Sunday, August 21, 2016

Back to School Prepping

Well, it is that time of year.....

Back. to. School.

And like everyone else, I have so much to do!
I have a few things to prep this year to make it run smoothly.  I have already set up twitter and created a template for a smore newsletter for parents. I have already photocopied the back to school syllabus. But, next up, I will need to:

1. Print my classroom goals banner....
I print these at Staples and have the students complete these during the first week.  Easy, fun, and meaningful room decor! I just laminate them and string them on twine across the classroom windows!  The worksheets that go with the set then reference the goals and have students reflect throughout the year. Love it. 

2. Photocopy and set up the class Study Skills Binders.  
I use this as a framework for helping the students reflect on their study and work habits. I set up the binders in advance.  The purpose of this Study Skills binder packet is to provide support to students with a focus on study and content skills. The students will maintain a binder that will include a work log, SMART Goal creation and reflection, studying reflection, test reflection, and self-editing. 

3. Hanging room decor. 

I tried to start making teal and blue themed posters to match my room decor of teal and black.
Here is an integer set of posters I made.  More to come this year as I see what I need.

4. Making, printing, and updating first units of this year.
I took a lot of time this year to prep my first units and here they are! I am especially excited for the Olympics Design unit because it was one of my students' favorite when I completed it around the time of the winter Olympics a few years ago.

3rd - 5th: Olympics Design
6th: Logo Design
7:  Stock Market Unit (currently making!)
8th: Independent Study

5. Buying odds and ends on Amazon.
Here is what is in my cart:
A teal tape dispenser (because it matches my room, of course)
magnet adhesive strips (for white board hanging/activities)
screen cleaner (because my laptop gets GROSS)
lint rollers (to keep in my desk. because "my favorite color is dog hair")
laminating pouches (of course)
name ID badges (for advisory/homeroom)
twine (because I always seem to find uses for it!)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Dreaming of Snow Days?

Urban Dictionary defines a snow day as “The best school day(s) of the year”.  
Sleeping with my pajamas inside out tonight…

but here are a few little activities from a project in my TpT store for students 
to plan their dream snow day! We used this activity this week and 
the students' creativity was fun to watch!

I designed this activity to be completed by my 3rd-5th gifted and talented classes. The students worked independently to design their dream snow day! We discussed and brainstormed our favorite snow days in the past. 

We viewed YouTube videos of exciting snow slides and snow forts and discussed movies and TV shows with epic snow day adventures. 
(Winter Carnivals and Ice Hotels are also fun to view!)
**just make sure to preview videos of course! 

The students then worked their way through the 14 page packet to independently complete their “dream snow day”. The packet prompts students to cut the parts from their packet to create a portfolio of work. As the teacher, you may decide to grade the work a portfolio, to ask students to combine all pieces into a poster, or hang only individual components as student work in the classroom.

Above is a picture of a few of the pieces from the project.  This shows the pages for the students to follow a budget for 
purchasing snow day gear, instagraming their dream day, and choosing their dream snow date. 

In this enrichment activity, students will plan their dream snow day. They will pick a date, weather forecast, snow outfit and snow gear, and itinerary for their day! They will share their imaginary day through writing a blog post and creating three instagram posts to share your day.
The unit is designed with a cover page for easy photocopying as a workbook style unit. The unit is easy to print and use in the classroom. All workspace is included in the packet. You must photocopy the packet as single pages, since the students will be cutting directly from their packet. By the end of the project, most pages in the packet will be cut apart and the students will have created a portfolio of work.

Above are some more samples of students' "dream snow day" Instagrams. 

Check out more information on the Dream Snow Day Project.

It is also included in the Snow Day Bundle for discounted price.
(see below)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Executive Functioning Support

"Executive  Functioning"

What does it mean? How do we help kids with this?

I have started really focusing on executive functioning in my classroom.

Not that I wasn't focused on it in the past....but as a teacher of IEP/504/GT students, I see this "beast" affecting too many students.

From losing papers to not knowing how to attack studying for a test, we are fighting the battle to improve executive functioning skills ASAP! 

So, in this battle, I have found some excellent resources for middle grades teachers to support students with executive functioning.

I am pretty excited about them. (And about finding more....recommendations, anyone?)

I am excited to recommend a few books here: 

This book is an excellent purchase for a student to work through self-assessing their strengths and weaknesses and attacking them! I am working with a student currently who is using the book and I am thrilled with what I am seeing! 
The Executive Functioning Workbook for Teens: Help for Unprepared, Late, and Scattered Teens

I also have a copy of this book, but haven't had a chance to check it out yet.  Mostly because we are working regularly from the book above for now. But, this one looks like a quality workbook, as well. 

I am excited to have this as a research and am considering purchasing their teen-specific book as well. 
Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their PotentialSmart but Scattered Teens: The "Executive Skills" Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential

3. Here are a few books I have on hand to reference tips and tricks to with my students: 
Where's My Stuff?: The Ultimate Teen Organizing Guide


I love this book fro helping my students get organized.  I even have it on my nightstand (partly because it is such a good book to live by and partly because it is a cute little book!) How can you get organized if you have too much stuff? Your binders. Your locker. Your bedroom. It applies to have to simplify to get organized!  As I work to help my students to attack their weaknesses in organization, I often find that we refer back to this philosophy often.

Any other tips, tricks, or books out there? 

Friday, December 4, 2015

December Teacher Gifting

Remember when you were a kid and it seemed liked December lasted forever?
Waiting for Christmas seemed like a lifetime?

But now the days of December seems to fly by. It seems like we can't slow down.
We don't have enough time to get it all done.

You aren't crazy. There is a theory for this.
Time it IS flying.
I have been researching for my upcoming Time Travel Unit*, 
and I have read up on some very interesting philosophies about 
the concept of time and the passing of time.
Besides the fact that it is kind of depressing- it is oh, so interesting!

*sidetone: the unit will be posted here later this month....I can't wait to publish my new unit!  This unit came to fruition last year when my students were clearly OBSESSED with time travel - impromptu debates about time travel were happening  - so I harnessed this interest and have been slowly working on a formal unit since then!

Well, anyway, for me, the month is definitely flying by.
And I haven't shopped yet. Not one little bit. 

So let's talk gifts.

I am considering gifting my colleagues  "Christmas In a Jar" Mulling Spices Mason Jar" gifts this year. A cheap and useful gift... they look adorable and smell amazing. Perfection!
My other ideas is BAGGU bags (because you can't go wrong with useful, cheap bags).  Or maybe just reindeer beer or wine. Last year I was lazy and bought Starbucks gift cards.  And the year before that I bought Lululemon headbands and/or gloves because my colleagues love to workout.

Any other favorite ideas? 

Here are a few of my favorite things I have received from students and loved! 
I would consider getting any colleague something from this list below, too:


MICHAEL Michael Kors leather wristlet / BAGGU / BAGGU / Gourmet Getaway Lunch Tote - BuiltNY / Large Metallic Gold Leather Tassel Keychain by TheProvidenceStory / Large Classic Red Leather Tassel Keychain by TheProvidenceStory / Starbucks Tumbler

1. I love the weight and beauty of the key chain - I never lose my school keys now! I clip it on to my Longchamp bag to walk into school every day, leave it out in my desk in case of a lock-down or fire drill, and clip it back on my bag to leave at the end of the day! 

2. I received a similar wristlet from a student and it was such a generous and useful gift! I used it for a year straight.  I clipped my school keys to it and carried it from class to class (as a teacher traveling classrooms) as well as to run errands to and from school!

3. You can never go wrong with coffee mugs. I have a few, but it is always great to keep one at school to fill with the coffee club/school coffee throughout the day!

4. I looove that the baggu can be weighted down with 50 lbs of papers to take home and grade! It is easy to stuff into your purse and pull out when you end up needing to come home with more than you came to school with! 

5. I have this exact lunch tote and am so glad that it is washable.  It is the best. Especially since I forget to clean my lunchbag out at least once a week. And then need to wash it once a week. 

What are your favorite gifts?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My New Favorite App 3: Learning Ally

is my new favorite technology for my classroom.

Many special education teachers find that 
IEP modifications such as "teacher will provide student with audio books"
are common in the writing of IEPs. Rightfully so.
Audiobooks help students to comprehend text that they may not have 
been able to access due to their disability. 
They are a necessary modification that benefits many learners.

Students can set up their library on the web and listen on their iPhones.  There are options for voice only and voice+text.  I have students that prefer one or the other. The students are now in the routine of bringing phones/iPads/devices to school and I have the application downloaded on our PC's, too!

The Importance of Audiobooks
Learning Ally explains:

"Whether it be from decoding difficulties, phonological processing issues, or even vocabulary stumbling blocks; audiobooks have proven to help countless students engage with text that a student could not read alone."

"For many students with a learning disability like dyslexia, without proper phonological awareness and decoding skills, their listening comprehension is much higher than their reading comprehension. With the help of audiobooks, students can rely on listening skills to help maintain fluency in grade level curriculum, materials, fiction, non-fiction, literature and more."

excerpts from: here.

Trying to Find Audiobooks 
Finding audio books can be difficult. 
Years ago, districts purchased tapes or CDs for students to receive audio book accommodations.
Then, not every book was available.  One year, I even recorded myself reading classroom texts for each day and placed it on a tape player (yes, a cassette tape) for a student to listen to while others were independently reading. But today, since most students no longer have a CD player, there are a variety of online books for students as audiobooks. Sadly, many are pricy per book. Others are pricy per student

Enter Learning Ally.

Above are screenshots from one of my students' accounts. I provided the students with all the textbook and novel titles for the year and they searched the site to add all the books at once into their library.  They then download the books when they need them on their device and listen in school or at home.

In My Classroom

I have been using it for a few weeks now and here are my thoughts...

All the textbooks, class novels, and many independent reading selections are available on Learning Ally.  This make my job of tracking down audio books easy!

What I am most excited about in my classroom, however, 
is the motivation that the app is providing my students. The students are increasing their reading independence and decreasing reading anxiety.  For some, they are heading what good fluency sounds like.  (And an added bonus, they like the REAL voices instead of the digital-sounding-voices).

  Maybe it is simply the fact that the students are allowed to 
bring in their device and a set of headphones. Although I doubt it.  ;)

Don't assume that your students know HOW to use audio books.
It is important to show them the Learning Ally website and app.
In my opinion, it is a skill to use audio books correctly.

It is a skill to be able to use reading skills (such as looking back in the text) with audiobooks.  Take the time to show them and they will meet success quicker.... and "buy in" that this is a took that will help their learning.

Have students practice searching for books and downloading books.  Have students practice reading a segment and answering comprehension questions, asking them to reflect whether they should re-listen to the section or rewind.  Have them practice the length of text they should listen to before pausing to take notes or complete comprehension guides. Have students play with the settings (speed/pitch of voice) to reflect on their preference.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Candy pH Lab

The purpose of this lab is to determine if popular Halloween candies are acidic or basic (alkaline). The students will follow the scientific method to test using pH paper and baking soda as indicators. 

This lab is intended to be used to determine whether Halloween candy are acids or bases and to identify them on the pH scale. After reading the purpose and research for the lab, the students will create a hypothesis for each substance that will be tested. They will record their observations, complete analysis questions, and write a conclusion.

The first step is to gather materials.  I considered having students bring in few pieces of Halloween candy, but in this case, I went out and purchased the candy from my local candy store. $20 later, I recommend buying less candy (you don't need much to get the results) or having students bring in candy.

In the picture below, you can see the variety of candies I purchased.  It is best to have a mixture of sour, sweet, and chocolate candies.

It is also best to consider that highly dyed candies (i.e. the red fun dip and red nerds) may alter the results if they are too red.  This was the only candy we had difficulty reading the results of.

I set up my room for the lab groups to test four candies each.

As research, we watched and discussed two brain pop videos:
Brain Pop Acids and Bases  and Brain Pop pH Scale

While I have had students test every item in the past when we use the litmus paper, the pH paper (used in this lab) is more expensive and therefore I prefer to limit the usage. 

Then, the students followed the scientific method to make predictions,
follow procedures, and record their results.

I rotated the room adding hot water from an electric water kettle that I had prepared earlier.  The water didn't need to be hot- just warm.

My lab is available here: Halloween Candy pH Lab

The students stirred the candy in the warm water to help it dissolve before testing.
Above are pictures of a few of the candies being tested with the pH test strips.

I purchased my pH strips here.

Below are our results of the pH testing for 12 candies.  You can test any candy with the lab,
These just happen to test the ones below.

In no particular order, the students estimated**:
Airhead - 2.5
Warhead - 2
Chocolate - 6.5
Nerds (cherry) - 3.5*
Lemon heads - 2
Blowpipe - 3
Sour Spray - 1.5-2
Skittles - 3
SweetTarts - 2.5
NerdRope - 3
Fun Dip - 1.5*
PopRocks - 5.5*

*for these items, the red dye affected our results and the students guessed
**these are student results, actual results may vary

After completing the lab procedures, recording data, and answering analysis questions, we reviewed the properties of bases and acids. I posed the question that if an acid and base will react to neutralize, what will happen when a spoonful of baking soda (a base) is placed in the candy?

As expected, the more acidic the candy, the bigger the bubbles/"fizz" when the baking soda was dumped in!

My students loved this hands on lab (who doesn't love labs with candy?)
and the results that were relevant to their world.
They love being able to visualize acids and bases using indicators.

I loved that they loved it.  I loved the connections they
made between the lab activities and their own lives.  I loved the
insight they showed in analysis of the lab and class discussions.

They realized there IS truth to "don't eat too much candy or you'll get a toothache"!

Check out more information about the lab here: Halloween Candy pH Lab

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Independent Study Part 2

This year was my first year implementing a passion-based independent study.  
I implemented it for students in grade 8 back in February and shared my preparation in a blog post: here.  Now that I have one full year completed, I am excited to share our results and reflect!

The students were given a packet to guide them in deciding the study of their choice...

This is a picture of the packet photocopied for all students and staff mentors to work through.
The students took their time and parents were informed of the packet and the importance of the process of taking the time to pick a topic the student(s) were passionate about.

We spent about two or three weeks working our way through the packet and narrowing down the student's independent focuses...
The packet worked perfectly for the students and I don't need to change a thing for next year as far as the process goes. The only thing I may do is photocopy an extra page or two of the calendar if I decide to extend the timeframe of the study, because I plan to adapt the timing...(which I will discuss below)

This is the packet I used to organize the study.

The students picked 1-3 topics that they could see themselves being passionate about working on.  I then reached out to staff with the students interests. 

To find mentors, I sent an email (similar to below) to the staff: 

The Grade 8 Gifted and Talented students are currently working on independent study projects. The independent study will allow students to study their passion or master a new skill, meeting once a week under the guidance of a mentor teacher.  

We are looking for teacher mentors who will be willing to share their professional expertise, talents, and experience with these students. The Grade 8 students' areas of interest are:




We are seeking teachers who have comfort in any of the above topics to act as a mentor to a student or pair of students. A weekly meeting schedule will be individualized between the student(s) and teacher.  Please reply to this email with your interest and possible areas that you would feel comfortable overseeing a student's independent study.

I worked to match up students with staff members who had an interest in facilitating their study.  (Ideally, in future years, it is my hope that I can build a data-base of sorts for community members who would be willing to volunteer or provide experience for the students.  Even if the student is still matched up with a school-based teacher mentor, the teacher would then be able to facilitate communication with the community members.  That is my goal for next year).  After matching students and mentors, some students opted to work in partners, based on their interests. 

The students met with their mentors and finalized the topic and direction of their study/project.
Here is the finalized brief description of my students' topics for the 2014-15 school year:

1. Coding: Three 7th grade student worked collaboratively on coding.
 2. Writing: An 8th grader wrote, edited, and revised a short (188 page) novel she had been working on with the goal of potentially publishing it.
3. Technology: A student designed and developed an Open Source Smart Watch, following plans she had found online. She supplied the pieces and used a 3-D printer to develop additional parts to make the watch.  See the watch here:
4. Architecture: Two student worked collaboratively on researching and completing a project related to architecture.
5. Computer Science: One student worked independently on computer science/programing with Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized single board computer.  He supplied the device.
6. Music: A student worked on music production with the program "Fruity Loops" on his computer.  He supplied the program and worked with the school music teacher to receive feedback on developing his own songs.
7. Stocks: Two students researched and completed a project in the area of stocks investments and finances, developing their own portfolios.

This is a picture mid-study of the student's progress who was working on Raspberry Pi.  His mentor purchased the Raspberry Pi Projects for the Evil Genius book and was able to find some projects that appealed to him to work on.

This year, the students had four months to complete the projects.  We had our initial meetings in January/February and the students presented their work in June. Next year, I plan to start the project mid/end of September and end it in the students more time to work and ending it earlier than the hectic end of the year.  

My approximately timeframe for the 2015-2016 independent study will be:
End of Sept/October: complete planning stages of packet
November: initial meetings with mentor to complete calendar
December, January, February, March: weekly meetings with mentor
April: finalize study and present work

The students met with their mentors approximately every week.  The students liked arranging this independently with their mentor and working around their individual schedules.  Some students felt they finalized their project and others felt they simply make progress on a long-term project (such as writing a book or learning raspberry pi) that couldn't be accomplished in the time period given.  For these students, we make sure to have them set goals for what portion of the long-long term project they were hoping to complete. 

Project Conclusion: 
At the end of the project, the student had a very relaxed session where they came and had ice cream and informally shared their work.  This seemed appropriate for the time of year (very hectic end to 8th grade year with finals, etc) and the students' feedback was that they did not want to share their work publicly.  However, this is an area I think I would like to add on to for next year.  I would like to find a way to keep the study low-pressure and to focus letting the student explore their creativity with their project, while still highlighting their extra efforts and work!

This is a picture towards the end of the study of a student's Open Source Smart Watch. This was one project that was not finalized at the end of the study, which we anticipated due to the intensity of the project.  The student impressively was able to  design and build the hard shell casing with a 3-D printer and got the battery working! She still has about 10(+) hours of intensive work left to finalize the inside of the watch, which we plan to finish over the summer or fall in an extended independent study!

You can check out my packet on teachers pay teachers: here.

I would love to hear feedback from anyone who used an independent study.  
How did you structure it? What was successful? What would you change?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...