Monday, July 27, 2015


At the beginning of summer my head is full of wishful thinking and a to do list that is a mile long. I want to tackle the world. I want to redo my year plans, remap my weekly lesson plans, reorganize my furniture, reorganize my materials and resources, reorganize my classroom library,  and redecorate EVERYTHING. Then summer vacation comes........beach time comes..........pool time time comes.............and my to do list becomes a "will do if I have time when school starts list". Well, here it is the end of July and we go back in a couple of weeks. I am happy to say that I did manage to completely accomplish 2 things!!! One thing that was on that beginning of summer to do list and one thing that just popped up and I had to do it because it was cute! (Priorities right!!??) So what DID I get done?
1) I painted this mural of some of my favorite characters outside my classroom door. (Not on my list but too cute not to right??!!)

2) A newly organized classroom library!

My library had become a bit of a nuisance over the years.  I have too many books, not enough bins, too many categories, and too many books, and oh yeah, too many books! (I know some of you are like "GASP......., No teacher could EVER have too many books" and I am hear to tell you I do!! Where I teach each teacher is required to have a classroom library.  This year we have several new teachers coming on board and I know that they need as much help as they can get to begin the task of collecting books to create a good library. My classroom library is made up of thousands of books ( I have been teaching for a long time) and it really needed a makeover so I considered this a win-win. I get rid of some books that I really don't want to just throw out and the new teachers gain a library.

Here is how it works. My classroom library is made up of two different "shopping areas". The Leveled Library (Our Dinner Books) and the Themed Library (Our Dessert Books). For more information on using shopping cards you can refer to a previous post about Shopping In The Classroom from my good friend Andrea. The system in a nutshell is:
1) I give a reading assessment to each kiddo and provide them with a level on a Shopping card.
2) Each kiddo can search for 2 below level books, 2 on level books, 2 above level books, and 1-2 desert books (depending on their level-for example, I am not going to give a level B reader in August 2 desert books because I primarily want them reading the levels on or close to their level)
3) Kiddos shop for books by teams on a different day of the week. (Ex. Team 1 on Monday, Team 2 on Tuesday) This happens during Morning Announcements every morning.
4) Each week as kiddos go to the classroom library to shop, they put their "old" books into a book return bin. Then shop for their "new" books.
5) The classroom helper called the "Librarian" returns all the books to the proper book baskets at the end of each day.

So how did I reorganize to create a better system and clean house? I spread everything out and went through each. and. every. book! (Of course older grades probably don’t have to deal with this but for us younger grades, OH.MY.WORD!!! Talk about a mess!!) Trying to find more different colored dots, stars, shapes stickers to color code books so kiddos know which bin to put them back in.....TOTAL NIGHTMARE!!! As I mentioned above, my books were getting WWWAAAAAYYYYYY out of hand.  This year I noticed that my previous system of writing the levels for the leveled library on the back cover and the themed number for the themed library on the front of each book was confusing (jeez I am even confused just writing that--what in the heck made me think the littles could do it (although they did and it worked for YEARS) but I wanted something less confusing.  Here are a few pics of how I organized in the waste of time and effort because the system was too confusing.

So I have developed a better system to keep the library looking great and help books get to the correct spot. I can show you how to Organize a system like this if you choose to do it.
The organization went like this:
1) I kept my two separate leveled (Dinner) and themed (Dessert) libraries but instead of putting them in two separate spots in the classroom, it is all in one area. With the leveled books going across the top shelf.
2) I developed classroom basket labels for the categories (that I have seen my kiddos go to year after year the most) that has words and pictures describing the books that belong in that basket. I also created matching stickers to place on each book within that basket. So NO MORE searching for matching stickers, just print, cut, stick and go!
3) I went through each and every book and separated them into their appropriate category and placed a small sticker in the upper right hand corner.  On this sticker is a word and a picture of the corresponding book basket that the book should go inside.  There are stickers for the leveled library and the themed/genre library
4) I made sure that each book basket had the corresponding word/picture sticker placed on the front/center of the basket.

I am not going to lie, this process was time consuming but WELL worth it. If you are interested in this system, you can get these Classroom Library Labels for $8.00 in my store.

I hope your school year gets off to a great start! You know because as of right now, I actually only finished 1 thing from my summer to do list!
Happy organizing!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Teachers Collaborating!

Getting to hang out with friends learning and having fun is one of my favorite things to do! This summer was filled with learning and collaboration. As you may have read on Elaine's post
about What Happens in Vegas Doesn't Stay in Vegas, a bunch of teacher friends went on a wild adventure together. The beauty of this experience was in the knowledge we shared with one another, the closeness we gained from really getting to know each other, and the energy we acquired from this trip.

One of the best parts of this trip was feeling like I was a part of something special. I also love how when you put your heads together the synergy flows, ideas are born, and inspiration blossoms.

Teaching is hard. The one thing that can make it better is finding someone in which you can rely on. People or a person who really get you. A group, a tribe, a partnership, a family. Call it whatever you want, it means the same. These people can make a hard year bearable. They can make a great year even greater. Everyone needs a person in which to bounce off ideas, or share a celebration with, or a shoulder to cry on.

Collaboration is something we hope to teach out students. Why not start with ourselves? In fact isn't being a role model of collaboration the best way in which to teach it?

I love Edutopia. I think it is an outstanding resource in which to collaborate. Edutopia offers great ideas and fresh perspectives on how to get the job done. It reminds me a lot of the people in these pictures. People who come together to do what is best for kids and education.

If that is you, why not check out this great article by Vicki Davis, Teacherpreneurs: We're Here to Inspire. It might just remind you of your purpose this year.

Monday, July 13, 2015

What Happens in Vegas Isn't Staying in Vegas!  

I'm going back to Florida with a full heart and a full to do list!

O  by  Cirque du Soleil

Monday, July 6, 2015

Math Word Walls: Unlocking the Language of Mathematics

A former colleague of mine loves to tell the story about when she was administering a high stakes test and the question instructed the students to, “Draw a table to display this data.” Her determined student drew a Pottery Barn catalogue worthy DINNER TABLE, with each dish containing one the of numbers from the data she was meant to display. While one would want to give this kid points for style and creativity, I imagine the people grading the test were not so amused. 

This story made me realize that instruction in math vocabulary could mean the difference between a child “getting it” or missing it. Math is no longer just about being able to compute an answer correctly. It is about reading and understanding the language of mathematics. 

Our math series does an excellent job of pulling out the vocabulary, defining it, and putting the word in bold, with yellow highlights. It helps, but I realized it was not cutting the mustard with some of my students. Simple words like sum (as in “find the sum”) have sent otherwise excellent mathematical thinkers into a tizzy. These kids can add into the millions, but the word sum, which was clearly defined and tested 7 chapters ago did not stick for whatever reason. And it freaks them out so they freeze or panic. Don’t even let me get started on words like equivalent! Sheesh! The words are defined in the glossary, and I HAVE tried to train my kiddos to look there, but we all know how that goes.
Also, my struggling readers often struggle with the words and even though they might be able to solve the problem, they miss it because of the vocabulary. 

A few years ago this inspired me to sit down with the Common Core Standards and find the important vocabulary. I made a word wall card with the word, definition, and an example if possible. I color coded the words by domain and posted the words on a wall in my classroom. 

At first when I posted the words no one really noticed all my hard work. I soon realized that was sort of my fault because I was not referring to the wall or the words. If a kid asked me what a factors was, I just told the kid. This prompted me to start doing what I have seen so many primary teachers do with their word walls. I started integrating the words into my lessons and held kids accountable for LOOKING at the words and using them. 

The results were incredible. It was like the movie Field of Dreams (“If you build it, they will come”) except it was “If you post it on the wall, refer to it, and hold them accountable for AT LEAST looking at it, they will look”. It also didn’t hurt that the words were posted right by the window, so kids who want to check the weather also get a healthy dose of math vocabulary! I referred to the words and required the kids to do the same...and they did. They might have started to refer to the wall because they got so sick of hearing me say, “Did you check the word wall?” Words like product and equivalent seemed much less intimidating!

It worked so well, I wanted to send the wall home with my students. The only problem is the average 4th grade doesn’t want to decorate his/her room in math vocabulary. Since my students love interactive things and they love to make things (but we only have about 15 seconds in our jam packed day to make things) I developed vocabulary flippers to match the word wall. These are super simple to make and the students can take them home! All you have to do is copy them (double sided),  fold ‘em in half (hot dog style) and cut on the dotted lines. On the outside is the word, on the inside is the definition. My students love them.   Some use them like flash cards to study. Others keep them in their interactive math notebook to refer to. Parents like the words also, because math is waaay different than when we went to school! I have also included a free geometry set here so you can take a gander at it and try it out! 

I made word walls for grades 3 - 6 and my friend Trina who is a primary expert, made math word walls for 1st and 2nd grade. They are in our TPT Stores.