Saturday, September 29, 2012

Monster Mash! learning centers

I’m convinced that teachers pick up little tidbits and ideas wherever they go.  We’re lifelong learners, and are always on the lookout for things that our students will learn from and enjoy.

Call it crazy, but my latest project came about after a trip to the theater. J  Just saw “Frankenstein: The Musical” at the Pocket Sandwich Theater here in Dallas.  It was so much fun, and well---I guess inspiring! J  Monsters are just fun…and cooky…and out of the ordinary. So in the middle of “Frankenstein the Musical” I sat there thinking about how to connect monsters and learning.  The wheels started turning and the result is my latest bundle, “Monster Mash!”

It’s a set of learning center activities for primary grades, and includes:

  •   Feed the Monster—feed the monsters the word   families they like best!  Cut and sort picture cards (- an, -at, -in, and –it words) and place them in the  monster’s belly!
  •    Monster Sort! –sort monsters by their attributes
  •    My Monster Craft-and-Write—roll the dice to see  how many creature features your monster has,  then use craft materials to to create it!  Best of all,  students use the planning web to describe their  monster and write about it on fun monster paper!

This is a lot of fun, and I hope that it’s something that you can use!  Click HERE to see more!  I plan to create a version for older kids like my 3rd graders, and hope to post that sometime soon!

Frankenstein and monster learning centers… sometimes I shake my head at where the ideas come from! J

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bubblegum Behavior Chart FREEBIE

Let’s be honest--with some of our students, working on behaviors is as important as working on academics!  Some kids need additional structure and positive feedback to develop those classroom behaviors that will make them successful learners.

Having worked with kids with behavioral and emotional needs for a large portion of my teaching career, I’ve learned that behavior charts can be great teacher tools.  However, knowing the busy, hectic pace of the day, I also know that they need to be EASY!  That’s how this chart came about.  All you need is the chart and a set of sticker dots.  These dots cost about a dollar a pack, and come in a variety of colors. 

After focusing on 2 specific, positively-stated target behaviors, I review the chart with the child who will be using it.  For the child I designed this for, we worked on staying in area and working quietly.  These can be tailored to the student’s individual needs.  When the student shows the desired behaviors, he or she earns a “gumball” sticker for that time slot or subject.  At the end of the day, they color in the number of gumballs earned on the gumball machine at the bottom, and it goes home in the take-home folder.  It’s that easy!  Parents can sign and return if desired, and there is space at the bottom for anecdotal notes. 

If you have a student who is on RTI for behavior, this is an easy way to keep data.  Simply plug the total gumball stickers earned out of 14 possible into Excel.  I’ve included a few modified versions in this file: one with the chart broken down into times, one broken down into subject area blocks, and one blank for both time blocks and target behaviors.   Click HERE to grab your freebie!  Hope that it helps to bring about positive behaviors, happy kids, and a happy teacher! J

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Easy Parent Conference Scheduling

It’s hard to believe that fall Parent–Teacher conferences are here already!  While I love the chance to sit down with parents and talk about their child’s strengths, needs, and performance in the classroom, scheduling for me has always been a bit of a nightmare.  Not being the best “detail person,” I find that it takes a lot of time sending out available times, confirming times, changing times when conflicts arise, and sending reminders about times for conferences. Yikes-- I need an administrative assistant! J

Scheduling conferences just got SO….much….easier!  I recently started noticing how all of my dentists and doctors now schedule their appointments online, so I did a quick search to see if there was an online scheduling tool for teachers.  I found a FREE one called Volunteer Spot.  It allows you to:
  • Set up a calendar of available slots that parents  can see online
  • Decide whether or not you want scheduled names  to be visible in the online calendar
  • Quickly and easy copy schedules to other calendar  days if desired
  • View the status of your schedule
Best of all, it sends out a REMINDER for the conference time and even syncs with Google calendars and more.  There are also options to have people sign up to bring something (such as for a class party), or to send in payments for field trips or school materials.  Additional add-ons are available for a very small fee.
So excited!  I can have conferences over the next few weeks while still having time to plan great instruction and do the day-to-day teaching responsibilities without missing a beat!  It took all of 20 minutes to set up my calendar, send the link in an email to parents, and post it on my website!  Be sure to check it out—I’m sure you’ll love it too!

                               Free online sign up sheets by VolunteerSpot

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Scientific Method Marker Mystery

Elementary kids love science.  I do too!  Growing up, science was such an abstract subject as we just read the textbook and didn’t really make real-world connections.  Now as a teacher myself, I try to teach science in a hands-on way that encourages kids’ curiosity and problem-solving. 

It’s impossible to really kids into a deep level of science understanding without teaching the scientific method.  This concept is so abstract for young learners, and yet they will need to use it all the way to high school!  So, I teach the scientific method early and loop back to it throughout the year with each activity we do. 

How do we initially learn the scientific method in our class?  With magic markers, coffee filters, cups of water, and a Smart notebook actiivity. J  I call It the “Magic Marker Mystery.”  Students see how marker dots spread out to various pigments when water is added.  I use smelly markers and classic Crayola markers , but using two other different brands would work too!   Black markers show the coolest effect, but it’s also good to have students try more than one marker color for comparison.

The Smart notebook (or Powerpoint version if you prefer) walks the students through the experiment step-by-step, and the student experiment recording sheet helps them see the scientific method in action.  This same experiment sheet is used throughout the year with later activities, and this first lesson really helps familiarize them with the process that scientists take in their daily work.  Best of all, the experiment is quick, easy to do in the classroom, and super at getting the kids hooked on science!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rounding Numbers Football BLITZ!

My class has been hard at work on building number sense, and that means….rounding numbers!  This is such a tricky skill for many students, so I started thinking about how to teach and practice this in a new way. 

I had some crazy inspiration hit me during a football game at our town’s NEW stadium.  Sitting there watching the opening game I started to think up a way to combine math and football.  The result:  Rounding Numbers Football BLITZ!  I’m so excited about this math game, and hoping that my 3rd grade football fans will make new connections to how rounding numbers work!

The game board for this activity is a football field (modified to match the math involved! J).  The board just needs to be printed and attached side-by-side to a manilla file folder.  There are two versions included—one for rounding tens and the other for rounding to the nearest hundreds.  Two sets of number cards are also included, with color used to highlight the place being rounded too.  Players move towards their end zone when their numbers round up, but earn “round downs” when their card number rounds down.  There are even “interception” and “fumble” cards mixed in, and a scoreboard for players to record their points!   I've also added a math writing "football play book" page where students choose a prompt to respond to after playing the game.

I have a few toy football helmets and football trinkets from the dollar store that I plan on using for game pieces, but chips or pennies or similar game pieces will work just as well!

I've posted this in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, and  hope that you’ll give this a look at give this a look.  Let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Writing Prompt Wordles

The next few weeks in our class are all about WRITING! J  I’ve been doing some focus lessons to help my kiddos realize how fun it is to write, and how many choices there are to write about.  We always have those few students who continually get stumped when it comes to a writing topic.  Here’s an idea for helping kids get past the “I don’t know what to write” hump!

Before we ever sat down to free write this year, I put my students in pairs.  I gave them the task of coming up with as many possible writing topics as they could think of.  From dragons to sharks to birthday parties, what would they really like to write about if they had the CHOICE?  They worked with their partners for about 10 minutes and generated amazing lists of things that they could write about.

Next, we gathered as a group and each pair shared their best writing topics.  As they did, I started typing their ideas into a Wordle (  This free site quickly and easily generates a word cloud of any text you choose.  After an extensive list from the kids and a click of a button, their writing topic Wordle appeared on the Smartboard with lots of “ooohs” and “aaaaaahs.”  They were hooked!

 We talked about how this list could help us through the year to generate writing ideas, and how we can always add more to it.  I’d like to even revisit this activity and have the students make the writing topic Wordles and glue them on the front of their writing journals.   This might even make a nice basket of class writing notebooks, all with different wordle topic lists on the cover?  Lots of possibilities, and boy was this fun!

The result has been 23 very eager writers!  All week I’ve heard students say things liike “Can I write in my journal when I’m done?” or  “I’m not done with my story—can I keep working on that tomorrow?”  Best of all, I know that the next time I hear a child say “I don’t know what to write,” all I need to do is point to our Wordle!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Math scavenger hunt!

I just LOVE the FALL! J  It’s my favorite season hands-down.  I realize that Labor Day is tomorrow and that technically it’s still summer, but fall is on the way!

My daughter (a high school senior) was chatting with me about a fun scavenger hunt that they did in her math class.  Basically, there were problems posted around the room, and the students had to answer a question and then find that correct answer on top of another question card in the room.  The moment I heard that, light bulbs started going off and I thought about how FUN it would be to do this with my 3rd graders!  I love being able to get kids up and moving as they learn, and am always looking for new and unique math activiites.  Meanwhile, I came across some ADORABLE fall clip art, and my “FALL in love with MATH scavenger hunt” came to be!  I can’t wait to try this with my class this week!  Here's a look at the question cards.  

Basically, the answer in bold at the top of the card is the correct answer to a different question in the hunt.  This allows the students to check for accuracy as they complete the activity and also lets kids start with any question card and still complete all 10 questions in sequence.  This set includes 10 question cards that focus on number sense, math reasoning, and addition and subtraction with and without regrouping.  

I’ve modified the scavenger hunt for younger students with fall pictures so that students can easily match the question card picture to the same picture on their recording sheet.  J  I also have my students get into the regular habit of showing their work so I added a “workspace” on the student recording sheet too.  

There’s an answer key as well, making this all set for use!   If you’d like to “FALL in love with MATH” with your class, click HERE!