespins...

So I am considering this carefully: Make new clothespins next year or extend the life of the ones I have already made by giving them a Mod Podge dip.

Hhhmmmmm. I'm still weighing my choices...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 10... Hey! The Date is Magnetic!

If you have read even one of my previous posts, you know there are a few things (besides coffee) that I love:
  • I love things that are easy to do 
  • I love things that require a low CQ (Craft Quotient)
  • I love straight lines that I can cut with my paper cutter
  • I love things that will last the whole year (or longer)

The subject of today's back-to-school post meets all of those requirements!

Yesterday, I made a reference to these magnetic sheets. Avery makes a bijillion products that I love and this is one of my favorites. The packaging for this product used to look like the one on the left. The new packaging is shown on the right. You may see one or the other in stores and online. So far, it appears that the packaging has changed, but the product is exactly the same (which is good news for me!)


Every student in my room has a job. It's that whole "We are a family" concept that allows everyone to contribute to the common good. Okay, that sounds nice, and it is partly true. Here's the real truth: I am old. And I can't remember to do everything. So we have jobs to make sure everything gets done each day--without me having to do all of the tasks or even ask that they be done. Yep thirty-four(ish) jobs. And it works great.

For example, each week, someone is assigned the daily job of "Attendance." Our attendance is now done on the computer and so you no longer see a parade of kids going to the office to drop off the attendance sheets. I do miss that sight--especially the kindergartners holding hands. (Did you know that in the "old days," the big kids used to hide behind trees and copy phone numbers off of that list?! That's a fact!)

Currently, in my classroom, the "attendance person" is the only student who has the right--actually the obligation--to "pester" the teacher. He needs to remind, suggest, bother, cajole or humor me (whatever it takes) to submit the attendance. Then he can sign out for his job, breathe a sigh of relief and be done for the day... with his job, at least!

Oh. I am not posting about attendance today?  And I am not posting about the job list? Hmmmm. What was I talking about? Oh, yes! I was talking about magnets! (And my poor memory skills). And changing the date. Maybe I secretly wanted to write about attendance today?

As I was saying, I would never remember to change the date each day. So it is one of our classroom jobs to do so. I have learned that it can take students up to five minutes to write the date on the white board. They don't like the way their writing looks. They wrote the wrong date. They don't like the way they made the 4. Maybe today is the day they will start making triangle 4s instead of open squares 4s. Yes. Maybe no. Try again, Never mind. How about a different colored pen? {Insert silent scream}

So I now use Avery magnetic sheets to make the pieces they need to post the date. In less than ten seconds a student can change the date and there is no drama involved! Hey! I think I finally found the topic of this post!

This morning I printed and cut out everything I need for this task (in a mere eighteen minutes!) And I got to use my beloved (almost-an-antique) paper cutter so the lines are (reasonably) straight!

This is a picture of the front and the back of the magnetic sheets. As you can see, I run off the calendar pieces with a fairly thick border. This way, even if my cutting is a little inexact (perish the thought!), no one will ever know...

And here is a picture from a while back to show that we really do use this system in my classroom. Well, I should say my students use this system. They are completely in charge of this process because it is now clear that I would forget. But I use the system too... Because unless we start out the day with PE (which would make it Monday), I can rarely remember what day it is!

During the first three weeks of school, we are required to list on the board how many kids we have in our room (For years, this was listed in boy and girl columns. I never understood that. Did you have to do that?) (Ha! Some of you are so young that you remember BEING one of the numbers rather than writing them!)

OOoooohhhh. Now I AM posting about attendance! Teachers have to have those numbers visible on the board so that the administrator can peek in and record the number of students in the school on the official clipboard.

So when the new year starts, the date and my "report" will look like this on my board:

That's my use for Avery magnetic sheets. And my job system. And the way we take attendance. And the way we change the date. Goodness! My attention deficit certainly allowed me to cover a lot of ground this morning!

And, of course, my favorite part of all of this is the purple square!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 11... Gotta Love A Sale!

YIKES! I have to post this quickly or I will have broken my promise of blogging every day in August.

So this is just a quick comment about an item I found on sale... which almost led to a happy dance in the aisles of Target! (Thankfully for all of the other customers, I was saved by a moment of restraint. I have been asked by more than one student, "Please don't dance where people can see you...")

Each year, I plan to make magnets for the parents that would include my name, e-mail and school phone number. Yet I never seem to get around to ordering them.

This was going to be the year... but with school starting in a week, I am more-than-confident the magnets would not arrive in time.

Then I was going to take another Melissa's suggestion (at Simply Sixth Grade) and print the details on magnetic sheets... which I had at home... until I used them all for calendar tags. And so I was back to Square One.. when I found myself in the craft aisle (don't ask!) in Target.

I saw some notecards that had great potential for "Teacher Info." They were bright and cheerful and on one side, they looked like this...

I liked the other side even more. Are you thinking what you am thinking?

I am thinking these are perfect for the "Teacher Info" that I need to share with parents. They are just large enough for me to add the details on the blank side. I am thinking it might look something like this...

And although the colors aren't exact (and there is not nearly enough purple), the cards have the same cheerful feeling that I try to impart with the colors in my classroom.

And HERE is the very best part! I knew I needed at least thirty-six cards, plus two that I will probably mess up when I try to print them. There are ten cards in a package. And I noticed (gleefully!) the clearance tag.

That price tag looks even better close up!

Yep... that's $2.48 for ten cards... which means I got all forty cards--with envelopes--for less than ten dollars. YeeHaw! I DO love a sale.

Phew! I thought I was going to break my blogging streak. Nope! I'm filing this before the day ends on the east coast--and it's not yet even nine o'clock on my coast.

Tomorrow I promise to have a real post. Thanks for wading through my delight in finding a sale. And if you were in that aisle in Target, I was NOT dancing... Okay, maybe a did dance just a little...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 12... Sticker Maker + Laminator = Happy Me!

I'm beginning to think that if something isn't nailed down (or edible), I am going to laminate it, turn it into a sticker and affix it to something! I bought a new toy instructional tool and I just have to tell somebody about it!
Taking a hint from my pal, Kristen at Ladybug's Teacher Files, I tried a variation on label-making this afternoon. I love Kristen. To me, she is the Bloggy Goddess of Perfection. Everything she does looks like it was born on Pinterest. It is always beautiful and colorful. And it's usually laminated.

Not me. I rarely laminate things other than directions for tasks that are ongoing.... partly because the glare confuses me and partly because "Things to Be Laminated" is an omnipresent category on my To Do list. However, there are some things that get a LOT of use in my classroom, and, consequently, these labels are generally in tatters by Thanksgiving. I must have been channeling my pal, Kristen, from across the continent today when I decided that these overworked labels were the first that should be redone... and laminated.

So I rounded up my tools, which, in this case, included my laminator (no surprise there).

I also needed my newly-purchased "sticker maker" (I got mine at WalMart, but Amazon has them too). While I have seen this item several times in stores, I always thought that it made stickers... not made non-sticky things INTO stickers. I should tell you that this little device was on the shelf below the Mod Podge in the craft section. It is a bit surprising that I didn't just turn around and run...

I wasn't sure how it would work with laminated items, but I decided to give it a try. It was, after all, destined to be an afternoon of firsts!

I printed some labels and then laminated them. Then I ran them through the laminator again--just for the "heat seal"--because... because... well, because I always do it that way. It makes me think the lamination will stick better. I don't know if that is true, but I am more than happy believing that it does!

Then I ran the newly laminated (twice) labels through the sticker maker. It took me some time to get over the fact that there is no plug on this "machine." It is low-tech--just my speed. As you turn the handle clockwise, the label is slowly fed through the machine, and the adhesive is applied to the back. The directions say to complete the process by burnishing the item. I'm not exactly sure what that entails. I don't regularly burnish nor do I own a burnisher... but I figured it meant something close to polishing so I rubbed each label with a cloth before I removed the backing of the sticker.

And you know what?

It worked!

I labeled the larger white board bin first. And I see now that I forgot to put the rest of the white boards back in the bin before I took the picture! I really do have more than eight white boards!

By that time I was on a roll. (Hahaha... A little laminating/sticker-making humor there...). I laminated and sticker-ified these bins too, along with several others that were just sitting around waiting for a label.

Next week I have to decide how to label my book bins in my library. I have been making progress in my classroom, but I am avoiding that corner because I haven't yet decided what I want the labels to look like (and whether or not I will laminate them!)

I still have a few more blogging days left in August, so you can bet you will be reading about those library bins if you return for a visit...  which I truly hope you will.

For those of you already back in school, HAPPY WEEKEND! (These first few weekends after schools starts are always extra wonderful, don't you agree?!) And if you are ready to start back next week (for teacher days or with kids), I hope you can enjoy a few more days of summer bliss before the school year begins...